It's All About the FoodChristmas Baking with SusieJ

Busy, Baking and Buttercream

It seems I gave myself another baking obsession in May; you'd think Christmas would be enough.

The month was just end-to-end baking. First, my co-baker Elise and I each made four cakes/breads for a 40-person baby shower. Weeks before the shower I was baking and freezing a cake a weekend: Jewish apple, chocolate-almond-cherry cake, and chocolate roll; and a new summer stand-by: strawberry short cake (bake one 9" spongecake, cut into two layers, whip 1 1/2 to 2 c heavy cream with a dash of vanilla and 3 Tb. sugar, slice a pint of strawberries, leaving the really nice ones whole for the top, macerate berries in a bit of sugar, assemble in layers).

Midst of this came Mother's Day, always held here as the neutral territory. I have brunch, which is just an excuse for everyone to drink Mimosas. The menu included scones and bread pudding (which fulfills my lifelong need for baked French toast).

To fill up the remaining spare time, I took an introductory cake decorating class at my local craft center. Alert readers will notice that almost all cakes on this site require no frosting. Even the wedding cakes I've done have been barely decorated (fresh flowers are solution here).

But I'd always wanted to do this, and Elise, Marsha and I talked about taking the intermediate class at Fantes this Summer or Fall.

Thus, Monday nights found me baking and icing cake between 8:30 and 10:30. I needed a fast recipe. I needed a chocolate recipe (I have standards here). I needed a recipe with ingredients to hand (admittedly I have a lot to hand -- vegan egg substitute, anyone?). The sheer length of the recipes in Death by Chocolate and Baking with Julia was daunting. German cakes are not meant to be iced. Mixes are just out of the question. I needed American cake from scratch. I needed Betty Crocker.

And there was "Black Midnight Cake," which called for all-purpose flour (not even cake flour!), eggs, water, sugar, vanilla, and, er, shortening. But no chocolate to melt, no sour cream or buttermilk (we have it, it's just of voting age). Dump the ingredients, mix and bake.

And it was bland.

So I tweaked.

And Easy Chocolate Layer Cake was born. Still everything you should have in your cabinet. Still very much mix it and go. But now with flavor!

The class was fun. We were three students: myself, and a mother and her 11-year-old son, Ian. They were there because they "love cake." Ian was just nifty! We squeezed out borders, wrote our names, piped headless clowns, and learned ... The Rose, the famous Wilton rose. Sometimes the course materials took themselves too seriously.

Now I've got a lot of time to kill until the fall, when we can take our next class. I have some plans for cool icing effects for my husband's birthday. But when we're drinking shiraz and watching Doctor Who, I surf the web for toys related to my latest obsession.

The Sugarcraft site offers the current Wilton student books (usually availble only by taking a class), along with older books from the 80s and 70s. Well, this was just too good to pass up! Not so much for the techniques, which are unchanged, but for the projects, typography, and illustration, all the things that make James Lilek's Gallery of Regrettable Food the fascinating car wreck it is. Garfield! Yellow cakes with orange flowers! Care Bears! Brown roses! Suddenly, I hear music ... "Come and knock on our door! We've been waiting for you! ..."

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