The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

What a cut-up

Instead of watching horror unfolding on TV, I spend most of the morning (between midnight and 7:30 am) making a cake for The Younger. His birthday is later this week but he'll be in Colorado with his Dad so we figured we'd celebrate his birthday today.

I have a copy of Baker's Cut-Up Cake Party Book that's about as old as I am (and apparently, very rare and going for anywhere between $30 to $120 from what I can see) and I thought it might be fun to try to make one of the cakes from the book (I'd make some scans from the book, but I can't locate the power supply for my scanner). I should note that I've never actually made a cake from scratch before. But hey, it can't be that hard, can it?

Famous last words.

The recipe calls for 2½ cups of sifted flour, and I wasn't sure if that was 2½ cups before sifting, or after sifting, so I assumed before sifting. It was quite a pile of flour after sifting and it took on the consistency of dough rather than batter. I did manage to get the stuff wrangled into the cake pan and into the oven for about five minutes before I realized I forgot the most important ingredient—sugar!

See, the recipe said:

Sift flour with baking powder, salt, and sugar.

But in cooking terms, sugar is considered a “wet” ingredient and it's never sifted into the flour but added with the rest of the wet ingredients (or so says Alton Brown); then again, I actually didn't see that I was to sift in the sugar with the flour. In any case, that batch was ruined.

And I was also out of vanilla extract and eggs.

And it's after midnight.

An hour later, after a trip to the nearest Wal★Mart Supercenter I had my missing ingredients. By this time, Spring was home from work, and she informed me that sifted flour was always measured after sifting.

The second attempt went much better.

Once out of the oven, it was time to let it cool for an hour or so before the next stage.

[Assembling the pieces of cake into an airplane-like configuration] [Applying the frosting skin] [Coconut already applied, starting with the final decorations] [Cut-up Cake Airplane I] [Cut-up Cake Airplane II]

The frosting was uneventful (even if I did have to substitute honey for light corn syrup), but the end result was a metric butload of frosting. Way more than I evern ended up using.

And then the cutting and construction.

In theory, it looked easy. But like all theories, things tend to get messier in practice and this was no different. In the book, the airplane was supposed to have four jet engines, but the actual bits of engine pieces were too small in practice to use. And the tail setion was too heavy to actually stay up without the help of multiple toothpicks (and even then, I had to lob off the top half of the tail). The frosting was thick and sticky and a hellacious pain to spread over the cake.

Now, one of the curious things about the book was the use of shredded coconut in every recipe. I remember as a kid, when Mom would make my birthday cakes they were always slathered in shredded coconut. In fact, I don't recall a single cake made in the 70s that didn't have shredded coconut slathered over the outside. I always wondered about that.

But no more. Shredded coconut plays the same role as plaster popcorn for ceilings—it hides the shoddy application of frosting (or in the case of ceilings—plaster). And the final results weren't that bad, considering it was my first cake and all (and The Younger certainly loved it).

I did end up with enough leftovers to make a rather shapeless mound of cake that The Kids promptly joked was a “crashed airplane.”

Still tastes good though.

[Um … pile o' cake]

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