Sunday, February 3, 2013

Birthday-Cake Express

Happy Groundhog Day!
Happy Super Bowl!
Happy Valentine's Day!
Happy Presidents Day!
Happy Black History Month!
Happy Birthday!

February holidays, though a potpourri of national, reflective, historical and commercial observances, command respect and significance. The Favorite Recipes column in Grandma's notebook declares this by stating, "No month of the year lends itself to parties as does February." February? Ok, in our household that's true when you have a boy with a birthday like we do. According to Favorite Recipes, Max is in for a real patriotic treat:

Here's a suggestion for a party for a boy whose birthday falls on a patriotic holiday. A fort of logs formed the centerpiece. In the windows of this fort could be seen tin soldiers defending it, and around the outside small shrubbery and imitation grass lent a naturalistic effect. At each place was an individual birthday cake, each three inches square, roughly iced with green to simulate grass, and crouched on the "grass" holding tiny bows and arrows were small Indian dolls, such as can be bought inexpensively in sets. Forts built of bread sticks and filled with creamed chicken, hot chocolate, and cookies cut with Indian and Soldier cookie cutters held vast appeal and after the forts demolished, the defenders and assaulted alike dispatched, Mother read a story of the days when Indians roamed and forts were necessary holding wide-eyed youngsters spellbound with her carefully prepared recital.

Woah. To me, creamed chicken and cake don't even belong in the same sentence. Indian dolls and cookie cutters would only be found on the Antiques Roadshow. Not sure if I could get six or seven wide-eyed boys to listen to any story I had to read on any subject. I also could not submit Max or his friends to this sort of arrangement for his birthday for reasons social, historical and gastronomical. The choice for his birthday cake this year was the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine and the only "bad guys" in that series usually are mummies or monsters, not a entire culture.

But this Soldier and Indian cake column made me wonder: If the mothers of the late 1940s and early 1950s were looking to newspapers and magazines for unique birthday cake ideas perhaps this was a practice not that different from what we do -- the mothers of today. In the 21st century we moms face the pressures of Martha Stewart but we are armed with the resources of Pinterest!

I polled a few of the elders of the Nebergall tribe to see if they recalled from their childhoods any particular style of birthday cake. Aunt Sue remembers the "best cake ever" was an ice cream cake from Johnson's Creamery in Bloomington. Uncle Bill remembers two-layers cakes from a boxed mix (this does seem more consistent with Grandma who raved about the ease of a particular boxed cheesecake mix). My mom remembers her sister's party where Jell-O parfaits were served in lieu of cake. elaborately staged or themed cakes? I suppose I've been watching too much Cake Boss.

Toward the back of the notebook I did find a more practical birthday cake suggestion, one that was more en pointe with my expectations of the era and yet felt surprisingly familiar as it uses supermarket staples to create a concept cake (Semi-Homemade, anyone?). Even though this cake is not Max's style,  it is indeed mid-century modern.

Birthday Cake Express -- From Woman's Day magazine, circa 1951

All you have to do it buy a couple of angel-food-cake bars, frost them, and decorate with candies.

Mrs. S. C. Stene of La Grange, Ill., who contributed the idea for this cake, says it makes a real hit with little boys. Here is the recipe:

2 12-ounce angel-food-cake bars
2 1-ounce semi-sweet-chocolate candy bars
Cake frosting
13 small chocolate-covered mints
4 large chocolate-covered mint patties
1 red gumdrop
Red candies

A cutting board or cookie sheet covered with colorful, washable, self-lining paper, folded under and held in place on the back with Scotch tape, makes a good base for this unusually long cake.

Place one angel-food-cake bar on the base. Cut a 4 1/2 inch piece from the end of the second bar, and place on the end of the first bar to make cab. Cut 2 pieces from one candy bar, to make windows for cab. Cut the second candy bar in half lengthwise. Use to make cowcatcher, trimming inside edges diagonally to form angle when pieces are fitted together. Cover cake with your favorite frosting. A pile of 5 small mints, with a drop of frosting between them to make the stick together, is the smokestack. While frosting is soft enough to hold candies, set the wheels, cab windows, smokestack, and cowcatcher in place, as show in the photograph. Use red gumdrop for engine light, red candles on cake.

Oh -- so how did Max's birthday cake turn out? Fabulously, I must say. I had a connection at a fantastic bakery called Moore Tastries. Now THAT is thoroughly modern.... and I think Grandma would approve.

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