Lately my daughter has been watching the show Shaun the Sheep, by Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame). During an episode entitled “The Farmer’s Llamas,” her eye was immediately caught by this cake, which is featured only for a few moments:
She was so interested in it that in a fit of reckless abandon, I promised to make it for her once she’d achieved a specific level of proficiency in one of her school activities. And here we are.
One thing I noticed about the cake was that it’s really not a cake at all– it’s a molded jelly dessert. You can tell that the top tier is pure jelly, the middle one is jelly with orange slices in it, and the bottom one is molded jelly with some kind of cream mixed in to make it more opaque (it can’t be cake, it’s too smooth). However, while we enjoy gelatin desserts we like cake better in our house, so we decided to compromise.
Well, there’s a monster of a title for this dessert… but each component is so important that I just couldn’t leave any of them out!
Now that summer is drawing to a close I’ve been trying to take advantage of summer fruits as much as possible, so when I had occasion to make dessert for a crowd I decided to center it on fresh peaches, which looked great at the market and were just squeezably ripe (but sadly did not live up to their promise flavor-wise). Since one of my favorite uses of fresh fruit is to spoon it over an otherwise basic cake, I found a recipe that was only slightly fancied-up with brown butter, and pulled out my Gothic bundt pan to make it look extra pretty. For once, the cake unmolded perfectly (see tips below) and the brown butter added some nice depth of flavor. I could have stopped there, of course, but once I tasted the peaches I knew I’d need something more.
Every year for Thanksgiving, we go to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner– and every year, I bring some kind of baked good to share. Over the years, I’ve developed some criteria to maximize people’s enjoyment of my creation: It has to keep well at room temperature, because the fridge is full already. It has to be easy and neat to eat, so people don’t have to get out plates or forks to get a piece. And it has to be a cake or loaf of some kind (rather than individually-portioned cookies, etc.) because while people are sometimes reluctant to grab an entire cookie or cupcake between meals, they’re always happy to slice off just a teeny-weeny bit to snack on as they pass by.
This bundt cake is perfect for the occasion– it’s got a dense, fine crumb that lets it hold together well when people pick up a slice, it’s not so sweet or decadent that people feel guilty about grabbing some, and it’s appropriately festive, being chock-full of cranberries and pecans. And yes, the flavor combination may sound familiar from my Cranberry-Orange Walnut Muffin recipe, but this cake is a lot richer and denser than the light, fluffy muffins, making it just the right dessert for a family event.
I blame Target for this cake. Which may not be a bad thing, but I’m going to go ahead and use the word “blame” because I’m still not happy with Target for ceasing to carry my favorite yogurt, Dannon Light n’ Fit Vanilla Greek yogurt. I’d never had it before the Target store opened down the street from my house, but once I tried it I was hooked. I was having it for breakfast daily, and it was sweet and dessert-y enough that I was planning on swirling it with some fruit purée and freezing it into popsicles at some point, when suddenly Target stopped carrying it! The travesty!
Instead, the only nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt I could find was what appeared to be Target’s store brand, Simply Balanced. Willing to forgive (if not forget), I picked up a carton to give it a try.
I was not impressed. Neither as sweet as the Dannon, nor as tangy as regular Greek yogurt, this stuff was just bland, with a distinct aftertaste of what can only be described as “barnyard.” Seriously, this was not something I’d be eating more of on its own– I didn’t even want to think about finishing the container.
What’s a girl to do in this situation? Bake cake, of course. Yogurt cake. Orange yogurt cake, to use up some extra orange juice from a recent brunch party. A big one that would use up as much of that blasted yogurt as possible.
When I was a little girl I greatly enjoyed reading the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, which featured chapter after chapter of misbehaving children and their hapless mothers who turned to good old Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for help. The cures ranged from “let the kids stay up late as long as they want until they’re too tired to do anything fun, so they’ll stop complaining about bedtime,” to “I’ll let you borrow my pig with lovely table manners to act as a model/shame your child into eating politely,” to “here are some magic pills that will turn your child invisible whenever he’s showing off.” The books were hopelessly dated even back when I read them– they all involved happy housewives and mostly absent husbands, and everyone wore gloves and attended luncheons and ate ridiculous 1950’s food. Which is what brings me to this, um… masterpiece.
Because really, the 1950’s produced some seriously awful stuff, and while I think that the foods mentioned in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books were deliberately exaggerated (prune, noodle, and sardine surprise, anyone?), this one was just too bizarre-yet-plausible to pass up.
The table was decorated with pink tulips, a pink tablecloth, pink candles, pink napkins, and pink nut dishes. The main course was a maraschino cherry, walnut, marshmallow, pineapple, strawberry, cream cheese and cabbage molded salad, accompanied by pink biscuits. There were also pink mints and pink gumdrops. And luckiest of all, Mrs. Harroway just happened to be dressed entirely in pink with even pink gloves and pink roses on her hat. All through lunch she was so happy and gay everybody said, “You look adorable, Helen dear, I wish I’d worn pink.”