CHRISTMAS CAKE 2014

One of the more sickeningly sweet aspects of Christmas around Food Critic Headquarters is the tradition of the “Christmas Cake.”

It’s something I started with my family about 6 years ago and we’ve done it every Christmas ever since.
 

Here’s the basic poop:

• I bake a cake.
• I hide eight “trinkets” inside the cake.
• Each trinket has a significance.
• One special trinket is the “Christmas King or Queen” trinket.  
• The person who gets that special trinket in their slice of cake is crowned with our family Tam, and declared The Christmas King or Queen!
There are various facets, nuances, rules, and regulations surrounding the Christmas Cake that we discuss, recognize, and adhere to as a family, and those are all subject to change at the Monarch’s will and/or the Will of the People, to a degree.
And, too, also… there’s prognosticating involved.
It’s a little weird, and the weirdest part of this whole thing  —  the part that surprised and confused my family at first  —  is that I bake a cake.  Now they’re used to it, but in beginning…  yeah, it was weird that I volunteered to bake a cake.
I can honestly say that I have no recollection of ever baking a cake in my entire life before I decided to take on this task six years ago, so before beginning, I sought the advice of my home-cooking gurus:  My Mom and Dawn, and to a lesser extent, my social media network.
Here are the most important things I learned:

• Why kill yourself? – Make a cake from scratch?!?  Who am I Karen Donatelli?  No, I am not.  The home cooks in my life all gave me permission to start with a box.  I always buy organic cake mix with the fewest possible ingredients on the label, so it’s like, good.
• Add an extra egg. – If the box calls for 2 eggs, use 3.  It makes the cake moister.  Simple as a pimple.
• Add an extra pinch of salt. – It’s like magic pixie dust.  Just one little pinch…  or maybe two… makes everything taste better, and therefor it makes life happier, and therefor it is exactly like magic pixie dust.
Melt the butter in a pot, then let it cool a bit before adding it to the milk and eggs.  If it’s still hot, it’ll fuck-up the eggs, Yo.
I always make a two-layer cake, using two 9″, round baking pans.  They are “non-stick” but that is utter and total bullshit.  If you do not grease and powder the fuck out of these two shits, the cake will stick.  For realz.  Heed my warning!!!
Mmm…  cake batter.  I wanna eat it with a fucking spoon!  It does, however, contain 3 raw eggs, so yeah…  no. 
Oh my gosh, they came out beautifully this year!  So golden yellowy brown!  My oven runs a little hot, so I took ’em out a few mins before the box recommended.  When I did the toothpick trick, they were super moist, so I asked Dawn if she thought they were too moist and she said, “No.  They’ll cook a little more out of the oven anyways.” She was right!  As far as the moistness goes, this was my best cake ever!
What looks like delicious cornbread, is actually delicious, moist, all natch, organic, vanilla cake!

Arrrrg!  I remembered to grease the pans, but forgot to powder them, so my cakes stuck to the bottom of the pans a li’l bit.  I managed to piece them together  —  Frankencake style  —  and using that sweet Spackle we call frosting, no one was the wiser.  ;-)  Until just now…  when I revealed my secret failure to you, the public.

They might appear a little monstrous, but they were fucking good, and with a little plastic surgery, they were beautiful again!

I made an icing tool out of a Ziplock baggie with one corner cut-off, and used it to squeeze a circle of frosting along the inner top edge of the bottom layer, and then stuck the top layer on.  In past years, I’ve iced the entire top of the bottom layer, but I decided that was way too much frosting in the end.  We’re not a huge frosting family.  Sure, frosting is yummy, and totally essential to the cake experience, but enough is enough already.  Nomesayin’?

After the two layers were assembled, I positioned all of the trinkets on top.  There are 8 people in our core X-Mas dinner group, and this year I opted for seven pedestrian penguins and one special X-Mas Penguin.  In years past, there have been eight different trinkets, each with its own meaning, but there has always been one special X-Mas trinket.
I buy my magic “trinkets” at Chevron Bead Company on N. Lexington ave.  They are beads.

As I have said, there is prognosticating involved in the Christmas Cake tradition, and in the past there has always been a Prognosticator’s trinket.  The person who found that trinket in their slice of cake was responsible for making predictions for every other person at the table.  This year, that position was eliminated and those responsibilities were absorbed into the duties of the Christmas Monarch.  We had a brief family council meeting in which I notified everyone of these changes, and they agreed to them.  My nephew Asa was the Monarch of 2013/14, and he was down with the changes, and so it was decreed.  And there was much rejoicing.

Whaaat?!?  How fucking cute are these guys?  I usually buy glass beads, sometimes glazed ceramic, but never plastic or Femo.

Getting the trinkets into the cake has always posed a dilemma, until I realized I could just push those little fuckers into the dang cake and fill in the holes with frosting!  Duh.
Burying the bodies…  in frosting!!!  Yay! Bury me in frosting when I die, please.
People always ask, “Do you bake the trinkets into the cake?”  Good question, and that did occur to me the first year, but I realized that would make it very difficult to know where the trinkets are hidden in the cake.  The location of specific trinkets should remain a mystery to all, including me, but the locations of the 8 trinkets in general must be known to the person who slices the cake, so that each person is assured one, and only one, trinket.
U go bye bye now.  Aw.  Don’t haz a sad! We see u soon!
After filling in the holes with frosting, I marked each trinket with a tiny sugar ball called a “pearl,” so that I would know where they were after the frosting had hidden all trace of their shallow graves.
Let the frosting of the cake being!  Hey! “Frosting” is both a noun and a verb.  I like that.
The frosting I use is from a simple recipe that Dawn gave me, which consists of butter, sugar, and cream cheese.  I reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by about a 1/4 cup.  Again, I like sugar, but ooftah!  Enough is enough, Motherfuckers.  I just whip it a little extra long to make up for the lost volume of the sugar.

EXTREEEEEME CLOSSSE-UP!  Yeah, Man.  Sugar balls.  Which also happens to be my nickname.
I used a clunky rubber spatula and a crappy plastic knife to spread the frosting around.  Y’know what?  I think next year, I’m gonna splurge and buy myself some cake frosting implements.  Fuck it, Man.  No more Ziplock baggies and plastic knives!  I mean, I do an Okay job with my bonobo tools, but I think if I had the real deal, I could do some pretty dang purdy deesigns. I am an artist after all! 

Starting to shape up!

Frosting the cake used to stress the fuck out of me, until I decided that I do not give a shit about making it smooth.  Now I just go for the stucco look and I love it.  You don’t liiike?  No cake for you!
That’s a human eyeball in the small dish… no it isn’t.  It’s an Atomic Fireball.  I’ll explain later. 
After the cake is entirely frosted, I further delineate the slices with a snowflake pattern.  In the past I have used the Ziplock squeeze-bag to make my snowflake, but this year, Dawn brought me some “Sparkle Gel” that I thought would be perfect for the job, and it was!  Thanks, Dawn!

Good gawd.  I usually use some kind of freaky stuff from the cake making Isle of Ingle’s  This year, it’s “Sparkle Gel.”
To make the snowflake design, I make four crisscrossing lines, to form and asterisk/star/cartoon ass-hole shape. Then I add a “V” shape about a 1/2 inch in from the ends of each line, to form a bit of a crows foot.  It looks just like a muhfuckin’ snowflake, plus it gives me a diagram of 8 perfect slices  —  each with a trinket inside  —  to work with when it’s time to cut the cake!  Yeah, Man!  Slicing the cake can be stressful, so this reduces the stress by about 83%.

Awwww…  pretty snowflake!
The final task for decorating the cake is to add “XMAS 2014” to the top.  It works perfectly that one letter or number fits onto to each slice of the cake!  People pick their slice by telling me which number or letter they want.  This year, I left my food coloring at my sisters house, after handing my nephews their asses in a Santa Cookie decorating competition, so I had to improvise the colored frosting for the final decoration.
We had an ass-load of candy in the house because of Christmas, so I took an Atomic Fireball and soaked it in a small amount of water for about 40 minutes.  The water turned bright red, so that when I mixed it with the frosting in the squeeze bag it all turned pink.  I was planning to decorate the cake with blue frosting this year, but pink was better than nothing, plus it added a very slight cinnamon flavor that everyone seemed to either not notice or actually enjoy.  My mother even said it was my best cake yet!  I admit that I’m proud of my MacGyvered-up Atomic Fireball frosting solution.  Sometimes, you gotta think on your muhfuckin’ feets in the kitchen!

I am not a professional cake decorator.
Even though I hold a BFA in Illustration from the Art Institute of Boston, and have been a professional artist / graphic designer for about twenty years, I totally suck balls at decorating cakes.  This I know, and accept about myself, after six years of failing at it every Christmas.  My motto:  Don’t Care! I just fucking go for it and the world can eat a bag of royal fuck if they don’t like it.  Maybe my fancy tools will improve my skills next year.  Buuut, probably not.

I repeat:  I am NOT a professional cake decorator.
My whole family spazzes the fuck out when it’s time to finally eat the cake and find the trinkets.  My nephews couldn’t give less of a shit about the actual cake, until after they discover whether or not they’ve received the special X-Mas trinket, and get to wear the awesome family tam as Christmas Monarch for a whole year.   

The first year winner/Monarch was my Bro-In-Law, Willy.  We have theee most hilarious pictures of him receiving the tam.  His.  Face.  Was.  Killing me.

In Year two, Dawn won the crown, and the following year it was my my sister’s turn to be the lucky wearer of the tam.  Dawn was thrilled, but my sister’s face was almost equally as hilarious as Willy’s in it’s un-thrilled-ness.  Meanwhile, the nephews were fucking DYING to win.  And me too.  Maybe.  Secretly.  Just a little.   
Finally in years four & five my nephew Hanson was a two-time winner, and then last year his older brother Asa took it away from him to claim the tam from December 25th 2013, up until December 25th 2014.  
That’s when I got it.
Yeeeah, Man!!!  I got the X-Mas trinket, I received the Fam Tam,  and I am the current, reigning King of Christmas, mother fuckers!!!
This photo was staged after the fact.  I was too busy stuffing my face with cake to take pictures during events as they took place.
Okay, the truth is, the trinket wasn’t actually in my piece of cake, but I invoked an old, somewhat obscure and rarely cited rule, in which a period of trading may be conducted BEFORE prognostication begins.  In past years, if a family member was unhappy with their trinket, they could ask if anyone wanted to trade.  If there were takers, a bargain was struck.  Well…
My step-dad got the special X-Mas trinket in his piece of cake this year, but because of the new, added duties of the King, he was unhappy about it.  Asa was first to invoke the trade rule, but he was shot down as last year’s winner, so that’s when I spoke up, accepted the trade, and just like that, baddah-bing-baddah-boom, allah-kazzam, shamma-lamma-ding-dong, I became the Christmas Monarch. 
As Willy put it:  “The rightful king abdicated his throne to his eccentric step-son.”  

The “aaand this did not bode well for the Kingdom” was implied.

### THE END ###

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4 thoughts on “CHRISTMAS CAKE 2014

  1. Stu, when you're out shopping for your new fancy cake decorating doodads, buy some baking parchment too. Then you can just cut some circles for the bottoms of your pans and your cake won't stick ever again. Huzzah!

    Like

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