Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July Flag Cake

Every 4th of July, I am expected to make an American flag cake for my families annual BBQ. Every year my side of the family gets together on this day either at my Grandparents or my house to celebrate and eat food. We used to go to the rodeo and stay to watch the fireworks. It was tradition, that just what you did. Now my allergies are too bad to tolerate the dust so mostly we end up going back home to watch the display which works out better for a family with young kids anyway.

My side of the family is very predictable. They get together at every single holiday imaginable and it is always the same. For years, Christmas to me meant "Eggs Grillo" at my Grandma's house and then later, my Aunt Kellie's. Now it means "Eggs Grillo" (which is basically eggs benedict with a beer cheese sauce instead of hollandaise) at my house. I love this tradition and tend to find comfort in doing the same things. However it is just now dawning on me that most families I know don't operate like this. Sure families in general like to get together, but it's done differently in each. In Jeremy's family, if they have a get together, it is almost always unexpected and last minute. The attitude is if you can make it, great, we would love to see you but we are going to have a great time with or without you. That might sound slightly mean or weird and for a while I thought it was, but really, it's awesome. There is freedom in that attitude. Freedom from expectations. Freedom in saying no if you have (or would like to make) other plans. Freedom in knowing their feelings will not be hurt if you decline because they are secure in your love for them. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. And do you know ultimately what that freedom does? It makes you rarely want to say no. Why would you? You want to be with them and at the party that is flexible, unfussy and relaxed where you are free to do whatever it is you want to do whether it be nap on the couch or play bad mitten in the backyard because anything goes there.

When Jeremy's side had a family reunion last year I was sort of shocked at how it was conducted. Jeremy's Mom has 4 brothers and sisters so there are 5 families who's sole purpose was to see and visit each other during the course of a week. In my family, that might be a stressful situation for me personally because when you have a family reunion it is expected (probably as it should be) that you will be together, doing things together, eating together, etc. This is the general idea when Jeremy's family gets together, but there are no expectations of what the time will look like. Basically, each family went off and did their own things. Dan and Sandy's family went river rafting. Gracie's family was hiking. Tim and Sherry went out to lunch with Laura and Randy (and no one else's feelings were hurt that they were not formally invited!) and Cindy was home with her Mom who was napping while she cleaning her house for that night's dinner. When it was time for dinner there was no set time to come. You just came whenever you were done with your nap, or with the activity you were doing. No expectation, no judgement. Just family wanting to be together, unselfishly without their own agenda in mind. If you couldn't come because you had a headache there was no reason to feel badly. You would just see everyone the next day if you were up to it. It was strange. It was downright weird but in the end I rather liked it (shocker huh?)

My family is not flexible. I don't mean to say that in a bad way. They are just not flexible and that's the truth. There are expectations. On the fourth of July the flag cake must be made, we must have a BBQ and we must get together come hell or high water. If you had another invitation from anybody to do anything else you must decline it because you have already committed to do this same thing year after year. It's like an unwritten code. They are not Nazi's. I just read this paragraph over and it sounds like my family might be Nazi's. I assure you they are not and they are lovely people but they just march to the beat of a different drum. On the other hand, Jeremy's family description sounds like they are hippies. HA! They are sooooo not hippies. I remember when we first got married Jeremy saying to me "Your family gets together for every single holiday. That's kind of strange". Poppycock! Your family are the strange ones! Jeremy would sometimes say something like "Let's go to the Heit's for Thanksgiving, wouldn't it be fun?" Fun?!?! Thanksgiving is a holiday. It is for families (the un-written code). The Heit's are our friends. I couldn't call my Grandma or my Mom and say "oh yeah, were not going to make it tonight. Oh, no were fine. No, no ones sick. We just want to go to our friends house who doesn't have any family in town to celebrate with, instead". Yeah no. That would not go over well.

Somewhere along the line, after 6 years of marriage, Jeremy's logic is starting to make more sense to me. I'm sure, somewhere at sometime, during some holiday I will make that fateful call to my family to tell them I will not be coming, but yes I am in town and that I have other plans that year. In a good relationship you should have the freedom to be able to do that. Your family should know and rest in the fact that you like to be with them and will be, just not maybe on this particular day. It should be no big deal. Just writing that, however, makes me kind of dizzy. It won't be this year. It won't be this fourth of July. Nope, today I will log off this computer, march straight into the kitchen, allergies and poor sleep be damned and make this flag cake. After all, it is tradition!

American Flag Cake
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

2 1/4 sticks (18 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature (or plain yogurt or buttermilk)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 pounds (3 8-oz packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pound confectioners sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To Assemble:
2 half-pints blueberries
3 half-pints raspberries

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 18x12x1 1/2-inch sheet pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Pour into prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

For the icing, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla int he bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mixing just until smooth.

Spread three fourths of the icing on top of the cooled sheet cake. outline the flag on the top of the cake with a toothpick. Fill the upper left corner with blueberries. Place two rows of the raspberries across the top of the cake like a red stripe. Put remaining icing in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe rows of white stripes below the raspberries. Alternate rows of raspberries and icing until flag is completed. Pipe stars on top of the blueberries (optional).

This isn't about the cake. Can you tell that? it's all about the decor on top so feel free to you use your favorite vanilla or chocolate (or carrot, banana, etc) cake recipe. You don't need to use this one as most recipes for a 2-layer cake will be the perfect amount of batter for the sheet pan. Just make sure to use white icing or it won't look like the flag. I use a different recipe almost every year, but it's supposed to be the same so don't tell my family! :) Serve this cake right in the sheet pan. If you want to be able to remove it after it's baked then put parchment paper in the bottom of the pan before you butter and flour it. But for best results I'd say to serve it in the pan.

Another thing is I never have my eggs at room temperature when I need them to be. Eggs add more volume when they are not cold so in order to achieve this last minute, I put the amount of eggs called for in a bowl of warm water for a couple minutes. It does the trick!

I was in a hurry today and didn't add the stripes of icing in-between the raspberry lines like I usually do. It looks better if you do it, but as you can see it's a beauty anyway. God bless the USA and all our families too.