It's bad journalism to tell a lot of cute kiddie stories. However, as a public service I must tell you about the testing of an Easter bunny cake recipe and dispel any notion that food writers lead organized lives, humming away efficiently in spotless kitchens with Muzak piped in.
I had always dreamed of making the kind of Easter bunny cake that sits up on the plate, decorated in color and surrounded by grass. I started by calling a friend who bakes a lot. She gave me some books, one of which told me how to make a flat bunny out of cake rounds, which would have been too easy and not dramatic enough for me.
Another book was a catalogue of cake molds, and my boys and I pored over this page by page. There were Smurf cakes and heart cakes and balloon cakes, and the boys badly wanted every single one. By the time I got to the bunny cake, I'd lost patience. I snapped the book shut and made dinner.
The next day Alec and I went out to buy the mold. By the time we got home it was lunch time, and then it took another half hour to release the bunny mold from Alec's grip and get him in bed for his nap.
It was Saturday afternoon by the time Teddy and I got started. We were missing the very first ingredient, so we used margarine instead of shortening to grease every crevice of the mold. The recommended pastry brush didn't work worth a hoot, so we used our fingers.
Then we tossed the flour into the molds and shook them around. Teddy kept complaining that his flour was disappearing, and I kept explaining that his flour was supposed to disappear. The instructions insisted that there be no shiny spots. We greased and floured until we couldn't stand it anymore.
The mold instructions called for a pound cake, an extravaganza requiring three bowls and nine (count 'em) separated and beaten eggs. Teddy tackled the egg cracking while I went on with the other two mixtures.
Alec came down from his nap and started to lovingly fingerprint the mold we had just so painstakingly floured. Dad came in and said it was time for all of us to go to the toy store and pick out a playhouse.
An hour later, I found there was just enough accidental yolk in the bowl of whites to make them unwhippable. I chucked them all and separated the last nine eggs in the house, trying hard to stay patient. Alec felt hungry and started foraging for food, cruising the cupboards. I tossed him a cracker. Teeth clenched and ears steeled to the mounting wails of hunger, I whipped all the batters together, filled the mold and shoved it in the oven just in time to start the hot dogs for dinner.
An hour later, it took elbow grease from dad to pry the baked bunny out of the mold. He expressed amazement that the darned thing really looked like a bunny. I was amazed too, but pretended to be surprised that anybody would be surprised. We stored the thing in the refrigerator and went to a movie.
Then next day we took a family trip and left the unfrosted bunny alone at home. On Monday, I knew I had to frost the thing before it turned into a brick. Alec and I trucked out for shortening and confectioners' sugar. As he napped, my little hand mixer groaned and strained over what seemed an impossible assignment -- combining five cups of sugar into one cup of fat. But -- another miracle -- it turned into frosting.
That afternoon, Teddy had a friend home from school especially for the bunny bedecking. I gave Teddy, Sean and Alec each a bowl of frosting to tint. They stirred diligently, and then Alec ate his whole bowl. (That's why I gave him yellow; I didn't need any yellow.)
Frosting the bunny was a piece of cake, so to speak, especially with the boys right behind me, patting on shredded coconut to cover my multitude of mistakes. His eyes were dabs of blue icing, his ears streaks of pink. His nose was a black jelly bean, and his whiskers were little sticks of uncooked spaghetti. We tied a blue ribbon around his neck and surrounded him with green grass. Then we took his picture. He was gorgeous.
By the time dad got home last night, the bunny was gone from the waist down. When we got up this morning, he was only a head and shoulders. And as I write this in late afternoon, a runner from downstairs has just come up to ask if it's all right to just finish it off.
Our bunny cake was four days in the making and less than 24 hours in the eating. But I've got to say that it was so good that it was worth every bit of trouble. And I probably will make it again . . . if I can just get the mold away from Alec. BUNNY POUND CAKE (About 20 servings) 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour plus extra for mold 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 9 eggs, separated 2 cups sugar 2 cups soft butter plus extra for mold 2 teaspoons vanilla
Grease and flour a bunny mold thoroughly. (Check directions on mold to make sure this recipe will fit the mold.)
Sift flour with baking powder and salt; set aside. Beat egg whites until foamy in a large bowl. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating after each addition, until soft peaks form.
In another bowl, beat egg yolks with remaining sugar, butter and vanilla until light and fluffy. Then add flour mixture and combine at low speed until smooth. Gradually mix in egg whites, scraping side of bowl with scraper. Turn into front half of bunny mold until almost overflowing, then snap on back half and tie with string (refer to mold instructions). Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, testing for doneness with a toothpick (inserted through the small hole in mold), which should come out clean.
Unmold carefully according to mold instructions. Let cool for at least 4 hours before frosting. Any excess batter may be used for cupcakes. BUTTERCREAM ICING (Enough for 1 bunny and 6 cupcakes) 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 5 cups sifted confectioners' sugar 3 tablespoons milk FOR THE GARNISH: 1 drop red food coloring 1 drop blue food coloring 2 strands uncooked spaghetti 1 black jelly bean 2 cups shedded coconut Strand ribbon Green paper grass
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, 1 cup at a time, scraping bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, add milk and beat at high speed until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered with a damp cloth until you're ready to decorate.
To garnish: Place 2 tablespoons frosting into 2 small bowls each, add red coloring in one and blue in the other, and mix until they are pink and pastel blue. Dab blue in bunny's eye sockets and streak pink down the interior of the ear with a teaspoon. Place spaghetti on nose for whiskers and place black jelly bean on nose. Sprinkle coconut over all. Tie ribbon around bunny's neck and surround with green paper grass. Take the credit.