Jan 30, 2011

Cradle Cake

There is a cake under all that greenery--a Christmas Cradle Cake. I had planned to make the cranberry cheesecake for our family's Christmas dinner dessert, but I made it ahead of time for an office potluck. Not wanting to repeat, I looked at the list of upcoming cakes and decided the Cradle Cake was a likely prospect. And so it was.

This cake has two distinct parts: the soft, tender buttermilk cake inside and the crisp, pecan-chocolate-egg white dacquoise on the outside. If you're smarter than I am, you already know that the word "dacquoise" comes from the French town Dax, the home of the famous "Dax spa" and of lovely meringue cakes. Those Daxians apparently like the sybaritic life.

My daughter Liz was home for Christmas, and she suggested that we divide up the components: she would do the dacquoise because that was the interesting part of the cake while I would do the boring part. She had never made a meringue before, so I kept checking on her progress..

Egg whites beat until glossy? Check.

Pecan mixture carefully folded in? Check.

Egg white mixture spread into pan so that it forms a rectangular hollow? Check.

Meanwhile I was making the cake batter. But as we put the cake in the oven, and I began putting things away, I realized that there was no half-stick of butter on the counter to put in the refrigerator. And that meant ... that I had added the butter twice. And that meant that the cake that was supposed to have 4 tablespoons of butter now had 8 tablespoons.
"Well, I hate to say it, Mom," said my daughter, "but that's what you get for back-seat baking. If you'd focused on your own part instead of hovering over me, that never would have happened." Hmmph. Back-seat baking indeed.

I had hopes that the butter incident wouldn't adversely affect the cake, but no such luck. The cake sank down in the pan and a small testing bite revealed that the cake had a heavy, lumpen quality that wasn't going to impress anyone. Proof positive that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. We had plenty of ingredients and enough time, so we started over. This time, the chastened chief baker stayed focused on her own job. We also put the first attempt out in the back yard for the birds and squirrels. They seemed quite jolly about it. I almost expected them to burst into song.

No problems at all the second time around. The cake didn't sink. We unmolded it without incident. The sous chef decided it looked boring and needed considerable spiffing up to make it worthy of its status as Christmas dessert.

My so-called assistant decorated the cake with stripes of chocolate drizzle glaze, and decorated the sides of the platter with various holiday greens. Then she decided that even the side greens and the drizzle weren't festive enough, so she added more on the top of the cake itself. Finally, she pronounced it gala enough for the occasion.

I personally loved the simple but flavorful buttermilk cake that is the backbone of this dessert; others preferred the taste of the dacquoise. In the end, it's the combination of creamy and crunchy, mellow and complex, that makes this cake so special.

Liz: "The outside crunchy part is really good. The cake itself is more boring."
Danny: "Aren't we supposed to say things that will sound good in print? This pleases my palate."
Lisa: "I really like this cake. I know I'm supposed to say something witty but I can't think of anything."
Jim: "I hate to say this, but the outside part with chocolate and pecans is really good."


Monica said...

Ohhh wow, does it look festive! And your daughter is funny... back seat baking love it and going to steal it too!

My second attempt... was a total success, I'm thinking the first fiasco was due to not beating the egg whites enough and the fact that the cake was too dense...

Lois B said...

What a funny write-up, Marie. It's always the mom's fault, isn't it? ;)

Cake #2 looks beautiful. I'm starting mine this afternoon.

Vicki said...

How fun! Baking with a daughter is such a delight. She's so cute! Your cake looked turned out pretty. My granddaughter is oohing and ahhing over it like mine is going to be as festive.

Marie said...

I can't wait to see your cake! I hope you include at least one picture of Cake #1.

You are so right--it's always the mom!

Neither of my daughters bakes very much, but they're both naturals. It is fun--but I envy you your "grandma baking."

Mendy said...


"t's the combination of creamy and crunchy, mellow and complex, that makes this cake so special."

Hmm. I totally agree!

Hanaâ said...

Beautiful cake, Marie. Looks like you and your daughter had fun together. I'm surprised Jim didn't get a shot of the inside view. I guess you'll have to make cake #3 when your daughter's visiting again :o)

faithy said...

so pretty! I love how your daughter decorated it! :) very festive! I thought i would relax and take a break from baking till after CNY but now i think i will have to attempt this cake tonight! It's been raining for days (quite unusual for our weather here)..so hopefully it'll stop raining and i can go get some pecans. :)

evil cake lady said...

I agree with Mendy's agreement of your description of this cake. And lucky birds and squirrels! I laughed at the thought of them having a little holiday party in the yard with your excessively buttered cake.

doughadear said...

It's too bad the first cake didn't cooperate with the extra butter. The second cake turned out beautifully and plus you got to spend more time in the kitchen with your daughter.

Sarah the Bear said...

Backseat baking is hilarious! I'm not going to share that accusation with my man, as I'm afraid it will find a new home in our kitchen.
And thank you for making me look up a new word--sybaritic. Now that's one I will be glad to use quite a bit :)
I did not get to the Cradle Cake this week, but I have it on the agenda for the upcoming Free Choice. Sounds like a new adventure!

Jenn said...

Funny post Marie. Love the back seat baking comment! Sorry that you had to make this twice. Good thing you got an assistant on hand though :).

lola said...

What a fun post and how special to share with your daughter - back seat baking and all. Your second try looks like a delightful addition to the holiday table. Two times around with this cake seems to be the norm for some of us.

Katya said...

how pretty, marie. when my stylist comes back from europe, i need to up the styling ante. made the cradle cake last night--will try to get some kind of post up tonight. Taster report: "this is the kind of cake it's hard to stop eating." It has this indefinable Sarah Lee ish quality--very good for breakfast.

Katya said...

i was worried at first because the ratio of batter to dacquoise seemed off (maybe a result of my mixer not being very energetic with the batter (bowl too big)) but it worked out quite nicely, and as your tasters pointed out, the outside is well worth having a bit too much of.

Marie said...

I'm pleased that you noticed that sentence--it took me a while to come up with the right words.

The cake went to Jim's sister's house, where, believe it or not, Jim didn't have his camera. By the time we came home, the cake was just unsightly crumbs.

Andrea said...

Very funny post! And, your cake looks very festive!

Marie said...

I'm sure this cake is perfect for CNY!

They were looking very happy and as if they didn't care in the slightest that I'd messed up the recipe.

Yes, she was just home for a whirlwind Christmas weekend, so it was lovely to spend quality time with her in the kitchen.

Isn't it funny how words can just come to you? I wrote the word "sybaritic," and then doubted myself about 1) whether it was a word and 2) if so, it was appropriate. Turned out it was. I think you should use it in your next post.

I can't believe what a good job my novice assistant did with the dacquoise!

Funny how we seemed to be able to take all kinds of wrong turns with this cake!

You're right--I didn't thinki of it before, but there's a Sara Lee poundcake similarity.
How was Lisbon?

Thanks--it certainly was! I was a little concerned the berries might be toxic, but apparently not.

Melinda said...

I am way behind in commenting on your posts. I have been experiencing posting difficulties. I got so cross over it that I finally gave up trying about 2 weeks ago. Don't think it was related to my blog going AWOL. I'm blaming Google.
Anyhoot...This cake intrigues me. Very interesting. I applaud your baking tenacity for whipping up another, when the first didn't pass muster.
And good on you, Liz, busting your Mom's ACSB. (anal compulsive supervision of the Baking)I am sure it is listed in the Big Book of Disorders.
The cake looks gorgeous. Merry Christmas.