22 March 2008

The Lamb Cake

I inherited the traditional ( and once terrible) task of making the Lamb Cake each Easter. The antique cast iron mold of a cute little lamb, and memories from my childhood of the thrilling cake seduced me into thinking I should have the Lamb Cake mold. As I remember the story, it belonged to Florence Herff (who my mother says was a lot like me.) She was my great grandmother who I never met. She raised my mother and so the mold came down the family tree. Now I'm not sure Florence ever actually make the cake, because Anna, the housekeeper/nanny who lived with the family for three generations was always there. When I was a child it was Anna who made the cake, easy as pie. I cannot remember an Easter without the lamb. Anna passed away 35 years ago so I inherited the mold, but not the recipe.

I imagined my children having fond memories of Easter Sunday when I would bring the dusty mold off the shelf and perform the magic I once saw. But in reality, I would start the experiment only hours before having to present the cake to my big family of five brothers whom also could not imagine an Easter without the lamb. Always optimistic, picturing the perfect presentation, I would start looking through cookbooks to find the perfect recipe. For many, many years the cute little cake would turn into a monster nightmare of frustration and tears. The lamb would become a Frankenstein sort of creature with toothpicks and excessive amounts of icing gluing together his head, ears, nose. One year he had to go to the party laying down, like the slaughtered lamb. I had many a humiliating Easter and grew to dread the hateful little lamb. My children had uneasy feelings about Easter as a holiday that involved lots of hair pulling and cussing.

But no more! After close to 30 years of experiments, I have learned the secrets of how to make the Lamb Cake and I am sharing every detail with you so maybe you too will dare to create a cake that delights little children and grandparents alike.

How to Make a Lamb Cake

Dust off the cast iron mold. Ours is in 2 pieces that fit together with the nose side down.
Use spray oil with flour in it if available. Get the oil in all the nooks and crannies.

Preheat oven to 375

Have all ingredients room temperature
Sift before measuring 2 cups cake flour,
resift with:
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
In another bowl cream until fluffy:
1 cup sugar and 1/3 to 1/2 cup butter
combine: 3/4 cup milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the sifted ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with thirds of the liquid combination. Stir the batter until smooth after each addition. Whip until stiff but not dry
2 large egg whites. Fold them lightly into the batter.

Now, put the mold NOSE side down on a cookie sheet and fill with batter. Next is the secret to an upright lamb with ears... carefully add bamboo skewers into the nose, across the head to the ears and one for the entire length of the body. Much like the Statue of Liberty, the lamb needs a structure to be sure it will stand true and tall.

Next, close the other half over the mold and place in the oven for 50 minutes. Our mold has no vents or way to test for doneness, so you just have to know 50 minutes is right. Trust me on this. Don't open the mold!

When done, let it sit IN THE MOLD, nose side down for 15 minutes.

Then you may lift the back off and see how you did.
Let the lamb rest for another 15-30 minutes to cool and set.
When cool, carefully loosen the edges with a knife, especially around the ears. Then flip it onto a platter. Before icing the cake I recommend freezing it for a short time to give it more strength.

I make lots just in case I need to glue a head or ear back on...

Sift 4 cups confectioners sugar
beat until soft:
6 Tablespoons butter
Add sugar gradually
Add 4 teaspoons vanilla or coffee or orange, etc
Blend until creamy (add a little cream to make it creamy)

Let icing sit over hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Let Lamby out of the freezer and stand him up. Slather thickly with icing to make him look fat and cute. While icing is still wet, pat shredded coconut all over him. Add raisins for eyes and nose and tie a pretty bow around his neck.

Decorate the platter and take a picture of the little guy!


laurel said...

Oh! I have so many fond Easter memories of watching my mother frantically piece together these crumbling FrankenLambs. It was always such an agonizing ordeal for her, until one Easter she stumbled upon the perfect combination of techniques, and Lamb cake agony became a thing of the past. Congratulations on sticking with it, Mom! And thank you for sharing your perfect recipe so posterity won't have to suffer as you did!

Jennifer said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I have been searching all over for steps on how to use an antique lamb mold. I plan to try it tomorrow to have it ready by Easter. I have a few questions for you.

How does the batter fill up on the back half of the lamb if you only fill the front half? Does this have to do with the thickness of the batter as most sites recommended using pound cake?

My family doesn't care for coconut, have you ever tried decorating the lamb with icing dots?

Thank you again for this post, its extremely helpful! :-)