Happy Fourth of July! This post not only celebrates America’s declaration of Independence from Great Britain, but also marks one year for my blog. Given the
circumstances, I thought what way to better celebrate than with an epic cake?
Thanks to Food52’s well-timed post, I knew that I had the perfect cake for the
occasion, and I can’t wait for you to try it out as well!
Last year we celebrated with this fabulous flag pizza along with Jasper John’s iconic Flag print. This year, I think we need to take a closer look at our founding father,
the first president of the United States: George Washington. In addition to all of his political accomplishments—first president, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary war, contributor to the Constitution, Washington is also one of the most popular inspirations for art and culture in America…EVER. His face appears on both the US quarter and US $1 bill, has been on numerous postage stamps, and has been referred to or illustrated in paintings, sculptures, monuments, films, TV, songs…and the list goes on.
One of the most iconic images of Washington is Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 depiction of Washington and his troops, Washington Crossing the Delaware. Here Washington is—you guessed it—crossing the Delaware River, on his way to New Jersey to surprise the German troops at the Battle of Trenton. Washington stands regally at the bow of his boat, while his troops, wrapped in blankets and heavy coats (since it was Christmas evening) navigate the icy Delaware waters. Funnily enough, German artist Leutze shows two of Washington’s men holding up an enormous early version of the American flag, a version with 13 stars arranged in a circle (the “Betsy Ross flag”), which was not actually used until a bit later. Nonetheless, Leutze’s work is significant, and a second version of the work is displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (following the destruction of the first version during WWII).
Over a hundred years later, artist Cindy Sherman posed as George Washington as part of her History Portraits series—portraits of herself styled and posed as characters inspired by the Old Masters. This series examined subjects’ representation in classical portraiture borrowing from many stylistic periods. In Untitled #196, Sherman is seen straight on, staring right at the viewer, her left leg perched up on a ruby ledge topped with books. She wears the costume that Washington might have worn, even down to wig and nose prosthetic.
Shortly after, John F. Kennedy Jr. created the political magazine, George, named after Mr. Washington, and featuring celebrities dressed as George Washington on each cover. Cindy Crawford graced the first cover in an outfit was a little less traditional than Sherman’s, but no less dramatic.
Drama and pride are the motivation behind this spectacularly patriotic cake; one that
I promise will be a hit at all of your July 4th parties. While putting this cake creation together may look as intimidating as Mr. Washington’s wooden teeth were scary,
I promise, it is simple to make (though it does take a while, so be patient), and well worth the extra effort!! I hope you all have marvelous holidays!
American Flag Cake
For this amazing cake, you will need to make 5 9-inch circular cakes—two white, two
red and one blue
For each cake:
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 ½ cups cake flour, sifted
¾ cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
red and blue food coloring
For the buttercream frosting (enough to frost the entire cake):
4 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
8 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or the scrapings of one vanilla bean
1/3 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F (at this point, I would recommend changing into your American-flag themed swimsuit if you have it—your oven is going to be on for HOURS, and if your kitchen is anything like mine, it is going to get STEAMY). Spray two 9-inch, circular cake pans with cooking spray or grease with butter, and sprinkle with a bit of flour.
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together your flour, salt and baking powder, and set aside. In a larger bowl, cream together your butter until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the sugar, and keep beating for a couple more minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing completely after each. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts, and then slowly mix in the dry mixture, only mixing until combined. Lastly, stir in the buttermilk, and add in your food coloring if you are making the red or blue cakes. I used 25 drops of red food coloring for each cake and 20 for the blue one (!). Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan. I found it easiest to double the white and red cake recipes so that I could bake both cakes of those colors at the same time, thus minimizing my overall oven time. If you do this, be sure to double the red food coloring too, so you don’t end up with a two pink cakes!
Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes, rotating after 15. Be sure to watch the cakes carefully—everyone’s oven is a bit different, and baking two cakes at the same time means that you will need to bake a bit longer. Allow to cool completely, and proceed until you have all 5 cakes baked.
While the cakes bake and start cooling, make your frosting: Beat together your butter and sugar for about 5 minutes, until light and creamy. Add in the vanilla and cream, and mix until the frosting reaches the consistency that you like. When all the cakes are cooled, remove from the pans and carefully wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes, so that the cakes are a bit stiff—this will make cutting them much easier! When cold, slice each white and red cake in half horizontally, creating 8 thin cakes. You will only need six of these—three red and three white, so save the extra one to snack on! Leave the blue cake whole—you don’t want to skimp on the “stars” portion of your stars and stripes.
Using a 4-inch biscuit cutter or small bowl, cut one of the red layers into a small circle and large ring, and set aside. Do the same with one of the white layers. You will only need the small circles, so munch away on the two rings! Using the same technique, cut the blue (larger) cake as well. You will need the outer ring this time, so set that aside and discard/munch on the smaller blue circle. At this point, you should have one large blue ring, two small red circles, two small white circles, two thin white layers and two thin red layers.
To build the cake, place the thin red layer on a cake stand (or large pan, or large cutting board), and top with a thin layer of buttercream. Make sure your layer of frosting is thin, so that you have enough for the entire cake, and so that the stripes look consistent—red and white instead of red, white and white frosting. Add the thin white layer on top of the red one, and add another layer of frosting. Repeat with one more layer or red and white, so that you have a layer cake of red, white, red and white.
Next, add the blue layer. Inside the ring, place a small red circle, add a thin layer of frosting, followed by a small white circle. You should now have an even layer cake, so discard or munch on the rest of the leftover cake bits. Now you are ready to frost the entire cake. I found it best to add a thin layer of buttercream over the entire cake, chill for a bit, and then add the remainder of the buttercream using a large offset spatula. This technique is called a “crumb coat,” and essentially evens out the surface of the cake with the first coating. Then, when you are ready to add the last coat of frosting, the cake will be easy to frost, and there is less of a chance of contaminating the frosting with bits of cake crumbs. This step is especially relevant for this particular cake, since you have sliced and cut up all of the pieces, leaving lots of crumbs, which you don’t want on your finished cake!
Now gather your friends around, and slice this baby up! Not only will they be impressed, but I am pretty sure that old George Washington would be too! Happy Fourth of July, and here’s to a weekend full of the freedom to indulge in lots of cake!
Featured art: Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, oil on canvas
Cindy Sherman, Untitled # 196, 1989, image courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2014