Marie Antoinette was the very young (14 years old), Austrian born bride toFrance’ King Louis XVI during the French Revolution. She is most remembered for the infamous (and likely non-factual) comment “let them eat cake!” in reference to a mostly starving population of French peasants. Had she lost her mind?
If you are the Queen, and your subjects and their children are starving of basic nutrition, you should not make light of their plight by suggesting that they should just eat cake. This would tend to make your subjects become disillusioned with their current monarchy.
Whether or not Marie had lost her mind was of no consequence, as she eventually lost her head. Ironically, the phrase she uttered, qu’ils mangent de la brioche, actually means let them eat brioche, and was most likely intended to show sympathy for the people, not disdain.
Nonetheless, in order to understand why one remark about cake would make a girl infamous for eternity, you should understand the times. The significance of cake during Marie Antoinette’s rein was great. Most of the population was lucky to have daily bread. To feel they had been mocked by a prom queen in a giant powdered wig eating petit fours was too much to bear. .
Losing ones head over it seems harsh today, given the ready availability these days of sweets and treats to anyone who wants them. There are bakeries in every grocery, and desserts at every restaurant on every corner. If you are jonesing for some little suet-filled-sponge-cake Crisco logs at 3:00 am, you can always grab a few Zingers at your neighborhood ice house. I’m not saying that you should, just that you can. Has a fierce cupcake craving struck you suddenly in the middle of the day? There is a cupcake store within 3 miles of your current location, guaranteed.
With prepackaged and mass-produced sweets so accessible, it is easy to lose sight of what constitutes a dessert fit for a Queen. Once reserved for Sunday and special occasions, cakes and other sweets are turned out by supermarket bakeries with reckless abandon. The icing is usually whipped shortening and sugar, with very little flavor, unimpressive texture, and unholy amounts of artificial coloring. The kids love how it turns their tongue bright colors, and moms fear the same of their carpet and clothing.
I often bake cakes to celebrate the birthdays of my employees and my peers at work. They tend to be great, tall cakes, because I love a cake that can capture a room. One of the questions I am most frequently asked is “how many boxes is that”? Holy Sponge Cake! Has baking really become such a lost art? There are recipes everywhere. Easy ones. I’m not saying there is no place for boxed cake mixes—in fact I have quite a few recipes that start with one. I’m just saying let’s not forget how to bake from scratch.
The first year I started baking for my co-workers was about 1998. I had baked maybe my third one that year, and it was for a nurse down the hall. It was her 35th birthday. When I presented her with the cake at lunch, she burst into tears. I thought for a moment that I had done something terribly wrong. Through her sobbing, she said “nobody has baked a cake for me since I was 10 years old…” That was when I knew how important something as simple as a cake could be to someone. I would never suggest to “let them eat cake”, without providing one for that purpose.
Moms—teach your kids to bake a cake! It is easy, fun, and a great way to bond with your offspring before they are big-mouthed teenagers offending the huddled masses.
I made three grand cakes this week, for the teacher’s at Boerne Middle School North….They are all suitable as the piece de resistance at your next soiree. Here are the recipes for two of them (recipe for the chocolate cake will follow in a later post dedicated to chocolate).
Caramel Apple For The Teacher Cake
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (not regular whole wheat flour)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon mace
- 1 t salt
- 2 sticks butter, room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons vanilla
- 3 eggs
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk
- 3 tart apples (such as Jonagold, Granny Smith), peeled and chopped
- 1 cup high quality plain Greek yogurt
- Caramel frosting (below)
Grease and flour: a bundt pan, 2- 10” round cake pans, or 3- 8” round cake pans.
In a bowl, stir together the first seven ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla, and beat in eggs. Add the buttermilk alternately with the flour mixture, about 1/3 of each at a time. Stir in the yogurt and the apples. Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to cool completely.
For the cream mixture:
- 3 cups sugar
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 ½ cups cream
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Bring to a boil in a heavy bottomed dutch oven or candy kettle, over medium high heat. Meanwhile, prepare the caramel, below.
For the caramel:
In a saucepan over medium heat, cook ¾ cup sugar, stirring constantly, until it is clear and golden.
Pour caramel into cream mixture, and stir until smooth. Cook to 240* (soft ball stage). Remove from heat, and pour mixture into a mixing bowl. Beat for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is of spreading consistency. Quickly ice your cake.
Press crushed peanuts into the sides or top of cake, as desired.
**If you wish to garnish with tiny caramel crab apples, dip the bottoms of the apples into the caramel just before you start beating it. Dip them into crush peanuts and set aside on a silicone mat or greased foil until cool. When the caramel on the cake has set up firmly, arrange the crab apples how you wish.
Grande Red Velvet
Makes a three layer 10” round cake
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 3 cups oil
- 2 cup buttermilk
- 4 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons red food coloring
- 2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350*
Grease and flour, and line with parchment, three 10 inch cake pans.
Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat in remaining ingredients, and pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until done.
Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans and cooling on wire racks.
Frost between layers, top and sides with Cream Cheese Frosting, below. If desired, garnish with white chocolate curls, red sugar sprinkles, or extra red velvet crumbs.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 pound cream cheese, temperature
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 3 pounds powdered sugar
- 3 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 teaspoon salt
- juice of one lemon
- 1/4-1/2 cup milk
Beat butter and cream cheese together until light and creamy. Adding a little bit at a time, beat in the cream cheese. After one pound has been added in, beat in vanilla, salt and lemon juice, and milk as needed. Continue to add powdered sugar and milk as needed until the sugar is all used, and the icing is of the desired consistency.