For the past 25 years or so; no matter how we celebrate America’s Independence Day – be it big block party, small gathering or anything in between; my beautiful Flag Cake has always made an appearance. This year is no exception. My family, like many across this Nation, will gather together in celebration. There will be dogs roasting on the barbecue, and burgers grilling to yummy perfection. Susie will bring her famous Macaroni Salad (hubby’s favorite). My contributions are going to be a big pot of chili beans (great on their own or over the dogs), oven barbecued chicken wings (can be made ahead of time, not take up valuable grill space and can be kept warm in an oval crock pot – all advantages over “grilled” barbecue chicken wings) and my traditional Flag Cake.
What “flavor” of cake you use as your base is entirely up to you. Be it box or scratch, chocolate or White – it really doesn’t matter – whatever you and your family like best is the perfect cake for this Independence Day dessert. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case in the outward appearance. Any flavor cake can be transformed into a flag. Just remember to double your batter and use a sheet cake pan. Mine is 11×15 – the perfect size for a flag. Any smaller, and the flag becomes crowded. I suppose you could go larger – but then we are talking “professional” size baking, which is fine, just not entirely practical for the home cook and family gatherings.
When using a box mix, for whatever reason, the texture of the cake is closer to “scratch” if you beat the oil and eggs together first, then slowly add the water, followed by the mix. I played around with the box cake mixes – curious to see if (when using the same cake – flavor, brand – keeping all things equal) the order in which ingredients are added to the mixing bowl would have an impact on the finished cake. FYI – if you blend water and oil together first, you end up with a lot more “trapped” air bubbles in the mix. Blending the eggs and oil together give less trapped air, and a nice, smooth finish to the batter. Another important reminder, bake cake until just barely done – the cake sits in a hot pan another 10 minutes, and will continue to “bake” during that time. bakes, the dryer the finished cake will become. As a rule, I subtract about 10 minutes from the total cooking time. You can always bake a little longer if necessary to get that “spring back” finish, but you can’t undo over-baking.
One final note: Do not assemble cake too early. I have yet to figure out how to prevent berries from bleeding – the sugar in the frosting reacts with the sliced berries and they naturally bleed. Over the years I’ve found that if draw out as much of the juices in advance, that helps. As does coating the sliced berries with the strawberry glaze. A nice border of buttercream frosting also helps to isolate the juices. I suppose, if frozen berries were used that might help, but to me it’s not worth the sacrifice in fresh berry flavor.
4th of July American Flag Cake
Ingredients – Cake
2 Boxes French Vanilla White Cake (or favorite box/scratch sheet cake recipe)
2 Baskets Strawberries, sliced
1 Container Strawberry Glaze
1 Basket Blueberries
Cake: Mix batter according to the recipe directions. If using a box cake mix, see tips above for making batter. Bake in a 11×15 cake pan.
Bake cake according to pan directions. This is important – the pan baking temperature and times may vary from the cake mix or scratch recipe. For best result, follow the guidelines of your baking pan. It may be necessary to adjust baking time according to your oven – some ovens bake a little quicker than others. Mine is at 325 degrees, about 34 minutes – I start checking for doneness at about 28 minutes, keeping a sharp eye on the cake for best results.
While cake is baking, slice strawberries, creating flat-bottom, uniform berries. Mix berries with a little sugar to help draw out their juices. Set berries with sugar aside.
Let cake cool 10 minutes in the pan. Invert onto large cutting board, then invert again (right side up) on cake board. Allow cake to cool completely.
Make Buttercream Frosting once the cake has cooled. Frost COOLED cake on top with a thin layer of frosting. (You will be adding more frosting with the flag arrangements). Frost sides as you normally would.
Arrange Blueberries in upper left corner for “blue background”.
Drain strawberries. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Lay strawberries onto towel. Pat dry. If desired, arrange berries on towel to give you a rough idea of finished cake. Remember – this is a rough idea. Play with it if you like.
Using a fork, dip sliced berries into glaze, allowing excess to fall back into container. Arrange Strawberries to create flag “stripes”. Don’t worry about perfection, unless you want to make yourself crazy. Fill pastry bag fitted with star tip. Create stars between blueberries and stars for white stripes of flag. If you have enough frosting left, pipe a nice trim of stars at the base of the cake for a pretty finish.
Ingredients – Buttercream Frosting
1/2 Cup Solid Butter-Flavored Vegetable Shortening
1 1/2 Cups Butter, Softened
2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
8 Cups sifted powdered Sugar*
6 tablespoons milk**
Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl between additions and after the last of the sugar has been added. When all sugar has been mixed in, the frosting will appear to be dry. Add milk one tablespoon at a time and beat a medium speed until light and fluffy. For thinner frosting, add 3-4 tablespoons light corn syrup. Corn Syrup will also create a frosting that is smoother. Keep frosting covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
* The easiest way to sift powdered sugar is to use a large kitchen strainer. Simply place strainer over a large bowl. Sift powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time, using a wooden spoon to stir powdered sugar in strainer. It is quick and easy. Sifters are fine for dusting purposes, but when large quantities of ingredients need to be sifted, using a strainer will produce the same results in less time, with less effort.
**Whole milk, 2% or Heavy Cream equally work well as thinning agents. Heavy Cream gives a creamier, thicker texture to the frosting; there is no discernible difference between whole milk or 2% milk. Buttercream frosting can also be flavored by using orange juice or lemon juice in place of the milk. For a smoother finish, the frosting may also be thinned using clear Karo syrup.