Easter Sunday. A day that brings back so many memories of family. Growing up I had two sisters and a brother. We girls were always dressed alike with matching shoes, hats and dresses. My brother always wore a suit. Easter morning we would always wake up, go to Mass, then come home and hunt for Easter baskets which had been hidden by the “Easter Bunny” in various places around the house. The baskets would be filled with candy and dyed eggs. After we located our baskets we would gather around the table for the traditional egg fight. For those that aren’t familiar, this consists of one person holding their egg in their fist, round end up and exposing as little as possible, while their opponent, holding their egg, tried to crack the offered eggshell by bashing into the egg with the pointed end of their egg. My dad was a master at this game and it was always a point of pride if you could crack his egg!
I don’t recall the first time we had an Easter Lamb cake. It was obviously at Easter and at the home of one of my grandparents. I do know when I began making an Easter Lamb cake. It was the my first Easter after George and I married. I had received the mold months before, and quite frankly had not considered using it until my old college roommate wanted to come for a visit over Easter and bring her 1 year old daughter. I knew we had to make Easter special for the little girl so out came the mold. That was 48 years ago. And, with the exception of the last few years, it has been a love hate relationship at best – because of two major components, the cake batter and the cake mold.
Let’s start with the batter. In the beginning I used a yellow cake mix. It tasted fine but was not really good at holding up the weak links in the mold – the ears and the neck. The finished batter did not have enough substance to hold the weight of the head and was prone to cracking at the neck. The limited amount of batter in the ear section of the mold would bake much quicker than the rest of the cake, making the resulting baked ears dry and brittle. After a few years had passed I heard about others using a pound cake batter for their lamb cakes. (Yes, lamb cakes were a “thing” at one time, unlike those cakes you see today which are frosted squares with a plastic face.) I decided I had nothing to lose so I gave pound cake batter a try. Pound cake is denser than yellow cake so it solved the neck supporting the head problem but I still had issues with the ears.
And then there was the mold. The original mold was made from thin aluminum. The ear part of the mold was shallow, resulting in thin ears that finished baking long before the rest of the cake and often broke into two when I un-molded the cake. I became adept at, prior to frosting, strategically placing toothpicks to hold the ears in place.
Then several years ago I came upon this thing of beauty:
I found it at an estate sale, buried under other pots and pans, as if it where a kitchen cast-away. Based on its location among the sale goods I knew the estate people had little appreciation for this tool. I, on the other hand, was as excited as someone who may have come across an especially fine piece of art (what can I say, I’m a kitchen gadget geek!) This is a commercial grade mold. Very heavy with deep pockets for the ears. The face portion of the mold was far deeper making for a more pronounced nose. You can’t see the small pegs on the other side of the face side of the mold that elevated the mold off the baking sheet. You can see the two small holes that allow one to test the cake for doneness. You will also note the mold can be clamped shut – I imagine there was a special tool or perhaps the professional baker just used wire. I have never used that feature.
The first time I used this mold I had immediate success. The ears released from the mold in one piece and did not appear to be in danger of falling off with the first application of frosting. I admit, I still sweat it out every year until the mold comes off the cooled cake. A history this long takes awhile to overcome!
Here’s the cake which will share in our Easter celebration this year.
It is the second cake I made for the event; the first went into the trash shortly after the mold came off. To be fair it wasn’t entirely my fault. As I was mixing the ingredients I got a phone call from someone who had a significant number of questions about the inn and about the three rooms. After about 30 minutes on the phone I was able to return to my baking. I finished mixing the ingredients, put the mix in the mold and put it into the oven. I was surprised that I used all of the batter for the mold – usually I have enough left over to make a small 4″pan cake. That should have been a clue. But I blithely went about my business until it came time to un-mold the cake. The center back sagged as if this poor lamb had been starved for months. It was then I realized I had forgotten to add the eggs. A sacrificial lamb if you will. Chalk one up to customer service!
Happy Easter and a Happy Passover to all!