Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sweet Little Easter Lamb Cake

I have always loved those sweet little stand-up lamb cakes you see for Easter. You know the ones I am talking about; they are usually covered in swirly icing or white coconut and lay on a bed of green coconut grass and jelly beans. With my little ones at three and almost two, I look at each holiday as a time to create memories with new traditions.

My dear girlfriend Lene (Ilene), has made a lamb cake for Easter for her family for years.  Her kids are grown now, yet they still come over to celebrate Easter and look forward to this very special lamb cake.  It is always striking to me how powerful and important traditions are, especially when those traditions are begun and continued throughout a little one's childhood.  The traditions parents start and foster throughout a child's life are the same traditions that keep them coming home.  Everyone wants to hold on to the positive warm parts childhood. 

It is part of our make up as humans.
It is those traditions that create the foundation of a child's memory.
It is those traditions that help to create the stability in a child's life that help him to feel safe and secure.

So when I have a desire to create a tradition like making the lamb cake for my kids for Easter, it is not really about the cake.  It is about creating memories, traditions, and stability in my children's lives.

I went out and bought my Wilton Stand-up Lamb Cake Pan at Joanne Fabrics.  I immediately called Lene for the perfect lamb cake recipe; of course, she had the perfect recipe - the 7-up pound cake. It is a 1950's classic pound cake that was known for its light and airy texture because of the soda. It gained popularity again as a bunt in the 1980s.  It has a lemony taste and the perfect texture needed to stand up to the cake pan.

I was set; I had the idea, the pan, and the cake recipe. Then why was I so nervous about making a mistake and my cake flopping.  It was my first attempt at creating a tradition for Easter, and I didn't want it to flop.  Of course the only one who would know that it flopped would be me because the three year old and the two year old would have no idea what it was supposed to look like.  Plus, they are kids; they just get excited when they are about to eat cake -- any cake. I called Lene three times during the baking process.  Call #1 What temperature do I bake it at -- your cake directions or the pan directions?  Call #2 How do you tie the pan up? It only has one set of holes -- won't the cake be forced open on the other side?  Call #3 The back of the lamb's head isn't round - it is flat -- what do I do? In the end, Lene said to follow the directions she gave me for the cake, tie the cake pan in three places to secure it, and it doesn't matter if the back of the lamb's head is flat. She calmed me down - as usual.
Here is the recipe:

Lene's Sweet Little Lamb Cake / 7-up Cake Recipe

3 sticks of room temperature butter
3 cups of sugar
5 eggs
3 cups of flour
2 Tablespoons lemon extract
3/4 cup of room temperature 7-up


*mommy hint - you will have extra batter if you make the lamb cake.  So you can make cup cakes or another small loaf pan cake. 

Use a standing mixer. Beat butter and sugar until creamy, about 20 minutes. Add each egg one at a time. Mix in flour and lemon extract.  Fold in by hand or on your slowest speed the 7-up.  Place cake in your well greased and floured pan (lamb pan if its Easter). Tie your lamb pan around the neck, body, and through the manufacturer's hole to secure pan from moving up during the baking process. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 50 - 55 minutes.  Check cake. If toothpick comes out clean (use the manufacturer's hole), take the back of lamb pan off and finish cooking for 5 - 10 minutes. Total cooking time should be about 1 hour to 1 hour and 5 minutes.

For taking lamb cake out of the pan follow the directions that are given to you when you buy the lamb pan.  Take cake out of oven. Let cool for 5 minutes. Put back of pan back on.  Flip the cake over so it is sitting on its back side and wait another 5 minutes.  Then take face of lamb pan off, and let it cool off for about 4 hours before completely taking it out of its pan and decorating it.

Well, those are the directions to follow. Lene has been making this cake for years without as much as a hiccup, let alone something as tragic as the lamb being unable to stand (like the cake pan promises) or  I hate to say it, losing the sweet little lamb's head.  I cannot say the same thing for myself.  Time for me to be honest.  I called Lene during the baking process to make sure I didn't make any mistakes.  When the little lamb came out of the oven, I knew there was a problem.  It didn't rise as much as I thought it would.  Hence the base of the lamb was half as big and sturdy as it was meant to be.  But I pushed through and started to decorate my-flat-back-no-rise-lamb-cake.

Everything was going well; the sweet little lamb was turning out so cute. I finished; I was about to take a picture. Then it started to happen.  It fell on its very flat back.  I put it up.  It fell again.  I put it up.  It fell again.  I started to panic.  The kids and my husband came into the kitchen. I could feel the anxiety building in my chest. I yelled to my husband to help me; I said, "help its falling!" He said, "what's falling?"  I said, "are you kidding? The lamb -- can you not see it is falling on its back and its about to lose its head!"  He starts to panic because he doesn't want to see me so disappointed. He started to prop it up with some carrots from the frig.  He started to take a picture of the sweet little lamb before it lost its head --- I hate even typing that -- but it is true. It was about to lose its head!  There was panic and stress in the air.

AND THEN IT HAPPENED.... Not what you are expecting.  It was my three year old son.  Above my husband and my stressed voices you could hear my son's sweet voice saying,"ooooh it's so cute.  Take a picture of me next to it. Take a picture Mommy."

His sweet voice and request stopped me in my tracks.  It wasn't about the cake.  It was always about my kids and their memories. As far as he was concerned it was a perfect little lamb ready for a photo shoot.  He thought it was cute even with the carrots supporting it from behind.  In that moment, that is all that mattered to me.  I stopped running around trying to save the cake; I started taking pictures of my kids, Aidan and Zuzu, with the sweetest little lamb cake that was ever made.  Looking back at the situation now (with only 12 hours of hindsight), I already know that this unstable little lamb cake will probably always be my favorite cake because of the lesson my son taught me.

Our kids see their world as wonderful; they see life as wonderful.  They are not looking for perfection. I am not sure when that changes, but I know it does. And that makes me sad.  But for now, I know I want to try to see life through my kids' eyes. I want to stop looking to be perfect and stop looking to fix things. I simply want to smile and appreciate everything and everyone around me.  And every once in awhile I'd like to stop and say," take a picture of me next to..."


It is all about the memories; it is not about the cake.  What was your "lamb cake" this Easter season?

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