cake or death?

Posted on September 17, 2013


A few years ago my entire family (cousins too) got on the T together (a rare occasion indeed) and after pushing our way through the crowded subway stations and across the heart of Boston, we lined up outside a theater downtown.

We had tickets to see Eddie Izzard. He is quite possibly one of the most outrageously good stand up comedians I have ever had the pleasure of watching. I never thought I’d get the chance to see him live, and even though my mum started some well meaning rumor of us being a few aisles back, it ended up that we were a few aisles from the back of the theater – regardless, we didn’t miss a beat.

From the first time I saw his Dressed to Kill tour, every time I make, offer, or really even think about cake I can’t help but laugh at his cake or death bit – see link below. And that is what I think about when I make a cake, and I think last week when serving my own birthday cake, I asked it a few times to people who had zero idea as to what I was talking about…. Now, go watch this funny bastard, or just scroll down to the actual food bit. No judgement.

A few months ago my parents decided to celebrate their birthdays together, a combined 125 years, and to partake in this event, I asked to make desserts. This idea went through a great many phases before even being set into motion. I suggested a great many ideas to my sister on almost a daily basis, but as I had never made any of them before, nor had either of us ever tried or even seen (cause pintrest doesn’t count) some of them. Most of these got shot down so I ended up going with some family favorites.

The week leading up to this 100+ person party, everything seemed to be in place, then life managed to knock things outta whack. My mum had some medical issues to deal with and when they finally decided to call off the party (morning of) I was elbow deep in buttercream frosting, had a freezer full of ladyfingers for tiramisu, and pavlovas precariously perched on most of the surfaces in my kitchen. In the end we did a little family thing with an entirely different menu, guest list, and agenda.


I only brought less than half of the cakes (and cupcakes) I made, so that my parents could at least taste and see the desserts I’d made for their birthdays.

I made an egg cake (care of Joy Of Cooking) with mocha icing which was the best attempt I’ve made so far, just enough espresso in the icing. If it hadn’t been ridiculously hot on the day in question, I’m sure my flowers would’ve set a little better, and actually stayed on the cake during transport, but that’s something I’m still working the kinks out of.


I made a double batch of the 4 egg cake  from my Joy of Cooking, and I have to say this is the first time I’ve actually remembered to make it the way that it’s described. There is something about separating the eggs that simply cannot stay in my head AT ALL when making this cake. This time I remembered, however, and it seems like it makes a difference.

Mocha Buttercream Icing
adapted slightly from thesoho
(I made two, to cover a small layer, and frost cupcakes with the remainder)

1 c butter, unsalted, room temp
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder (I usually use ferraria, I think that’s what it’s called – it tastes the best to me, but use coffee if thats what you have
1/3 c cocoa powder, sifted

Using your mixer of choice, cream the butter, for a few minutes until it gets light. While this is mixing, in a prep bowl combine espresso powder, and vanilla extract mix until fully combined. Mix in some of the powdered sugar, then add vanilla mixture, followed by cocoa powder, and the rest of powdered sugar, each time making sure that the last ingredient is fully incorporated before adding the next. Try your best not to eat it all before it makes it on the cake…



I also made a chocolate cake with regular buttercream frosting. I made the same chocolate cake that was a hit with my family when I had them over for father’s day last year. My little sister suggested that I made the cakes frosted in the colors of day lilies cause they are one of my mum’s favorite flowers, and are all over the kitchen garden at their house. Fearing some sort of pumpkiny-halloweeny effect, I decided to make the cakes simple and try my hand at making and drying buttercream flowers enough to move and place on the cakes.



Noooot all of them look like day lilies, but, my family recognized what they were supposed to be. It’s a shame that I didn’t know how long buttercream flowers need to dry out for before being moved, and since the temperature of our house was anything but regulated in the summer, these didn’t really do what I wanted them to do, turns out if you toss them in the freezer for a little while, you can get them solid enough to scrape up, but the big guy over there on the side of the cake — yeah, he fell off on the 20 minute drive, and was not so gently reattached.

I will have to try again once the temperature stays below 80 for a few days in a row, and I have time and space on my counter to let some flowers hang out and dry overnight.