Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Meals with Mincie: Strawberry Jello Cake aka the Dessert Debacle of 2010

Mincie was born on January 18, 1922, the youngest of 10 children.  Years later she would learn that the doctor that delivered her offered to take her and raise her as his own, but her mother declined his offer.  Her siblings were thrilled that "mama didn't let the doctor take our baby".  While she grew up in rural Alabama, after marrying William, known to most as Bill, she lived in several different places.  This was in part due to Bill serving in the Navy and in part due to his later work as a Southern Baptist Minister.  While living in New Orleans, LA, during the time Bill was in seminary, she aquired the recipe for Strawberry Jell-O cake and from then on, would bake it for every birthday in the family.

As I attempted to bake this today in honor of her birthday, I experienced my first dessert debacle.  I didn't have the recipe for Gram's Strawberry Jello Cake in my collection, so my father emailed me the recipe my mother had written down in her recipe box.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, my mother had made several changes over the years that she'd never written down because she just "knows" how to make it and apparently uses her recipes more as general guidelines than as actual recipes.  The recipe that follows is the revised recipe I've made adjustments to after talking to my mother to determine how I went so horribly wrong with my cake.

My mother always had paper grocery bags in her kitchen and would trace around the bottom of her layer cake pans (about an 8 inch round pan) then cut the circles out and place them inside the cake pans prior to pouring the batter in, inside of the bag up, so the cake wouldn't stick to the pan.  Since my grocery store long ago abandoned paper bags, I had none.  I thought (incorrectly) that spraying the pans with nonstick cooking spray would be sufficient.  As this is an overly moist cake, apparently the cooking spray didn't form enough of a barrier to prevent my cake from sticking to the pan. In the future, I'll try lining the bottom of my pans with parchment paper to prevent this problem.  When I attempted to remove my cake from the pan, 1/4 of the first layer remained in the pan, and the middle of the subsequent two layers remained in the pans as well.  I used one of the second two layers as my bottom layer and just tucked the middle back into it, operating under the theory that the frosting would disguise a multitude of mistakes.  I did the same with the next layer, then the top layer was the part that 1/4 of had stayed in the pan.  This gave me one side of the cake that at least looked arguably presentable.  Sadly, the other side of the cake is less than pretty.

As if I hadn't had enough of a "Julie and Julia" moment with my cake, the frosting gave me trouble as well.  I put the butter in the microwave to soften, but apparently put it in too long as it came out half melted.  I used 10 ounces of strawberries (the amount on the original recipe) and apparently should have used fewer and drained them better as well.  To get the frosting even approaching thick enough, I ended up using 8 cups of powdered sugar and even then it pooled on my cake plate.  Fortunately, it tasted right and was quite delicious even though I've definitely made much better looking Strawberry Jell-O cakes in the past.

STRAWBERRY JELL-O CAKE (from the Cajun country of Southern Louisiana)
1 white cake mix (18.25 oz. approx.)
1 3 oz. pkg strawberry Jell-O
1/2 C water
1/2 C vegetable or canola Oil
4 eggs
10 oz. pkg frozen strawberries (thawed) (about 2 1/2 cups when frozen)

1) Mix cake mix and Jell-O together, then add water and oil.

2) Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

3)  Add strawberries and juice.  Beat well.

4)  Pour 1/3 of the batter into a round cake pan (lined with parchment).  Repeat with two more cake pans.

4) Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake.

Makes 3 layers

4 cups (1 1 lb. pkg.) powdered sugar + a little more
4 Tbsp. butter (softened) (1/2 stick)1 8 oz. pkg frozen strawberries (well-thawed) no juice (about 2 cups frozen)

1) Take a few of the berries out to garnish the top of the cake, if desired.

2) Mix 2 cups of the sugar with butter thoroughly.

3)  Add strawberries, mix well.

4) Add remaining 2 cups of sugar and mix well.

The frosting should be a fairly stiff consistency, so that it holds its shape and will adhere to the sides of cake.  Generally, the frosting dripping off the beaters should hold a stream of frosting off the beaters rather than dripping into the bowl.  If frosting is too thin, add more powdered sugar until it's the correct consistency. This is definitely a "do it until it looks right" part of the recipe, like so many family recipes are.

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