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Cathy Says “Bye Bye!” To Beth.

As usual, I am writing this entry about three months after this Cathy was baked.  I really need to get on top of this whole “prompt and timely” posting thing.  Because now it’s old news that our fabulous merchandiser Beth is no longer part of our product development team, and it seems like months ago that we celebrated her move to her exciting new position (well…it was months ago).

Since Beth is a self-proclaimed fan of the Cathy Cake Club, there seemed to be no more fitting tribute to her than her very own Cathy cake.

I decided that I wanted to make a scratch cake for this event, and that can be very tricky.  Often my scratch cakes come out dry or weird.  Or horrible.  And I couldn’t let that happen, as I was going to be serving this cake to my entire department at work.  There is one scratch cake recipe I have that consistently comes out good every time: Shelly Grieb’s Banana Cake.  Yes, the cake that Tim’s mom made for the San Jose Sabercats for years (there was even an article about Shelly and the cake in the San Jose Mercury News).  Tim has made this cake for me many times, and I’m starting to get good at it too.  It’s moist and banana-y without tasting like banana bread.

So I started mashing some bananas.

Then I started working on the batter, getting ready to put my mushed up bananas inside it.  I love how everything in this cake is pale yellow.

Then Cathy went into the oven, and came out a short time later a perfect golden color.

Now for the frosting.  I went with Shelly’s traditional banana cake accompaniment – a browned butter frosting.  I was a little worried about how this would come out when I starting tinting it with the colors, and I was also concerned about spreadability.  In my state of panic, I slightly over-moistened the frosting.  Too much liquid.  But there was no turning back!  It was late in the evening, I had no more supplies and I had to press on!  What would happen?!?

Well, the frosting just ended up being a little thinner than I would normally like, but it sure spread easily with a knife.  And in the end gave a nice, smooth finish.  Here she is with most of her major parts filled in.

And here is the finished Cathy!  Because the icing was spreading so smoothly, I went with the thin black outlines to truly replicate a “comic” look.

Also please note Cathy’ shirt.  The pattern is called “Iona Floral”, a.k.a. “The One Floral Print That The Buyers Were Having None Of”, a.k.a. “Beth’s Liability Legacy”.

Maybe if I had made this cake for the buy meeting – it could have helped…?

Ah, we have fun at work.  *Shakes head and smiles knowingly*

Oh, and the cake tasted really good.

Shelly’s Banana Cake

  • Not quite 2 cups of flour
  • 1 2/3 cups of sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2/3 cup of butter flavored crisco
  • 2/3 cup of buttermilk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2-3 crushed over-ripe bananas
All in a mixer, mix for 30 seconds then for 3 minutes on high speed.
Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour 13×9 baking pan (or Cathy).
Bake for 40 minutes (I think Cathy may have only taken 35).

Banana Cake Frosting

  • 1/3 cup of butter/margarine
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teas of vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of Hazelnut Non-Dairy Creamer or milk
Heat butter in sauce pan over med heat until delicate brown (or until margarine stops sizzling).
Mix all ingredients in the blender or mixer.

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Cathy’s Second Baby Shower.

Cathy got to make her second baby shower appearance last weekend when we drove down to Vancouver, WA for Siobhan’s baby shower.  I wasn’t sure if I should make the cake here on the night before driving down, or if I should bake it on the premises.  Knowing the mess I tend to make while decorating Cathy, I decided that the best thing to do was decorate it in a familiar environment.

I asked Siobhan’s husband Tad what her favorite kind of cake is, and he responded with “Chocolate”.  Well, that took care of the layer flavor (and I knew I was going to make two layers, like I did for Sarah’s shower cake) – but what about the filling and icing? Despite the risk of encountering a guest with a peanut allergy (seriously, I did consider this possibility), I went with a peanut butter buttercream filling.  And I decided to make the same white chocolate buttercream that I used for Sarah’s cake, because it was yummy and made a LOT.

So.  First Cathy layer is cooling on the rack – and she’s got a CRACK.

A crack in the head.  Well, of course this freaks me out.  I’m having flashbacks to the candy cane Cathy disaster.  But I must press on with the next layer.

And when you’re feeling stressed, there’s nothing like a little chocolate to release some calming endorphins (or whatever – look, I’m not a doctor).

Then it was time to shave down Cathy’s bottom layer.

And slather her with peanut butter buttercream.  I shouldn’t have halved the recipe, because I barely had enough.  I used Ina Garten’s peanut butter frosting recipe, found here.

Next came the white chocolate buttercream.  It’s always good to taste a little as you go along so that you know it tastes good!

Fluffy, buttery clouds.

And then I went to Icing Tinting Town, pre-coloring all the shades I thought I might need.  This was a new strategy for me and I think it worked really well and kept me from being too frantic.

Laying one Cathy on top of another is always nervewracking…

And finally, I was decorating!

At this point my photographer quietly walked out of the room, walked into the bedroom, collapsed onto the bed and promptly fell asleep.  So quickly that he didn’t respond to my confused “Tim?” that I called out 30 seconds after he left the room.  So I took the next photo when I was all finished.

She has an octopus and fish because the baby’s nursery is “Under the Sea” themed.  Here, check out her girth!  The “mirrored” surface makes her look extra big!

And THEN we needed a solution to the transportation issue.  We ended up laying Cathy on the floor of the Subaru hatch and covering her with Rubbermaid under-bed container turned upside down.  It worked GREAT.

She arrived completely intact and completely delicious.  Another Cathy success!

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I Forgot About Easter.

In preparation for writing my post about Cathy’s second baby shower appearance, I stumbled across these photos that I had forgotten to upload.  That’s right – there was a very special Easter Cathy, a.k.a. Jessica’s Third Annual Easter Eggstravaganza cake.

Yes, this is the third Easter cake that I’ve made solely for the purpose of letting Aiden and Elsie go crazy with the candy decorations.

The first one was shaped like a round plug of earth, seemingly plucked from the earth of some magical garden with a round sod cutter.  Or so I wished.  It mostly just looked like green cake with candy on it, but we had a good time decorating it.

The Second Easter Eggstravaganza Cake was – and I really thought outside of the box here – shaped like a big egg.  I baked a 13″x9″ cake and then shaved it down with a knife to make it look like an egg.  The kids had a particularly good time decorating this one.

ShrekElsie was proud of her work.

Yes, those are pink marshmallows around the outside of the cake.

So this year we took much the same approach, but with Cathy.  And the results were…predictable.

Between bites, Tim said, “This doesn’t taste very good with all this candy on here”.  Sadly true.

I am open to suggestions for next year’s cake.

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Cathy Goes To A Shower.

Last month (WOW, I can’t believe it’s April already) – I helped to host a baby shower for my best friend Sarah, who is due pretty much any day now.  I volunteered to be in charge of the cake, knowing that I wanted to make a very, very special Cathy cake for the occasion.  A VERY special Cathy cake; one that had never been attempted before.  Yeah.  TWO LAYERS OF CATHY.

First I decided that I would use boxed white cake mix to make the two layers.  White cake is a good base for showing off decorator colors and/or fillings.  And speaking of fillings, I knew I wanted something special to sandwich in between the two layers.  After much deliberation, I thought I would be “clever” and use blueberry jam.  Get it?  Blueberry?  BLUEberry?  Perhaps I should mention that she’s having a boy.

Anyway.  I knew that I was going to need a LOT of white frosting to tint many different colors.  I had an frosting epiphany – a light shown down in my kitchen, somewhere a harp started playing softly, and I knew that it should be a white chocolate buttercream.  Following my patented recipe search method, I typed “white chocolate buttercream” into Google and got a great recipe from the Wilton cake decorating website.

This cake was sure to push me out of my comfort zone – I knew that going in.  The first hurdle was baking the two cakes, one right after the other, while allowing enough cooling and resting time so that they didn’t crumble.

Please note the alcohol in the background of the photo.  Some of that was helping me get through the baking process.  Also, please note the foil-covered double-layer cardboard base for the cake.  That was a new one for me, and it required liberal use of packing tape on the underside.

Next up was the frosting.  There was a LOT of white chocolate to be chopped.

And a LOT of delicious, fluffy white Crisco.

And then, the requisite “Whoops, I turned the mixer on high while it was full of powdered sugar” moment.

Not pictured: my “frosted” shoes.

Gotta taste-test the frosting.

Aaaand it passes the test.

The next task was daunting.  Because Cathy’s top is slightly domed, I needed to shave her bottom layer down so that the top layer would lay flat on top of it.  I have had some modest success “shaving” cakes with a serrated knife before, so, despite my (always present) anxiety, I went for it.

It didn’t go so well this time.  The cake was crumbling; the knife wasn’t sharp enough.  (Not sure what I expected from a $7 knife, but that’s another issue.)

I needed to press on.  No time for regrets or the throwing of $7 knives!  Only time to take another drink and then quickly spread the blueberry jam over the bottom layer to “seal” the cake.  Quick, before the liquid courage wears off!

Ahhhn.  Better.  Although, sadly, blueberry jam is not actually blue.

No matter.  I blued it up with some Smurf-colored frosting.

And then came the nerve-wracking task of plopping the other layer on top…and then…..VOILA!  Cathy sandwich!

Moving into the home stretch, I began covering Cathy with tinted frosting.  Painting the masterpiece, if you will.

The “paint”.  And, like Van Gogh, I like to lick the brushes.

Piping away.

And the completed Cathy!  Midnight, exhaustion; into the fridge with you!

And here she is the next day at the shower:

And here she is after we ate her head.

Yay for babies!  Yay for cake!  Yay for Cathy BF&J!  (Buttercream Frosting & Jam.)

White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (from the Wilton website, original link here)

  • 18 oz (3 6oz packages) white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla extract
  • 8 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk

1. Microwave chocolate with 1/4 cup milk in microwavable bowl on Medium-high for 1-2 minutes; stir chocolate halfway during cooking time. Do not overheat. Chocolate will continue to melt while being stirred.

2. Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla.

3. Gradually add sugar, one cup at time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often.

4. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry.

5. Add milk and beat at medium, speed until light and fluffy.

6. Beat in chocolate.
Keep icing covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

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The Sweet Smell of Success.

Have you ever wondered what success smells like?

It smells like artificial fruit.

Today I experienced what may be my greatest Cathy success yet.  Rainbow Jell-o Cathy!

In a sudden burst of inspiration on Friday, I decided that this weekend’s Cathy was going to be layered rainbow Jell-o.  And in the interest of finding a recipe as quickly as possible, I googled “layered rainbow jello”.  Through those Google results I found a blog called Adventures of a Food Slut.  She had a blog entry from 2008 called “Rainbow Jello” (see her original blog entry here).  Her photos looked gorgeous and I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do with Cathy.  Sure, the recipe seemed time-intensive and borderline OCD, but, come on, rainbow Cathy!  And, in true Jessica fashion, I decided to double the recipe without really knowing what I was doing.

The first, fun part of this recipe was assembling all the Jell-o colors.  I didn’t even know they had a blue one!

Then it came down to precision timing.  I started with red (of course) – strawberry.  Though, just FYI, the strawberry flavor is pretty cloying.  If I ever make this again, I might go with cranberry.

So.  I’ve got Cathy to my left, greased and chilled.  I’m stirring two cups of boiling water into the strawberry Jell-o.  I’ve got my measuring cups ready to pour 1 1/4 cups of the hot Jell-o into Cathy.  I’ve got the timer so I can set it for 15 minutes after I stick Cathy in the fridge.  And I’ve got the Cool Whip.

The Cool Whip is for stirring into the remaining 3/4 cup of strawberry Jell-o.  I stir in 1/2 cup of Cool Whip, whisking to dissolve it, and when the timer goes off I pour the “opaque” strawberry layer over the first strawberry layer and set the time for another 15 minutes.

And that’s how it goes for every color.

Aiden was starting to get excited, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Jell-o wasn’t going to be ready to eat for another 4 hours.

Elsie helped me whisk the Cool Whip into the orange layer.

And here’s what Cathy looked like with the opaque orange layer just set.  The lemon Jell-o is waiting patiently to be poured on top.  I’m about 1 hour into the process here.

Finally, after I poured the clear blue (“Berry Blue”) layer on, I realized Cathy could hold no more.  There was no room for the purple (“Blackberry”) layer.  And I was starting to worry that all the colors were swirling into each other and creating an ombre or gradiated effect.  I wanted stripes!  With nothing left to do but let Cathy chill, I stuck her in the fridge one more time.

About 2 hours later, I pulled her out and prepped her for unmolding.  First I ran around the edges with a butter knife.

Then I dipped her in a warm water bath.  Tim and Elsie were pretty skeptical at this point.

Then I put the platter on top of the pan, flipped it over, lifted the pan off…

VOILA!  Success!  Elsie hair on the right of the photo – it was hard to keep her away from the giant, jiggling, glistening rainbow Cathy.

So proud!  So relieved!

Look at those pretty stripes!

It really was amazing how she unmolded.  Every detail in the cake pan was captured perfectly.

Amazing translucency.

Everyone was getting excited to cut Cathy!

I sliced into her and found that it was actually easier to pick the pieces up with my hands.

Tim said that it reminded him of bacon.  Visually, that is.

Aiden and Elsie show off their fruity rainbow Cathy bites.

And the verdict?  Well, honestly, it was more visually stunning than it was tasty.  It had a generic, artificial “fruit” taste.  But I was so pleased with how it looked.  And I would like to try it again with a more specific flavor profile.  Also, Tim suggested adding a half gallon of vodka.

Rainbow Jellocopied from the blog Adventures of a Food Slut

Small boxes of Jello, in rainbow colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, or whatever colors you want)
Cool whip, sour cream or plain yogurt

Grease a pan with baking spray. Clear out a level spot in the refrigerator. Put the prepared pan in the refrigerator to chill.

Add one packet of Jello to 1 cup of boiling water. Stir 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve completely. Pour 2/3 cup of the Jello into the prepared pan, and chill for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, add enough Cool Whip to the remaining Jello to make 2/3 cup. Stir to completely melt the Cool Whip. When first layer has set for 15 minutes, carefully pour Jello/Cool Whip mixture over it, and chill for 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining colors. Once all layers have been poured, allow to chill for at least 2 hours. Unmold onto a serving platter, if desired, or cut into squares and serve.

Also: Food Slut Cheryl provides this helpful tip that I probably should have followed for even better results:

The way I did this was to mix up the next color as soon as I poured the first layer of the previous color. For example, as soon as I poured the first layer of yellow jello, I heated up water and mixed up the green jello. Once it was dissolved, I poured 2/3 cup of the green jello into another measuring cup, then stirred in the Cool Whip to the rest of it. You need three measuring cups to do it this way. That gives it some time to cool down a little before it’s time to pour it into the pan, but not so much time that it begins to set up too much to pour.

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Shopping for Cathy.

Well, I stumbled upon another estate sale this weekend.  This one was in NE Seattle and seemed fairly pedestrian…until I got to the basement.  And in the basement was room after room, lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves – all packed with cookbooks.  Like, hundreds of cookbooks.  Maybe thousands.  I don’t think this woman was actually cooking from them, I think she just collected them as a hobby.  Or maybe a sickness.

Anyway, I had to really restrain myself.  As some of you know, I have just within the last few years really gotten a handle on my own cookbook addiction.  I wanted very badly to purchase the full Time-Life sets, the Better Homes and Gardens cooking encyclopedias, etc…but I was restrained by how much I could carry.  I limited myself to just a few books and cooking pamphlets.

Including these offerings that I thought would make good fodder for Cathy recipes.

But as I was taking this picture, Kona decided that she wanted to be part of the Cathy Cake Club too.

So if there’s hair in the cake, it’s not my fault.

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The Ghost of Cathy at the Superbowl.

So, for my first Cathy Cake after the January hiatus, I wanted to do something good.  Not just any old cake; something memorable.  I decided to go into my magazine archives and pull February issues from years past.  I was hoping to find something vaguely Superbowl-related; as it happened, I learned that people don’t seem to bake many cakes in February.  Also, I am severely lacking in February magazine issues.  Summer months I am generally well-stocked in, but February has proven to be elusive.

Finally, I had it narrowed down to two possibilities: a gross-sounding carrot cake from February 1974 “Family Circle”, and Cherry Devilicious Cake, the cover recipe from the February 1971 “Better Homes and Gardens”.

Cherry Devilicious Cake it was.

The cake is basically a devil’s food cake prepared with a mix, topped with a fluffy cream-cheese based frosting and then with a cooked cherry sauce.

The recipe seemed deceptively easy.  SO easy, I decided to double the frosting and cherry-topping portions to make sure I would have enough.  Which, inevitably, caused me problems later…

But the devil’s food cake came together smoothly.

Look at the batter-y, chocolate-y goodness.

While Cathy was baking, it was time to tend to the cream cheese frosting.  This is where it started to get complicated.  First, I had to make sure the cream cheese was softened.  This is best accomplished by leaving the cream cheese on the counter all day.  But seeing as I had forgotten to purchase the cream cheese and called Tim in a panic to purchase the cream cheese on his way home from picking up Elsie from a birthday party just half an hour before I actually NEEDED said cream cheese – it didn’t get quite as soft as I needed it to.  Also, the recipe required “packaged whipped topping mix”.  “Do they even make this anymore?” I wondered, reasonably.  However!  Let me introduce you to Dream Whip!

So.  I prepared the Dream Whip and, as instructed, folded it into the whipped-but-not-super-soft cream cheese.  Aaaand the result was lumpy white fluff.

Fine.  On to the cherry sauce, using canned cherries.  I didn’t take into account the complications that could be cause by doubling the amount of cherry juice needed.

At this point, Elsie informed me that I was “making a mess”.  No time to clean!  Must press on with the sauce!

And time to add the special ingredient – the 1/2 cup of “burgundy”.  Which I took to mean “any red wine”.

While all of this was going on, Cathy was cooling on the rack.  When I went to flip her onto the platter, her head cracked.

Aiighhhh!  Why is this happening to me!  I was having very little trouble with Cathy cracking earlier.  I was extra careful to only cool her in the pan for 10 minutes before unmolding her to cool on the rack.  I don’t know.  Clearly I am doing something wrong.

But it was nothing that 6 cups of lumpy, fluffy white frosting couldn’t fix.

And it was at this point that she became The Ghost of Cathy.

Elsie came over and asked to have her picture taken with Cathy.

She also suggested that I give Cathy eyes and a mouth.  “How?” I asked.  “With a butter knife, or a knife,” she suggested.  Pushing aside my concern for Elsie’s knife fascination, I decided to go with melted chocolate chips in a ziploc bag.  My go-to Cathy decorating solution!

Note the festive “super bowl” script at the bottom.  At this point, I was more about wanting to get the cake in my mouth and was getting a little frustrated with all the extra steps.

Finally, we cut into her.

And we poured cherries on her.

And it was weird.  I might have put too much “burgundy” in the cherries – they weren’t very sweet.  And the frosting was too tangy.  Oh well!  Chalk it up to another Cathy “learning experience”.

Below is the recipe as originally printed, without doubling the ingredients as I did.

Cherry Devilicious Cake from the February 1971 issue of “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine

  • 1 package 2-layer size red devils food cake mix
  • 1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 package whipped topping mix
  • 1 16-oz can (2 cups) dark sweet cherries
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup burgundy

Prepare devils food cake mix according to package directions; pour into well-greased 10-inch fluted tube pan.  Bake in 350º oven for 45 minutes or until cake tests done.  Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove to cooling rack.  In mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese, the first 2 tablespoons sugar and the milk till fluffy.  Prepare topping mix according to package directions; fold into cream cheese mixture.  Chill.  Drain cherries, reserving syrup.  In small saucepan, combine cornstarch and the remaining sugar, mixing well.  Gradually stir in cherry syrup and water.  Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.  Stir in cherries; heat through.  Remove from heat; stir in burgundy.  Spoon cheese mixture into center of cake.  Top with some of the warm cherry sauce.  Slice cake; pass additional cherry sauce.

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