Monday, April 30, 2007

A Taste of Yellow- Wild Canary Cake

Growing up I was raised by two moms, my real mom and my grandmother. The four of us, including my brother, lived together in the same house. My grandma was a woman who grew up in a house where food was very important. In a farming family with 13 brothers and sisters, times were often hard. With there always being plenty of mouths to feed my great-grandmother baked bread almost every day (which reminds me, I swear I will be continuing my work with yeast). And since my grandmother was the second oldest, a lot of responsibility fell to her. Growing up we ate a lot of good food, to say the least, as she learned a lot growing up herself. I have a lot of wonderful memories of my grandmother- her super doughy sugar cookies, pumpkin bread every Thanksgiving and Christmas, homemade noodles, chicken & dumplings, and so much more. I have a lot of wonderful memories that don't necessarily involve food. Staying home with my grandmother during the day meant we would watch our soap operas together. And I could stay up late at night if I helped her work the crossword puzzle while we watched Perry Mason reruns. Living through the death of her husband, a brother, and both her parents, my grandmother was definitely the definition of a survivor, in my opinion. Which made it very hard when she passed away in 1994 of cancer. I wasn't just losing my grandma, it was like I was losing a mom too. And it was all the more hard because my brother and I weren't done being raised by her. I was 13 when she passed away, and my brother was 10. I sometimes regret not asking more questions, more about her life, but there's no way you can really expect a kid to think about those kinds of things. I have a lot of wonderful memories, and I do have a lot of stories that I can share with my future children, even if I don't know every single one she had to tell. Here is a picture of my grandmother with a few of her co-workers (a few of them also family) at the brick yard, where she worked during WWII, while my grandfather was in the Navy. She's the next to last woman. I think part of my image of her as survivor has to do with the fact that she was so tall, ha.

A month or two ago I borrowed one of my grandmother's recipe boxes from my mom. I had pulled out several recipes that looked interesting. When I heard about the Taste of Yellow blog event created by Barbara at Winos and Foodies to celebrate LiveStrong Day, I knew that I had to make one of these recipes- Wild Canary Cake. The cake takes it's name from the hue of the main ingredient- egg yolks. Yep, if you are on cholesterol medication, avoid this cake at all costs! The recipe, typed on an index card that is quite yellowed itself, is a bit vague. The last instruction on the back is merely "Bake." But I didn't let that stop me from taking up the challenge. Nor did it stop me when, in an attempt to find out anything else about the recipe my Google searches resulted in nothing but bird feed information. So, this Sunday morning I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. And this is the point at which I feel the need to come completely clean and tell you that I used store-bought frosting. I know, I know- it's a travesty. I'm sure Stephanie and Lindsey are thoroughly disappointed in me, but I was under a time crunch, didn't have all the ingredients I needed, and had total lack of confidence as well, ha. But, aside from the frosting the cake is completely homemade, vague index card and all.

Wild Canary Cake
Recipe from my grandmother; Makes 2 9" round cakes

3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 or 10 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla

  • Cream shortening. Cream in sugar.
  • Beat egg yolks very light. Beat into first mixture.
  • Sift dry ingredients together. Add alternately with liquid. Beat in flavoring.
  • Bake.
My notes: Okay, so as you can read, those directions are straightforward, but can leave a bit to be desired. I used cake flour, which worked fine, but since talking with my mom she thinks my grandmother probably would have used all-purpose. I also went with the 8 egg yolks, because- seriously, 10 yolks? 8 already seems insane. I greased the pans, lined the bottom with parchment, greased that, and floured them. I divided the batter evenly between the two pans, evened the batter in each pan, and tapped on the counter to bring up any bubbles. I decided to cook these cakes at 350 degrees and started at 30 minutes. I pretty much just based that on a another one of her cake recipes. After the first 30 minutes I left them in for an additional 7 or so after testing with a skewer. While these cakes were baking there was the smell of vanilla in the house. When I took them out of the oven, there was the smell of eggs. I don't mean that in a bad way, but it's just really strange to have your house smelling like cooked eggs. Also, these cakes cooked up, and over. But only to one side. My rack is in the oven evenly, my oven has not recently been placed on a fault line, so I really can't figure out why each one baked up to form a lip on one side. After they cooled in the pans for around 15-20 minutes I cooled on a rack. The top had a very sponge like texture, and thanks to the lip thing, I cut the tops off each of them. This revealed the pretty yellow innards, very moist but quite crumby. As you can see in the picture, the outside of the cake had browned nicely. This is about the time I realized that I had very little time to frost them before our dinner date. So, yeah, I took the easy way out and bought some cream cheese icing. I'm a woman on the go, get off my back! What with the crumby texture of the now exposed tops I figured they should probably be in the middle. I think it made for an interesting visual, since the cream cheese in the center seems to blend with the cake, and the golden brown outer edge of the layers matches up fairly well. I crumb coated the thing, stuck it in the fridge for 30 while I got ready for dinner, and then iced it completed. This is the first time I'd done a crumb coat. To be quite honest I am horrible at icing cakes. I lucked out in marrying a guy who doesn't really like much frosting. I typically ice the middle and top and leave it at that, but I knew that wasn't gonna do this cake any justice. I must admit that there were a few crumbs in the icing, but overall my crumb coat was a success. I will probably stick to my ways as far as household sweets go, but it's nice to know that I can produce a better looking cake for friends and family.

And so, that's the tale of how a blog event for a good cause brought me just a little bit closer to my grandmother, even though we haven't been in the same kitchen in more than 10 years. My grandmother isn't the only person I know that has been affected by cancer- my paternal grandfather, my great-uncle, my husband's aunt, and one of our good friends. But here's a slice for all of the wonderful, strong, and amazing people who have had to deal with this disease- whatever form it's taken, whomever it has affected. I hope that everyone who participates gets as much out of it as I have.


Barbara said...

Jessica that was a very touching story about your grandmother. Thank you for sharing it. I have great memories of my grandmother who lived to 99. I was fortunate to know her as an adult and ask all the questions.

love.boxes said...

What a sweet tribute to your grandmother. I love those strong women of WW11... it's amazing the lives they lived and what they accomplished... Did you say she was #2 of 13? Anyway, I think she would really be happy to know that you made her cake to celebrate such a day.

Jessica said...

#2 of 14 actually, she had 13 siblings. The woman to the left of her in the picture is her older sister.

Lindsey said...

Hey--store bought frosting totally has a place in this world. My sister even buys it and eats it by the spoonful. I'm not gonna lie and say I haven't had a few myself.

This was a great post.

Arfi Binsted said...

Jessica, this is a great entry. I'm sorry for your loss of your grandmother. It happened to me too as mine had died of lungs cancer. Very tragic and sad. I'm hoping you are well and living a strong day, each minute is keeping healthy very important for the next hours of our life. Keep strong!

Johnna said...

Thanks for this. My grandmother passed away this month.

c jane said...

Could I have enjoyed the wild canary cake as much as I enjoyed this post and picture? It would have to be a really tasty cake to be sure.

Lori Precious said...

ahhhh the beauty of the come across this recipe for Wild Canary Cake. I was googling "wild canary" which is the name of my production company in Los Angeles. It was named by my dad, who was (he has since passed away :( from Michigan. He used to say that there were wild canaries in the yard-- I loved the idea of wild canaries. I thought he was just making that up--come to find out that there are wild canaries--not only birds but a cake too :)

I guess there is a story about wild canaries connected with St Francis as well.

is this TMI about wild canaries?! well, there you go, an odd connection out there in cyberspace...

BTW...I have deep roots deep in the heart of Texas--my mom is from an itsy bitsy town, Lueders, outside of Abilene. We go there every couple of years.

Lori in Topanga CA

Anonymous said...

Hi. Thanks for posting the recipe and your story. My daughter is reading THE POWER OF ONE for Language Arts class. They mention a canary cake. I had never heard of one so I googled it. You were the only person who mentions it. Thanks again. I will try to make it. We live at a high altitude but I'm up to the challenge..

Unknown said...

Wow, what a story about your grandmother. She seems a wonderful woman and I am sorry for your loss. And wow, what a life she led.

My mother read about a "canary cake" in a historical fiction and wanted to know what it tasted like. It was set in 20th century Thailand and so I thought this was just about the closest we could get!

I just made it today, and it turned out wonderfully- what a texture! It tastes wonderful and it so soft and moist. And I'm always having leftover egg yolks from meringues and stuff, so this is a great way to burn through them fast.

Thank you so much for sharing this!

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