Bake a Turkey-Shaped Cake
By Cathy Callahan
How about cake instead of pie this Thanksgiving? I don’t mind pie but am really more of a cake person. This turkey-shaped cake is a fun way to introduce a cake to the dessert table and is also fun for kids to make for Thanksgiving. And if the “pie people” turn their noses up at it? At least it can also double as decoration for the table.
With the big holiday just around the corner I’m sure many of you are starting to pour over your favorite cookbooks in search of recipes. I really don’t own many cookbooks and am an advocate for just having a few really good ones on hand. There’s been a lot of talk about classic cookbooks lately. Of course we all love Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. The Joy of Cooking has been a staple in kitchens for many generations. On many people’s lists of “must haves” are The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, How to Cook Everything, Beard on Food and the list goes on.
But to me an overlooked classic is Baker’s Coconut Cut-Up Cakes (1956 edition). Why not have a little fun in the kitchen? It was updated in 1959 and retitled Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-Up Cakes. It was published by Baker’s to promote their “Angel Flake Coconut” product. At any given time there are usually a few listed on eBay and there is oftentimes a bidding war to get the older ones. You can sample some pages of the book in charm and poise’s Flickr set.
Cut-up cakes are all about the reconfiguration of the standard layer or sheet cake. Following the illustrations, the cake is cut into shapes and arranged to resemble things like boats, bunnies, witches, etc. and then iced, sprinkled with coconut, and decorated with candy; the boat eveb gets Lifesavers for the portholes. And they all have cute names.
I have made the “Ella Elephant,” “Fanny the Fish,” and “Dear Santa.”
I just made the “Gobble-Gobble Gobbler” as a dry run for this Thanksgiving. I tried to follow the recipe as best I could but I have to be honest that a little more explanation would have been helpful. I did have a couple of mishaps and had to approach this project like a small scale construction project. So here I’ve adapted the original directions in hopes that it will make it a little easier for you. Make sure you wear an apron because it’s a very messy, but fun, undertaking.
14 oz bag flaked (not shredded) coconut
1 box store-bought cake mix enough to make two 9″ round layers. You may also choose to make your cake from scratch.
Two 12 oz tubs of icing Or, if you’re making from scratch, double the icing you would normally use for 1 cake.
Candy for decoration I purchased at a bulk candy store (such as “The Sweet Factory”) so I could just select the small amounts I needed.
Step 1: Follow the package directions and bake two 9″ round layers. Make sure they are completely cooled before icing.
Step 2: Toast the coconut.
For most of the cut-up cakes, you use the coconut right out of the bag. Some of the recipes call for a tinted coconut, meaning you dilute a few drops of food color and a little water in a bowl and toss the coconut until you have the desired color.
When a light golden color is desired, you toast it. Preheat your oven to 350°. Spread the coconut in an even layer on a cookie sheet. Toast it in the oven for 5 -7 minutes, shaking the pan often until the coconut is evenly toasted, and immediately take it out of the oven.
Step 3: Place the cake on whatever dish it will be served on, because at this point the cake will be impossible to transfer to another surface. I used a plastic sheet that I found in the cake decorating aisle at the craft store. A nice cutting board or platter would also work well, or some cardboard wrapped in foil.
Spread icing on top of one layer and place the other layer on top. I used a vanilla butter cream icing that I tinted with a little brown and yellow food color to give it a caramel color.
Cut as shown. Take care, as the cake might start getting a little crumbly.
Gently configure the cut pieces as shown. You might need to prop some of the pieces up with something like a coffee cup or glass to keep it stable (the icing will make it all stick together in the next step). Dust off the excess crumbs prior to icing.
Step 4: Ice the top and sides of the cake. Use extra icing to fill in any gaps of uneven surfaces (this is why you have doubled the icing). I found the icing to be what helped keep my less-than-stable cake configuration together. Besides, isn’t icing the best part of the cake anyway?
Take a little extra care when you get to the sides that were cut, as the crumbs can easily get mixed up with the icing. I just kept wiping my knife with a paper towel to keep it clean.
Wipe off any excess icing that might have splattered from your board or platter.
Leave a couple of tablespoons of icing aside for the next step.
Immediately sprinkle coconut as shown. If you wait too long, the icing gets hard and the coconut will not stick. For the sides of the cake I just took a handful of the coconut and pressed it on.
I found the toasted coconut to be very tasty so I decided to cover the entire cake in it. You could sprinkle it on in a pattern if desired.
Shake or brush off any excess coconut that has fallen on the board or platter.
Step 5: Give your turkey a little decoration. Have fun and use whatever candy you wish. I had tons of candy corn leftover from Halloween.
I discovered that since I covered my cake completely in the coconut that my candy decorations would not stick. So I dabbed a little bit of icing on the back of each candy so that it would stay stuck.
About the Author:
Cathy Callahan is a crafter and window dresser who draws inspiration from vintage crafts. She blogs about 1960s and 1970s crafts at cathyofcalifornia.typepad.com.