It’s almost Easter — and we’re on the hunt for the cutest cakes.
And when it comes to Easter cakes, the lamb is still in the lead. Norm Dinkel, an Evanston resident, says he still sells more lamb cakes than any other type of Easter cake at Dinkel’s Bakery in Chicago. “But the bunnies are catching up,” he said.
At Dinkel’s, bakers have been making lamb cakes since Norm’s grandpa Joseph started the business in 1922. The cakes are made by pouring cream cake mixture (sponge cake would be too tender) into a two-sided, steel mold.
Where did the lamb mold originate? “Probably from Germany,” Dinkel guessed, “but no one can say for sure.”
Once baked, the cake is removed. Delicately. “You have to carefully, carefully take the lamb out,” Dinkel cautioned.
“Once in a while we break a head or an ear off,” joked Jory Downer of Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston. “And those are the ones that I usually see at whatever Easter dinner I attend.” We’ll never tell.
At Bennison’s, they’ve been working with the same lamb molds since 1967 when Jory’s dad bought the bakery. “They were here when my family took over,” he remembered.
To Downer, part of the joy of lamb cake is the rare combination of pound cake, buttercream and coconut. “It’s the only time of year we offer it,” he said.
Like Dinkel’s, bakers at Bennison’s also make other Easter cakes — including shiny, dark chocolate-covered cakes in the shape of an egg. Decorators use bright-colored icing to painstakingly draw intricate patterns of tiny Lily of the Valley flowers and miniature pussy willows. For some, the egg cakes are like pillowy, edible versions of the storied jewels of the house of Fabergé.
But as cake decorating becomes more popular, so do modern approaches to the sweet side of Easter dinner. Bundt cakes are among the newest trends. In August, a nationally-known bakery concept, Nothing Bundt Cakes, popped up in Skokie. In full tribute to bundt cakes, their Easter design is aptly named Bundt Hunt. The cake is decorated with bright, yellow-colored little chicks. “It’s one of my favorite designs,” said co-owner Sarah Schoo. “It serves as a dessert and a centerpiece.”
Like all of their cakes, Bundt Hunt can be made in any of 10 flavors. “My favorite is the lemon,” Schoo said. Other varieties are Chocolate Chocolate Chip, White Chocolate Raspberry, Red Velvet, Pecan Praline, Marble, Cinnamon Swirl and, of course, the Easter Bunny’s favorite: Carrot.
After all, no matter how cute an Easter cake, it’s what’s inside that counts. Carrot Cake is a favorite at Sugar Fixe in Oak Park, where owner Cindy Summers works with a recipe she adapted from the classic cookbook “The Cake Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. “I basically grew up with ‘The Cake Bible’,” she said. She’s adjusted the recipe — taking out the nuts and adding more spice like ginger and nutmeg. “I don’t usually like carrot cake, but I love this carrot cake,” she said.
Once baked, designers at Sugar Fixe will be implementing some of the latest approaches for Easter. You won’t find cakes in the shape of a bunny or lamb here. Instead, look for fashionable ombre cakes frosted in multiple colors that fade from darker to light.
“I do like the color block trend right now,” said Katie Cyrwus, a pastry chef with Sugar Fixe. The color block technique involves frosting a cake in thick stripes of different colors that bleed from dark to light.
For an even more dynamic look, stylists combine the ombre approach with the three-dimensional frosting technique known as “ruffling,” which makes a cake look like it is covered in ruffles. Cyrwus starts from the bottom, working with a rose tip to pipe horizontally in 3/4-inch sections to cover the entire cake. She uses Italian Meringue Buttercream to give her ruffles a silkier look.
And, of course, all of these new techniques would sure make a lamb cake look smashing on the Easter dinner table.
2 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons Dutch cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 whole eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups carrots, shredded
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. In second bowl, mix together oil, sugars, eggs and vanilla with a hand whisk or flat mixer attachment. Add dry ingredients into egg mixture in two additions. Mix until just combined. Fold in carrots by hand.
Pour into three 6-inch pans or two 9-inch pans that have been buttered and floured. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. If using a convection oven, reduce temperature to 325 degrees and check for doneness sooner. Cake will be done when a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
5 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
1 pound butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small pot, gently mix water and 2/3 cup sugar until sugar is moistened. Boil mixture until it reaches 238 degrees. While sugar is boiling, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar in stand mixer on medium until frothy. Stream in sugar while mixing. Turn up to medium/high until soft peak. If whites reach soft peak before sugar syrup is ready, turn down mixer to low. When pot mixture reaches 238 degrees, turn mixer up to medium/high and slowly pour sugar syrup into the egg whites in a small and steady stream. Once all syrup is in the bowl, turn onto high speed and continue to whip until meringue is tight and shiny. The bowl should be warm to the touch. This could take as long as 10 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and add in 1/3 of butter, returning to medium speed for two minutes. Repeat this process until all butter is incorporated into bowl. Whip for five minutes, add in vanilla extract whip until just incorporated.
Chocolate Buttercream: For every pound of buttercream, melt one ounce of 64 percent chocolate and 1 Tablespoon plus one teaspoon of cocoa powder, and whisk into vanilla buttercream until smooth.
—Sugar Fixe Owner Cindy Summers