The 4th of July isn’t necessarily a holiday surrounded by a lot of culinary traditions. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter all have their culinary musts: turkey, goose, lamb, pumpkin pie, Christmas cookies, eggs. The 4th of July has barbeques I suppose, but no real “must haves”…except for a long standing tradition in my family: the flag cake. I’m not sure when we started baking the Flag Cake or how the idea came about but it’s just not the 4th of July without it for me.
I am proud to be an American but my patriotic flair is limited. You will not find me wearing a flag pin, or with a flag sticker on my car. I don’t usually sing the national anthem at ball games (I’ll stand up for it though!!), I won’t get into heated discussions about patriotism and usually try and avoid dressing in red white and blue. My patriotism for the year comes out on the 4th of July. I wear a flag in my ponytail, go down and watch the fireworks on the National Mall and will not miss making my Flag Cake.
This year I was getting worried that I would not have an excuse(other than the obvious holiday reason) to make my flag cake. I didn’t want to have to eat an entire cake by myself… thankfully my friend Beth threw a barbeque and saved me from a sugar overdose. Perfect excuse to bring out the sugar and food coloring and pretend I am a kid again.
Chocolate cake and white icing is pretty typical, but this usual, everyday sort of cake, is transformed when it meets blue and red colored sugar. It goes from a boxed cake to, in my opinion, the highest level of patriotism! Several versions have been tested: red and blue icing on icing white, blueberries and sliced strawberries on white icing (the fruit ended up releasing juice on the white frosting so that didn’t work.. our colors don’t run!.. I had to say it.. sorry). The traditional, tried and true method of coloring sugar with food coloring still seems to work the best.
I usually bake from scratch but the point of this cake is not to spend hours sifting flour and measuring cocoa powder. It’s to play and decorate. We have always used a boxed cake mix and there is no shame in that. The traditional Flag Cake frosting is made with butter, confectioner’s sugar and milk. While it’s delicious, it’s a little too sweet for my taste. I asked the pastry chef at the restaurant I work at to give me some frosting tips. Working at an Italian restaurant she suggested Mascarpone! Easy, not necessarily healthier, but a little less sweet.
4th of July Flag Cake
1 box of chocolate cake mix (it’s ok I promise)
white sugar – divide the sugar in two bowls and add red food coloring to one bowl and blue to the other and mix it until the colors is as deep as you want it.
(2) 4oz tubs of mascarpone cheese
heavy cream – Use as much as you like. I got a little box and poured some into the mascarpone until I thought it was the right spreading consistency
confectioner’s sugar – I ended up using a little less than a 1/4 cup. It all depends on how sweet you want your frosting. The most sugar you put in the more cream you will need because the sugar really makes the mascarpone stiffen up.
Put both tubs of mascarpone cheese into your mixer. Mix on medium speed for a few minutes just to have it be creamy. Add a little bit of heavy cream (about 2 tbs) and see how smooth it gets. Add some confectioner’s sugar to taste. Beat it on medium high for about a minute just to incorporate everything well. I added a little rum at the end, about a tablespoon, just for extra flavor but it’s not necessary if you want to keep the cake PG.
There! You’re done! It’s time to ice!
Spread the icing over the cake and you are ready to decorate! I cut out stripes of parchment paper to cover the parts the cake I wanted to keep “white”. I first thought I was going to make the flag with the correct number of stripes but then decided against that. It’s been done in the past but I decided to go “modern” this time.
* * *
Apparently making a flag cake wasn’t enough for me this year. I was reading tastespotting the other day and saw a post for cute little patriotic strawberries and just had to make them. They are so easy and the cuteness factor is pretty much off the charts.
4th of July Chocolate Covered Strawberries
What you will need:
Strawberries – washed and dried off
White chocolate chips
Put the white chocolate chips into a bowl and heat them up in the microwave at 10 second intervals, stirring each time they come out. It took me about 40 seconds to have melted chocolate. I first tried to do it over the stove and the chocolate seized up right away. I then tried to put it in the microwave.. it worked. I added a little rum to it and it seized up again. On my third try I just tried the microwave and no rum this time (put the booze down!) and it worked. I’ve worked with dark chocolate and have been pretty successful with it but white chocolate is clearly a whole different beast. So… long story short, melt the white chocolate chips and don’t add anything fancy to it and it will work just fine.
Dip the clean, dry strawberries about 3/4 of the way into the chocolate and then dip the tip in to blue sugar. Done! Cute little patriotic strawberries. Put them in the refrigerator to harder up and share them with friends.
Happy 4th of July everyone!