Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It Takes the Cake

"Baking is like washing--the results are equally temporary."
Author Patricia Briggs

I spent quite a bit of Friday working on a cake for Stafford's 125th birthday party. I added a trip or two to the field, along with making and delivering the noon meal for Randy & Jake, who are still planting wheat.

I can really relate to the quote from Patricia Briggs: The cake took hours to make and only a few minutes for people to devour.

But that's OK. My time investment paid off when my cake won the top prize at a contest over the weekend. No one was more surprised than I was.

Since the judges weren't judging on taste, I didn't figure I had any hope of winning. Baking I can do. Decorating is not usually my forte.

Nine of us entered cakes in the Friday night contest to commemorate Stafford's quasicentennial.

I don't think it was necessarily my skills with a pastry tube, though I certainly spent enough time covering that sunflower with repeated strokes with a star tip.

Instead, I think it was more about the Burma Shave-style signs that decorated the back of the box. Several years ago, the Stafford Main Street committee installed small signs on U.S. Highway 50. There is a set for motorists who are heading into Stafford from the west.

But the ones on my "radar" - and my cake - were the six signs that line a ditch just past the Zenith Road on U.S. 50. I've probably been past them thousands of times since that's our normal route to Stafford.

I don't remember the Burma-Shave signs of the past. But our Stafford signs are reminiscent of the sign series that appeared from 1925 to 1963 in most of the contiguous U.S. Typically, six consecutive small signs would be posted along the edge of highways, spaced for sequential reading by passing motorists.

This use of the billboard was a successful advertising gimmick during the early years of the automobile, drawing attention from passersby who were curious to discover the punchline. As the highway system expanded in the late 1950s and vehicle speeds increased, it became more difficult to attract motorists' attention with small signs.

I took photos of Stafford's version of the signs and then made my own signs by printing wallet-sized photos and attaching them to sticks.

Just in case you can't read them: If our road signs ... Catch your eye ... Smile awhile

And stop to buy ... Stafford Main Street ... Gateway to Quivira NWR

Besides the signs, I took lots of photos of Stafford today and interspersed them with photos from Stafford's Centennial book. I decorated the cake board with these glimpses of Stafford's past and present.

I thought the photo of the marquee on the Ritz Theater was particularly timely. The movie "Going the Distance" will be shown next weekend. A celebration of Stafford's 125-year history has our little town "going the distance," too.

I also modified the centennial logo, changed the dates and made a big road sign of my own to stick in the middle of my sunflower cake among the chocolate frosting and chocolate chips I used to make the sunflower center.

There weren't many rules for the cake contest. About the only requirement was that it was to be a sheet cake.

I made a chocolate sheet cake for the base. Then I made a lemon poppy seed cake for the sunflower.

So I didn't have to freehand the text, I used molds and orange-colored candy melts to spell out Stafford and 125 and to make my pumpkins.

When I got there and saw the cakes, I sure didn't figure I would win. We have some talented ladies in our community.

The one below ended up getting second place. Laura, a former Stafford High School student, does cake decorating as a hobby from her home in Hutchinson. She constructed the Stafford County Museum out of cake, as well as Stafford's brick streets. I was impressed.

The third place winner was Sarah Marks, who was in Brent's high school class. She showed the evolution of transportation from the time Stafford was established in 1885. The covered wagon was on a "dirt" road. The next vehicle was on brick streets and the modern vehicle was on an "asphalt" highway, while a tractor plowed a nearby "field."

Another of my favorites was done by my friend, Arlene Lickiss, who truly is an artist. She didn't have to rely on candy molds for her decor. She drew the Stafford skyline by hand with frosting. Pretty impressive!

There was also a steam engine out of cake ...

A covered wagon pulled by oxen ...

And a schoolmarm and desk (neither from cake) complete with 125 pumpkins.

As you can see, I feel fortunate to have won the contest. The cakes were served prior to the Stafford homecoming football game.

And the next day, I got my $125 in Chamber bucks! I've already spent part of the loot at Paul's Grocery Store. That's probably where the bulk of my winnings will go.

I guess that's a fitting place to spend proceeds from a cake contest.

SHHHH! We won't talk about how much I spent on the sunflower cake pan or the chocolate molds. But, in my defense, I did come out ahead.

You will come out ahead, too, if you try these cake recipes. Both are from one of my favorite cookbooks, the 75th Anniversary Cookbook (1916-1991) from the Trousdale (KS) United Methodist Church. Enjoy!

Chocolate Sheet Cake
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup margarine or butter
4 tbsp. cocoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

Sift flour, sugar and salt together. Bring to boil the margarine or butter, water and cocoa. Pour over flour and sugar mixture. Beat well. Add the soda to the buttermilk; add to mixture. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.

Bake in a prepared sheet cake pan (15- by 10-inches). Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Start icing during the last 5 minutes the cake is baking. Frost as soon as the cake is removed from the oven.

Note: I sometimes add 1 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to the dry ingredients for a chocolate cinnamon cake. I didn't this time.

Chocolate Icing
1/2 cup margarine or butter
6 tbsp. milk
3 tbsp. cocoa
1 lb. (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans (I didn't use these this time since I wanted a smooth icing)

Heat margarine or butter, milk and cocoa in saucepan. Heat over low flame until butter is melted, but don't boil. Remove from heat. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and nuts (if desired). Mix well. Frost cookie sheet cake as soon as it is removed from the oven.

Makes 24 servings.

Poppy Seed Cake
1 box white cake mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 small package instant pudding (I used lemon)
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup milk

Note: The original recipe called for vanilla, butterscotch, pistachio or coconut pudding. I chose lemon, not one of the options listed, but it got good reviews from people who sampled it.

Soak poppy seeds in the milk. Beat all ingredients together for 4 minutes. The original recipe said to put the batter into a 10-inch prepared tube pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 55 minutes, if making the tube pan.

I used this mixture for my sunflower molded cake and cooked until it tested done in the center with a toothpick.

I frosted with a powdered sugar decorators icing, which I colored bright yellow with gel food coloring. I like this recipe because it uses part butter (or margarine), which gives it better flavor than frosting made just with shortening.

I used leftover chocolate frosting for the center of the sunflower, then decorated with chocolate chips.
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, melted
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla (I used almond extract instead)

Combine all ingredients. This makes enough to frost a layer cake. You can halve it for a 13- by 9-inch pan.


  1. All of the cakes are neat, but I can see why the gorgeous sunflower took 1st place! You just can't beat a Kansas sunflower! I refer to sunflowers as "my sunshine"--that is what I called Martin.

    I recall the Burma-Shave signs from the time I was young. And missed them when they were discontinued!

    Good blog, as usual!!

    Jane T.

  2. I love Methodist sheet cake!! Especially with your homemade vanilla ice cream! Congratulations on your win!!

  3. Obviously all of you spent much time and effort and talent. Beautiful! I love your ideas, I'm too shaky to freehand anything,however, I've had a desire to decorate cakes. Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Such creativity! Congratulations, Kim!
    I've heard that the Trousdale cookbook has excellent recipes. Love those church cookbooks!
    Thanks, for sharing these recipes.