Happy 234th Birthday America...

This year was a very topsy-turvy 4th of July holiday for me. As I've previously discussed, the city divided its fireworks display into three neighborhood shows to be staged on the actual fourth, as opposed to the traditional third of July. Furthermore, I had to work on the 4th, to film the opening of the History Museum's new Pritzker Wing of American History. I was not amused, but there wasn't much I could do about it. As a result, however, I couldn't host a holiday get together as I have in years past. In fact, I found myself with surprisingly little to do over the weekend in general, besides working. So I fell back upon my favorite form of self-entertainment -- baking.

Last year, I had spotted a special patriotic cake in my customary perusal of the food blogosphere. Most 4th of July cakes consist of a rectangular sheet cake, decorated in blueberries and strawberries to resemble the American flag. This alternative version provides more of a challenge in terms of construction, which appealed to me, and avoids the presence of berries, which I don't eat. It also has the advantage of being a "surprise" cake, in the vein of last year's rainbow cake -- from the outside it appears to be a ordinary layer cake, but when you cut a slice, a festive surprise can be found within. For all these reasons, I decided to try my hand at this cake for the 4th of July holiday.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I used all box mixes and canned icing to produce this cake. For the white and blue layers, I used a white cake mix and food coloring for the blue section. The red came from a red-velvet cake mix, because I knew there was no amount of food coloring that I could use on my own to get my cake to the desired shade. Only industrial grade food coloring would be able to accomplish that.

It's difficult to describe the construction of the cake without a diagram, but it involved cutting a small circle of blue cake and fitting it with concentric rings of red and white cake to mimic the design of the flag when a slice is cut. If I had it to do over again, I would either use a miniature cake pan to make the blue cake, and save the rest of the undyed batter to make extra white layers, resulting in a taller cake. Or, I would put the blue ring around the outside and smaller circles of red and white on the inside. As it was, with cakes as tender and moist as those from a box mix, it was difficult to stack the circles without breaking them. Still, I was beyond thrilled when I cut into the cake and the flag pattern emerged just as I had planned.

Of course, I couldn't eat an entire five layer cake on my own (especially given my dislike of frosting), so I invited Natasha and her boyfriend, Travis, over to partake and watch the 4th of July fireworks. The best part of serving a surprise cake is the reaction of your guests, and mine were duly impressed with the unexpected interior. Even though I would do things differently if I made this cake again, I'm still going to consider it a complete success. It was well-worth the effort in making it.

As for the fireworks, they were definitely scaled down compared to years past. The city launched them from a point further north than in years past, so they appeared smaller and less impressive from my traditional vantage point in Grant Park. As intended, the crowds were much thinner, which I had mixed feelings about. In the past, I've always enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that comes from sharing an experience with so many of my fellow Chicagoans, but there was also something nice about the feeling of enjoying an almost private showing. And even if the display itself wasn't as long or intense as usual, it was still entertaining.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the impromtu sing-along that I held with Natasha. Since we didn't have a radio to listen to the musical accompaniment to the fireworks, we decided to provide our own songs from the School House Rock oeuvre. It turns out she's quite a fan as well, so we sang "The Preamble" song and "Fireworks" to go along with the show. I think Travis thought we were crazy, but the homespun entertainment was a perfect ending for a low-key 4th of July celebration.


  1. So, we should totally have a School House Rock party. My favorite selections are all the 'History Rocks' songs. Plus we have to teach Trav about the joys of SHR!

  2. Nice work on the cake. I wish I had that sort of patience. I did a baba au rhum the other day for a dinner.

    Also, I have a new dinner program. I should drop you a line with the info.