At one of my other sites, Humuhumu’s Life in Photos, there are more than 14,000 photographs documenting the past three years of my life. With all the traveling I’ve done to check out tiki places all over the country in the past three years, it is not just a documentation of my life — it’s a documentation of the modern state of tiki. So, you’d think that most of the traffic would be from people wanting to check out tiki places and see pictures from tiki events. And I suppose that a lot of the people who visit Humuhumu’s Life in Pictures fit that profile, but a quick look at the site statistics can be startling: about a fifth of the traffic is to see the same 21 pictures — that’s 20% of the traffic to just .1% of the photos.
Those 21 pictures are scans of a small brochure published by Baker’s Coconut in 1959, with instructions to create cakes shaped like animals by cutting up sheet cakes and cake rounds and reassembling them: Cut-Up Cakes. I added them to my galleries a full two years ago, and they still generate a lot of interest: in just the past two weeks, a full 30% of the search-driven visits to Humuhumu’s Life in Photos have been from variations on the search term “cut-up cakes;” the three most popular search terms used in finding the site are “cut up cakes,” “cut-up cakes,” and “animal cakes.”
My grandmother probably ordered away for the brochure back in 1959, and my Mom wound up with it; I grew up with it, and each birthday my brother or I would deliberate over which cake would be this year’s birthday cake. It was a huge part of my childhood, and since posting the brochure, I’ve had scads of messages from others with the same memories, who have been thrilled to rediscover the brochure. I can’t help but wonder if Baker’s Coconut has experienced a spike in sales in the past two years.
My birthday is next Monday, and I decided that this year, I would make not just a Cut-Up Cake, but one of my own design: a hula girl. The cake is made up of pieces from a 9″ round cake. I’m pretty happy with it, for a first pass. Her legs are a little chunky, but I’ve never heard a song that went “lovely hula legs…” anyhow.
Bake a cake in a round cake pan; I used a 9″ round, but a smaller size would probably work just fine. I used some basic boxed yellow cake mix, which handled the cuts very well. Feel free to experiment with other cake recipes, but consider whether the cake recipe you want to use will hold together well when it’s cut. After baking, the center of the cake will be raised; if you’d like, you can cut the top off of the cake with a bread knife to even out the height of the different pieces (I didn’t bother to do that with this cake).
One box of cake mix will give you two round cakes, each can be a hula girl. I only cut up one of the cakes. Cut the cake up according to the pattern; if neccessary, you can cut pattern pieces out of wax paper or parchment paper (or, if you’re a terrible cook like me, laser printer paper). I used a serrated bread knife, and it worked great. Once the pieces are cut out, arrange them like the picture. One of the arms will get turned upside-down to get the angle right, and the legs… the legs need work. Improvise a bit on the legs, and you’ll do fine. There’s an extra scrap piece near the head, you can use some of that to create better legs, or to snack on while you work.
Frost the entire cake, using a lightweight frosting. You want a lightweight frosting because there are a lot of crumbly, exposed cake edges — if your frosting is too stiff, it’ll pull the cake apart a bit and you’ll have crumbs in your frosting. I used some “whipped” frosting in a bucket from the grocery store, but homemade would probably taste much better. I used red, yellow and blue food dye in a 3:3:1 proportion to get the tan color. I added a bit of almond extract because I was temporarily and terrifyingly possessed by the demonic spirit of Sandra Lee. ::shiver::
Next, make some green coconut for her grass skirt. Always, always, always use Baker’s Coconut, because they created the booklet that was the inspiration, and even though it’s been nearly 50 years on since they put it out, they deserve to be supported for it. Thanks, Baker’s Coconut!
Take a small amount of milk (somewhere between a few tablespoons and a quarter cup), and add food dye to it. I used lots of green food dye, with a little bit of neon yellow-green food dye. Dump a bunch of coconut in it, and toss it with a fork until it’s all covered. Put the dyed coconut in her skirtal region.
Now, you’re going to need to toast some coconut. Spread the coconut out on a baking sheet, and put it into a 350° oven. Bake it for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Or, if you’re like me, put it in the oven with every intention of stirring it, then get sidetracked until your boyfriend sniffs the air and says “is something burning in the kitchen?” This cajun-style blackened coconut makes lovely dark tresses for your hula girl. If you manage to kind of get it right on your second go-round of toasting, it’ll make swell sand for under her feet.
Arrange the burned coconut into a bit of hair for your poor bald little hula girl. If burned coconut isn’t your style, you can use licorice instead. For her lips, take a red gumdrop (I used a cinnamon spice drop… ¡caliente!) and cut it up into some lips. For her eyes, I piped a bit of black icing I got at the grocery store. For her lei, pipe a bit of pink frosting, and add some little flower candies. If you want, you can add a bit more frosting to give her some nice, busty curves.
Ta da! That’s all it takes! It’s pretty quick to do, and it was a big hit when I brought it out for a group birthday get-together this past Wednesday at Forbidden Island. You can see more pictures of it at Humuhumu’s Life in Photos, and also step-by-step pictures of a cake I made that was shaped like a Munktiki Tiki Central ‘Ohana Hut bowl.
- Cut-Up Cakes [Humuhumu’s Life in Photos]