“There is no creation without tradition; the ‘new’ is an inflection on a preceding form; novelty is always a variation on the past.” (Carlos Fuentes, “How I Started to Write,” Myself and Others: Selected Essays)
Easter Sunday this year dawned gray and cool, causing me to be just a bit too chilly in the sleeveless dress I chose to wear to Mass. We began our Easter as usual: early Mass at St Mary’s cathedral, followed by an Easter barbecue with our children and grandchildren. By the time we arrived at Elizabeth’s house, the clouds had given way to the sun, which then pleasantly warmed the air.
Spring and Easter are synonymous: spring ushers in Easter, and both are harbingers of renewal and the hope that accompanies new beginnings. Yet the traditions we call upon to help us celebrate the renewal signified by Easter, as with all holiday and family traditions, remind us that the without the old, nothing can really be new. Every year, the mild weather, bright green baby grass, and budding trees of spring replace the dreary weather, brown grass, and naked trees of winter, reminding us that from death comes life. Every year the affirmation of life and hope we hear in Easter services remain the same, though the churches in which we hear the good news may vary, as well as the people with whom we are in attendance. Every year families engage in their traditional Easter egg hunts, but as the years pass the children grow into adults and then parents, whose own children ensure that the Easter egg hunts will continue.
Since we have young children in the family again, I had the opportunity to resurrect the ubiquitous classic Easter bunny cake that appears across the land (even relatives and friends of mine who ordinarily don’t cook make this bunny cake at Easter-time) for Easter celebrations. You know the one: the cake for which a one layer is used for the head and the other layer cut to form the ears and bow-tie. I hunted for the origin of this particular cake, surmising that it probably made its debut in some woman’s magazine in fifty or sixty years ago. The closest I could come to discovering its premier as a traditional Easter cake is the Kraft Foods website that refers to it as “Our iconic bunny cake” and notes that the cake has “hippity-hopped into thousands of Easter spreads, birthday celebrations, and more.” No matter its origin, this simple, sweet bunny cake now has a firmly established position as an Easter tradition in our country.
Naturally I made the cake differently this year than I did years ago, since we now know that three of us must have gluten-free cake if we are to have cake at all. I decided to go with a chocolate cake and almond buttercream frosting. All of Easter weekend was busy for us, so I decorated the cake as easily and quickly as possible. I piped the almond buttercream frosting over the body of the cake to give the impression of fuzzy fur.
For the colored portions of the cake, I used small tubes of Wilton decorating gels, which are gluten-free. I used large size Wilton sprinkles (also gluten-free) to create polka dots on the bow-tie.
The adults at our celebratory gathering were rather impressed with the bunny cake, even if B and H were a bit underwhelmed by it. The cake’s flavor was delicious, the texture was soft and moist, and now we can add this bunny cake with its gluten-free twist to our annual celebratory Easter dinners!
Food is a central component of most human traditions. Every culture relates specific foods to specific human events and experiences; every family has its own favorite foods it prepares for events and celebrations important to itself. So entrenched is the relationship between certain foods and specific life-celebrations that when something, such as a diagnosis of Celiac, necessitates a change of some sort, the tradition might seem to lose some of its luster. With a little bit of creativity, however, some of the traditional dishes – such as that Southern favorite green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, or the bunny cake at Easter – can be made gluten-free and though a bit different (the new), taste enough like the familiar (the tradition) to ensure that though new in some ways, traditional foods will continue to be enjoyed by everyone at traditional family celebrations.
Gluten-Free Easter Bunny Cake
½ lb European unsalted butter, softened
600 g (3 cups) sugar
1 cup vanilla whole fat Greek yogurt
2 Tbls milk
225 g (2 cups) Superfine brown rice flour
94 g (3/4 cup)Tapioca flour
57 g (1/2 cup)Potato starch (NOT potato flour!)
75g Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa
1 Tsp pure Mexican vanilla
½ tsp aluminum-free baking soda
1 tsp guar gum
6 large eggs
Open star tip
Wilton Ready To Use Gel Tubes (black, blue, pink, green)
Wilton Jumbo Confetti Sprinkles
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the sugar and the butter until fluffy. Add the yogurt and milk. Mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the eggs, beating after the addition of each egg. Add the vanilla. Beat until well-blended. Pour batter into two buttered and floured 9 x 2 inch round pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tooth pick stuck in the center of the cake layers comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in the pans, then remove the cakes from the pans and cool them completely.
Almond Buttercream Frosting
½ lb European unsalted butter, softened
*460 – 575 g (4 to 5 cups) gluten-free powdered sugar
3- 4 Tbls milk, half and half, or cream
1 Tbls pure almond extract
With a mixer, beat the butter for a minute or two, until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, at a low speed to prevent the sugar from flying everywhere. Increase the speed of the mixer and add the extract and milk or cream.The frosting needs to be stiff enough for piping through a bag, but not so stiff that it can’t easily be piped. Add more milk or cream, or more powdered sugar, as needed, to achieve the right consistency for piping.
To assemble the cake:
On a piece of parchment paper, trace the diameter of a 9 x 2 inch cake pan. Cut the circle out of the parchment paper and draw the two lines that will form the ears and bow-tie. The Kraft Foods website has a nice pattern to follow for this cake:
Using the edge of a sharp knife and the pattern cut from the parchment paper, trace the pattern on the cake layer from which you will cut the ears and bow-tie. Cut the cake pieces and put them aside. Wrap a 13 x 9 inch cake board with aluminum foil. The cake will take up space on the entire cake board, so begin by placing the bow-tie at the bottom of the cake board and building the bunny up from that point.
Before placing the bunny head against the bow-tie, cover the entire side of the bow-tie that will be against the bunny head with the almond butter cream frosting. Place the bunny head against the bow-tie, then place the ears in position one the bunny’s head. Pipe frosting between the bunny’s ears and the bunny’s before you put the bunny’s ears in place.
Since the cake is chocolate, the dark color will show through the decorating gel; to prevent this from happening, spread some buttercream frosting in the oval areas of the ears that will form the pink interior. Then outline and fill in that area with the pink decorating gel, before piping the buttercream frosting onto the rest of the ears.
Using the black decorating gel, form the bunny’s eyes, whiskers, and mouth. Use the blue decorating gel to fill in the eyes, and the pink decorating gel to form the bunny’s nose.
Form the bow-tie by tracing its edge with the green decorating gel, and add a circle and some lines in the middle to give the impression of a folded tie. Place the jumbo confetti sprinkles randomly inside the parameter of the bow-tie to give the impression of polka dots.