Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vanity, Thy Name is Cake

Vanity cakes are not at all what I expected.

...Ma made vanity cakes. She made them with beaten eggs and white flour. She dropped them into a kettle of sizzling fat. Each one came up bobbing, and floated til it turned itself over, lifting up its honey-brown, puffy bottom. Then it swelled underneath till it was round, and Ma lifted it out with a fork. She put every one of those cakes in the cupboard. They were for the party.
--On the Banks of Plum Creek

So I had a childish idea of what vanity cakes would look like and taste like, and never really let go of it. I'll try to describe what I pictured: about the size of a baseball, but a little flatter, not a perfect sphere... there's a word for that shape, like a double lens? Completely hollow on the inside, truly like a bubble of pastry, with a very thin "skin", honey-brown but translucent--kind of like if you were able to make a bubble of phyllo dough.

I can SEE these vanity cakes sitting on the cupboard shelf (covered with starry paper) in the house on Plum Creek. I can feel them in my mouth: a big bite that turns out to be mostly air, with a few crackly bits in my mouth.

The trouble? They don't exist.

I don't know why I took it into my head to make vanity cakes yesterday, but I did. And I fully expected them to turn into the pastry balloons described above until they were dropped into the sizzling fat.

The funny thing is, they acted EXACTLY as Laura describes, step by step. It was delightful to watch them drop to the bottom, bob up to the top, and flip themselves over. It's just the end product that is not what I expected (and that, of course, is my own fault, not Laura's).

I sprinkled them with powdered sugar, as recommended in The Little House Cookbook, and ate them hot. They were fairly good (especially considering I don't have the best track record with this cookbook, usually because of similar unrealistic expectations), but perhaps a little tougher than they should be--the dough might have been too stiff. They were a lot like cream puffs--deep-fried cream puffs.

Overall, a successful experiment--though I'm not likely to repeat it, unless my nieces are interested in trying them sometime, or something. The Little House Cookbook scared me off deep-fat-frying for many years, and I don't want them to live with the same fear.


GrannyGrump said...

I always imagined vanity cakes as like a cross between a deep-fried cream puff shell and a deep fried popover.

What's your recipe?

Wendy said...

It's from The Little House Cookbook. Lots of great recipes in there!