Monday, May 23, 2011

The cake of a lifetime...

The Cherpeachbarb

We don’t distinctly remember how it began. It seems likely that it was after bacon-themed Thanksgiving, as we held our aching sides and marveled at the greatness of America, where bacon is a garnish and portion control means saving room for seconds. We know we were seeking an answer to the great Thanksgiving dilemma of how to sample every flavor of pie, cake, and cheesecake in the last 900 calories of your feast. That other Thanksgiving dilemma of how to avoid salmonella in your stuffing while still pleasing fifteen dinner guests with varied tastes in poultry has been solved by the “Turducken”: a chicken cooked inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey. If the stuffing principle works for the main dish, why not for dessert? Why settle for pie or cake, when you can have pie and cake… in the same bite?

Strawberry, rhubarb, and cheesecake--the bottom layer.
The Internet, of course, has the answer to all such dilemmas. A quick search for cake+pie will introduce you to the "Cherpumple."
Peach and almond--the top layer

In brief, imagine baking an entire pie--whole--inside a cake, stacking three such cakes atop each other, and wrapping the tower in thick icing thick to seal in the bulging, oozing mass of sugar. The Cherpumple embodies at least four of the seven deadly sins in dessert form.

One of many reasons I love my friend Jen is that she will happily stroll with me down the path to extreme eating…and that she wanted to celebrate her wedding with an appropriately memorable dessert. Jen turned up her nose at the selection of pumpkin, apple, and cherry pie in the "traditional" Cherpumple, proposing instead the deliciously fruity centers of cherry, peach, and strawberry-rhubarb. While the details of the date and place of the wedding fluctuated, the one constant was the cake/pie we renamed the “Cherpeachbarb.” Jen may have meant it in jest, and Jordan may have shuddered at the whole thing, but it seemed they were stuck with it. Now I got to see if I could turn this emblem of gluttony and excess into a tasteful and tasty wedding cake.

A slice: the cross-section shows the strawberry-rhubarb pie, sitting on a strawberry cake crust, surrounded by cheesecake, and iced. It's like a puzzle...
Much to the delight of my coworkers, this project required practice. While exploring techniques for baking a whole pie inside a cake, I also experimented with flavor combinations and pan sizes. My first attempt at a two-layer, cherry-chocolate cake/pie caved in at the center, oozing cherry pie filling like molten lava. I soon discovered that it does indeed take a full batch of cake batter to envelope an entire pie, and that turning the pie upside down in the cake pan bursts extra air bubbles and stabilizes the cake. I settled on three flavor combinations: peach pie baked inside an almond sponge cake, cherry pie inside a dense chocolate cake, and strawberry-rhubarb pie smothered in cheesecake and encased in strawberry cake. The bottom layer was baked in a twelve-inch springform pan and was so thick it took about four hours to cook through.

The cake, dissembled: three layers, three flavors.
Cake assembly started around 7:30 in the morning, and ran right up until the time of the wedding. I supported the heavy layers with wooden dowels and cardboard cake forms, and generous globs of frosting to hide the ugly spots. Shannon came to my rescue as I was about to throw finicky fondant stencils across the kitchen. We balanced the tower of cake/pie on a platter dusted with sparkling sugar. The finished product contained three pies, the equivalent of five standard-size cakes, eight 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, and four pounds of powdered sugar. The best way to appreciate the enormity of this endeavor was to lift it. I didn’t weigh it, but carrying the cake was like wielding a rather tall stack of books held together with chewing gum. Perhaps we should have required all wedding guests to weigh the cake before committing to sampling a slice, or two, or three.

Jen and Jordan's celebration was delightful: a warm New Mexico evening spent with good friends and delicious food. Jen's mother cooked Vietnamese dishes for a small army, and still most people found stamina to sample all three layers of the Cherpeachbarb. The bride and groom outshone the food and flowers, and while they will surely carry many New Mexico moments with them to Arizona, somewhere in the bank of memories will be a pie, baked inside a cheesecake, stuffed in a cake, and swirled in cream cheese frosting.

The first cut.
The bride and groom... and their cake/pie creation.