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smitten ******* flag cake 1

smitten ******* flag cake 1

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image smitten ******* flag cake 1
image smitten ******* flag cake 1

Today, there’s no-bake flag cheesecake; there’s fruit flag pizza; there’s (very impressive-looking) flag pie; there’s flag cake cobbled in M&Ms; there’s flag cake roulade. And when you’ve had your fill of cake, look at the “Flag Cake Skewers” made of berries and marshmallows (“No slicing or serving utensils needed for this flag cake,” the tagline reads) and flag platters made of berries and cheese. And that’s before you go down the rabbithole of patriotic non-flag foods (like red, white, and blue deviled eggs and cheesecake-stuffed strawberries).


And when she published it in Barefoot Contessa Family Style in 2002 and demoed it on her Food Network show for the “All American” episode the next year, “it somehow became a thing.” So much of a thing that Taylor Swift made it—twice. On Brit and Co., the flag cake was called “Taylor Swift’s”: As in, “You Need to Make Taylor Swift’s Flag Cake for 4th of July.” And so the flag cake—which, let’s be clear, is a cake representation of the American flag, a symbol of our country, an object that we salute and serenade—could then be semantically confused with a cake decorated with the flag of Taylor Swift. The flag cake is no longer Ina Garten’s, and it’s certainly not the United States’.


But eating a flag cake is not offensive, perhaps because it’s already so far removed from any political implications. People who might not normally hang a flag in their windows or recite the Pledge of Allegiance or put a flag bumper sticker on their car might still make a flag cake (and then post it to Instagram). I would! We forget what the flag means—how it’s meant hope and justice to so many groups of people, the opposite of that to plenty of others— when it’s in cake form. It’s kitsch; it’s colors and lines. And, to get philosophical, it’s an emotional ingestion: We eat as an act of representation all the time—communion wafers at Catholic church, charoset at the Jewish Passover Seder.


It came as a surprise to myself, then, when I got an urge to make something flag-themed this week. I quickly came upon that flag cake that has been going around for decades no doubt and decided this was the year I’d make it. Smitten Kitchen gives a fantastic post about it and uses all berries to create the flag (love that!), so I followed her guidelines for decorating but stuck to what I like as far as the cake and frosting went.


Even during the Civil War, when “a series of warring political cakes that commemorated Northern and Southern heroes and political positions” emerged, it might have been hard to distinguish Lincoln Cake from General Gordon Cake (named after the Georgian confederate hero) in a line-up. The latter was not adorned with a giant Confederate flag. (You’ll have to fast forward to 2015 for that.) Later on, in the early 1900s, patriotic desserts were more likely to be petit-fours, frosted with a light icing and carefully painted blue and red with dye made from indigo and dried beetle. In the years during World War I and World War II, flag cakes were baked to lift spirits—not reserved to commemorate Independence Day or Washington’s birthday—and, before mid-century, they did not mimic the flag itself. The 1940 recipe for Independence Day Cake from the Frederick News Post produces a multi-layer cake with pink frosting and unspecified Fourth of July “ornaments” around the base.


I have been making Ina’s flag cake for years now. When my daughter was about 18 months old (she will be 11 in August) we saw Ina making it on her show. My daughter happened to be there and said that she wanted that cake as her next birthday cake. When it came time for her birthday we asked what she wanted as her birthday dessert (I am not a cake eater, so I leave it open to whatever sweet treat you would like) never thinking she would remember that she saw the flag cake 6 months earlier, but somehow she remembered and I have been making it for her every year since.


Except then there are times when we choose to remember what it means. Flag Cake made national headlines in July of last year, when a Wal-Mart in Slidell, Louisiana refused to fill an order for a Confederate flag cake, yet decorated another with the ISIS flag for the same customer, who had returned to the business to prove a point. Wal-Mart issued a statement that local staff did not recognize the black and white flag.


I am currently bowing down to your pictures and your flag cake. I made a flag appetizer this fourth of july out of watermelon, blueberries and goat cheese laid out on a cutting board. My taste buds loved it, but my eyes were like, what is this amateurish, uneven, tribute to our founding fathers? Not to be overly self-deprecating, but your flag cake could kick my cutting board flag’s butt any day! I am in awe of the straight lines and perfectly-sized fruit. Awesome job!


Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten flag cake is a flag and we’ve also forgotten it’s a cake. For eating. “But come on, really: If we’re going to create a cake that epitomizes our country, we need a better cake,” Anne Byrn concluded at the end of our conversation.


In the end, the flag cake—even one topped with berries instead of gelatin—is, in the words of Food52’s controller Victoria Maynard “just a sad-looking sheet cake” once all the fruit is gone. Victoria learned that the hard way (and now makes a good layer cake instead, limiting her flag consumption to fruit kebabs, “like our forefathers intended”).


When my daughter was about 18 months old (she will be 11 in August) we saw Ina making it on her show. My daughter happened to be there and said that she wanted that cake as her next birthday cake. When it came time for her birthday we asked what she wanted as her birthday dessert (I am not a cake eater, so I leave it open to whatever sweet treat you would like) never thinking she would remember that she saw the flag cake 6 months earlier, but somehow she remembered and I have been making it for her every year since.


My cake came out at 42minutes, looking good and tall and lovely. Will have to give it a saw on top to flatten it out since clearly one side of my oven is a bit hotter than the other causing one end to rise more ;) Thanks for the recipe, Deb! It’s totally a spur-of-the-moment last-minute thing. Also, the first CAKE (not cupcake) recipe I’ve done in ages. My biggest fear is always the cake rising. Case in point, my housemate baked a cake for a friend’s birthday and it barely rose. Still tasted lovely, thought. Yay, cake!


I just love your “summer” cakes. I made a hybrid variation of your summer strawberry cake & raspberry buttermilk cake a few times this summer, (yes, even in the sticky DC heat) and they received rave reviews. Were I given a choice between your berry sheet cake and that *other* option on Pinterest, there would be no contest. The gorgeous natural colors of your lovely, simple berry cake cannot compare to titanium based “food” dyes. Some things just don’t need to be fancy and over the top. Next time there’s any occasion, I’ll be making this cake.


Of course, I didn’t listen. Yesterday, ignoring this, I decided that I must be the type of person who likes to make insane cakes I saw on Pinterest. I am, in fact, not, but by the time I remembered this my kitchen, arms, all of my towels, and my toddler were covered with food dye and the sticky residue of a red-white-and-let’s-never-talk-about-this-again disaster. Then I remembered this lovely, dead-simple cake that I should have been making instead. Did I mention it’s a quickie? That it involves no piping bags, no strained warmed jam glazes, no pastry crusts and, most importantly, food dye? That I had streamlined my standard yellow birthday cake into a virtually one-bowl, single layer recipe, presuming we all have better things to do this evening than scrub out a sink full of dishes? That the frosting is a dump-and-whip kind of thing? And the berries just need to be rinsed and patted dry? Next year, and all the years after that until the end of the time, I’m going to listen to my friends and make this flag cake. I think you should too.


Later on, in the early 1900s, patriotic desserts were more likely to be petit-fours, frosted with a light icing and carefully painted blue and red with dye made from indigo and dried beetle. In the years during World War I and World War II, flag cakes were baked to lift spirits—not reserved to commemorate Independence Day or Washington’s birthday—and, before mid-century, they did not mimic the flag itself. The 1940 recipe for Independence Day Cake from the Frederick News Post produces a multi-layer cake with pink frosting and unspecified Fourth of July “ornaments” around the base.