July 4th approaches, and my friend Jen sends out the following email to the group of friends who are gathering by the river to watch the fireworks, “we’re doing burgers, and hotdogs, Kate’s bringing a flag cake …”
Did I tell them that? I wonder. But that’s the thing about these sorts of holidays. Anything you do twice is suddenly a set in stone tradition.
I’ve now got to the point where I can no longer remember how many flag cakes I have baked for holiday parties, nor how many Americans have marveled at them wondering, “is that a British thing?”
My friend Susan started it, 5 years ago, when she and several hours of Ina Garten on TV managed to convince me that the flag cake was as un-negotiable to 4th July as Christmas Pudding was to Christmas. I was charged with making it, and I took the responsibility very seriously, buying several dozen eggs and a cake tin too large to fit in my oven. On the hottest day of the year.
Here are some things I’ve learned about flag cake:
- The cake is not important. The flag bit is. If baking is not really your thing, use a box mix.
- Once decorated, keep cool. Berries run juice into the icing if they sit too long in the sun.
- Use food coloring paste rather than liquid if you’re into the red white and blue cake idea. The liquid never gets bold enough and dilutes the mixture.
- Dry fruit on paper towels before using – again, this is a juice thing.
- Picnics go smoother with cupcakes – I make bite-sized ones, then line them up on a board in rows and decorate accordingly – one raspberry / three blueberries.
And here’s this year’s flag cake: