The almighty Peep cake.

Originally posted November 2012.

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Last month, my co-worker, Nan, celebrated a birthday. Because we’re a small, close-knit bunch, we generally celebrate our birthdays with baked goods, fruit, coffee and possibly a lunch out to one of the nearby burger (or Korean food) joints. But this year, I had a plan for Nan.

You see, Nan is obsessed with Peeps. You know, those horrendous, marshmallow-y, crunchy-sugar-crusted chicks that you can really only find during the Easter season? Yeah. She loves them. She might be the only person I know who loves them.

But shortly after her birthday last year, I happened upon this recipe while searching for good Thanksgiving/Christmas side dishes. I guess that’s what you get for searching for blanket “holiday” recipes. Anyhow, I immediately knew that I needed to make this peep cake for Nan’s next birthday. So the recipe sat in a draft email, along with approximately 42290322 billionty other recipes, waiting for October.

I’ve confessed on this blog before that my small motor skills are somewhere between embarrassing and deplorable. Clearly, this wasn’t going to stop me from constructing what my other co-worker’s wife called “the most adorable cake she’d ever seen.” I was really nervous about screwing the cake up and being a big failure, because I get nervous about pretty much everything, ever.

But to my surprise, constructing the cake really wasn’t all that difficult! Neither was baking it, because really, all you’re doing is making boxed yellow cake. Hey, we can’t all be Ina Garten.

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The hardest part about the construction was getting the tail to stand up. I was convinced I wouldn’t need toothpicks, as the recipe suggested, but I was proven wrong, and fortunately the convenience store down the street had them in stock.

Frosting and properly sand-sugaring the cake was hands down the biggest pain about this cake. Because the cake is clearly such a weird shape, frosting every little crevice is daunting, and because, y’know, we’re on Earth and there’s gravity and stuff to contend with, getting the sanding sugar to adequately coat every single surface is a project in and of itself. So, while the cake was not nearly as daunting as I originally thought, it wasn’t a…oh god, I can’t believe I’m doing this, but piece of cake.

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The icing, which is meringue-y, marshmallow-y goodness, is super-incredibly-holy-crap easy to make, AND delicious to boot. I’d say it’s infinitely easier than trying to figure out how much powdered sugar is too much powdered sugar for butter cream frosting. But be warned — this frosting WILL expand as you’re beating it. It will expand a lot. You might get flecks of it all over your refrigerator. Just letting you know.

So, all in all, everything worked out well, and Nan was thrilled with her cake. If you have any friends with an ungodly taste for marshmallows, I highly recommend this cake.

Peep cake (courtesy of Food Network Magazine)
For the cake:
Unsalted butter, for the pans
All-purpose flour, for the pans
Two 18.25-ounce boxes yellow cake mix, plus required ingredients 

For the frosting and decorations:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1-2 tsp yellow food coloring
Yellow sanding sugar, for coating
Small chocolate disks, for the eyes (such as chocolate chips or melting wafers)

Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch cake pan plus a 1-quart and 2 1/2-quart ovenproof bowl. Make both cake mixes; divide the batter among the pan and bowls. Bake at 350 degrees F until a toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes for the pan and small bowl, and 60 minutes for the large bowl.

Let the cakes cool in the pan and bowls, then unmold onto racks to cool completely. Trim the flat sides of the bowl cakes to make them level (erm, or skip this step, if you’re lazy like me).

Using a large knife, cut the four corners off the rectangular cake, and use your leftover triangles for the tail and beak. 

Put the flat cake on a level surface, and use toothpicks to attach two cake triangles to one end, and voila! A tail!

Position the large bowl cake on the flat cake, to fashion the torso, then top with the small bowl cake, for the head. Secure with toothpicks. Trim another cake triangle to make a beak and attach to the small bowl cake with toothpicks.

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Now, it’s time to make the frosting, aka the best part of any cake-based food item. Heat the sugar with the cream of tartar, salt and 2/3 cup water in a saucepan, stirring, until dissolved. In a separate bowl (and make sure it’s a BIG bowl), beat the egg whites with a mixer until frothy. Slowly beat in the hot sugar-cream of tartar-water mixture, then increase the mixer speed and beat until stiff peaks form. This took me about 10 minutes or so. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts, and the food coloring. 

Cover the cake with a thick layer of frosting, using the frosting to sculpt a rounded chick shape. Then, grit your teeth and put your patient pants on, and coat the cake with yellow sanding sugar. Press your chocolate chips/wafers into the frosting for eyes.

Because I made the cake the night before work, I left it, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. I was worried that the frosting was going to be hard and inedible, but I think the sanding sugar really helped keep the frosting moist.

Happy eating! I almost said happy peeping, but that’s illegal and I am not going to be held responsible for any decisions to act on creepy tendencies.

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