Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

My mother made this bunny-shaped cake for us in the Sixties. I made it for my kids in the Nineties. Now, twenty-five years later, I am happily making it for my grandson. I love the architecture involved in creating the bunny shape out of two round cake pans as much as I love the simplicity in the flavor of a vanilla cake.

Cake Ingredients

2¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into half-inch slices, at room temperature
4 large eggs
½ cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350º.
Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.

Place the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl and mix on slow speed until well blended.

Add the slices of butter and blend on medium speed until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbles.

In another bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork until well blended.

Pour the wet ingredients into the butter and flour mixture and beat on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Beat the batter on medium speed for one minute until smooth and fluffy.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes on the middle oven rack. When done, the cakes should be golden in color and a knife poked into the center should come out clean.

Remove cake pans from the oven. Let cool on a wire rack for ten minutes. To easily release the cakes from their pans, use a knife to loosen the edges and then flip the pans onto a rack. The cakes must be completely cooled before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
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1  8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
½ cup  (1 stick) butter, softened
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3¾ cups (1 pound box) confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Instructions
Beat butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add powdered sugar and start beating on slow speed until the sugar is incorporated into the mixture to keep powdered sugar from spraying all over the room. Beat frosting until smooth and creamy.

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Add vanilla and beat for 15 seconds more. Add milk as needed to help fluff up the frosting.

frosting Red velvet cake
To Assemble Bunny Cake
Cut one of the cake layers as shown.
Arrange cakes as shown below. Place parchment paper strips under the cake’s edges. Ice the cake and then remove the strips. Decorate with M&M’s.
My husband got into decorating the cake. I had to pull him off the job when he talked about applying eyebrows.

Meanwhile, a few miles away at my Goddaughter Leigh’s house, my dear friend Becky was busy making an Easter Bunny Cake for her three-week-old granddaughter. She sent me a photo.

The Barton/Meadors family made this beautiful bunny.

My friend Janet Davies sent a photo of her coconut-covered bunny cake. Here is her method of icing the cake: Cut each cake layer in half horizontally. Poke holes in the layers with a toothpick. Pour a mixture of 12 ounces frozen coconut, 1 pound powdered sugar, and 1 cup sour cream over the layers and allow to soak in.  Add flakey coconut to the top. The sour cream gives it a tangy touch.  Sometimes she takes off the crusty of the cake to make sure the runny icing gets inside the cake.

Here’s another cute one sent to me by mom’s cousin, Jean Maroney. Her daughter-in-law, Alena, made it.

If you are celebrating Easter, Happy Easter!

Related Posts for Easter Day

Fun to do with Children:
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
Test Your Sense of Smell with Jellybeans

Brunch:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970
The Biscuit King

Desserts:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

When a cookie can transport me back to a summer afternoon in the jalousie-windowed sunporch of my grandmother’s house, complete with a tableful of visiting Italian relatives sipping coffee, that’s a pretty powerful cookie.

Such was the case when, after many attempts, I came up with a recipe for these Italian Sesame Seed Cookies. When I finally got it right, I fixed a cup of coffee and dunked the cookie in; the ultimate taste test. The taste was just as I remembered: light, buttery, nutty, and slightly crunchy, all of it made even more flavorful by the milky coffee. I didn’t normally drink coffee as a young girl, but when the sesame seed cookies were out, my grandmother always gave me a cup so I could dunk with everyone else. Heaven on Earth. Addictive, too!.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds come from the fruit pod of the sesame plant. The plant is an annual, and the pod grows very similarly to okra (photo on the right).

 

Once the pods dry, they are turned upside down allowing the seeds to fall out. Here is a photo of the unhulled seeds and dried pods.

When baking with sesame seeds, use hulled, untoasted seeds. I purchase them at the Indian grocery store, Patel Brothers, or from the bulk dispenser at Whole Foods. You need about two cups, so it’s best to purchase in bulk rather than in small cans.

   

Life for many seeds and nuts laden with oils, sesame seeds become rancid when sitting in a cupboard for a long period of time. Thus, if you are not going to finish the package soon after opening it, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. A rancid nut or seed can quickly ruin any savory or sweet dish. Often, you can tell if the seeds or nuts are rancid simply by the smell. Even without a rancid smell, I do a taste test to be sure.

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1½-2 cups untoasted sesame seeds
⅔ cup milk

Mise en Place:

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter in a mixing bowl on medium speed for about one minute. Add the sugar and cream for another minute until batter is light and fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix one more minute, still on medium speed.

Combine baking powder, salt, and flour in a bowl and stir with a wire whisk.

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Add dry ingredients to batter. Mix on slow for 30 seconds. Do not overwork the dough.

Spread flour on countertop and fold dough over on itself about ten times.

Divide dough into four equal sections.

Roll each section into ¾-inch thick ropes and slice those into two-inch pieces. My relatives would pull off a clump of dough and roll each cookie into a small oval log, but I like to do it this way because there is less handling of the dough.

Set-up two wide-mouthed bowls, one with milk and one with sesame seeds. Put about a cup of milk in one and 1½ cups of sesame seeds in the other. Pick up about 5 pieces of dough and put them in the milk. Then lift each piece of dough and roll it in the bowl of sesame seeds.

 

Arrange dough on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until cookies become lightly browned. Let cool five minutes and then move cookies to a cooling rack.

Other Italian Faves:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Chicken Cacciatora, or Hunter’s Chicken
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Fettuccini with Rapini (aka Broccoli Rabe) and Garlic
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Roasted Ratatouille
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Mom’s Marinated and Grilled Lamb

Mom had two ways of cooking lamb, roasted, the Easter Sunday wayor marinated and grilled, the everyday and sometimes Easter Sunday way. The marinade recipe she often used was from my stepfather’s cousin, Lynn Alpert.
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We all know how you get a good recipe, “Mom, this lamb is soo good. How did you make it?” you say as you look for a piece of paper and a pen. Being the recipe keeper for the family, I usually traveled with my Recipe Collector’s Notebook published by Workman Publishing in the early 1980’s. If there was ever a book filled with Dirty Pages, it is this one.
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I used it to record recipes as Mom cooked during summer and holiday trips. Cooking fresh vegetables in beautiful ways was Mom’s thing; I learned from the master.
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Please refer to the post Mom’s Roasted Lamb with Herb and Goat Cheese Topping for detailed instructions on how to prepare a leg of lamb for cooking.

Ingredients:
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1  3 to 5-pound boned leg of lamb
¼ cup onion, diced
½ cup Major Grey’s Chutney
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Mise en Place:
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Instructions:

Trim fat from lamb per instructions from the previous post.
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Pierce meat with a sharp knife to allow marinade to seep into the tough leg muscles.
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Mix marinade ingredients together in a small measuring cup.
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Put lamb and marinade in a gallon-sized plastic bag and turn bag all around until the meat is well-coated. Refrigerate for 24 hours turning regularly.
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Grilling Meat

This is not my domain. My stepfather, Joel, is the master griller in our family. My husband, brothers, and sons have all learned from him. Because he IS so good, wherever he goes he gets tasked with grilling.
joel

While my experienced stepfather doesn’t need a meat thermometer to know when meat is cooked, those in training might want to start with one. The key to grilling meat is to remember that food continues to cook and reabsorb juices for a good fifteen minutes after it comes off the grill. You can read about allowing meat to rest here.

Back in Nashville, my husband turned the meat many times as it cooked. When the meat thermometer read 140º in the thickest piece, he removed it from the grill, covered it with foil, and let it rest for 15 minutes before slicing. The results were amazing.
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If you would like to try dying eggs using natural dyes made from cooked vegetable skins, look here.
egg dying

Or, maybe, while you have jellybeans in the house, you would like to teach your children about the sense of smell. Check this post out.

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Mom’s Roasted Lamb with Herb and Goat Cheese Topping

My mother had two ways of cooking lamb: roasted, over a bed of vegetables with a herb and goat cheese topping, or marinated and grilled. On Easter, we often had the roasted version because it was more complex and, therefore, more special for a holiday meal.

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The first time I made this recipe, on my own, I felt like such an accomplished cook as I had never made anything with so many layers of flavor. My success inspired me to experiment with new ingredients, especially with a variety of herbs and vegetables. Even today, as I taste one last spoonful of the creamy broth leftover in the bottom of the storage container that held this lamb meal, I am reminded of one of the reasons I love to cook — when it works, when what you have cooked is delicious, it is thrilling.

My mother’s cardinal rule for cooking lamb was that I had to trim off as much fat and connective tissue as possible. I never thought to ask her why. Serendipitously, as I was writing this post, my friend and fabulous cook, Lou Ann Brown, suggested I listen to a podcast from Sunday’s The Splendid Table titled “Why does lamb taste like lamb?” It was perfect timing for this post and helped me understand why Mom insisted on trimming off the fat. The quick answer to the question, according to Molly Birnbaum of America’s Test Kitchen, was “it all comes down to [lamb’s] fat and a particular type of fatty acid that lamb has that beef doesn’t have. It’s called branched-chain fatty acids, which humans can detect at tiny levels. It’s what gives lamb this gamy, and more earthy taste than beef.” If you ever needed the motivation to spend a little more time trimming fat, this is it.

There are three layers of ingredients in Mom’s recipe for roasted lamb: the bottom layer which consists of a bed of vegetables and herbs, the middle layer which is the lamb meat, and the top layer which is an herbed goat cheese topping. This top layer helps keep the meat moist while it cooks since most of the fat has been trimmed.

The first step is to prep the lamb and get it started marinating. You can do this step up to one day before. I’ll walk you through trimming the fat in the Instructions section.

Ingredients:

Lamb Marinade:

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1  3 to 5 pound boned leg of lamb
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
20 twists of cracked pepper

Bed of Vegetables:

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4 potatoes (1½ pounds), sliced
4 carrots (½ pound), sliced
6 cloves garlic (½ oz), smashed
1 medium onion (½ pound), diced
5 fresh sage leaves
1 stem fresh rosemary leaves
1 cup beef stock
salt and pepper

Herb and Cheese Topping:

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⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1½ cup plain homemade breadcrumbs
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
the leaves of 8 stems of parsley
6 garlic cloves (½ ounce)
5 ounces goat cheese
½  cup grated Reggiano Parmesan
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

FYI: Lamb Cuts 101 (from my 1942 manual — I like the graphics):

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This is a 4½ pound boned leg of lamb. After trimming it of fat, it weighed 3¾ pounds. The netting is used to keep the meat together once the bone has been removed.

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Once you remove the netting and unroll the meat, you’ll have two sides of meat to trim of fat and connective tissue.

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Trimming off fat is a little time consuming and a bit of a pain, but as I described earlier, it is necessary if you don’t want that gamy taste that tends to be a turn-off for many when it comes to eating lamb.

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I removed 11 ounces of fat.

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My husband trimmed a leg of lamb, too, and did a much better job!

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How to Prepare Each Layer:

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the marinade ingredients: oil, salt, and pepper, with the lamb. Stir and make sure every chunk of meat is well-coated with oil. Set aside for an hour, or up to 24 hours.

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Prep the vegetables and herbs for the bottom layer and set aside.

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Using a food processor, prep the topping layer: first, add the garlic, Parmesan, and parsley and pulse.

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Next, add the breadcrumbs, goat cheese, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper and pulse until the mixture is well blended, but still has lots of texture. Set aside.

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Putting It All Together

Layer 1: The bed of veggies moistened with a cup of beef broth and a few shakes of salt and pepper.

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Layer 2: The marinated lamb is spread out over the veggies.

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Layer 3: The herb and cheese topping is spread out over the meat with a spatula.

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Bake in a 5-quart roasting pan in a preheated 400º oven for approximately one hour and 15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest chunk of the meat reads 140º. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, cover, and let the meat rest for 20 minutes before serving. *The lamb will continue to cook to 145º (for medium).

If the topping isn’t lightly browned enough, you may want to leave the roast in the oven for five more minutes until it browns. If you are worried about overcooking the meat, put the roast under the broiler for a few minutes. One of the nice things about roasting a leg of lamb is there will automatically be some pieces of meat that will be well done, some that will be medium-well, and some that will be medium, due to the varying degrees of thickness of the meat.

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*If you need a little refresher course on the concept of heat transfer when cooking meats, look no further than here.

Here’s how the roast looked when served for dinner. The potatoes were amazing, per my family. The goat cheese infused broth is delicious!

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Related Posts for Easter Day

Fun to do with Children:
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
Test Your Sense of Smell with Jellybeans

Brunch:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970
Fruit and Nut Bread

Sides:
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Cauliflower: Roasted, Blanched, and Mashed
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

Desserts:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.