College Kritter is an obsessive creature and things presented in serial form appeal to her. She started reading Harry Potter, and inevitably dragged me into the process. I lagged behind, unwilling to commit all my free time to the adorable young wizards, poring through the piles of books I brought from the library that towered precariously on my night stand. She took great care of the hard-cover books and reluctantly allowed only the closest friends to borrow one or two, urging them, instead, to procure their own copies.
When the first movie premiered at our local theater, I took her to the opening midnight show on Thursday, sacrificing the next school day, all in pursuit of bonding and sharing. We were the rare exceptions who did not dress in black capes and did not wield wands, and we stayed determined not to play dress-up in the future. Pretty soon DVDs joined the books, taking a prime spot in the front of the entertainment center.
As Anya and Zoe grew up, they picked up Harry Potter books, coerced by Nina’s promises of sisterly movie marathons. Anya went through hundreds of pages in mere days, barely catching her breath, completely immersed in the story; Zoe took her time, busy with pampering her pet stones and shrinking potato that she kept under her pillow for days (that’s another post). The three of them spent hours watching DVDs, leaning against cushions and bean bags, taking breaks only to run to the bathroom yelling incantations.
The last Harry Potter movie opens on July 15th. Nina will be in Paris with her study abroad group, and I do not believe that watching the movie is on their agenda. But the girls are getting geared up and ready. Anya has finished the book a long time ago, and Zoe is slowly working her way through it, hoping to get to the end before the Big Day. That leaves me as the family slacker, with two more books to go. I have been procrastinating and finding excuses, and now I will defeat the family credo and watch the movie before reading the book.
Feeling guilty, I promptly agreed when Anya asked me if she could have a Harry Potter themed party as a warming event before the movie. Her birthday is in August and she never has a party with her classmates, and this would be the first one for her. The two of them were in charge of the entertainment, and I was to prepare suitable victuals. After consulting the World Wide Web, I collected some ideas and recipes, and in the end decided to make butterbeer and cauldron cakes, in addition to a do-it-yourself pizza project.
Butterbeer was easy, just like making hot buttered rum without the rum (although I much prefer the rum version myself). Pizzas were kneaded to death, stretched to look like cats, and owls, and dragons, dotted with sausages and mushrooms, and drenched with sauce. Out of the oven, they were golden and fragrant, creative little masterpieces that made their makers proud.
But the cauldron cakes stole the show. They did not look at all like cauldrons as I lacked time and energy to come up with a way to fold the cake batter into a handle. Anya picked cream cheese frosting, which made the mission truly impossible. As long as they were called “cauldron cakes”, everybody was happy.
And I was beyond thrilled, as I managed to accomplish a task that would satisfy several pre-teen Harry Potter fans and also connect with my friend Christianna.
I met Christianna in Atlanta while attending the BlogHer Food conference. We got to know each other a little bit while sipping a glass of really good red wine my roommate Beth uncorked for the occasion. We kept in touch on Twitter and email, and that’s how I became a part of the group that does this monthly recipe swap. Christianna has stumbled upon an old and quirky cookbook All-Day Singin’ and Dinner on the Ground, which features recipes that offer directions and descriptions, rather than detailed instructions: there are no temperatures mentioned, we never know how big a pan should be, and it is obvious that the book was intended for serious and experienced cooks. It reminds me so much of the notebooks that my grandmothers and mother filled with recipes in ink, proudly showing their penmanship, listing the names of the friends, relatives, and neighbors that the recipes came from.
Every month Christianna picks a different recipe and we are free to be as creative as we want to be, interpreting the loosely written lines in any way that suits us. For July she chose Jelly Cake, which is nothing more that two thin layers of cake with jelly in between. The directions are merely three lines long, leaving a lot of room for imagination and freedom of expression.
The layers are thin and spongy, very European in texture and feel. The first is just a basic, simple yellow cake, while the second layer has cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, raisins, and molasses added to make it more fragrant and dense. I didn’t have any molasses and substituted honey, and instead of the raisins, which Zoe does not like, I included dried cranberries, which added just a little bit of tartness.
I am not an expert baker, and this project was delightfully challenging. I was elated as my cake layers came out of the oven barely blushed by the heat, and separated from the foil without breaking and sticking. I spread a small jar of my homemade strawberry rhubarb marmalade on top of the spiced layer and put the yellow layer on top. The assembled cake went into the refrigerator, eagerly awaiting the Harry Potter party to be made into cauldron cakes.
I used a big white wine glass that I am not that enamored with to cut the round sandwiches out of the cake, approximately 4 to 5 inches in diameter. I whipped a frosting out of cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar, and covered four of the round cakes with it, just to give the girls an idea. I wrote the initials of the four dormitories in Hogwarts using primary colored M&Ms and stood back to admire my work. Yes, I was definitely proud.
I let the girls decorate the rest of the twelve cakes I managed to cut out of the main oblong shape while I sampled the many scraps left over by the merciless cookie cutter disguised as a wine glass. I could not stop, feeling guilty as I stuffed more and more concave triangles into my mouth, picking up all the flavors from the jam, from the spices, from eggs, and vanilla.
I don’t know whose mother or Aunt came up with this recipe. But I am sure that they would smile in contentment watching my girls and their friends chew with abandon, their fingers sticky with frosting and candy, their imagination taking them to the cafeteria of the world’s most famous school for wizards.
I am looking forward to browsing all the different interpretations of this recipe. These are my fellow bloggers who participate in this event:Dennis, Toni,Sabrina, Lora, Lindsay, Mari, Mary, Jennifer, Crissy and Lauren, Rachel, Alli, Katy, Pola, Jamie, Claire, Shari, Joy,Monique, Linda, Priya, and Jaclyn. To learn more about them, visit the swap page.
JELLY CAKE (Adapted from All-Day Singin’ and Dinner on the Ground) :
- 1 ½ cups of sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup butter
- ¾ cup milk
- ½ tsp baking soda dissolved in milk (I failed to see this line, as it was on the right side all by itself, so there was no baking soda in my cake; I put ½ tsp baking powder instead)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. cream of tartar (I did not have it, so I skipped it)
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 Tbsp rum extract or rum
Cream together sugar, eggs, and butter. Add milk. Stir baking powder (and cream of tartar if using) into the flour. Pour the liquids into the flour and mix until combined. Divide the batter into halves.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a shallow jelly-rill pan and pour one half of the batter. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until done. The cake should be thin and just barely light brown on the edges.
Stir the spices, cranberries (or raisins), and honey (or molasses) into the other half and pour into a buttered shallow jelly-roll pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until done. Brush rum or rum extract all over the surface while still warm.
Spread jam, jelly, or preserves on top of the spiced layer and top with the yellow layer. Put in the fridge for a few hours.
To make the cauldron cakes (or just sandwich cakes), cut the rounds with a cookie cutter or a glass. Frost with your favorite frosting or enjoy plain.