This Easter, experience the tradition of the lamb cake! Read on to learn how to make one and where this tradition started.
Oh, Easter. Reese's eggs, jelly beans, and pretending to like Peeps.
The Easter Holiday is rooted in the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ - with a whole lot of sugar on the side. And plastic green grass. Please Lord, save us from that plastic green grass.
Yet there's one Easter baking tradition that either you KNOW or you don't. To some, this cake is a familiar, comforting sight, though somewhat confusing. To others, it's just confusing.
The Easter lamb cake, a cake baked in a lamb-shaped mold, decorated with frosting, candied eyes, and coconut grass, finds its history in Polish and other Eastern European traditions.
Yet in the mid-20th century, the lamb cake craze began to take off, perhaps has it fit in with other "stylized" food favorites such as jello molds and edible centerpieces. This was an era not to be missed.
From the mid-1920s to the 1970s, the Chicago bakery Dinkel's would bake 10,000 to 12,000 lamb cakes per season. In the past couple of years, it has averaged about 300.
But I grew up in a small religious school where the Easter Lamb Cake still enjoyed honor and glory.
The Lamb Cake made an appearance at Easter and Christmas, every year.
But it was at our class Easter party, somewhere after Chapel and before the egg hunt, that the Easter Lamb Cake would be most reverently revealed.
Long before nutrition regulations limited sugar at class celebrations, we would feast on sour cream and onion chips, EL fudge cookies, and Brach's jellybeans (but not the black, white, or green ones.)
Then out would come the Lamb Cake. And after reflecting on Jesus's work as the sacrificial lamb, we would slice that cake and gobble it right up.
Except most of us didn't touch it because of the presence of coconut. See, the best way to achieve the texture of a fluffy lamb on this cake is by adding coconut to the creamy white frosting.
And two in every 400 children enjoy coconut. When donuts are not available. We jealously imagined all the children in secular schools celebrating the Resurrection by feasting on Hostess Cupcakes.
But there are many options when it comes to baking a lamb cake. Some bake it with a traditional vanilla pound cake; others make it with chocolate, and there have been rumors of a red velvet cake version, the meaning of which we will not explore here.
But, many of us are homebound right now. We are afraid to wonder what that means for Easter traditions centered on gathering together and celebrating New Life.
Yet, if you have an oven, some patience, and a sense of humor, baking a lamb cake could be just the adventure you need this Easter. Mishaps are encouraged. Sharing pictures shares the joy.
Start a new tradition during Quarantine! And eat a Religious Dessert!
Lamb molds are still available and will arrive much sooner than your back-ordered toilet paper.
I got this recipe from two sisters who had the right amount of whimsy, realism, and humor for tackling this project. Also, I enjoyed the retelling of their Polish mother cursing under breath when the lamb's ears came off.
Enjoy this Easter tradition!
cup butter (1 stick)
First, you want to grease your lamb mold front and back completely and also dust with flour. Or you can mix together a paste of 2 tablespoons flour and 1 tablespoon shortening and use that to grease the cake pan.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Cream butter and add sugar slowly, until batter is smooth.
Add eggs, one at a time. Then add vanilla.
Add flour mixture and milk, alternately. Do this until well-combined.
Place face half of the lamb mold on the cookie sheet and fill the batter to the top. Be careful to fill the nose and ears! Lay one toothpick in the batter of each ear. This adds stability.
Place the back mold on top of face mold and tie two pieces together with kitchen string.
Bake for 45 minutes.
After baking, let the lamb cake cool for at least 15 minutes before you take it out of the pan.
After the cake has cooled, frost with a delicious buttercream frosting!
Add coconut to frosting... if you dare. Other options for fluff? Marshmallows. Placing marshmallows on a baked lamb is guaranteed to keep 1-3 preschoolers, with clean hands, occupied for 9 minutes.
Use jellybeans or chocolate chips for eyes ( or raisins if you're going with a disappointment theme.) Don't forget the grass that the lamb is sitting in - or consider putting your lamb on a hill or by a stream. If you've got time and frosting, nothing can stop you!
Tie a ribbon or bell around his neck. Forget that he's headed for death by way of ingestion! Now is the time to create!
The truth is, traditions rarely form us because of their clarity and accurate history.
This Easter, bake something new together and talk about its possible origins. And try not to over-spiritualize a lamb cake you are about to devour.
But sheep imagery is used throughout the Bible to describe our dependence. Perhaps also these lambs remind us, along with their cake mold counterparts, not to take ourselves so seriously. May your lamb cake survive, at least long enough for pictures, with both of its ears.