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FeaturesStories from The Takeout about food, drink, and how we live.  

Lutz bakery in my Chicago neighborhood is known for its extravagant seasonal displays: The Christmas window is off-the-hook, but so is the Halloween one. The summer months feature a selection of artistic wedding cakes. And this time of year, Lutz’s lamb cake is on full display.

I used to buy the lamb cake each year to the delight of my nephew Kyle. There was just something about a shaped, three-dimensional animal cake that seemed like such novelty. Who on earth could craft such a thing?

This year, it finally struck me: Maybe I could? If I had the right pan, how hard could it be? So I tracked down the proper lamb-cake pan online and enlisted my friends Brenda (expert baker) and Susan (professional artist), as well as my children, to see if we could possibly pull this lamb thing off.

The lamb-cake mold, to my surprise, arrived in two pieces. I thought that you pour the batter into the two halves and then meld them together with jam or frosting or something. Wrong! You pour the batter into the bottom half of the detailed lamb-cake mold, then put the top half of the mold on top. One piece has a hole in it to prevent a lamb-cake explosion, and so you can stick a toothpick in it and check for doneness. The cake will rise to fill the mold, so you end up with a lamb cake in a single piece.

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Photo: Gwen Ihnat

My daughter and I went back to my favorite yellow cake recipe from Real Simple. It also makes for the best-tasting cake batter, and we had a lot left over, as the lamb cake mold was smaller than a traditional two-layer cake. You also have to cook it slightly differently from a layer cake; the lamb cake mold said to bake for 50 minutes at 375 degrees, so that toothpick hole came in handy.

When it came out, I had a successful lamb cake! But I was a little concerned because the top half didn’t seem to have risen as much as the bottom half. Would it be able to stand? Unfortunately, the cake wasn’t cooked enough when I tried that maneuver, leading to an unhealthy looking crack right down the middle of the cake.

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Photo: Gwen Ihnat

Lamb-cake making was filled with valuable life lessons. Number one: Patience is a virtue. Number two: There are few cake mistakes that can not be covered by frosting. When the kids and I arrived at Brenda’s and I showed my grave cake mistake, the eternally optimistic Susan was unfazed. “Just get some frosting and some toothpicks in there, we’ll fix that right up!”

Now that the cracked cake was cooled , we tried to stand it again, this time bolstering it with a considerable frosting wall, which helped level it off. Then began piping on the frosting to make it look like the lamb cake was fluffy. Lesson three: Lamb cake is a great project if you love a ton of frosting on your cake, because it’s everywhere. The kids and I all took turns piping it on, starting on the back end, which is a good way to get the kinks out of your piping method. But once we piped enough frosting on there, it did indeed start to resemble a lamb cake.

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Photo: Gwen Ihnat

Now we got to the heart of it: How do you decorate the face of the lamb cake? Susan and Brenda were making their own cute lamb-themed cake, complete with fondant, but I was trying to keep things simple. But if you just made the lamb cake face fluffy, it looked like a mummy. So we smoothed out the face, and decided to decorate with jelly beans. My daughter crafted the Starburst jelly bean rainbow on the bottom, and after a few different attempts at eye placement, we were set.

Photo: Gwen Ihnat

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After a few minutes admiring the lamb cake, it’s time to eat it. I figured the least thing I could do for my friends is have them share in the tasting. Thus, the age-old lamb-cake question: Do you go for the head or the butt? We went for a little of both. And it was pretty great: That Real Simple recipe holds up, and if you’re a pro-frosting person, lamb cake has the perfect ratio. Even the jelly beans were a nice touch.

If you have the $30 to fork over for an animal-shaped cake mold, I highly recommend it. It helps to have toothpicks, extra frosting, and some savvy friends on hand. I may try to get even fancier next easter (Chocolate cake? Who knows!). Meanwhile, my husband wants to use the mold for a ground-lamb-based meatloaf. I wonder what we’ll use to get that to stand up.

Nailed it!
Photo: Gwen Ihnat

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