Cascarones and Cake: A Gluten-Free Easter Celebration

Easter Cake
Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter’s robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.
(Girard Manly Hopkins, “Easter”)

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”
(Pope John Paul II –Homily to Croatian People 1994)

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles far and wee
(e e cummings, “in Just-”)

We have to love Carlotta, wife of Emperor Maximilian, for her contribution to the celebrations we who live in the American Southwest enjoy. She  introduced the festive cascarone to Mexico, and from there the use of cascarones spread to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. We have to adore the people of Mexico, however, for they made the cascarone suitable for celebratory use. Until Carlotta brought the cascarone to Mexico from Europe, cascarone eggs were traditionally filled with perfumed powder and given as gifts. Once these eggs settled into the Mexican culture, the Mexican people began filling the eggs with confetti instead of powder, and the transformation of cascarones from formal, adult use to informal celebratory use for all ages was complete. According to folk lore, one who receives the shower of confetti over her head as the egg is broken also receives good luck. The popularity of cascarones in Mexico has apparently faded, but they regained popularity in Texas in the 70s and they are now a part of Easter celebrations across the state.

One day last week, with fewer than two weeks before Easter, I spent the day with grandsons B and H. I took along some cascarones to use for an practice Easter egg hunt for B (28 months) and H (14 months), who were a bit too young last year to undertake an Easter egg hunt. Cascarones make a perfect egg for use in a child’s first Easter egg hunt. Once the child picks one from its hiding place under a bush or behind a stone, he has the immediate satisfaction of putting the egg to use. B, underwhelmed by the traditional way of using the cascarones, took much more pleasure in stomping with his foot each egg he found (we’re a little worried about what this method portends for the boiled eggs he will hunt Easter day). H grew bored after having found about two eggs, and amused himself instead by carrying around the bright blue partial egg shell of one of the broken eggs. He had spots of blue dye here and there on his plump little self by the time B found the rest of the eggs, looking very much as if he had received some Easter tattoos.

After the Easter egg hunt, we took the boys in the house for a piece of the Easter cake B and I baked together earlier that day. The plan had been for us to hunt eggs in the morning, then bake the cake as the afternoon activity. The world that just-spring March morning was indeed mudlucious, as e e cummings would describe it, a thunderstorm having passed through the city during the night. Therefore, we decided to switch the order of events and bake the cake first, hoping that with the afternoon would arrive with a brighter sun, a clearer sky, and a dryer yard. The adjusted schedule actually turned out better than the original; the boys were able to enjoy a colorful, delicious piece of Easter cake upon finishing their Easter egg hunt.
IMG_0685

B and I often bake together. Baking in my daughter’s kitchen is fairly easy; we have no danger of cross-contamination since she is Celiac as well. She has a gluten-free kitchen. I keep things simple when I plan a baking activity for B, though. I mix the flours I intend to use, along with the guar gum, baking soda or baking powder, etc, ahead of time and place these ingredients in a storage bag so that B can easily help me add whatever dry ingredients to whatever wet ingredients we’re using. I use uncomplicated recipes as well. For the Easter cake, I merely added food colorings to the simple gluten-free vanilla cake recipe I developed for those times when I need to make an elegant, but easy, dessert quickly. Wilton has some beautiful rainbow sprinkles that are gluten-free; I sprinkled these liberally over the vanilla frosting with which I frosted the cake.

The cake turned out perfectly, as did the afternoon. The clouds had vanished, and the puddles had disappeared. The wild and domesticated flowers along the street, as the flowers in Hopkin’s poem, had opened their “Heavenward eyes.”  We finished the mild spring day playing in a dryer yard, underneath a brighter sun that shined down upon us from a clearer sky.

Easter Cake

200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
½ cup unsalted European style butter, softenedEaster Cake 11 2013
3 eggs
1 tbls pure vanilla
112 g (1 cup) Superfine Brown Rice Flour
47 g (1/3 cup + 1 tbls) Tapioca Flour
29 g (1/4 cup) Superfine sorghum flour
1 tsp guar gum
1 ¾ tsp baking powder
½ cup milk
Pink, blue, and green food coloring
Gluten-free Rainbow sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 x 8 cake pan. In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until completely blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until each is well-blended. Add the vanilla extract. Mix in the dry ingredients, and then the milk; blend until smooth.

Divide batter evenly into three bowls. Add the food coloring, one color in each bowl of batter. The cake batter will look yellowish, but if enough food coloring is added to each 1/3 of the batter, the resulting colors will be unaffected (Use 2 egg whites and one whole egg, instead of three whole eggs, in the cake recipe if a more true white batter is desired).

Pour each color batter in a separate portion of the baking pan.

IMG_0600

with a spatula, swirl the colors together in the pan.

Easter cake 3 2013
Bake the cake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  When the cake has cooled, frost with vanilla frosting and liberally sprinkle with rainbow sprinkles.

Vanilla FrostingEaster Cake 14 2013

½ cup unsalted European style butter, softened
300 g (3 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
1 tbls pure vanilla
2 tbls milk

In a bowl, cream butter until smooth. Add half sugar, mix on low speed. Add the vanilla and the milk; mix on medium speed. Add more milk or more sugar as needed, to make the right consistency for frosting the cake.

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