Peace of Cake
When I was growing up, a lady in our church would occasionally make “Twinkie cake” for our church potluck dinners. It was basically a yellow cake split in half lengthwise with a creamy filling between the upper and lower halves. It tasted like a Hostess Twinkie, but better.
Oh, man, was it ever good.
I used to beg Mrs. Frieling to make one when I knew a potluck dinner was coming up. She never really gave solid answers one way or the other, as I recall, but occasionally one would show up. Between that and her Apple Crisp, Mrs. Frieling’s desserts were a thing to look forward to.
(It should be noted that my mother has always made wonderful desserts as well. It’s just that Twinkie Cake holds a special place in my heart.)
Somehow or another we finagled the recipe from her, and different people have made Twinkie Cakes for me over the years. There’s also the “Susie-Q” version, made with chocolate cake, and the “Creamsicle” version, made with orange cake. The secret is that magical filling.
This weekend, I had occasion to go to a dinner party. I was struck with the idea that the “Thing I Take” should be a Twinkie Cake. None of the people attending had ever heard of it, much less had it, so it seemed perfect.
There was only one problem: I’d never made one before. The one time I had attempted it, I needed to call in reinforcements to fix it.
Undeterred, I put a plan into action. I had the recipe tucked away in an email, and I printed it off to use as a shopping list. Fifty dollars later, I had everything I needed. Why so expensive? Well, though I was the cookie maker in my house growing up, I have long since given up on any cooking whatsoever. Putting things in the microwave is about as fancy as I get. I will occasionally put a Tombstone pizza in the oven, but that’s where it ends. I’m fascinated by the cooking process, but there are two major things that bother me about it. A) It’s messy. you end up with 14 dirty bowls and utensils for one end product. I hate that. 2) Cooking is not an exact science. Your best cooks/chefs/whatevers don’t even use recipes. They can just tell when the thing they’re making is right. Ask them for a recipe and they’ll say things like “Add a pinch of this and a little of that until it looks right.” Ugh. I want to know that I add exactly two eggs, exactly 1/3 a cup of oil, and exactly two teaspoons of vanilla. Because of all this, I did not have any of the basics needed for Twinkie Cake making. Buying all of your staples at once tends to be expensive: sugar, flour, vanilla extract, eggs – things I’ll never use unless I make more Twinkie Cakes. Throw a hand mixer in there and the price goes right up.
Your basic Twinkie Cake consists of a standard box mix cake. Once that’s made, you have to flip the cake out of its pan, cut it down the middle, and then put the bottom half back in the pan. Then you make the filling and spread it on the bottom half. Then you put the top half back on. These are more complicated steps than they might appear. Moist cake doesn’t flip back into pans as well as you might like it to, and cake breakage is not to be desired.
Any of you who remember my foray into breadmaking might suspect that things did not go smoothly for me. You’d be right to think so. The finished Twinkie Cake is supposed to sit in the fridge 24 hours before serving (it’s good right away, but it’s so much better after being in the fridge overnight), so I started on it Saturday. I made the box mix cake, and when it was done, tried to flip it out of the pan. It wouldn’t flip. I tried loosening the edges with a fork. It wouldn’t budge. I decided to let it sit upside-down in its pan on a cooling rack over night, thinking that gravity would do its work and I’d have success by the morning. Well, I had partial success. One part of one corner came off, at least. Argh. Remider: don’t just grease the pan, flour it as well.
While a person more in control of their baking prowess might have been able to make do with what they had, I decided to start over. I went to the store and got another cake mix and made it, making sure to grease and flour the pan this time. When it was done and cooling (flipped out successfully!), I made the first part of the filling, which involves heating milk and flour together on the stove – this is the part I was most nervous about, but it went well.
Then I went to make the next part of the filling…only to find I had gotten the wrong kind of sugar. Instead of granulated, I had gotten powdered. Back to the store for me.
With the filling finished and applied, the task of flipping the top part of the cake back into the pan was next. Two problems with that: it was thin and it was moist. The thinness meant I couldn’t really pick it up without it tearing. The moistness meant it was sticking to the grid of the cooling rack. Argh. I finally decided to try something drastic: since it was sticking to the cooling rack, I tried flipping the whole cooling rack over above the pan. Success! …sort of. Most of it came off, but large portions of it stayed stuck to the rack. The tiny bit of common sense I have kicked in, and instead of pulling the rack off and thereby destroying the top layer of cake, I whacked the bottom of the rack with a spatula until the pieces slowly fell off and into place on the cake. Huzzah!
From there it went into the fridge and then to the party. The powdered sugar I had mistakenly bought was put to good use – it both decorates the cake and hides the cracks, if applied correctly. Still, I was nervous. I had no idea if it would taste right. I had talked up Twinkie Cake quite a bit to my friends, and I didn’t want their first experience with it to be a bad one. I fidgeted all through dinner.
Then people started having it. And they started liking it. I had a piece, and it tasted familiar. I got a strange feeling, one I didn’t recognize at first: a sense of accomplishment.
I hope Mrs. Frieling doesn’t mind, but I thought I’d share the recipe with you, in case you want to give it a shot. Remember, for Twinkie Cake, use a yellow cake mix. For Susie Q Cake, use chocolate. For Creamsicle, use orange. For anything else, use your imagination.
Prepare a yellow cake mix as directed on package for 9×13 cake pan. Once the cake has cooled, turn it out on to a level surface and cut in half lengthwise (2 layers).
In small saucepan, cook 5 Tblsp flour and 1 cup of milk until thick like pudding. Set aside to cool.(Note: it must be completely cool–put it in the fridge for best results).
1/2 cup crisco
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Add the cooled flour mixture to the creamed mixture and mix well until light and fluffy.
Return one layer of cake to the pan, spread with filling, replace top layer on top of filling.
For best results, cover the pan and place in the fridge for 24 hours. Cover any “problem areas” with powdered sugar before serving.