The Globetrotter

December 12, 2014 in Cakes


Jimmy Carter is one of the presidents that comes up when I talk to strangers about this strange Head of State Cakes projects. Everyone bets that the Jimmy Carter cupcake features peanuts or peanut butter.  Jimmy Carter means more to me than having been a peanut farmer.

Jimmy Carter is the first president during whose presidency I was alive. Barely. You know, for a matter of months. That, however, doesn’t stop a child from holding a special place in her heart for him.

In college, one of my history professors described Jimmy Carter something like this, “He’s probably the first president to use the presidency as a launchpad for better things.” Like Truman before him, though, he did his best during difficult times. He faced inflation, an energy crisis and a difficult hostage situation. Those Carter years were tough times and he had to maneuver those tough times without the finesse with the time’s media like a Roosevelt or a Kennedy.

Though he was a single term president who had been, before that, the governor of Georgia. Jimmy Carter had broad experiences. He grew up in rural Georgia and left it to join the Navy where he was able to see much of the world. Post-presidency, Carter has worked with Habitat for Humanity international in order to provide housing for people who might not otherwise have had it. President Carter has also done a lot of work smoothing tensions between countries. He has also observed elections in countries that have had a history of corrupt election-related processes.  This is why his cupcake is the Globetrotter.


The Cake:

While Jimmy Carter has spent a significant part of his life performing a variety of roles around the world, it seems that his beginnings in Plains, Georgia have had a lasting impact on him. Here he saw the effects of structural inequity and of poverty on the quality of people’s lives. These are some of the things he worked to improve for most of his life. So, his cupcake features ingredients that are plentiful in his home state, pecans and peaches.

The cupcake is flavored with peach jam. It is frosted with pecan-cinnamon cream cheese frosting and garnished with toasted pecans. Inside the cupcake is a brown sugar peach compote. Playing with peaches and pecans made me want to add some bourbon to the mix, however, Carter is no drinker, so I left the bourbon out.

This cupcake tastes like a peach cobbler mated with a pound cake and named cinnamon cream cheese frosting as the progeny’s godfather.



The Victor

December 7, 2014 in Cakes


 Even  before I became profoundly interested in the United States presidents, Gerald Ford stood out to me for one reason and one reason alone. He was from my home state, Michigan.

As I learned more about President Ford, it struck me how much “midwestern” was used to describe him, at least in the places where I read about him.

Ford is probably best remembered by some folks as the president who pardoned Richard Nixon after ascending to the presidency following Nixon’s resignation. He is also the answer to the trivia question, “Who held both the offices of president and vice president without being elected to either position?” Fewer people know that he said that his highest dream was to be the speaker of the House of Representatives, a post he never did achieve.

Ford was the first vice president to test out the 25th Amendment which stated what should happen should the vice presidency become vacant. It also covered what should happen in the case of presidential disability more specifically than the constitution had in the past. This amendment establishes that if there is a vacancy in the vice presidency, that the president will nominate a successor who will become the vice president if confirmed by a majority vote of both houses of the congress.

This Midwesterner was the choice who could make it through.


The cake:

This cupcake makes reference to Ford’s college years, yes, in the Midwest.  Gerald Ford is a Michigan Wolverine. The school colors, then, would be part of this cupcake, maize and blue. Maize is interpreted as corn here. The cupcake itself is corn flavored, this is achieved by infusing the milk in the cupcake with corn. The blue is achieved with a dollop of blueberry preserves in the cupcake. The frosting is lemon-flavored cream cheese frosting. The block M is made from blue candy melts.

Go Blue!!


The California Boy

November 7, 2014 in Cakes


 When you embark upon a project about the presidents, there are certain presidents that people ask you about. No one is as interested in how you’re going to interpret, say, Millard Fillmore as they are in how you’re going to interpret someone like Tricky Dick. 

Nixon even inspired suggestions. Someone wanted to know if I was going to do something with the 18 minutes of missing tape of Watergate infamy. More often, though, of Nixon people just say, “You could take that in so many directions.”

That was the challenge.

I decided to go back to Nixon’s roots. Richard Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California. In fact, he is the last famous person to hail from the small California city. He was raised in Whittier, California, the son of a grocer/gas station owner. Though he was admitted to Harvard University with a full tuition grant, Nixon remained at home in Whittier because of family demands, and attended Whittier College.

As we know, life and opportunity pulled him away from California, but after his resignation from the office of the presidency, he returned home. This time, home was San Clemente, California. Here, essentially Nixon was in exile. Here, however, Nixon mounted a recovery of sorts. With time he was able to position himself as an elder statesman.


The cake:

This cupcake pays homage to Nixon’s California beginnings and endings by making generous use of citrus. The cupcake itself is lemon-lime flavored. It contains lime juice and lemon zest. The cupcake is filled by a homemade clementine marmalade. That marmalade, provides a punch of citrus flavor in the buttercream frosting that tops the cupcake.

I took this cupcake to a potluck and those who tasted it enjoyed it. 


The Dynamo

October 27, 2014 in Cakes

Cupcakes tribute to Lyndon Johnson.

Lyndon Johnson is my longstanding presidential crush (not to be mistaken for who I see as the most handsome of the presidents.)

Sometimes I blame this obsession on a cold.  I was home from work convalescing on the couch and I decided to watch LBJ American Experience. As I drifted into and out of shallow sickness sleep, this movie about President Johnson played on. When I woke up, I was intensely interested in LBJ. I’ve been interested in him ever since.

You can tell, based on the titles of LBJ biographies that LBJ was a force. A dynamo? He’s been described as not only a “whirlwind,” or a “tornado” but as, also “a steam engine in pants.” It seemed to be a challenge to avoid being swept up by him, by his energy.

(This is the part where you just have to imagine the noise that I made, either that, or you need to pretend that I never, ever said that.)

Lyndon Johnson believed that the president should be evaluated separately in the categories of domestic policy and on foreign policy. This makes sense. He knew that Vietnam would be the shadow cast over every domestic achievement for which he worked. He understood what motivated people, what made them tick. He also understood how his legacy would play out.

LBJ was portrayed as heartless at times. “Hey, hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today?” He always knew the answer to that question. Each night he woke up to find out the casualty numbers. He knew. He cared. He just couldn’t see a way out.

He did, however, see that the government could help people. He had vision, and secured civil rights advances that shaped the direction of opportunity for years to come. He had seen poverty up close as a boy in Texas Hill Country. He never forgot it, and dug in to make change. He understood the impact that poverty had on people’s lives. He understood how powerful education could be as a force for advancement in someone’s life, and he used the presidency to move forward in those areas.

It’s arguable that a Lyndon Johnson could not have had the successes that he had in his brightest days now. In the age of  continuous documentation of every element of our lives, more so for the famous and the leaders, there are many techniques and characteristics that Lyndon Johnson exhibited that would make him very unpopular today. A man, though, can not be erased from his times. 

He can, however, be remembered for his energy.

Whiskey scented cupcake with pie filling center in tribute to President Lyndon Johnson.

The cake:

This cupcake features pecans because Johnson’s native state, Texas, is one of the biggest pecan producers in the United States. This cupcake features pecans both in the filling, which is pecan pie filling, and in the frosting in the form of chopped nuts. The cupcake itself is more basic. It is a whiskey-scented cupcake. The buttercream frosting, too, is kissed with whiskey, though not Cutty Sark, LBJ’s favorite. Finally, because this is a cupcake that is celebrating the power, the strength of LBJ’s personality, the flavors needed to be over-the-top, too. That is why this richly filled cupcake is drizzled with chocolate.


The Camelot

October 2, 2014 in Cakes

Everybody has something trite to say about our 35th President, John F. Kennedy. My trite thing to say about JFK is that an unexpected death can do wonders for one’s image.

I told you it was trite.

JFK, though, was a master of image. He understood the power of a good story, the power of a well-placed joke. He knew how to be photographed. He knew how to be a star.

His wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, also understood stardom. She understood the language of imagery. She also faced the reality of her slain husband with specific attention to his legacy.

The Kennedy presidency is sometimes remembered as the Camelot era. In 1960, Camelot was popular as a Broadway musical. Shortly after the Kennedy assassination, Mrs. Kennedy gave an interview where she told the reporter that she and her late husband had enjoyed listening to the music of Camelot in their time together. Then, she quoted a line from the musical, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

Her understanding of media gave birth to the Camelot association that remains, to this day, with the Kennedy presidency.


The Cake:

Kennedy’s cupcake is inspired by both the tragedy of his assassination and the attention to image that surrounded him. During the tour of Texas which would be his last trip, Jacqueline Kennedy was often presented with yellow roses. Here,the lemon buttercream frosting nods toward those yellow roses. The rose theme is repeated in the cupcake itself which is rose flavored. Raspberry puree was swirled into the cupcake batter in order to tie the rose and lemon flavors together.


The Five Star

September 15, 2014 in Cakes


Dwight D. Eisenhower was the last army general to become President of the United States.

Like Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant before him, his military performance begat his political popularity.  His military history, after all, was a long one. He served in the army from 1915-1953. He didn’t see combat in the first World War. These days they say “haters gon’ hate,” and that was as true in Eisenhower’s day as it is now. When World War II came along, the haters liked to remind folks that Eisenhower hadn’t fought in the first World War. When they were saying this, they didn’t also point out that he had established a camp completely equipped for thousands of troops, and that he had developed a full combat training schedule.


Eisenhower served under a number of prominent generals including Fox Connor, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, and George Marshall. In 1935, Eisenhower worked with MacArthur in the Philippines. Differences in perspective resulted in an enduring antipathy between them. Between World War I and World War II, Eisenhower’s work was focused on planning the next war. From there his responsibility increased.

Whether or not you like Ike, his military perspective has likely touched your life if you live in the United States. He believed that large cities were likely to be targets in a Cold War-related attack. In such an event, evacuation and military maneuvers would be important. This led to the interstate highway system that we now know and use daily.


The Cake:

The Five Star cupcake includes 5 different treatments of chocolate. The cupcake itself has a swirl of two chocolate cakes, one darker and one lighter. The cupcake is filled with chocolate ganache. The cupcake has a chocolate malt buttercream frosting and is garnished with a chocolate star. What better way to celebrate such a long stretch of public service?



The Old Fashioned

July 24, 2014 in Cakes


Harry Truman helped me through some difficult times. 

Yes, I know; that’s weird.

In a period that was stressful for a number of reasons that are happily in the past, I tackled David McCullough’s Truman. It took forever to read this 1120 page book. After all, those more difficult moments usually aren’t the ones that leave you with tons of energy at the end of the day. McCullough doesn’t weave fairy tales nor deal in hagiography, but each Truman story left me stronger than it found me. 

I know; that’s weird.

They called him “Give Em Hell Harry” because he during a speech a supporter called out, “Give em hell, Harry,” as Truman attacked his political opponents. In response he said, “I don’t give them hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it’s hell,” during the 1948 presidential campaign. “Give Em Hell Harry” became a lifelong slogan among Truman supporters. It was also the name of a biographical play and a movie about the president. In Roger Ebert’s review of the movie, he make’s reference to “Harry Truman’s unique ability to say what he thought in any way he damn well pleased.” This play was anchored around a series of events in Truman’s life, capturing the various roles he performed throughout his life of service.

While Truman objects to the charge that he gave anyone hell, it seems less likely that he’d argue that he wasn’t the recipient of his fair share. A big portion of that was at the hands of Douglas MacArthur.

Give Em Hell Harry vs. Dugout Doug sounds like it should be a stop-motion claymation brawl.

I know; that’s weird.

In this brawl, Dugout Doug violated the established terms between them by making statements that were contrary to the US official position in Korea, and more specifically contrary to Truman’s position. His rogue activities crippled US aims. Harry had to act, and dismissed MacArthur.

At this point, MacArthur was a bit of a public darling and Truman couldn’t compete in the popularity contest. In fact, Truman’s approval rating dipped down to 22% in February 1952, the lowest Gallup poll rating of any sitting United States President.

Truman faced combat in World War I, succeeded to the presidency during World War II, survived a 1950 assassination attempt, and then this! No wonder he liked to have a shot of bourbon in the morning and a cocktail in the evening.


The cake: The cocktail that Truman often enjoyed was the Old Fashioned. This cupcake is based on these flavors. The cupcake itself is flavored with bitters. It is filled with maraschino cherry juice flavored whipped cream. The frosting is whiskey buttercream and the cupcake is garnished with a cherry.

I liked this cupcake, but I could have been more liberal with the bitters. Like Truman, I should have gone with the flow of what I meant.


The Fireside

July 12, 2014 in Cakes


Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of the first presidents that I remember learning about in school. Well, the Roosevelts were more of a unit to me at the time. Now I can’t imagine being unable to distinguish between my Roosevelts.

Many people know Roosevelt for saying, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” In our time, Roosevelt is known for his struggle with polio. We know him for his leadership through the Great Depression, for the New Deal, and the alphabet soup organizations that came out of it. We also know him as the president who led the United States through the majority of World War II.

Despite all of this, the thing that springs to my mind first when I think of President Roosevelt is the Fireside Chat. The Fireside Chats were a series of radio addresses from President Roosevelt to the country. It is an interesting exercise to think about the impact of these chats in their historical context. In the age of connecting with people through things like Twitter, it’s difficult to imagine (for some of us) to imagine the impact hearing the president address you directly.


The cake:

The cake here is chocolate cake, a reference to the dark times of The Great Depression. The cupcake is filled with cherry compote, which can be interpreted as a reference to all of the blood spilled during World War II. If you find that gross or otherwise unpalatable, forget you ever read that. The topping is a marshmallow frosting. It is toasted, a reference to the fireside element of Roosevelt’s chats.

This was a dangerous, dangerous cupcake. I could have eaten far more of them than anyone ever should. 

The Humanitarian

July 5, 2014 in Cakes


I have a soft spot for Herbert Hoover.

My first Herbert Hoover memory (I understand that it’s not normal to begin a sentence like that) comes from a book about the presidents that occupied a number of my childhood hours. His entry listed his full name Herbert Clark Hoover. The owner of an associative mind, I then thought of Clark Kent.  Despite Herbert Hoover’s superhero-like name, many of us, thinking only of the Great Depression and his inability to turn things around, don’t know just how appropriate it is that Hoover’s name is somewhat suggestive of heroism.

Any good super hero story begins with tragedy.  Hoover fulfilled that prerequisite at the age of nine when he became an orphan. He graduated on to defying odds, becoming a self-made millionaire by the time he was forty. But it was his work bringing aid to those in need that made Hoover’s name a household one. During World War I, he led an effort to provide food to people in Belgium. Germany had occupied the country and as a result, the people there were starving. Belgium depended on imports for food for the people. However, Britain blockaded Belgian ports. Things quickly became dire.

Hoover used his skills and diplomacy to establish large-scale aid to Belgium, literally saving thousand of lives. 

Hoover’s skills were also put to use following the Great Flood of 1927, though this effort doesn’t come across as flawless as his work during the Great War.

Hoover even put his organizational skills to use during the Boxer Rebellion in China. He and his wife had taken a trip to China when the rebellion began. As a result of this activity, a number of foreigners found themselves trapped in China. Here he led the relief effort for these foreigners, also helping to organize their effort to build barricades around the places where they resided.

Despite his record during his presidency, Herbert Hoover the humanitarian was an effective man of action.


The cake:

Herbert Hoover and his wife were fluent in mandarin Chinese. They spoke it together when they didn’t want anyone to know what they were talking about. Since Mrs. Hoover was also dedicated to humanitarian causes, it seemed right to play with this fact to create Hoover’s cupcake.

The cake itself is flavored with chinese five spice. It is filled with mandarin orange whipped cream. It is topped with cream cheese frosting.

I liked this cupcake, but want to re-work it. The spiciness of the cupcake overshadowed the orange filling. I was going for a more pronounced orange surprise. Also, I over-baked this cupcake just a tad, but that’s nothing that a little less multitasking and a little more diligence can’t solve.hoover1  

The Silent

April 6, 2014 in Cakes


If people know that you’re into presidents, that it is your thing, you get to hear a lot of people tell you their favorite presidential anecdotes. One of the stories I hear most often is the one about a woman betting that she could get Calvin Coolidge to say more than two words to her. According to the story, she approaches Coolidge and tells him about the bet. His response: “You lose.”

You might also hear that Calvin Coolidge was the one U. S. President to be born on Independence Day. 

Someone who really wants to give you a run for your money when it comes to presidential trivia might ask you if you knew that he was sworn into office by his own father who was a justice of the peace.

Oh, and he was a redhead. Like Jefferson, Jackson, and Van Buren before him and Kennedy after him.

When I think of Calvin Coolidge, however,  I like to think about his fake family tree. Don’t even bother Googling that, it’s something that exists only in my mind.

I like to think of Calvin Coolidge as  Barack Obama’s great-grandfather. You see, Calvin Coolidge worked the radio and the power of photography.  He took full advantage of any opportunity to be photographed. Coolidge’s son would be JFK who, in my opinion, brought a certain type of celebrity to the presidency. Hmm, on that note, though, maybe Theodore Roosevelt is on this family tree somewhere. Maybe Andrew Jackson?  Ronald Reagan comes next in this imagined direct line, the actual celebrity elected to the nation’s highest office. Reagan understood how to work the camera, after all, he was an actor. Finally comes Barack Obama who, taking after the other men in his fake family tree, knew how to take advantage of the technology of the time, demonstrating this with his Internet campaign for the presidency.


The cake:

Coolidge has been photographed in cowboy attire, as a farmer, and wearing a Sioux headdress. With this in mind, it seems like his cupcake should be ornamental. So, the frosting  design on these cupcakes are all a bit different. The cupcake itself is carrot flavored. It isn’t a carrot cake cupcake, instead, the carrot flavor comes from carrot juice. The cupcake also has a strawberry jam filling. The frosting is coconut-flavored buttercream.

I think that I could only detect the carrot in the cupcake because I knew that it was there. If I did this one again, I might add carrot puree to bump up the carrot flavor. This one is close, but with a tweak or two, I think it could be better.