The Old Fashioned

July 24, 2014 in Cakes

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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.

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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.

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The Fireside

July 12, 2014 in Cakes

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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The Teapot

March 11, 2014 in Cakes

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I cringe a little bit every time I think about Warren G. Harding

You see, in the summer of 1994 there was a song called Regulate that played on the radio all of the time This song was by Nate Dogg and Warren G. Knowing that there were scandals in Warren G. Harding’s presidency and knowing that rappers often make clever allusions, I just assumed that Warren G’s name had something to do with Warren G. Harding. 

You can stop laughing now.

Poor Warren G. Harding. He is one of those presidents that many people don’t take seriously at all. It doesn’t help that he launches one of the pockets of presidents many people don’t know about. Wilson? Yes, heard of him. Harding, Coolidge? Ehhh. Hoover? Hoovervilles, the Great Depression. Where’s Roosevelt? If you type his name into Google, the suggestions are: Warren G. Harding football, Warren G. Harding death, and Warren G. Harding black. That is not a sign of someone history is being kind to.

Speaking of Warren G. Harding’s death, there is speculation that it could have been a murder. His cause of death generally accepted to be congestive heart failure, but some people believe that his wife poisoned him. Harding was one of the presidents with lady trouble. By lady trouble, I mean more than one lady out there. Allegedly, he fathered a child outside of his marriage with a mistress. This, along with his wife’s refusal to allow an autopsy to be performed, is what makes people think that his wife poisoned him.

Collectively, we tend to remember scandals. In this regard, Harding’s administration gave us plenty to remember. There were scandals with the justice department and with the prohibition bureau. There were others, but perhaps the best known, the one consistently covered in history classes is the Teapot Dome Scandal. A scandal with a name like that is perfect for cupcake interpretation.

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The cake:

Though the Teapot Dome scandal was about oil. The Teapot cupcake is about tea. The cake itself is flavored with black tea. I wanted to be able to really taste the tea in the cupcake, so I added it in two ways. I steeped tea bags in the milk that went into this cake, and also finely ground loose tea with a spice grinder. That tea was added directly to the cake batter. The cupcake has a bit of lemon curd filling. Finally, it is frosted with whiskey buttercream frosting. I know, I know, Warren G. Harding was president during prohibition. However, he wasn’t known for being a member of the dry movement.

I liked this cupcake, but it wasn’t the biggest hit. I think that the tea-flecked cupcakes made people think that this cupcake was a whole wheat cupcake. Now, I’m not  hating on whole wheat, but I think that there are some wheat haters out there. This was the first cupcake that someone described by saying, “It’s okay.” Hopefully, I’ll return to normalcy with the next cupcake. President Harding would appreciate that.

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The Professor

January 28, 2014 in Cakes

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One of the memories that I have of high school history from the year before I started to hate it (some teachers will do that to you), was a discussion of World War 1. It’s not the discussion that I remember so well, but one student’s ardent desire for peace and hope for what could have been if the United States had joined the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson’s baby.

Woodrow Wilson’s path to the White House was an interesting one. At his core, he was a teacher, an academic. In fact, he’s the only true academic to become United States President. His first presidency wasn’t that of the United States; Wilson was the president of Princeton University. From there he became the governor of New Jersey. Then, he became president. This path doesn’t mean that he was dragged into, or fell upon politics. He had always been interested in politics and thought that the academy was going to be the best way for him to have a politics-related career.

No matter what writers think about Woodrow Wilson’s presidency or the many controversial positions he held, there is one matter that is typically written about in a heroic way. That is his studies. Wilson wasn’t someone who was practically born reading. In fact, his reading was quite delayed, and he didn’t read well until he was around eleven years old. Reading about him in this area is a story of sheer will and determination. You’ll see that he developed a sort of shorthand to compensate for his difficulty in writing. You’ll learn that he bought a typewriter and learned to use it well, another compensation for his handwriting.

But there is another Woodrow Wilson, no less hardworking that the Wilson described above. That is Woodrow Wilson the lover. He seemed to be one of those men who very much need to have a woman in his life. In fact, when his first wife died, he remarried rather quickly. Scandalously quickly. So quickly that it had the potential to be a political liability for him. His second wife, Edith Boling Galt, was also at Wilson’s side, much to the annoyance of some of the people with whom he worked. Wilson enjoyed having his wife in the Oval Office as he worked. Like John Adams before him, and Harry Truman after him, Wilson was one of the presidents who wrote often to his wives. He wrote thousands of letters to his first wife, and several hundred to his second wife. I think you need to see an example.

 “Are you prepared for the storm of love making with which you will be assailed?” Woodrow Wilson to Ellen Wilson

It looks like that Wilsonian determination paid off for him in multiple arenas.

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The cake:

Woodrow Wilson was born and raised in the South. As a result, I wanted to play with southern flavors. By play with southern flavors, I mean use pecans. The cupcake is brown sugar based with chopped pecans and cinnamon. The frosting is a cream cheese frosting. The cupcake is garnished with buttered pecans.

This cupcake was a success! It made me wonder what other president could be honored with brown sugar.

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The Supreme

January 4, 2014 in Cakes


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William Howard Taft was one of the first presidential biographies that I read when I decided a few years ago to embark upon a project to read a biography of each United States President. There are several things that stood out to me about him then. One of them is that he took dance lessons as a boy, and that his familiarity with dancing served him well later in his career. Under President McKinley’s administration, Taft was appointed Governor General to the Philippines. Dance was an important part of the culture there, and his comfort with dancing served him well diplomatically.

Another memorable episode in his life is his friendship with Theodore Roosevelt. Once the men were very close, then like many who were close, they became estranged. Later as older men they were able to put some of their differences aside. Their story felt a little Adams-Jeffersonian, but only on the surface.

Like many presidents, Taft had an ambitious wife. She had big plans for her husband. He always had a love for law and the bench. She had her eyes on more executive functions. In the end, they both achieved their goals for him. In addition to serving the country as President. William Howard Taft also served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Warren Harding. Taft is the only man to have held both offices. 

Finally, Taft is the president who started the tradition of the president throwing out the first ball of the baseball season. Every president, with the exception of Jimmy Carter has participated in this ceremonial throw since at sometime in his presidency.

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The cake: 

Because Taft was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, I wanted to play with the idea of Supreme. This cupcake should be decadent. The cake itself is a dark chocolate cupcake. It is filled with semisweet chocolate ganache. It is topped with a whiskey caramel flavored cream cheese frosting. For garnish, this cupcake has more chocolate ganache as well as homemade Cracker Jack, a nod to Taft’s baseball-related trendsetting. Though chocolate cupcakes aren’t my favorite, these flavors played very well together, and have given me some ideas for future presidential cupcakes.

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The Rough Rider

December 28, 2013 in Cakes

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There is so much one could say about Theodore Roosevelt. That, I suppose, is something you could say about all of the faces on Mount Rushmore.

Roosevelt did so many things. He overcame childhood illness. He overcame losing his mother and his wife on the same day.  You could choose to look at him as almost the ultra survivor, a super-human character. Or, you could see him as an ultra human. Following the same-day death of his mother and his wife, he spent some time out in the Badlands testing himself physically in order to deal with his pain. When courting his second wife, he bought a pair of dueling pistols, you know, just in case.

Maybe passionate is the best word to describe President Theodore Roosevelt. He loved nature and supported conservation. However, he loved hunting. Of him, in the time leading up to the 1900 presidential election, Marcus Hannah called him a madman saying, “Don’t any of you realize that there’s only one life between that madman and the Presidency? ”

Roosevelt was the first president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, yet he was itching for the Spanish-American War to come about.

Finally, it could be said that Roosevelt broke the republican party that he had worked so hard lead. In 1912, Roosevelt ran for president again as a third-party candidate. This split the Republican vote and helped Wilson to the White House.

Like all of the big figures, he was a man of contradictions.

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The cake:

Because of his role in the Spanish American war which was fought over the fate of cuba, I thought I would play with rum in this cupcake. The frosting is coconut rum buttercream. The cupcake is mint and vanilla. Finally, the filling is blueberry whipped cream. This is a reference to the union blue. Many historians believe that his eagerness to participate in the Spanish American war came from the fact that his father did not participate in the Civil War, instead hiring a replacement. The blue sugar also refers to the union blue. The sugar pearls represent that pair of pearl-handled dueling pistols that he had bought.

I wasn’t sure that this flavor combination was going to work,but it did. Despite having  a lot going on, it came together. This is totally in line with the Theodore Roosevelt theme.

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The Annexation

December 18, 2013 in Cakes

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President William McKinley is one of those presidents who stands out in a history class not because of who he was, but because his presidency marked one of those pivotal eras in American history. When you get to the McKinley unit, you’re likely to hear about how his administration set the stage for the United States to become a force in the Pacific. You might read that McKinley was the president that put the United States on the path to world power. Alongside these ideas, you’ll hear about the Spanish American War, and the annexation of Hawaii. McKinley is the part of the presidential line-up where you start to recognize their names again: McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson….

1901 should have been a good year for President McKinley. He had just begun his second term in the White House as the first incumbent to be elected to a second term since the Civil War darling, President Grant.  Instead, 1901 was the year that killed President McKinley. At the Pan-American Exposition, a world’s fair held in New York, Leon Czolgosz shot him at close range. While the Secret Service had begun informal part-time protection of President Cleveland a few years before, McKinley’s assassination is the event that led to the congressional request that the president be protected on a full-time basis.

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The cake:

Because of McKinley’s role in the annexation of Hawaii, I wanted to play with tropical flavors for his cupcake. The cake itself is pineapple-flavored. Inside is a bit of mango-flavored whipped cream. The cupcake is topped with macadamia nut buttercream. Those who tasted this cupcake gave it rave reviews. I was a bit more critical though. I loved the flavor of the cupcake, but I didn’t love the texture of this particular cake. However, I have some ideas about how to maintain the flavor and fix how it feels.

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The Reflection

December 15, 2013 in Cakes

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Every time I get my hands on a book, or a set of cards (don’t judge me) that covers all of the presidents, I am very curious about how Grover Cleveland is handled. This whole only-president-to-serve-nonconsecutive-terms business complicates things.

Sometimes he gets one entry that covers both of his terms. In this case, there’s usually something visual that tells the reader the beginning and ending years of each of his terms. The poster in my son’s room (don’t judge me) pictures President Cleveland twice. The second picture is just the first one repeated. This always disappoints me. It makes me feel like they just don’t care. This site tells you that I think people should care about the presidents.

Sometimes there are two separate pictures of Grover Cleveland. While I enjoy that treatment, the one that tickles me is what I’m calling the reflection. I crack up each and every time a book or poster shows Grover Cleveland twice, and when the second appearance is the same picture reflected so that Cleveland is facing the other way.

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This is why I decided to make a second Cleveland cupcake. I knew I needed to play with the idea of  the reflected image.

In terms of cupcakes, I decided to play with the same flavors from the first cupcake and mix it up into something different. So we’re still working with peanuts, caramel and chocolate.  This time the cupcake is peanut butter flavored. It is filled with caramel whipped cream. This one has chocolate buttercream frosting and caramel drizzle. This cupcake was quite enjoyable. In fact, I couldn’t decide which Grover Cleveland I liked the best. Maybe they are both of the same caliber.

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