It’s Lamb Cake time!!! For the last two weeks I have been baking lamb cake after lamb cake in my grandmother’s vintage lamb cake pan. Why? Well, after this story came out in the Wall Street Journal, a ton of wonderful people emailed and snail-mailed me vintage recipes and tips to help me on my quest to make the perfect lamb cake. I have to admit I was very excited, so I decided to try out as many recipes and tips as I could.
And they worked!! Let me tell you, after one small mishap in the beginning, everything went smoothly, and not a single lamb lost his head! So, since a lot of people have been emailing me and asking me for help, I thought I would share all the tips I tested with you guys so you can all have great lambs, too!
1. Grease the HECK out of your lamb pan.
I cannot stress how important this is. Some of the vintage lamb pans, like mine, have so many tiny details in them that if you don’t get every single nook and cranny, you are going to end up with a disaster on your hands. Some people wrote to me and recommended Baker’s Joy or Pam in the spray can, but in the end I discovered that liberally applying shortening with a paper towel and carefully going over every bit was the best way to go. It may be time-consuming, but it gave me a good result every time.
2. Flouring your pan is MUST!
I have to admit, there have been many times when I have greased a cake pan and skipped the flour step, or used homemade pan-ease (which is just flour and shortening mixed) to get everything done in one step. This does not work with the lambs. You need both steps to ensure that the lamb pops out at depanning time. And make sure to keep an eye out for “naked” spots after flouring and go back over those with more shortening. Skipping the flour can end in disaster, so to avoid tears and tears, flour is a must!
3. Fill your lamb on the “face” side of the mold.
Put your lamb face-down on a large cookie sheet or sheet pan. Fill the lamb to just under the rim of the mold with your chosen cake batter. Be sure to spread batter gently into the ear cavities to ensure that your lamb actually ends up with ears. If you don’t do this, there is no guarantee that the batter will fill the ears during cooking.
And lambs without ears look really, really weird. Trust me on this one.
4. Add support to your lamb cake before it is baked.
This is time to add your structural support to your lamb cake. One of the recipes that was photocopied from a major cookbook and sent to me stated, in a matter-of-fact way, that the head of your lamb cake was bound to roll off, and not to worry about it. It claimed you could just use toothpicks and frosting to glue it back together and everything would be great. Which is sort of a lie. Anyone who has ever made a lamb cake and had the head come off knows it is a delicate procedure to get it glued on. You need a whole lot of sticky frosting and a couple thousand toothpicks, and when you are done the lamb looks like it is wearing a neck brace. And even after a patch job you are nervous come serving time.
I am going to be the first to tell you that this does NOT have to be the case. Yeah, it is possible for the head of the cake to roll off, but the chances will be greatly reduced with a couple of quick toothpick placements. The lamb needs one toothpick in each ear and the thickest food grade bamboo skewer or pick you can find for the neck. The skewer should be placed about one inch in from the top of the head and extend into the body. I did this with every lamb cake recipe I tested, and I didn’t have a single head roll off. Poke these down slightly into the cake and make sure they are covered with batter.
5. Tie your lamb cake mold shut with baker’s twine.
I am kind of ashamed to admit that this bit of advice, which I received from multiple wonderful people, was a complete revelation to me. I had previously, if you can believe this, been baking my lambs in two separate pieces and trying to glue them together with frosting. Why? Well, because if you put the top on without any string, the cake doesn’t rise into the second half of the mold. It just all oozes out through the cracks and makes a complete mess. I have been told that the oldest lamb molds were heavy cast iron, and this didn’t used to be a problem. The lamb mold I have, and that I am sure many people use, is made from aluminum and isn’t heavy enough to stay closed on it’s own. But a couple of sturdy pieces of string, tied tightly, eliminates the leakage and lets the cake rise into the second half.
Make sure your strings are tight and hold the mold closed! Even little gaps can let batter leak out.
6. Bake cake for the maximum amount of time called for in the recipe.
Once your lamb is tied up nice and tight, unless you are lucky enough to have a vintage Renalde mold, there really isn’t a way to check whether or not the lamb cake is done in the center. After I pulled a cake that was completely raw in the middle, I decided that unless you know your oven and have made your recipe so many times that you know exactly how long it takes, it is best to just leave the cake in for the maximum time called for in the recipe.
7. Cool cake properly before removing from mold.
Your lamb will crack apart if you try to shake him out too soon. The best method I found is this one: Let your lamb cool for 15 mins after removing it from the oven. Then cut the strings on the mold and remove only the back half. Let cool for another 15 mins before flipping the lamb over and attempting to remove the face.
8. Loosen edges on the face side completely before trying to de-pan your lamb.
Your lamb, if you made it properly, will contain sugar, and sugar is sticky. Especially the caramelized sugar around the edges of the pan. I run a sharp knife around the edges of the lamb cake, and then carefully pull the cake back from the edge to make sure it is free. If you skip this, things aren’t going to go well. Those thin little ears are going to be crispy and completely stuck to the edge of the pan. And we already covered how dumb the lamb will look without ears, didn’t we?
9. Let your lamb cool completely before trying to frost it.
I know, I know. You want to get the little sucker upright now, because you are proud of how he came out in one piece. But you must wait. If you try to make him stand now, he is just going to crack. I found it took about 90 mins after the final de-pan for the lambs to be cool enough to sit up straight.
10. Give your lamb a good base to sit on.
The same sharp knife you used to loosen your lamb is useful once again. Use it to cut off the bottom ridge created by the mold. This will give the lamb a good solid base. Also, remember that it will need some glue to sit upright. Use a knife to spread a good amount of your frosting over the base you plan on putting your lamb on. Then gently pick the lamb up and place him directly on the frosting stripe and make sure he is secured.
And there it is! Your perfect retro lamb cake, ready for frosting and decorating!