Lark and Termite is a poignant and somewhat strange novel about an unconventional family in West Virginia. The title characters of the book – Lark and Termite, are siblings. Lark is nine years older than her brother Termite, who is both mentally and physically disabled. Lark is Termite’s devoted caretaker. Neither Lark nor Termite know their actual birthdays, so every few months, Lark bakes her brother a birthday cake. The cake she describes in the novel is a cake she dies the three layers blue, pink and yellow. In addition, she flavors the blue layer with some anise and the pink layer with almond. The piece de la resistance is the fluffy white “divinity” frosting. I thought recreating the cake made sense for this entry. The flavor combinations were surprisingly delicious. This is a perfect spring birthday cake, and you can play with the colors and flavors endlessly. For the recipe and more on the bookLark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
Tricolor, Triflavored Spring Cake (Termite's Birthday Cake)Adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum's White Velvet Cake and Martha Stewart's Seven Minute Frosting, both obtained online
In the novel, Lark, an accomplished baker despite her young age, made her brother Termite a special birthday cake every few months. The cake she makes at the beginning of the novel is colored blue and pink and flavored with anise and almond. Lark makes divinity frosting, which is fluffy and white. I am pretty sure this is seven minute frosting, a beautiful marshmallow like frosting. I recreated the cake using Rose Levy Berenbaum's White Velvet Cake, seperating the batter and flavoring and coloring the layers seperately. I left the third layer uncolored and vanilla flavored. I flavored all three layers with vanilla and suplemented the flavors with anise and almond extracts for the colored layers. I doubled the cake recipe so I could make three different layers. I give the original recipe below, I would just divide the batter into three thin layers and cut the baking time by 10 minutes. If you want a cake as tall as the one I made, go ahead double the cake recipe below. I used Martha Stewart's seven minute frosting. I chose her recipe because it didn't require using a handmixer over a double boiler. Both the cake and frosting were perfect, if I do say so myself!
4 and 1/2 egg whites (4 liquid ounces)
1 cup milk
2 and 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
1/4 teaspoon anise extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
blue food coloring
pink food coloring
1 and 3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/4 cup water
6 large egg whites
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour three nine-inch cake pans, bottoms lined with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, lighly combined the egg whites, 1/4 cup milk and vanilla. In a large bowl of standing mixer, combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.
Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 and 1/2 minutes to aerate and "develop the cake's structure."
Gradually add the egg/milk mixture in three 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, scraping down the sides. At this point I divided out the batter into three different bowls. I kind of winged it on getting an equal amount of batter in each bowl. In one bowl, I added 1/4 a teaspoon of anise extract and a couple of squirts of blue food coloring, so that the batter turns a PALE blue. In another bowl, I added 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract and a few squirts of red food coloring, so that the batter turns a pale pink.
Scrape batter into prepared pans and smooth with a spatula. Pans will not be full. Bake 25 to 35 minutes until a tester inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed in the center. Let cakes cool on racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge and flip to let the cake out, let cool completely on racks.
In a small heavy saucepan, combine 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar, corn syrup and water. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, till sugar is completely dissolved. Raise heat to bring to a boil, do not stir anymore. Boil, washing down sides with a wet pastry brush dipped in cold water periodically to prevent sugar from crystallizing until candy thermometer registers 230 degrees. This will take from 4 to 10 minutes. For me it was around 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggwhites until they reach soft peaks (medium speed, about 2 minutes for me). Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Remove the syrup from the heat, when it is 230 degrees and with the mixer on medium low speed, gradually add the syrup in a steady stream to the egg whites. Beat the frosting on medium until cool and fluffly, 5 to 10 minutes (I did the full 10 minutes). The frosting should be thick and shiny, use immediately.
To assemble, put one layer (top up) on cake plate. Spread about a cup of the frosting on top. Place another layer on top (bottom side up), spread about a cup of frosting on top. Place third layer on top (bottom side up) and frost whole cake, with an offset spatula. Place a think layer on cake first, then cover as thickly as you like. If used quickly, this is an easy to spread, good volume frosting. I decorated with little dots to match the cake layers.