Walk into any Italian bakery at Easter time and you will see lamb cakes, they’ve been a yearly tradition in many households since the late 194o’s and 50’s. They’re used as an eatable centerpiece for your Easter table or to give as a gift during the season.
I’ve always wanted to make my own Easter lamb cake but I never had the molds that I remembered from my childhood, plus I didn’t think I could ever pull it off anyway!
In comes my friend Janet who’s been making these cakes every Easter since 1947, she makes them for her family and also gives them away as gifts. So I asked her if I could hang out with her one day and watch/help her make one, and she kindly said yes.
I was especially excited because she had the vintage mold that I remembered as a child, it was well used and still in perfect working order. She told me all the ladies back in the 40’s and 50’s made lamb cakes and as a child her mother and grandmother taught her how to make them and to keep up the tradition.
I was in charge of buttering and flouring the mold, she instructed me to get into every nook and cranny, using my clean fingers to get in there. She stressed how important it was so as not to have your cake stick. She said I did good!
Janet recommends placing your mold on a baking sheet for easy in and out of the oven. Pour your batter only in one side of the mold, always the face side down, never fill both sides of the mold, never, and make sure you don’t fill past the rim, you’ll have problems when you release it. Another tip she had was to take a spoon and carefully place batter into the ears, face and neck, if it sinks down add a little add more, none of those areas should be lacking any batter.
Janet also likes to reinforce the ears by adding a toothpick in each, the ears are tiny and you don’t want them to break off, some people put a toothpick or skewer in the neck also, but she never had a problem with it. Make sure your edges are all clean, take a paper towel to wipe them off. Now attach the empty back of the mold and you’re ready to bake!
Janet told me not to worry if you see the mold spit open a little towards the end of the baking time, it’s normal as the cake rises inside. She even stood it upright and baked it like that for the last few minutes.
If you want to bake your lambs ahead of time feel free to freeze them at this point, before you decorate them, just make sure they’re cooled down and wrapped well for the freezer.
Now the fun part begins, it’s time to decorate the little lamby! Janet whipped up the frosting in no time as she was telling me in disgust just how terrible store bought frosting is and why people just don’t make there own because it’s so easy. I totally agree!
Her frosting consisted of 1 stick of unsalted butter, powdered sugar, half and half and vanilla, no recipe, just until you get the right texture, you’ll know, she said.
Take your frosting and cover the lamb completely with it, all over, except where your eyes and nose will be placed. You don’t have to be perfect because the flaked coconut sticks very well and will cover any flaws. Remember, no coconut on the eye nose area.
The eyes where made with 2 plumped up raisins that she squished down to form an oval shape. To prepare the nose she dabbed a little red food coloring on the tip and then placed half of a maraschino cherry on top.
We used paper grass to place all around the lamb to finish it off, Janet doesn’t like using the other kind because it flies around too much. Add eggs and jellybeans for additional color and whimsey all around.
Thank you Janet for a fun day of baking, I feel like a pro now and have the confidence to make my own so much so that when I got home I went on Ebay, saw a vintage lamb mold and put a bid on it, wish me luck!
For those of you who would like to try this on your own, here’s a mold similar to the one I used. A perfect addition to your Easter table!
- FOR CAKE
- 3 cups flour, sifted
- 3 cups sugar
- 4 eggs, large
- ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons rum extract, optional
- FOR THE FROSTING
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 heaping teaspoon vanilla
- powdered sugar and half and half or milk to make the right consistency
- FOR DECORATING
- 1 bag of flaked coconut
- 2 raisins
- 1 maraschino cherry
- red food color
- piece of ribbon
- paper Easter basket grass
- assorted jellybeans
- Preheat oven to 350 F. generously butter and flour lamb mold.
- Beat butter, add sugar and extracts and beat until light and fluffy.
- Add flour with baking soda until well incorporated.
- Beat in eggs one at a time alternating with the sour cream until batter comes together.
- Pour batter into prepared face side of the lamb mold, facing down on a baking sheet.
- Fill to the rim wiping up the edges clean.
- Reinforce the ears by placing a toothpick horizontally in each ear.
- Carefully place lid on and bake for 1 hour, but check for doneness 10 minutes before.
- FYI, you will have leftover batter with this recipe, enough to make a small cake.
- For Decorating, make the frosting with the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, half and half and a pinch of salt, mixing until you get a nice semi firm frosting.
- Add raisins for eyes, a cherry for nose and tie a ribbon around the neck.
- Cover platter with Easter grass and jellybeans.