BraveTart: Little Debbie-Style Christmas Tree Cakes
What I can't give you: the sound. The crisp, glassine crinkle of Little Debbie's cello wrap crumpling between your fingers. The miniature explosion of noise it makes when you finally pop the bag open. The delicate, mournful song the wadded-up wrapper sings as it slowly unfurls in the trash bin, discarded after faithfully protecting your snack for so long.
What I can give you: fluffy yellow cake, silky whipped filling, and a coating of chocolate resilient enough to let you carry the whole thing around in the palm of your hand.
I first encountered Little Debbie snack cakes in the 4th grade.
At the tiny little elementary school I attended, we had a weekly ritual called simply, "Hot Lunch." Monday through Thursday, we made do with our peanut butter sandwiches and Lunchables. But Friday? Oh, holy crap, somebody's mom would make lunch for us!!!! From first through third grade, I remember Fridays in a parade of awesome as each classmate's mom had a crack at Hot Lunch. Lasagna one week, cheesy meat loaf the next.
What started as a simple event meant to get parents involved and to celebrate home cookin' eventually devolved into a brutal game of one-upMomship. I can still remember one Friday morning before school, my mom laboring to make individual chicken pot pies for everyone, punching out holes in the crust with a leaf cutter, and cupcakes cooling on the counter. Somewhere in the 4th grade, one mom took a look long hard look at the situation and thought, "Why on earth should I turn my week upside down to serve a bunch of kids Beef Wellington when they'd just as soon have pizza?!"
That revolutionary sent word to Little Caesar to have a fleet of pizzas delivered by noon, and smuggled Little Debbie to the front lines in her son's bookbag. No group of children had ever loved someone else's mom more; and no group of mother's ever felt so duped for not thinking of it first.
And that marked the end of Haute Lunches, but Hot Lunches soldiered on. From then on, Fridays meant pizza and Little Debbies. The first sure sign of the holidays would come some Friday in November when the season's inaugural Christmas Tree Cakes would herald the news. From there, every Friday until Christmas break we'd kick off the weekend with pizza and edible Christmas trees.
The white version (I hesitate to say vanilla) didn't do much for me. Sometimes I smooshed it up, careful not to burst the bag, just for the perverse pleasure of it. Filling squishing out the sides and red swags of icing bleeding into pulverized cake...Of course I'd never dream of doing such a thing to the chocolate kind, though I would often try to see if I could peel off the cloak of chocolate in a single piece.
That coating had an undeniably waxy mouthfeel, which I can't recreate for you without industrial equipment or an unhealthy amount of Gulf Wax (which is not to say it can't be done, only that I don't wish to be held responsible for the Olestra-like results should you try such a thing at home).
But, I can bring you as close as this: chocolate glaze that will set up perfectly dry, no tempering necessary. You can hold the little cake in your hands, without a smidge melting onto your fingers. Inside, legitimately yellow cake replete with that factory-fresh nuance sandwiching a filling as slippery with fat as the original.
You can make yours chocolate or um, white, with just a simple ingredient swap. You may want to set a few out on Christmas Eve. You never know who's going to drop in.
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About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.