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Published: Tuesday, 10/21/2008

Party Cakes: these celebratory desserts add fun to even ordinary meals

Pumpkin Patch Party Cake. Pumpkin Patch Party Cake.

Just in time for a Halloween treat, Pumpkin Patch Party Cake looks like an architectural feat. With the right pan and right recipe, your kitchen can turn out a cake that looks as good as it tastes.

Cakes are a celebratory dessert. They can turn a meal into a party. An added bonus is that you can usually cut them in big or little pieces, stretching the number of servings to whatever is needed.

Pumpkin Patch Party Cake is a from-scratch recipe baked in two six-cavity, minifluted tube pans. A cream cheese frosting is placed between two of the cakes to create a two-layer cake. Then the cream cheese frosting is added to the top of each two-layer cake. A cinnamon stick pushed in the top gives the idea of a pumpkin stem on this cake that's designed for adults.

The idea of baking cakes in shapes has returned to the home kitchen for children, too. BettyCrocker.com/birthdays created designs such as the Castle Cake, Princess Cake, and Pirate Cake. Cake baked in round or sheet pans can be cut into shapes such as a pirate, a bunny, or a dinosaur.

If you are looking for a perfect cake to take to a party, a sheet cake travels well and can be served right out of the pan. But the old-fashioned classic baked in a 13-by-9-inch pan can be updated for contemporary tastes.

Three fall ingredients - apples, pumpkin, and oats - lend themselves to Pumpkin Oat Cake with Warm Spiced Apples. This seasonal dessert has a crumb topping.

The cake is made with a cake mix, canned pureed pumpkin, prepared apple pie filling, and rolled oats. Mix and pour, top with the oat streusel, and bake. Serve warm or at room temperature with the warm apple topping.

You won't find many sheet cake recipes in gourmet cookbooks. One exception is The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild (Wiley, $34.95) with Orange Pineapple Carrot Cake and Banana Cake with Sour Cream Frosting.

In the Art & Soul of Baking by Sur La Table and Cindy Mushet (Andrews McMeel, $40) the versatility of a basic "workhorse" recipe is showcased. Devil's Food Cake can be baked as a two-layer cake, a sheet cake, cupcakes, minicupcakes, Mile-High Chocolate Layer Cake, or Retro Ringers with Silver Leaf, a childhood lunch box favorite with cream in the center for grownups.

The Blade has been testing cakes made with special ingredients, too.

Those needing gluten-free foods shouldn't have to give up cake. We tested two cakes from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster (Wiley, $35). Both were made with Carol's Sorghum Blend using sorghum flour, cornstarch (or potato starch), and tapioca flour. The latter ingredient can be purchased at various stores including Claudia's Natural Food Market on Monroe Street in Sylvania.

The gluten-free yellow cake was not your traditional two-layer cake: "It was not smooth with a perfect dome shape," says recipe tester Kay Lynne Schaller. When it was removed from the oven, it shriveled and shrank. But when it was dusted with powdered sugar, her kids loved the flavor.

The gluten-free Banana Bundt Cake was very good, "didn't shrink, and was more similar to a regular bundt cake," although it didn't rise quite as much as a traditional bundt cake recipe. Still it's a great gluten-free party cake.

Gluten is a binding agent. Baking without gluten is challenging and requires special recipes. Locally, Pure bakery, which features gluten-free and vegan baked goods, does sell gluten-free chocolate cake, pumpkin cake, and white cake, according to baker Angie Cucunato. Pure is located at 3723 N. King. in Toledo.

With all the candy that Halloween festivities bring, use some of the leftover candy for cakes.

Butterfinger-Lickin' Carrot Cake is a classic two-layer cake that has the finely chopped candy bar in the cake as well as in the frosting.

You can also use chocolate bar pieces and candy corn as decorations on frosted cupcakes or cakes.

When decorating cakes, fresh fruit adds color and refreshing flavor. Daffodil Cake with Strawberry Compote and Whipped Cream (see story below) is a recipe from Fallingwater Cookbook.

While seasonal berries make this a spring and summer dessert, with the year-round supply of strawberries this cake is a favorite anytime. Baked in a 10-inch tube pan, it can be topped with powdered sugar and the berries or with whipped cream.

Tropical and citrus fruits which are abundant in the winter also can be used to garnish frosting on cakes.

Cakes are dependable and won't fail you. That's the sweet part about baking them.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. Contact her at food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.

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