Monday, April 27, 2009

A Signing Day cake and buttercream icing

A lot of journalists have been leaving the profession lately. Many are finding related careers, others are going back to school.

One of my dear work friends, Julia, has been on the journey to law school for the last few months. She took the LSAT, scored extremely well and proceeded to apply to about a dozen or so prestigious schools. At work, we've followed her journey - the financial aid applications, the acceptance letters, the visits to several campuses.

Julia worked in sports with me one day a week for several months. (We've lost a few staffers and she helped fill in a gap in our schedules.) She usually works on the news desk. She often wound up with the craziest sports section of the week, but one section really rose above the rest: high school Signing Day. This is the day that most high school athletes announce where they'll play on the collegiate level. There are balloons, banners, letters of intent. Their parents sit next to them in photos as their high school coach and sometimes their future college coach stand behind them. It's highly publicized for football players, but tennis, baseball, softball, golf and track stars often sign on Signing Day, too. It's always the same time of year, and at the Times, we really blow it out because we have a very extensive prep sports audience.

This year's Signing Day fell on a Julia shift. And there was absolutely no pre-planning done for it (in the past, with larger staffs, we've had the time and resources to really prepare for things like this). It also fell right after the Super Bowl, which was in Tampa this year, so any resources we did have had been mostly exhausted on our Super Bowl coverage. So Julia reallllly got the short stick on this one and was thrown in to the fire. She rose like a pro and conquered all of the Signing Day stuff like she'd been doing it every day (although I don't think I saw her get up from her chair once during the shift, not even for a bathroom break). I know it was probably one of the most stressful shifts she's had at the Times to date.

After a few weeks, we were able to joke about it. And some of us decided that after all of the hype over her law school selection, we should stage a Signing Day for Julia. We had fake parents lined up, a coach (the sports editor), photos, video, etc. It was set for April 15. But as the day approached, Julia knew she wouldn't be able to make a well-informed decision because some of her scholarship offers were still not finalized. So we pushed it back to April 23.

On April 23, Julia was comfortable with and excited about her decision. She'd been trying to throw people off track for days, and she was ready to unveil the big choice. We had cupcakes with little pennants representing her narrowed-down choices (Virginia, Columbia, NYU and Duke). We had a poll of where everyone thought she was going to go. We had a mock letter of intent saying she promises to attend the school for one year and won't be recruited or violate NCAA rules.

Julia made hats, too, and that was how she revealed her choice - after wanding over all of the hats, she picked the school where she will be a law student this fall: Duke. (For the record, she'd long ago ruled out schools like UNC, Vanderbilt and Penn. She'd also been wait listed by Harvard and Michigan. I think the only school where she wasn't accepted was Berkeley, and really, who needs Berkeley anyway?)

I had asked her to let me know her choice earlier than the actual Signing Day so I could make a cake with her school of choice. (Then I lied when anyone asked me if I knew where she was going, hehe.) Luckily for me, she chose a school with one of the easier logos. To make the cake, I used a Betty Crocker cake mix and my buttercream icing recipe (below) from my good old days taking Wilton cake decorating classes in Pittsburgh.

Julia went to UNC for her undergrad and is a Tar Heel through and through, but Duke has a very good law school, offered good scholarship money and is close to her family. It's a good place for her husband to look for a new job, too (he's a reporter in Tampa). She vows to never root for the Blue Devils or become one of the Cameron Crazies.

She's going to be at the Times through July, and we're going to miss her more than she'll know. But at least we'll know a good lawyer if we ever need one ...

Buttercream icing (stiff consistency):

1 cup solid white vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon Wilton Flavor (Vanilla, Almond or Butter)
2 tablespoons milk or water
1 lb. pure cane confectioner's sugar (approximately 4 cups)
1 tablespoon Wilton Meringue Powder
A pinch of salt (optional)

Cream shortening, flavoring and water. Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together. (If you have a hand mixer, be careful to not burn out the motor. This is easiest to make with a stand mixer, but I made it for years with a hand mixer, too.) Blend an additional minute or so, until creamy.

Wilton offers food coloring that is perfect for coloring this buttercream icing - if you tried to use regular food coloring, you'd use a ton of it and get mild change in color. I used a royal blue Wilton color for the blue on Julia's cake.

Source: The Wilton Method of Cake Decorating Course 1

Video of Julia's announcement:


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