BANANAS FOSTER CREAM PIE

Family Sunday dinner was off this week because Carol, her husband, and their daughter had an important school event. Susan and I spent the evening with our grandson, so I decided to fix one of his favorite meals, shrimp and grits. That Southern classic clearly needed a traditional Southern dessert to go with it. I thought about banana pudding ringed with vanilla wafers. What Southern cafeteria or Southern school lunchroom doesn’t have their own version? That led me to cream pie – in particular, banana cream pie – and as I was free-associating, bananas Foster. I know that shrimp and grits is very much part of the Low Country of South Carolina and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while bananas Foster is quintessential New Orleans and Brennan’s. Cream pie is more or less middle ground and definitely Southern, but traditional banana cream pie dressed up a bit with the flavors of bananas Foster might be tasty. This is my spin.

The topping is Swiss meringue, but you could top it with whipped cream. You could even set it ablaze with some added heated brandy like a baked Alaska. Then you would wind up with an even more authentic bananas Foster.

RECIPE

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

Filling

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons banana liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 9-inch baked pie shell in a pie pan
  • 2 bananas

Method

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to combine evenly. Gradually whisk in milk to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks until they are completely incorporated.
  2. Place the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for several minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, banana liqueur and rum.
  4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the bananas.
  5. Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch slices, spreading the slices across the bottom of the baked pie shell.
  6. Pour the cooled filling over the banana slices. Chill the pie while you prepare meringue.

Meringue

Ingredients

  • 5 egg whites
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl that can be set over – not in – a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  2. Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Spread the meringue over the pie being careful to completely cover the filling.
  3. Place the pie with topping under a preheated broiler for only a moment or two until the meringue is lightly browned. At this point it is very easy to burn unless you are paying constant attention.
  4. Remove the pie from under the broiler. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

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FEIJOADA

This is not the real thing, so Brazilians who might be reading this should not comment that it is missing an ingredient that made their mother’s version the best that ever was or that the recipe has an ingredient that makes the dish NOT feijoada.  Traditional recipes often call for unpeeled pork tongue, snouts, ears, and tail. This recipe has none of those.  The two essentials are black beans and meat. This recipe has both. If you serve this dish, you should be aware that the only thing you will want to do after the meal is to take a nap. Be warned. Feijoada is usually described as the national dish of Brazil. The first time I ever had it was over 40 years ago. One of several international colleagues served it at his home as part of sharing among us at the end of long work weeks. Over time we enjoyed cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Greece, Australia, Turkey, India, and Pakistan – and of course, the United States –  so it was an excellent culinary world tour.

I have been thinking of making feijoada for our Sunday family meal for some time, but it seemed like a lot of effort. Now, the inspiration is the coming together of a number of things. First, Sarah has engaged a lovely young woman from Brazil to help with the children so that Sarah can focus more on the restaurants and on a cookbook that will be published soon. Second, Bia, the young woman, brought a gift with her, The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Moreinos Schwarz (Kyle Books). Finally, I was up for cooking Sunday dinner.

The cookbook is so beautiful that I bought my own copy. The author is from Brazil but an American culinary school graduate and professional chef. Her recipes are simplified and often modernized versions of traditional dishes. Instructions are clear, and the images are mouth-watering. Like me, you may have a hard time finding Brazilian ingredients in your local grocery store. Of course, these days you can order them online. The most basic and hardest-to-find ingredients are sweet and sour manioc starch and manioc flour. To add to the confusion, in the USA sweet manioc starch is often called tapioca flour. You can substitute one for another, but then – as I found out – the results won’t be the same.

To go with the feijoada I made hearts of palm salad and pão de queijo, a delicious Brazilian cheese bread that we first enjoyed in an eclectic restaurant in Redondo Beach. This is where I ran into trouble. Schwarz’s recipe for the bread called for both sweet and sour manioc starch. All I could find at the store was tapioca flour. The resulting batter was so sticky it stuck to everything and was impossible to shape into balls, but after some extended time in the refrigerator before baking, the results were still excellent.

Here’s the recipe for my version of feijoada. Many recipes call for carne seca, akin to jerky but not so tough. As a substitute, I used fresh beef seasoned with dry meat rub and dried in a warm oven for several hours. I also used the slightly spicy Portuguese sausage, linguiça. As an aside, many beans contain phytohemaglutinin which can cause nausea, vomiting, and even blood problems. The toxin is inactivated by cooking at boiling temperatures. Red kidney beans are said to have the highest content, cannellini beans next, and others down the line. Black beans have lower levels.  It has been reported that very slow, low-temperature cooking, like sous vide or a slow cooker set on low, fails to raise temperatures sufficiently to inactivate the toxin, so if you are concerned, you should cook the beans in a pot at a good boil. In any event, be prepared for a hearty meal and the need for a long nap.

RECIPES

Feijoada

Ingredients

  • 1 pound black beans
  • 1 pound beef cut for stir-fry
  • dry meat rub (your favorite)
  • 4 slices smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • beef stock
  • 1 pound linguiça, cut into ¾-inch slices
  • 1 pound pork stew meat
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 cups cooked rice
  • parsley, chopped finely
  • 2 oranges, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼ inch rounds
  • farofa (recipe follows)
  • cooked collard greens

Method

  1. Soak the beans overnight with enough water to cover them at least two inches deep.
  2. Spread the pieces of beef in a single layer on a foil-lined baking pan, sprinkle with dry meat rub, and heat in warm (170°F) oven for at least 8 hours to dry out, turning occasionally.
  3. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon has started to crisp. Stir in the onion and cover the pot for 5 minutes to sweat the onions. Add the celery, bay leaves, and garlic. Then add the beans with their soaking liquid, and enough beef stock to cover the beans. Bring to a low boil and cook until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add additional beef stock as needed.
  4. Add the dried beef, linguiça, and pork. Continue to simmer until the meats are cooked through, about one hour. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange a mound of hot, cooked rice in the middle of a large serving bowl or platter and top with parsley. Surround the rice with the feijoada. Arrange sliced oranges around the feijoada. Serve immediately. Pass the farofa separately, to be sprinkled on top of the feijoada if desired. Serve with collard greens that have been braised, covered, with additional bacon and water for 30 minutes or until the collards are wilted and cooked through. Drain excess water from the collards.

Farofa

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Stir in 1 cup of tapioca flour. Stirring frequently to avoid burning, cook the mixture until the flour turns a golden brown. Remove from the heat. Serve with a spoon so that it can be sprinkled over the feijoada.

 

 

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EIGHTY HAS ITS PERKS

After the train ride from hell, we joined all of our family in San Francisco. It was several days of celebration: a couple of kids’ birthdays, one family had their Seder while others dyed Easter eggs. Little did I know of the celebration of celebrations. I was instructed to be sure to wear the sport coat that Susan had insisted on packing. All of the family showed up, the children prepared for a day of play and the adults dressed up – unusual for a family gathering. The mystery deepened when a long white limousine pulled up in front of the house. The kids were left behind with the oldest teenager and a sitter in charge. The adults piled into the limo and headed through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was told we were celebrating my upcoming birthday, but nothing more. The conversation turned to family activities and reminiscences as we maneuvered the weekend traffic in Marin and San Rafael out onto the green expanses of the Delta farms and marshes. It became evident that we were heading to Napa when the flatlands gave way to rolling hills and rows of close-trimmed grapevines.

Enjoying the ride

Finally, we pulled up to a gray stone building that was immediately recognizable as The French Laundry, the legendary restaurant that all of the family knew had been on my must-do list for many years. This was their surprise to commemorate my eightieth birthday.

Arrival

We were greeted by a young man who had known Sarah and Evan since their days in New York where he had worked at Per Se. He and a young woman dressed in black led us on a brief tour of the gleaming kitchen filled with at least two dozen cooks in whites, each stationed at a specialized work space creating one or another beautiful dish. The woman in black then led us through the chilly wine cellar of 13,000 bottles into an elegant room that would be our home for the next four hours of eating. She pushed back a glass door and next a louvered screen to open the room to the outdoors and a beautiful garden scene. Then the performance began. The first act was a ritual sabrage performed by a tall man dressed in formal attire and carrying a shiny sword. With one whack of the sword, he lopped off the cork and bottle neck, losing nary a drop of champagne that he then poured into our waiting flutes after stabbing the sword into the lawn in front of us.

Then the food began.

The meal was filled with French Laundry classics. First were coronets: black-sesame-studded tuiles shaped into cones filled with crème fraiche and salmon tartare. Whimsical, beautiful, and tasty at the same time. Each coronet came in a little silver stand that was centered on the huge blue Limoges service plate. They outshone the accompanying “Ritz crackers”, tiny little cheesy biscuits, in visual drama but not necessarily in flavor. Both offerings were delicious.

Next came a small white bowl that nestled two perfect white asparagus tips and a dark disc of Perigord black truffle, Holland White Asparagus “Vichyssoise”. It was a little sad to see the composition disappear beneath a small lake of creamy soup, but the flavor made up for the visual loss.

Then came what is arguably the restaurant’s most famous dish: “Oysters and Pearls.”

Hen Egg Custard with ragout of Perigord truffles served in an egg shell with a laser-sharp rim and topped by a chive imprisoned between two impossibly thin, matched potato wafers

Éleveges Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras “Torchon” served with wine-poached sour apple, wild sorrel, and fennel “gastrique”

Sautéed Fillet of Mediterranean Turbot served with cream braised La Rotte potatoes, buttered brioche and black winter truffle emulsion. The fish and truffle emulsion were a perfect flavor combination.

Alaska King Crab “À La Plancha”  served with bantam hen egg “gnocchi”, winter radishes, garden celery and “Consommé Madrilène”. The fragrant, flavorful broth tied everything together.

“Bread and Butter” was a perfectly formed  rosette “Parker House Roll” with a center of roasted paprika and served with a  quenelle of Diane St Clair’s Animal Farm butter.

Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit satsuma “Suprêmes”, served with glazed garden turnips and arrowleaf spinach

Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb with pea shoot “Pakora”, slow-roasted Nantes carrots, and Spanish caper-brown butter jus

“Gougère” Andanta Dairy “Etude” and Australian black winter truffle “Fondue”.

Tropical Fruit Ambrosia young coconut puree, lime scented golden pineapple, Matcha “Genoise” and Cherimoya sherbet

“Gâteau Pear and Caramel” caramel mouse with pear compote and “Pain de Gênes”

“Mignardises” – handcrafted chocolates and truffles of many flavors and beautiful coatings

To be sure, it was a most amazing meal. But the best part was to be surrounded by family and to share remembrances and stories that had already been retold many times and to laugh with one another. It was a wonderful way to mark eighty years of being on this earth, and this post is one way for me to thank all of my children and their loving spouses.

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THE TRAIN FROM HELL, PART 2

What are the odds?

In 2014 I wrote about a train trip from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Our arrival was delayed by 12 hours because of a series of events seemingly beyond the control of Amtrak and definitely beyond my control. The delay began even before the train arrived because of a tree that had fallen across the tracks somewhere in Kansas. (Do they even have trees in that part of Kansas?) Then a drunk driver ran into the engine at a crossing in Gallup, New Mexico that resulted in a delay of several hours. When we finally got going again, the train cruised along until it came to an abrupt stop somewhere around Winslow, Arizona. Amtrak was faced with an obligatory time limit on the crew so we waited in the desert until a relief crew could be brought in from someplace else. This took a couple of hours, during which time the power went out and the toilets quit working. Finally things were restored and the rest of the trip to LA was uneventful, except for passenger grousing.

Well, it happened again – at least a somewhat better version of the same story. We were on the famous train that hugs the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles all the way to Seattle. Our destination was San Francisco where we planned to enjoy the weekend with family. The day had been enjoyable with spectacular views of the surf pounding against towering cliffs as well as pastoral scenes of mountain valleys made a brilliant green from recent rains. Just outside of Soledad, home of the infamous Soledad Prison, the train came to a sudden stop and then sat there. Finally, there was an announcement that the engine had encountered “debris” on the track, and that the trip would resume after damage had been assessed. My guess was that the “debris” may have been an escaped prisoner. I turned out to be wrong, but only barely. After more long minutes of silence, the conductor  announced that the train had struck a trespasser who had been walking on the track. He had experienced only an injury to his arm and had been transported to the hospital. (How amazing is that?) The story rapidly became embellished amongst the passengers to include details that the victim had been walking his children along the track (??!!) but they were not injured.

There was another delay because as a routine, the engineer had to be replaced after the accident to recover and to investigate the accident. The replacement had to come from a long distance. Finally the wait was over, and the train resumed its journey only to stop again in Salinas. The crew had used up its allowed time, and so a crew change was required. (Sound familiar?) Again, the replacements had to come from some distance. After an hour or so, the train started up again only to stop a short way down the track to put on another car. While we waited, the power went out and lights went out, too. I’m not sure about the toilets, but the outage did not last long and we were once again on our way. Finally, after 2 AM, our train pulled into the station in Oakland where we caught a bus over the Bay Bridge, then to an Über, and finally to our daughter’s house at a little past 3 AM.

Susan had been heard to say on more than one occasion during the trip, “Train travel is so relaxing.”

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ROASTED CHICKEN

At least in my neighborhood, it has become increasingly difficult to find a whole chicken at the grocery store. Nowadays, there are shelves and shelves of chicken parts – breasts, wings, thighs, and drumsticks – with increasingly processed sub-types – chicken tenders, boneless breasts, “drumettes”, skinless thighs, and ground chicken. You get the idea. When Ralph’s announced a sale of whole chickens, my menu-driven mind went into overdrive. Usually I boil a whole chicken for the resultant stock along with enough meat picked from the bones for gumbo or green chile chicken or something similar. This time I wanted to do something else that was also not too hard or tome-consuming. I flashed on roasted chicken, inspired by Jacques Pépin who wrote in his classic La Technique, “There is nothing as simple and as delicious as a well-cooked roast chicken.” He went on to say, “Unfortunately, to get it properly done in a restaurant is as rare as it is simple.” That sounds like an intimidating challenge from one of the most important cooking experts of our time.

Sarah knows about intimidation by Jacques Pépin and André Soltner, both very warm and generous individuals. They were deans at the French Culinary Institute in New York City when she was a student. Chefs Pépin and Soltner  provided instruction in their lectures and demonstrations along with kindness and encouragement in their personal interactions, but they were also involved in examinations. Roasting a chicken was one of the tasks in the final exam. Sarah was anxious, but she passed – with great relief and celebration.

This recipe is drawn freely from Pépin’s La Technique. If you can find a copy, you should by all means buy it. Published in 1976, it is out of print, but you can find it on-line. The book is a heavily-illustrated step-by-step narrative of French cooking techniques, and the photos are all of Pépin himself performing the actions required in each technique. On top of that, La Technique is an excellent cookbook in its own right. It goes without saying that my roast chicken is not in the league of Jacques Pépin’s, but hopefully it would pass the test.

RECIPE

Roasted Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, about 3 pounds
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup water

Method

  1. Remove liver and other giblets that may be packaged with the chicken. Pat dry and sprinkle generously inside and out with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large cast-iron or other heavy, oven-proof pan, melt the butter. Place the chicken in the melted butter, and using a basting brush, paint the entire chicken with the butter.
  3. Place the chicken on its side in the pan and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 400° oven for 15 minutes. Turn on the other side and roast for another 15 minutes.
  4. Turn the chicken on its back and baste with dripping using a large metal cooking spoon. Continue to roast for an additional 30 minutes, basting every 5 minutes with scraped-up drippings and frond.
  5. Add water to the pan and roast for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, cover with foil, and rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile stir the pan gravy. Correct seasoning if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  8. Carve the chicken and serve immediately.

 

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SEVEN LAYER TACO DIP

Last night was Oscars Night and we headed to Carol’s house to watch the festivities and to compete in the family predicting-the-winners sweepstakes. This is a long tradition at Carol’s, and we have been invited each year since our move to California. Carol had planned to have steak and cold boiled shrimp for what was our usual Sunday family dinner, but she has been under the weather lately. I suggested that I make some odds and ends of thing so that she could stay off her feet. She insisted on the steak and shrimp – which was alright by me – but I went ahead and made some snacks that we could enjoy in front of the television. I tried to make the food simple so that nobody had to do too much cooking. This dip is simple. It takes about 30 minutes to assemble and with store-bought tortilla chips makes an attractive party platter.

The seven layer taco dip turned out to be a big hit. The first time that I ever enjoyed it was over fifty years ago at a family gathering. Susan’s sister, who was famous in the family for no-fuss party foods brought a huge platter that was devoured in short order. Like so many classics of fifty years ago, taco dip has faded into obscurity. I’m not sure why because it is tasty, a crowd pleaser, and easy to make. It was popular last night. As an aside, I was nowhere close to winning the sweepstakes. Just like last year, the teen-age film buff walked away with the prize, although she was tied by her dad, who is also a movie fan. Susan, who is oblivious to movie stars, always gives the two champs a run for their money. How does that happen?

RECIPE

Seven Layer Taco Dip

Ingredients

  • 14.5 ounce can refried beans
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning
  • 2 ripe medium avocados
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 16 ounce bottle salsa
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 snacking peppers seeded and chopped
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced, green tops included
  • ¼ head iceberg lettuce, shredded finely
  • 2 cups grated cheddar/Monterey jack cheese (packaged pre-shredded is great)
  • 4 ounce can sliced black olives, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • hot sauce (optional)

Method

  1. Layer One: Combine the refried beans and taco seasoning. Spread on a 12-16 inch serving platter.
  2. Layer Two: With a fork, mash the avocados, along with the lime juice, in a small bowl to your preferred consistency. Spread on top of the refried beans.
  3. Layer Three: Combine the cream cheese and sour cream until they are smooth and completely blended. Spread on top of the avocado.
  4. Layer Four: Pour the salsa over the cream cheese mixture. If the salsa is too runny, you may wish to drain it in a strainer over the sink before pouring it over the cream cheese.
  5. Layer Five: Combine the tomatoes,  chopped peppers, and green onions. Arrange on top of the salsa and then add the shredded lettuce.
  6. Layer Six: Sprinkle the grated cheese over the vegetable layer.
  7. Layer Seven: Top with sliced black olives.
  8. Serve with tortilla chips. Adjust seasoning of each layer as you go with salt, pepper, and optional hot sauce.

 

 

 

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MARDI GRAS KING CAKE

It’s Carol’s turn with our Sunday family dinner. As a nod to Mardi Gras this next week, she plans to make jambalaya. I am looking forward to that. Since Carol is cooking, that means that I am up for dessert. There are lots of Louisiana desserts that would go with jambalaya, but King Cake seemed to be the most appropriate. King cake is a tradition in many parts of the world, but in Louisiana it is served across the state, starting on Epiphany (January 6th) and ending on Mardi Gras (this year, February 13). There are many versions of king cake. Some folks make rings of filled cream puffs; others make baked meringues, etc., etc. The most common version is a brioche-like sweet bread, often filled with raisins or other dried fruit. The cake is topped with icing and sprinkled sugars in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, yellow, and purple.  I couldn’t find purple-colored sugar sprinkles, so I made do with red. I hope no one will notice. You can go all-out and fashion a “crown” of a circle of candied or maraschino cherries. The best part of the tradition, though, is finding the baby. A small plastic baby is hidden in the cake before it is baked. In the absence of the baby, a black bean will do. The person who gets the slice of cake with the baby (or bean) is supposed to have good luck. A less recognized part of the tradition is that the person is also supposed to bring the next king cake for the next celebration.

Interestingly, none of our many cookbooks from Louisiana contain a recipe for king cake. The recipe I have used is from King Arthur Flour. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

RECIPE

Mardi Gras King Cake

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ cup lukewarm milk
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large yolk, white reserved
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1 package (2½ teaspoons) fast rising yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Filling

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2½ tablespoons milk

Garnish

  • sparkling sugars – green, yellow, purple

Method

  1. Add all of the dough ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed until a soft, silky, but sticky dough is formed. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  2. Transfer the risen dough to a lightly oiled work surface. Shape the dough into a 24 inch x 6 inch rectangle. Let rest while you prepare the filling.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and continue to beat until smooth.
  4. Transfer the filling to the middle of the rectangle of dough, leaving enough of the dough bare so that it can be pulled up around the filling and pinched closed. Before sealing the filling, position the baby or black bean in the filling.
  5. Transfer the filled and sealed dough rectangle to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Shape the dough into a circle, sealing the ends together. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for 1 hour.
  6. Bake in the middle on an oven preheated to 350°F for 20 minutes. Then cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it firm up for 15 minutes before transferring it to a baking rack to cool completely.
  7. Beat together the icing ingredients. Pour or drizzle the icing over the completely cooled cake. Sprinkle the colored sugars in bands over the icing. Make a ring on top with the optional cherries if desired.

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