I am not a baker. I used to have fantasies about being a baking woman, who just had a cake around in case somebody showed up (when does that ever happen???) but the fact of the matter is I always mess it up, or lack confidence, or plain just don't see the point of baking something for a small crowd. I feel better when the house is pretty free of sweets -- we just go and get them if we need them. If I'm being honest, just having a pie laying around is not my ideal thing because I just end up thinking about it constantly, like the telltale heart.
But last year I saw this recipe in InStyle for a 4th of July cake that seemed like a fun challenge--it was a box cake with some technique involved, but something I could handle. This year I decided to go for it and invited some friends over for the sole purpose of helping us eat the cake. I have to say kicked that patriotic cake's ass (my only regret was that it was not centered exactly on the cake stand but what can you do.) I also saw a recipe for these cute red white and blue strawberries that seemed similarly manageable so I made those for a different holiday occasion and they were also easy and cute and not that big a hassle. Most importantly, both desserts were big hits with their respective audiences.
I've been trying to figure out why this was the year I decided to make special July 4th desserts. Am I weirdly sentimental and patriotic, like "Happy birthday America, I made you this cake, please do not collapse in on yourself"? Did I merely crave a low-stakes semi-creative challenge where I didn't have to think very hard? Are the boys just old enough for me to be able to take this on? Or are these just the delicious results of a simmering existential crisis like, "You know what, life is short, why eat regular strawberries when you can eat red white and blue strawberries?"
I don't know. This year I did notice other politically disenchancted friends of mine, my age, also with little kids, who were also baking cakes with a flag-shaped lattice, or cakes with a red white and blue filling, decorating them with berries in a flag design (maybe with a peace sign where the stars typically go.) Were we all craving a comforting retro domestic simplicity? Or we all just wanted to eat a cute dessert, dammit?
Maybe I'm overthinking what is merely a theme dessert. Whatever the motivation, they were fun and delicious and I recommend both of the recipes. Here is the cake and here are the strawberries (I used white chocolate chips so I didn't have do deal with chopping chocolate.) Bookmark these for Labor Day.