Former PR assistant
Kitchens of Sara Lee
Deerfield, Illinois, 1976: As the nation made preparations to celebrate our bicentennial, the folks at Kitchens of Sara Lee began building a monumental birthday cake which would be their gift to Philadelphia, the city where our founding fathers brought forth a new nation, the United States of America. The finished cake weighed over 40 tons and stood 65 feet high in seven tiers of Sara Lee chocolate cake (America's favorite flavor) decorated with "paintings" done in royal icing—replications of familiar scenes and portraits from American history.
Fellow former employee Mark reminds me of the kickoff meeting where Tom Barnum, then Sara Lee's president, lending encouragement to the marketing/sales types, said "It's not a big deal. It's only the nation's birthday cake. But if anybody builds the SOB it better be us!" Mark, an engineer, is the one who gave the cake its official Sara Lee part number: 001776.
CLICK ON THE CAKE TO SEE A LARGER IMAGE.
For many months the project occupied Sara Lee's team of internationally renowned pastry chefs, led by Casey Sinkeldam. For this was no ordinary pastry. To design, engineer, create, transport, and assemble the cake would ultimately involve every Sara Lee employee, and we were all caught up in the spirit.
Once the design was established, the pastry chefs became artists working in royal icing, which dries hard and is used in the most intricate cake decorations. Using this edible medium, the chefs recreated more than thirty scenes familiar to all Americans—the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Betsy Ross sewing our flag, the first baseball game. Also in royal icing were portraits of famous Americans, including our first President George Washington and our then-current President Gerald Ford. You can see their portraits on the third tier in the photo on this page. The bottom tier held medallions representing each state.
The chocolate sheet cakes were baked in Sara Lee's factory in New Hampton, Iowa, frozen (as were all of Sara Lee's cakes), and trucked to the main plant north of Chicago. The finished product would not be solid cake since a cake of that size would not be able to support its own weight and would collapse on itself. Instead, it was to be constructed on a huge framework, with the chocolate sheet cakes laid on all horizontal surfaces.
|1. Introduction||2. Chicago to Philly||3. The birthday party|
|4. Updates||5. Behind the scenes||6. The collection|