SAM: Two-thirds of the pennies produced in the last 30 years have dropped out of circulation.
JOSH: You’ve been reading about this?
SAM: It’s interesting.
JOSH: No, it’s not.
The above excerpt from an episode of The West Wing is, I’m afraid, an accurate description of this blog post. I’ve done a lot of research on a tiny little unimportant topic and now I’m going to tell you about it.
And you will be well within the bounds of sanity to tell me it’s not interesting.
But that’s not going to stop me from posting.
This is or isn't what a traditional Festivus Cake looks like.
It all began when someone on twitter mentioned an article she’d written on the commercialization of Festivus. As I read this article, I could only think, “hey, I wonder if there’s a Festivus cake?” (my apologies to the article’s author). It’s a good article to read if you don’t know the origins of Festivus (although that’s unlikely if you’ve come in search of Festivus Cake instruction — which I promise to eventually provide in this article).
Following the accepted first step of all contemporary research, I googled “festivus cake” and after a brief foray into silliness, I ended up at that veritable font of all knowledge, Wikipedia. Where I found this (emphasis mine):
The original holiday dinner in the O’Keefe household featured turkey or ham followed by a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&M’s, as described in detail in O’Keefe’s The Real Festivus.
Score! This is going to be the easiest blog entry, ever!
Gleefully driving to the grocery store to pick up my Pepperidge Farm cake (it’s a frozen, pre-made cake) and a bag of M&Ms, I could only imagine that this is what it feels like to be Sandra Lee.
As I drove, I also considered that I had no clue what sort of pattern is used for the M&M decorations and I resolved to look that up when I returned home.
That’s one thought I wish I’d never had.
Back at home (with my pre-made cake and bag of candy), and armed with the name of an original source (see above wikipedia quote), I immediately zipped off to Amazon to have The Real Festivus book overnighted to me. Imagine my surprise to discover that not only is the book out of print, the price of a used copy starts at $97.95. You have got to be kidding me.
Hoping to get lucky, I resorted to a quick search of Amazon’s “Look Inside Me” — which gave me precisely zero results for “cake”. Alright, back to Google.
So-called Festivus Cake
This time I went to Google images. Where I found the cake you see to the right. If I knew where this image originated I’d give credit to the baker (that’s right, I said the “baker”), but I found this exact same image on at least five pages about Festivus and I haven’t a clue to whom this cake belongs. If you know, tell me.
The discovery of this cake is where I began to suspect a problem. Now, I’m not calling myself a Pepperidge Farm expert, but my Uncle Dave (R.I.P, Uncle Dave) worked across two states and forty-plus years for Pepperidge Farm. I have eaten my fair share of Pepperidge Farm cakes.
And not a single one of those cakes was round. Ever. Obviously, this egregious error made it clear that this picture (and the sites using it) could not inform the design of my Festivus Cake.
Back to Google. I began poring over all the pages that mention the M&M decorated Pepperidge Farm cake and I became certain of one thing: 99.9995% of them got their information from Wikipedia.
Darn you Creative Commons and your free-to-copy content, darn you to heck.
I tried to find an “official” Festivus site. I found a couple of sites that seemed “officiall-y”, but they also looked like they were created at the time the show aired (1997) and hadn’t been touched in a few years except to change relevant dates. One of those sites even had a Different Festivus Book for sale, but I had trouble pinning down how the author (Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) had come to be a Festivus “expert” and in all his writings, I found no mention of cake (meaning his book would likely be of little use to me).
With little hope, I switched to books.google.com. huzzah! I found a fully searchable, but only partially viewable copy of The Real Festivus. Hoping to suss out what I needed from “snippets”, I eagerly searched on “cake” and was served up this message:
“No results found in this book for cake“
W-wha-? But Wikipedia said the cake was “described in detail in O’Keefe’s The Real Festivus.” What sort of evil web of cakey lies is this?
And, more importantly, why on earth would anyone lie about cake?
On a whim, I searched the book for “dessert” and was served up this snippet:
My mother always cooked it, whatever it was, along with mashed potatoes, gravy, beans, and a pecan pie for dessert
Pie? PECAN PIE!?!
Crestfallen, I turned to my vast array of twitter followers (yes, I do feel it’s fair to use “vast” when describing my 199 followers, 25% of whom I’m fairly sure are bots of some sort) and asked if anyone had the book. Apparently not. But with my tweets, I managed to suck my fellow HurryUpCakes blogger, Deb into the black hole that is my Festivus Cake research.
The remaining HurryUpCakes blogger, Pix is reportedly “away” with “no computer”.
Deb happened to have a copy of the Seinfeld “Festivus Episode” (which is actually titled “The Strike” and in her dedication she watched the entire episode.
No mention of cake.
But Deb didn’t stop there, she went on to find this transcript of a 2009 chat with Dan O’Keefe (the Seinfeld writer whose father is the creator of Festivus). There was no mention of the Pepperidge Farm cake, but there was this juicy tidbit describing the author of the other Festivus book:
a little douchebag parasite who wrote a book on Festivus and set himself up as an expert because he interviewed me for the Times. I’m not typing his name so his book sales don’t spike, but in addition to having a clunky prose style, he was rude and annoying
Well that was certainly fun (and validated my opinion that there was nothing of value on that “official” looking site).
But it didn’t answer my questions about The Cake.
And this is the moment where I felt that I had exhausted my research options.
It is my guess that the Pepperidge Farm/M&Ms cake is more fictional than Festivus. Maybe it was originally part of the show and ended up on the editing room floor. Or maybe a Wikipedia gremlin decided to have a bit of fun. Or maybe the google book search is just missing the book pages that talk about the cake.
The only thing I know for sure is that I have a Golden 3-Layer Pepperidge Farm cake in my freezer and a pound of M&M candies on my kitchen counter.
Oh, and that the “easiest blog post ever” has turned into the most research heavy blog post ever.
And maybe, just maybe this is what it feels like to be Sandra Lee.
Because traditional or not, authentic or not, appropriate or not: I’m making the damn cake.
Supplies are limited to one Pepperidge Farm Cake and one bag of M&M candies. I chose the “Golden 3-Layer Cake” because it was a childhood favorite, but given the dubious nature of the cake’s origins, I suppose any Pepperidge Farm cake will do. I chose M&M Dark Chocolates primarily because I didn’t even know that there were M&M Dark Chocolates and I just grabbed the first bag I found. Please note: unless you plan to completely cover the cake in M&Ms (and possibly even then), you do NOT need the 19oz bag. The cake displayed used far less than 1/2 of the M&Ms I’d purchased. It’s like Halloween all over again.
Pepperidge Farm Cake and M&Ms Candy
This is what a Pepperidge Farm Cake looks like straight out of the box (still frozen). It’s seated on a perfectly acceptable styrofoam “serving tray”, but if you wish to spruce things up a bit for the holidays, now is the time to transfer the cake to a more spectacular serving plate. While I suppose it’s possible to damage the frozen cake’s frosting during such a transfer, it’s unlikely. And given that the frosting will likely include some defects as a result of getting jostled around your shopping cart, any new smudges will just add to the This Is A Frozen Cake mystique.
Pepperidge Farm Cake Straight from the box.
Carefully placing the M&M candies on the "Festivus Cake".
Now that you’ve transferred the cake to a more suitable serving tray (if you so chose), it’s time to let the cake thaw a bit. You can try to apply the M&Ms while the cake is still frozen, but if you do, those puppies will slide right off. Better to let the cake soften slightly, so the candies can nestle in a cushion of thawed “frosting”.
As to arrangement of the M&Ms, given the complete and utter lack of reliable details found on The Internet, I hereby declare that the arrangement I have chosen (as seen above) is the Official Arrangement of M&Ms on a Festivus Cake. Ignore this Official Arrangement at your own peril.
And feel free to use the comment section below to explain to me there is no “official” anything when it comes to Festivus. Except possibly the Aluminum Pole. Or, if you’re orthodox, a clock and a bag.