The Korea Herald


Serving kitsch fresh from the oven: Imagination is the magic ingredient

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 16, 2013 - 19:45

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LOS ANGELES ― “The colors need to be bright, like saturated neon,” Charles Phoenix says, describing his Seven-Layer Soda Pop Rocks Cake. “You can’t have too much food coloring. Think Day-Glo!”

Phoenix is visualizing the elements of an ideal summer party. His ideal summer party. “A pool would be nice, because pool parties are classic summer. And there would be those motorized pool toys with remote controls for the gearheads, so they can fight in the water.” A little something for everyone.

“But I think they should be unicorns. Imagine remote-control unicorns fighting in a pool.”

Phoenix is an entertainer who is all about Americana, exploring and celebrating our kitschy pop culture past and present through his books and tours, historic slide shows and unique culinary creations. “I was born on a used-car lot,” he explains, smiling (his father was a used-car salesman), and he calls himself a child of Disneyland. “I’m very theme-oriented.”
Charles Phoenix loves going over the top with his foods for parties with items such as this Seven-Layer Soda Pop Rocks Cake (right), Bambrosinana (bottom), AstroWeenie Party Tree (left) and Inchezonya. (Los Angeles Times/MCT) Charles Phoenix loves going over the top with his foods for parties with items such as this Seven-Layer Soda Pop Rocks Cake (right), Bambrosinana (bottom), AstroWeenie Party Tree (left) and Inchezonya. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Don’t have unicorns for your summer party? No problem. Focus on the spread.

Take the Astro Weenie Party Tree. Picture a craft store foam cone wrapped in foil and covered with an assortment of cocktail onions, broccoli bites, cheese cubes and miniature pickles, everything impaled on colorful toothpicks. The tree, originally created for Christmas parties, will work for any occasion ― feel free to make it sweet or savory, so long as it contains the namesake cocktail weenies.

“The only limit is your imagination,” Phoenix stresses. “You’re really crafting here; it’s not cooking. Admire, present and then ... dig in!”

Phoenix credits his inspiration to historic slides. He began shopping at thrift stores at the age of 14, looking for vintage clothes. One day he happened upon a shoe box of old slides.

Rather than calling for homemade components, Phoenix is more than happy using store brands. “I try to make it very accessible.” Which makes some dishes, like the massive Soda Pop Rocks cake, a little less intimidating to tackle. And if the finished product isn’t perfect, so what? “I’m not expecting perfection. I’m expecting heart and soul.”

Seven-layer soda pop rocks cake

● 2 hours. Serves 20 to 30

● 4 (16.25-ounce) boxes white cake mix (enough for 8 cake layers)

● 5 cups 7-Up or similar soda, divided, to substitute for the water in the cake mix

● 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil, divided, or as needed to prepare boxed cake mix

● 12 egg whites, divided, or as needed to prepare boxed cake mix

● Assorted food coloring

● About 20 cups (10 pounds) prepared white frosting

● 24 packets assorted Pop Rocks

● Candy wax soda bottles, for decorating

● Skewers, for decorating

● Soda straws, for decorating

1. Prepare the boxed cake mix according to the manufacturer’s instructions, substituting soda for the amount of water given and incorporating the vegetable oil and egg whites as instructed (cake mix ingredients may vary slightly by brand). Divide the cake mix among prepared 8- or 9-inch cake pans (you will end up with one extra layer of cake not needed for this recipe). Add food coloring to enhance each of the seven layers separately with bright color: turquoise, pink, yellow, orange, purple, aqua, lime. Bake according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. When the cake layers are cool, begin assembling the final cake. Place the first layer on the cake stand or platter and top with a layer of frosting. Sprinkle over a packet of Pop Rocks. Top with a second layer of cake, and repeat until the cake is seven layers. As the layers are built, the cake will become top-heavy and may start to slide and/or fall; to help stabilize the cake, run skewers or cake dowels (available at cake and cooking supply stores) through the layers.

3. Frost the outside of the layers and sprinkle over the remaining Pop Rocks to decorate. (Note: The Pop Rocks will become sticky shortly after the package is opened and if handled. To decorate the sides, it might be easiest to empty each package onto a sheet of paper, then curl the paper and blow the Pop Rocks onto the side of the cake.)

4. To assemble the decorations, place the wax soda bottles on skewers and cover each skewer with a soda straw. Arrange the bottle-topped skewers on top of the cake to decorate.

By Noelle Carter

(Los Angeles Times)

(MCT Information Services)