From the minute I picked up The Hunger Games I knew I was going to love it. Say whatever disparaging things you want about YA novels, (we all know I’m not opposed to them) anything that gets teenagers excited about reading is fine by me. Who knows, maybe Twilight will be a gateway drug for Stoker’s Dracula or Shelley’s Frankenstein, maybe The Hunger Games will give way to Orwell’s 1984 or Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange–a nerd can dream. I felt a lot less embarrassed about reading The Hunger Games in public than I did about Twilight (Even though when I told my friend that he said “You shouldn’t). Collins’ ideas are original and unsettling in a way that most young adult novel plots aren’t. Unlike Bella, Katniss is strong, feisty, clear-headed, dynamic, lovable–a female lead that I would feel good about my (hypothetical possible-future) daughter identifying with. Beyond that, The Hunger Games is filled with food.
After her father dies in a mine explosion, her mother takes to her bed and it becomes Katniss’ sole responsibility to keep herself, her mother and her little sister, Prim alive. “The woods became our savior” she says, “each day I went a bit farther into its arms. It was slow-going at first, but I was determined to feed us. I stole eggs from nests, caught fish in nets, sometimes managed to shoot a squirrel or rabbit for stew, and gathered the various plants that sprung up beneath my feet” (51).
Having almost died of starvation on multiple occasions, Katniss is hyper-focused on and appreciative of any food that comes her way and because of this the reader is treated to incredibly detailed and mouth-watering food descriptions often throughout the novel. Only eight pages in, Katniss and Gale are eating still-warm bakery bread with homemade goat’s milk cheese and tart berries, the description of which is enough to make you light-headed–and you wonder why I liked this book?
When Katniss is taken to the Capital before The Hunger Games begin she encounters food she has only ever dreamt of. There are: “Eggs, ham, piles of fried potatoes. A tureen of fruit…The basket of rolls they set before me would keep my family going for a week. There’s an elegant glass of orange juice…A cup of coffee…A rich cup of something I’ve never seen. ‘They call it hot chocolate,’ says Peeta. ‘It’s good.’ I take a sip of the hot, sweet, creamy liquid and a shudder runs through me” (54)
Later, there is “chicken and chunks of orange cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas and onions, rolls shaped like flowers and for dessert, a pudding the color of honey” (55). There is “goose liver and puffy bread,” (75), “Mushroom soup, bitter greens with tomatoes the size of peas, rare roast beef sliced as thin as paper, noodles in a green sauce, cheese that melts on your tongue served with sweet blue grapes” (76)
When my friends, Emily and India told me that a friend of ours was having a Hunger Games themed birthday party (yes, we are all in our mid-twenties) and that they were in charge of bringing the cake we all started brainstorming ideas. India pointed me to the passage in which Katniss is brought a beautiful cake and it is set on fire right in front of her.
I try to focus on the talk, which has turned to our interview costumes, when a girl sets a gorgeous looking cake on the table and deftly lights it. It blazes up and then the flames flicker around the edges awhile until it finally goes out. I have a moment of doubt “What makes it burn? Is it alcohol?” (77)
The only cake that I know of that is covered in warm alcohol and set on fire is a baked Alaska–the most elegant, fanciest dessert I had ever seen as a ten-year-old. At first I wanted the inside to be a blackberry sorbet because of all of the references to blackberries throughout the novel, but then I decided that any cake served in the capital where “All the colors seem artificial, the pinks too deep, the greens too bright…like the flat round disks of hard candy we can never afford to buy at the tiny sweet shop in District 12” (59) had to be ridiculously flamboyant and brightly colored. I decided on the brightest pink cherry ice cream and the most electric pastel green pistachio. Homemade chocolate pound cake serves as a base and chocolate wafers serve as a crispy barrier between ice cream flavors.
The great thing about this dessert is that, while everything here is homemade, you can easily use boxed cake and store-bought ice cream to make this infinitely simpler–the only thing that has to be homemade is the meringue. Any variety of ice cream and cake flavors can be subbed in, you can add fruit purees, nuts, cookies, go wild! Just be patient. I was very impatient and didn’t believe the directions that told me to let each layer freeze before adding another layer. Try to be more patient than I was if you want clean separate lines. Another caveat: Don’t light this cake on fire unless you are ready to be absolutely terrified. Seriously, alcohol fires are scary as heck. I saw my life/all wooden kitchen flash before my very eyes for a solid two minutes. Put the cake in a 500 degree oven for a browned meringue with less heartburn.
Hunger Games Baked Alaska
- 1 quart cherry ice cream (recipe follows)
- 1 quart pistachio ice cream (recipe follows)
- 1 box chocolate wafer cookies, ground
- 1 9inch chocolate pound cake (recipe follows)
- Meringue (recipe follows)
- 1 nip of any alcohol 40-60 proof (i used brandy)
Chocolate Pound Cake:
- ¾ cup softened butter
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 Teaspoon instant espresso dissolved in 1/8 cup of hot water
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 cup AP flour
- ¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
Add dry together and set aside. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until incorporated. Add vanilla. Alternate adding the dry with the buttermilk and espresso water. Beat until fully mixed and smooth. Pour into a 9 inch round greased or non-stick cake pan and bake at 325 for about 35-40 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack and set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of your baked alaska.
Cherry Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes about 1 Quart
- 1 jar amarena cherries, drained, juice reserved (if it’s summer and you can get fresh cherries, do! Sup jarred cherries for a pound of fresh ones, stemmed and pitted. Add 2 Tablespoons of sugar and cook them in a saucepan until they are soft and the juices are seeping out, drain and reserve the juice)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- pinch of salt
- seeds and pod of 1 vanilla bean
- 6 large egg yolks
In a medium saucepan heat milk, cream, vanilla beans, vanilla pod and 1/2 cup of the sugar until almost boiling–steam will be rising from the surface and small bubbles forming around the rim. Whisk yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar together in a bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly add hot cream mixture to yolks until totally mixed together. Return to saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until your thermometer reaches 82 degrees Celsius. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a container and immediately set over an ice bath. Stir until cool. Once completely cool add custard to your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers instructions. Once almost churned add cherries and reserved juices and continue to churn. Put in freezer overnight to churn.
Pistachio Ice Cream
- 1/2 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Grind pistachios and 1/4 cup sugar in food-processor until finely ground but not butter-like and set aside. Follow exact same directions for cherry ice cream, adding pistachios and almond extract into the ice cream maker at the end, just like you did with the cherries and cherry juice.
Line a metal bowl (I used my Kitchenaid bowl) with plastic wrap. Pack cherry ice cream into the bowl, smoothing the top and let freeze for 30 minutes. Once set, pack crushed cookies on top in a smooth layer and let set again for 30 minutes. Pack pistachio ice cream in a smooth final layer and let the whole thing freeze at least 6 hours, or overnight if you can stand it. Place pound cake on cake stand and invert bowl on top of the cake. You may have to wait a few seconds for the ice cream to loosen and fall out, but it will. Once it does, remove the plastic and place back in the freezer. While the cake is setting make the meringue.
- Egg whites of 8 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- Pinch of cream of tartar
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment whisk eggs and cream of tartar until foamy, slowly add sugar and whip until glossy and stiff peaks form. Spread meringue all over the ice cream and cake in a thick layer, making it thicker around the top until it is completely covered. Use the back of a spoon to make decorative peaks all over. Let this freeze for at least two hours. When you’re ready to serve it put it in a 500 degree oven until browned (5-7 minutes). If you absolutely must light it on fire, heat the nip of alcohol in a sauce pan until warm (don’t boil) and pour over the cake. Quickly, while alcohol is still warm, light it with a long match and stand the heck back! Seriously. The savages I served this to devoured it so quickly (I blame the wine) that I couldn’t get a picture of the inside, but I think even Effie Trinket would have approved.
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