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Baby Block Cake

It takes a little work to build this cake, but the results will wow your guests. The whipped-cream frosting is a delicious complement to the moist almond cake and raspberry filling. The trick to this cake is to make and apply the frosting the evening before or the morning of the party, since whipped cream can absorb flavors from the refrigerator.

Almond pound cake

3/4 cup slivered, blanched almonds
2 cups sugar
8 large eggs
2 tbsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups (24 oz.) sour cream
3 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 sticks and 3 tbsp. butter, softened

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat two 8" x 8" pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Combine almonds and a ¼ cup of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until very finely ground. Set aside.

2. In medium bowl, combine eggs, almond extract, vanilla extract, and 1 cup of the sour cream. Set aside.

3. In large mixing bowl, combine reserved ground almond mixture, flour, the remaining sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and the remaining sour cream to bowl and beat on low speed until batter is moist. Increase speed to medium and beat 1 minute. Add reserved egg mixture in three batches, beating until well-combined and scraping down the bowl after each addition.

4. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes until cake is dark golden-brown and toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks.

Yield: two 8" x 8" cakes, which yield 3 four-inch blocks (serves 24)

Cake assembly

1 16-ounce jar raspberry jam
3 four-inch squares of heavy cardboard
3 plastic straws

1. Slice each almond cake into four even squares. Then slice each square horizontally into two layers; you should now have 16 layers.

2. To make the first block, place one layer on a 4-inch- square piece of cardboard. Spread a thin layer of jam over the cake. Repeat with four more layers of cake. Cut a straw to the exact height of the cake and insert it in the middle of the block to help hold it together.

3. Repeat to make 2 more blocks. (You will have one extra layer of cake.) Chill at least 1 hour or overnight before icing.

Whipped-cream frosting

2 tsp. unflavored, powdered gelatin
¼ cup water
3 cups heavy cream
3 tbsp. sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
red, yellow, and blue food coloring

1. Place large mixing bowl and beaters in refrigerator. In a heatproof cup, combine gelatin and water. Let sit for 5 minutes to soften gelatin. Then microwave for 15 to 20 seconds, just long enough to melt gelatin. Allow to cool to room temperature; the gelatin should still be liquid.

2. In chilled mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat with electric mixer on medium until cream starts to thicken. Decrease speed to low and pour cooled gelatin into bowl in a slow, steady stream. Increase speed back to medium for about 15 seconds until frosting is creamy, smooth, and thick.

3. Divide frosting evenly between 3 small bowls and fold one color of food coloring into each until icing is tinted to your liking. Use immediately.

Yield: 7 cups, enough to ice and decorate 3 blocks

Tip: If you overbeat the frosting and have a chunky instead of smooth mixture, fold in a small amount of heavy cream until frosting is smooth again.

Cake decoration
Use colored Whipped-Cream Frosting to ice one block at a time. As you finish each block, position it on serving tray. Arrange the blocks with 2 on bottom and 1 stacked on top. Using a pastry bag, decorating tip, and leftover frosting, pipe edging and numbers or letters (in a contrasting color) on each block. Set out at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

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