LOS ANGELES -- "The colours 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 colouring. Think Day-Glo!"
Phoenix is an entertainer who is all about exploring and celebrating 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."
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."
Store-bought cake mix is made with 7-Up in place of the water, with plenty of food colouring added for effect. The cake is frosted in white and decorated with Pop Rocks and old-fashioned wax soda bottle candies. Slice into the cake and it looks like a Technicolor rainbow.
And if you bend your ear, you can hear the Pop Rocks noisily crackling away. It's the perfect soundtrack to a summer party.
Seven-Layer Soda Pop Rocks Cake
4 (16.25-ounce) boxes white cake mix (enough for 8 cake layers)
1.25 l (5 cups) 7-Up or similar soda, divided, to substitute for the water in the cake mix
330 ml (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 colouring
About 4.7 l (20 cups) or 4.5 kg (10 lbs) prepared white frosting
24 packets assorted Pop Rocks candy
Candy wax soda bottles, for decorating
Skewers, for decorating
Soda straws, for decorating
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 colouring to enhance each of the seven layers separately with bright colour: turquoise, pink, yellow, orange, purple, aqua, lime. Bake according to the manufacturer's instructions.
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.
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.)
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.
Time: 2 hours. Serves 20 to 30.
-- Los Angeles Times