Do you remember when we used to celebrate May Day? I don’t because this charming tradition had, more or less, gone by the wayside by the early part of the 20th century (probably because the card companies couldn’t figure out how to make a buck from it.) The origin of May Day can be traced back to the ancient Gaelic fertility festival of Beltane. Beltane was celebrated on May first, halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.
As Christianity spread, pagan festivals became secularized, and the wild bonfires and fertility rites of Beltane were transformed into a much more innocent celebration of Spring planting, blooming flowers, and love. The tamer, May Day festivities, featured dancing around a maypole, the crowning of a May Queen, cakes, and the creating and giving of May Baskets.
May Baskets were small baskets (often just a paper cone with a handle) filled with flowers or sweets. After you had made your basket, you were supposed to hang it anonymously on your loved ones’ door as a token of your affection.
In these modern stressful times, I think it would be nice to revive some of the sweet traditions of a simpler time. So, in the spirit of May Day, I decided to make a May Basket Cake to celebrate Mother’s Day.
I started with a basic 10-inch yellow layer cake. After the cakes had cooled, I used a cake leveler to remove the rounded crowns so that each layer is perfectly flat. I place the bottom layer top-side up on a cardboard cake round and ice the top of it. The second layer goes on bottom-side up to ensure you have a completely smooth flat surface on the top of your cake.
The next step is to put a thin coat of frosting, called a crumb coat, on the entire cake. This skim coat of icing provides a crumb-free foundation for the basketweave design.
A basketweave cake is a great project for a novice cake decorator. While it looks complicated, it’s actually a very simple way of decorating a cake because the piping tip does all the work for you. For this basket cake, I used a Wilton #47 Basket Weave tip.
These tips have a flat side for a smooth ribbon of icing and a serrated side for a ribbed stripe. Since I wanted my basket “reeds” to be textured, I piped my ribbons with the serrated side face up. The technique is basically just a series of vertical and horizontal stripes.
Basket Weave Technique
Step 1: To create the basket design, hold the piping bag at a 45-degree angle to the surface and pipe a vertical stripe that runs from the top to the bottom of the cake.
Step 2: Then, pipe short horizontal lines on top of the vertical line spaced a ribbon width apart.
Step 3: Next, pipe another vertical stripe to the right of the first one, slightly overlapping the horizontal stripes. (Note: these instructions are for right-handed people. I am left-handed, so I work right to left)
Step 4: Follow the same procedure as step two to cover this line with horizontal bars, working them in the spaces between the bars on the first row.
Continue these steps all around the cake.
To finish the design, I added a rope border which is just a series of interconnecting S’s at the bottom using a Wilton #16 Start Tip.
As you can see, this technique is very forgiving, my stripes are a little wonky, but when it’s complete, it looks like a basket. After all, basket reeds are natural and not perfectly straight either.
Once you complete your basket weave design, you can add flowers. I piped hydrangeas, ranunculus, rosebuds, and leaves on my cake. But you don’t have to know how to pipe flowers because you can easily adorn your basket cake with fresh flowers.
If you think that cake decorating is not your thing, you can still give your mom a May Basket by making one out of a paper cone. To create the paper cone, cut a circle out of a large square piece of scrapbook paper. Then cut a triangle wedge out of the disk. Bring the cut ends together and tape or glue them on the inside of the cone. Staple a pretty ribbon handle to the top of the cone, embellish with paper flowers or trim and fill with fresh or silk flowers.
Whether you make a cake or a paper basket for Mother’s Day, a May Basket will delight your mom and transport her to a more genteel time when people celebrated love and the joys of Spring with the simple act of the giving of flowers.
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