Here comes Peter Cottontail: Virginia Adair’s bunny cake heralds Easter once again

March 31, 2010 9:36:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


"I can''t even begin to imagine how many bunny cakes I''ve made over the years," Virginia Adair laughed lightly. With a youthful spirit belying her 81 years, the New Hope woman is still baking and decorating the whimsical cakes she first made 46 years ago. For decades, she delighted her own children and scores of families in three different states with the tasty dessert. This week, she once again shares the recipe for what some might call her culinary signature. 


It all began in 1964 at Fort Bragg, N.C.  


"My husband was stationed at Fort Bragg, and I was working at First Citizens Bank, when a co-worker who didn''t bake gave me the recipe from the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune food section," she recalled. 


With five children, Adair, a compulsive recipe clipper and avid cook, was happy to acquire instructions for an intriguing 3D holiday treat.  


"I''d only seen flat bunny cakes, never a standing one," said Adair, who first learned to cook as a teenager. "My children were between 8 and 15 at the time, and I cooked a lot, made a lot of cookies and a lot of cakes from scratch." 


While her cakes are always homemade, she concedes the novelty cake can be made with a mix. Using two 9-inch round cake layers -- one to cut parts from and the other as a base for the standing rabbit -- every table can host a delicious and playful pink-eared centerpiece. 




Taking shape 


Adair prefers to bake her cake layers the day before she plans to decorate. Letting them cool and set thoroughly aids the bunny-building process.  


With four simple paper patterns for a body with ears, two legs and a small tail, cut to fit onto one 9-inch cake layer, the rabbit begins to take shape. 


Frosting holds the body and legs together, and a toothpick secures the tail.  




A tip or two 


A little coconut, tinted pink with red food coloring, enhances the ears, and tinting more coconut green provides a fresh bed of "grass" for this bunny surrounded by jelly bean eggs. 


To tint the coconut, dilute a few drops of food coloring in a small amount of water in a bowl. Add coconut and toss until the color is distributed evenly. Or, half fill a jar with coconut, sprinkle diluted coloring over the top, cover the jar and shake vigorously until coloring is evenly distributed. 


Before decorating the cake, place strips of waxed paper between cake and plate (around cake edges). When the cake is decorated and frosting has set, remove the wax strips and you''ll have a clean plate. 




Reaching out 


In addition to treating her own family throughout the years, Adair has enjoyed spreading smiles by making the cake for friends and neighbors in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi -- the states she''s lived in since discovering the recipe. 


"I made them for a lot of people; some people just paid me for the ingredients and I''d make them. And lots I made just to give away," she said, adding with a mock-stern expression and twinkling eye, "The kids did not touch them when I was making them, because they knew they were going somewhere." 


Although she has cut back on bunny cake production, as well as on the cooking she does for herself and husband Morris, Adair couldn''t resist making two this spring to generously share with others. One went to her new pastor''s family at Immanuel Baptist Church. 


With Peter Cottontail due to make his annual visit in just a few days, Easter is the perfect time for this veteran cake baker to urge others to start their own hopping good tradition. 








Two round 9-inch cake layers 


Frosting for two-layer cake 


2 cups coconut 


Red food coloring 


Green food coloring 


1-pound bag jelly beans 










Four egg whites 


2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour 


1 1/2 cups sugar 


3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 


1 teaspoon salt 


1/2 cup shortening 


1 cup milk 


1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon vanilla, plus 1/4 teaspoon almond extract) 










Three egg whites 


2 1/4 cup granulated sugar 


1/2 cup water 


1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup (or 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar) 


1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 










1 cup granulated sugar 


1/3 cup water 


1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 


Dash salt 


Two egg whites, unbeaten 


1 teaspoon vanilla 






Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.