YIELD: 50,000. The giant strawberry shortcake served well over 50,000 pieces at the Maryland Day Celebration.
A GIANT JIGSAW PUZZLE. For four months, Russo's team baked, frosted and froze 170 individual strawberry shortcakes measuring 18"x24"x8". To assemble, the cakes were staggered at the seams (to avoid weak spots) and filled with icing. "The team had to trim away almost 5 full sheets due to the fact that the tables were different widths," says Russo. "This was an unexpected bump in the road."
On April 29th, the University of Maryland celebrated its 150th anniversary. What better way to celebrate such a milestone than with a really big birthday cake baked by the Administrative Pastry Chef at UMD, Jeff Russo—previously a pastry chef at the Waldorf and Plaza Hotels in New York City.
"A pastry this size posed many challenges," says Pat Higgins, director of dining services."Jeff did a fantastic job orchestrating the logistics, baking and assembly of the giant shortcake, not to mention the fact that it was absolutely delicious."
The university unveiled what officials—unofficially—dubbed the largest strawberry shortcake ever made. (The Guinness database registers no entries for strawberry shortcake, but in 1999 an Atlanta chapter of the ACF baked a 472-by-3-foot peach cake.)
Unfortunately, to win a spot in the Guinness book, a team from Guinness must supervise the endeavor from the start. No one thought to contact the organization until after baking began in January, so the cake will go unrecognized by Guinness—but not by FM. We caught up with Chef Jeff Russo a few weeks ago...
Why strawberry shortcake?
"There was a group of young men in the university's first class of students who planted strawberries on the campus. The strawberry cake reflects history from this area 150 years ago.
"Short because—in my experience— tall cakes don't serve as well. The first few slices are fine...then it's just goo. At 8-inches high, it was only the size of two sheet cakes stacked on top of one another.
How big was the cake?
"It was 16' by 24'. It had three layers and weighed about 5,040 pounds. The whole cake packed in about 6,500,000 calories. We served well over 50,000 pieces with it."
You must have purchased flour by the truckload! Where did you get the time and the resources for this monster project?
"Originally, we thought it would cost about $9,000 for the materials to make the cake. Dining Services was able to get the Pillsbury unit of General Mills to help defray the cost.
"For four months, on top of our daily baking requirements, we baked 170 individual cakes that we used to make up the larger cake. That said, we managed to finish the baking four
days ahead of schedule. We had special wooden pallets built to store the cakes, stacked vertically to save space, in the giant walk-in freezers.
"I created a giant Maryland seal— six feet in diameter—for the top. We also did chocolate roses the size of cabbages, along with other flowers, ribbons and leaves with edible gold leaf."
How did you assemble 170 cakes?
"A refrigerated truck picked up the frozen cakes and materials and delivered them to a giant table under a 40' by 60' tent on the plaza outside the University's Hornbake Library. It was about 42°F outside that day. We built with the frozen and thawing cakes—the frozen positioned in the center to act as a refrigerant for the outer portions of the cake. We trimmed away quite a bit of the excess because the tables weren't flat or even, filled and smoothed with icing then garnished.
"By 10 a.m. on April 29th the University President was welcoming the entire community, and to kick off the Maryland Day celebration, he cut the cake. By 4:30, we had served the last piece.
Were you sick of cake by the end?
"I was too delirious to be sick of cake. I had—at most—two hours of sleep the night before we started assembling. But it was all worth it. By making this cake, I get to be a part of the University's history. My name is in the archives and someone is going to remember my contribution to this school.
PHOTOS BY RAQUEL MARTIN