I didn't grow up with a love of superheroes or famous athletes, and only a few musicians and actors. The one thing that always drew my attention however, were books, and the first "superhero" I grew to love was the worlds greatest amateur sleuth, Nancy Drew.
I've got a collection of almost every Nancy Drew novel tucked away in a bookshelf in my old room at my parents house, with their yellow bindings stowed away neatly in order. There's always been something about a good mystery that gets to me, rendering me completely useless until I get past the red herrings and the traps to find out the secret that's been hiding in plain sight the whole time. I love the thrill of the chase, and following along as more clues come to light, all from the safety of the living room couch.
There's something about Nancy herself too, a young, spunky teen who's charm, wit and bravery combine to fight against the odds. She's a great role model really, with her go-getter attitude and strong work ethic, she's friendly and kind, but also knows when to lay down the law.
When I was a lot younger my dad got this computer game, called "The Haunted Mansion", a mystery game starring the one an only Nancy Drew. It's a point and click game, where you take the place of Nancy and search through a spooky old house to solve a mystery. My sister and I were much too young to play it at the time, but my dad played it for us while we sat in dining room chairs that we'd pulled up next to him. It became something of a ritual, with the three of us packed together in the study, solving puzzles and trying to get to the bottom of the case at hand.
I continued to play the games into my teen years, along with my sister, and we'd take turns with the latest game. My style differed from my sisters, I was so eager to solve the mystery and figure out whodunnit that I'd visit online forums to get hints for some of the harder puzzles. My sister was much more of a puritan, and refused to take hints or cheats to get through the games. I've got so many fantastic memories of playing those games. Some were so scary, and playing them in the dark provided the greatest thrill, and some were just plain fun. Nancy traveled the world in her games, and I got to join her.
I'm only slightly embarrassed to say that I've played every single Nancy Drew PC game, Herinteractive, the company that creates and distributes them, has released 32 playable mysteries so far and i've enjoyed almost all of them. Some more than others.
In fact one of my favorite games is called The Secret of Shadow Ranch and as Nancy you get to solve the mystery of ghost horses, criminal cowboys, and a love story set in the wild, wild west. It's one of the best games in my opinion, the game play is seamless and the story tracks well throughout. There a quite a few side quests in the game, that you have to complete in order continue on, and my favorite was baking a birthday cake, topped with a marzipan tulip.
For a full recap of the game recipe and story behind the cake, check out the Sleuth Soup blog. The recipe I'm sharing today has little to do with the recipe in the game, save for the fact that it's topped with a marzipan tulip very much inspired by the original. This vegan cherry almond cake is the latest addition to the #ssyearofcake, in which I create and decorate a new cake every month.
If you don't know much about marzipan, I hate to say it but you're missing out. It's a moldable paste made from almonds and powdered sugar, and can be used to keep cakes moist when wrapped underneath fondant, or to make edible decorations. I really enjoy the taste of almonds, and used that flavor as a base for this cake. Almond flour and almond extract combined with tart cherry juice and dried cherries join to make a truly spectacular flavor combination. I hand cut the tulip out of marzipan, and painted it with a mixture of natural food coloring and milk to get the colors I wanted. I set the marzipan out to dry for about 3 hours (but I think 24 would have been best) and then placed it on top of the almond buttercream.
I don't have any Nancy Drew games to play, as it's been about two years since they released their last title. But while I wait for the next one to be released, I'll happily enjoy this Shadow Ranch inspired cake and re-read some of my old favorite mysteries.
Cherry Almond Cake
- 2 cups all purpose flour + 1 Tablespoon
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup plant based milk
- 1/2 cup cherry juice
- 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
-1/2 cup earth balance buttery sticks (room temperature)*
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste **
- 1/4 sliced almonds (optional)
- 1/2 can standard marzipan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl combine 2 cups of all purpose flour, almond flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Whisk together until fully combined. Then add in the vegetable oil, plant based milk, cherry juice and almond extract. Combine until batter is slightly tinted and smooth. Pour batter into greased and lined cake pans.
Coat the dried cherries with remaining 1 Tablespoon of flour (to prevent from sinking), and shake off any excess. Distribute into cake pans and stir until evenly placed throughout. Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
To make the almond buttercream, combine the shortening and powdered sugar until a thick, fluffy frosting forms. Add in the almond extract and vanilla to taste. When filling the cake layers with buttercream, top with sliced almonds to add a little extra crunch.
To make the marzipan tulip I rolled out a thin layer of marzipan, free hand cut the shape I wanted and then colored with a paint brush, natural food coloring and milk. Set aside to dry for about 2-3 hours before topping the cake with it.
*I've only ever used the Earth Balance buttery sticks in this recipe, and I'm not sure how well a vegan spread or coconut oil would work in it's place. Be mindful of this if you're planning on straying from the recipe as I have written it. I am not sponsored by Earth Balance, I just really dig their products.
** works just like vanilla extract, which you can substitute for if you don't have vanilla bean paste on hand.
Cake recipe adapted from The Buddhist Chef.
Nancy Drew Game info from Herinteractive.