The Great Elvis Cake Experiment
A little while ago, after a jaunt down State Street in Madison just to see if it was what I remembered from my youth (the answer: yes and no. Remember Brady Street ten years ago? Yeah. Close your eyes, think about it, then open them while standing outside Hi Hat. Same feeling), I drove over to another section of town to look up an old friend who worked at the Harmony Bar and Grill.
A few blocks away was a charming strip (think Downer Ave. without the new-found pretense) with a place called ‘the Blue Plate Diner’. It was a hopping joint, emulating a working-class eatery experience with higher prices. To give it credit, the Blue Plate ambience was exactly what it advertised – albeit with a slightly fancier menu fare. We have come to expect Denny’s or George Webb when it comes to the diner experience; it’s food without thought. So to receive a menu item of a known food and then find it slightly more gourmet was a bit alarming.
After a sumptuous bratwurst platter, I was ready for dessert before driving home for two hours. It didn’t help matters that the brightly-lit cabinet was positioned right in front of my counter stool. After asking about the choices, I picked the obvious: the Elvis Cake. It was a tight four-layer banana cake with peanut-butter frosting between layers, cloaked in chocolate icing. The cake was artery-clogging, and for once it was a dessert I couldn’t finish. But when the manager asked me how it was, I told him it missed something: bacon.
There’s been a sort of renaissance of sorts lately when it comes to bacon. The online “cool kids” fetishize the meaty strip into ridiculous heights of fancy (see: bacon bra, bacon dinosaur egg, bacon AK-47, pig wrapped in bacon, Jim Gaffigan’s routines, etc). Certain venues (see: the Comet Coffeehouse) and cooking sites (see: Epicurious) brought the use of bacon to a higher art form – away from the forbidden meat of religious and dietary scorn – into the fray as a major force of culinary delight.
Bacon (or its cousin, prosciutto) can be wrapped around or inserted into melon, shrimp, water chestnuts, meatloaf, potato, and just about anything to make it smoky and salty. So why is it so commonly left out of the lore of Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich? Even the postcards at Graceland assert his favorite sandwich is the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich. You want the recipe? Here: slather butter on one side of two slices of bread. Slather one piece on opposite side with peanut butter, the other slice with mushy bananas. Join. Grill over medium-high heat in frying pan and carefully flip after less than two minutes to fry the other side.
To make it perfect, add cooked bacon before joining slices.
What we loved about Elvis’s eating habits is that they were so low culture. He was singing royalty that acted just like us. The most famous story involving a sandwich and the king involved the Fool’s Gold Loaf: while entertaining guests one night, rhapsodizing about the glory of this sandwich, the King decided to hop an immediate flight to Denver to fetch one. Other stories involve Fluffernutter, pork chops, meatloaf, egg pie and many other comfort foods. His love of junk food caused his health to falter, but America loved him just as much with a paunch, sequined stretched shirts, and sideburns hiding a double chin.
But why does bacon deserve such scorn when it comes to combining it in dishes or even featuring it? In this particular combination (peanut butter and banana), it’s a clear winner of texture and tastebuds. So I decided to replicate the correct cake.
Because I didn’t want to spend any more time on the recipe than the average attention span or patience of the average person cooking at home, I devoted to spend less than two hours on the creation and not to use any of the skills I’ve honed over the years reading Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines or watching Julia Child’s Art of French Cooking episodes.
Gone was the fancy icing, replaced with Duncan Hines chocolate frosting, mixed in equal measure with natural peanut butter. Gone were the four thin layers of cake made with raw materials – I used a white cake mix with some whipped bananas. I wrestled in my mind about the use and application of bacon in context, finally settling my anti-high cuisine methodology by just frying up a slab of center-cut bacon and chiffonading the strips before combining them with the frosting.
The two differently-sized cake rounds finally cooled. The frosting had to be nuked for a minute so to make it pliable enough to spread. When the spreading commenced, suddenly it became Devil’s Tower from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This means something!
The end result: my version of the cake was a blunt instrument. A taste of the first slice reveals that the all-natural peanut butter and bacon mute the sugary chocolate frosting, and the banana moistens the white cake but also made it less sweet. It’s not a bad foodstuff – it’s just not the sickly sweet matched by salty meat goodness that I expected. Instead of heightening my emotions as a good romantic movement should, instead I feel satiated and numb.
Now I’m thinking about making a meatloaf out of ground chicken, turkey, and duck…