It’s always all or nothing in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples that is the home of my ancestors and husband. In August, it’s all… all tourists, all sunshine (at least when God cooperates), all beach, and all feasts.
We love our saints around here, so we honor them with unique celebrations. When the rest of Italy goes to sleep in August, Ischia throws some pretty big parties. There’s the pageantry of Sant’ Anna in early August that has parade floats traveling in the sea toward Castello Aragonese. There are the more subdued but equally important religious feasts for the patron saints of various towns, including the Festa di San Rocco in Barano and the Festa di San Giovan Giuseppe in Ischia Ponte.
Then, there’s the Festa di Sant’ Alessandro, which took place Aug. 26, with a parade that starts in Ischia Ponte and arrives in Ischia Porto. Since Alessandro is a royal name, the feast celebrates royalty and features Ischitani dressed as the people who long ago lived on the island (after conquering it). In a parade that is part fashion show and part history lesson, you can see how Ischia evolved through the ages.
It begins with the Greeks, who first settled the island as Pithecusa. Through the years, royals from Spain and even the Arab world came to what is now known as Ischia. The garb of these different distinct cultures and time periods is depicted throughout the parade. Animals get in on the act, too, with horses that dance or carry carriages and for the first time this year a falcon and owl. Flag throwers and marching bands are also part of the pomp and circumstance. You can see a parade past on YouTube. In case you’re interested in seeing more of those stunning costumes from the 2015 event, here are a few choice pictures:
My mom and I have been making this princess cake for the little girls – and some of the big girls – in the family for a while. The one above is my mom’s latest version, which she made earlier this week for her granddaughter’s third birthday. We cheated a bit because we bought a kit that included the doll’s head and body on a pick that slides easily into the center of the cake, and a round cake mold to create the dress. Then, we just dress up the cake however we like. The kit nicely includes one blond and one brunette doll pick. Despite my mother and I having dark hair, we’ve only made the blonde. All the girls we’ve made it for are fairer than we are.
You can make this cake without the kit. First, you need a boxed cake mix (or your favorite made-from-scratch cake recipe). If you choose your own recipe, I wouldn’t get too creative because you need a cake that will stand up firmly and won’t fall apart. Here are the rest of the supplies in which you should invest –
One metallic bowl that is oven safe
One Barbie doll (or other similar doll)
Icing or fondant and decorations for the cake
Butter and flour the bowl well. Then, prepare the batter and put it into the bowl and bake it at 350 degrees. Keep an eye on it because your oven and the size of the bowl will influence when it’s done. Just make sure it springs back and that a wooden skewer can go into the center and come out clean, both good indications that your cake is good and cooked all the way through. Then, let the cake cool. Put two pieces of overlapping wax paper on top of the plate or stand on which you’d like the cake to stand. We took the photo above before we traveled by car with the cake, so you still see the wax paper. My mom kept the wax paper, which we use to catch any falling icing or messiness that occurs during decoration, until we arrived at the birthday party, and she kept the cake on her lap – and begged my father to drive slowly. Then, you must carefully turn the bowl with the cake upside down on the stand. You might have to use a soft, flexible plastic spatula to loosen the sides first. Remove the bowl. Your cake should be in one piece on the stand. If the cake is a little crumby, don’t worry. You can cover it with decoration.
Now, this is the fun part. If you have a full-bodied doll, as opposed to the pick from the kit, you will either have to remove the legs or find a way to make a hole large enough in the cake to allow her to stand. I would remove the legs, unless you made a bundt cake, in which case you have to use a lot of icing or some other trick to keep her standing at the center and then you’ll have to cover the area around her legs too. My mom and I often use ribbon to create a shirt for the doll’s breasts. Or you could use doll shirts if you have them or make them yourself. Of course, you could use fondant, too.We are not fans of eating fondant, but in the photo below, you can see a bride cake I made for my sister-in-law’s shower back in 2007, for which I did use fondant. That cake was used as a table centerpiece and no one actually ate it.
You can frost the cake or use fondant to decorate the gown. In the photo above my mom dyed purchased white icing with red food coloring to create the pink color. She also added a cupcake liner to form a decorative “ruffle” at the waist. As I mentioned earlier, I used fondant for the bridal gown below. Others get rather fancy with icing decorations on the gowns. You could also use edible glitter or pearl sprinkles. The various edible spray paints out there might also come in handy. Use your imagination and try to come up with ways to fit the theme of the occasion.
If you plan on making this cake more than once, then keep the non-edible decorations for years to come. For the cake above, my mom reused the veil I made for my sister-in-law’s cake (for which I used a sheer favor circle folded in half and silk flower used to decorate favors) and a bouquet of tiny silk flowers and ribbon that I bought at a craft store. She and I both used similar silk flowers to hide any errors at the “hem of our gowns.” (To see more scoop on the bridal shower for my sister-in-law, you can visit “How to Throw a Tea-Themed Bridal Shower I” and “How to Throw a Tea-Themed Bridal Shower II” on the now defunct Bride Board.) Really, the decoration is limited only by your imagination.
Don’t feel badly about digging into the cake either. Just make sure to take lots of pictures of your work beforehand. My mom’s granddaughter (my niece) said the princess tasted delicious, after all.
A parade literally marched to our door in Ischia, Italy last night. (Click on “Royal Parade in Ischia” above to see a YouTube video of the parade.) Because my husband’s family lives in the heart of the island’s capital city Ischia Porto, this, much to our delight, happens every once in a while. Yesterday’s parade was particularly special because it is held annually in honor of Sant’ Alessandro and has the townspeople dressed in traditional royal and peasant garb from the days when Castello Aragonese in Ischia Ponte was a functioning fortress and castle.
While the dancing horses caught the eye (not to mention the nose every so often), it was the women’s elaborate gowns replete with trains, embroidery, pearl details, and stunning headpieces that stole the show. My three nieces, Laura, Giulia, and Francesca were dreaming out loud of wearing the gowns and playing princess the whole time. To be honest, it made me secretly want to put on one of my wedding dresses even if for just a little while in the privacy of my own home when no one was looking. After all, every girl wants to feel like a princess at least once in a while. That might be why Giulia is always parading around the house in a tiara and beads.