Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Literary Bake-Off!

One of my favorite and most challenging classes that I teach is AP English Literature and Composition. I love the depth of the literature and seeing students struggle with -- and later grasp -- difficult literary ideas and concepts. From September through May, the class is geared towards teaching skills and literature needed to hopefully pass the challenging AP test, which gives the students college credit for a passing score. But once mid-May hits and the test is over, things ease up a bit in class. Since my students wrote close to 50 essays this year, I decided to nix the final exam essay and create a project mixing baking and literature: A Literary Bake-Off.

The rules were simple. Students had to bake something (no store bought entries) and relate every detail (from icing colors to fillings) to a work of literature read in high school. They could deal with a theme, a character, or a central idea from a novel or play. There was a short written explanation required and they had to create a title for their baked good.

My classroom smelled like cake and frosting the morning of the Bake-Off, and it was hard to keep students not in my AP class from wanting to come and sample the goodies. Each student in the class had to present their item and briefly explain what they baked and how it relates to a literary text. The results were better than I expected. 

Here are some of the amazing entries:
This cake showed the emancipation (or death) of Ophelia in the play Hamlet. The student was incredibly creative with her use of decorations. I love the Barbie doll in the middle of the cake.
While this cake looks simple, the student chose vanilla and chocolate frosting to show the struggle between the races shown in the novel. The top was decorated with a mockingbird.
This student baked both an Angel Food cake and a Devil's Food cake to show the religious struggle faced by the heroine Jane in Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre.
The gruesome scene in the play Oedipus Rex where Oedipus gorged out his eyes after learning he killed his father and married his mother was the inspiration for this cake.
A common motif in the texts we read this year was the use of the crossroads. This cake was the first thing the student ever baked. I'm really proud of him.
I love the simplicity of this student's entry (despite the apostrophe error in his table card). We talked a lot about the connotations of Jane's name when we read Jane Eyre last fall and I think these cookies really capture the heart of those discussions. The plain sugar cookies are mixed with M&Ms, because Jane develops a backbone later in the novel and becomes a more colorful character. 
Creating the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg from The Great Gatsby was a neat idea. The chocolate frosting symbolized the darkness of the Valley of the Ashes (where the billboard is located). 

Word of the project spread through the school quickly and my juniors asked if they could participate too. Instead of making it their final exam (yes, they had to write an essay), I offered the baking project as extra credit during the last two days of school. I was surprised at the number of students who baked and just how creative they were. 

This red velvet cake with a dagger on top took its inspiration from Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, which we read this spring. 
This cake in the shape of an artist's palate was made to show the character of Blanche DuBois in the play A Streetcar Named Desire. The student who made this cake loves baking as much as I do. We had a cupcake contest earlier this year and I swear I thought her cupcakes were better than mine. 

For my own entry, I used the novel The Catcher in the Rye for inspiration. I baked the cupcakes at the top of this entry and used some cute New York City cupcake wrappers and toppers I found to  illustrate the novel's setting. I also baked some duck cookies to go along with one of the novel's major symbols. Throughout the book, Holden repeatedly wonders where the ducks in Central Park go during the winter (they don't go anywhere). The ducks symbolize Holden's own predicament of not knowing where to go in life after being kicked out of his boarding school. I used cake frosting instead of royal icing because I ran out of time. I don't think the students minded, as the cookies quickly disappeared.

I can't wait to do this project again next year. It was a great way to end the year and to see what books, characters, and ideas stuck with my students.


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    1. Hi! I have the mini-unit up on my store. It includes the project description, handouts, and a rubric. My students are excited to present their projects this year (on June 10), after talking about it all year. Here's the link: