Food Network’s Sandra Lee: How to Make Her Infamous Kwanzaa Cake

Sandra Lee was a major star on the Food Network, however, she gave the world one of the most notorious celebrity recipes of all time. Her Kwanzaa cake was described as having some “disgusting” ingredients by someone who worked with her. Here’s a look at the recipe itself and why it existed in the first place.

Sandra Lee near an image of Sandra Lee
Sandra Lee | Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Modern Luxury

How to make Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake

The Food Network devotes a significant amount of its programming to Christmas and Halloween, however, it focuses less on Kwanzaa. Lee went against the grain with a cake. According to Eater, the ingredients for the cake are:

1 angel food cake

1 vanilla frosting

1/2 cup toasted pumpkin

1 package of corn nuts

1/2 cup popped popcorn

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 container apple filling or topping

To make the cake, first cut the angel food into two layers. Flip the bottom layer right side up and put it on a plate. In addition, mix vanilla, cocoa powder, frosting and cinnamon in a large bowl. Spread a quarter of the frosting on the right side up cake layer. Afterward, put the other layer on top of the first and spread frosting on it. Then, put apple filling or topping in the hole in the cake and put candles on top of it. Put popcorn, corn nuts, and pumpkin seeds on the cake. Then put the remaining nuts and seeds around the cake’s base.

Someone with Kwanzaa candles
Kwanzaa candles | Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

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Who authored the recipe for Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake?

While Lee featured the recipe on an episode of her show Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee, it was not her idea. According to Jezebel, Denise Vivaldo crafted the recipe at Lee’s request for a cookbook.

“Ms. Lee called and thought we were done with the book, she needed at least ten extra angel food cakes for ‘fun’ sugary holiday times to sell to a magazine,” Vivaldi revealed. “Please ask yourself, what would you have done in my place? See how that Kwanzaa cake is looking better from my perspective?”

Sandra Lee wearing eyeliner
Sandra Lee | Jemal Countess/Getty Images for IFP

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Denise Vivaldo and Anthony Bourdain attacked the recipe

Vivaldo explained some of the choices made with the cake. “I will tell you truly, the candles were her idea,” she said. “I guess I imagined something more refined. And I know the Corn Nuts were disgusting, but she didn’t. As a matter of fact, the more tasteless the recipes got the more she liked them, the faster she approved them, and I could get home and drink some medium-priced wine after our meetings. She’s not a good role model for abstinence.”

In addition, Vivaldo attacked Lee’s palette in general — not just the Kwanzaa cake. “She just has incredibly bad food taste,” Vivaldo opined. “She was not discriminating about who would be harmed from her culinary ‘creations.’ Think what your taste would be like if you came from carnival or circus people.” So did the Kwanza cake become a festive tradition? Not really. The A.V. Club reports Anthony Bourdain hated the desert, comparing it to a war crime. In addition, he said watching Lee make the cake could cause people to scream or spontaneously combust. Lee’s Kwanzaa cake is infamous in some circles — and it’s definitely a part of Food Network history.