Friday, May 9, 2008

Grey Jay, Part 1

Grey Jay Cake

When I started to write about this project, I didn't realize just how involved the explanations would be. As a result, I've divided the write-up into three posts. Today's post is about the design and the cake. The second post will be about the frosting, and the third post will be about the finishing touches.

Matt thought of this cake for the birthday of a good friend who has a terrible habit of luring grey jays when we are out hiking. If you are not familiar with grey jays, they are also known as camp robber birds. Where the jays are prevalent, they will try to steal any exposed food, even if you're only inches away. Melissa Anne, although otherwise a fine outdoorswoman, likes to put food in her palm, hold it up, and chirp to call the jays. We go backpacking with her anyway.

This one was pulled straight from a wee picture in Sibley. Matt was able to freehand the full-size version after only about 3 or 4 iterations. I find this very impressive. I would have headed straight for the pictorial aids, a grid or a pantograph or something. (I hope to do a more in-depth discussion on re-sizing in a future post.)

The design is unusual for Matt in that it is made in only two pieces. Not as efficient a use of the cake as Matt would usually demand, but well within my tolerance.

Grey Jay Cake Assembly

Pairing cake and subject is one of the great mysteries. I honestly don't know why a jam spice cake was so apt for the jay when a lemon cake would have been all wrong. Is it all down to personal aesthetic, or are there some larger truths here?

We have three editions of The Joy of Cooking, one from 1953, one from 1975 and one from 1997. Each serves a different function. This cake is the Rombauer Jam Cake from the 1953 and 1975 editions. We increased it 1.5 times to make enough batter for a 9 x 13 cake. The recipe is from a time when spice cakes had the courage of their convictions. It calls for 1.5 teaspoons of freshly grated nutmeg. That is a lot of nutmeg. It also has 1.5 cups of jam (we used Smucker's Simply Fruit Boysenberry Jam). The jam makes the cake quite sweet and moist (and a kind of funky color). The sweetness isn't cloying because it doesn't all come from cane sugar and because the spice balances it out. We will definitely be making this cake again - it's very tasty and unusual.

Edge View of Rombauer Jam Cake

Using a nutmeg grater was one of several places we deviated from Article 6 of the manifesto (use only basic tools and ingredients). On the other hand, the grater is basic for us. We use it particularly for adding fresh nutmeg as a french toast or waffle topping. If you like nutmeg, we highly recommend this little tool. Plus, it's just a nifty object. Ours is only one of the many kinds available.

Nutmeg Grater from the Side
Nutmeg Grater from the Bottom

Next post - on to the frosting!

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