Monday, June 23, 2008

Volcano Cake

I had a party on May 18, and wasn't sure which of the designs in the queue would be best for the event. When I found out that May 18 is the anniversary of the 1980 Mount Saint Helens eruption, the choice was obvious. A volcano it would be.

I made a chocolate angel food cake from my go-to cookbook of the moment, the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. I'm not sure I'd ever made an angel food cake before, but I'll definitely be doing it again. It is a hoot to beat twelve egg whites to stiff peaks, with the beaters wallowing in this incredibly sensual bubble bath. (It's faster with a standing mixer, if you have one, but the kinesthetic experience of using the hand mixer is worth it.)

I should confess here that, in yet another flagrant violation of Article 6, the manifesto article banning obscure tools and ingredients (an article more honored in the breach than in the observance), I used powdered egg whites. These can be a little hard to find (try a health food store or the Jewish section of your local grocery store), but they are a fabulous invention. I don't mind separating eggs, but what on earth would I do with twelve egg yolks? For that matter, I wonder what the powdered egg white people do with the yolks. Sell them to mayonnaise makers? the buttercream factory? (In the process of looking for a good link I discovered that Deb-El, which makes a common brand of powdered egg whites, also makes mayonnaise!)

Another excellent feature of the angel food cake is the apparent daring involved in cooling and decanting it. I remember being wildly impressed as a child when Mom cooled the cake in its pan hanging upside down on a soda bottle (the cake that is, not Mom). Glass soda bottles being a thing of the past, a wine bottle is an adequate substitute. I still find the process darn impressive.

angel food cake cooling

Since the footprint of the cake was relatively small, it fit on a cookie sheet (a large platter would make a nicer presentation - we just don't own one). I used a long serrated knife to cut chunks off the top of the cake to create an irregular mountainous shape with plenty of ravines. I piled the chunks at the base of the cake to create a more conical shape. A few smaller chunks went into the crater to soak up extra lava. You could also strew some chocolate-covered nuts, raisins, or espresso beans about as rubble.

At this point, the cake did not look like delicious food. The addition of ash and lava greatly improved things.

volcano cake shaping

I sprinkled the mountain with powdered sugar, followed by cocoa. If you're a gadgety person, we highly recommend this flour duster. It's great fun to use and works beautifully. (Article 6? Never heard of it.)

volcano cake with ash

I was mostly going for an ash effect. You could also apply a thick layer of powdered sugar, if you wanted snowpack or glaciers, although that veers toward violation of Article 2, which decrees that taste not be sacrificed for visual aesthetics.

Next I applied the hardened lava, made of chocolate glaze poured down the ravines. I topped the lava with a bit more ash after the chocolate cooled.

The molten lava was a raspberry sauce from (you guessed it) the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. I filled the crater with the sauce and poured some along the paths of the cooled lava.

volcano cake with lava

The crowning touch was the dry ice. We bought the dry ice from the fish counter at our local grocery store. (Other possibe sources: party supply, welding supply, ice cream shop, or theater supply). Note that two pounds of dry ice, well wrapped and stored in a chest freezer, will reduce to about two ounces in less than two days. Ahem. Fortunately, two ounces was just about the right amount.

I had chosen to make a thick, delicious molten lava, knowing that it might not put on a very spectacular display, which it didn't. But the burblings and wisps of smoke were still a great hit at the party. Finkbuilt has ideas for increasing the vigor of the eruption, which I chose to ignore.

bubbling volcano cake

If I felt the need to impress a younger crowd, I might violate Article 4, the manifesto's ban on non-food items, and put a small bowl of water in the top of the crater to improve "smoke" production. A small waterproof flashlight shining up through the lava in the crater would also be a nice touch.

I didn't have clear memories of eating homemade angel food cake, so didn't know what to expect. Wow. Store bought angel food cake has nothing on this puppy. You know how store bought angel food is kind of tough and chewy? This cake was melt-in-your-mouth soft and stayed that way for the several days it took me to mop up the leftovers. I didn't get any help from Matt. He said it was the best angel food cake he'd ever had...and he still didn't much like it. The guests at the party more than made up for his lack of enthusiasm. Everyone went back for seconds without prompting. One of the virtues of a fat-free cake? You can eat a lot of it.

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3 Comments:

Blogger motorthings said...

you rock, cut-up cake maker/baker!

June 25, 2008 at 4:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish I could have a taste. Don't think I have ever made an angel food cake from scratch - it's that issue of all the egg yolks.

June 25, 2008 at 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It had never occurred to me to celebrate the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. And even if it had, I'm not sure how I would have gone about it.

Yet now that these crucial questions are resolved, I find that I've missed my opportunity! Life can be cruel, ya know...?

July 3, 2008 at 2:59 PM  

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