Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baby Dragon Cake

We made this dragon cake for a young friend's first birthday. It was one of our more difficult collaborations. Matt wanted a flying, twisted, fire-breathing serpent. I wanted something that I felt confident we could achieve in cake. We produced a vast number of sketches, and very nearly ended up making the cake into a representation of . . . a nicely frosted 13x9 rectangle.

We finally settled on a fat baby dragon without too many protruding edges or inside corners. My inspiration for the design came from the book Artie and the Princessby Marjorie Torrey. (This is a wonderful old children's book, and it's a pity that it's out of print.) Our dragon didn't actually end up looking much like him, but Artie got us pointed in the right direction.

Despite the struggle and fuss, I think our dragon turned out pretty well. I am particularly proud of the decorations. Some day, though, we'll probably try the flying, twisted, fire-breathing serpent.


Here's a look at how we start translating the design into the actual pattern. A lot of trace paper is involved.


We made the double chocolate sheet cake from Cooks Illustrated (Issue 48, Jan 2001). I wouldn't be surprised if the recipe is also available in one of their The Best Recipecookbooks. As with all the recipes in Cooks Illustrated, this one is tasty and reliable. After cooking, we froze the cake to make it easier to cut.


We used a double batch of the Quick Icing recipe from the 1997 Joy of Cooking. I wanted a very dark brown icing, almost black, so I thought I would add cocoa and blueberry puree. (At least, I think that's why I did it. The problem with posting months after the fact is that I just don't remember any more.) Unfortunately, I couldn't add enough puree to get the color I wanted before the frosting got way too thin. Tasted good, though.

Another time, I would use the fruit puree to replace the liquid in the recipe, rather than in addition to it. Also, the puree made the frosting look grainy. I think the puree probably would have worked better in a cooked frosting (for example, Quick Icing 2 from Joy).

Blueberry Puree

I started from a fruit puree recipe in The Cake Bible. Thaw 14 ounces of frozen blueberries in a colander over a bowl. Smush the thawed berries so more juice goes into the bowl. Microwave the juice on high for eight minutes until it dries up and smells burned - discard. (Another painful reminder that all microwaves are different. Four to six minutes might have produced the desired reduction.) Puree berries in the blender (with reduced juice, if you manage it without incident). Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Makes 1 1/4 cups.

I now have a cup of puree lurking in my freezer just waiting for me to need purple frosting. It may be a while.


Outlines - licorice whip
Horns - dried papaya and cantaloupe spears
Nostrils - dried cranberries
Eyes - dried bananas with chocolate-covered coffee beans for pupils
Belly - slivered almonds
Toenails - cashews
Tail - sprinkled with extra coarse sugar

Chocolate Glaze for the Wings

Melt 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate and about 2 teaspoons of butter together in the microwave. Pour over wings (place licorice whip first as a sort of dam). Reheat the glaze as necessary to facilitate pouring.


Figuring out how to transport these large cakes is often a problem. For this one, we tried using a flat Rubbermaid box, with a bit of non-slip shelf lining to rest the cake board on. It actually worked quite well, although we didn't end up keeping the box because it was too big to have hanging around the house, and isn't wide enough for all of our cakes.

Other Ideas

In the course of brainstorming, we came up with lots of ideas that might be good for other dragons. Keep in mind that we decided against some of these because we were skeptical they would succeed.

  • add a treasure hoard made of mixed dried fruit

  • make a cloud of smoke out of meringue, with dried papaya for tongues of flame

  • use cake to make a gout of flame and cover with apricot puree and papaya spears

  • use cacao nibs or finely chopped candied ginger for texture on part of the body (like the belly)

  • make frill and wings out of fruit leather - cut large pieces into a the shape of a wing and fold it up (I haven't found any commercial fruit leather without artificial color, so you might want to make your own -- per Article 5 of the manifesto)

  • make frill and wings out of crepes

  • drizzle a fruit glaze on the wings instead of the unsweetened chocolate

  • use a pale green frosting (with matcha green tea powder) for the body

  • make teeth out of flat pieces of dried fruit cut into interlocking triangles

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved your dragon cake!
Just beautiful!
I have been making cut up cakes for years and I never even thought to make up one of my own. Very clever!

March 5, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

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