Sunday, March 14, 2010

Please Pass the Boiling Oil

Matt here as guest writer. We were commissioned to make a castle cake for a friend's surprise birthday party. Although it would have surprised him, we decided not to go with the ubiquitous pink ice cream cone/Disney princess theme. Instead, I decided that the cake could serve as a motte for a more realistic castle built out of cookies.

Unsurprisingly, design and construction ended up being more work than expected. Was it worth it? Sure. Will I make another architectural model out of cookies? Maybe. Will I do so in the near future? No.


I looked at a lot of photos of old castles and then drew up plans and templates:



Upon request I will send PDF files of the templates via email, so those crazy enough to try making their own castles can print them out to scale.


We made a delicious and well-received gingerbread cake. I'm not posting the cake recipe because it's got some serious problems, which I overcame by making twice as much cake as needed and hacking off all the parts that didn't come out well. I thought perhaps the failure of the first batch was simply because we tried to cook a double recipe all at once in a single big bowl. Nope! The second batch, baked in layers, was at least as disastrous:


There's quite a bit of variation in gingerbread recipes, so one would imagine that it was a fairly forgiving type of recipe, and amenable to adaptation. We have not so far found this to be the case. In fact, my one cake in a bag recipe that was an unmitigated failure was a gingerbread. It never did set up, even after interminable cooking. Finally we poured it out of the bag and used it as pancake batter, which purpose it served admirably.

One thing about the motte cake recipe that was a great success: rather than using dried ginger to flavor the cake, we used finely grated fresh ginger sauteed in butter. This gave the cake a pleasing "delayed action" spicy warmth that was strong but not at all harsh.


I chose to build the castle out of Moravian spice cookies. These cookies are thin, strong, and very tasty. They have a spicy kick to them and pair nicely with the gingerbread. I used this recipe. I used rounded rather than level spoonfuls of the spices and baked the cookies about 5 minutes longer than the recipe suggests to make them hard and crisp.

It took most of a day to make the dough, cut out the shapes, and bake the cookies. I rolled and cut the cookies directly on parchment paper, using a knife to trace around the paper templates. I made extras of all the pieces in case of breakage during assembly, and ended up needing many of them.

These cookies are hygroscopic, so wrap them well if you plan to store them for any length of time. Also, I suggest installing the cookies on the cake no more than a day ahead of time, because the parts of the cookies in contact with the cake absorb moisture from the cake and get soft and weak.


It took about half a day to put the cake together. I wrapped the cakes and froze them solid before attempting to do any shaping. The frozen cakes were strong enough to take a fair amount of sawing. In the end I was able to approximate the original bowl shape, with a lot of scraps left over.

gingerbread-motte-assembly gingerbread-motte-with-lemon-sauce

To cover the rough cut cake surface I made a thick lemon sauce, using pulverized candied ginger to replace some of the sugar. I smeared the cake with about 1 1/2 cups of sauce and then covered the whole works in ground hazelnuts.

Sharon also made a batch of less viscous lemon sauce (aka boiling oil) to pour on the individual slices of cake. The lemon-ginger sauce and the hazelnuts tasted great with the gingerbread. Someday I'd like to try putting ground hazelnuts into the cake itself.

I knew from my test batch of cookies that they would spread a little when baked. I assumed they would all spread by about the same percentage, so the castle would end up maybe 5% bigger overall than the original templates, but the layout would theoretically be identical. This did not turn out to be the case. The largest cookies got roughly 10% bigger, the medium-sized cookies 5% bigger, and the smallest cookies barely spread at all. Rather than try to quantify this effect and adjust the plan systematically (boring), I chose to wing it. By the time I got most of the walls installed on the cake, it was clear that I didn't have room for all the remaining pieces. I ended up leaving out one of the wall segments between towers, with no one the wiser.


I used a knife to cut slots in the cake to receive the points at the bottom of the cookies. Some of the tower walls refused to stay plumb. I mitigated this problem by sticking them together with little bits of melted caramel, applied with a toothpick. The caramel works fairly well if it's applied hot enough. About 10% of the caramel joints popped loose before we served the cake, probably because they were applied too cold.


I filled the towers up with the little square cookies. The holes in the top cookies were made to hold birthday candles.



cookie-piperThe guest of honor plays bagpipes, so I wanted to make a tiny edible piper to put on top of the castle. I made a couple of these wee cookies (about 1/2" long) with the Moravian cookie dough and baked them on parchment paper in the toaster oven for about 3 minutes.

I used egg white to apply bits of various spices for decoration. His cap is an anise seed. His eye is a poppy seed. The bagpipes is a cardamom grain with spicules from anise seeds. His kilt is colored red with cayenne pepper (it would show up better on a lighter-colored cookie) and sprinkled with black pepper.

I planned to stick the piper's feet to the roof of the gate tower with melted caramel. Sadly, he did not survive this maneuver, and torso reattachment surgery was not successful. Sharon made a birthday card out of this photo so our friend would know we tried.


cookie-castle-archeological-remainsRemoving the castle from the cake left behind an intriguing archaeological site.

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Blogger James Moore said...

We're sitting around the table in Park City admiring the cake. Everyone (Mom and Jack) is extremely impressed.

April 2, 2010 at 5:50 PM  

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