Sunday, June 20, 2010

Black Bear Cake

My parents came to visit last weekend so I made my dad a belated birthday cake. I chose a black bear because Dad has something of a history with bears, and my parents are big fans of the Washington University Lady Bears basketball team.

Matt found this picture of a black bear, and sketched up an excellent pattern. The bear does not fit easily into a 9 x 13 rectangle. Optimizing efficient use of the cake while minimizing the number of pieces required some creativity.

When I presented the pattern as a gift, before making the cake, Mom recognized immediately that it was a bear, and Dad that it was a cake pattern, but it took them a minute or two to pool their information.

Dad did the cake photography honors, which involved some precarious ladderwork and required extensive experimentation and consultation with instruction manuals. I had been charmed by the rustic effect of leaving the cake board dirty, with no idea it was going to make the cake so tricky to photograph.

Since the cake/frosting/topping combo from the recent Sasquatch cake was so successful, we did something similar for the bear.


I made a single recipe of Maple Cake from Moosewood Desserts in a 9 x 13 pan. It's a mild, pleasant cake with maple syrup and applesauce. It doesn't keep particularly well.


Inspired by our success with egg white frosting, I thought I would try a seven-minute frosting. I was puzzled by the cooking instructions in the 1990's Joy of Cooking, so I used the ingredients for Seven-Minute Brown Sugar Frosting from JoC and the preparation technique for Dear Abby cake frosting. This scheme worked well. I made a one and a half times recipe, but a single recipe would have been plenty. Ingredients for a single recipe are:

5 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 large egg whites
1 Tbsp light corn syrup

The Seven-Minute Frosting turned out quite similar to the Maple Sirup Frosting, minus the maple flavor and the frisson of pouring boiling sugar syrup.

The Dear Abby frosting has more egg white than the Seven-Minute Frosting, which makes it airy and slightly crunchy once it sets up. The Seven-Minute frosting, by contrast, is sweeter and moister.


After frosting the cake, sprinkle muzzle and inner ear with cinnamon sugar.

Sprinkle nut mixture over the rest of the bear, roughly following leg and body contours. (Quantities are approximate.)
4 oz pecans, toasted and ground
4 tsp white sugar
1 ½ tsp cocoa (Dutch-process recommended for darker color)
½ tsp cinnamon
1/16 tsp cloves

Sprinkle large sugar crystals over the topping to further emphasize contours and add a nice crunch.

Finishing Touches

Apply currant and a tiny dab of frosting for eye and sliced raisin for nose. Sketch in mouth by drawing sharp knife through frosting.

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