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.

Cake

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.

Frosting

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.

Topping

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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Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Rare Sighting

A team of folklorists recording indigenous birthday songs of the far north disappeared en route to a remote village. They left no trace other than a knapsack stuffed with garbled and incomplete recipes and a roll of film containing a single mysterious photo, reproduced here.



Based on this evidence, we completed a painstaking reconstruction and arrived at the following artist's rendering. We are not sure what to make of the startling resemblance it bears to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics mascot, Quatchi.



The combination of dense spice cake, fluffy maple frosting and crunchy nut topping was particularly pleasing.

Cake

The cake is an applesauce cake baked in a 9 x 13 pan. We used the recipe from the 1950's Joy of Cooking and doubled it, dispensing extra batter into a couple of auxiliary ramekins. As suggested by JoC, we replaced 1/4 cup of the cake flour with cocoa, which we mixed with the currants before adding them to the batter. The batter was quite thick, and the finished cake surprisingly dense. It would be interesting to try the applesauce cake from the 1990's Joy, which is very similar, but has less flour and sugar (also fewer currants, but that's just modern wrong-headedness).

According to our usual procedure, we froze the cake before cutting, which was particularly important with this recipe as the cake is slightly sticky and the abundance of currants makes neat cuts more difficult to achieve.

Frosting

We used the Maple Sirup (sic) Icing from the 1950's Joy of Cooking and made a made a one and a half times batch, which turned out to be a good amount. This is a beaten egg icing made with boiling syrup, which was a new adventure for us. It's not difficult to make, although we nearly missed taking the syrup off the heat in time, as it jumped rapidly up to temperature after hovering just short for quite a while. We poured the hot syrup slowly out of the pan into the egg white mixture, but it would have been better to pour it quickly into a heatproof bowl first, as the last of the syrup overcooked from the residual heat and stuck to the pan.

The frosting was easy to spread and had a lovely texture and flavor. It also kept well over the several days it took to polish off the last of the cake. The recipe is definitely a keeper although a bit pricey, given the cost of maple syrup these days.

Topping

2/3 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely ground
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cocoa
(Quantities are approximate.)

Mix the ingredients and sprinkle on top of frosted cake. After applying topping, dust with large sugar crystals, concentrating the crystals in streaks to suggest clumps of sasquatch hair.

Boots

The boots are strips of apple and strawberry flavored Stretch Island fruit leather. This appears to be a relatively new brand, and does not contain food coloring, making it permissible under the manifesto.

We wanted to make the frosting under the boots not look like bare skin, so we mixed dried ginger with white sugar and sprinkled it on the legs before applying the fruit leather. This was a mistake - the ginger was overpoweringly hot. It still tasted good, in a Thai sort of way - it would be interesting to try slightly more controlled amounts on a different kind of cake.

Finishing Touches

The eyes are squashed raisins, the nose a brazil nut, and the mouth a piece of licorice whip.

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