Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Reluctantly Posted Dragon

Guest writer Matt here again.   This cake actually predated the Arctic Circle -- that one was just easier to write up.

We offered to bring cake to a friend's birthday party, which was also a Superbowl party, and which we (independently) decided ought to have something to do with the Chinese New Year. Sharon came up with the great concept of a cake representing a Chinese dragon carrying a football. I made the, er, bold decision to have another go at building with sugar cookies. The cake looked terrific right after we assembled it. By the time we photographed it and drove it to our friends' house (about an hour), the moisture in the cake and icing had softened the cookies and many of them had broken. The assemblage as delivered still looked dragonny, folks seemed impressed, and it tasted fine, so we can consider it a qualified success.

Cake

We used the Rombauer Jam Cake again, this time with orange marmalade. I think the RJC recipe needs to be tweaked a bit for use with marmalade -- maybe reduce the amount of jam to cut the sweetness, and add something (lime juice? cream of tartar?) to increase tartness. Cardamom might be a good flavor to include with the orange and nutmeg.

Icing

We used royal icing (powdered sugar and egg whites), for a crumb coat. It is very effective in this application, if applied thinly (it is intensely sweet).

We scaled up the whipped cream icing from the Totoro cake, omitting the matcha and carob and starting with 3 cups of cream so we'd be sure to have plenty to represent billowy white clouds. The very lightly sweetened icing paired well with the rather sweet cake. It did not, however, look very billowy, since we spread the icing with a spatula rather than piping it on, and perhaps also because of the consistency imparted by the gelatin. I sprinkled streaks of cinnamon sugar onto the icing in an effort to imitate the background of a Chinese painting.

It tasted good, anyway.

While whipped cream was a fine addition to the cake, it did have that unfortunate softening effect on the cookies.

Cookies

To complement the cake, I used a sugar cookie recipe and added spices and orange oil. The purpose of orange oil is to add lots of orange flavor with minimal liquid. Sadly, it does not taste good. If we make these cookies again, we'll flavor them with actual citrus juice and zest.

The original design had two loops of dragon body sticking up through the "clouds" in addition to the head and tail. One of the loops got omitted because I didn't take into account the fact that cookies spread and become larger, while cakes shrink and become smaller. You'd think I'd have learned from previous experience.  Nobody missed the second loop and the cake looked fine.


Another time we would use a more rugged cookie, and maybe glaze them somehow (perhaps with chocolate, assuming it went with the cake).

Football

I bought a fancy chocolate truffle and drew the lacing with royal icing.

Assembly

Royal icing was used to stick multilayer cookie assemblies together and to attach the dragon's facial features. The eyes were hazelnut halves with dried currants. The whiskers were carved strips of dried papaya.

The assembly sequence was:
  • freeze the cake
  • cut holes in the cake to hold the cookies
  • apply crumb coat
  • apply whipped cream icing, without covering the holes in the cake
  • apply cinnamon sugar
  • insert cookies

We might have gotten prettier results had we inserted the cookies immediately after the crumb coat and carefully piped the whipped cream around them.

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