October 26, 2003

Thorax Cake

The Thorax Cake - grossing out the internets since 2003.

I generally make a bleeding heart cake for our annual pumpkin carving party (Pumpkinfest). Sometimes the heart beats, sometimes it's anatomically correct, and so on and so forth. This year I decided to go the whole hog and make an entire thoracic cavity cake. The plan was for each organ to be made out of a different kind of cake and to secrete a different color of fluid when it was cut into. Previous heart cakes have bled fresh, homemade raspberry sauce. This year I made raspberry, strawberry, kiwi, mango, and blueberry sauces. Sadly, the organs didn't bleed as well as I had hoped when I cut the cake, as each organ was relatively small and couldn't hold much sauce. Also all the moving around after filling the organs made it hard to keep the sauce contained in the little cavities I hollowed out. The heart bled pretty well, but the other organ fluids weren't very dramatic. On the bright side, there were lots of leftover sauces, which were all quite delicious. But I'm getting ahead of myself. My intended organ-cake-sauce combinations were as follows.

Heart - orange cake with raspberry sauce
Lungs - apple spice cake with strawberry sauce
Kidneys - orange cake with blueberry sauce
Stomach - ginger cake with mango sauce
Liver - chocolate cake with kiwi sauce
Small Intestine - jelly roll with red currant jelly

Unfortunately the liver suffered a complete structural failure when I tried to transfer into place within the rib cage, so it had to be eliminated from the presentation. I like to think that the liver was the tastiest bit and so whoever ripped this unfortunate man apart (Barbara May thinks it was Klingon because it was slightly larger than life size, but I'm not sure Klingons have the same internal organ structure.) ate the liver first before it ever got to our pumpkin party.

After baking all the different types of cakes, I carved them into the shapes of the appropriate organs, using my handy Gray's Anatomy as a reference.

I then flipped each organ over, hollowed out a cavity in the center and frosted the inside of the cavity and the underside of the cake with buttercream frosting. After spooning in the fruit sauces, I sealed the cavities with a layer of fondant icing and flipped the organs back over. The heart and the lungs I covered with white modelling chocolate and the kidneys and stomach I covered with fondant icing. Both had their advantages and their disadvantages. White modelling chocolate tastes better than fondant and it sticks to itself better than fondant, but it's more difficult to work with on cakes like these which were relatively unstable due to the hollows in the middle. Also, modelling chocolate is difficult to paint with paste food coloring, which is what I usually use. It can be painted easily with powdered food coloring, but I didn't have any cocoa butter to dissolve the powder in. The fondant is easy to roll out and wrap around the cake and very easy to paint but it doesn't hold sculptural detail as well as modelling chocolate.

At this point, I took a break from the cakes in order to assemble the white chocolate rib cage in which all the organs were to be placed.

I tempered white chocolate chips in the microwave and piped ribs and vertebrae onto acetate with a plastic piping bag. I drew ribs onto paper which I placed underneath the acetate to insure that the ribs would be the same shape and the right size.

Dipping each piece into a bowl of melted white chocolate, it was relatively easy to assemble the rib cage on a silver tray. (The tray's last use was for passing out cookies at Barbara May's wedding.) Of course, with all the organs on top of it, virtually no one ever actually saw the fact that there was a complete spinal column underneath all the cake so some might say there was a bit of wasted effort there, but I say if you're going to make an edible, anatomically correct chest cavity dessert tray, you might as well do it right!

Once the rib cage was dry, I placed all the organs except the liver in the appropriate places inside it (again using Gray's Anatomy as a guide. This is, by the way, the only use that Gray's Anatomy ever sees in our household.)

It was at this point that I realized the liver was beyond salvaging. (I had problems with the liver from the moment I tried to take it out of the cake tin.)

I'm not really sure what colors kidneys and stomachs and such are supposed to be, but, drawing on my vast experience watching people in movies being disembowelled, I gave it my best shot.

I'm not sure how accurate the results were, but they were definitely gross.

At this point Barbara May came home from a party and helped me move the cake to its final location so I could attach the intestine, which was to be trailing out of the rib cage so as to suggest that the person to whom the thorax had belonged had been ripped apart, rather than carefully dissected.

I bent the jelly roll (which I was quite proud of; I'd never made that kind of cake before and I sometimes have problems with whipping eggs. Fortunately, I was visiting my mom recently and she told me that it's very important the mixer and bowl be very clean and perfectly dry or the egg whipping won't work, so I didn't have any problems at all this time. Thanks, Mom!) into appropriate curves and covered it with white chocolate. I was, by this point, out of both kinds of frosting, lacked the ingredients to make more, and it was four o'clock in the morning so I couldn't get any more. That's why I just used plain white chocolate to cover the intestine. It looked fine, but was pretty difficult to paint, again because I lacked cocoa butter and so couldn't use the powdered food colors.

All that was left was to add the buttercream frosting blood, so it wouldn't look so pristine.

I did little veins on the organs first with a piping bag, then put big globs of gore on the ribs with a knife. A little spritz of corn syrup to give it that all-important oozing, wet look and I was done!

Tragically, the next day was very hot and, as white chocolate melts at about 95 degrees Farenheit, this caused major structural failure of the rib cage. By the time our guests arrived for Pumpkinfest, the rib cage had collapsed almost completely. It was nice and stable in the middle of the night when it was cool, though, I swear! So we put a photo of it in its original state up on the computer monitor. Actually, even with the rib cage broken, it looked pretty gruesome and neat, but it was better before. As I mentioned before, the cutting of the cake was not as dramatic as I had hoped, but, considering that I make all this up as I go along, I think the whole project didn't go too badly at all. And everyone said the cakes and sauces were all delicious, despite the excessive amounts of frosting required for this sort of project.

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