April 30, 2007

Centipede Cake

When I was in MBA school I had to take a class called Venture Creation, for which the final project was to write a business plan. Mine was for a cake business. We also had to do a presentation for people pretending to be potential investors, so, as part of that presentation, I naturally needed to make a cake. The Centipede Cake is what I came up with.

Since the name of my imaginary cake business was Kinetic Cakes, it was obvious that my cake had to do something. Since I didn't have all that much time blocked out in my schedule to make the cake, it was obvious that it wouldn't do anything too complicated. Since there would only be a few people at the presentation, it was obvious that it shouldn't be very big. Since moderation in cakes is not one of my strong suits, it was obvious that I was going to make way too much cake.

I had some trouble coming up with a concept because I had a bit too much creative freedom - it can be hard to design anything when there are so few parameters. I have no idea why I ultimately settled on the centipede, unless perhaps it was because the apartment I was living in at the time was occasionally invaded by house centipedes, which are completely harmless but quite large and shocking to meet in the bathroom in the middle of the night. And I like arthropods. I once had to walk five blocks in my pajamas to my friend's apartment because she had a house centipede in her sink and couldn't get rid of it herself.

The legs are, of course, the most pivotal part of the centipede, plus it is their disturbingly inhuman rippling motion that makes the centipede seem so alien to us. It was this motion that I was trying to convey through my cake.

My plan was to mount the cake on a turntable that was, in turn, sitting on a bumpy base so that, when the turntable was spun, the legs, which would hang off the sides of the turntable, would ripple up and down as they passed over the bumps.

First I needed a turntable. I was fortunate enough to find one with a wire around the perimeter so that I could easily attach my legs to it. In order to do that, I built the legs around lengths of copper wire by piping royal icing onto each side of the wire with a large round tip. I airbrushed one side of each leg yellow and the other side orange because I though that having a variance in color between the two sides would help to emphasize the rotational motion of the turntable. To hide the seams running up each side of the legs, I piped on a thin line of turquoise royal icing. (If this sounds like an unusually colorful centipede, you're right. I don't really recall why I chose this color scheme, but it was quite festive.) Then I positioned the legs all the way around the perimeter of the turntable, wrapping the copper wire in the legs around the wire at the circumference of the turntable.

For the base that the turntable would rest on I used a big piece of foamcore, with smaller segments of foamcore arranged around it to create the bumps. Then I covered the whole thing with a layer of green marbled fondant, to suggest grass and because I like marbled fondant.

To make the cake, I started with two tiers of chocolate cake, one 10" in diameter, the other 8" in diameter, torted and filled with buttercream frosting. Then I carved that into a spiral, as if the centipede was curled into a loop, and coated it with buttercream.

Because centipedes have segmented bodies, it was easy to cover the cake with small fondant sections, each overlapping the one before. With the fondant in place, I built up the airbrush color in layers. First a yellow base, then orange and red shadows around the perimeter of each segment, then blue shading in the center of the segments. Once the color was on, I moved the whole cake onto the base, which already had the legs attached. I stuck some additional legs directly into the cake, following the curve of the centipede's body. In an attempt to conceal the edge of the turntable that wasn't already obscured by the legs, I piped on some sort of mini-legs between the big legs. I also piped some details onto the face. I had made some royal icing antennae and mandibles in advance, as well as some wicked-looking pincers for the back, and I stuck those on at this point as well. Then I airbrushed my new royal icing details with the same yellow, orange, red, and blue and a bit of black for good measure.

The cake went over well at the presentation, though I think if I were talking to real potential investors for a real project it would behoove me to make a cake that did something more impressive, though the rippling of the legs was nice in a restrained kind of way. And of course I had about five times as much cake as I needed, so I gave the rest to my friends in the Entrepreneurship Center. And I got an A in the class (which no one but my parents cares about because it's grad school.)

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