October 31, 2007

Owl Pumpkin

I only carved one pumpkin this year (but I still won the Pumpkinmasters "Animals" category! Woohoo!) I created the pattern by tracing over a photo of an owl.

Labels: ,


October 28, 2007

Heart Cupcakes

In the past, my heart-shaped cakes have tended to get bigger and bigger, resulting in things like a heart the size of a small dog and the infamous Thoracic Cavity Cake. This year I decided to buck the curve and make very small, individual-portion-sized heart-shaped cakes.

There were 18 people coming to Pumpkinfest, so I needed to make 18 little, cupcake-sized hearts. I also wanted them to bleed because what would be the point of making heart-shaped cupcakes that didn't bleed? I thought it would be a nice touch to have both red blood (arterial) and blue blood (venous), so I made a batch of fresh raspberry sauce and a batch of fresh blueberry sauce. Both of these sauces are very delicious and very easy to make. The only ingredients are berries, sugar, and lemon juice, mixed up in a blender and strained through a sieve to remove the seeds. The blueberry sauce was perhaps less blue than it might optimally have been, but I think we all know how hard it is to find appetizing blue food.

To contain the sauces, I made two gum paste cylinders per cupcake, for a total of 36. The idea was that one of them would be the aorta (full of red blood) and the other the superior vena cava (full of blue blood). Mounted vertically on the top of each cupcake, they would hold the fruit sauces until the cupcakes were cut into, at which point they would spill their gory contents over the plate.

For the cake itself, I started with cupcakes, which are relatively heart-shaped to begin with. I removed the paper from each one and set them in the middle of white paper plates, the better to emphasize the soon-to-be-spilt fruit sauces, and covered them with a thick later of chocolate buttercream frosting.

I didn't want to use fondant to cover and sculpt these hearts because I thought that the proportion of fondant to cake would be overpowering at cupcake scale (not that it probably makes that much difference anyway since most people peel the fondant off before they eat the cake.) For some reason, I also decided not to use buttercream frosting. I don't recall why I made that decision because in retrospect, buttercream would clearly have been the way to go. Instead, I decided to use white modeling chocolate. I didn't do a very good job of making the modeling chocolate, so it came out very hard and a little grainy. I used it anyway. I rolled out circles of the modeling chocolate to drape over the whole cupcake and then shaped it a bit with some gum paste sculpting tools. Then I used royal icing to pipe on detail veins and attach the cylinders sticking off the top.

Because I had used modeling chocolate I needed to color the hearts with powdered food coloring mixed into cocoa butter. Water-based colors don't stick to chocolate. To get the hearts nice and shiny, I then painted on a layer of red- or blue-tinted piping gel. Because the piping gel is water-based, it didn't spread smoothly, but rather beaded in rills and pockets, which I thought was actually kind of a nice effect.

Right before serving, I filled the tubes with my two fruit sauces.

Reactions were mixed. Adults more or less agreed that the cake was tasty, but that the modeling chocolate was too thick, hard, and grainy to eat. I really should have used buttercream. One little boy, who had been promised a cupcake adamantly refused to accept that these were, in fact, cupcakes in a slightly different configuration and had to be supplied with a normal-looking cupcake that we fortunately had in reserve. His little brother, on the other hand, took to the little hearts immediately, breaking off the aorta and jugular vein and gleefully drinking the contents like a proper little cannibal.

Labels: , ,


October 13, 2007

Poo-Flinging Monkey Cake

Barbara Jo made this creepy poo-flinging monkey cake for our little friend Isaac's first birthday party. This was a special request by Isaac's mother, who was also the recipient of the dancing yeti wedding cake.

Poo-flinging on YouTube
...and again

What does every little boy want for his first birthday? That's right - a cake shaped like a creepy-looking monkey! And what's even better than a creepy-looking monkey cake? That's right - a creepy-looking monkey cake that flings poo, just like a real monkey.

OK, maybe that's not exactly what my little friend Isaac would have requested for his first birthday cake, but he can't talk, and that is exactly what his mom requested.

The first step, of course, was to figure out exactly how the poo mechanism should work. My first thought was to make it a sort of catapult, but then I realized that it would be more fun if it could fling poo repeatedly without a complicated reset of the mechanism. So I decided to go with a spring-loaded hinge. I made an armature for the arm and hand out of wood and brass tubing - I felt that it was necessary to have a metal structure within each individual finger so they wouldn't break off when I pulled the arm back to release the poo. The arm was connected via the spring hinge to a post, which was in turn secured to the heavy wooden base of the cake.

Before I made the cake, I sculpted the arm out of gum paste and fondant around the wooden armature, which meant that I had a sort of ghostly white monkey arm on a stick. I did load it up with some raisinettes (aka cake monkey poo), which it flung quite effectively, so I was ready to move on to the cake.

My sister was kind enough to actually bake the cakes for me. Fortunately she baked more than I asked her to, because the amount that I asked her to make would not have been enough. I had to cut notches in each tier and slide them into place around the arm support post. When I was done, I had what appeared to be a squat, one-armed robot, at least until I carved it into a more monkey-like shape.

This cake marked my first experiment with using rice krispie treats to sculpt additively onto my cakes. It's a technique that I learned, like so many others, from reading Colette Peters' books. My plan was to sculpt the tail, haunches, and second arm out of rice krispie treats. Not having ever made rice krispie treats myself, for some reason I thought they solidified really quickly. "I'll have to work fast," I thought, "but once I get them into shape they'll hold really well." Yeah, it didn't work out that way at all.

I'm not sure whether it was because it was really wet out or just because that's the way rice krispie treats are, but they didn't behave at all the way I expected them to. As I started sculpting them, they were just gooey and collapsing everywhere. I hollered for my sister to bring me skewers! Hurry! Hurry! Yikes! I stuck in skewers, here, there, everywhere! Anything to hold those rice krispie treats together and to hold them in place. Pretty soon I had a proto-monkey which appeared to be undergoing a truly ghastly acupuncture session. But at least it had arms and legs. I added some detail to the hand and feet with fondant.

I made the facial features by piping buttercream and sculpting it with a paintbrush. It was kind of hard to make it look like a monkey rather than like a sort of withered old man, but I think I did OK. I was using one of my baby nephew's animal picture books as a reference. It was very nice of him to share it with me.

The ears I had made a few days in advance out of gum paste with skewers embedded in them so I could just stab them into place in the cake.

What's the point of a poo-flinging monkey without gross, matted fur? It would have been easy to make the fur out of frosting, but that tends to be too cartoonish for my taste. So I came up with a different plan - those little crunchy chow mein noodles. I know, I know it sounds a little weird. But potato chips and chocolate can be good. Those little shoestring potato snacks and chocolate can be good. I though it was workable. And they looked GREAT! It took me quite a while to cover the entire monkey and I seriously underestimated the amount of noodles it would take. Fortunately, there was some confusion as to who was buying how many packages of noodles, and we wound up buying approximately twice as many as I thought I would need. Which turned out to be just barely enough.

The noodles were already a pretty good base monkey color, so I just airbrushed in some mottling and some shadows. I painted the eyes with black food coloring and then went over that with clear piping gel to get the necessary depth and sheen. With that, the monkey itself was done. Left to my own devices I probably would have left it at that, but fortunately my sister gave me the kick in the ass that I needed to make it a better presentation. She came up with the idea of surrounding the monkey with bananas. So we bought about sixteen bananas and I made some gum paste leaves to fill in the gaps. It looked quite regal really, like he was a monkey king sitting on his banana throne.

The party was in an outdoor park, which was a great setting. We arranged the monkey on a picnic table underneath a big tree, with a convenient bowl of raisinettes to use as poo. The green leaves of the tree complimented the green leaves on the cake perfectly and I got to bask in the compliments of the guests at the party in the next picnic area as well as those of the guests at our party. I actually went to the party thinking that the cake was entirely innocuous and mainstream, at least compared to all my other cakes. But the unanimous verdict was that it was actually quite creepy, primarily due to the huge, hypnotic, glassy eyes.

The weight of all the gum paste and frosting and chow mein noodles on the arm made the poo flinging a little more sluggish than it was in my initial tests, so the monkey only threw his poo about two feet in front of him. Oh well, next time maybe I can get a better angle of release.

Cutting the cake was very funny because I had to cut it away around the arm mechanism. We ended up with a monkey arm hovering above a field of cake and banana carnage. The verdict on the chow mein noodles with the cake was mixed. Some people thought it worked quite well - a bit of crunch, a bit of salt - while others just found it weird and incongruous and ate around it. The birthday boy himself didn't weigh in on that particular issue, as he doesn't have enough teeth to get any of the chow mein noodles, but he certainly seemed to enjoy the cake. No one's quite sure how he got some on the back of his head, though.

Labels: ,