Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Sailing into the next birthday cake


My young friend turned ten years old, this month.  This put me at that awkward stage, where I had to choose between making a cake that is strictly for show, or one that has exceptional flavors to reflect the exceptional nature of the young lady in question.  As it stands, I was tasked with preparing the cake for a party with her schoolmates, as well as a second one for just us extended family-types.  Therefore, I made both types.

This, however, is the tale of the building of a visual work (oh, I won't make it bland to the tongue, either. Let's get serious, shall we?), and how you, too can do the same, if you are foolish enough to go this crazy.

So, the first stage is actually to make a white or yellow cake into a lemonade cake.  If you have a favorite recipe, please use your own.  For me, I cheat and start with an affordable mix into which I add a half-cup of Greek-style yogurt, the juice of one medium lemon plus the finely-grated rind of that same lemon (using that much less water for the mix.  It usually adds up to about 1/4 cup difference).  I also have a 6-oz can of frozen lemonade mix (thawed), plus 2/3 cup of powdered sugar.  Bake the cake in  1 9-inch square cake pan left in oven at a slight angle (so the cake will come out slightly thicker at one end), plus a standard 8x4-inch loaf pan, using the baking instructions for your recipe or mix. Remove from oven, let it cool, remove from the pan & place on large platter or plastic-lined cookie sheet.  Take a long-tined fork & pierce the cake every half-inch or so (you will likely need to wipe the fork occasionally with wet cloth to de-stickify it).  When you've covered the cake with holes, mix the thawed lemonade with the powdered sugar & slowly pour the mixture over the entire cake, allowing the cake to absorb it all.  What spills over onto the plastic, feel free to scoop up with a spoon and drizzle once more over the top of the cake.

Now, pop that in the freezer until you're ready for the next stage.

(click on any image to embiggen)

Stage two involves cutting and crumb-coating the cake.

Birthday cake: Crumb layer, One loaf of lemonade cake, triangles sliced off right end, reversed & added to left. One 8" square, (baked slightly off-level), 2" cut from left (shallow) end, stacked on right, cut to a slight curve. All held together with frosting. Coated w/ layer of frosting to seal crumbs in. Returned to freezer.
(click to embiggen)

For this, you will need a nice, long, non-serrated knife (at least 10-inch blade is ideal).

Beginning with the loaf cake (and while still frozen), measure halfway up each side, mark it, and then, at one end, cut the diagonal from center mark to center mark to make an uneven pentagon (imagine you're cutting a kid's-style house).  Take the triangles you've cut off, reverse them, and let them snuggle up against the lower half-walls, turning it into a big triangle. Shave off a little from the sides to create a slight curve, for the prow of the ship.

On the square cake, put the thicker side near the big triangle. Slice off about 2 inches from the shallow end, lay the cut-off section on top of the thicker portion of the cake, and shave  to create a curve across the top of the cake.  This is the book-end.  All these parts must now be stuck together with frosting (I used a plain white store-bought tub to which I added plenty of lemon extract to my preference, because I know the girls who will be eating this cake like zippy lemony zing, too).

Send it back into the freezer to firm up a few hours, or until you are ready for stage three.

Stage three: finish frosting the cake. The ship end needs brown frosting colors, to make the wooden ship boards. The book end, of course, will need no color added to the white frosting, but you may want to pipe some color around the base, to represent the book cover.
PhotobucketBow and book, Boards sketched onto the frosting with Wilton's gel food coloring.  Edible sugar paper stripes applied to book page.Stage four is preliminary decorations. The ship's figurehead and rails can be shaped from fondant (don't forget to add a little lemon extract to that, too!) (I also added some ballusters to the rails by rolling little balls  attaching them with drops of water ever couple of inches along the rails).

If you lack the appropriate color of fondant, you can add gel food coloring to it.  Professionals usually have gloves for the kneading process, but I find as long as the quantities you need are about the size of a large candy bar, you can put it in a sturdy sandwich bag to work the color in.

Next, you'll want a sheet of edible paper, cut in half crosswise (available anywhere Wilton's cake supplies are sold) of a simple, small pattern such as stripes or stars.  One half will be used for the top page of the book,

Top of the page, Stripes: Edible (sugar) paper.  Text: "VOYAGE OF THE" in gel food color. Ship's boards sketched with gel food color.
and the other for the sail.

If you want more detail, use a toothpick or thin skewer for detailing ship's boards and sides of book, delicately drawing frosting color in lines to give wood grain and to imply many pages.

You will want to allow this to rest on a sturdy cardboard sheet cut to its precise dimensions, plus enough on the "book" end for gripping, coated with foil or plastic.

Stage Five will require these ingredients:

Eight (8) boxes of blue Jell-O (or lime flavored with many drops of blue food coloring)
Lots of gummi  candy fish (you can probably get by with a single 3-oz bag)
Candy stars

Line a large jelly-roll pan (a cookie sheet with upright sides) with foil which is then lightly greased. Make first batch of gelatin according to instructions for "knox blox" or Jell-O Jigglers, using four boxes Jell-O, and two cups boiling water.   Pour the gelatin mixture into the pan, arrange the fish & stars upside-down on top.  Try to avoid getting fish near the edges.

The deep blue sea, stag one

Make second batch of Jigglers, using remaining four boxes of Jell-O, pour over fish & stars, then allow to cool & firm up (at least 3 hours).  You should know, the fish get a little slippery when they are moistened or heated, so handling this as it cools may become a little tricky.

On a second large (flat, no raised sides) cookie sheet, apply a layer of foil. Tape in position. If you have  one, arrange a string of battery-powered LED star lights or fairy lights in a semi-random pattern. Tape to foil. Cover with cling plastic wrap.

Then flip jigglers over, onto the plastic sheet, completely covering the lights.  With a dull knife (or even your skewer) trim away excess, making room for cake to fit into a gap in it.  (If you want, you can pop the scraps into the microwave until they're melted more than a bit, then whip them up to make sea foam, but I decided I'd just set the scraps aside for kids to snack on later in the week.

The stars at night…, On top of a large cookie sheet: Battery-powered LED fairy star lights (I bought these at Christmas time at a Target store) between a layer of foil & a layer of plastic wrap (taped the stars down before applying plastic). The "sea" then got flipped over, foil peeled away, lights turned on for test run (we needed batteries).

The last stage is final assembly.  You will probably need to do this at the table or counter where it is to be carved and served.  In other words, you may wish to direct the guest of honor & other guests into another room, perhaps for the opening of gifts, or to play a game or two.  

Slide the cake into the gap in the Jell-O before adding final decorations.  

Cake assembled 1

For the mast, you will need: 1 long pretzel stick (8 inches, at least) or, if you can't find that, a hard candy stick will suffice, I chose the pretzel stick because I enjoy the juxtaposition of flavors among the sweet/tart/salty. Also, it looks a little like a well-seasoned mast to a ship... which is the point.  The remaining half of the edible paper can be attached to the mast at the last minute, as a sail, using dabs of leftover frosting.  If you want to assemble earlier, you may want to make a spar to support the sail upon its yardarms, by extremely carefully shaving a pretzel in half, or by just adding an inedible part, like a mid-sized bamboo skewer (I drilled a pair of skewers through the pretzel, then just taped the plastic sheet of edible paper to the skewers, so they could cut up the plastic later & lick the sugar off). 

Once you've attached the sail to the mast, allow to set up for a minute or two. 

Meanwhile, set the rails & the figurehead
  Photobucket  onto the ship's bow, securing them to each other with a scant  drop of water.  

Insert the base of the mast into the ship portion of the cake, about mid-point. 

Finally, insert the candles into the Jell-O,
  Cake assembled 2 
turn on the star lights,

Photobucket and light the candles.


Cut it into a zillion pieces
and serve with lemon sherbet* or ice cream and let the kids sprinkle lots of candy stars over it all.

* See simple homemade sherbet recipe here.

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