Saturday, June 14, 2008

Emperor Penguin Cake

finished penguin cakeThis is the first cake Matt designed for me, and it remains one of his best efforts. He is particularly proud of how efficiently the design uses the cake.

The penguin is straight out of Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems. This is one of our favorite books. Where else will you find poetry with rhymes like "can't you be" and "anchovies," or "featherweight" and "regurgitate"? Well, maybe here someday, but in general...

Other than keeping the pattern, we didn't document the first iteration very thoroughly. So when it came time to make a cake for a fundraising auction, I decided to dust this one off and refine it a bit. Well, I decided, and Matt ended up doing all the work while I was occupied with other auction preparations.

Actually, I did make the cake itself. It's the Black Mocha Cake from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. I hadn't made that recipe before, and it turned out to be tasty, but extremely moist - reminiscent of a pudding cake and not well suited to a cut-up cake. So we froze the bejeebers out of it, and it worked pretty well. (On the cake's little sign at the auction, we called it a "moist gateau," figuring that would have more cachet than "pudding cake.")

The cake is presented on a piece of plywood that is first covered with gray paper, and then waxed paper. This creates a nice icy effect, and the waxed paper is easy to clean up when the icing goes astray.

The cake is quite sweet, and when you add frosting, it teeters over the edge of too much. To reel it in a little, Matt crumbcoated the assembled cake with an unsweetened chocolate glaze (recipe below). He used a skewer to score lines into the glaze to mark the border between the white frosting and chocolate ganache that were applied next.

crumbcoating the penguin cake

The "black" parts of the penguin are sour cream chocolate ganache (recipe below) - a lot of it. Matt used 10 ounces of chocolate. You could certainly use less without being accused of skimping, although it's easier to apply if you can spread it thickly.

After applying the ganache, Matt filled in the white belly with sour cream frosting (recipe below). I am grooving on sour cream frosting these days. It's an easy way to make truly white frosting, it's got a little tang to balance the sweetness, and (unlike butter-based frosting) it doesn't harden too much to spread when you put it in the fridge. The only difficulty with sour cream frosting is that it doesn't set up very well. So on a hot day the frosting is apt to sag and adds an extra layer of adipose tissue to your penguin's belly.

frosting the penguin cake

While cake turntables are a boon for frosting round layer cakes, they aren't much help for oblong cakes. But hunching over the table is no fun either. Brilliant innovation: put a cardboard box or other object of appropriate height on the table and place the cake board on top of that. You still have to be careful when turning the cake board, but it puts the cake at a much more comfortable height for frosting.

penguin cake head detailThe beak is defined with a sliver of a spear of dried cantaloupe (you could also use dried papaya).

The eye is a white jordan almond dabbed with ganache for a pupil.

The ear patches are grated zest from about 1/4 of an organic orange (it's best to use organic fruit for making zest). Our Microplane grater does a beautiful job of citrus zesting. Regular zesters are also nice, but produce zest bits that are too coarse for this application.

The wings are defined with licorice whip.

The feet are dusted with a crushed graham cracker. The first time Matt made the cake, he used cocoa powder, which also worked well.

At the auction, one of my colleagues spoke wistfully about the idea of a husband who makes cake. It is a very good thing.

penguin cake at auction


Chocolate Glaze

Use butter and unsweetened chocolate in a ratio of 1 tablespoon butter to 1 ounce chocolate. Matt made 6:6, but 4:4 would probably have been enough.

Melt butter and chocolate together over double boiler or in microwave. If microwaving, do something like 20% power in 3-4 minute increments. Start stirring once it's melted enough.

Drizzle the glaze over the cake, spreading it with a spatula as you go. You will probably need to reheat the glaze once or twice during the process.

Ordinarily it would be best to apply the glaze while the cake was on a cooling rack and then transfer the cake to a clean platter for serving. In the case of a cake assembled from multiple pieces (like, say, a penguin), or in the case of a fragile "moist gateau," you'll probably have to apply the glaze to the cake after it's already on its presentation board. You can clean up later by scraping the excess glaze off with a knife and then polishing up with a paper towel.


Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache

Melt as described in the chocolate glaze recipe:
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Matt used 8 oz bittersweet and 2 oz unsweetened chocolate because we didn't have enough bittersweet)

Beat in:
1 cup sour cream (Matt used 3/4 c sour cream and 1/4 c whipping cream because we didn't have enough sour cream)
1 1/2 tablespoons coffee liqueur

Add:
powdered sugar to taste (probably start with about 1/2 cup)


Sour Cream Frosting

Beat together:
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 pound (2 cups) powdered sugar


Add one or two more teaspoons of sour cream as needed to achieve the desired consistency. Don't add more or the frosting will be too runny to support itself.

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