This week had me back in the kitchen again, even though I’m starting to feel like I need a little break from cake. I volunteered to bring a cake in for our team’s end of financial year morning tea today, and after my last few cakes, it had to be something cool! I do a few different after-work activities throughout the week so I needed an idea that wouldn’t take too long to put together. After deciding that I wanted to present my icing al naturale after my last two green and blue cakes, I had to think about something that would look good on a white background. So… penguins!
I was a bit ambivalent about baking for the morning tea, because usually there are four or five other people volunteering to bring a dish, but this time around no one else volunteered. Lazy people! I kind of wondered why I should put in time and effort to make a dish, while everyone else just paid their $4. But then I figured it would be a good reason to practice… and besides, it’s fun!
On Tuesday night I made up a batch of dark chocolate clay, which I then tried to dye black. However I didn’t want to use too much black, so they ended up being very dark brown. The browness was very obvious when I was preparing the chocolate, but once the penguins were put together it didn’t matter at all. The white parts of the penguins were made from leftover white chocolate clay from the Loch Ness cake, and the orange beaks and feet were white chocolate clay plus orange paste colour. I made five penguins standing up, and two lying on their bellies. You can use a flower former to get this gentle curving of the body, but I used a similarly shaped piece of plastic that’s used to protect carpet when painting.
I’m really loving chocolate clay over fondant. When you get the chocolate clay all nice and warm, you don’t need to use anything to stick pieces together. I did have to use a drop of vodka every now and then, but mostly I just pressed the two pieces together and they stuck. However I found that the chocolate clay picks up every wrinkle in my hand and every knife mark from my chopping board. I left lots of fingerprints all over the penguin bodies as I was modelling them into shape. The final product looked fine though, but I didn’t check that closely for wrinkles.
I debated whether to make the cake on Tuesday night so it’s ready to start decorating as soon as I got home on Wednesday, but decided to just make the cake on Wednesday. This was kind of a mistake. Wednesday night ended up being a series of small setbacks.
My Joy the Baker carrot cake recipe is for 28 cupcakes, so I figured I would just put it into my 8-inch square tin and see how big it was. If it wasn’t big enough, I was going to make a chocolate cake as well. But it was definitely big enough, the cake filled the whole tin once it started to rise. This meant it took a lot longer than expected to cook through, about an hour at 150°C. While the cake was in the oven, I coloured a small amount of white chocolate clay purple and green, and made some scarves, ear muffs and beanies for my little chocolate penguins. Penguins get cold too, you know!
Because the cake was bigger also meant that it took a lot longer to cool than I thought it would. I left it in the tin for about 30 minutes then gingerly turned it out of the pan and put it in the fridge. It was still a little warm one episode of The Nine Lives of Chloe King and The Good Wife later, but it was workable.
Once the cake was cool-ish, I started on the brown sugar cream cheese frosting. I had taken the cream cheese out of the fridge that morning and had cut up the butter soon after I got home, so everything was at the right temperature. But, it’s cold in Canberra! My beautiful metal KitchenAid mixing bowl chilled the butter and my cream cheese frosting became a lumpy disaster! I had to warm the frosting up by putting the bowl into the kitchen sink filled with hot water, and mixing vigorously until it was smooth. Of course, then it was TOO smooth, so the bowl had to go into the fridge for a little bit to thicken the icing up.
I then had to tort the cake, which I’m not very good at normally. Trying to split a slightly-warm carrot cake that has chunks of nuts and pineapple, that’s a challenge! It was messy, crumbs went everywhere, but I got it done. It was rather uneven and horrible to look at, but I knew that once it was iced, no one would know. I took some of the dome off the top as well, which again was very messy. When it came time to flip the layers onto the cake board, I was scared. What if the layer split? I put the cake board on top and used a BBQ flipper to flip the cake, and thankfully it made it okay.
The icing was still a little runny, but I was optimistic that the cake wasn’t warm enough to completely melt it. I filled and dirty iced the cake with the frosting, then put both cake and frosting back into the fridge for another 30 minutes or so. The final layer of icing was next, but the icing was still too runny, so it ended up being rather messy. At this stage it was already 12:30am, so I decided just to let it chill overnight and touch it up in the morning.
In the morning I cleaned up the icing, and then put on the penguins. For accompaniments, there was a small ice brick wall, some snowballs, a snow-penguin. I also made an igloo by covering a measuring cup with fondant and scoring bricks with a small knife. We’ll ignore the fact that the penguins are easily twice as tall as the igloo. It’s all about perspective, right? Maybe the igloo is really far in the distance or something!
I think my favourite part of the scene is the baby penguin hiding behind the ice wall throwing snowballs at the penguins gliding past.
The cake was a hit at the morning team. Everyone ooh-ed and aah-ed when I brought it up, and once I said the penguins were made of chocolate, they all disappeared! Some of them suffered very quick deaths, but others were set aside to take home to show their kids. I think I can call this one a success!