My son, the budding architect, has always challenged my cake decorating skills with his annual birthday cake requests. A star destroyer, the city of Dale, Wellington … his requests tend toward angular, built structures difficult to sculpt in cake and icing. This year he asked for ‘a brick’. Just getting the colour right was going to be a challenge. And then I had to make the brick special in some way.
I thought maybe I’d cover it in lichens and moss (easy to fashion from frosting and Mexican paste). But a photo online caught my attention … I came up with a plan that I thought would tax my confectionery skills more than mere decoration would. A little maths, a little measuring, a little cutting, and …
There’s more to this brick than meets the eye.
My son left it wide open for me this year. He wanted his usual spice cake (the one I’ve marked with his name in the cookbook), but he left it up to me how I decorated it.
I swear that was more difficult than being told what he wanted.
After many hours scouring the cupboards and looking at cake photos online for inspiration, I came up with a large geode.
Most geode cakes online are, frankly, weird—an ordinary tiered cake covered smoothy in fondant, with a slash down the side filled with geode crystals. They don’t look like a geode at all, and some look disturbingly like vaginas. I didn’t think my son would appreciate that. I strove for a more natural geode look.
I also hoped for a tastier geode material. I was inspired to do a geode by a bag of crystalised ginger in the cupboard. Most geode cakes, though, are made with rock candy, which isn’t the nicest accompaniment to cake. On a spice cake, I thought crystalised ginger would be a much more appropriate flavour (and texture). Unfortunately, my experiments with colouring ginger were uninspiring—the ginger had a beautiful sparkling appearance, but light colours looked grey on the yellowish ginger, and dark colours looked black. I couldn’t manage a nice geode-like lavender.
So I made purple hard candy and broke it into shards for the crystals.
The result was reasonably geode-like, and easy to make. And better than a crystal vagina.
He asked for a cube. Said I could decorate it however I wanted to. My first thought was to create a building (because he’s keen on architecture) but, truth is, a cubical building just looks wrong. Then I thought a Rubix cube or Lego block would be cute…but dreadfully boring to make. I wanted to create something unexpected, something not meant to be cubical. And I wanted an excuse to play with more Mexican paste.
So, inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, I created Cubeworld. Instead of elephants holding it up, there is a dragon holding it down…or something.
Along the way, I learned more about Mexican paste (or maybe I learned more about my sculpting skills…). Creating largish shapes with it is easy–it’s lovely to work with–but fashioning tiny animals was almost impossible (again, probably my skill here, not the Mexican paste at fault). I tried to make the dragon smaller, in keeping with the scale of the other parts of the scene, but I just couldn’t manage the tiny spikes and other sculptural details needed. And the longer I fussed with it, the drier it got, until the thin parts started crumbling. I just couldn’t work fast enough at a tiny scale.
In hindsight, it would have been good to practise with modelling clay or plasticine until I could form the dragon quickly.
Despite its limitations, the Mexican paste was, again, fun to play with, and was able to do things icing just can’t do.