12 May 99

High, thin clouds are making the stars dim: it's not a good night for stargazing. Instead, I have been... experimenting.

Once again, my youngest neice has asked me to make her birthday cake. Last year, I scored a success when I unexpectedly produced a really neat Mrs. Potts and Chip (her favorites from Disney's Beauty and the Beast) decoration for the boughten cake and then let her and her sister help make purple flowers and leaves all over with store-bought tubes of frosting-- and we centered the flowers with miniature M&M candies, strewing the remainder artistically. It did come out nice.

This year Sarah has decided that there should be a castle. She likes castles. So do I. And the party is scheduled for a week from this Saturday, so I have been doing a lot of thinking.

I'm to make the cake, too. Angel food. A regular angel food cake made in a tube pan will make a good base for a castle-- a natural redoubt!-- but how to make the castle? One must have turrets, and pennons flying, of course-- and it must be crenellated: have battlements with merlons and crenels-- maybe even machiolations! Else it wouldn't be a proper castle...

I found a book at the library: Decorating Cakes for Children's Parties by Polly Pinder (641.8653). On the cover there is a creation called Sleeping Beauty's Castle, all made of fondant. It has four turrets on four levels, merlons and crenels, stairways, all with stone-texturing; doors and arched windows open amongst flowering vines that trail artistically over the walls. It's a beauty. But Sarah would be about thirty-five years old by the time I finish it, so something that elaborate-- no. Definitely out.

I went to the local party shop looking for ideas. They had a lot of fancy white plastic pieces for dressing up wedding cakes. You know, stuff like columns to put between layers, and gazebos and arches to put on top with figures of the bride and groom inside. And bells... For a while I toyed with the notion of putting a castle together out of plastic parts, but....

They was also a lot of other stuff. All kinds of supplies for making fancy cakes and candies. Cake pans in all kinds of shapes. (The one meant to be a good luck horseshoe reminded me forcibly of a bedpan.) Piping bags. Candles. Petrified sugar flowers and other things-- there was a huge box with layers and layers of papers with row upon row of small bunches of sugar carrots-- Why? Are there people who celebrate Bugs Bunny's birthday?-- White frosting mix-- and premixed fondant in boxes. When I hefted the box, I knew I didn't want to use fondant to make my castle. It would be like working in cement. Fine for a real castle, but not for a cake anyone expects to eat.

Then I got an idea from the fancy plastic pieces-- and Julia Child, The French Chef-- I watched her show for years. I remembered when she made little dessert baskets out of melted chocolate swirled over the outside of a bowl... and I envisioned the castle made of chocolate-- white chocolate, swirled like lace over forms made from tubes and cones and boxes... which when assembled atop the cake and frosted into place would be a veritable fairy castle--

If I could pull it off. Hmmmm....

On the way home, I bought a bag of white chocolate chips. After supper I set to work. I set half the chips over hot water to melt, and I taped a piece of waxed paper around my rolling pin-- my rolling pin is a green glass wine bottle I've had since I lived in Boston many moons ago. My first love and I bought the bottle... it was special, but now I can't remember the vineyard, only that it was some kind of red wine... we drank it sitting on the back steps on a fine late summer evening... Anyway, it's just the right circumference for a turret. I made a piping bag out of another piece of waxed paper, and when the chocolate was melted, I filled the bag.

I had thought I would pipe lines of chocolate onto the form in some sort of design, but the chocolate did not pipe evenly and the bag started to melt. But the bottle was easy to hang onto by the neck and manipulate, and I had put down a "drop cloth," so I persevered, criss-crossing lines of chocolate where I could...

And it worked. I achieved a cylindrical chocolate structure. And it slid easily off the form, and the waxed paper twisted easily away without damaging it. And it was quite sturdy. It looked messy and lumpy, but it would work. If only I could find something that would pipe the chocolate evenly... I broke the cylinder up and put it back in the pot.

Down in the basement there is a box of sterile 60CC disposable syringes which are usually used in hospitals to inject fluids into IV's. My brother acquired them at some point and gave them to Bru ages ago when he was making beer. I think the idea was that the syringes might aid in the siphoning of the brew into bottles. Anyway, Bru didn't use them and I didn't throw them out. They are excellent for piping chocolate onto forms to make lacy fairy castles.

It will be interesting this week making castle pieces. And there will be white chocolate all over the place. But I think Sarah will really like this castle cake...


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