Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Dirt Cake!

One other very popular addition to the poinsettia-themed Christmas party was the wonderful dirt cake.  It's particularly fun to spring it on people who have never heard of such a thing!  Such was the case at my cast party.  I had the poinsettia cake and poinsettia cookies on display, and in the middle of the table was a beautiful poinsettia plant in a pot.  (The poinsettia stems were very carefully wrapped in plastic wrap and then again in tin foil so that no sap would get out into the cake).  Everyone thought it was the plant from the play and was just nice decoration.  When it was time for dessert, I asked, "Who wants some dirt?" and dug the spoon into the pot.  I've never seen so many jaws drop!  When they actually tasted it, no one even thought of eating the poinsettia cake and cookies!  


Recipe for Dirt Cake (from Cooks.com):

1 – 1 1/4 lb. Package of Oreo cookies (or chocolate sandwich cookies, like Zero)
8 oz. Cream cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
3 cups milk
12 oz. Cool Whip (or sweetened whipped cream)
2 (3 1/2 oz) packages of vanilla or chocolate pudding
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Crush Oreos. Put 1/3 of the crushed Oreos into a new, clean flower pot. Set aside.
Mix butter, cream cheese and sugar and vanilla together. Set aside.
Combine milk and pudding mix. Fold Cool Whip into the pudding.
Fold together pudding mixture and butter-cream cheese mixture.
Layer this mixture (about 1/3 of it) onto the crumbled cookies in the pot. Next, add another layer of the pudding mixture, then another layer of cookie crumbs, continuing until all ingredients are used. Make sure that your top is layer is one of cookie crumbs.  It looks like nice, rich potting soil.

Chill in refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours before serving.  Wrap your flowers and stick them into the dirt cake before displaying and serving!

It's not your traditional cake, but it certainly is a novelty and it's a lot of fun!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Poinsettia Cake for Christmas!

Here is one of my favorite novelty cake designs - not because it is complicated or elaborate, but because I love the way it turned out!  The poinsettia part came after a lot of trial and error, but I'm happy with it.

When I wrote about the Christmas tree cake, I talked about the play that I was directing at the time - a poinsettia plant was a key prop in the play.  So for the cast party, I wanted to play on the theme of poinsettias by making a poinsettia cake of some kind.  I could have made a cake and cut it into petals and leaves then frosted it green and red, but that somehow didn't sound very elegant.  I wanted an elegant cake!  Looking around online, I saw a picture of a cake with a pointsettia on top, made from tinted white chocolate.  Perfect!  So I set to work.

All the recipes for making chocolate leaves seemed to call for lemon leaves coated with melted white chocolate, or tinted white chocolate.  I finally found a greengrocer who could bring me lemon leaves - but they were tiny!  I decided to try them anyway has they have a nice suppleness that will allow easy separation from the chocolate when dry.  I also tried larger fruit tree leaves, like guava and mango (I'm in the tropics, so that's what we have).  The lemon leaves did work beautifully, but they were too small.  The other leaves were too inflexible and the chocolate stayed in the veins or broke apart.  I also had a problem with the tinting -- when tinting white chocolate, you cannot use powder, liquid or even paste.  It needs to be an oil-based food coloring (something which is just not available in Kenya).  When I tried other types, the chocolate seized (became hard and crumbly).  I did try one method, using corn syrup and food coloring, and the chocolate didn't seize, but it didn't harden eventually either!  So I struck out with the idea of delicate chocolate leaves on top of a cake.

Browsing through the grocery shelves, I saw a box of marzipan.  I decided to see if I could work with that.  It worked beautifully!  It's rather like working with fondant, but I didn't have to make it.  So here's what I ended up doing:

1.  For the cake:  use cake of choice, in a double-layer round.  I made a chocolate cake, filled with raspberry jam.  I frosted it with a chocolate ganache, which gives a lovely, glossy smooth finish.

2.  Take some marzipan (I get it in blocks and just sliced off about 1/3 of the block) and tint it using a good red food coloring.  I used a Christmas Red gel.  Knead it in until it is a good even red color.

3.  Roll it out to about 1/4" thick.  Take a large leaf with well-defined veins (I used a mango leaf) and press it into the marzipan.  Remove.  Cut out around the veins so that you have a complete leaf.  Do this with a couple of different sizes of leaves:  4-6 large leaves, 3-5 smaller leaves.  

4.  Tint another portion of marzipan with green and use the same process to cut out 2-3 large green leaves.

5.  Arrange the leaves and petals on the cake, starting with the green leaves on the bottom, layering on the large red leaves and topping with the smaller leaves.  Leave a circle open in the middle.

6.  Roll untinted marzipan into small balls (6-7).  Place these in the center circle for the center of the poinsettia.  Voila!  An elegant poinsettia cake!
If you would rather have a shaped poinsettia cake, there are cake pans available.  Also think about the decorating theme -  poinsettia paper plates or napkins, or a poinsettia decorated cake plate.   I added to the poinsettia theme by making poinsettia cookies as well.   
I had just gotten my decorating tips and was still getting used to them when I made these cookies, but here are the steps:
1.  Make a sugar cookie dough.
2.  Use a large star shape cookie cutter to cut the background shape.
3.  Use buttercream frosting colored green, red and yellow.
4.  Use a leaf tip from a decorating kit.  Beginning with the red, pipe poinsettia leaves around the cookie, leaving a circle in the middle.  Allow the leaf pattern to bunch a little.  Pipe 3-5 green leaves on the outside, and finish with a straight tip making small yellow balls in the center circle.  Practice makes perfect, and I'm sure the more I use the decorating tips, the better I'll get at making beautiful leaves and other decorations! 


Monday, December 6, 2010

A Christmas Cake Idea

Since we're in the Christmas season, I thought it's a good time to share a Christmas cake idea.  It's another fun novelty cake design that is easy to make and gives great enjoyment to the receiver (or entire party!).  I was directing a Christmas play and the main actor's birthday happened during our rehearsal time. The mom in me wanted to do a birthday cake for him; the artist in me wanted to combine the birthday cake with the theme of Christmas and the play--Christmas trees featured in the play.  So here's a birthday cake idea for all those December babies, or just a fun novelty cake idea for the Christmas season!

I have a penchant for 3-D cakes.  Making a Christmas tree cake in the flat 2-dimensional design would have been easy, but I yearned for something more substantial.  Here's the Christmas tree cake picture:

The actual cake is easy to put together.  It is 5 layers of cake - pick your flavor!  I used chocolate and vanilla cakes.

To make and assemble:
1.  Use 2 cake recipes for round cakes.  Bake the cake in round pans of decreasing size.  The top portion of cake is cupcake size.

2.  When the cakes are cooled, stack them on top of each other in decreasing size, with jam or frosting between each layer.  Use a bamboo skewer  down the centre to prevent the cakes from sliding.

3.  Crumb frost the stacked cakes if desired.

4.  Cut triangles out of each layer, alternating position, so that the "branches" come to a point.

5.  Use green-tinted buttercream frosting and pipe onto the cake with a star-tipped decorating tip.  Pipe in fairly short ribbons.  Start at the bottom of the cake and move upward by layer, letting each layer overlap the layer below.

6.  Decorate the cake with multi-colored candies, such as Skittles, Smarties, Rockets or M&Ms.  Gold and silver decorating balls work well too.  If you use a dark green food coloring, you can sift powdered sugar (icing powder) over the tree to look like snow in a forest.

7.  Cut leftover pieces of cake into cubes and frost with any color frosting (I used red) and decorate as presents.  I used Skittles for ribbons.

That's it!

But if you want more Christmas cake design ideas, check out the cake molds that are available.  I saw one that bakes the cake in two halves, then can be fitted together to make a 3-D Christmas tree cake.  Cool!

And I just have to put this link in as well for a fun looking gingerbread and Christmas tree mini pan!  There are too many fun cake decorating ideas and tools out there—I want them all!  Maybe I should open up a cake and cookie shop! The child in me wants all these fun toys for cake designs!  And novelty cakes (and cookies!) speak to the child in all of us, don't they?