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! 


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