Saturday, 2 April 2011

This One Takes the Cake (Literally): My "Books 2 Eat" Entry, pt 1

Some time last week (followed by a subsequent blog post), I read that there was to be an edible book contest which would be taking place in the campus library. After a bit more reading (ironic, eh?), I found out that this was actually an annual international event. And so, in the spirit of culinary challenges, I set off to enter the contest; little did I know how much prep, bake, and execution, work I would be clocking in for this one. After learning that the general theme was the representation of a favourite book in food form, I seemed to quickly settle on replicating the final book of the Harry Potter series. With the foresight of a time turner owner, I made sure to take quite a few photos for this one, and have divided the photo collection and blog posts into three, more readible posts. This first post focuses on the fondant preparation which I had read is best done overnight to 1) save time the next day since it would already be done; and 2) allow the fondant to have ample time to set, both in terms of consistency and colouring.

I don't know about you, but when I watch cooking shows (gasp, haha) and particularly baking/cake making ones, I often wonder how difficult it could really be to work with cake. In reality, it's not entirely "difficult," but in my world just more time-consuming for the perfectionists among us (myself included). In retrospect, among the simplest elements--other than baking the actual cake--was making the fondant itself, but then again maybe it was just beginner's luck. After watching quite a few YouTube videos and researching different techniques and reading forum posts, I found myself returning to two sites in particular (here and here) which (coupled with the rest) informed my final fondant recipe. Of the three basic fondants, I went with the easiest of the three: marshmallow fondant, as exemplified by the required ingredients above.

Before I continue, I sincerely advise you to grease any plate, bowl, spatula, etc., you would be using for this recipe with Crisco vegetable shortening to help control the stickiness factor. At this stage, I greased my right hand with Crisco so that my left hand was clean to take photos. For my cake, I knew I wouldn't need nearly as much fondant as many on-line recipes create, as my plan was to replicate the cake and by replicate, I mean in terms of size and overall appearance. And so, for enough fondant to literally cover the seventh Harry Potter book, I needed 4 c mini marshmallows (about half a 10.5 oz bag). In two smaller batches, I microwaved the marshmallows on a plate in 20-30 second intervals. Be sure to watch the marshmallows and make sure they don't balloon over the plate and create a sticky mess in your microwave. Once sufficiently microwaved and have essentially melted/relaxed, transfer the marshmallow masses into a pre-greased bowl and add 2 tbsp water. Stir this all together until you get a smooth marshmallow cream.

To your marshmallow cream, fold in 1 c confectioner's powdered sugar; the result should look something like the left-hand photo. After adding an additional cup (as seen in the right-hand photo), the fondant should be forming and have a dough-like consistency.

Now, here's where things get tricky camera-wise (luckily I've been photographing my food for a while...). Turn out the doughy fondant onto a pre-greased mat (of course, you wouldn't need the Crisco if you've got non-stick materials, etc.) and grease both hands with Crisco. At least a cup of powdered sugar at the ready, knead in about 1/4 c powdered sugar. You should feel the fondant come together and become much more pliable and easier to work with; after an additional 1/4 c, the fondant should be of a smooth consistency (refer to the lead photo of this post) and feel like play dough (only tastier). The kneading process, like that for bread and pizza dough, is anywhere from 5-8 minutes. If the dough still feels too sticky, add more powdered sugar; if the dough sticks to your hands, try regreasing your hands with Crisco. As you knead the dough, be sure to take any bits of marshmallow that have didn't full melt and have hardened in the process.

Knowing that the seventh HP book is more orange than white, it's now time to colour the fondant. And again, knowing my end goal, I divided my dough into varying amounts of fondant: the largest segment (about half) for the front cover and binding, the smallest (about 1/4 of the remaining) for the edging to replicate the back cover, and the rest for the sides to represent the pages. Of course, this is all relative and to garner a more accurate guess, use enough powdered sugar and Crisco to roll out some fondant and test things out. As noted above, I spent quite some time researching and reading fondant work, and after having gone through the process (albeit once), I can say that for the amount of fondant I'd be working with, it's perfectly acceptable and manageable to colour the fondant at this point. If you foresee needing a lot more fondant to be one colour, the recommendation is to add the colorant just prior to adding the powdered sugar, as kneading a large volume of fondant is more labourious than it needs to be. All that said, to achieve the shade of orange I wanted, I used four drops of red liquid food colouring and five drops of yellow. When using liquid food colouring, you'll notice that it tends to bleed very easily, something to take note of now, especially when considering what to use to paint on fondant later. Some say to use plastic gloves when kneading the colouring in (especially if you use other colourants), but at least for the type I'm using here, as long as you work quickly enough, the fondant will catch any colourant you get on your hands. The resulting colour was more of a pinkish-orange than an orange, but given the colour scheme of the seventh book, this gave me a great primer colour to add layers to later on.

For a darker back cover, I went with brown fondant, and ended up using eight drops red, four yellow, and three green.

As mentioned earlier, preparing the fondant not only saves you a step the next day (or by the time you're ready to assemble your cake), but it also allows everything to set, as the colours may darken, etc., as the fondant may most likely alter in colour (most likely deeper). Most fondant advisers instruct double wrapping the fondant in plastic wrap, but I found storing the fondant in air tight containers to work just as well (and I had small enough ones for the different quantities). I also stored these three in one larger air tight container. The point of it all is that you don't want air to dry out the fondant you just spent all this time making.

I'll also note here that the actual cake I made for the contest was baked the next day right before I went to work and was a dark chocolate cake, the edited version of which I have made previously. And so, up next is the construction and painting of my Books 2 Eat entry.

For more fondant and cake photos, click here.

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