How I made a brain cake

This is the gooey, somewhat disturbing brain cake, which I made for my daughter’s science party last year.1002051_10152109719199265_237343688_n

It was a hit with the party girl, and those who were game to eat it.  Surprisingly simple compared to other cakes I’ve attempted – I thought I’d document the process.

1.  I cooked two round butter cakes during the week, wrapped them in cling film and froze them whilst still warm.

2.  I pulled the cakes out of the freezer the day before the party and set to work carving the rough oval shape of a brain (frozen cake is much easier to shape, as it doesn’t crumble or squash).P1070847

3.  I pasted the cakes together with frosting and then coated the outside well to disguise the join.  I used just over one tub of basic, Betty Crocker style vanilla frosting, coloured to a skin-like texture with food dye.

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4.  I made the outer, noodly bits (correctly termed gyri, as a physiotherapist friend of mine pointed out) from packaged royal icing, or fondant.  I added a few smears of blue and red gel food dye to the white fondant block, and kneaded to the point that it was marbled with colour (rather than being thoroughly incorporated).  I then broke off small handfuls, rolled them into balls and then into long noodle shapes by hand.  The noodles were about the size of toothpaste squeezed out of a tube.

5.  I arranged the noodles into rough gyri-like squiggles and then stuck them directly onto the frosting.  The key to the realistic brain-look (thank you Pinterest) was the line directly down the centre of the brain, dividing the two hemispheres, and the rough symmetry of the squiggle arrangement on either side.  This bit was fun – I even let my daughter make a few noodles (for which I afforded myself a mental high-five, considering my harried, day-before-party disposition).

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6.  Once complete, I covered the brain in lightly-greased cling film until the actual party day, to keep it from drying out.  Oh yes, and I also added a few eyeballs, made with left-over white fondant and (very old) black fondant, which I discovered at the back of the pantry.  A few left-over gyri attached to the back of the eyeballs sufficed as the optic nerve and muscle.P1070854

7.  On the day of the party I used a pastry brush to coat the brain in strawberry topping.  No need for precision here – I simply slopped it on.P1070859

8.  I realised an hour before the party that such a gooey creation was going to get rather insect-ridden and even more gross if left outside on the party table for any length of time.  So, in true last-minute fashion, I raced around to a neighbour’s house to borrow the fabulous cake stand with glass dome, for that authentic ‘specimen’ presentation.  Voila! Brain on a plate.1473036_10152109720904265_1969619952_n

If you’d like to see more of our mad science party action, you can read the full blog post here.

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If I Knew You Were Coming I’d’ve Baked a Cake

Tonight I’ve been pondering what to call my blog.  Clearly I can’t keep calling it Escape to New York for much longer.  It’s totally false advertising.  Especially now that Cam has finally unpacked and put away his toilet bag – one month after we came home.

As long as that toilet bag hung on the back of the bathroom door, he was still a little bit on holiday, or at least, just back from holidays.  But this weekend the toilet bag is gone (it was a necessary step, but I am a little saddened at the site of the unadorned door knob) and I have begun to wonder:  How do I find a title to befit my ramblings, which started out as a travelogue, but failed to die a natural death when the holiday ended?  Escape from Glen Iris is a fraction bleak, I feel.  Suburbileaks? Sickyleaks?! Domestic Counter-Terrorism?  Thwarting domestic terrorists, one day at a time…

I Googled it, of course, and found catchyblognames.com, which yielded some fairly pedestrian suggestions.  According to their formula, my ideal titles would include Distasteful Dietitian,  Haphazard Housewife, or, one of my personal favourites: Multitudinous Marnie.  Awesome – they really know their shit.  I can see the literary agents beating a path to my door as I type this.

Further searches caused my eyes to glaze over, with boffins banging on about SEO (that’s technospeak for getting more google hits), and led me to the lowest common denominator: Name Thingy? All you need to do is stare at the screen, as it churns out random two-word combinations.  Mind-numbingly inane, but for a while I found it difficult to tear myself away.  Rather like an Ab-Trainer infomercial for the baffled home blogger.

On reflection, I’ve realised that the key thing I need to decide is what I am actually on about here, and at present, that seems to change daily with the weather.  Last week I was all excited about Operation Out of House (my current OOOH statistics are yet to be filed, but I’m pleased to hear so many of you have taken this mantle and run with it).  This week, I’ve been acting like Boroondara’s answer to Bakerella, churning out cake pops and musing over the merits of non-dairy frosting and disposable piping bags.  Who knows what I’ll be banging on about next time?

line drawingNow that I think about it, I do have a track record for being somewhat faddish in my pursuits.  For example, last year, in a mad ‘must have some me-time’ moment, I signed up for an all day drawing workshop, and surprised myself by producing quite a fetching line-drawing of a botanical scene in nature.  I got all excited.  Maybe this was the hobby I had been missing, which would give me a creative, medititive outlet as well as some awesome line drawings to hang on our wall, and regale visitors with?  Needless to say, the fancy paper and fineliners are now stashed away deep in the corner of the Art and Craft drawer, supposedly for that elusive, rainy day when I find myself with a few hours to spare.

crochetTwo years ago I taught myself how to crochet, and then spent a few months at it like a woman possessed.   Now I never got to the stage of crafting pieces of clothing (which I realise is a good thing, in retrospect), but I do have a collection of granny squares, a passable cushion and a large bag of assorted wool to show for those two lost months.  I’ve also done more than my share of life drawing courses, tried my hand at jewelery reworking, applique, and remember getting a bit excited about decoupage for a brief spell there.  For God’s sake, there is a sewing machine in my hall closet, but I don’t even know how to thread it!

And so there you have it: an easily distracted (if enthusiastic) woman, who finds herself in charge of a household and two endearing yet exhausting mini people.   Work, professional development, the bits of paper that come home from school and need to be read / actioned / signed / returned, the provision of groceries, packed lunches, nutritious dinners…  Is it any wonder I struggle to see most projects through to completion these days?

So with blog name unresolved (feel free to offer any suggestions on that front), I will now segway on to the topic of children – particularly my little boy – who celebrated his fourth birthday this week.  He is fast growing up, and starting to establish his own identity in this world, so I saw fit to throw him his first proper birthday party, with all the trimmings.  Twenty kids, winter, a small house.   I decided to outsource.

Now I did feel a few twinges of middle class guilt in this decision – surely four year old boys are not that difficult to entertain? I hear some of you say.  Give them some cake, some chips and a tonne of Lego to play with, and they’re sorted.  But my accumulated parenting experience over the past six years has taught me that: a) I am somewhat anal, and therefore, prone to run myself ragged trying to throw the perfect party, in a tidy house, whilst trying to look effortless and unflustered (the latter being the hardest part), b) I am not a professional entertainer, nor is my husband, and children have an ability to sense my deep discomfort in trying to pretend otherwise, and c) Sometimes you owe it to yourself to take the easy option and just pay the bloody money.

decorating

Anyway, that decision left me free to go mad on the birthday cake front, which after all, is the most enjoyable part of throwing a party.

I imagine that most of you have thrown your hat in the birthday cake ring at some stage, so I’ll put the question out there: how satisfying is it to pull off a great cake – a WOW cake – to the accolades of your children and their friends?  Okay, and also maybe to your friends?  And maybe put in on Facebook so that your friends’ friends also see it?…  I would venture that it’s one of the perks of being a parent.

So last Saturday, I spent the best part of the day squirting orange icing through a piping bag and trying my hand at crafting cake pop eyeballs from scratch.  There were many tense moments, rather too many unsavoury expletives, and an unholy mess from one end of the kitchen to another, but it was all worth it at the end of the day.

monster

Behold:  The monster cake – made possible by the magic of Google, and the phenomenon that is You Tube.  And it is also the first instance of me using Pinterest for something other than mindless procrastination purposes.  Excellent!

It started with some pyjama-clad family time on the couch Saturday morning – myself trawling the internet and both kids jostling for position to watch nerdy baker types present their craft.  The crumb layer of icing – good, got that.  The correct dipping technique for cake pops being to dip and rock back and forth (you mustn’t twiddle in the chocolate, lest you loose the cake pop right off the stick) – great advice.  And then ‘Mummy?…’  Arlo ventured cautiously, ‘are they called cake pops because they go pop? When do they go pop mummy?….’cake pop

Of course, I am not the only one among my friends who has been seized by the need to go to such lengths to mark their childrens’ birthdays.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a creative in advertising, a health professional or a home mum – we all feel the allure of the WOW birthday cake.

The swimming pool, below, was my first serious birthday cake, which came straight from the pages of the Womens’ Weekly Birthday Cake cookbook.   Buy a few packets of biscuits, bake a cake, make some jelly, and you’re in business.  But I blame Marteen for turning up the heat.

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Charlie's dragon cake

For her son’s third birthday, Marteen did things with fondant that I didn’t even know possible, to produce the adorable dragon featured on the right.

As you can imagine, it blew everyone away, and in my mind, raised the stakes in birthday cakes from that day forward.

Favouring the ‘use a motherload of frosting, then throw a lot of coloured sugar sand and lollies at it’ approach, I countered with the roadworks number three.  Crude, but effective.

roadworks cake

And then, earlier this year, my friend Sally (a doctor of psychology, and a newcomer on the cake decorating scene) also decided it was time to pull her finger out, and dive into the world of themed parties and amateur cake decorating.

Sal watched a few You Tube tutorials, rolled up her sleeves, and set to work on one of her first forays into fontant art.  A pirate ship for her son’s pirate party, complete with individually handcrafted fondant decking planks.  She even decided it was cheaper to make her own chocolate marshmallow fondant, rather than pay for the commercial variety.  Now that’s confidence.  And how awesome is this cake?

Pirate shipI think you’d agree that Sal’s slam dunk with the pirate ship cake is further evidence of  what most of you already know: that women can do pretty much anything they set their mind to.  This is because:

1.  We’re awesome, and

2.  If we’re not sure, we can just Google it.

But how in God’s name did our mothers get by without the internet?!  A topic for another day, no doubt.

And the most sage piece of advice (which Sal gleaned from a You Tubing baker-nerd type, and has since passed on to me), is not to be ‘intimidated by the fondant’.  A simple, but effective mantra, for the modern woman.

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