This is the last cake post about cakes already made. Fortunately, people just keep having birthdays, which is very considerate of them considering that I need the cake practise. This cake is another one from before the official start of Year of the Cake, and it’s pretty rough looking but was good fun to design and make and I like to think it added to the fun at my sister’s birthday bash.
In the same way that I like lizards, my sister likes frogs. What we have both found, though, is that it is possible to have too many things related to the animal that you like. Frog fridge magnets, frog keyrings, frog calendars, stuffed frogs, sand frogs, beanie frogs… It was getting to be frog central on the day of a major international frog convention in J’s house. Bottom line – we are to buy no more frogs for her. Unless it’s something really, really awesome and quite little. Anyway, knowing this, I thought it would be really good if I could figure out a way to make her a frog cake, to combine the joy of the frog with the joy of the cake and be something that would make her smile without taking up any permanent space in the house. It was also a challenge for me and you’ve probably figured out that, when it comes to cooking and baking, I like to try something a bit different.
So, enough teasing, here is a picture of the finished frog cake:
As I said, he’s a bit rough round the edges, poor soul. Even his candles are a bit off kilter. This was the second 3D cake I’d made, the first being a little chocolate dinosaur, using the wedding cake recipe previously posted but without the white chocolate covering. The dino looked more presentable because I used the thick chocolate buttercream as icing and it set to a hard finish. The frog had lemon cream cheese icing, dyed green, and I got too cocky and thought I could figure out a recipe for it myself. I couldn’t, really, and have accepted that I have to stick to or sensibly adapt recipes for icing until I’ve got the hang of it. Dont get me wrong, it tasted pretty good, but it didn’t set, and didn’t give good coverage, and was generally not up to a great standard. It won’t go down in history as one of the great icings of all time, let’s put it that way. I won’t be giving you the recipe for it.
So once I’d decided to make a frog cake, the first thing I wanted to do was check out what other frog cakes people had done. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel, after all. Or the frog. Definitely no point reinventing the frog because they took millions and millions of years to evolve, and I just didn’t have that kind of time on my hands. I would urge you to Google image search for frog cakes, there are some real beauties – and some right beasts. Some look surprised, some look uncomfortable, some look as though they may be in need of immediate psychiatric assistance, but they all represent hard work on someone’s part and I shouldn’t mock. It’s good that people are trying out new things and sharing them with the world – much like myself – although some of the results I might *not* have shared, but each to their own.
The pictures gave me a good starting point for thinking about the shape of the cake. I wanted to get a bit adventurous and go 3D, although there was a cute and simple idea for a flat cake that would have been quite straightforward. The thing about 3D cakes is that you must have each bit well supported. If you look at this dino cake picture, you’ll see that I failed in this respect and had to prop his head up with a toothpick. Not comfortable for him I’m sure, but was that or have him hanging his head all the way to the ground, and emosaurus wasn’t the look I was aiming for. I found one sculpted frog cake that was sitting up, with his legs tucked round his bottom and his little hands resting on his tummy. It was beautiful, professionally done and finished, and I knew mine wouldn’t look the same, but I could see that having the frog sitting up like that was a good way to do it and would need fewer conspicuous toothpicks. I could also see that if I made two cakes then I could build him like a snowman, and then make another, flat cake to make his legs, hands and eyes.
The next hurdle was that I don’t have two deep cake tins of similar enough sizes. I didn’t want to fill the cakes; I like a challenge but I’m not a glutton for punishment, only for cake (and, admittedly, most other foods. But not punishment). So I wanted to make two deep cakes that I could sort of round off the edges on to make a fat froggy shape, then stack one on top of the other. I also wanted one to be a bit smaller than the other to make into the head. Luckily, I had the solution to hand; I decided to use cooking pots instead of cake tins to make the cakes. They’re more than deep enough to make a cake, they’re designed to withstand heat and I have three in decreasing sizes. The pots that I have are metal handled as well so there is nothing to melt in the oven. I *have* used a pot with a plastic handle before to make a cake, and it didn’t melt, but I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else melting their best pots and spending hours scrubbing the residue off while raining down a thousand curses on my head. I also have a shallow roasting dish that would do for the legs etc. Now to decide on a cake.
I didn’t want to make the chocolate wedding cake again, I’d done it for a couple of celebration cakes already and wanted to do something different this time. The good thing about the chocolate cake, apart from it being delicious and chocolatey, is that is is very rich and dense, so it holds its shape well. I wanted a cake that would do the same because I was going to make some fairly delicate shaping with the frog’s hands, feet and legs. I also wanted a cake that I could make from things that were already in my house, if possible, so I had a rummage around in the fridge and cupboards. I keep my baking cupboard well stocked with flour, baking powder and at least one kind of sugar, along with other ingredients that I’ve picked up along the way because I thought they would be useful or interesting. One such ingredient is poppy seeds, which I love to add crunch and subtle flavour. In the fridge, as well as the eggs I would need, was one lonely lemon. Why I had a lemon in the fridge I’m not really sure – possibly for the purpose of making another cake, possibly because I’d had people round and bought it to serve them upmarket cocktails (gin and tonic with a slice of lemon, oh yeah) or it could be to do with the Sicilian style sausages I’d been making. Did I let another recipe slip there? Oops…
Having taken stock, the natural conclusion was a lemon and poppy seed cake. Rather than use a recipe for muffins that I already had, I sort of threw one together and hoped for the best. This is so often my preferred way of cooking, but I have only recently started to take this approach to baking. I have always thought of baking as more of a science than an art - more chemistry than alchemy, if you will. It’s true to an extent, as if you get the proportions of ingredients wrong then you won’t get the texture you want, or the cake won’t rise properly, or it’ll take an age to bake or some other calamity that we can all do without. However, once you’ve been doing it for a while I guess you must get a feel for it, because now I can substitute ingredients for each other without any mishap and can knock up a sponge cake in what feels like minutes. The rule I stick to is equal amounts of flour, butter or margarine and sugar, plus two eggs for a regular sized cake or three for a big one, or one that needs to be really dense. You can put in a little vanilla essence if you like, or orange essence, or grated citrus peel, or chocolate chips, or marzipan chunks… Almost anything that you like, I suppose. For some things you’d have to adjust the amount of liquid by adding in some milk or some extra flour – the more I talk about it the more I realise that it can be, at least in part, more art than science, even though it makes me feel arrogant to say it. I suppose that I can’t really pretend to be worried about coming across arrogant while at the same time writing a blog that A: assumes that people will read it and B: tells them how to cook things, so let’s move on. Below is the recipe for a lemon and poppy seed cake. I’ll give you the amounts to make a six-inch cake, and you can do whatever maths you need to get to the size of cake you want.
- 6oz plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 6oz butter or margarine
- 6oz caster sugar
- the grated rind of one small, unwaxed, scrubbed lemon
- an amount of poppy seeds greater than zero but less than infinite. I’ll explain this later
Grease and flour a cake tin, and heat the oven to 200C. Take a bowl. Put the flour, baking powder, butter or marge, sugar and eggs in it. Mix them all up until they come together. Gotta love the all in one method. Now, add about half of the lemon rind, stir well, and have a smell and maybe a cheeky taste. I wanted the cake to be quite citrusy so I added most, if not all, of the rind. Work to what seems right to you. Once you’re happy with that, add in a generous tablespoon of poppy seeds and stir. Have a look at the mix - you want the poppy seeds to run all through the cake and give a lovely crunch to every mouthful. Add more if you need to, again use your own judgement. As Bill Hicks said - you’re right. Not those recipe writers - you! I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the sentiment is similar, if more trivial in this case.
Anyway, once the cake mix is done, spoon it into your prepared tin and put it in the oven for twenty minutes to half an hour. You want the melamine chopstick (or other cake tester) to come out clean when inserted to the centre of the cake. For my froggy cake, I made the head and body in the two pots and a further shallow, flat tin for the appendages. I put the body half on the base board, iced it and plonked the head unceremoniously on top. The head one looks as though it’s smiling, and this was a complete happy accident, happy being the operative word. I then iced the head and left them to start drying in a patchy, unattractive way. Next, I took a sheet of baking paper and cut it to the size of the flat cake. This let me play around with how to cut out the legs, hands and eyes most efficiently without making any cuts in the cake itself. It took me a few goes, and therefore a few sheets of baking paper, to get it right but finally I was ready to cut the cake. I put the baking paper on which I’d drawn the shapes I wanted to cut on top of the cake, and using a sharp knife cut right through the paper and the cake. I leaned the legs up against the sides of the frog, stuck the eye shapes on with icing and used cocktail sticks to hold the hands on, although I think that some icing might well had held them on if it had been thicker. I then put more icing on the recent additions, across the base board and left it to set(ish).
It could have been neater and I probably could have rounded off the head more, plus the legs are sitting at odd angles, but it’s recognisably a frog, and it’s also a tasty cake, so for an early attempt I feel pretty happy with it. Thicker icing would have been the way forward too. Very much so, in fact, but it’s all a big learning curve and next time I make a 3D cake it’ll be better.