My sister’s birthday is on Halloween, and as I have frequently done over the years, I made her birthday cake. We had dinner at my parents’ house on Friday, and actually it was a double birthday dinner – for both Meredith and for my nephew, Calvin, who, without any regard for his mother’s feelings, has turned fifteen. He’s grounded until he stops this nonsense.
So actually I did two birthday cakes for the dinner – one for Mere and one for Calvin. I also had a cake to do for someone at work who ALSO has a Halloween birthday, but he took his birthday off and so we had his cake on Friday, too. And I had a really fun time getting all these cakes done. I haven’t done a lot of cakes in the past few years, but maybe I’ll start drifting back into it. We’ll see.
Anyway, for my sister. I think she’s my favorite cake recipient. For one thing, she always wants chocolate, and it’s nice to bake for someone with such excellent taste. The other reason, the main other one, is that I can lead her to believe I might do some sort of creepy cake, say, about her foot. It’s fun to torture her. She’s my baby sister, after all. I’ve had a lifetime of practice.
I actually did toy with the idea of doing a foot-related theme – or a missing toe-relate theme – or something along those lines. Halloween is the perfect opportunity to make creepy or gross cakes, after all. But then I had another idea.
She took up crocheting around a year or so ago, and she’s made hats and scarves and granny squares galore. She made herself a hat – this one:
And for some reason, this hat has become a source of humor between the two of us. And I can’t really explain why, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.
So that was my plan. To make a hat cake.
The cake was (needlessly) five layers. I have a fear of not making ENOUGH, so I make too much. But that’s okay – Mere was happy to bring home the leftovers. Three layers were chocolate cake – just plain ol’ chocolate cake from a box mix. I used two boxes of mix, and three round cake pans – the 6", 8" and 12" ones. And because this cake was for my sister, I wanted it to be extra specially yummy, so I made two layers of Boca Negra – 8" and 10".
The Boca Negra recipe calls for bourbon, but I used some strong coffee instead. It worked just fine. Once those two layers were nicely chilled, I started to assemble the cake. It was actually the last one I put together, and I have to say, even though it took the longest, it was also the most fun.
Here’s a glimpse into my world this past Thursday night…
First – a look back at a bit of the Boca Negra in production…
That’s the melted chocolate and the hot coffee and sugar syrup in there, and the lumps you see are some of the butter as I stir it in.
That’s the rest of the butter, room temp, cut into chunks, waiting to join the fun.
Here’s one of the two pans of Boca Negra just before I placed them in the oven…
And here’s one after it baked in the water bath for about 45 minutes….
Words CANNOT describe how absolutely sublime this is. You’ll just have to go make some for yourself.
Anyway, on to the construction of the cake.
I started with the 12 inch layer of regular cake, part of the top sliced off so it would be flat…
And on that I smeared some seedless raspberry jam, because raspberry and chocolate go oh, so very nicely together…
And onto that, I unmolded the 10 inch Boca Negra. Now, when you make the Boca Negra, you line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to prevent the cake from sticking.
Something else to keep in mind is that if you have refrigerated the cake most of the day, it’s going to be rather difficult to unmold it. I hadn’t thought of that when I was starting to assemble the hat, so after my moment of panic, I ran a towel under really hot water and sat the pan on that for a minute or so. Then I held the edge of the pan against the edge of the first cake layer and then – IN ONE FELL SWOOP – inverted the pan onto the cake.
And – nothing happened. At least not immediately. But then I felt a barely perceptible change in the weight distribution in the pan, and next thing I knew, the Boca Negra had slipped right out and onto the first cake layer, nice and neat. PHEW!
I peeled off the parchment, and spread a layer of Nutella on top. Because hazelnut goes oh, so very well with raspberry and chocolate.
And then the 8 inch layer of cake and some seedless raspberry jam…
And then the next layer of Boca Negra and a smear of Nutella, and finally the little 6 inch cake layer. Once all the layers were stacked, I carved the whole thing into the shape of a very large hat:
And now, as I’m looking at it, I notice that it’s sort of listing to the left…I could make some sort of joke about that being an accurate representation of the shape of my sister’s head, but I won’t do that because it’s not, and and plus she’s a black belt in karate and she’ll hurt me.
On to the actual HAT part of the adventure. I set up my laptop on a counter near the work area and pulled up the image of her hat:
And I stared at it for a while to try to figure out how in the heck I was going to recreate THAT. I get these CLEVER ideas…and then I have to actually figure out how to execute them. I really question my sanity at times like these.
The best thing to do in a situation like this, is to take it slow. Stare at the picture for a while…put some cake pans away…get a glass of water…check your email…you know – important creative stuff like that.
I decided I could at least make the colors.
I used fondant to construct the hat – I use it on a lot of my cakes. I actually used to make it from scratch, years ago when I had tons of free time and no children. Then I discovered that they actually sell the stuff ALREADY MADE! I’m so with it.
Anyway, I decided on 6 colors – two shades of pink, one each of purple, blue, green, and yellow.
I started with the darker pink. I used two different versions of pink – "aster mauve" and plain ol’ "pink." I smeared a glob (technical pastry chef term – don’t mean to show off but the lingo is just a part of me at this point. Oh, and no, I’m not a pastry chef, really.) of each color onto the white fondant, and then began to work the color into the fondant. It can be messy, especially if, like me, you use a ton of food coloring from the outset AND you don’t wear gloves.
See those stains? They don’t wash out immediately. And anything in the red family (or black, which, in the world of food coloring, is also part of the red family – and if you don’t believe me, smear some black food coloring on your hand and then rinse it off. Told you.) will leave pink stains on your hand or your work table or your countertop. They will eventually come out, but not right then and there. I went to work the next day with really pretty blotches on my hands.
Anyway – I basically start the coloring process by folding the dough over onto the blobs of coloring and then pressing down on it with the heel of my hand. Then fold again and press, and smush it together with my hands, and squeeze it – okay, there is no real simple process. Just do your best and try to keep the coloring off your hands as much as possible.
The lighter pink was just the aster mauve. I also used juniper green, delphinium blue, a mix of delphinium and violet for the purple, and buttercup yellow for, yes, the yellow. I think I may have added a dash of copper to it also. And here they are:
Next step…how the heck do I crochet with fondant? I can’t even crochet with yarn. So I stared at the picture some more…
And some more…
And some more…
…until my eyes hurt. And I still didn’t really know what I was going to do…but I figured, since it would involve crocheting or at least some sort of fondant faux-crocheting, I should make strands of some sort.
So I did that. And they looked like this:
I actually tried a number of different methods to make the hat. I will even admit that yes, I rolled a strand out fairly thin and tried to – yes – crochet it. It kept breaking. And oh yeah, I sort of lied when I said I couldn’t crochet. I am able to crochet a single chain, miles and miles long if necessary. I just have no idea how to turn that into a hat or anything else. But I figured it’s a cake – it’s not expected to be an EXACT replica. At least not by anyone else except me.
So first I smushed strands together in pairs – blue and pink, green and the other pink, purple and yellow. Then I just sort of started at the base of the cake and made loops and ripples and squiggles, working my way around, joining the next strand pair to the one before it. After this set, I made more fondant ropes, and this time I smushed three colors together, and then did the same loops and ripples and squiggles around the hat again. It still didn’t look as…well, as color saturated as I thought it should. So then I started braiding. And that’s what did it.
I pressed the strands together in pairs first, and then braided the three resulting strands into a braid. And THEN I smushed the whole thing together into one single multi-colored strand. And that, visually, was the best I could do. (At least that’s what I told myself.)
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for (if you’re still reading) – I give you, the hats:
I just laughed every time I looked at it in the fridge. And the family seemed to get a kick out of it as well. Yay. Most importantly, it tasted really, really good.
You know, now that I’ve recapped the process, I’m thinking I could have just used the braided strands as they were, rather than squishing them together. But I didn’t at the time because I was trying NOT to make it look like a giant braid. It was crocheted, dammit! It must be ACCURATE!
I’m so goofy sometimes.