Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Paean to Purple Cake

I’ve only made three graduation cakes and I suppose they are kind of in-between major projects like wedding cakes and more minor projects like birthday cakes. Typically graduation cakes are requested (well, I don’t suppose I can use the word “typically” since I have hardly any cases from which to generalize) but I think it would be kind of weird to show up at someone’s big graduation bash with a giant decorated cake without having had them ask you for it first.

Well, maybe if it was humorously shaped exactly like their head for the sake of some serious post-defense mordant wit!

My most recent graduation cake was for a friend, D (the same one who got me the UFO cake gig), who was celebrating her graduation from ASU’s Museum studies MA program. D, in addition to her Museum gigs, has worked at some of the same places I have as an archaeologist.

I asked her what she wanted on it, since it was an encomium in her honor, and she requested that it be the color purple and possibly embellished with some kind of flower. She was unspecific as to details but I surmised that she wanted something “girlie”.

D and I have both worked as field archaeologists. Actually, I believe she has way more contract field archaeology experience than I do. This means hard outdoor work, (well, pretty much anything outdoors in an Arizona summer should be considered hard labor by any standards!) complete with work boots and hard hats.

I see no inherent contradiction in D’s desire for girlie purple cake and her street credibility as a field archaeologist.

However, this may come as a surprise to people who assume that field archaeologists adopt the outdoor accoutrements (including boots, jeans, cotton work shirts, etc.) as affectations designed to enhance their credibility.
Of course it is also true that many vocations have clothing aesthetics (as one relation acerbically put it, when attending a Society for American Archaeology Meeting, “Do they ALL have to wear jeans and flannel shirts?”) and archaeologists are no exceptions, dressing the part even in situations where it is not required.

Naturally I thought D’s cake should involve the appropriate amount of glitter, flowers, ribbons, and purple. In this instance, I thought I would start by modeling gum paste flowers.

There are pretty standard instructions on how to model gum paste flowers and I’ve owned a kit that has the cut-out designs and cutters necessary for the job for years. For some reason, I’ve mostly stuck to sculpting basic flowers like roses “by hand” and avoiding all the others except when it comes to graduation cakes.

The first graduation cake flowers I ever did were daisies for a graduation cake years ago but they were relatively easy to do. They were labor intensive (they required royal icing applications for the flower centers and stems) but they were not technically hard to do with the flower petal cutters and some minor sculpting.

You can see a close up here.

And yeah, I know the icing is kind of messy. My excuse is that I was more concerned about the taste, and this happens to be my favorite custard-like icing to make, modeled after the famous “floating islands” dessert. Yes, this icing actually has crème anglaise and Italian meringue in it, oh, and about a pound of butter! But, I have to concede, the lack of smooth surfaced icing detracts from the appearance too much for my liking.

However, I do note that the design for this cake happens to be one of Mr. Pretzel Bender's favorites. Possibly the engineer in him simply likes the fact that I planned it in advance!

The second graduation cake I did for D's sister (requested by D) and it involved calla lilies. Again, a relatively easy flower.

For D, I wanted to finally attempt something really ambitious and unabashedly pretty. I wanted to try a flower that would require several cut-outs and some more elaborate assembly involving florist wires and tape. (I note here that gum paste flowers, while technically made of sugar paste and hence following the cake decorations must be edible rule, also typically include parts, like wire stamens, that are NOT edible).

Although the peanut gallery did opine it was a pity my orchids weren’t vibrant colored and speckled, the plain white orchid was the only kind in my flower instruction book!

Here they are.

You can see in the close-up the more detailed parts (three to be exact) of the three petals that had to be put together.

I used a plain vanilla sugar frosting (not too exciting but heat resistant, which is important where I live!) to decorate the 12 inch round two layer white cake.

Personally, I think that the day it is made, the white cake is probably the moistest and lightest of all of the butter cakes. It’s a favorite of mine when fresh. However, it is hard to use for big events unless I’ve really planned in advance though because it is best the day it is made.

I made this cake the day it was going to be served, mostly because I could do the flowers a few days in advance and keep the other decorations relatively simple.

Finally, the finished product, a glittery, pearl bedecked purple cake complete with beribboned gum paste orchids.

Personally, I think only the addition of some unicorns could have made this cake more girlie.

But, perhaps some sugar paper butterflies could have been thrown in for good measure! They can be disturbingly realistic.

Perhaps for the next graduation cake...


Blogger Zumbas said...

That was a great posting, I can't wait to see the upcoming Dalek post... Mr.PB

Wed Jun 20, 02:57:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This posting combines intruction with amusement in the right proportions. Beautiful job. I would like to chomp down on a piece right now! Strange to think, like the road warrior, this cake now lives only in our memories.


Wed Jun 20, 04:41:00 PM 2007  

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