"The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him 'WILD THING!' and Max said 'I'LL EAT YOU UP!' " -- Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
A few weeks ago, my good friend Holly asked if I'd be interested in making a special cake for her young nephew's birthday party. She sent me a link to a photo that depicted a fun rendition, in cake form, of one of the characters from Where the Wild Things Are. I took one look and knew I couldn't pass it up. That photo provided the direct inspiration for the cake that I ended up making last week. I hope the folks at Coco Cake, a boutique-cupcake bakery in Vancouver, Canada, agree that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, because I drew very heavily from their adorable design (click on that link to see their cake!).
Their cake, though, was fondant covered and wrapped with a fabric ribbon. Because we didn't want to go with fondant for this little boy's birthday, my cake was filled and coated with buttercream, and fondant accents were used only for the eyes, nose, teeth, and horns. To make this cake, I used a devil's food recipe that can be found here, in a post that I did last September; the buttercream icing recipe that I used can also be found within that same post.
This is an awfully simple design when you get right down to it. Anyone with the time and inclination could make this. So, let the wild baker within you out -- make your own Wild Thing cake, and let the wild rumpus start!
Here's the rundown on the supplies that I used and details on how I assembled this wild thing of a birthday cake:
Three 9" cake layers, cooled
About 1 and 1/2 cups of white or off-white buttercream icing
About 5 cups of chocolate icing
About 3/4 cup of grated milk chocolate and dark chocolate, combined
A small amount of white fondant (teeth and horns)
A small amount of pinkish/flesh-toned fondant (nose)
A very small amount of bright yellow fondant (eyes)
A very tiny amount of black fondant (pupils of eyes)
Helpful to have:
One 9" cakeboard
Cake decorating turntable
Metal offset spatula(s)
You'll definitely need:
One pastry bag (10" or 12" size is good)
One decorating tip -- number 133 or 233 (these are often referred to as "fur" or "grass" tips)
4 sharply-pointed standard length toothpicks (to help anchor the horns)
Black or dark gray food coloring (preferably paste or gel type; not the watery type)
With one layer of the cake placed on the 9" cakeboard (note: "glue" the layer onto the board with about a tablespoon of smeared frosting on the board itself), and centered on your turntable, spread about 1 cup of the chocolate icing evenly to the edge of the layer; do the same with the second cake layer, spreading the icing evenly to the edge. Over the third layer, spread half of the white icing smoothly. Now, ice the sides of the cake all in chocolate, smoothing as you go; while the frosting is still soft, lift the cake on its board, and holding it on your palm over a sheet pan, pour and pat the grated chocolate onto the sides until the cake is coated all around. This grated chocolate gives the cake a nice furry look--very wild! Try hard to avoid getting grated chocolate on the top of the cake.
Refrigerate the cake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the frosting on the top feels cold and firm. Once it's firm, spread another layer of white icing over the existing layer on the top of the cake. Smooth it completely with an offset spatula; if you're having trouble getting a really smooth surface, it helps to dip your spatula in very hot water for several seconds, immediately wipe it off with a dish towel, and then use it right away to smooth out the buttercream (they call this the "hot knife method"-- how clever!). Refrigerate the cake again, uncovered, while you prepare your fondant decorations.
When working with fondant, always remember that it begins to dry out extremely quickly, so don't leave it exposed to the air. Lightly cover your fondant pieces that are in progress with a slightly damp piece of paper towel while you're working, and only remove as much fondant from the container as you'll need for each decorative piece as you shape each one. (Keep your containers tightly closed and/or in zip-loc bags. You can buy small containers/packages of fondant at craft stores. They can be purchased already colored, or you can buy white fondant and color it yourself with paste food coloring; if you've never used fondant before at all, though, practice with it before you actually try it out on an important cake. It's kind of a weird medium and it takes getting used to. In fact, if you're a total newbie, I'd advise reading up on basic fondant techniques just to help avoid disaster.)
Working the pink/flesh-tone fondant with your hands until it's relatively soft, shape it into a rounded cone/pyramid shape, and work that gradually into the shape of the creature's nose. Don't forget that it needs one flat side to lay on the cake, and two indentations that look like nostrils. Keep in mind, as you mold the nose, the desired size in relation to the top of the cake.
To make the eyes, roll out the softened yellow fondant with a fondant rolling pin (a waxy, extremely smooth pin), and cut out two perfectly round eyes. Don't make them too thin, or they'll be hard to cleanly lift and handle. Roll out and cut two very thin circles for the pupils, and then trim them to fit into the eyes. Attach the black pupils to the eyes by dabbing on a tiny bit of water, with your finger or a brush, to act as glue; water is all that's needed to cement two small pieces of fondant together.
For the teeth, roll out a bit of the softened white fondant and. using a sharp knife or pastry wheel, cut out about 10 triangular teeth. (That wild creature really has 14 teeth in the storybook, but I could realistically only fit 10 of my fondant teeth on the cake.)
Take a larger chunk of the white fondant and roll it into a solid cone shape, then curve it slightly to make it look like the creature's horn; make 2 of these. At the base of each horn slice off a bit of the fondant on an angle with a thin sharp knife, to help create a small flat surface that will allow the horns to rest on, and better adhere to, the frosting on the cake. Let the horns sit for a while and firm up before attempting to affix them to the cake. Don't cover them.
Remove the cake from the fridge. Handling each fondant item carefully, arrange the eyes, nose, and teeth on the top of the cake, keeping in mind as you place them that frosting "fur" will eventually be piped all around the edge of the face.
When the horns seem firm enough, position them near the top edge of the cake above the outer edges of the eyes. Anchor each one, at its base, into the cake by pushing the two toothpicks through the horn and into the cake. (Critical: Be sure to inform the person who will be cutting the cake that the toothpicks are in there! No one wants a birthday child biting into a toothpick!) If there's any fear that the horns aren't ready to support themselves, place something beneath them to help hold them up while you continue decorating the cake. (As shown, I needed to use little boxes that I topped with folded napkins. That worked well, and once the whole cake was done being decorated and could go right into the fridge, I removed the supports and all was well.)
Prepare your pastry bag, using the fur/grass tip in a coupler (the coupler is the two-piece device that holds the tip securely inside and outside of the pastry bag). Using a small spatula or the back of a spoon, "stripe" the inside surface of the bag here and there with a smearing of the black/gray food coloring. Now fill the bag about 2/3 of the way full with soft chocolate frosting; it must be soft enough to pipe easily but not at all warm; if it's too soft the fur will just flop over and make a mess as you pipe it onto the cake.
Starting with the toothpick-anchored horns, pipe fur all around them; this will anchor them further.
Then, pipe the long bangs that extend to the top of the nose and eyes. From there, just keep piping fur all around, refilling your bag with more frosting as needed. Make the piping a little heavier near the creature's chin; in the book, he has a bit of a goatee if you look closely. Once you're all done piping, store the cake in a plastic cake carrier, or in a cake box, in the fridge.
There now, wasn't that wild?
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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