Monday, November 2, 2009
I have been trying to declutter at least some of the excess magazines lying around the house. If anyone has a good idea on how to do this, I need your help. My current plan is grabbing a pile of mags, merrily ripping out all the recipes I am interested in and then popping them all in a great big box, which even I can see will need to be decluttered sooner rather than later. It is also clear to anyone walking into this house that I have more recipes than I will ever cook in my lifetime (even accounting for the fact that I am planning to live past 100) . So why do it?
The simple answer is that you come across treasures like this. A few weeks ago, I was attacking the Halloween issue of Martha Stewart from last year, and saw the most incredible Haunted House Cake. The younger darling daughter agreed with my ill-researched suggestion that I should make this cake for Halloween. When we were invited to join friends for a Halloween BBQ, I immediately volunteered making the afore-mentioned cake as my contribution to the festivities. All was well until Wednesday when I read the recipe for the first time. This was a serious cake. A three batches of Devil's Food Cake type of cake. And each batch big enough to fill my enormous stand mixer. And don't get me started on the icing - the recipe called for 12 cups of icing, made with 10 egg whites, 3/4 kg of chocolate and 4 blocks of butter. Oh my. And then a giant biscuit in the shape of a haunted house with toffee windows, and a pumpkin seed roof, to set it all off. Oh my again.
There was only one thing to do. Pin back my hair and go for it. I spread the cake-making out over a couple of days to make the process a little more fun. Day One was making the cakes and the icing. Each batch supposedly made one 9 inch and one 11 inch layer for the cake. I found that I had enough leftover batter from each batch to also make some chocolate cupcakes. Martha's concept was three 9 inch layers piled on three 11 inch layers. Which would be fine if you were feeding Andre the giant, but this was already an enormous cake with only two layers, so I cut myself a break and left out the third layer. The Icing was amazing, made by cooking the egg whites with the sugar before beating them hard - the first icing I have ever made that tastes like it could come from the cake shop up the road, and I mean that in a good way. Martha helpfully advises that leftover icing can be frozen, so I now have a box of it sitting in my freezer waiting for some other chcocolate cake to emerge from my oven.
Day Two I made the giant cookies for the Halloween house, as well as the tree and the spooky man and the pumpkins. Martha's original concept was for cookie grave stones to be scattered around the cake, but I knew that my superstitious husband would have a fit if he found me making a graveyard cake, so pumpkins it was. Once the cookies were cooked, it was time to make toffee for the doors and windows. At this stage I felt like I was doing the pressure test for a masterchef challenge. How many processes can one cake require? And once that was done, it was time to melt some chocolate and roof the house, before applying liquorice details to the windows and roof.
Finally on Halloween, all that was required was assembling it all, with nougat stairs, shaved chocolate to look like the ground and the assemblage of cookies. Unfortunately I overbaked the tree, so by the time it was put on top of the cake, it looked like one of those African baobab trees with nearly no branches. Problem number two was Sydney's humidity, which was not superhigh on Saturday, but was high enough to make the biscuits go soggy and eventually my house collapsed in the middle! Happily, not before its beauty was captured on film and all the kids had had a chance to enjoy the sight of it before it was demolished. You can find all of the recipes at the links above - they are a little long to reproduce here. The stand-out for me was the icing, which I will definitely make again (although not in such excessive quantities!). I really loved making this cake, and will probably make it again the year after next (next year might be too soon). I liked using a giant cookie as decoration because of the flexibility it gives you: giant Xmas trees or love hearts or animals or anything at all. Just not in the summer humidity.
And guess what I did with the leftover cupcakes? Upended them under some white fondant icing to make little ghosts. I think I had more fun at Halloween than the kids.