Friday, 23 September 2011

The Continuous Plankton Recorder and peanut butter and chocolate creamy icing

Although recently a lot of my kitchen creation efforts have been diverted towards some other projects, including copious amounts of jams and chutneys (I am planning VERY FAR ahead for christmas this year), I have managed to get in a little creative caking of late.

The latest project was a very interesting, and for the marine geek side of me, a very exciting one!  

I was asked to create a cake in the shape of a Continuous Plankton Recorder (or CPR) a piece of machinery, used by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) to record the different plankton found in water around the world, when towed behind ships.

Yes I realise I am very uncool that I got very excited about this, but oh well, I shall live on! 

Since I realise that unless you are a marine geek, this all probably means nothing to you, here is what a real CPR looks like ...

(picture from
And here ... is my creation to look like the above

This cake was to celebrate the 80th year that the CPR has been used (which explains the candles!).  

There are a couple of things I think I would have done differently next time.  I would have preferred to have matched the fondant colour to the card better, unfortunately this didn't come off as well as I had hoped.  I think next time I will also need to remember to trim the cake better before adding the fondant so that it lies against a flatter surface and avoids that bumpy look.

There were a few moments where I had cause for concern with, not so much the cake itself, as the attachments added to it.  The card at the back was somewhat flimsy, and upon set up, I found that it was not standing up straight.  Luckily some bits of card from a handy thorntons' chocolate box, and a little sellotape to provide stability, and we were good to go, with the card now holding upright happily.  

I also had a brief movie moment, when the tube-shaped part sitting at the front, overbalanced and rolled sideways off the cake.  I watched from a few feet away from the table, as it made it's inexorable way towards the edge, and inevitably the floor .... I took a hollywood stunt-woman style dive accross the table, and with the tips of my fingers, thank goodness, just managed to catch it as it went for a diving lesson.

Once, all of these little incidents had been overcome, all in all the cake went down very well!  I enjoyed making this creation and I am looking forward to a new challenge.  Now all I need is some inspiration for a new theme with which to go!  ..... hmmm so many possibilities, only one cake to be made at a time!

Happily, at the end I also had a couple too many sponges left over, which was fantastic as I decided to experiment with peanut butter in buttercream icing.  I chose to make peanut butter and chocolate icing, and oh wow has it gone down well!  If you like reese's peanut butter cups, this is like melting them down and smothering cake with them!  What could possibly beat that?!

Peanut butter and chocolate buttercream recipe:

50g peanut butter (whether you use smooth or crunchy is up to you, I used crunchy but as I use a blender to make my icing, it ended up pretty much smooth anyway)
50g butter or margarine
300g icing sugar 
50g cocoa
1 tsp vanilla flavouring
1 tbsp water

Its really simple if you have an electric mixer or blender.  Just pop all the ingredients in the bowl and blend or whisk until smooth and well mixed.  If the mixture is very runny, add extra icing sugar until a thicker consistency, that spreads easily but doesn't run is achieved.  Conversely if the mixture is too thick to spread you can add water (a very small amount at time!) to thin it out a little.

If you don't have an electric mixer, I suggest whisking the butter, peanut butter, vanilla and water together until creamy.  Then add the remaining ingredients and whisk until they are all combined.  Follow the same instructions above to ensure a good consistency.

Then, if you can stop yourself from eating the icing on its own!  Stick it on a cake of  your choice.  I had spare vanilla sponge, which has worked a treat, but I suspect a chocolate, or even peanut butter related sponge flavour, would be superb also.

Until next time!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Part 2 ... It's finished!

After many hours work, I had the finished product! Ta da!

I realise that the tower at the back is ahem, a little bit wonky, however, happily I have learned a few things from this adventure.  Namely, I probably should have used something like a swiss roll to make the tower as it might have been straight!  Or if not that, then I should have rethought the layering etc.

But before I get ahead of myself here's what I DID do ...

The base was made of two layers of chocolate sponge, held together with a filling of chocolate buttercream.  I cut a corner off of the cake and gave it some jagged cliff type edges.  This was done very roughly, as when I coated it with chocolate fudge icing, which was nice and thick, gave additional rocky texture.  I then stuck some decorative blobs around the place to make a few more "rocks" (which my boyfriend decided he should even out by trying to pick them off and eat them, before the cake was given to the birhtday girl!!).

Once this was in place I made 2 layers of vanilla sponge using an 8" circular tin, from which I cut several layers using an upended mug, for the tower at the back (this used all of one of the layers, bar the various off cuts).  The first was iced at the bottom then placed on the base.  I then layered them by adding buttercream on top, then iced around the edge of each piece as I added it .... I would suggest NOT following this method to create something tall and circular, everytime I added a piece it all slid and the buttercream was gently sinking towards the bottom, so the tower was wider there.  It gave a fun, oldy rustic look, but could also have been described as a bit crap.  

I would suggest only a very small amount of buttercream in the middle of each layer to hold them together, to layer larger pieces than you will need, then use something like a cookie cutter to get the whole lot to the right size together.  You can then place the uniced tower on the base and add the vanilla buttercream icing all around the tower.

The remaining base sections were made up of two layers of sponge and also iced with vanilla buttercream.  The windows and other similar details were made up of black or grey fondant, rolled and cut to the correct shapes.

The turret tops were made of card with fondant added ... there is no way that back tower could have held any more cake!  Copious numbers of straws and other reinforcements were already used to try to keep what was already there in place.  The tiles were simply roughly rolled out fondant cut into squares/rectangles with no real finesse at that point (curved edges etc around the edge of the rolled section were left as they were).  The turret top was created from a circle of card with a slit, curled around to make a cone.  A thin layer of buttercream was then put all over the card, and working from the bottom up, I simply covered the whole thing with the "tiles" a layer at a time, each higher layer overlapping a little with the one below.

The two turrets on top of the great hall, were also made completely from card and fondant.  The roofs were made in the same way as the larger one, and the turret bodies were made from small card tubes covered with fondant which had been coloured to match the buttercream.

Once this was all done, I placed all of my little pre-made characters in various locations around the castle.

And the final part, was to add the lake to the cut away area.  

Here I took some blue fondant, and added a very small amount of black fondant, mixing the two gently until they gave a marbled effect, but before the whole thing went completely grey.  I then rolled this out and placed it to fit around the bottom of the base, trimming and moving the off-cuts to better locations as I felt was necessary.

My top tip, would definitely be, use cornflour to stop your fondant sticking, it is so very very much easier when you aren't trying to transfer fondant that is completely stuck to something!

I had a great time making this, and when presented with it, the birthday girl was very happy with her cake.  I hope you have enjoyed reading about it!  

I will make my next cake creation in a few weeks, all suggestions for themes and ideas are welcome.

Thanks for reading.