Sunday, August 15, 2010

Russian Cargo Threadcake

In our now second annual tradition, my wife and I made another Threadcake.  Threadcakes is an awesome online competition where you make a cake based on a shirt by Threadless.  Last year we made a walrus and ice cream truck cake and I wrote about it here.

This year’s cake is based on the shirt “Russian Cargo.”  It’s inspired by Tetris.  The Cyrillic text on the side of the cargo ship is the first name of the creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov.

Unlike last years entry, this year we made the entire piece out of nothing but cake, fondant, and gum paste.  There are also a few pieces of structural support where necessary, such as the crane arm, the wire to hold the floating Tetris piece, support in the Tetris piece itself, and some wooden dowels.

The cake is again made out of vanilla chiffon cake from Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft from the Culinary Institute of America. This cake is rather firm, which makes it easier to carve and stack, but still moist and tasty.  The frosting is a simple vanilla buttercream frosting.

Mise en place for the cake

Here is the mise en place for the cake itself.

Dry ingredients for the cake

All the dry ingredients get sifted together.  I actually sifted this year rather than just mixing them as I normally would.  I’m not sure it made a difference since the batter gets mixed so much anyway.

A lot of egg yolks

Here are all the eggs yolks required to make this cake.  This is enough for one half-sheet cake (13x18”).  I ended up needing two half-sheet cakes to make this cake.

Egg whites

And here are the egg whites separated out and saved for later.

Wet ingredients

The wet ingredients all get mixed together.

Slowly mixing together

The wet ingredients get slowly mixed into the dry.

Batter mixed

It all gets mixed for a few minute and everything is smooth and well incorporated.

Meringue for the cake

The egg whites get turned into a meringue.

Meringue mixed in

The meringue then gets gently folded into the cake batter.

Prepared pan

A half-sheet pan is prepared by lining it with some parchment paper and then coating it with a flour and oil spray.

Batter in the pan

The batter goes into the pan and then immediately into the oven.

Baked cake

After baking for about 40-50 minutes, the cake is done.

Cake cooling on a wire rack

Then, after cooling for a few minutes in the pan, the cake is turned out onto a wire rack and allowed to cool completely.

Left over meringue to pipe into clouds

The cake recipe ends up with extra egg whites.  We turned them into a slightly over mixed meringue to make clouds.  Over mixing them gave it a more uneven and “cloudy” texture.

Baked meringue clouds

Here are the clouds after drying in the oven for a while.  Unfortunately we forgot to attach them to the smoke stack on the ship.

Butter for frosting

Now it was time to make the buttercream frosting.  It was a simple mixture of butter, milk, and powdered sugar.  While not my favorite frosting, it does make excellent frosting for carved cakes.  It also takes substantially less time than a “real” buttercream frosting.

Simple buttercream frosting

Here is the completed frosting.  We ended up needing about twice this amount to ice and fill the whole cake.

Cut cake

Next up was stacking and carving the cake.  Each cake was cut to just about the right size, then the rounded top was removed with a sharp bread knife.

Filled cake

Frosting was then added to the top of the pieces.

Stacked cake

And another piece was laid upside down on top.  The second piece is upside down so that the top can be perfectly flat.  The bottom of the cake is always going to be flatter than anything you can carve.

Triple stacked cake

Here is a three piece high stack.

All the cakes stacked

And here is all the cake stacked for all pieces of the ship and cargo.

Metal Tetris form

The hanging tetris piece would never last as just cake.  It needed some structural support.  For that support a one inch wide strip of aluminum was bent and cut into shape.

Filled Tetris form

The shape was then filled with cake.

Creative cake carving

All the cake pieces then needed carving.  Cereal boxes make for excellent impromptu guides to make sure that you carve perfectly vertically.

Carved Tetris cargo

Here is a carved piece that will end up being one of the two Tetris cargos on the ship.

Carved ship

The form of the cargo ship itself also gets carved.

Iced crane tower

All the pieces then need to be iced.  The icing here shouldn’t be very thick.  It is basically just there to allow the fondant to adhere to the cake.

Iced ship

The ship itself also gets iced.

Hole for crane anchor

The ship, then, needed to have a hole carved out of the rear section.

Sculpy crane anchor

This was to allow us to put a block of baked Sculpy to serve as an anchor for the crane arm.  Without this, the crane arm wouldn’t have been able to support the weight and would have fell over.

Covered crane anchor

The hole was covered up with cake and re-iced.  A wooden skewer marks the point where the crane arm will anchor.

Chilling iced cake

Everything then goes into the fridge so that the icing can harden up a bit to make it easier to cover with fondant.

Coloring fondant

Then we hade to make all the colors of the fondant we needed, except black.  It’s really hard to make a good black color at home without making the fondant too liquid.  Instead, we just purchased a small amount of black fondant.

Mixing the color in

You can wear gloves to mix the gel color into the fondant if you are worried about dying your hands.

Cutting out Tetris squares

The Tetris square were cut out using a clean Exacto knife.

Cut Tetris squares

This made for perfect and uniform squares.

Drying the Tetris squares out

The squares were laid out to dry over night.

Cutting out the lettering

The lettering for the ship name also was cut out of fondant.

Fondant covered Tetris cargo

The next day, each of the cake pieces was covered with white fondant to form a base.

Adding the Tetris squares

Then the Tetris squares were adhered to the piece with just a light brushing of water.

Finished small Tetris cargo

Here is the completed smaller Tetris cargo.

Finished large Tetris cargo

And the larger Tetris cargo.

Front ship building under construction

This is the front tower of the ship with the smoke stack in front.  Unfortunately we ended up having to cut this piece in half.  We had planned to make a larger cargo ship, but shrank the ship since we ran out of cake.  So, to get everything to fit on the ship, this piece made the ultimate sacrifice and was cut in half.

Ship under construction

The ship also got covered with fondant.  The crane is also coming together here as is the lettering on the side of the ship.

Finished cake

And here is the completed cake.  The crane arm is a metal rod to help support the weight.  The Tetris piece is suspended with some wire.

Finished cake, three quarter shot 

Here is the cake again at a different angle.

Eaten cake

This is some of the aftermath of eating the cake.  It was a fun cake to make, but we’re certainly glad to not have had to eat it all ourselves.  It was taken over to a friends house to share and then to work with me where it was finally finished.

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