Harry Potter Monster Book of Monsters Cake

My daughter Katie just turned 6, and she is completely enamored with all things relating to Harry Potter, so of course that needed to be the theme for her birthday party.  When we looked at examples of Harry Potter cakes, the Monster Book of Monsters was her immediate first pick.

I decided to model the cake after a movie prop replica that I found on the Internet.

Monster Book of Monsters movie prop replica

I used gumpaste for the tentacles, eyes, gums, teeth, and tongue, so that it would dry hard and hold a perfect 3-dimensional shape even in the face of the heat and humidity of an August birthday party.  Thankfully I had some gumpaste left over from some recent projects, so it was easy to mix up the colors I needed to create the pieces, and I painted on the irises and monstrous pupils with food coloring gel mixed with a bit of vodka.

Monster Book of Monsters Cake

I formed the tentacles and gums onto toothpicks, so that they could be inserted into the cake at the proper angles, and a mix of 2 parts vodka and 1 part corn syrup gave the perfect creepy shine to all of the parts.

Gumpaste Tentacles

I baked a 2-layer 15×11″ cake (vanilla, per the birthday girl’s request) and iced it with Italian meringue buttercream.  The cake was filled and three sides of it were iced with vanilla buttercream, and a Wilton decorating triangle made the perfect impression of pages.  A Wilton #233 fur tip did a great job of creating the furry cover.

Monster Book Face Closeup

Of course I’m a little embarrassed to admit that out of the whole cake, the part that impressed my daughter the most was the appearance of pages.  I do have to agree that I could have asked for that to be better.

No kiddie birthday party would be complete without favors, so Chocolate Frogs in pentagonal boxes were the order of the day.  Of course each box contained a Wizard Card, and some lucky guests were fortunate enough to get a card of the birthday girl herself.

Chocolate Frog Box

Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and chocolate-covered pretzel wands were also quite popular among the guests.

Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans

I was very, very busy with my copy of the GIMP, my inkjet printer, and my Silhouette Cameo cutting machine.

It turns out that the cake isn’t any less creepy when it’s mostly eaten…but it made a certain little girl extremely happy.

Cake Mostly Eaten

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Whimsical Fairy Cakes

I recently had an opportunity to make a pair of whimsical fairy cakes for a friend’s baby blessing.  The entire cake, including the Italian Meringue Buttercreamroyal icing flowers, and gumpaste fairies and toadstools were vegetarian and egg-free, and was a real showcase of the things that can be made with aqua faba — the liquid drained from a can of beans!

Large Fairy Cake

There were two cakes in order to accommodate dietary restrictions, but they made a lovely pair.  Every component of these cakes contains aqua faba, and over two quarts of it were used in the making of these cakes.

Small Fairy Cake

The cakes were served at a tea party, so I added sugar cubes adorned with matching royal icing flowers.  Since the recipients were vegetarian, and requested sugar that had not been processed wit bone char, I first molded my own sugar cubes.

Sugar cubes with royal icing flowersI don’t know why, but nothing charms a crowd like tiny floral sugar cubes.

I molded the fairies by hand from vegan gumpaste, using a face mold to get detailed facial features.

Pink fairy, kneelingOrange fairy, akimbo

I cut the fairy wings using small butterfly fondant cutters, and used fondant cutters to thin them out and make them ripply.  Then I used a clay extruder to make the hair.  The wings and dresses are painted with pearl dust mixed with vodka, to add a subtle sparkle.

Red fairy, floatingThe red fairy is suspended above the cake on a wire.

I also used gumpaste for the toadstools, and painted an edible shine on the caps with a mixture of 2 parts vodka and 1 part corn syrup, with a silver luster dust mixed in.

Shiny toadstoolsThe white spots were made with white food coloring added to a bit of edible shine.

A pathway of royal icing flowers led away from the fairy house and more flowers adorned the roof of gumpaste leaves.

Pink fairy with a floral pathway

The cake itself was a vanilla sponge cake, filled with lemon curd Italian Meringue Buttercream, iced with vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream, and covered with vegan aqua faba marshmallow fondant.

Lemon curd mixed with Italian Meringue buttercream may be my new all-time favorite cake filling.  Mixing the lemon curd with the IMBC “takes the edge off” the tartness and results in lemony, creamy awesomeness.  Yum!

A glimpse inside the cake

In truth, the aqua faba marshmallow fondant was a bust — it wasn’t stretchy enough, it had a tendency to crack, and it was extremely difficult to work with.  That recipe needs to go back to the drawing board, but the rest of the cake was a resounding success.

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Rose Swirl Cake

10 inch round cake covered in white rose swirls.

I’ve been wanting to try out the rose swirl technique, and a friend’s upcoming birthday was a perfect excuse.  Not bad for a first try.

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This technique is incredibly simple, and creates a stunning result.  It does use a lot of frosting, though!

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The cake is King Arthur’s Gluten Free Chocolate Cake, and it’s covered in vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream.

Rose Swirl Cake

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Vegan Chocolate Midnight Cupcakes with Italian Meringue Buttercream

Having made a huge batch of Vegan Italian Meringue Buttercream in the process of writing up my recent blog post, I needed to put some of it to good use.  Clearly cupcakes were in order.

Chocolate cake with vanilla icing is a classic combination, and difficult to resist.  I turned to Rebecca August’s excellent Chocolate Midnight Cake recipe as posted in the Vegan Meringues — Hits and Misses Facebook group.

Chocolate Midnight CupcakesSome of these beauties went off to a bake sale, but the rest stayed home to share with friends.  They were so popular and so delicious that I may just need to make another batch.

When making these, have your pans ready to fill as soon as the batter is mixed, and be prepared to bake them all at once.  Your cupcakes will be best if they go into the oven as soon as possible after mixing.

Chocolate Midnight Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup canola or other mildly-flavored oil
  • 1/3 cup aqua faba (the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas or other mildy-flavored beans)
  • 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 1 cup hot, brewed coffee

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
  2. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners and set them aside.  If you won’t be able to bake all 24 cupcakes at once, divide the recipe.  These cupcakes will have the best texture when the batter goes into the oven immediately after mixing.
  3. Sift flour, sugar, salt, cocoa, salt and baking soda into a medium-sized bowl.
  4. Add oil, milk, and aqua faba, and stir with a spoon until smooth.
  5. Stir in hot coffee until smooth. The batter will be very thin.
  6. Divide batter evenly into 24 muffin cups.
  7. Bake at 350ºF for 18-20 minutes.  Check early and don’t overbake.  Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and they spring back when pressed lightly in the center.

When the cupcakes are cool, frost with vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream, (the recipe as written will make far more than you’ll need — halve it, and/or freeze the rest of the icing in an airtight container for another day).

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Egg-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan Italian Meringue Buttercream

Italian Meringue Buttercream without eggs or dairy?  Impossible, you say?  Not with the miracle of aqua faba (the liquid drained from a can of beans)!

If you’ve never had Italian Meringue Buttercream before (or its cousin, Swiss Meringue Buttercream), you’re in for a real treat.  I often say that IMBC is the finest icing on Earth — silky smooth, light, and not too sweet, it’s a wonderful change from the confectioner’s-sugar-based American Buttercream, which some would argue isn’t a proper buttercream at all.  Meringue Buttercreams are very often used on wedding cakes, and with good reason.  They look great and taste luxuriously elegant.

11061334_10153450238039179_1004034007435769031_nFor my initial experimentation with this recipe, I chose 100% organic palm oil shortening because others have reported success using it as a butter substitute in egg-based IMBC — it’s creamy and luxurious, and creates a buttercream with a lovely texture, which pipes like a dream.  Unlike its conventional counterpart made with dairy butter, it is a brilliant white color, even if you add real vanilla extract.

Cupcakes with royal icing flowersI’ll be honest and say that IMBC made with palm shortening does lack a certain depth of flavor associated with conventional IMBC; traditionally speaking, the flavor of dairy butter is front-and-center in the flavor profile.   However, the texture of this icing is phenomenal, and I encourage you to consider this “blank slate” flavor to be an opportunity rather than a detriment.

If you use aqua faba straight from the can, you may find that your buttercream is softer and more fluffy than the conventional kind.  If you’re just icing a cake, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re hoping to use it as a base under fondant, you’ll want to make a stiffer version by reducing your aqua faba first.  Simmer it gently until it’s reduced to half of its original volume, and measure after reduction.  Reduced aqua faba can have a slightly caramelized flavor.

If you’ve never made a meringue buttercream before, the process can seem a little daunting.  However, I promise you that your efforts to master the technique will be more than worth it.

One word of caution: Don’t undertake this without a proper candy thermometer!  You don’t need a whizzy one like I show in the pictures below, but you definitely need one.  You’ll need to bring your sugar syrup to a specific temperature, and that’s not something you should guess about.

You can learn more about the amazing things you can do with aqua faba by joining the Vegan Meringues — Hits and Missses Facebook group.

Vegan Italian Meringue Buttercream Recipe

Makes approximately 8 cups.

Special Equipment

  • Stand mixer with whisk and paddle attachments.
  • Candy thermometer

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup aqua faba (the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas or other mildly-flavored beans — see note above about reducing the liquid before you start if you need a firm buttercream)
  • 20 to 24 ounces (about 3 to 3 1/2 cups) 100% palm oil shortening(*), at cool room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place the aqua faba into the bowl of a stand mixer that has been fitted with the whisk attachment.
  2. Sugar and water in a saucepanPut sugar and water in a non-reactive saucepan, and whisk or stir until blended.  Place the pan over medium low heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Remove any grains of sugar on the sides of the pan by either a) heating briefly with a lid on the pan, or b) brushing the insides of the pan with a heat-safe pastry brush dipped in cold water.
  3. Attach your candy thermometer so that the tip is submerged in the sugar syrup, but is not touching the bottom or sides of the pan, and start the mixer on low speed.  At this point, you may increase the stove temperature to medium, or even medium-high if you’re prepared to pay close attention to it.20150508_115513
  4. When the sugar syrup reaches the soft ball stage (about 234ºF), turn your mixer speed to high.  This is not a magic temperature, and if you’re using reduced aqua faba, you may want to start a little later.  The goal is to get your meringue to very stiff peaks before you add the sugar syrup to it.  Exactly when to turn up your mixer will vary depending on your mixer, your aqua faba, and how high the heat is under your saucepan, so start with this, and make adjustments as necessary for future batches.  If you are able, take note of the progress of the meringue as your sugar syrup rises in temperature, and turn the temperature down or up to try to get the timing right.
  5. When your sugar syrup reaches 248ºF, remove it from the heat and verify that your meringue has reached very stiff peaks.  You can wait a couple of minutes at this point if you need to, but try not to wait too long.Stiff (Reduced) Aqua Faba Meringue Peaks
  6. With the mixer still running on high speed, slowly pour in the sugar syrup, trying to carefully hit the sweet spot in between the spinning whisk and the side of the bowl (otherwise you might splatter sugar syrup everywhere…but don’t worry if you do, just keep going!).  Sugar syrup is very hot!  Be careful!Meringue with sugar syrup added.
  7. Your meringue will probably increase in volume as you add the sugar syrup, and when all of the syrup is added, it should be thick and fluffy.  At this point, stop the mixer and change to the paddle attachment.
  8. Cooling Meringue with an Ice PackTurn the mixer back on high, and keep beating until the meringue has cooled off to room temperature, which can take several minutes.  During this time, the meringue will become glossy, and may decrease a bit in volume.  Touch the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that the meringue is completely cool before continuing — otherwise the heat of the meringue will melt your fat, and you’ll get soup, not buttercream!  If you’re impatient, you can speed up this process by putting an ice pack against the bottom and/or sides of your mixer’s bowl.
  9. Now it’s time to add the shortening, vegan butter, or other fat.  With the mixer still running, add small pieces to the meringue, one at a time.  If you’re using shortening in a tub, scoop out spoonfuls and toss them in; if you’re using margarine or other products that come in a stick, cut it into small pieces first, and toss them in one by one.  You will probably lose some more volume as you start adding fat, but that’s expected.Palm Shortening in Small LumpsNote: As you are adding your fat, your buttercream may “break.”  (If you’re not sure what this means, don’t worry — if it happens to you, you will know!  If your buttercream looks curdled, just keep beating with the paddle, and it should come back together again.  If it still won’t come together, especially if it’s a warm day, you may need to cool it down for a bit and try again.  Place the buttercream (bowl, paddle, and all) into the refrigerator for a few minutes, then try again.
  10. When all of the fat has been added, turn your mixer to medium low and and add vanilla extract or other flavorings.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula a couple of times, to ensure that your flavorings are well-mixed.Italian Meringue Buttercream

Italian Meringue Buttercream stores extremely well in the refrigerator or freezer, so don’t be afraid to make it in advance, or keep some on hand for a rainy day.  Just make sure to take it out and allow to fully return to near room temperature before use.  Then, beat it in your stand mixer if you need to restore the texture.

(*) A Note on Fats: You may be wondering if there are other options beyond 100% palm oil shortening.  Surely there are, but as of this writing, I have not fully explored the options.  See the notes above for a more in-depth discussion about fat options.  Margarines and butter substitutes that come in a tub are probably not suitable, because their moisture content is much higher than products that are sold in stick form.  I will update this recipe as I discover other options that work.

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Vegan Golden Vanilla Cupcakes with Vegan Strawberry Italian Meringue Buttercream

This post is just a tease, really, because it doesn’t contain any recipes or anything.  It’s the result of trying out a new-to-me recipe (the highly-acclaimed Golden Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from the book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World), trying to use up some leftover Italian Meringue Buttercream and strawberry puree (you have that stuff laying around your kitchen, too, don’t you? or is it just me?), trying out the technique of incorporating fruit puree into IMBC, and testing just how well aqua-faba-iced cupcakes freeze and thaw.

Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream

I promise that a recipe for the Italian Meringue Buttercream will be forthcoming!

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Cookie Microwave Background

I had intended to make these Cosmic Microwave Background cookies for the Science Festival Chorus post-performance party, but I had too much going on with the Rainbow Prism Cake, so they didn’t get finished in time.  Since I had all of the parts (not to mention an eager 5-year-old in the house), I made them anyway.

CMB Cookies

Basic sugar cookies, icing, an edible ink printer, and some wafer paper, and all of your geeky dreams can come true.

KidCMBCookie

Kid-approved!

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