Birthday time is serious business around these parts. Part of it probably has to do with my love of hobbits, and their rather extravagant interpretation of birthdays. You know, the sort where the guests get the presents, and entire trilogies are begun.
At any rate, my husband turned 29 this weekend, and I wanted to make a cake that would reflect his most beloved geeky obsession: tabletop roleplaying, and more specifically D&D! I had lots of ideas: from a Gamma World inspired cake, to a cake bedecked in dragons. But ultimately I wanted something that was more personal and flexible. I wanted something to represent the way he rolls, if you know what I mean.
The end result? A dungeon-inspired, dice bedecked 9″ chocolate layer cake. And while I certainly haven’t achieved Duff Goldman status, I thought I would share the geeky lengths I went to in order to get some of the details on this cake done. In some cases, it’s a lot easier than it looks!
- The tiles: I wanted a dungeon tile look. Originally, I was going to use a fondant press (a piece of plastic with ridges on it that impressed a cobblestone look into the fondant). However, my fondant decided to have a mind of its own. Or, rather, the recipe was badly written, and the fondant didn’t hold up as I’d hoped. So: geeky powers of improvisation, activate! I rolled out the fondant, and then cut it into a variety of squares. I placed this over a layer of buttercream, and then painted them with a combination of cocoa powder and Kahlua. The result? My very own stonework.
- The books: There are two books on the cake, and they’re both made of gum paste. Typically I use fondant for this, but I’d read that gum paste holds up a little better for detail work, takes color better, and dries quicker. You can roll gum paste super thin–perfect for the pages in the grimoire and the name cake. I bound the books by pressing on the gum paste to seal them in place, and tried to make the pages a little ragged for an antiqued look. Then, I used food coloring watered down with alcohol (water will cause the sugar to break down, and doesn’t work well at all) to get various textures. The grimoire got a pentagram, and the name book got the birthday message.
- The dice bag & chest: Gum paste, again! Except, this time, I required some real girth, and I was out of Rice Crispy treats (these are moldable and great for putting beneath fondant or gum paste). At that point I’d already made more than three trips to the grocery store, and I was not going back. Turned out I had some Quaker Chewy Granola bars in the pantry, and crushed up they worked pretty well. I wrapped a layer of blue gum paste around the granola and as it dried it kept its shape very well. Some gold dust added to the chest gave a shimmery appearance, and I finished off the dice bag with a string.
- Pile of gold: As a last-minute addition, I wanted to have a pile of gold. So, my dragon failed, but a good D&D cake needs real loot (I did have a scroll, a sword and a shield, but I needed more shiny!). Because gum paste dries really quickly, it’s easy to make very flat, very small items. I poked little holes in a flat piece with one of my frosting tips, and then squished them with my finger to make a couple dozen disks. Then I rolled them in sparkly, edible, gold dust. Et voila! A pile of gold Smaug might approve of.
- The dice: Okay, so there’s only three. I ran into some issues with the mold casting, because this really was the most intensive of the projects. Food-grade silicon is available at most craft stores, and with it you can make a custom mold out of just about anything. Last year I used it to make skeletons and bones to stick out of cupcakes. But making molds of small, round objects is a lot harder than flat ones. I opted to make two-piece molds, then put them together. Using white chocolate colored red, I cast the whole set. Well, only the larger ones worked: the d8, d10, and d4 just weren’t happy. The chocolate changed shape enough that it just didn’t look right. The good news? The d6, d20 (which I cast from a larger one), and the d12 came out just right. A little icing for numbers, and there you go. 100% chocolate dice, cast directly from my husband’s own.
- The rest: The cake itself is a recipe from Food Network star, Ina Garten. It’s called Beatty’s Chocolate Cake. I first started making the cake a year ago, and since then everyone in the family has requested the same cake. It’s got a cup of coffee in it, to boot, which really adds to the chocolate flavor, and yet it retains a real softness to it, like box cake but better. I put Kahlua in the middle, which is a coffee liqueur, which also enhances the cocoa deliciousness. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with chocolate and coffee.
Sure, you can buy a cake from your local grocery store. But where’s the fun in that? Once you learn your way around cake baking, it’s endless fun.
Do you have any favorite geeky cakes? I’ve seen some amazing professional ones out there, but I’m fond of the amateurs, like myself!