Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Star Wars AT-AT Walker birthday cake

For weeks, Ulysses has been describing the cake he wanted for his sixth birthday party: a "Giant Robot Cake." All good Star Wars geeks will recognize this as an AT-AT Walker as seen in the Battle of Hoth, in the early scenes of The Empire Strikes Back.

After some slices were taken out, the head adopted a more lifelike angle!

The luscious cake interior. I assure you, no mixes were involved. Everything is completely from scratch.

I have to run to U's kindergarten party now to deliver 24 Storm Trooper cupcakes. I promise more details in this very post ASAP!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Never to eat dirt again

We got a new vacuum cleaner. I never thought I'd want to look at dirt, but it seems the clear-canister models with "cyclone" action are the future. Target had only a few bagged models. We could see the writing on the retail display wall: vac bags are are going the way of the floppy disk. Heck if I'm going to fingernail-cling to the past when it comes to least-favorite-chore appliances. Make way for the future!

Donald left our 20th-century green Dirt Devil out for Ulysses to see when he got home from school. Why not just throw it out? U might be sad. You never know where the sentimental attachments lie. We might need to engineer a transition. It's better to be safe when it comes to the emotions of a 5-year-old.

"A new vacuum cleaner!" he said at the sight of the bright yellow machine, compact and serene on the newly crumb-free living room carpet. "It's soooo cute!" I noticed he wasn't calling it a "mess robot," and marked, with an inner sigh, the demise of another little-kidism. "This one is for me!" he went on. "This is my vacuum cleaner!"

He spotted the old green one, which suddenly appeared hulking and clumsy next to the sporty new Eureka, with its ring handle and gleaming dilithium dirt chamber. "Now we have two vacuum cleaners," he said.

"That one's broken," said Donald carefully.

"We're throwing that one out," I said.

Ulysses regarded it. "It got old," he pronounced. "Poor old vacuum cleaner. It'll never eat dirt again."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cellular Peptide Cake -- with Mint Frosting

Data: "What kind of cake is that?"

Worf: "It is a cellular peptide cake. With mmmint frosting."

This exchange takes place in Act 1 of Phantasms (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 7). Data has discovered that, although he's an android, he can dream. In Phantasms he discovers how disturbing dreams can be, when he wanders into Ten-Forward and finds Counselor Troi as a giant cake with a slice taken out of her, no less.

No worries, Troi assures Data in the closing scene: "Sometimes a cake is just a cake." She presents him with a cake in the shape of Data.

Ethan Phillips's, in The Star Trek Cookbook, provides a sponge cake recipe for you to make your own cellular peptide cake. However, his is made with 10, count 'em, 10 yolks. No whites. First of all, this will yield a deep yellow cake with a relatively dense crumb, not like the ethereally pale and loosely bubbled cake Mr. Worf is forking in. Second: 10 yolks! Not when I'm paying four bucks a dozen for fantastic, farm-direct, organic eggs. And what am I going to do with 10 whites, eat egg white omelettes? Make angel food cakes? Say, what is it about angel food cake that gives it that bone-white paleness and exceedingly open crumb? Hmm, could it be ... egg whites?

The sponge cake found in Mark Bittman's sweeping How to Cook Everything is made with an equal measure of yolks and whites. It gave me just the right spongey consistency. Because I made a half recipe, using small 6" cake pans, and because the Keene Organic's eggs are so big, I only needed to use two. (I weighed them out to find two Keene eggs that equalled three standard large ones.) A very simple recipe. Basically, beat yolks and whites separately with a little sugar, fold them together and stir in flour and a pinch of salt. It was really delicious, not least because those eggs are SO good. "You made this with a sponge!" Ulysses proclaimed.

The Star Trek Cookbook's frosting is chocolate mint, which makes no sense to me at all, because the only color you can make it after adding cocoa powder is going to be -- brown. Besides, did you hear Mr. Worf say, "Chocolate mint frosting?" Of course not. I got mine Starfleet-uniform blue by using Wilton's Sky Blue color and adding just enough No-Taste Red to shift the hue just right. I used my favorite buttercream recipe, which is from the C&H powdered sugar bag (1 pound sugar, 2/3 stick of butter, 1/4 cup milk, 1/8 teaspoon salt), plus a little cream and glycerin to get it really creamy and really smooth. Plus about 3/4 teaspoon mint extract which in retrospect was probably three tmes more than was needed.

I traced the insignia from the Star Fleet Technical Manual. Don't you have one?

I used the tracing paper stencil to outline with black royal icing, and then filled white buttercream using a star tip, appropriately enough. I sprinkled gold and silver shimmer dust, also by Wilton. over the white. Sparkly!

Purists will note that the angular bar behind the insignia is closer to the design of a comm badge circa 2370, as in the STNG movies, while Counselor Troi wore a badge with an oval shape behind the arrowhead at the time of Phantasms, which takes place in the 2360s. So sue me.