I made this cake as one of my contributions to a collaborative art project called Losing Altitude. It's an art book featuring the works of over 50 artists, all depicting endangered birds.
For my culinary art contribution I picked the Tasmanian masked owl (Tyto novaehollandiae spp. castanops). This species is the largest of our four species of masked owl. Habitat loss is of particular concern for these guys as they den in tree hollows. It can take 150-400 years for a tree to form a hollow large enough for the owl (and all large species of raptors and arboreal mammals) meaning the conservation of old growth forest is critical. If you've had your eye on Australia lately, you'll know our government is trying to delist some of Tasmanians old growth forest from its World Heritage Listing so they can log it. Head on over to my blog to read an extended rant about this, and how you can do something about it.
As for the cake, I usually don't include anything inedible in my cakes, but birds kind of necessitate it. It's comprised of a base cake, a wire frame, a rice crispy platform near the base of the tail and carved chocolate cake above. That was all slathered in chocolate ganache before applying the feathers.
The feathers were weeks of work. Each feather was hand cut, embossed then painted by hand. I don't know how many hundreds [maybe thousands] of feathers are in it, but making them all consumed my life. I made them as anatomically correct as possible, ensuring the flight feathers were appropriately asymmetrical.
Having pumpkin in sweet things is pretty much frowned upon here in Aus. Pumpkin is seen as a savoury thing exclusively. So with Halloween approaching I thought I'd channel all that American influence into a weekend of pumpkin baking.
This was the first result.
These are spiced pumpkin cupcakes, which by themselves hot out of the oven are insanely good. But I can't leave well enough alone so I topped them with a dual-coloured cinnamon buttercream. I then decorated them with floaty ghosts made from choc-cinnamon truffles.
The heatwaves we're experiencing here in Aus have not only stopped my baking in its tracks, but basically all forms of cooking. Which is one of a few reasons why the blog's on extended hiatus.
But the week before the last major heatwave, my cousin asked me to make a Mike Wazowski cake for her son's 3rd birthday. The forecast showed a promising run of weather so I said yes. Then, the day of fondant working, the forecast skipped a few days ahead and the hot weather suddenly arrived. It turned what shouldn't have been a difficult cake into a minefield of issues. Limp, stretchy cracking fondant over a melting and shifting layer of ganache is hard enough on a regular cake, but worse on a carved cake. I ended up sticking to a very simple design and still struggled achieving just that. It reminded me of what it was like to be an amateur at this.
The only part that wasn't painful was painting the eye. I've been experimenting with painting with food dye and am starting to get better at getting the colours how I want. Now I just need to leech someone's actual painting skills from them so I can paint all the things -- any volunteers?
Specs: Cake is stacks of chocolate mudcake, carved and covered in chocolate ganache then whipped chocolate ganache. That's all covered in marshmallow fondant. The eye was painted using gel paste food colouring.
The other week when I was having my pumpkin baking spree, I knew I couldn't escape without finally delving into this whole pumpkin pie thing. We don't have them here, so what's a staple for many of you was completely foreign to me. Now my American friends no longer have to react with horror when I say I've never tried pumpkin pie. Huzzah!
I only just got around to clearing like a million photos off my camera and have so much Christmas stuff I never got around to blogging. Some of it I'll show you guys though. Starting with a crafty mish-mash of things. Here's a selection of the Christmas I made last year. Everything is done by hand. Except the button baubles. I dunno how to make buttons.
We barely celebrate Halloween in Australia, but I can't help but get wrapped up in the gorgeous Autumn-coloured baking festivities. These macarons were inspired by the pumpkin pie, something else we don't really have in Aus. The macaron shells are flavoured with pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and all spice) and filled with a cinnamon-infused whipped dark chocolate ganache.
I drew little Jack-o'-lantern faces on some of them to get into the Halloween spirit a bit.
My first successful oxidized piece! I'm so excited. I love it. It was hard to get a decent picture, so I'll be taking more later... but for now, I just want to get it up there for everyone to see. Now, for the story of what I had to do to MAKE it this way...
Because of the mix up with that one store, I now have some beautiful raw 18g wire that I can't really use for anything. So, anxious and impatient, I decided to strip the coating off of my other wires to get to the raw copper underneath. It took forever... and I actually even hurt my hand doing it xD But, determined as I was, I continued scraping the coating away and eventually got to the nice coppery color underneath. And then I made this!
It is a very nice-sized pendant - not too large, not too small - measuring about 2 inches tall (including the bail) and a little over 1 1/2 inches across at the widest area. I think this is a size that most people would maybe prefer, so I'd like to start making more this size. I hope to post a picture of my pendant sizes (large, medium, small) soon. This particular piece would be in the "medium" category.
Made with peridot stones.
This piece has been oxidized and bears no protective coating or false coloring. Just like a real tree grows and goes through different stages of life, this pendant will continue to tarnish and naturally change through the years.
The Tree of Life symbolizes spiritual growth and wisdom, strength, protection, and connectedness. It is a healthy model that inspires the spirit and encourages hope in all hearts.
These are delicate, wire wrapped pendants that should be handled with care. Some of the stones, glass, or shells used to create the tree can break if handled roughly.
Every time the contestants on MasterChef get to do some crazy dessert by a world-class pastry chef, I decide I'm gonna make it. Then I look at the ingredients list and decide I either can't afford to or would need a professional kitchen to attempt it. When Bernard Chu brought along his Lolly Bag Cake this year, I knew I'd stop at nothing to make it. I saved the cake for my sister's birthday last weekend and was so excited when the day finally rolled around.
The cake is a celebration of the typical Australian mixed lolly bag. A lot of the lollies were things we grew up with, buying from milkbars or the school canteen. Each invokes a thousand different childhood memories.
From top to bottom the layers are: Spearmint Leaves Buttercream: made using the soft jelly spearmint leaf lollies Bananas Joconde: a joconde sponge soaked in a syrup made from banana lollies Musk-mallow: Marshmallow made from musk sticks Chocolate Jaffa Ganache: ganache infused with a mandarin concentrate Freckles Crunch: a choc hazelnut layer with 100s & 1000s, popping candy and pailleté feuilletine Another bananas joconde layer, coated with dark chocolate The whole thing is then glazed with a ganache made from Redskin lollies. I then chose to decorate it with white chocolate spirals and jaffa lollies.
I made a few changes from the Bernard Chu recipe. Biggest change is making it round rather than rectangle. I opted to use dark chocolate, rather than milk chocolate as I thought it didn't need the extra sweetness. The Masterchef version has two mint layers and a different order, however the version Bernard Chu sells at his restaurant, LuxBite, has one mint layer and the same order I have here. I decided to mirror the original as I thought it would be better balanced in flavour than the TV version.
I changed a few things about the recipe to make it more home-kitchen friendly. I also ended up making 4 of the ingredients as they were nigh impossible to get, or at least get at a reasonable price.
You'll find my version of Bernard Chu's recipe, as well as step by step photos and loads more over at my blog. I've also provided a link to the original recipe and links to where you can get/import all the ingredients, or how to make some yourself.
This cake also marks exactly 4 years since my first cake decorating attempt. I almost didn't want to do this cake for that event as I tend to use the milestone as a measurement of how far I've come and thought I should do an original recipe. But given how technical Bernard's recipe is and how I was able to alter it and troubleshoot with no problems the whole way along, it's still a nice indication of progress.
This is a 8x5.5 inch leather journal with a hand carved and hand-painted design. Hand sewn headbands and handmade marbled paper for the end sheets. White high grade drawing paper for the text block and buffed out to a low sheen.