Yesterday we were invited to a “baking play date” by my friend who lives near a wonderful charitable organization in Park Slope, Brooklyn, called CHIPS. She had the great idea of having our boys bake a cake to donate (her family made pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving) for the holidays.
The day before, Jamie and I made gum paste. It’s similar to fondant (see a homemade version here), but less pliable, and when it dries it becomes very hard and can break easily. An analogy might be: Playdoh is to fondant as (baked) Filo is to gum paste.
You can buy ready made gum paste, but I couldn’t find any nearby and didn’t have time to go into Manhattan to look for it. Almost every recipe I searched for online called for Tylose or Gum Tragacanth, neither of which I had nor could get a hold of immediately. I finally happened to find one recipe that just required gelatin, corn syrup, and sugar. I quartered it since I didn’t know how it would turn out, and 1 lb. of sugar seemed a bit much. It worked out well though. We colored half of our paste blue and green. The other half we saved for later.
The gum paste hardens much faster than fondant. Be sure to keep it wrapped up immediately after making it. It is more of a challenge to knead in the food coloring as well. I actually slightly injured my right thumb from kneading too vigorously! You can store it tightly wrapped in saran and tucked in a ziploc bag, but I found later that it is better to use immediately.
We rolled out the gum paste to about a 1/8-inch thickness then cut shapes out with cookie cutters. I was planning on making Christmas trees to put on the cake, but Jamie thought we should have blue dreidls as well. I agreed it was a great idea, especially since Hannukah and Christmas overlap this year.
The next day, at our friends’ lovely home, we got to making the cake. First up was the frosting.
This is the easiest chocolate cream frosting in the world. Basically you just put chocolate chips in a bowl and heat heavy cream on the stove. When it comes to a boil, you pour it over the chips, add corn syrup and wait a few minutes. Then you add vanilla and whisk it all together until it is smooth and glossy. You chill and stir every 15 minutes until it is thickened. How easy is that!?
Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of Jamie’s friend, Lucas, stirring the frosting and reciting a portion of the Macbeth witches’ spell that they learned in class earlier in the year:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
This is the finished cake. Jamie wrote the Hebrew letters with a food coloring pen. Note broken dreidl in background — hardened gum paste is quite brittle!
We brought Lucas and Jamie to CHIPS to drop off the cake at the kitchen. They were really into the holiday display there–the cake (seen in the background) a distant memory.
I hope everyone a happy and healthy holiday season — whether you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah — or both!
Gum Paste (small batch)
5.5 ounces of confectioner’s sugar (about 1 and 1/3 cup)
4 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon corn syrup
gel food coloring (optional)
1. Pour sugar into a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
2. Put water in a small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over the water. Let gelatin sit for about 5 minutes, until it starts to look foamy. Add corn syrup.
3. Heat mixture over low heat, stirring slowly, until gelatin has dissolved and mixture is clear.
4. Pour over confectioners’ sugar in bowl. Mix together and try to incorporate sugar as much as possible. Dump mix out onto confectioners’ sugar dusted work surface (counter top, tabletop, etc). Knead until the mix no longer sticks to your hands. Cover with saran and store in a ziploc bag until ready to use.
5. To color gum paste, put a drop of gel coloring onto a piece and knead until color is evenly dispersed into paste and there are no streaks. This can take quite some time! If you want to avoid staining your fingers, use disposable gloves.
Chocolate Ganache Frosting
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl. Bring heavy cream to a boil in a pan on the stove. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Add corn syrup and let sit for 3 minutes. Whisk until smooth and glossy. Add extract and stir to incorporate.
- Chill in refrigerator for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes, until frosting is thickened.
Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cups water
1 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
Frosting and toppings of your choice
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Prepare two cake pans with parchment paper liners.
- Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the oil, water, and vanilla. Pour into the large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth.
- Quickly add the cider vinegar. It will get fizzy as the vinegar and baking soda react. Stir just until the fizzy, paler part of the batter is incorporated into the rest of the batter.
- Spoon into cake pans. Tap pans to get rid of air bubbles. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, watching closely. Test with a toothpick. Layers are ready when it comes out clean.
- Cool on racks. When they are completely cool, you can assemble cake with frosting and toppings. Place one layer on a plate. Cover with about 1/4 of the frosting. Place the second layer on top. Frost the top with a thin coat of frosting. Frost the sides with a thin coat. Chill for about 20 minutes (this is a cook trick for keeping the crumbs from getting all mixed into the frosting as you are frosting it!) Then frost the top and sides of the cake again with the rest of the frosting.