|Spiderman 'a la Grec'.|
This, it was finally decided was to be a Safari Dinosaur Hunt party. The theme was agreed only after much wrangling. P was adamant that he wanted a Spiderman party, although he felt that really it would need to be a Spiderman and Princesses party, to cater for the girls.* D wasn't that keen on Spiderman, and to be honest, neither were D's mum and I, so in the end we settled on dinosaurs as being something acceptable and broadly gender-neutral, and promised P that he could have a Spiderman birthday in Greece (covered by Yiayia and Papou buying him a conveniently light and easy-to-pack cheap nylon Spiderman suit as a present for his actual birthday) and a dinosaur birthday once we came home.
Since D and family have a bigger house, with a much bigger garden, and we were only coming back from holiday two days before the designated date, it seemed sensible for them to provide the venue and food, and my contribution was to be doing party bags, providing a picture for "pin the tail on the dinosaur", and making the cake.
I am not the world's greatest baker. I can usually just about manage to make an edible sponge-cake, but when it comes to decorating I am definitely of the "less is more" school, not least because I don't actually like icing very much. Given that I needed to be able to produce an acceptable dinosaur the day after getting back from holiday I thought I'd better have a trial run. Accordingly I googled "dinosaur cake" and found an online video tutorial explaining how to cut up and re-arrange a rectangular cake to make a 2D dinosaur shape and then cover it with royal icing. It looked like a doddle. I made my bog-standard sponge, left it to cool, and waited to decorate it after the boys were in bed.
Four hours and a lot of stickiness later I had learned a lot about the properties of ready-rolled icing as an artistic medium.
It does not, as I had assumed, behave like pastry. If you try to roll it really thin (thinner than it comes in the pack), it just sticks to the work surface and won't come off at all unless you scrape at it with a knife. If you try to lift it draped over a rolling pin (as you would with pastry) it immediately rips, sags, and falls apart. You cannot piece it back together like you can with pastry, at least not without the joins being very visible. Once you have got it onto a jam-covered cake, if it hasn't landed exactly right, you can't move it or adjust its position in any way, without it ripping and becoming riddled with cake crumbs. Most significantly it is virtually waterproof: painting white icing with green food colouring causes the colour to pool on the surface in sticky motley blotches in a manner which, while perhaps convincingly reptilian, is not especially appetising.
|Doyouthinkesaurus (no. 1)|
Suffice to say the first attempt looked more akin to taxidermy than confectionary. I spirited it away to work before P could see it, where my long suffering colleagues dispatched the poor creature, made encouraging comments about how nice it looked (in the face of all the evidence), and more importantly, gave me a lot of good advice about how to do it better next time.
Firstly, do not use ready-rolled icing. Get the stuff you have to roll yourself and allow at least twice as much as you think you'll need so you can roll it out plenty big enough to cover the whole thing and then just throw away the extra you cut off, which will inevitably be full of jam and cake crumbs and no use to man nor beast. Second, knead the food colour into it little by little, adding a few drops at a time and working it as if you were kneading dough. This takes hours, but it works. Third, don't attempt anything with fiddly corners. Pushing the icing into awkward places just causes it to rip - better to go for a big smooth shape as much as possible.
Armed with this information the second attempt was much better. I abandoned the 2D shape and went for something along the lines of a stegosaurus. Making two round cakes, as if to make a victoria sandwich, I cut both in two slightly below halfway and stuck the larger halves together standing on their edge to form the back of the dinosaur. I then cut one of the smaller halves to form a curving tail and used the other to make a wedge-shaped head, sticking all the bits together with jam. This time I recruited C to help me get the icing onto the cake. I very carefully lifted the rolled out icing draped across the palms of both hands and he shoved the cake underneath as fast as he could.
I originally tried to make cake feet as well, but this turned out to be just too fiddly, so I eventually resorted to modelling them out of leftover icing. This worked pretty well, even if the mere idea of biting into one made my teeth ache and my stomach churn. Chocolate buttons broken in half make pretty good claws. Attempt number two was a great improvement, and also disposed of by the OED so that P wouldn't see it and spoil the surprise.**
Having worked out broadly speaking how to make the main cake, I then started to wonder how on earth I was going to chop the thing into reasonably equitable chunks for the kids to take home. Finally I decided the best thing would be to make some cupcakes to go in the party bags instead. I originally intended to put plastic dinosaurs on these, but having bought a large quantity of brightly coloured fondant icing to decorate the final cake I discovered that a sort of icing "slug" for the body, four blobs for the legs, and a squashed sausage cut into peaks with a knife would produce a passable mini-dinosaur, so the guests each got one of those and we and D's family shared the main dinosaur.
I must admit, I was rather pleased with the finished thing, and P was gratifyingly surprised and chuffed with it.
Don't care if I never see another piece of icing, though.
*P's attitude to gender roles leaves a little to be desired as far as I'm concerned. He recently informed me that I should wear "clippy-cloppy shoes" and "that stuff like face paints" if I want to be a "proper grown-up mummy". On the other hand, he was right about the girls he invited to his party. None of them wanted to have their faces made up as dinosaurs: they all wanted to be princesses.
**It will be interesting to see in years to come whether the excess of green food colouring consumed by the dictionary staff will be identifiable as having an effect on the definitions produced during this period.