I love, love, love me some Bloggess, y’all, so when I found out that she’d added a stop in North Carolina to her book tour, I *had* to go, even if it was over two hours away.

And then I thought – you know, wouldn’t it be fun to bring cake?  And to try my hand at making something fun for the topper?

I’ve never made an edible taxidermied mouse before…

There were at least a hundred people there.  There was spontaneous applause as I brought the cake up and put it on the table up front.  Here’s the inspiration for the cake:

And a closeup of Mr. Hamlet von Schnizzle (sp):

The details:

Cake is Chocolate Buttermilk Cake from Maida Heatter’s Chocolate cookbook.  Filled and frosted with chocolate ganache and some strawberry puree I made the other day. [ Note: never, ever make this cake again.  The taste was wonderful, but the texture was pure crumb!  Cutting it caused it to explode into a pile of crumbs.  Tasty crumbs, but still.  Horrible to try and serve without getting cake everywhere.  Sorry, Books a Million. ] 

Hamlet is made of marzipan rolled in coconut, his hands, feet, teeth and ears are gumpaste.  The eyes are redhots, and the cape (thank you for the great idea, George!) is a fruit rollup enhanced with some sparkle dust.  The metal pole up his butt holding him upright (marzipan mice are rather topheavy) is a flower nail.  🙂  I tried to make the ruff out of marzipan, but it was big and clunky so I left it off.

This was tremendous fun, and I’m so glad I got to meet Jenny and bring a smile to her face!  I had slipped away during part of her Q&A to go pick up a copy of the book so I could have it signed, which is of course when she said something about the cake, so I missed my big moment, but it was fine.  Great crowd!

And I got to listen to the audiobook on the way there and back with my friend Kelley, which was hilarious and there’s enough added content and fun in it that I highly recommend it, even if you already have the book.  Seriously.

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Sesame Sticks

Sesame Sticks

Once every couple of  months or so (whenever we’re in town for the third Saturday, which isn’t often), we get to the local Vegan Potluck over at a cohousing community in Durham (If you’re interested, it’s posted via the Triangle Vegetarian and Vegan meetup).  Which, of course, means bringing something vegan.  (We don’t keep a vegan household, but I essentially have to eat vegan these days except for eggs, and we both love tasty vegan food.)

I like to bring something savory and try a new vegan sweet – this week I pulled out the artisan bread dough hanging out in the fridge and made a couple dozen rolls, and looked through some of my cookbooks to get inspiration about dessert.

In Taste and See: Allergy Relief Cooking I found a recipe for Sesame Sticks that not only fit my incredibly ridiculous dietary requirements, but could be made vegan and looked really tasty.  Win! Turns out the only other dessert that didn’t contain soy was some Chocamole (avocado and cocoa, as well as some other stuff – it was kinda weird, but pudding-textured and chocolatey, so that was nice), so I’m glad I made something myself.

Back when I was in college, I used to work at the local mall for a company called National Health and Nutrition (dead now), a sort of GNC.  They sold, among lots of herbal supplements and vitamins and protein mixes, these fabulous little sesame cookies that weren’t crunchy but chewy, and seemingly made of nothing but sesame seeds and honey.  I LOVED those things.  Ate way too many.  Have never found them since – but this filled that niche quite nicely.  Not sure this is a good thing…

I made quite a few substitutions in this recipe, so I’ll write it up the way I made it, with notes about the original recipe.

Mmmmm.

Mmmmm.

Sesame Sticks
(adapted from Sesame Fingers, in Taste and See: Allergy Relief Cooking by Penny King)

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup coconut (I used sweetened because it’s what I had, but I think unsweetened would be better)

1/2 cup agave syrup (originally called for honey, but vegans are kind of split on that one, so I played it safe.  Plus, agave has a lower glycemic index than honey, so it fit better with the low-sugar thing I’m supposed to be doing)

1 TB vanilla

1 TB grated orange peel

1 TB cornstarch (or arrowroot)

2 1/2 cups sesame seeds (I used 2 cups plain, and 1/2 cup black sesame seeds, which have a sort of poppyseed taste – you could either use all regular sesame seeds, or use 1/2 cup poppyseeds if you don’t have black sesame seeds (available from Penzey’s, or likely your local middle-eastern shop.  I wanted the black color, thought it made them more interesting).

1/2 cup date butter*

1/2 cup tahini (could substitute peanut butter or almond butter)

1/4 tsp salt (optional – I forgot to add it and never noticed).

*date butter – heat together 1 Cup dates and 1 cup water until dates are soft; blend and cool.  Makes about 1 cup.  Store extra in fridge.

Method

This is one of those recipes with really terse instructions.  Reminds me of reading the Julie/Julia Project and how Julie’d always know she was in trouble when Julia got terse.  This cookbook was written in 1992 but has that good ol’ 1970’s feel to it, typewriter-y print and terse instructions and all.
1.  Mix all ingredients.  ‘Spread evenly on oiled cookie sheet’.

[it doesn’t specify how thick, or how big a cookie sheet, or or or…  I used one of my flat sheets and spread it about 1/2 inch thick, and it took twice as long to cook.  If you want something slightly crunchier, spread it thinner.  If you like chewy, maybe use a jelly roll pan and fill it.  Definitely oil the sheet, though. ]

2. Bake at 300F for 35-40 minutes (original recipe called for 20 minutes, but this was inadequate for all but the edges – the middle was still a gooey mess even after it had cooled.)  Will get crisp as it cools (this did not happen for me).  Cut.

These are good the day you make them, and good the day after. They likely keep well indefinitely, and probably ship well.

I have a confession to make. I didn’t take a picture of this cake. I was in such a hurry this morning to finish it up and get it out the door to the cafe (now open!), that I forgot, and I forgot to take my camera along as well. It was greeted with pleasure, though – I had it up on the cake stand for all of two or three minutes before the first order for it came through, so I got to cut the first slice.  It looked fabulous!  And I can say from the scraps that the cake itself tasted wonderfully coconutty, and that the frosting complemented it well.

Although, as for the frosting – I have a confession to make there as well.  Italian buttercream (made when you whip a hot sugar syrup into egg whites) continues to elude me.  Seems no matter how many times I try to make it, I always end up with calcified sugar lumps in a buttercream frosting.  So after the first failure, I gave up and just made a stiff meringue the regular way (with egg whites and sugar).  I do hereby vow to spend a day trying to get it right, though.  Any tips?  (I already know not to drizzle it in while the mixer’s running or I end up with spun sugar, been there, done that)  I suspect that I’m heating the syrup too much, although with today’s recipe the quantity was so small that it blew through soft-ball and evaporated nearly entirely in about 2 seconds, once it passed 110F.  Yow! Don’t know how to keep that from happening.

So here’s a picture of Dorie’s Picture Perfect Party Cake, which looks a lot like the one I made today on the outside, although you should imagine no raspberries, a bigger sprinkle of coconut on the top center, and balls of frosting around the top edge (as a guide to serving size for the cafe).

Faux Coconut Cake

Faux Coconut Cake

To see how the other folks among the Cake Slice Bakers fared, check them out!

Here’s the recipe for the cake that I did make:

Southern Coconut Cake
From Sky High : Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Makes an 8-inch triple layer cake [Or, if you’re me and forget to bring the 8″ pans, a triple-layer 9″ cake.  Came out just fine.]

For the cake:
5 large egg whites
½ cup of milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 cups of cake flour
2 and 1/3 cup sugar
4 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter (8oz.) at warm room temperature
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk [I used Trader Joe’s Light.  Fabulous!]
2 ½ cups of sweetened flaked coconut for garnishing cake [I used Mounds.  They’ve just started selling coconut, and it’s longer and moister than any other brand of sweetened coconut I’ve seen out there.  I love it.]

1.Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment circle and butter the circle.

2. Put the egg whites in a bowl and whisk slightly. Add the ½ cup of milk and the vanilla and whisk to mix thoroughly; set aside.

3.In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, beat dry ingredients well in order to break up any lumps. Add the butter and coconut milk on low speed and beat just to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy about 2 minutes.

4.Add the egg white mixture in 2 or 3 additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Divide the batter among the pans.

5. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake taster inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes. Then turn the cakes out and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

6.To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on an 8-inch cake round. Cover this layer with 1 cup of the buttercream frosting. Spread it evenly all the way to edge of the cake. Then sprinkle ½ cup of shredded coconut on top. Add the second layer and repeat the process. Top with the final layer of cake and frost the top and sides of the cake.

7.Place the remaining 1 ½ cups shredded coconut on a large baking tray. Pick up the cake and hold it on the palm of one hand over the tray. Using the other hand scoop up the coconut and press it to the sides of the cake. Continue with this process until the sides of the cake are covered. Set the cake on a serving plate and sprinkle any remaining coconut on top of cake. Chill cake for at least one hour to allow frosting to firm up a bit.

Cream cheese buttercream frosting

12 ounces of cream cheese, slightly chilled
1 stick of butter plus 6 tablespoons of butter (7 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup of confectioners sugar, sifted after measuring
2 teaspoons of granulated sugar
¼ cup of water
3 egg whites

1. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium speed until slightly fluffy and smooth. Add the butter 1-2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy. Set aside at room temperature while buttercream is made.

[I include the following for your edification, although as I said, I just made a straight up meringue by beating the whites, then adding the 2tsp of sugar, then beating to stiff meringue and using that]

2.Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup reaches the softball stage 228 degrees F on a candy thermometer.

3.Meanwhile, place the egg whites in mixer bowl and have the mixer ready to go. When the syrup is ready, turn the mixer on med-low and begin mixing the egg whites. Slowly add the hot syrup to the whites taking care not to pour onto the beaters, it may splash. When all the syrup is incorporated, raise the speed on the mixer to med-high and beat the egg whites until mixture has cooled and stiff meringue forms.

4. With the mixer on low, begin adding the cream cheese mixture by the spoonful. When all is incorporated, raise the speed to medium and whip until frosting is smooth and fluffy.