Friday, July 18, 2014

RAT Cake

In my PhD program, our qualifying exam is called the Readiness Assessment Test, or RAT for short. My husband just had his oral defense, so I baked a rat cake for him:

I should have taken in-progress pictures. It turned out very well, amazing considering I've never done most of the techniques I used for it. The poured fondant on the "cheese" cake base was a bit spotty on the sides, but no one really cared.

Both cakes were quick one-bowl cakes from Joy of Cooking, the Blitzkuchen recipe. I baked the rat in a loaf pan, then cut it and shaped it in a triangle-ish shape, kind of like a pinewood derby car. The "cheese" cake was baked in an 8"x8" Pyrex square pan. Both had a warm apricot jam crumb coat. I made almond-flavored fondant and used it in a couple of ways. I covered the "cheese" with yellow poured fondant and made some of the rest pink for the ears, nose, and tail. The rat is frosted with Joy of Cooking's Creamy Decorating Icing, a shortening/powdered sugar/milk blend flavored with a dash of almond and vanilla (that is pretty much exactly the frosting my grandmother always made). I used a grass/fur (multi-opening) tip but instead of using it in the traditional way and making the "fur" stand up, I dragged it slowly across, allowing the strands to curl like fur. I like it better than the usual fur frosting method. I considered making eyes and whiskers but figured I'd stop while I was ahead and leave it be.

Everyone enjoyed it, and I learned a lot. Things like:
  • Make sure to wash the sides of the pot while making the fondant or you may have some seed crystals that make your final fondant contain some crystallized sugar bits, giving it a bit of a crunch.
  • Don't let the apricot chunks go onto the cake if you want a smooth cake without apricot chunks.
  • Brown gel coloring doesn't get too dark. Just a bit of black to darken it up will cause your brown rat to be a grey rat instead.
  • Fondant really does need 24 hours of ripening. It really changes the texture.
  • The "grass/fur" tip makes better looking fur (in my opinion) when you let it kind of spaghetti across, like what I did, instead of making individual fur bits. 
  • Vanilla cake, apricot glaze, and almond (fondant) or vanilla/almond (frosting) flavors work very, very well together.
  • Don't thin the fondant too early. Instead of waiting for it to fully melt, I added a generous helping of boiling water to thin it and had to add more of the reserve fondant back in to thicken it again. I also had to wait for it to cool and thicken more before I could get the sides, which is why they have such poor coverage.
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