Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake

So last week I hinted at a food competition I was entering . . . and then things got a little hectic, as I was out of town and this is my last week of school, so it took me a while to get around to this post. But here it is: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake.

Last week my local university library hosted an edible cake contest.  I missed it last year, since I didn't find out about it until a few days before and it was really too late to put together an entry. So I was on the look-out this year.  I debated between a few books, but in the end went with one of my childhood favorites.  Here's how I made it.

1 1/2 sheet cake, baked and removed from pan
cardboard cake sheet
2-3 batches of buttercream icing, divided and dyed (more on this later)
lady fingers or vanilla sandwich cookies (the oval kind)
gummy fruit wedges
icing spatula
lots of toothpicks (for mixing icing and fixing mistakes)
containers for separating and dying icing
a sharp knife
a large/fat straw (one will work, but multiples will be easier)
lots of patience
a copy of the book helps a great deal (but you can probably find most of the images online)


1. Bake your cake, allow it to cool, and remove from the pan. I suggest placing it face down on the cardboard mat, with wax paper under the edges so it's easy to get rid of an icing mistakes.

2. I wanted my cake to be of a caterpillar on a leaf, so the next task was to carve the cake into a giant leaf. This was actually really easy, except for the stem, which never actually broke off, though it threatened to on multiple occasions. I had the book open right next to me and drew a faint outline in the cake with a toothpick before carving with a knife.

3. The next step is to spread on a crumb layer of icing. The crumb layer is basically a thin layer of icing that catches all the crumbs so when you do the top layer, you won't see any flaws or pieces of cake crumbling up.  I wasn't too concerned about crumbs showing since it's a leaf and brown crumbs could be interpreted as "dirt," but I still did a crumb layer so it wasn't too crumby.

Icing--This is the basic icing recipe that we were taught in my Wilton class. Two changes, though: 1. use all crisco shortening, not margerine/butter also. 2. Use water instead of milk so it doesn't have to be refrigerated.

4. I used about 1/2 of one batch of icing, dyed light green to do my crumb layer. This icing could be left white, since it shouldn't show through, but I went ahead and made it pale green just in case. Allow this layer to dry for about 15 minutes, or until you can touch it lightly without icing coming off on your finger.

5. To make the caterpillar, I had one idea and ended up going a different direction.  On the cover of the book, you cans see that the caterpillars body is distinctly in segments and I really wanted to feature this in the cake.  I decided to use cookies, iced in different shades of green to give this affect. So I lined cookies up on the book cover (with a wax paper layer to protect it), and cut them by eye to make the curves. Then I iced them three different shades of green.  This took less than a cup of icing total.

6. At this point, the cake should be ready for the top layer of icing. I added more green dye to the crumb layer icing leftovers and spread on a thick top-coat. Again, I wasn't worried about perfection as this is supposed to be a watercolor leaf.  The stem was the tricky part. I really have no sound advice other than to be careful when icing it.

7. Next, transfer the caterpillar's body onto the cake. This is where I got off-track with the caterpillar. I really wanted to maintain those distinct segments, but I was having difficulty blending the icing along the edges so the cookie didn't show through. In the end, I swirled the different shades together and got a decent blend that still showed the segments, just not as distinctly.  For this part, I used the various greens that were left over from the body segments.

8. For the head, I used straight red icing. For the feet and antennae, I mixed the red with a bit of brown and orange. All of this together was a very small amount of icing. 

Note: leftover icing will keep for weeks in the freezer and thaw very quickly.  I've found it's easy to blend already mixed colors to create new colors you need. I used frozen icing in pink, yellow, mint green and white to make some of the colors I needed for this project.

9. Finally, using a straw, I poked holes in the cake to show where the caterpillar had eaten. I also poked holes in the fruit slices used to decorate the board.  And I used the leftover brown icing from the feet to dye a darker shade of brown for the top of the stem.

I didn't win the contest, but I was very happy about my entry. There are things I would do differently next time, but overall I was pleased with my final cake.  It was a lot of fun to make and I can't wait to do something like this again.

Bon Appetit!
The Food Whore

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