Halloween Calendar Cake

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If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood,
who ya gonna call?

I’ll say call no one, lock the door, stay inside and bake a cake! That’s exactly what I did. Besides, you definitely would not want to call anybody and share these amazing macarons from this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge. You heard me right, I used the “M” word.

Macaron, a word that makes a lot of girls swoon. Some say it’s even better than sex …. …. … *~ahem* Well, I guess I’ll just have to take their words for it. I first discovered macarons from the Adriano Zumbo patisserie, you can’t help but drawn to the glass cabinet full of macarons that almost covered the whole pastel colour palette. And with the endless possibility of different flavours, I can see why the macarons are truly the girl’s best friend. I also tried my hands at making the macarons last christmas. Slowly I learned about the attractions of macarons and able to share my appreciations towards this beautiful delicate French pastry.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. Since Halloween is just around the corner, what could be more appropriate than baking a cake for this spooky occasion. Hence, I give you – the Halloween calendar cake! (with macarons!)

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In Australia, Halloween is actually not as big and exciting as in US. However, I’ve noticed the trend has finally caught up here in the last couple of years with kids dressing up in costumes, knocking from door to door for Trick of Treats. So I thought why not, I’ll make a Halloween cake and join in the fun. I have always wanted to make a calendar cake, and when I found out that macarons are this month’s baking challenge, I thought it is the perfect timing to incorporate them into my Halloween cake.

During the design phase, all I can think of is “Black” and “Orange” for Halloween. So I decided to make a checkerboard cake using this two colours and it is orange flavoured, of course. Then it is covered in black chocolate glaze and decorated with black macarons as the days of the month, except one orange macaron to highlight the day of Halloween. Hence, the cake is predominantly in black colour and oh boy, you wouldn’t want to know how much black food colouring I’ve used for this challenge.

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I bought two tubs of black food coloring powder, it cost me a total of AUD$12.00 and there are only 8 grams in total! It is rather expensive for some black powder I must say. I’ve made two batches of the black macarons – first batch is a failure with no feet and a moon crater-like shell, and it is also not black enough even I have added in half a tub of the black colouring powder into the mixture. And I also found the recipe provided is a little unstable in measurement, as it only asks for 5 egg whites without an exact weight given, and also baking twice in oven at two temperatures seems way too complicated for my liking. I believe the recipe doesn’t work for many of daring bakers by reading all the similar failure results on the forum.

Soon I’ve given up on the recipe and used Tarlette’s recipe as a basic guideline for my second batch. This time I’ve decided to use up all the black powder to achieve the blackness I’ve hoped for and it came out perfect with a much darker greyish black. Same story for the orange food colouring powder I bought, the 4 grams of orange dust is just enough to make one batch of macarons. (Don’t look too closely on the orange macaron on top of the cake, is a fail!)

And for the checkerboard cake, I used black and orange food coloring in liquid form which is much more economical. Also thanks to ChocolateSuze for her kind offering of the black coloring, as I couldn’t find any of them here at the stores. Again, you do need a lot of black coloring to really make the cake black. As for the orange part, the orange-flavoured cake will already have a orange yellowish tint to start off with, so you don’t really need as much as the black food coloring to achieve the result.

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It is best to find a recipe that bakes a cake with a firmer texture as it can be a challenge to assemble them together if the cake is too soft and crumbly or too moist. You can either use condensed milk or jam to glue them together to form the checkerboard, I opted for the orange marmalade and works like a treat.

Thanks to the Pom’s suggestion to make the cake even more haunting, we used the off-cuts from the cake and make them into little tombstones, a little branch as dead tree in the background for that eerie ghostly final touch. And there you have it, your own miniature graveyard for this Halloween season.

I had a blast tackling this month’s challenge, and thanks to Ami S. for the opportunity. Here’s the recipe of the macaron and the cake, but I suggest please do take this recipe with a grain of salt. Macaron can be fiddly and time consuming, so practice makes perfect.

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Macarons

I won't provide the recipe from the challenge here as I don't think it works for many of us.
You can try a few of these recipes proven to be more successful:
Tarlette's recipe - a much straight forward and simple recipe
Syrup and Tang - a recipe that involves three Daring Bakers to change the lightbulb
Melanger - a more stable Italian method
Halloween calendar cake (Orange flavour)
Adapted from Bon Vivant's middle eastern orange cake recipe.

Checkerboard Orange cake
Ingredients
2 large oranges, left whole
6 large eggs
9 ounces/ 250 grams plain flour
9 ounces/ 250 grams granulated sugar
9 ounces/ 250 grams softened unsalted butter
1 teaspoon double-action baking powder
black food colouring
orange food colouring
3 tbsp marmalade
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbps water

Methods:
1. Place the oranges in a saucepan and barely cover them with water. Bring to a boil, lower the water to a simmer and leave on low heat, covered, for 1 hour. When done, remove the oranges from the pan and leave to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Butter two 8-inch (24cm) square baking tins.

3. Roughly chop the oranges, discarding any pips, then thoroughly blend the orange pieces into puree. Beat the eggs with butter in a mixer. Add the orange puree and mix together until well combined.

4. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and baking powder, then whisk in the egg-orange mixture. Pour exactly half of the batter into another mixing bowl.

5. Add black coloring to one of the mixture, and orange colouring to another. If you don't have orange colouring, add yellow and red coloring with the ratio of 2:1 until it achieves the orange colour that you are happy with.

6. Pour the mixtures into the prepared pans and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Use a skewer stick and poke in the centre of the cake, and if it comes out clean. It's ready.

7. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before turning it out gently on the cooling rack.

8. Prepare your glue for assembling the checkerboard cake by adding the marmalade, water and sugar into a saucepoan and bring it to boil until all melted. Do not stir and let it caramelised for couple of minutes until the mixture has thicken. Once ready, set aside and let it cools down.

9. Use something as a guideline (in my case, the diameter of a pastry brush), cut the cakes into long strips at around 1.5cm. The width and the height of the strips should be the same.

10. Alternate between the black strip and the orange strip, brush some of the marmalade on each side of the cakes and stick them together. The best way to do it is to re-jigsaw them back together inside the square baking tin again. Once putting all back together, put the unused square baking tin on top of the cake and weigh it down with a bowl. Let it set for at least 2 hours before flipping the cake out onto the cooling rack again, ready for the chocolate glaze.

Chocolate glaze
Ingredients:
170g dark chocolate
200g thickened cream
1 tablespoon honey
black food colouring (liquid form)

Methods:
1. Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add about a teaspoon of the black colouring.
2. Bring cream and honey to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Pour over chocolate and let stand a couple of minutes.

3. Whisk slowly and gently until all completely combined. If is not black enough, add a few more drops of the colouring until it achieves the blackness you are looking for.

4. Place the cake on the cooling rack on top of a big bowl to catch the chocolate drips while glazing.

5. Pour the chocolate quickly in the center and around the edges. Steady but gently, tilt the cake in a circil motion and make sure the glaze is covering the whole cake.

6. let it set for at least 2 hours before decorating it.

7. Once set, you should be still able to see some outlines of the joints of the cake. Use them as a guideline to place the macarons on top of the cake according to the calendar month you are working for. For eg, first macaron on the left is Monday, and the last macaron on the right is Sunday.

8. For the tombstones, use the offcuts and slice them thinly and cut them into small rectangles. Make the round curve of a tombstone by cutting two corners off, then stick the bottom gently onto the cake. Make as many tombstones as you like.

9. Cut a small dead branch and stick it at the back of the tombstones as the final touch.
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