18 July 2010

The incredible edible mouse

A couple of weeks ago I came across the Science Cookie Roundup #5, which featured, among other things, a mouse cake.

I wanted to bring something special to the lab on my last day, and had been eyeing the gel electrophoresis cookies as a potential candidate.

But guys. A mouse cake.

As the self-proclaimed Mouse Wench Extraordinaire, I felt that I could not possibly pass up such a challenge.

The mouse cake submitted by Jackie has a cupcake tumor, since she used to study cancer biology. While some of our mice also sport induced tumors, most of them receive heart or skin graft transplants, since my lab studies transplant rejection.

Unfortunately a heart graft is well nigh impossible to represent in cake form -- unless I were to render a surgery-in-progress, complete with all the organs, instruments, sutures, etc., which... well, there's an idea. Perhaps I'll attempt it one day, when I have more surgical and cake-decorating experience under my belt. For this particular mouse cake, however, I settled for a skin graft.

Mouse Cake
Adapted from the Instructable on making a 3D bunny cake.

This two-layer chocolate cake was my first attempt at a layer cake, not to mention my very first 3D shaped cake. In fact, this may have been my first time decorating a cake, period. I am fortunate indeed to have so many labmates willing to serve as the guinea pigs (mice?) for my baking experiments. Lucky for them, it's hard to go wrong with chocolate and caramel.

Anna, who is from Hershey, PA, got the chocolate cake and caramel icing recipes from her mother. I happen to think it's really cool that the cake does not require eggs, relying instead on the reaction from the baking soda and vinegar. I made the cake recipe twice (side by side) to make two 13" x 9" layers.

Hershey's Cocoa Cake.
3 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 13" x 9" pan, lining the bottom of pan with greased parchment paper to facilitate the removal of cake later.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and whisk together. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour cake batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake until done, 40-45 min. Cool cake completely on wire rack before removing from pan.

While the cake layers cool, prepare the icing.

Caramel Icing.
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. milk
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the brown sugar and cook over low heat until completely blended. Add the milk and stir over low-medium heat until the mixture boils, approximately 40 min.

Remove the caramel from heat, let cool. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

Once the cakes have cooled, remove them from the pans and carefully peel off the parchment paper. Place one layer on a large cookie sheet, cover the top with all of the caramel icing, then place the next cake layer on top.

Carve the cake. Maybe I should mention here that I am, in fact, a crazy person, and had drawn out a fairly detailed plan for this cake, complete with measurements.

Note that it is better to be conservative when carving the cake, since it is much easier to cut off more later than it is to add it back on. Collect the cake remnants on a separate cookie sheet.

Once the cake is carved, cover with frosting. I used about 14 oz. of the Betty Crocker Whipped Chocolate Frosting, plus a smidgen of the Vanilla for the skin graft.

For the tail, I adapted Bakerella's cake ball technique, hand-mashing the cake carving castoffs with about 4 oz. of the chocolate frosting.

I used two Nilla wafers for the ears, two chocolate chips for the eyes, a butterscotch chip for the nose, and four Pocky sticks for the whiskers. The grocery store only carried strawberry Pocky, but I think the pale pink just upped the cute factor.

Becca got a ZipCar and drove me to lab the next morning so I wouldn't have to walk the 3.5 miles to work -- or, heaven forbid, navigate the morning crowd on the T -- with this cake. The valets and security guards at my building all stared and burst out laughing when I got out of the car, and one of the security guards even came up to the lab later to try a piece of the cake!

1 comment: