Happy Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You)!

I have made no secret about the magnitude of my nerdiness. I’m mean, ok, my parents never let me play video games so I’m less than educated on that aspect, holy crap do I love me some science fiction and fantasy. And this bothers me not one iota. I like being that weird girl who reads about dragons and spaceships and wizards and timelords. Except, that, so, sometimes, people look at you like you’re an absolute McNutterpants.

So, my dear friend Bambi had a birthday, and besides being an avid Star Wars fan, it also happens to fall on May the Fourth. His girlfriend asked if we could put together a Star-Wars themed cake and bring it to Tianjin to surprise him at his frisbee tournament (sidenote, Tianjin is stupid and smells like poop, more on that later).

I gave it some thought and decided to use fondant to decorate the cake, and was having trouble deciding between Admiral Ackbar (Bambi’s team name from summer league, and  favorite just for the ITS A TRAP quote) and Boba Fett, fan-favorite for badassery. In the end, I decided to go with Ackbar, but not before showing a few preliminary sketches to my coworker. He’s a what, twenty six some-odd year old typical white American guy, I figured that he might have some insight into the psyche of a twenty five year old white boy.

Here’s how this went down.

Robot: Hey. You’re a boy. Imagine if you were having a ten years old birthday party and liked Star Wars, which of these characters would you prefer on your cake? (for the purposes of this conversation, I said Bambi was 10, because…reasons)

Coworker: Hmm. Wait, what are these? Who are these? A helmet and a…squid? These are…”Star Wars” characters? Um, I guess that one ::makes eyes like he’s talking to an insane person::

Ah well, can’t win them all, I guess. So cake. First, I tried to make a vanilla cake Thursday night, but it collapsed into itself and wasn’t very tasty, so I scrapped it (put it in the freezer to make cake pops on a future occasion) and on Friday, made a pear cake. It was much denser and baked into two even layers, which is good, because fondant is difficult.

Homemade Rolled Fondant: 1/4 cup cold water, 1/4 oz. gelatin, 8 cups (2 Lb) powdered sugar, 2 Tbs shortening, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 cup glucose syrup and 1 Tbs glycerin.

I did not have glycerin, and couldn’t find glucose syrup OR corn syrup, so I used golden syrup instead. There seemed to be no problem, although I did end up using a lot more shortening.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water, let stand and soften for 5 minutes, then over low heat, stir until dissolved. Add the glycerin, glucose and shortening, stir until melted, then remove from heat and add the vanilla (or whatever oil/extract flavor you desire).

In a large bowl oiled with shortening, dump the sugar and make a little volcano crater in the middle. Pour in the syrup mess, and use a wooden spoon (also covered in shortening) to incorporate as much as possible. As this point, I donned a pair of clean rubber gloves, liberally rubbed shortening over them, and lightly greased a silpat. Then, kneaded the fondant mix until all one big doughball. Mine was a little dry and didn’t keep together well. I added more shortening, then wrapped it tightly in saran wrap and a ziploc bag. Let it cure 8-12 hours.

The next morning, I unwrapped, donned the gloves, and worked the fondant in small batches, kneading until pliable (requiring, you guessed it, more shortening). To cover the cake I rolled out a big sheet of plain white fondant. I used gel food color to make pinkish-red for Ackbar’s head, and yellow to make some stars with tiny cookie cutters.

I cut out the basic shape of Ackbar’s head, and then used a Q-tip and black liquid food color to draw in detail (would have preferred a small paintbrush). I cut out part of his uniform out of white. I also dipped a Q-tip in green liquid color, and painted the red fondant to give a little contrast.

Pear Cake: I made the cake early in the morning and stuck it in the freezer to cool it off in time. I made two batches, and prepared the dry and wet ingredients all at the same time, and only incorporated jsut before baking each batch separately (hazard of an oven that only fits one pan and only owning one pan)

Sift together 1 1/4 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp salt. In another bowl, beat together two eggs, 2/3 cup buttermilk, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp grated ginger, and 1/2 a lemon zest. Dice about three pears into small, thin pieces.

After mixing the wet into the dry, gently fold in the pear pieces, pour the batter into a parchment-lined and greased cake pan, and bake at 350F for about 45-60 minutes. The top being golden is not indicative that it’s finished–the first cake looked great and passed the knife test but was in fact actually still gooey at 45 minutes requiring another 15 in the oven.

On it’s own, this cake would be great drizzled with a little bit of caramel sauce. Since I was putting Ackbar on top, I made caramel sauce, let it cool completely,  and then blended it into a classic American buttercream.  Take 1 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of cream, 4 Tbs butter, a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla extract in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil over medium low heat, let it boil while stirring for about 3 -5 minutes, and then remove.

Some of the butter cream I colored green and blue to write with. The rest I spread between the two layers, and applied first a crumb layer, then an even layer all around the outside. After that, I rolled out the white fondant, and draped it carefully over the cake. This was my first time ever working with fondant. First of all, I did not roll the fondant large enough, and had to patch on pieces on the sides. There were also a few tears as the excess pleated over itself. I covered all the flaws with the yellow stars (attaching them with a dab of the blue buttercream), wrote the birthday messages with the green and added a few details to Ackbar, and called it a wrap.

Admiral Ackbar "It's a Trap"

Admiral Ackbar “It’s a Trap”

It looked great, if I do say so myself. Huge hit. The people of Beijing who witnessed this cake were astonished (we took the high speed train to Tianjin Saturday afternoon, the cake safely ensconced in a disposable Hefty tin foil tray with plastic lid). The security guards at the Beijing South station loved it. The ladies at the cheap Chinese restaurant in the station loved it. The people sitting around us waiting for the train to arrive stared at us like we were crazies.

High speed train? Too cool. It took us less time to get to Tianjin then it does to get from one ring road to the next. I’m sure Tianjin has its charms, but I experienced none of them. First of all, the people in Tianjin  forgot to send us the relevant information (ie, where the fuck they were located) when they said they would, so we had to chill for half an hour in the station in Tianjin with no idea where we were headed. Then, gypsy cab drivers got all up in my face about the cake. I don’t like strangers, and find most gypsy cab drivers to be pushy, rude, and generally terrible. Then, in the real taxi line, a police man actually, really, truly took the damn cake out of my hands. As in, grabbed the tray and started walking away from me. I nearly cut a bitch. Except not, because he was a Chinese cop and I don’t fancy the idea of Chinese prison, but I was NOT pleased. He did give it back, but it was a thoroughly weird interaction.

Then, our cab driver turned out to be a complete and total moron, coupled with frisbee organizers being space cadet assholes. Apparently street addresses are not a thing, because not one goddamn person from Tianjin who organized the event could give us an accurate address. “Just go to the south gate of this place it’s near there by some street food vendors” Bitch, do you KNOW how many places in any Chinese city that that describes? ALL of them.  Our cab driver translated South as North and went the long fucking way, and told us we’d “be there soon” fifteen minutes before he actually made us get out of the cab. Which, at that point, was the West gate and about half a mile from where we should have been. We had to walk, carrying a really heavy cake and someone’s forgotten athletic gear, because there were no cabs in the middle of nowhere, and this is where Tianjin started to smell like manure. Just the sweet, lovely smell of poop hanging in the air. But, in the end we made it, to a second tier third rate hotel with bathrooms that strongly smelled like urine and underwear and other…things…for sale in each room…uh sketchy.

The dinner was good, at least, and devolved in the way that tournament festivities devolve, the cake was unveiled to everyone’s pleasure, much cake was consumed by people (much love declared for the cake and the baker, excuse me while I preen) and then when the restaurant kicked everyone out at 10, we took over the parking lot.

The next morning at stupid o’clock we had to wake up, find a cab. It still smelled like poop, which, after all the beverages imbibed the evening before, was severely unhelpful. The first cab picked us up, yelled some things into a radio, and pulled over about thirty seconds later, telling us to get out and into a cab that was behind him. Sketch as fuck. The Tianjin train station had it’s very own pollution smog cloud in the first part of the terminal that came very close to making me vomit–literally breathing in burning tire fumes. Also, apparently the train station has a contract with Pepsi, because there was not a single goddamn Coca-Cola to be found in the entire place, and Pepsi is stupid (also, it was possibly fake because I thought I was going to die when I drank it).

In other words, wow I missed Beijing and was so happy to come home again.

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