Back in August, my good friend Jenny asked if I would help her make "an awesome cake" for her sister Emily's 16th birthday in December, and six months later, create an awesome cake we did: specifically, a chocolate cake with a gingerbread Hogwarts castle on top, as Emily is an avid Harry Potter fan. Emily was kept distracted by siblings during the process. She knew we were making a cake, but was slightly confused as to why it was taking so long to complete. It took us the better part of two days to finish, so forgive me for breaking this into a two-part post, but I think the end result is worth the wait, as I hope it was for Emily.
For the castle, we doubled a recipe for molasses gingerbread cookies (recipe below). While the cookie dough was chilling in the refrigerator, we drew and cut out templates for the sides and roofs of the castle, and the characters of Harry Potter leaped to life with a can of marzipan and food gels.
Once chilled, the dough was rolled out on a heavily floured surface and the templates were traced with knives to cut out the castle parts. It was easier to cut out the windows on a baking tray lined with parchment paper (that way the windows don't get distorted when transferring the dough to the baking tray).
The pieces were baked and then placed on a wire rack to cool.
After the pieces cooled, we made hard sugar windows (recipe and instructions below),
and royal icing decor (recipe below).
Stay tuned to see the completed Hogwarts cake, that LIGHTS UP...
In the meanwhile, you can test your HP knowledge with this quiz.
Molasses Gingerbread Cookies
from Martha Stewart
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsulfured molasses
Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl.
Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Divide dough into 3 portions, and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a generously floured surface roll dough to a scant 1/4 inch thick. Brush off excess flour. Cut out desired shapes. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake cookies for 6 minutes. Remove sheets from oven, and tap them firmly on counter to flatten cookies. Return to oven, rotating sheets, and bake until crisp but not darkened, 6 to 8 minutes more. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.
Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers for up to 1 week.
Hard Candy Windows
1 cup granulated cane sugar
1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup light com syrup
Combine sugar, hot water and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan. Place on high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until all sugar crystals are dissolved. Wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in hot water. Clip on thermometer. Continue cooking, without stirring, to 290F, then remove from heat. Entire cooking process takes about ten minutes.
Place windowed molasses gingerbread cookies, face down, on a surface lined with aluminum foil. Transfer (carefully - VERY HOT) sugar to a heat proof container with a spout and pour into the windows. The candy cools almost instantly, in about a minute.
Note: We used a pyrex measuring cup to pour in the hot sugar. It then proceeded to harden on the cup and didn't want to come off. Jenny has written this handy how-to for cleaning:
Cleaning Hard Candy out of a Pyrex:
Be VERY VERY VERY careful. Molten sugar can cause serious burns.
As soon as you are done making the candy windows, use a spatula to get as much of the hard candy out of the Pyrex as you possibly can. I recommend pouring it into a stack of three disposable coffee cups. When stacked they can (or did for me) contain the very hot liquid. You can stick a popsicle stick in there to make a very large lollipop; otherwise just let it cool and harden for a few hours and throw it away. Fill the pyrex with hot water and stick it in the microwave until the water boils. Remove from microwave and pour down the drain. Repeat until all the hard candy has dissolved.
yields 4 cups
1 pound confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons meringue powder
5 tablespoons water
Using an electric mixer, beat ingredients for 3-5 minutes.