Cyndi Lauper Cake
by Barbara Jo
As my mom pointed out to me, I had no idea five or so years ago when Barbara May and I started theyrecoming.com (our horror movie review website) into what strange adventures it might soon lead me. The one it's led me into most recently involved sculpting a bust of Cyndi Lauper in cake to be FedExed to New York City and presented to Cyndi on a show called The Graham Norton Effect, which I had never even heard of until the contacted me about two months ago. Evidently, someone at the show had found their way to theyrecoming.com and seen the photos of my thoracic cavity cake and my zombie cake. Initially, they wanted me to make a werewolf cake for Seth Green, but they didn't give me enough lead time and I was really busy that weekend, so I had to tell them no, but please keep me in mind for the future. The next time they contacted me they wanted a cake for Cyndi Lauper and, as they gave me a few weeks notice this time and I'm a sucker for rock of the 80's, I enthusiastically agreed, providing they could come up with a way to transport the cake from the little Colorado mountain town where I spend my summers to the Big Apple.
I decided to make the cake a portrait of Cyndi with her mouth open, singing or possibly screaming, however one wants to interpret it. Behind the head, which was to be made out of cake, the hair would be a big dome of colorful hard candy with a light bulb underneath. My goal was to give the impression of something along the lines of a Tiffany lampshade. The folks at The Graham Norton Effect were excited about the idea, so I set about the planning and supplying stages. I believe I've mentioned before that I spend the summers in a little town about two hours away from the nearest big city, so supplies are a bit harder to obtain here than usual. Fortunately, the internet knows no petty geographical bounds, so I was able to order some powdered food colors and cocoa butter, which I didn't end up using after all and Barbara May sent me some paste colors and paint brushes and luster dust and suchlike from California.
The weekend before the weekend I was to make the cake I was planning to drive to Indiana for a friend's wedding. Yes, I drove eighteen hours just to go to one party, then turned around and drove back. I loved every minute of it. This afforded me an opportunity to pick up supplies at places like Home Depot and Wal-Mart. I was looking for a good, battery-operated method of lighting up the sugar dome, but I never came up with one that I was really satisfied with, so I went with the tried and true method of a plug in light bulb. I also needed a big metal bowl, which I planned to cover with tin foil and use as a mold for the sugar dome. I found one at Wal-Mart that I thought would be perfect. As it turns out, I was wrong.
I returned to Colorado on the evening of Tuesday, September 7 and the cake was due to be shipped to New York on Monday, September 13 for a taping on Tuesday, September 14. The next day I got up and drove forty-five minutes to the nearest Safeway to get all my supplies (mostly sugar and corn syrup, neither of which, as it turned out, I bought nearly enough of.) My goal for that evening was to make the sugar hair dome. I covered the top of my kitchen table with tin foil, then set the bowl on top of some tuna cans to give it a bit more height and covered it with tin foil as well. Using the hard candy recipe from my favorite candy cookbook (The Practical Candymaking Cookbook) my plan was to first create an under layer of clear (or as clear as cooked sugar gets, which is sort of amber) sugar then pour various bright colors of sugar onto that to give the impression of wavy hair. I had forgotten to ask Barbara May to send me my good candy thermometer, so I bought a cheap one at Safeway, which evidently is cheap for a very good reason. It worked fine for the first batch or two of candy, then condensation formed inside it which made it impossible to read and when I tried to wipe off the inside I inadvertently moved the paper scale inside so it ceased to be accurate at all. I gave up on the thermometer altogether after a while and went by the sound of the bubbling and the color of the sugar. I think I did a remarkably good job of it, too, if I do say so myself.
Building up the preliminary shell of clear sugar went fairly well expect that it was impossible to get it smooth because of the steep slope of the sides of the bowl. Eventually I had a fairly even coating of clear sugar and proceeded to the colored sugar, which was a complete failure. My plan had been to spoon the colored sugar into attractive swirls of hair but this proved to be impossible to do with any kind grace or precision on such a steep slope, so I just ended up with sort of messy wedges of red and purple sugar, which looked really sloppy and non-specific. I set that one aside (just in case I wanted it again later) and started again.
This time my plan was to draw specific wavy hair shapes onto the tin foil over the bowl with royal icing, then fill the spaces with clear sugar, which I would then paint bright colors with food coloring. I took me two tries to get royal icing shapes I was happy with (and this time I didn't set the bowl onto the tuna cans so it was bit shorter) and it proved difficult again to fill the more vertical surfaces of the bowl neatly. I had to do it with my little metal pastry tube from the sixties, which Barbara May got me at a garage sale or flea market or something, which is awesome because they're pretty much impossible to find. This is a very time-consuming process and it involved a lot of me burning myself with hot sugar. About halfway through the process I ran out of sugar and went to bed.
By the time I woke up the next morning. I had an even better idea - I would start over with a solid, clear sugar shell, then drizzle bright colors of sugar over it in abstract patterns. This would eliminate my difficulty in forming neat, specific shapes and give the cake a wild, carefree look, which I felt would be appropriate to Cyndi Lauper. This was also the day I had planned to bake the cake itself, which I had to do in my friend's cabin because I don't have an oven. I also borrowed a bowl similar to the one I had bought but slightly smaller on which to create my new sugar dome. This way I could start on a new dome without trashing the half-finished dome I had been working on the night before (just in case.) This time I created a more graceful shape (I hoped) than the natural shape of the bowl by taping pieces of paper over it to the bowl and to the table to form ogee-like curves. It formed a good shape, but made the finished product harder to remove from the table.
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