My son has been in Cub Scouts for over a year now and sometimes I feel I have been earning my own merit badges along with him. So far, we’ve done a number of “father / son” things: we made a napkin holder; I helped him with a boat and his pinewood derby car. We got our latest challenge a few weeks ago in the face of the annual Blue and Gold Dinner. We were supposed to bake a cake with a Chinese New Year theme.
Well, I haven’t seen any articles on cake baking in Daniel’s “Boys Life” magazine, but I’m always up for a challenge. I’m not a baker by any stretch of the imagination, but I like to read “Cook’s Illustrated” and I enjoy the way they set out to find the best fudge or make the best barbeque sauce or something.
So, that’s what I did.
When I think of Chinese New Year, I think of the dragons twisting and turning in the parades with firecrackers going off in the streets around them. I took a look on Google to see what I could find. There was quite a lot of information to go through. Chinese New Year actually lasts several days. There are traditions for each day. On top of that, there are a lot of different “years” that the New Year might be. For example, we are entering the year of the rat.
As a quick aside, I looked up “dragon cake” and found someone – obviously a Cub Scout Dad – asking Yahoo Answers about how to make a dragon cake. They had a recipe posted, but I thought that was too easy. I wanted something original.
Daniel and I went out to the store after church one afternoon and bought several Jiffy mixes. They are less than fifty cents a piece and I thought we would be able to conduct some experiments to see what worked, what didn’t. The first “test cake” was actually cupcakes. My thought was that we could arrange the cupcakes in a long “S” shape and then decorate it like it was a long dragon in a parade. We got some food coloring and some colored sugar. I also picked up various types of colored candy: spice drops and gummi stuff. I also got some frosting, just in case.
Well, after the first test, the cupcake idea seemed to pass muster. I had used a white cake mix that we had colored green with food coloring. That part wasn’t so successful. Once it was baked, it really wasn’t green anymore. I’m not sure what color you would call it. The frosting was necessary to get the candy to stick to the cake, but the Jiffy mixes were so crumbly, the frosting just ripped them to shreds. I knew frosting was more spreadable when it was room temperature. What would happen if I heated it up? Well, after 15 seconds in the microwave, the can of frosting was the consistency of magma. I ended up just pouring it on the cupcake line. It looked kind of like melted candle wax, not exactly the effect I was going for, but it actually looked kind of neat. A lot of the dragons shown in pictures had a lot of swooping lines and fringe. I went out again and found some edible Easter grass (by the way, every part of the cake had to be edible). That made pretty good fringe for the bottom of the cake.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well things went. Daniel helped me bake the cupcakes and mix the batter and so on. He cut up candy pieces and helped me mush them into the frosting. While not a complete success, I felt we had a blueprint for the final cake the following weekend.
Saturday, we baked up another Jiffy mix. This time, it was a lemon cake mix; it stayed yellow. We colored a can of frosting bright green and cut up red candies. Meka had got into the act and found stuff called fondant icing for us to try. It’s basically icing that is stiff and comes in a big lump. You roll it flat and then sort of drape it on top of a cake. While it was too thick – a quarter inch – to cover all the cupcakes, it did work well for the front cupcake. It became the dragon nose and mouth and the poured frosting covered the rest. The candies went on without a hitch and the whole thing sat on a bed of the edible Easter grass so it looked like fringe. Our resident chef and baker – my wife – was impressed with the result.
The Blue and Gold Dinner features a couple of dozen cakes. Some were pretty basic: a brown frosted lump that had “HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR” written on the top. Others were more interesting. One was the shape of Chinese money and another was a cake that had a stuffed rat nibbling on the corner. Another cake actually was a rat, covered in coconut colored gray. It was inventive, but looked like roadkill.
Our cake wasn’t the only dragon based cake. There were a couple of others, including one that had used the Internet recipe. Each kid could vote several times for the cakes they liked. I think Daniel voted for his cake several times. I was a bit more fair minded. While our cake did get my vote, I also voted for the rat cakes and the money cake. In the end, we didn’t win (the Internet recipe based cake won), but our cake was one of the ones that was completely eaten. So I will take that as a victory of sorts.