Turkey for Thanksgiving
Ever since I started baking, I’ve heard: “Why don’t you make a TURKEY CAKE for Thanksgiving? Oh, you know what would be a really creative idea for Thanksgiving? OMG if you made a cake that looked like a TURKEY! You should TOTALLY make a turkey cake. Turkey cake turkey cake turkey cake!”
Well, I succumbed and made it. Ta daaaaaa:
For the Thanksgivings that preceded this eventful turkey cake, I kept responding with, “Um… it’s going to take a lot of time…” And surprise. IT DID. Thanksgiving 2015 was on Thursday (as always, duh) November 26; per usual, I took my sweet @ss time getting started and stayed up super late to rush and finish the damn thing. I actually made two cakes instead of just one for Thanksgiving. Mind you, I’ve never tried making a poultry platter cake before so why the hell not make TWO cakes because I’m clearly insane.
Day 1: I started making fresh homemade fondant on Saturday the 21st. I made two big batches of plain white fondant from 6 bags of jumbo marshmallows. The first batch was a little dense and drier than I liked, so I just added a crapload of light brown (ha. haha. hahahahaha), wrapped that sh!t up tightly in plastic wrap, and hoped it would cooperate for the turkey skin later.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I started watching Aziz Anzari’s “Master of None” on Netflix and I got hooked. It was like a modern day Seinfeld but without the live studio audience. And slightly less outrageous scenarios. And shot in wonderful bars and restaurants. And I watched about half the first season making a mess with all this fondant.
Day 2: I putzed around Sunday looking at 15 pictures of actual turkey platters and scribbled some designs and ideas and thought about making herbs and fruits and vegetables, like, rosemary and sage and lemons and grapes (yes, I am well aware it’s not a normal sight on a Thanksgiving platter but I saw it more than once on my Google search of roast turkey so I was like, “Sure. Why the hell not? Let’s go with it!”) and berries and broccoli (it was a hit last year with the ham cake!) and cauliflower (might as well since I can effortlessly make broccoli) and carrots (also a winner with last year’s Thanksgiving cake) and of course, STUFFING! I kneaded clumps of bunch of different fondant colors and finger painted a dark green gel color on rice paper for the herb leaves. I had plenty of thin, cheap white covered floral wire so I rubbed all the green coloring on my fingers onto the wire to use for the herbs. I rolled, cut out, and trimmed fondant leaf shapes that kinda sorta resembled sage leaves, inserted short lengths of the green floral wire into the herb leaves, Ziplock’d them, and setted it and forgetted it!
And yes, part of the procrastination was due to finishing the rest of the “Master of None” episodes. I can’t wait till the next season! So hilarious and so true all at once. (Ed. note 11/21/17: Season 2 was amazing, too. Aziz wins at everything.)
Day 3: I finally got down to business on Monday. I was really tired from a long day at work and really really REALLY just wanted to go to sleep after dinner, but Vin was like this little voice in my head that said, “Baby, you’re going to rush to finish your cakes if you don’t work on them now. You always do this…” and dammit he’s so cute and annoying when he’s right! So he continued watching TV and facebooking and I baked 3 batches of vanilla-coconut flavored white cake. I decided to use white frosting and white cake and it would be all white meat, but delicious, moist, fluffy white meat. I hadn’t planned the construction so I just baked 3 Pyrex pans of cake. While the cake pans were baking, I made 5 quarts of white frosting. The mixer stopped whirring at about 1130 pm, but I stayed up to cut up tons of skinny little rice paper leaves for the rosemary.
Tonight’s Netflix special was brought to you by Krysten Ritter’s “Jessica Jones.” Marvel’s “Daredevil” was done so well and I loved that it took place in NYC and that it was so gritty and the actor that played Matt Murdock was fantastic… I had to watch this MCU show, too. It didn’t disappoint. I couldn’t stop watching and working and then I realized it was 3 am. Time for bed, I think…
Day 4: Five people sent me this imgur gif of someone assembling a turkey cake in 30 seconds. The baker layered the cake vertically instead of the traditional horizontal style, but I chose to stick with the old fashioned method given that now wasn’t the time to risk creating a falling blob and completely wasting layers of cake. I also decided to make sure these cakes would fit in my 10” cake boxes, which was a fantastic executive decision in hindsight because they ended up being so much easier to manage. I ended up using 2 of the 3 layers I baked since I molded little poultry cakes that ended up being the size of 4 pound chickens. Haha I shaped both the turkey cakes at the same time. The only part that was a bitch was the wings… I looked at roasted turkeys from every angle and ended up constructing cakes that had the wings pointing in different directions. The cake for the T house had the wings aimed towards the drumsticks; I was a little more patient with the second turkey for my parents, so I was able to mold the wings pointed up. Since the cake was so light and airy, the scrap pieces used for the wings were crumbly so I just hoped they would stick together and not collapse (the cakes stayed intact!). After dirty icing them with the white frosting, they looked like 2 uncooked little plucked headless birds.
I took the rest of the green fondant used for the sage leaves and added a deeper green gel to shape the stems for broccoli florets. Then I took the plain white fondant and shaped the cauliflower floret stems. Then I kneaded some purple-y fondant to for the grapes and just rolled them into oval shaped balls. They kind looked like Kalamata olives at this point so I almost reconsidered my honey bunches of grapes attempt… I set those aside and moved onto the carrots. I had some yellow fondant ready to go for my lemons, but my wedges/slices idea didn’t turn out so well (see my lime margarita cupcakes) so I just made a blob of lemon and saved some to make baby carrots. I added pink gel frosting to the yellow, and that just made it taste bitter. Bleah. As delicious as my homemade fondant is, pink and red Wilton gel will just make anything taste like bitter crushed bugs (or so I’ve heard…). Instead of giving the carrots an “organic, twisty root” look, I just made baby carrots to pile together and used some of the green fondant from the broccoli to make the stems. Super simple. I used some of the orange fondant and shaped a long rectangular strip to cut cubes of carrots for my stuffing. I took some red fondant and just rolled these itty bitty berries to be used to fill in gaps and hide mess ups on the platter. I guess they were supposed to be cranberries. Last year I was so happy with how my cherries came out, but I didn’t feel like mixing the right color so I just left these tiny balls of bright red as is. The last of the green fondant was shaped into tons of little pea sized balls to be… well, peas. These were going to be part of my stuffing, too.
At 4 am I decided it was time to go to bed. Plus, I needed to save the last few “Jessica Jones” episodes for tomorrow night’s decorating binge.
Day 5: I was EXHAUSTED at work, but thanks to our lovely Nespresso machine I was able to function AND not look like a zombie in the office. After accomplishing so much last night (errr… that morning?), I was motivated to finish prepping my platter decorations and see how the cake would actually turn out. I admit, I was a little nervous about fondanting that first turkey cake so I tried to assemble some rosemary stems instead. This is probably one of my biggest failed experiments. I had spent so much time coloring all this rice paper and meticulously cutting thin leaves and handpainting stems and painstakingly food-gluing little wire stems to little rice leaves… and once I tried twisting all the stems together, all the rice paper leaves fell off. I was able to make a sprig of about 7 rosemary leaves and it didn’t even look like real rosemary. Vin was watching me and again, being the voice of reason when I’m in cake mode, suggested that I not make that shit because it would take forever and that all the other pieces looked great. I was annoyed my construction didn’t work out and that I had all these little leaves sitting around, but I gave up. Freaking rosemary. Next time, I’m not using rice paper.
But the show must go on, and I needed to know if the rest of my cake bird attempt was going to futile. While I was messing around with the green rice paper and flower wire, the dirty iced raw-looking turkey cake was sitting on the counter. The frosting had crystallized and hardened in the fridge and I need it to be closer to room temp or the fondant wouldn’t stick to it. I unwrapped the tan fondant I kneaded a few days ago, dusted half the kitchen in powdered sugar, and rolled out the colored marshmallow. It was definitely drier than I was used to, and the consistency made the thickness a little thicker than I usually rolled out, but this was actually to my benefit. The fondant held really well and there weren’t any cracks or tears. And again, since the cake was manageable being 10” by 7”, I handled the rolled out fondant without any problems. I centered the fondant over the cake and slowly pushed down the sides. So far, so good… I smoothed the fondant down over the wings and drumsticks and took my trusty chef’s knife to trim the excess edges. It looked GOOD! I took a bit of white fondant and stuck them in at the bottom of the drumsticks for the bone, but didn’t think that this would be covered up by the stuffing. Hence, this is why this was my first attempt. I took some of the brown gel and mixed it with water and tested it on a patch of excess tan fondant. When the color looked pretty close to roasted turkey skin, I took my food sponge brush and painted the entire cake. It was looking so awesome!!! I also tested a patch of fondant with my kitchen torch (I love that thing; being a pyro is totally overlooked if you’re a pastry chef hahaha) and I liked the charred, roasted effect it gave to the fondant. HOWEVER… it made everything look smooth. I couldn’t add texture once the area had been torched, so I didn’t torch much of this cake. Oh, and if you’re wondering how I DID get that turkey skin texture? A clean kitchen towel. I had used a clean lingerie bag to get the mesh effect for Vin’s birthday sneaker, but that wouldn’t work for plucked poultry skin. Again, I went to my test piece of fondant and experimented at which point and how I should imprint the towel texture onto the fondant. Being that the batch I kneaded for the skin was a little dry, the imprint didn’t show very well on the plain fondant. BUT, after I painted the fondant with my gel-water mix and pressed the towel on it, the texture was PERFECT. This ended up being a trial and error test run because the first towel imprint on the painted cake removed a lot of the gel color AND left unrealistic and weird creases on the cake where the towel had folded. I added another layer of gel-water and tried imprinting the towel again, but there were still a couple creases. Meh. I left it at that and sprinkled some black and clear sugar sprinkles on the top to give the cake some “seasoning.” I decided to finish decorating the second turkey cake when we came back from Thanksgiving #1 because it was 4 am again and I was pooped. It was best to end the night on a high note, with the success of how my first try at turkey cake came out AND that I had finished watching “Jessica Jones.” I have to say, I really liked how this ended. David Tennant is amazing as a villain. Krysten Ritter pulls off sarcastic, tough chick with a heart of gold with ease. Maybe it’s the binge watching, maybe these are just really good f*cking shows, but these binge baking/decorating benders went quite well.
Day 6: Thanksgiving day. (The distinct “DUN DUN” noise from “Law & Order” just played in my head. I’m weird, I know =) I got 3 hours of sleep, showered and brushed my teeth, and packaged one turkey cake in a cake box and divvied half of the fondant decorations to bring to LI. We wanted to avoid the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade insanity in front of our apartment and take an early train out to LI, but it ended up taking another 20 minutes to get to the subway. It really shouldn’t have; the subway stop is literally outside the front door of out apartment building, but the cops wouldn’t let anyone in or out of the main entrance. So we figured, alright, we’ll go the back door and walk around the block to get to the subway station. Nope. We had to go 2 avenues over, 2 streets down, and THEN back up to the subway stop. All this whilst carrying my precious cake and accoutrements in a mob of people heading to see the floats. That sidewalk road rage sure put us in the holiday spirit. Hahaha
I passed out on the train after we transferred at Jamaica. It was a short nap, but I felt recharged. Or, charged enough to get through the morning. Vin’s dad picked us up from the train station and I immediately went to work assembling the turkey platter. I mentioned this before, but I purposely made a small turkey that would fit on a 10” cake board so that 1) it was would be easy to fondant ; 2) easy to transport and 3) fit nicely on a platter . I have 10” cake boxes that are 5” high; the turkey was 4.5” so it fit perfectly in the cake box and wasn’t shuffling around and freaking me the f*ck out while I was carrying it. When I opened the cake box, my little sweet roasted bird was still intact. Yay! The first thing I did was trim the cake board. With the cake centered on the platter, I went to work placing the accoutrements.
I hadn’t planned out where things would go, so I kinda winged it. I carved out a hole for the cavity and then placed some fondant leaves under the back end of the turkey where the stuffing would be, but this ended up being a waste of time because the stuffing ended up completely covering my leaves. Stupid. But the stuffing ended up looking fantastic. This was THE easiest part and it turned out to be the thing that everyone loved the most. When one bakes a cake, the edges that touch the cake pan end up a darker color than the rest of the cake. I saved the edges when I trimmed the cake and torched that sh*t and it looked exactly like toast edges, aka croutons for the stuffing. So simple. The bits of fondant peas and carrots had melted a bit since I mixed them in the same container as the stuffing, so I had to strategically place each piece to hide the misshapen bits. The bread, peas and carrots were placed one piece at a time so that it was impeccably cascading onto the edge of the platter from the poultry cavity hole. Martha Stewart magazine jerk-worthy shot right there.
The next sections were the broccoli and the cauliflower. These were placed on the sides of the cake to hide the edges of the cake board and the bottom fondant seam. Easy peasy. I stuck a small bunch of baby carrots at one corner of the turkey so that the stems stuck out. The grapes had to be twisted and hooked together with the green floral wire, and these were placed at the head of the bird. I threw in some unattached grapes to conceal the cake board. (Eh, some people thought they were olives since they were closer in Kalamata color versus red grape.) And I didn’t know what to do with the extra leaves and this big yellow “lemon” so I just twisted a bunch of leaves together to make a mutant sage-herb thing and placed it under the other corner by the head. The lemon was shoved in to cover the edges.
The finishing touches were the random red berries and the extra rice paper leaves. I jammed the leaves under some fondant pieces to hide the cake board and the berries were scattered around the platter to cover any cake edges. Et voila! It was finally finished!
You have no idea how annoyed I am with the sh*ttiness of this video. The only 360-degree view of this beaut of a cake is of the crappiest quality. Beyond frustrating. *sigh*
There was great sunlight coming into the dining room that morning so Vin took some amazing close up shots for me. I tried taking a 360-degree video with my phone but it’s a bit blurry. Oh well. It was left on the dessert table the whole time and some people just didn’t think it was dessert and bypassed the cake. Other family members were loving it. When the time came to cut into the cake, people were scared to dig in. But here’s a shot of the inside:
I got sh*t for not including dark meat, to which I responded: Go make your own damn turkey cake =)
I’m really glad the first try came out well, but that also meant that turkey cake #2 was WAYYYYY easier to construct. I painted and textured the second cake and sprinkled some “salt and pepper” sugar, then packed all the fondant pieces. This time, I made sure to separate the peas and carrots from the stuffing so the fondant wouldn’t melt from the moisture from the cake stuffing pieces. With everything packed and ready to go on Saturday morning, we walked a few blocks to the car rental office (btw, never dealing with you again, Hertz: you made me pay extra for returning my car early??? Dumbest policy ever!) and were on our way to my parents’ house.
As soon as we got in I got to work assembling everything. My dad was hovering around me taking pics during the assembly, my mom and grandma were cooking (those eggrolls were not coming out of the fryer fast enough!), my little brother was cooped up playing video games (lame), my sister stopped by to check in on me and said she was showing everyone my first turkey cake, then proceeded to play with our little cousins (she knows that I get in the zone when it comes to cake and can’t be bothered haha), and my aunts and uncles were stopping in every once in a while to check out the progress. One of my uncles told my grandma in Vietnamese, “Did you see what [my family nickname which shall not be revealed] is making on the table? Her cake is amazing! It looks real, mom!” And even though she hadn’t had the chance to come by and see it yet because she was so busy cooking, my grandmother said, “Of course, I already know it looks beautiful! I know she’s very good at making cakes!” INSERT NAIL POLISH EMOJI HERE. I heard this from the other room and smiled; this was one of the best compliments ever because my grandma is an artist. <3
Aside from being able to assemble the second cake platter in half the time, the main disparity between turkey cake 1 and 2 was that Vin’s family was kind of hesitant to eat it, but my family was hovering over me like wolves asking, “Is it ready yet? Is it done yet? We just want to take a picture and then eat it!” hahahahaha Honestly, I prefer the latter because I really appreciate seeing people enjoy my hard work. I’m really glad I was able to make something spectacular for my family instead of last minute cupcakes or extra cake balls or half-assed cream puffs. If I haven’t mentioned before, my family is quite opinionated and stubborn and everyone knows everything about everything (I mean, I DO know everything =), and to have a family consensus say that my cake looks AND tastes amazing, that’s the only thanks I need. And I think Vin is thankful I’m done with holiday baking… for now. hahaha
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone <3