Last week I was busy making a secret cake for my boyfriend's birthday. The man does love his board games (and card games, parlour games, computer games, frisbee tree golfing games...) and is particularly partial to a game of scrabble. So, a scrabble board cake, I thought, would be just the ticket! But, what would be the point of making a scrabble board if you can't actually play on it? And, more to the point, what would be the point of making a scrabble board out of cake, if it wasn't entirely edible?
First off, I decided on the size of my tin - a 10" square. From that, I could work out the size I would need the board to be and the size of each square and tile. I dyed floristry paste (the icing used for making intricate sugar flowers) to the right shade of "scrabble" green (which turned out to be a combination of Christmas Green, Foliage Green and Baby Blue), rolled it out and cut it to size. Once it was set, I drew the grid on with edible liquorice pen. Then I dyed more floristry paste with light blue for double letter score squares, dark blue for triple letter, pink for double word and red for triple word. I made the little triangles to go round each coloured square, but discarded them at the eleventh hour, as I thought the board looked too cluttered, but if you make the cake bigger it will be fine. Once all the icing was dyed, I rolled them out very thinly and cut the right number of tiles in each colour. I stuck them on the board in the right places with a little blob of royal icing and used a no. 2 nozzle to pipe on the lines of the board in white royal icing.
I decided that I would make the tiles out of white chocolate plastique (melted white chocolate mixed with liquid glucose, so that it becomes malleable, like plasticine. You can make it yourself, or buy it ready made) mixed with sugar paste (roll out icing). I then cut each tile to size, rounded off the edges and used my thumb to make a shallow well in the centre of each tile, to make them more authentic. Then I left them to set slightly, before piping the letters and letter scores in black royal icing with a 1.5 nozzle. I made the whole set of a hundred tiles, so that it could be properly functional.
Then I needed to make the little letter racks. This is where I took artistic licence, as they're usually dark green, but I didn't want to make them out of a big hunk of icing, as that would make a fairly unpleasant eating experience, so I made them out of chocolate plastique again, but this time of the milk chocolate variety. I made sure they were big enough to seat 7 tiles and set them over folded cardboard. Once set, I added support "legs", also in chocolate plastique, so that they would stand up, unaided, while carrying the weight of the tiles.
I made his current favourite flavoured cake (chocolate and red peppercorn, but it can be done with any flavour) glazed the top with ganache and then covered the cake in white sugar paste before smoothing over the top and sides. Once the icing had "skinned" slightly (i.e. started to harden), I stuck the scrabble board on the top with some royal icing, made 4 plaques out of the left over triple word score red icing and piped on "SCRABBLE" in white, before sticking one on each side of the cake. Bish bash bosh. Job done.
I carried the (extremely heavy) cake half way across London to the old boozer my old boozer was having his birthday drinks in and he loved it. He is a man who really loves cake (it's one of my favourite things about him) and he would have been happy enough if I'd shown up with an uniced chocolate cake with a candle on top, but things mean so much more when they're personal. It shows that some thought has gone into what would be meaningful or exciting for its recipient, but also that they're worth that extra bit of thought, planning and effort. That they're special. Everyone needs to be shown that they're special, and what better way is there to show it than through the medium of cake? Answer: none.
Royal icing is much quicker and simpler to make than people think, and is much tastier and easier to pipe with when made fresh. Sifting, though boring, is absolutely essential with this stuff, especially if you're using it for piping, as any lumps will block your nozzle and break the line of your piping. One quantity will yield enough to ice an 8" cake or fill 2 - 3 piping bags.
1 egg white
The juice of half a large lemon
14 oz (350g) icing sugar
- Whisk the egg white in a large and spotlessly clean bowl until at the very soft peak stage.
- Sift over half the icing sugar and whisk.
- Add the second half and whisk again.
- Sift (using a tea strainer) over the lemon juice and whisk on medium speed for a good minute, before turning it up to high speed and whisking for a further couple of minutes. It should be a good consistency, but if it's a bit stiff just add a tiny bit more juice and whisk again.
- If you won't be using it immediately, or won't be using all of it immediately, dampen a clean tea towel, ring it out and place it over the top of the bowl, until you're ready to use it.
- It can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to one week, if you dampen a jay cloth and place it on top of the icing before sealing down the lid. You'll need to re-whisk it before use.
If you're using a piping bag, place the nozzle end in a glass and pull the sides of the bag down the outside of the glass before filling it. Don't be tempted to overfill the bag as it will be more likely to ooze out of the top when you're piping with it.