Kit’s never had a birthday cake.
Because Kit is …not like the other kids. For the 10 years I’ve known her, whenever asked what flavour of cake she would like, Kit invariably responds: meat!
It always stirs a couple chuckles, and we end up gratifying her cravings by having massive BBQs. But deep down inside, she still dreamt of having a proper birthday cake somehow made of meat.
I’ve wrecked my head for years trying to figure out how to indulge her crazy wish. The bacon wrapped strawberries only went so far. The closest I’ve ever come was the year I made a meatloaf, laid down mashed potato on top and skewered it with candles: it was actually pretty awful. I’m a decent cook, but neither baking nor cake making are part of my repertoire.
Then a couple days ago Kit showed me this monstrosity:
Suddenly it all made sense! Bree is a genius!
- Cornbread = spongecake
- Mashed potatoes = frosting/fondant
- Gravy = caramel drizzle
- Heap of chicken = heap of chicken
How can you go wrong?
I immediately committed to the endeavour, and the results were outstanding!
I started reaching out for support amongst the kitchen gurus in my network. Ms. Kimberly of Monster Kookies, who not only bakes adorable clay figurines but is also a very accomplished chef, provided some expert advice and hilariously dubbed the monstrosity:
The Marvellous Meat Mountain
Prep time: FOREVER!
Seriously, give yourself at least two days. I started around 9PM on Friday night, I was up until 4AM just finishing the primary layers, got up at 10AM the next day and basically didn’t stop until 6-7PM when guests started trickling in.
I can safely say at least 12 hours went into this. And if I had 10 more I would’ve nitpicked at the design and decorated more.
Ingredients: we had about 10 guests and obliterated half the cake. Leftovers reheat well, the quantities here would roughly serve about 15-20 people.
- Mashed potatoes
These quantities are relative. You will want numerous batches of potatoes with various consistencies and flavourings.
- potatoes; just go grab a sack. I used 10 for my beast.
- 1L of milk
- 1L of buttermilk
- 2 cups of butter
- garlic powder
- onion powder
The quantities make a single 10″ tier. I made three.
- 1 1/4 cup of cornmeal
- 1 cup of flour
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/4 cup of melted butter
- 8 onions
- pinch of salt, sugar and pepper
- 1 tbsp of butter
- 1 cup of cheese
- Fried chicken
- 10-12 pieces of chicken, bone in, skin on
- You’ll want to brine them in this mixture overnight
- 1L of water
- 1/4 cup of coarse salt
- bay leaf
- fresh cracked pepper
- other spices to taste
- And for the coating
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup of buttermilk
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of pepper
- super-duper-secret-spice-mixture; do your thing, aim for no more than 3 tsp of whatever you want to put in the flour so the taste isn’t overbearing
Entirely discretionary. I used a jalapeño as a stamp then sliced it thinly and stuck it on. I also scattered a few peas, bits of corn and slivers of green onion around the base of the cake.
- bacon (crumble, strips, bows as below… bacon can’t do wrong)
- jalapeño slices
- slivered green/yellow/orange/red peppers
- halved cherry tomatoes
- julienned green onions
- gravy – I cheated and just made it out of the box. The Clubhouse packets are readily available at most grocery store and they turn out decent. 3 cups of gravy were enough to decorate and for everyone to pour on their chicken/cake.
Like I said, I’m not usually a dessert person so I had to source some supplies. Luckily the local Dollarama had decent enough versions of these:
- Cake turntable
- Silicone spatulas/cake cutter
- Piping bag
- Round baking pans
Pre-heat oven at 400.
Brine the chicken. In a big tupperware, mix the 1/4 cup of coarse salt, the bay leaf and your choice of spices in 1 L of water. Throw in your chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Chop all the onions.
Throw them in a pan with a bit of oil on medium low, sprinkle with sugar. Toss them around and add a pinch of salt. Let ’em do their thing.
The ingredients for cornbread I listed make for a single 10″ pan of 3″ thick cornbread. I made three tiers and carved them down a little to make a tall cylinder.
Whisk wet ingredients. Mix dry ingredients.
Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir gently. Lumps are ok, you just want all the liquid absorbed.
Pour into a pan.
Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.
Repeat. Again and again…
I ended up using about twelve potatoes in total.
So… much… peeling.
I cooked them in small batches of two at a time, whipping in various amounts of buttermilk, regular milk and butter.
Whipping is the key here. Using a whisk will be quite a workout. If you have a handheld chopper/blender that will help significantly because you don’t want your “frosting” to be lumpy.
I has sooo many blisters from this endeavour…
Select the most structurally sound tier of cornbread as your base. You want to basically cover everything in mashed potato, smoothing as much as you can throughout the process.
Those onions should be nice and caramelized by now so you’ll want a layer of them between the first and second tier.
And between the second and third layer:
The first layer that binds the tiers and gives the cake its overall shape can be fairly coarse mashed potato. I used buttermilk instead of regular milk for this batch to make the base layers stickier and more savoury. You want to fill in any gaps and make it a consistent, straight cylinder.
The subsequent layers will be thinner and smoother. It helps to chill the cake in the freezer between applications so as to set everything in place.
By this point, the words “mashed potatoes” were nausea inducing to me. I am NOT mashing another bloody potato for the next six months after all this.It was about 4AM when I shoved the beast into the fridge and went to bed.
Day 2: MORE POTATOES!
After setting in the fridge over night, I was able to shave down the sides of the cake to give a more uniform shape, before applying smooth thin layers of fresh potato made with buttermilk and a bit of garlic powder for flavour.
It wasn’t a perfect finish, but with all the embellishments it was hardly noticeable.
Then the decorating begins. I used paprika with a jalapeno stamp, then stuck on additional slices of the pepper.
I half fried three strips of bacon. Then I cup them lengthwise into thin even strips, folded them into bow shapes, pinned then in place with a toothpick and nuked them under the high broiler for 2 minutes to crisp.
Then I pinned them to the side of the cake with the toothpicks and capped them with peas.
Those little crenelations along the bottom are achieved by using the same super smooth, top coat mashed, fed through a big star attachment on a piping bag.
It’s a messy process. The “piping bag” I was using looked like a large metal syringe and the nozzle constantly clogged. Keep some toothpicks on hand at all times to delicately adjust the work.
I stuck the cake in the freezer immediately after each layer of piped mashed potato to stick it in place.
Then came the gravy: it helped to make tiny dips in the cake top to allow rivulets of gravy to trickle down.
Just another top layer of piped potato for a crown…
I also used more peas and green onions as embellishments and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper.
Through my various artistic endeavours, I’ve discovered I enjoy tedium. Tiny, repetitive tasks are so zen to me. There was a lot of …toothpicking on this meat cake.
Last and but not least:
Brining it over night makes the meat so tender and juicy, it’s unbelievable!
Mix two eggs with a cup of buttermilk, and spice a couple cups of flour. I say “spice” because the exact permutation of flavours is Katie’s secret 🙂
Pro-tip: double dip them.
Pre-heat the deep fryer at 180. You want a fairly even temperature, so don’t keep it open too long. You’ll want about 6 minutes per side.
You can keep the chicken pieces warm in the oven at 250.
I also stored the cake in the fridge in between stages.
So. Skewer with candles. Heap chicken on top.
It’s a very dense cake. I carved out 1″ wide slices and preheated them in the oven for 2 minutes at 350 before serving… cause nobody likes cold mashed potatoes.
Here’s a cross section of the fillings.
So there you have it folks.
The meat birthday cake has been achieved. I finally have the technology to conquer The Marvellous Meat Mountain!
Happy barfday Kit!