Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gargouillou-The Garden Cake

I hope newspapers never die out, because even though I read them online, there is something special about that ink smell, the feel of the paper, and the way an image looks printed out, rather than on a screen. Usually my husband will steal our paper on his way out, and I will read the sections that I may have missed later in the evening. Last week, I caught the NY Times Dining In section a few days past. An article about a French chef named Michel Bras who had a moment of inspiration running through mountains and fields at the peak of their bloom, in 1978, to create a dish inspired by a brimming garden.

Chefs since have interpreted the dish, using black brioche or crushed tomato crumbs to simulate dirt. But what about a cake? What about translating the vegetables from a savory moment to something sweet.

In the past few weeks I have been experimenting with gelatin decorations. I ordered molds from Diane Simmons of Cake Connection, ( and she gave me some simple advice for making the leaves and flowers. You can see images on her site of expertly crafted flowers and leaves, that look like glass, although they feel more like cellophane. Made of a concentrated liquid of gelatin and water (recipe below), I have been toying with using different colors as a layering effect to create a more handmade look.

my organic leaves

The photo of the Gargouille with the baby swiss chard, where the center stem is magenta, and the leaf is green struck me as the perfect reference for layering the gelatin.
As for the base of the cake or cupcake, it would be frosted in a thick dark organic chocolate ganache with cake crumbs pressed into it as the "dirt".

The leaves and butterflies are quick to make, but take 6-8 hours to dry. The beauty of these gelatin decorations is that you can also paint on top of them too.
Gelatin Flowers/Leaves Recipe (adapted from Diane Simmons of Cake Connection)

*note: Its best to use the thin molds that Diane Simmons created, since they are very thin and flexible the flowers and leaves work in these. I tried painting onto plastic wrap but the pieces broke. The molds are $30 for 5 sheets of varying leaves, petals, flowers. You can order them online or by calling her. She is really helpful and nice.

3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered organic gelatin (order online at

1. In a small microwave safe bowl, pour gelatin in and add water, mix and let sit for one minute.
2. In microwave, set timer for 20 seconds, then mix gelatin.
3. Repeat heating the bowl in the microwave for 20 seconds, then mix again. Keep doing this until the mixture is hot and even foamy.
4. Depending on the range of colors you would like, ration spoonfuls of the gelatin into other small microwave safe bowls.

I like to use small white ramekins to mix colors

5. Using a toothpick, dip a clean end in water based food coloring, then swirl into bowl of gelatin. Use a separate spoon for each color.
6. While gelatin is liquid and warm, either use a paintbrush or small teaspoon to coat the various shapes in the mold.

handpainting magenta stems

7. When gelatin thickens, you can add a touch of water and reheat for 15 seconds in the microwave.
8. Let dry in molds for 6-8 hours, you will know it is done when the edges are peeling upward away from the mold.

*additional note: I have found for layering colors, its best to have each color be applied thick enough so that they can slightly overlap.

layered yellow and fuschia butterflies

Here is the idea of what the cake would look like:

mmmm so dirty!

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