One of my greatest disappointments in life is that I seem to be surrounded by people who don’t love cake. I LOVE cake. I think it’s safe to say that cake is a significant part of my life. I wanted this blog to be a celebration of many different kinds of making, because I do have a variety of creative interests, but let’s face it, I keep coming back to the cake.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares my obsession. My boyfriend could take it or leave it. My boyfriend’s son doesn’t care for it at all. And recently, my mother started telling me she thinks she’s maybe not a “cake person” after all. This was concerning for two reasons. One, a person who doesn’t love cake must have something seriously wrong with them. And two, her birthday was coming up, so just what the hell was I supposed to make for her?
Oftentimes, I just ignore said person’s protestations, convinced that I make cakes that are so delicious, no one can resist their temptations. But sometimes, I actually try to please them. I’ve done cheesecakes, doughnuts, and cookie cake for these non-cake persons in the past, but this time I wanted to come up with something different.
As you know from my last post, (yes I’m assuming you’ve read all of my posts), I’ve had meringue on the brain for awhile now, so I thought immediately thought: pavlova. But my second thought was “how can I make it as decorative as I would any other cake?” And somehow I came up with a tree stump. Yeah, no clue there, but it gave me a chance to make meringue mushrooms, so it was a no brainer.
I had it all planned out; I’d do three chocolate meringue discs, and stack them with a chocolate mousse and a blood orange curd, then I’d make some meringue pieces to create roots, and surround the whole thing with delightful little meringue mushrooms and buttercream violets. Then I remembered my mother was on a restricted diet due to some health issues, and both chocolate and citrus were out. After some debating, and running a few more ingredients by her, (pineapple also out), I landed on a regular vanilla meringue with an ermine buttercream and fresh blueberries. Since the meringue would be white, I decided it would be a birch tree stump.
I made the meringue mushrooms a couple weeks ahead of time, when I made the meringue cookies I used to cover my pear cake, using a Swiss meringue recipe from the Cake Blog. I piped them using a round piping tip. For the mushroom caps, I piped dome shapes, moving my tip in a circular motion when releasing pressure, and then moving the piping tip off to the side to try to avoid creating a point on top. I did still get a bit of the point on all of them, so I just dipped my finger in some water and gently smoothed the tops. For the stems, I just piped kiss shapes, but a little more elongated. You do want the points on these. After baking and cooling, I stored the caps and stems separately in an airtight container with parchment paper between the layers.
The day before I needed the mushrooms, I poked a hole in the bottom of each cap with a toothpick, making sure the holes were big enough to fit the tips of the stems in so that the caps sit well on top. Then I melted some brown candy melts (chocolate would work well too, and taste better, but I had the candy melts on hand), smeared the melted candy melts on the bottom of each cap, and dragged a toothpick in lines through the melted candy to create the gills on the bottom of the mushrooms.
I dipped the tip of a stem in the candy melts as well, then inserted the tip into the hole of the mushroom cap. It’s pretty simple, but effective. I dusted the tops of the mushrooms with cocoa powder before using them.
Next came the meringue discs for the pavlova stack, and the pieces to make the tree roots. I traced a 7 inch circle onto a piece of paper, then placed it under my Silpat mat, so I could keep my discs a consistent size. I also traced out a few tree root shapes onto a piece of paper, making them two inches wide at the base and three inches tall, so that I could place these under my Silpat mats as well, using them as a template for my roots.
I used this meringue recipe, and then piped two disc shapes onto one of my Silpat mats, starting in the center of the circle and spiraling out. I built up the sides a little and smoothed out the middles so there would be room for the fillings. For my last disc, I piped a spiral again, but left it all one thickness, and did not smooth it, so that the spiral would resemble tree rings. Then I piped three roots facing one direction, flipped my template, and piped three roots facing the other direction. I knew that the roots would bake flat on one side, so I wanted to make matching pairs that I would be able to sandwich together to create a full root.
My last step before baking, was to take a toothpick dipped in brown food coloring and run it through the sides of the discs and the tops of the roots to create a birch bark effect. Then I popped it in the oven. I did not follow the same baking directions as were listed in the recipe I linked. They were baking small meringues, and mine were a bit larger, so I ended up looking at a few different recipes for baking times and temperatures and kind of combining all of them. I baked on a convection oven setting, preheated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and then dropped to 210 right after putting the meringues in the oven. I baked the small pieces for about an hour and 10 minutes, the discs for about an hour and a half. Then I turned the oven off, but left the discs in the oven until the next day. This really helped keep them from cracking, and kept them nice and dry.
I piped my violets ahead of time with an American buttercream, using a flower nail and parchment squares with a petal tip, piping two shorter, fatter petals on top, then three longer, skinnier petals on the bottom half, and then piping two dots of yellow in the center. I piped the violet leaves with a larger petal tip, moving the tip as I piped to create a ruffled edge. Then I refrigerated both the flowers and leaves until firm, and kept them in the freezer until I needed them.
Most pavlovas have whipped cream on them, but I wanted something more stable, that could also be used to attach the meringue pieces together, so I made an ermine buttercream. To me, an ermine buttercream is very whipped-cream-esque as it’s less sweet than most other buttercreams and has a lighter feel to it as well. To assemble the pavlova, I placed one disc on a 12 inch cake board, filled it with ermine buttercream and blueberries, topped with the next disc, more ermine and blueberries, and then placed the spiral disc on the very top. I put the rest of my ermine in a piping bag with a round tip and piped some frosting in between my root pieces, sandwiching them together. Then I ran some frosting down the back and bottom of each and attached it to my stump, spacing each of them out around the pavlova. I had three total roots.
Next I grabbed my green American buttercream and piped stems up the sides of the pavlova stump. This is a little tricky because the sides of the pavlova are not flat, and there are gaps between each layer. I piped in some ermine where I knew I wanted stems to be, and used that to flatten out the sides a little before piping the stems. Then I used a bit more of the green buttercream to attach my violet flowers and leaves. After that, I stuck my mushrooms around the stump, piped some more ermine around the mushrooms and roots, and sprinkled some crushed Oreo dirt onto the extra ermine.
I love a good pavlova, and this one was no exception. The crisp crunch of the meringue, the creamy goodness of whipped cream (or in this case, ermine buttercream), and the bright pop of fresh fruit is delicious, and, I’ll admit, a pleasant change from my usual dessert of choice: cake. I won’t be giving up cakes any time soon, but I may have to start working some variety into my desserts every now and then.