know what interesting (sometimes even bizarre)
assignment will pop up next. This past week I’ve been feverishly working on
perhaps the strangest project ever—creating the food and a cover pic for a
science fiction writer’s upcoming Off
World Cookbook! Yes, off-world, as in favorite intergalactic dishes served
by an array of human and other out in the universe beings in her Off-World series
of futuristic romantic suspense novels.
and prolific, having written dozens upon dozens of fantasy, sci-fi, and Earth-bound
romance novellas, novels, and short stories under the pen name Rebecca York. Though
her central characters range from humans and humanoids to werewolves,
fire-breathing dragons (with nifty scales), shape-shifters and many other
creatures, her stories are almost always “peopled” with individuals who meet
their soul mate and fall head over heels (or perhaps head over paws or claws?) in
love. Here’s a hotlink to one of the books in her Off World series.
In her spare time,
using her real name, Ruth also writes cookbooks, sometimes solo, sometimes
teaming up with me. Our most recent collaboration, The 2 Day a Week Diet
Cookbook features tasty low-cal dishes for strictly human, Earth-based dieters
and has been highly rated by Amazon customers. (It features 75 of our recipes
and 50 of my photos: you can check it out here.)
My task for The Off
World Cookbook was to produce food that looked simultaneously appetizing and
other-worldly and a setting suggesting a fairly advanced alien culture existing
on a fictional planet called Thindar. The scene depicts a special-occasion cake
and feast table during a celebration by the former ruling class, the Farlians, before
they were overthrown in a coup by their own servants, the Dorre. O-o-o-kay!
|The Off World Cookbook Celebration Cake|
To give the image an ethereal, deep-space feel, I chose aqua
for both the foreground and background, and used translucent, glittery mini-marbles,
crystal dishes, and metal props that would shimmer and bounce a lot of light. The
props also have streamlined lines and shapes, presumably the sort a future
civilization might use. As you can see by
comparing my original shot at right to the finished cover at the top, the cover designer, Su of EarthlyCharms, cleverly cranked up the cosmic, interstellar vibe further by adding in twinkly stars
and starbursts around the book title.
BTW, The Off World Cookbook will be published in December. Ruth’s story that features the Farlians and Dorre races is called Hero’s Welcome; it’s available on Amazon here.
Since the Farlian cake had to look weirdly wondrous yet be easy
enough that the typical Off World
Cookbook buyer could duplicate it, I avoided calling for any tricky pastry piping
techniques and jazzed it up mostly with purchased edible glitter and decors,
crystal sugar, and a strategically drizzled-on colorful accenting icing. The cake
is kept simple by producing a Bundt cake from a purchased cake mix and
baking in a cylindrical pudding mold, angel food tin, or other plain-sized tube
cake pan of the size noted on the box. (Some
brands even sell mixes that yield red or blue cakes!) For a fairly similar look
that’s even quicker, just buy a 9-inch angel food cake and space the toppings
out around the center hole.
and shiny balls and decors, look in the
cake decorating section of discount department and craft stores. And for the most extraordinary effect, apply
them in abundance. As for the fantastical final touch, the spiky glass-like crown of candy shards on the
cake top–it’s surprisingly simple to make, too. Really!
cake, advise diners to remove the candy shards and larger decors from their
slice and to eat them separately as they would hard candy; the pieces are too
chunky and brittle to be eaten as part of the frosting.
Adding the Powdered
smaller bowl to use for drizzling; the larger quantity will be the base
coat. Using drops of food color, tint
the two bowls whatever complementing colors you like. Tightly cover the
drizzling icing so it doesn’t dry out as you ice the cake.
angel food cake will have a lot of loose crumbs to remove, and the finished cake
will not look as smooth as the one pictured, but it will still be very
attractive.) Spread the base coat evenly over the cake using a table knife or
wide-bladed spatula. If desired, while the icing is still wet, sprinkle sparkling
or sanding sugar onto the cake sides, as shown in the Farlian cake photos. Wipe
off any drips and sprinkles from the cake plate and let stand until the icing
is set and firm to the touch, at least 30 minutes.
fluid by stirring a few drops of water. Add spoonfuls of icing to the cake top, immediately swirling them to the
edges at even intervals all the way around so they drip and form decorative
stripes down the sides. If desired, immediately sprinkle the stripes with
edible glitter and decors, as shown in the photo at left. Spread a bit more drizzling icing
over the cake top to form a layer thick enough to hold the candy shards and sparkling
decors and balls. While the icing is still tacky, embed the shards into the
icing so they will stand up, and fill in all around them with as many decors
and sprinkles as you like. Let the cake stand until the icings sets, at least
30 minutes, before serving. It will keep, covered, for several days.
|How to create glass-look shards from candy.|
Clear hard candies of any color you wish are easy to turn
into thin, glass-like sheets that when broken into pieces look like beautiful shards
of glass. To duplicate the Farlian cake, use mostly colorless candies with a
few purple, red and blue candies mixed in. Or create a totally different effect with
brightly-colored translucent candies in whatever shades you like. For convenience, the shards can be made well ahead, then packed airtight in a flat box and refrigerated until needed.
The amount of
candy called for here will produce enough shards to decorate the top of a 9- or 10-inch
with aluminum foil. Don’t skip the foil, as the candy will stick to the pan
without it. Place the unwrapped whole
candies slightly apart on the sheet (no need to crush or break them).
Put the baking sheet in the oven and heat until the candies
melt and run together, usually 4 to 8 minutes, but sometimes longer. Check frequently, as the melting
time varies considerably from brand to brand, and you don’t want the candy to
|“Glass” shards made from melted translucent candies|
As soon as candy pieces have melted together into a sheet, remove the pan
from the oven. If you want shards with swirled colors like those on the Farlian
cake, immediately dip a metal spoon into boiling water, dry it off, then swirl
it through the candy to create ripples of color as shown at left above. DO NOT TOUCH the molten candy as you work as it will stick
to the skin and could cause serious burns. If the candy starts to harden before you’re finished swirling the colors, return it to the oven until molten again and then continue swirling with another hot spoon.
Let the sheet of candy cool on a rack until completely hardened. Then peel it off the foil and break it with your
hands into whatever size shards you wish, as shown at right above. Any left-over pieces can be packed
airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to a year. Or melt them down again and produce another sheet and more shards.