Separation of Cake & States
August 8, 2016 7:45 AM   Subscribe

I would like to make a large cake that is shaped like the United States, with each state being its own individual slice, like this, but with cake instead of jello. Is there an easier way to do this besides getting a USA-shaped cake pan and carving out each state individually?

Things I have considered already:

1) I thought I found a perfect solution in this US states set, but it's out of stock and I'm not sure when it will be available again. I've found some other state-shaped cookie cutters, but they are designed to be used individually, and are not scaled to interlock with other states.

2) I also saw this nifty silicon ice cube tray, but it's pretty small.

3) There's also this old-school jello mold that has the states already printed on it, but I don't believe I can use it for baking.

I suppose my last resort would be printing out a map, cutting up each state*, tracing it on baked sheet cakes and slicing each piece that way, but that seems rather labor intensive and potentially disastrous.
Hopefully the Hive Mind can help me whip up a somewhat easier solution.

*Some of the smaller northeastern states will probably be consolidated into one blob.
posted by chara to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can make your own cookie cutters. Those instructions give you a 1 inch high cutter, so you might want to something taller.

Even the first cookie cutter set you have listed isn't to scale. Texas is way too small and Rhode Island is huge.
posted by soelo at 8:00 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cutting any shape out of cake is going to cause some major issues, and although I'm not sure of the scale you're going for, the smaller you get the more crumbling you're going to run into. I can't, for example, imagine how you're going to pull off the Oklahoma panhandle. If you can't find a set of molds for baking these, and you try to cut them out of cake instead, you are setting yourself up for a pan full of crumbs and tears.

Having said that, here's what I would do:

-Bake as many cupcakes as you need state outlines, and level off the tops.

-Print off a map with outlines of the US states. You'll want at least most of the state outlines to be bigger than the top of your cupcakes, meaning you may want to use mini cupcakes, but again I'm not sure what your ideal scale is here.

-You're gonna use those state outlines to make edible toppers for your cupcakes. For this to work the way I think you'd want it to work, these toppers will need to be stiff enough to support themselves when held horizontally. I would suggest tempered chocolate outlines, like this. You'll lay wax paper over the map, pipe out your states, let them cool, and lay them horizontally on top of your cupcakes. (Hopefully these are not being served in a very hot room.) (Other possibilities for the topper include praline or sugar cookies, and I'm sure there are lots of other options too.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:07 AM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

When you say each state is its own slice, you you mean it's frosted in-between like individual cakelets, so you pick each one up and it's not raw cake edges but fondant covered smooth and non-crumbly? You'd have to use fondant, regular icing would just stick to itself and make a mess. Or you could use paper to separate, and peel it off carefully as you serve.
One of the challenges is that as soon as you create an independent cake-like object, the straight vertical line you cut stops being straight and vertical. You can see it in the jello you linked, there's a little air gap between the top edge of states, because the sides are rounded outward. It will be really hard to make this fit together - the jello contruction had the advantage of being able to just shave off a piece to make it fit, but if you've just coated a cakelet in fondant, it's very hard to change it.

So, I'm going to propose not separating the cakes until you serve it. Bake a big sheet cake. Level off the top so that it's perfectly flat. Transfer a map of the US onto it: rice paper printer, or projected with a mini-projector, or regular paper cut out like puzzle pieces. Make very careful vertical cuts to create little cakelets, but don't pull them apart at all, you're just pre-slicing the cake (while everything is clean and tidy bread-cake and you don't have sticky icing or hard-to-slice fondant to work with) Now frost it, I'd consider something like the piping and flooding technique (at 2:40 in video) they use on sugar cookies, but I'm not sure how well that would work on something absorbent like cake, you may need to spread a thin layer of regular frosting to keep the flood from soaking in.

So you have this beautiful cake with a continuous sheet of icing on top, but the cake pieces are already cut, so when you serve, you just need to separate the states icing, and the rest of the piece will follow easily.

Okay, there's a flaw in my plan - royal frosting won't (reliably) cut where you want it to, you may need to build in seams. Consider frosting the whole thing white (buttercream), drawing in all the outlines black (buttercream) then filling in the states in colors (hard glossy royal). It'll be nice because even if the cake pieces crumble a bit, the royal icing tops will be pretty stable.
posted by aimedwander at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Let me add, I hope you're not imagining some kind of layer cake, that would be a disaster in my kitchen. In fact, I'd probably chicken out and do something really dense, or perhaps a brownie.
posted by aimedwander at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2016

I think your last resort should be your first resort, and you should follow Aimedwander's strategy. Just freeze that cake first, and perhaps make multiple sheet cakes to keep in the freezer as backups.
posted by nerdfish at 8:56 AM on August 8, 2016

Response by poster: aimedwander, to answer your question: originally, I was thinking that each cake slice would be an individually frosted cakelet, basically like petit fours. They don't necessarily have to touch each other and interconnect perfectly, but I would like them to all be proportional. There will be space in between each one, for easy grabbing/less mess.

I'm going to test it out this week and see what happens.
posted by chara at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2016

Hmm, I've never made petit fours, I've always found that icing concept to be mysterious. How does it get so smooth? Why are there no crumbs? How is it not sticky? I think they're chunks of cake dipped into a more liquid icing that sets up hard. If you can figure that out, I could see that being a good solution. Regular icing would stick to itself, i.e. you pick up California, and the side is either naked and crumby, or includes all of Nevada's frosting and plenty of Nevada crumbs. Petits four type icing should be able to sit next to each other no problem, or possibly with a square of parchment paper in between to keep it tidy and not tempt fate.

Sounds like fun, good luck!!

(also I'll add, if you went with Showbiz_Liz's concept, I'd put all the map down, upside down on the table, a full reversed USA, and stick the cupcakes to the back with big globs of fluffy icing, then use a flat board (cutting board, cookie sheet) to press the bottoms of the cupcakes to sit flat and same-height, so that when you flip it all over, all the states are in a single plane.)
posted by aimedwander at 3:46 PM on August 8, 2016

Hmm, just one thought: what about using a flourless chocolate cake or fudge recipe (as they'll be easiest to cut)?
posted by salvia at 4:54 PM on August 8, 2016

I think they're chunks of cake dipped into a more liquid icing that sets up hard. If you can figure that out, I could see that being a good solution

Its just icing sugar (I think in the US its called confectioners sugar or powdered sugar) and water - approx 1tbsp per 100g sugar. Some recipes also add corn syrup.
It is however, incredibly messy, time consuming and tbh wasteful as a lot of the icing drips off a it dries. To get it really smooth you have to do multiple layers - basically you dip each cake in liquid icing then put on a cooling rack and the excess icing drips off and when its dry you dip it again until its as smooth as you want it to be
posted by missmagenta at 5:02 AM on August 9, 2016

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