Monday, January 12, 2015

bizzy buzz buzz


...in which our plucky heroine creates up a swarm...

of marzipan bees! Our SCA 12th Night is the largest kingdom celebration event of each winter, and at this one, my old and dear friend Elizabeth Blackdane was being honored for years of excellence in the needle arts by membership in the Order of the Laurel. Like many who make this transition, she will be on vigil the night prior to her elevation, where friends and fellow Peers may come and speak with her, and the vigil is also an occasion for festive conviviality. I volunteered to make an edible "subtlety", and chose a bee skep (hive) surrounded by bees. Elisabeths heraldic device is "Sable, in pale three bees Or." (on a black background, in a vertical line, three gold bees), and bee imagery would play a prominent role in the various aspects of pagentry and display associated with her elevation.

My first idea, to create an actual straw basket skep, was nixed by my pal Mr Dawson, who pointed out that the time to gather suitable materials was much earlier in the year.  Fortunately Maeva found an appropriate cake pan and had it sent to Acorn Cottage so that a dimensional pound cake could be used as the base to support the bees (the decorative pan itself became a gift to the recipient).  It was rather nerve-wracking to bake, as sometimes shaped cakes stick in places and come apart when unmolding, but this one came out of the pan in two perfect halves:

Along with the pan, Maeva also had a package of the best marzipan in the world shipped here, for the edible bees. This was a real challenge not only to my sculpting ability but also to my strength of will...

Bee bodies were formed, impaled on uncooked pasta, and stuck into rice cakes to partially dry.
Once the surface is slightly dry, they can be painted yellow and black with food coloring...

and finally wings cut from transparent leaf gelatine are added, and they were left to dry fully under the warm air vent overnight

The next day, Friday, we started out on the two hour drive south to where the event was taking place. The cake was easy to pack for transport, simply slide it back into the cake mold pan. The bees were more problematic, because they are delicate and fragile. Finally came up with the idea of short spaghetti supports and taping the rice cake to the bottom of a sheet cake pan, which actually kept them securely in place and undamaged until it was time to assemble all the parts...

The two halves of the cake were fastened together with homemade buttercream frosting, and a thin royal icing then poured over the joining seam. The final touch was to take assorted long pieces of uncooked spaghetti and suspend the bees in a swarm surrounding the cake bee skep. There were many delighted comments...

(this photo courtesy of Jason Gill)

6 comments:

  1. so beautiful! The bees are kind of unbelievably great! And not that subtle. . .

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  2. Thank you Claire! In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a "subtlety" was a table decoration made from food, that appeared to be something else. Indeed, not subtle at all most of the time, and often sculptural. I think that fancy cakes for weddings and parties are the vestigial remnants of that tradition. And since our activities in the SCA are all about recreating (the good parts of) life and ambiance in those eras of history, I chose to make this to delight my friend on this special occasion

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  3. They really were marvelous! I made an intensely undignified noise when I first saw the bees.

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  4. That is one of the most amazing edible creations I've ever seen, esp like how it echoes the heraldic symbolism. I would love to see more photos of the SCA 12th night celebration.

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  5. You are a treasure of creative ability! It's fascinating to see what you turn your talents to. Thank you for sharing this delight with your readers.

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