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Sweet deception snares chocolate cake lovers

Thursday, October 25, 2001

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Halloween costumes are just outer dressing put on for fun. Everybody knows that the real you is underneath the mask and funny clothes. Fair's fair, and there's no reason food can't put on costumes and fake faces, too.

A steady hand is required to fashion an icing spider web. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette / food styling by Marlene Parrish)e

Sprinkle cookies with orange and black sugar candies. Squish marshmallows flat with a rolling pin, then use small cookie cutters to make bones, skulls and spooks to float in hot chocolate. Make orange Jell-O, pour into a shallow cake pan, and, when set, use cutters to make pumpkins or eyeballs.

For a wonderful bit of fakery, as well as a crowd pleaser, make a huge devil's food cake and top with a spider web and a scary black tarantula.

The decorating can be a bit tricky, but it's easy if you follow these simple hints.

Make your own cake and frosting or use a prepared mix.

Place the frosted cake on the seat of a chair or stool so that you can stand directly above it to decorate.

For the spider's web: Buy three tubes of black or brown "glossy decorating gel." Cake Mate brand in the supermarket is $1.49 a tube. Why three? You need one for practice, and the other two for the cake, because although the tubes look as if they hold a lot, they don't. Purists can melt 1 cup of chocolate chips over hot, not boiling, water or in the microwave and place the melted chocolate in a pastry bag with a small round tip.

Practice good body posture. You get one chance, one, to make the web on the icing. If you are unsteady, waver or drip, it will show. Since it is almost impossible to hold your wrist steady enough to make clean circles and lines, try this instead: If you were shooting a pistol, you'd hold the gun in your right hand and support your wrist with the left hand.

In like fashion, hold the decorating gel in your right hand, and support your wrist with the left hand. Now put one foot ahead of the other. Bottom line: When you begin to decorate the circles, move your whole body in the motion, keeping the wrist firm and steady. No shakes, no wiggles, perfect web.

Make 5 circles: Make the first circle in the center of the cake about the size of a quarter. Make four more circles, each about 1/2 inch away from the previous one.

Make 12 spokes: Drag a wooden skewer or toothpick from the center of the center circle to the edge of the cake. Wipe the skewer clean, move about 2 inches to the left or right and drag the skewer in the opposite direction, from the outer edge to the middle of the cake. Continue in this way until you have worked your way around the cake and formed the cobweb. To give a nice finish, draw a line or an arc from spoke to spoke along the outer edge of the cake.

Plop a large fake spider in the center of the cake to wait for his chocoholic victims.

Chocolate Layer Spider Web Cake

This chocolate cake is without heavy cream, sour cream or butter. Olive oil replaces the butter. Brown sugar adds a depth of flavor, as does using melted chocolate rather than cocoa. Not having a chocolate buttercream frosting is a bummer, according to chocoholics, but fluffy Seafoam Frosting is lower in fat and contributes a voluptuous mouth feel.

3 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups light-brown sugar, firmly packed
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, see notes
1/2 cup sour milk (see notes) or buttermilk
1 cup boiling water

Melt chocolate over hot, not boiling, water. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease well two 9-by-1 1/2-inch layer-cake pans; or three 8-by-1 1/2-inch layer-cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with circles of greased waxed paper. Flour the pans on all surfaces. Tap the pans to remove excess flour.

Sift flour with soda and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, at high speed, beat sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy -- about 3 minutes -- occasionally scraping side of bowl with rubber scraper.

At low speed, beat in chocolate. At low speed, beat in olive oil. Beat in flour mixture (in thirds) alternately with milk (in two portions), beginning and ending with flour. Beat just until smooth, hardly a minute.

Beat in water just until mixture is smooth. Batter will be thin.

Pour batter into prepared pans; bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip and cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool thoroughly on wire racks. Fill and frost as desired.

Notes: Substitute 1/2 cup butter for the olive oil, if desired, creaming it with sugar, eggs and vanilla.

To sour milk: Place 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice in measuring cup. Add milk to measure 1/2 cup. Let stand a few minutes before using.

Seafoam frosting

2 egg whites ( 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In top of double boiler, combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and water.

Cook over rapidly boiling water (water in bottom should not touch top of double boiler), beating constantly with portable electric mixer at medium speed until soft peaks form when beater is slowly raised -- about 7 minutes.

Remove from boiling water. Add vanilla; continue beating until frosting is thick enough to spread -- about 2 minutes.

Makes enough to fill and frost an 8- or 9-inch two-layer cake.

Marlene Parrish

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