Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Portal Cake

Yesterday was Miguel's birthday. When we lived in our town the first time (we moved away and then moved back) we traditionally bought each other cakes from a local bakery - usually decorated in some theme based on something that we were interested in at the moment (I'm blessed with a husband with a variety interests and hobbies so decorating and gift ideas are pretty easy). The above cake is a replica of the cake from the end of the video game, Portal, which my husband loves. You can see an image of the actual cake from Portal HERE.

I thought about ordering one this year but ultimately decided against it. In line with my newly enhanced domesticity, I thought it only appropriate to make one. Over the last week I've been researching just the right recipes for both the frosting and the cake.

In the past I haven't had a lot of luck with frosting. I can almost always achieve an excellent flavor, but I have had more difficulty with the consistency - particularly with a two layer cake. Most often, it's too runny and oozes out of the sides. With that in mind, more recently I've been too cautious and it's been too thick to spread.

The frosting for this cake had both a good flavor and consistency - and that consistency has so far remained constant - always important.

I only slightly adapted the recipe from the Joy of Baking website by using less milk and more vanilla. For the chocolate I used two 4 oz. Semi-Sweet Ghirardelli baking bars.

Chocolate Frosting

8 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter, cut into cubes
3 c. confectioners sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

If, like me, you do not have a double boiler, you'll need to "invent" one. One of my medium pots fits nicely on top of one of my tall soup pots so I used that. Combine the first four ingredients in the top bowl or pot. In the lower pot, bring enough water to boil so that the upper container just barely touches it.

Stir the mixture until it's completely melted. Then remove from heat.

Next add the three cups of confectioners sugar and whisk until it looks like this:

It will be a little runny - that's okay. If necessary, transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for several hours, or until firm. About 15-30 minutes before you're ready to spread the mixture take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit so that it starts to come to room temperature. Beat the frosting for a minute or two with an electric mixer until it is spreading consistency.

For the cake, I followed to a tee, the recipe from Smitten Kitchen for the perfect birthday cake. I think the key ingredient in this cake is the buttermilk. I've only recently (gasp, I know) started using buttermilk in my baking and now I'm addicted. For years I shied away from it because I don't like to drink it and I was always worried that it would make my goodies taste like curdled milk. How wrong I was! I've since learned that buttermilk actually enhances the flavor of many baked goods and improves rise and tenderness.

Along with the cake, I made a few Portal inspired gifts. If you're unfamiliar with the game, these gifts will seem a bit strange.

This is what is known as the "Weighted Companion Cube." I made it out of perler beads. In fact, it took nearly 2,000 perler beads to complete this project.

This is an image from the game that I embroidered. I printed off the image then used transfer paper to convert it to fabric as a pattern. It is stitched almost entirely in split stitches, with a few french knots in the text. I adhered it to a piece of sticky foam board before framing it.

Here's a detail of the stitching:


  1. This looks awesome...great job on the decorating. I love to bake cakes but I have no one around my house to eat them so I usually end up halving the recipe and making cupcakes. I do have a son now so there is hope in my future that he and his friends will enjoy my baking!

  2. That is one stunning cake! What a lovely wife you are to not only make the cake but the gift as well! Isn't buttermilk a dream!