This "frozen" polar bear cake was inspired by the millions of Disney Frozen cakes out there. I was intrigued by the edible ice palaces and set out on a quest to learn how to shape sugar (should be easy, right?) A quick Google search introduced me to a product called Isomalt. Fun fact: Isomalt is a sugar substitute made from beet sugar. Because of it's structural integrity Isomalt out performs conventional sugar when sculpted into elaborate or delicate shapes and has become the go-to ingredient for pastry chefs and sugar artists everywhere. Particularly those we see on televised culinary competitions. Cool. I definitely wanted to know how to do THAT!
Why I love this polar bear cake
I love how this "simple" cake turned into a weekend long self-taught class in sugar work. And I love LOVE that after just a few attempts I was able to achieve exactly the look I was after! An Isomalt "glacier" for my polar bear figures to sit on and "ice shards" that look so realistic you can almost feel the chill! Fun right?!
Tips, techniques + takeaways
The biggest takeaway from my polar bear cake project was that Isomalt needs to be cooked and cooled before you heat and form it. Unless you purchase pre-cooked Isomalt nibs from CakePlay. When I started this project I had no idea these existed so I used the traditional Isomalt crystals I had purchased ahead of time. The instructions on the package say to chill the Isomalt in in a cool water bath after bring it to temp, but I found that the water bath caused some of the liquid Isomalt to seize up in the pan before I could pour it out on a surface to cool. And once it sets, there's not going back. At that point it hard as a rock. So, instead of following the instructions I modified the process just a bit:
How to use Isomalt*
Line a 1/2 sheet baking pan with a silpat mat and a sheet of parchment paper
Place a sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer on medium heat (non-stick works great)
Add 1/2 cup distilled water (use distilled water to maintain clarity)
Add 2 cups Isomalt crystals and whisk to evenly distribute crystals in water
Brush the edges with a wet pastry brush so that no crystals remain on the side of the pan
Heat liquid to 140ºC. Add food coloring at this point (optional)
Continue to heat liquid to 160ºC or "hard crack" (do not stir)
Remove from heat and rest pan on a trivet to cool for about a minute or until bubbles settle down
Pour hot liquid Isomalt onto prepared baking sheet in a puddle
Let cool for about 20 minutes or until set but still bendable
Break into pieces and store in a zip loc bag until ready to use
Soak pan and candy thermometer in water overnight to dissolve remaining Isomalt (this is the only way I've found to remove hardened Isomalt from cooking utensils)
When ready to use, melt Isomalt “chips” in a glass measuring cup in the microwave on high in 30 second increments until melted and bubbling
Pour into silicone molds or into desired shapes
I found, that a cool smooth surface works great if you're looking for ultra clear Isomalt shapes. I poured my Isomalt onto a marble pastry slab and it worked great. I poured a small puddle for the "glacier" and a larger puddle for the ice shards. Once cooled I tapped the center of the large puddle with an ice pick and it shattered into cool shapes!
I opted to add a little color to my "ice" after cooking and cooling it vs. during the cooking process. That way I could retain some clear areas and I think it looks a little more realistic. A mixture of sky blue and pearl sheen airbrush color worked great to give the sugar ice edges a cool blue glow.
I made a double batch of Vanilla Bean Buttercream so I could pipe a generous layer of buttercream between the cake layers and still have plenty for a deep frosting to hold tons of unsweetened coconut flakes and support my sugar ice shards.
* Please be careful when preparing Isomalt. The sugar syrup is very hot and sticky. Make sure your work area is free of pets and small children and use extra caution to avoid harmful burns. Sugar work gloves are also a nice precaution if you have them.
Winter White Cake
Makes (2) 9" round cake layers.
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended. Set aside so they have time to come to room temperature.
Set oven rack in middle position. Preheat to 350º.
Coat two 9-inch round removable bottom cake tins with butter and dust with flour. If using standard cake tins, line bottom with parchment paper for easier removal.
Sift cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix slowly for a bit to blend.
Add butter a tablespoon at a time. Continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs.
Add half of the milk/egg white mixture and beat at medium speed for 1-2 minutes.
Add remaining milk/egg white mixture and mix on medium speed for about a minute. Scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Divide batter evenly between two prepared cake pans. Using an offset spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops.
Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. If oven is small, place pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cakes rest in pans for a few minutes. Loosen from sides of pans with a knife, if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. Reinvert and let cool completely.
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated White Layer Cake
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Makes enough for 24 cupcakes
300 g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons whole milk
675 g icing sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds only (optional)
Beat butter on medium high speed until pale and smooth. About 5 minutes.
Add vanilla extract (and vanilla bean) to milk, mix to incorporate and set aside.
Add icing sugar to butter in two stages, mixing well after each batch.
Gradually add the vanilla milk mixture and beat for another 3-5 minutes or until almost white.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give it one last blast to blend it all together.
Source: Cupcake Jemma