Intestines, Brains, and Blood. You know, for Kids!
My son—who I will refer to as Slim for the sake of his privacy—recently turned 8. He challenges me every year with an awesome, non-generic theme that requires a lot of brainstorming for ideas and usually a lot of hand-made decorations, party favors, and what not... things that you can't just run down to Party City and pick-up by the dozen. This year he came up with the theme, "Inside the Body." I hemmed and hawed over what to do for the cake for a long time... I knew I'd be pressed for time and didn't want to overwhelm myself trying to make something crazily-shaped or that required fancy decorator icing. Those things are not my specialty and have stressed me out in the past (though I am still quite proud of the camel-shaped cake I made for a previous birthday). Finally, I thought of possibly doing cupcakes with icing piped on to look like intestines, and then at about the same moment I stumbled on a recipe in one of my cookbooks for a Moroccan Serpent Cake that involved phyllo-wrapped tubes of almond paste shaped into a spiral... something I realized was easily adaptable to shape to look like intestines. Plus, I have what I like to think is an above-average comfort level working with phyllo and knew I could make this happen without too much time or effort. Slim surprised me by agreeing to it.
I had a jello brain mold just sitting around (you never know when these things will come in handy), so I filled it with some Bluebell Peaches and Homemade Vanilla ice cream and puréed some strawberries with sugar for blood sauce and voila! The best part was announcing to the kids that there would be NO CAKE OR ICE CREAM at the party and seeing their expressions deflate into momentary disappointment (it's the small pleasures in life) before announcing we only had intestines, brains, and blood. There was one kid who kept loudly insisting, "I don't want ANY blood! I hate blood! Only brains! NO! BLOOD!"
I altered the original recipe a bit, replacing rose water with orange juice as I thought it would be more palatable for the kids, and the almond paste needed more liquid than the recipe called for to get it to the right consistency. It is very, very similar to baklava, though without the syrup.
Moroccan Serpent Cake
Adapted from the cookbook Mediterranean Cooking: A Culinary Tour of Sun-drenched Shores with Over 400 Dishes from Southern Europe by Jacqueline Clarke & Joanna Farrow
Yield: 16 servings (Note: the original recipe served 8, just halve everything for a smaller cake size)
For the almond paste:
- 4 oz whole, unsalted almonds
- 1 stick (1/2 C) of butter, melted
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1 C powdered sugar
- 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 2–4 T orange juice
For the pastry:
- 16 sheets phyllo dough
- 1 stick (1/2 C) of butter, melted
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Grind the almonds in a food processor until finely ground (earplugs recommended!). It's okay if they are not uniformly ground, just be sure any chunks are very small. They will add a nice crunchiness to it.
- Add the melted butter and almond extract and pulse until well combined.
- Add the powdered sugar in 1/4 cup increments, pulsing between each addition.
- Add the egg yolks and 2 T of the orange juice. The consistency should be similar to play-doh. If necessary, add more orange juice 1 T at a time and pulse between each addition until you get it to the right consistency.
- Remove to a bowl and, if necessary, hand-knead to combine well.
- Break the almond paste into 4 parts and return to bowl.
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- Place 1 sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface and brush with melted butter. Top with another sheet, again brushing with butter. Repeat until you have 4 sheets of phyllo layered on top of each other. It is a good idea to rotate or flip them as you place each one so that the cracks are in different places... you'll get a stronger pastry dough this way.
- Roll 1 ball of almond paste into a log shape that extends from one end to the other, leaving about 1/2" on each end. Place on the phyllo sheets and roll into a tube. Set aside on a cookie sheet and cover with a clean kitchen towel to avoid it drying out.
- Repeat steps 8–9 until all the almond paste has been used.
- Shape the tubes into a coil shape on the cookie sheet. Or, you know, you could alternately shape them into intestines.
- Brush the top of the cake with the eggs and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.
- Bake for 20 minutes and then check. The cake is ready when the crust is a golden brown. Bake up to 30 minutes until ready. Can be served warm or at room temperature.
Check out this great cookbook on Amazon;
it's one of my favorites.