I love baking with my kids. Until ‘the wee one’ was seven I worked part-time; the biggest challenge in that was the sudden, mind-crunching change of gear from research and teaching to scattering glitter and climbing trees (and often back again in the evening, but that’s another story). Baking was (and is) a fantastic ‘bridging activity’; some of the measuring,experimentation and making of science, lots of the mess and joyous shouting that makes hanging out with your kids fun. Try sneaking about checking email with two under-5’s and some chocolate fudge on the go…..
I’m not a saintly mommy-baker though and quite a lot of our time has been spent ‘experimenting’ and quite often this involves volcanic cakes. The real fun in that is using your imagination to hang it all together in one volcanic sugar-rush so I’m not going to presume to step you through an entire cake volcanaganza, but just select my top 5 ‘volcanic’ cake elements. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in the company of the under 10s will know ‘its all about the topping’ so I make no apologies for the icing-based outlook these choices have!
Fully fledged volcano cake idea from spoonful.com
(1) Popping Candy Mouth Explosions. The simple ideas are the best and little iced mini-volcanoes that can go off in your mouth are the coolest. In the UK you can get little jars of this from Waitrose. Beware! The reaction starts on contact with moisture so you are limited to using buttercream icing with this one. A guaranteed crowd pleaser.
(2) Mini-magma mountains! In the States they call these lava cakes in the UK they are more usually called ‘chocolate fondants’ but let’s face it they are small lava domes with the cake mixture demonstrating the brittle-ductile transition all by itself after baking. What’s not to like? Chocolate and rheology! For my kids the incredibly rich recipe was much more about the chocolate-melting journey than the very rich arrival. I experienced more than one dome collapse event on serving, but hey ho, can’t have everything. The recipe we used is here.
(3) Transitional Fudge. This is really serious stuff for the very academic baker indeed. Messing around with this recipe can let you produce not just pahoehoe but a’a if you want to! Hooray. Alison Rust and her colleagues have even produced an excellent paper about it. Imagine! My favourite component of the accompanying New York times article is the label COOKING INCORRECTLY for the making a’a method. Who decided a’a is INCORRECT!? Never COOK INCORRECTLY! I can do much better than that, however and once covered an entire pirate ship cake in pahoehoe fudge BY ACCIDENT. Never make your kid’s birthday cakes at midnight!
The last two are next on our assault list.
(4) Strombolian marshmallow fountain. This was inspired by seeing the amazing erupting volcano cake recipe (yes I do google things like ‘erupting volcano cake’ just for kicks). Most of these recipes involve marshmallow fluff (available in the US) and dry ice (can be bought in shops in the US). Me and my little assistants have ‘checked’ and normal marshmallows (if you heat them slowly and don’t burn) do melt to a lava-y consistency. If you get it right and pour the warm fluid on top of some dry ice (you know how to source it, if you have got this far you are almost definitely a geek!) I’m pretty sure this will make a flamboyant wee display. Usually the fluff gets combined with warm water too, presumably to satisfy the viscously challenged. Don’t do this in a confined space, folks! Want. to. do. this.
5. Lava lollies. This is basically boiled sugar with red food colouring in to make it look like lava. Gets poured into intricate spatter explosion shapes onto a cooled surface. Looks very effective in the picture at the top and also sticking out of the amazing erupting volcano cake. Currently, I’d recommend catching the Tolbachik vibe and pouring the hot syrup out onto some snow to make the lava spangles for the top of the cake.
(*) in my world the wonderfully whacky rarely hang around for recipes with more than about four steps!
Addendum! Volcano cake making was a big feature of the Norfolk Firework Volcano. Here are links to the entries to our volcano cake competition (feel inspired!) and to Tahmeena’s blog with even more volcano-y and cake-y ideas!