Eating artefacts

Have you ever admired an ancient artefact and thought – I wish that I could make that out of cake. And eat it. If you have, and if you, like me, want to waste time and procrastinate as much as possible, this blog is for you. But really it’s for me, so I can feel like I’m doing something productive, as opposed to just playing in the kitchen.



Sutton Hoo purse cake


So, the Art Fund are holding a competition called ‘Edible Masterpieces’ and I couldn’t resist the chance to join in. I can’t see me winning, but since it’s being judged by Jonathan Jones I plan to take this as the best possible compliment. A somewhat more ambitious plan than this was abandoned when it became clear the entry for this competition coincided with a number of deadlines, but this still wasted a good few hours of my time.

Here’s what it’s meant to look like:


Mmmmmm. Tasty. The base of mine is chocolate cake, coated in chocolate fondant, and the lid itself it gingerbread, decorated with hand-painted fondant and royal icing. And the somewhat lazy coins are hand-painted fondant. But by hand-painted I mainly mean that I sort of half-heartedly splashed them with some gold paint because by then my back, hand and eyes were hurting, and Lewis was on. Even I have my limits.


Next week – a cake made of all the awesome things Jonathan Jones doesn’t like.

Silk Road cake

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In September, my parents will be in China, where they’ll visit, among other places, one of the cities that could be thought of as a starting point of the silk road. In order to work through some of my burning jealousy, I made a silk road themed cake.


Now, I wanted the basis of this to be an ancient manuscript. After all, you can’t have a silk road cake without a manuscript. Unfortunately, while I don’t know any of the languages or scripts that were used in this area, I do know from looking at poorly copied cuneiform tablets that inaccurate attempts to replicate scripts are just the worst. Urg. No one wants to eat that. So I decided to use one of Islam Akhun’s famous forgeries, sold to the first European silk road explorers, and currently kept in the British Library. I might not be replicating Islam Akhun’s made up script particularly well, but hopefully it won’t make scholars of ancient China itch. Here’s the forgery I was working from (item Or.13873/2 on the International Dunhuang Project website):


I also made a fondant copy of one of Aurel Stein’s photographs, showing the ruined stupa of Miran. The coins are ones found by Stein (currently in the British Museum). And then there’s scraps of silk and a piece of porcelain (both also Stein’s, currently in the V and A). I…I think I sort of hoped that if I made enough junk for this cake, I could go to China (comments about how junks could get me to China will be met with heavy sighs).


Obviously this is all fondant (I really must make some more cakes and edibles that aren’t fondant at some point). The structure of the cake was a little difficult to work out. The manuscript is clearly just a stack of papers with two fairly solid rods passed through them. That means when it’s opened, it doesn’t fall open like a book. Instead, the bottom pages stay in a stack, and the top pages bend around and over (hours spent stacking papers, and trying to see how they open, are hours well spent). The bottom cake, therefore, is a single rectangle. After I’d fondant-ed it, I stacked a thin section of cake along it’s left hand edge, crumb coated that and pushed supports down through it. Then I took a crumb coated, shaped, second rectangle of cake, placed it on the supports, so it sloped away at an angle, and butter creamed the join so it had a nice curve and looked like it was all one piece. Then I fondant-ed that. That was my Saturday night.

The rest is just fondant shapes, and of course virtually everything has been painted or airbrushed in some way. Here it is with those scraps of silk i promised above. I think this might have been taking it a little too far.


The absolute most important take away from this cake, incidentally, is that the International Dunhuang Project website is just amazing. It is an absolutely brilliant place to waste time. Go there. Go there now.

Jurassic cake

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So, I appreciate that this cake has nothing whatsoever to do with ancient artefacts. I also appreciate that there are undoubtedly gross inaccuracies in my rendering of the dinosaurs, not least the question of what a pterodactyl is doing in the forest (the nagging doubt in my mind as to whether a pterodactyl is actually a dinosaur has been confirmed by a quick google search, so make that ‘gross inaccuracies in my rendering of the dinosaurs and pterosaurs’. I’d go back and change it, but it just seems like cheating to act as if I knew that in the first place).


The basic cake for this is a vanilla sponge, because, contrary to appearances, I am actually very busy at the moment, and trying to think of the cake design and the cake as well proved too much. I covered it with a nice, light green fondant, and then I spent several hours playing with my airbrush to make something that vaguely approximated a forest. The dinosaur (and indeed, pterosaur) silhouettes are cut, painted fondant. And the egg is an ostrich egg, filled with tickets for Jurassic World. Because this is a birthday cake. Happy birthday, mum. Life finds a way.


Don’t worry, we also got her that Clint Eastwood film where he teams up with an orang-utan.

Ur Excakevations

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So, this is based on what I distantly remember Ur Excavations volume II looks like, and jewellery from the Royal Cemetery. Jewellery like this:


And this:


I went for a book cake because Max gave me a airbrush for spraying edible paint (again, I am spoiled: see last post): I was desperate to give it a try, but also knew that spraying evenly might well be harder than it looked. So the book is an old book, and any patchiness is caused by my desire to create a battered, used effect. And certainly not down to the fact that I am so bad at airbrush spraying I held the airbrush the wrong way round and sprayed the cupboard behind me.

This cake is made from the commonest vanilla sponge (2 eggs, 100g of flour, butter and caster sugar, 1 tsp baking powder and a splash of vanilla). I crumb coated it, covered it in fondant (while wishing I’d picked a slightly smaller book), and then airbrushed in the colours. The beads are little fondant shapes, left to dry and then painted. Simple.

Then, I spent a a while playing with the awesome portable light studio an equally awesome friend gave my for my birthday. If the photos this week are better it’s all down to her (and Max – this is becoming something of a team effort). If they’re still awful, it might still be my fault.


Odd angles make them better, right? Oh, and I found a picture of Ur Excavations vol. II online.


I mean…they’re vaguely similar. At least I didn’t imagine the red spine.

Chocolate Pazuzu biscuits


I know last week I promised fondant, but it’s been a busy week. Sense would suggest waiting this ludicrous and pointless blog until the busy-ness has died down. But sense is not what this blog is about. It’s about wasting large amounts of time on fairly reasonable cakes that, if squinted at in the right light, look a bit like something historical. And this week, it’s biscuits that are vaguely reminiscent of Pazuzu amulets. Pazuzu amulets like these:

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Now, making these is very simple. It only took me a couple of hours, and those people who don’t accidentally loose their piping bag, forget where the butter is and burn themselves on the oven, should find this even quicker. Firstly, make the biscuits. I’ve already given the recipe for these under “Glazed brick mushhushu biscuits” (substitute 25g of flour for 25g of cocoa powder to make them chocolate). While the dough is resting in the fridge, make templates of the Pazuzu amulets. Roll out the dough, cut out the template shapes, put them on the baking tray and then put the baking tray in the fridge for about half an hour. Then, put them in the oven.

While they’re in the fridge/oven, make up two bowls of chocolate royal icing – one stiff and dark, the other liquid and lighter in colour. Fill a piping bag with the stiffer icing, and use it to outline the biscuits, and draw in any of the features that look “lower” on the amulets (I did the mouth and ears for the one on the left, and the strange beard thing for the one of the right). Leave that to set, then “flood” the biscuits with the liquid icing. Once that’s set, draw in the stronger facial features with the stiff, darker icing in the piping bag – the eyebrows, the eyes, the moustaches.

And you’re done. All that’s left is to cover them in Sainsbury’s metallic lustre, wonder what possessed you to think Sainsbury’s metallic lustre would be any good, and only show one photograph of them covered in said lustre on your blog.


My early birthday present from my boyfriend (early because I am an impatient child, and he is too indulgent of this) is a set of stamps and tags for baked goods. I think they match the Pazuzu amulets perfectly.

Next week, fondant. Really.

Gingerbread ziggurat


This Christmas was a little busy for me, and I didn’t have time to make even a gingerbread biscuit, let alone the traditional gingerbread stupidity. But this site has given me the perfect excuse to manufacture myself a terrifyingly huge heap of gingerbread, and, because it’s not Christmas, there’s no family around and I can eat it all myself. I should definitely do this more often. The ziggurat I made was based on Woolley’s reconstruction of the ziggurat of Ur, which looks like this:


You may notice some enormous differences, like the fact that mine seems somehow squished, and not quite as wide as it should be. That’s mainly the fault of the cake board. And the baker. If you want to make this (I highly recommend it – gingerbread, it turns out, is delicious at any time of the year), this is how:

First, make the gingerbread:


  • 250g butter
  • 7 tbsp golden syrup
  • 600g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 6 tsp ground ginger (I like my gingerbread so strong it burns my tongue. If you are making this, as I’m sure everyone who reads this blog does, you may want a little less).


  1. Preheat the over to 200°C.
  2. Melt the butter, syrup and sugar in a pan.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then pour the butter, syrup and sugar mixture into it.
  4. Stir until the mixture forms a dough.
  5. Leave to rest.

Then, make up some templates. I suggest starting with the four sides of the ziggurat base, and then building templates from there. That’s mainly because the sides should lean in at an angle, and no matter how perfectly you cut the templates and the gingerbread, there’ll be some slipping in the icing, and that might leave all your other gingerbread cut-outs useless. Building up is definitely the way to go in this case. The gingerbread should be rolled out to about a quarter of a centimetre thickness, and baked in the oven for about 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.

You’ll also need a good quantity of royal icing – i used around 400g worth of icing sugar and 2 egg whites, and coloured it with espresso. Use the icing to stick together the gingerbread cut-outs. Surround the edges of the ‘stairs’ and the bottom tier with chocolate fingers, and use mini-marshmallows to make the crenellations. If you want to go for the sandcastle look, as I apparently did, use crumbled cake offcuts to surround the ziggurat. Then, use black royal icing and a toothpick to draw in the stairs.

And you’re done. Well, actually you’re ready for the best bit of making a gingerbread house, which is covering it in inappropriately scaled, poorly decorated, jelly baby dioramas. Here, for example, is the moon god Nanna (with horned helmet) presenting a poorly draw rod and coil to Ur-Namma (with bead and silly hat and touching his nose):


And here is an overseer (with cuneiform tablet) looking somewhat suspiciously (use your imagination) at what’s been built instead of actual stairs, while a worker looks on:


Next week – I’m hungry for fondant. So something with fondant.

Royal game of Ur cake

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Here’s what the royal game of Ur looks like when it’s not been made of cake:


Now, making this took me a good three days, hours of icing with a toothpick, and far, far too much time tempering chocolate. My kitchen is so sticky, chocolatey and icing-y, I’m wondering how best to break the news to my boyfriend that we’re just going to close the door and never go back in. We can live on take-out. Take-out and royal game of Ur cake. If that all sounds like your idea of fun (and I can only imagine it does), here’s how to make it.

First, make the cake. I used a coffee cake base, mainly because it sliced and shaped so nicely when I made the cuneiform tablet:


75g caster sugar
75g unsalted butter (softened)
2 small eggs
75g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons espresso

Preheat the oven to 160°C, and line a square brownie tin with greaseproof paper.
Cream together the butter and sugar, whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and add slowly to the butter and sugar mixture.
Sift in the flour and baking powder, and gently fold into the mixture.
Add the espresso, and pour into the brownie tin.
Bake for 30 minutes, and allow to cool.

Then, do it all over again. You’ll need two of these.

While the cakes are cooling, temper 400g of white chocolate. I always use this as a guide, because I can never remember the temperatures needed:

Lay out a sheet of greaseproof paper, weighing down the corners so it lies flat. Use a large palette knife to spread out a thin sheet of the chocolate, and leave it to set. Fill a piping bag with the remainder of the chocolate, and pipe circles for the counters. I discovered a tube of tiny, edible, silver stars when I was trying to find my piping bags, so I put them on my counters. It is possible this is because it was around midnight when I was doing this, and I was loosing my grip on reality. Or, alternatively, game counters just look better when covered in tiny silver stars.

Using a template, cut the cake into the shape of the board game. Give it a very, very thin coat of coffee buttercream, and put it in the fridge.

Once the sheet of chocolate has set, cut out the ‘inlay’ squares, and the edging. Paint the remainder of the white chocolate sheet blue with edible blue paint. Using a toothpick and black, red and blue icing, draw the patterns onto the ‘inlay’ squares and the edging.

Next, make black buttercream. This will involve putting far more food colouring in than feels healthy or right. But the packet assured me that it was ok. Coat the cake, making sure the corners are sharp. The underlying, thin coat of buttercream should act as a crumb coat, and mean you don’t have to put on too much of the food colouring heavy black icing.

Finally, place the inlay squares into the icing, and add the edging. Cut out pieces of the now-blue white chocolate sheet to act as the lapis lazuli fill.

And it’s finished. But the best part of this cake is that if you want the procrastination to continue, you can play it.


Winner eats the cake. Loser has to clean the kitchen.