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 I was just given an airbrush for spraying edible paint: 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 should certainly not be put 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.


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.

Mother’s day Lamashtu fudge

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Lamashtu was an ancient Mesopotamian demon who stalked pregnant women and killed their babies. So what could be a better way to say “Happy Mother’s Day” than with fudge Lamashtu amulets (my mother’s suggestions: my presence at home, dinner, anything but fudge, which she “doesn’t like anyway”). A lot of Lamashtu amulets are beautiful and intricately made, but the ones I’m mimicking are like those below, with scratched on images, and imitation inscriptions:

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Many of these are made of clay, which makes the use of fudge eminently sensible (as it so often is).

Begin by making the fudge. Now, since I am tired and a little ill, and mainly because I discovered a giant bag of mini-marshmallows at the back of my cupboard, I’ll be making this with cheat’s fudge:


  • 150ml of evaporated milk
  • 300g granulated sugar
  • 30g butter
  • 100g mini marshmallows
  • 200g milk chocolate chips


  1. Line a brownie tin with tin foil.
  2. Measure out the chocolate chips and mini-marshmallows into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine the sugar, evaporated milk and butter in a heavy duty pan, and bring to a rolling boil over medium heat for five minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from the heat, and pour in the marshmallows and chocolate chips immediately, stirring quickly until they’re combined and the mixture is beginning to set. Pour into the brownie tin, and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, make templates for the amulets. The British Museum has quite a few Lamashtu amulets on their online database, and they come with the additional benefit that the measurements of the amulets are given, so you can make them exactly the right size. What could be better?

Once the fudge has set, cut out the amulets using the templates, and carve on the images with a sharp knife. And you’re done. If that didn’t waste anywhere near enough time, you can always arrange the remaining fudge to look like plano-convex bricks.


Next time – royal game of Ur chocolate cake. Imitating the inlay on this will take quite a bit of chocolate work, so it may take me a little longer than a week to post again. I bet you can’t wait.

Glazed brick Mushhushshu biscuits

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So, this is what I was trying to make – a mushhushshu dragon from the Ishtar gate in Babylon:


Before I begin explaining how to make the goofiest looking mushhushshu possible, there’s a very important point to consider, namely: is the title of this post a pun? I mean, the bricks from the Ishtar gate are referred to as ‘glazed’ and ‘glazed’ is synonymous with ‘iced’ in American English, but I feel bringing in American terminology counts as cheating. I think the answer may be that it is a pun, it’s just not a very good one.

So, if you desperately wish to make this, I suggest you start off by buying blue food colouring somewhat darker than mine. Then, make the sugar cookies:


  • 140g icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (save the white for the royal icing)
  • 250g very softened butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Beat together the icing sugar, egg yolk, vanilla extract and the butter with a wooden spoon.
  2. Add the flour and keep beating until it forms a dough. Split the dough into two balls, wrap them in cling film and chill them for about half an hour. While they’re chilling, pre-heat the oven to 190°C, and cover a baking tray in greaseproof paper.
  3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface, and cut the ‘bricks’ out with a knife. I suggest using a flash card as a guide. They’re a good size, they’ll keep their shape better than something cut from paper, and you can test yourself while you bake. Don’t say I don’t know how to have a good time.
  4. The ingredients given above should give you 12 cookies. You’ll only need 9, but biscuits break. And get eaten. It’s always good to have spares. Put them on the tray and bake them for about 10-15 minutes, or until the corners are golden brown. You’ll probably need around 2 batches.
  5. Let the cookies cool on the trays, and then transfer them to a wire rack.

While the biscuits cool, make the royal icing from 400g of icing sugar and 2 egg whites. Divide the royal icing into two bowls and set one aside. Fill a piping bag with around half of the icing in first bowl, and ice the outline of the mushhushshu onto the biscuits, making certain that the shape has continuity over the joins.

Take the remainder of the icing from the first bowl, and add a spoonful of water, until it is smooth and liquid. ‘Flood’ the iced outline, gently easing the liquid icing into the corners. Leave the biscuits to dry.

While they’re drying, take the second bowl of icing, and colour it blue. Fill another piping bag with half of this icing, and outline the biscuits. Take the remaining half of this icing, make it liquid, and flood the remainder of the cookies with it. Leave this to dry, and make up some edible blue paint (what, you don’t just have that lying around the house? What do you do when you need to paint things you want to eat? Honestly). Paint on the the bricks.

Then, realise you should have set aside a small bit of the royal icing while it was still white, and hurriedly make a new, smaller batch. Divide it into three bowls – dye one red, one yellow and one black. Using a toothpick, draw on the eye and the tongue, and colour in yellow the tips of the tail and talons, the horn and the curl.


And you’re done. Next week, Lamashtu amulets made of fudge. Prizes for anyone who can come up with a better pun than ‘Lamashtu Jam-ulets’. Prizes in the form of fudge.

Max Marsh-mallowan’s eye idols

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These are the idols I was trying to create:


Now, I know what you’re thinking: the most obvious material for making those is vanilla fudge. (I imagine the original manufactures only went with alabaster because fudge wasn’t an option.) On the one hand, you’d be right. Vanilla fudge would be the right colour, it would cut smoothly and shape nicely, and you could carve the markings straight onto it. On the other hand, eye idols were excavated by someone whose name sounds like ‘marshmallow’.

So first, make the marshmallow:


  • 14g powdered gelatine
  • 450g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Half a cup of icing sugar and half a cup of cornflour, mixed
  • Sunflower oil, for greasing


  1. Grease a deep 8inch square tin with sunflower oil, line it with greaseproof paper, grease that with sunflower oil, and dust it with a little of the icing sugar and cornflour mixture.
  2. Put 100ml of cold water in a large bowl and add the gelatine powder, stirring gently by well. Set aside.
  3. Mix the caster sugar and the 175ml of water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring all the time. When the sugar has entirely dissolved, reduce the heat and simmer for around 15 minutes, until the mixture reaches 113°C.
  4. Remove from the heat, and pour the sugar syrup slowly into the gelatine mixture, stirring gently but thoroughly. Keep stirring until the mixture is thickened and cooled – about 15-20 minutes. Pour into the prepared tin, dust the top with a very little of the cornflour and icing sugar mixture and cover with cling film. The mixture will take a couple of hours to set.

While the marshmallow is setting, make some eye idol templates. Turn the marshmallow out onto a chopping board, and use the templates to cut out eye idol shapes. You’ll need a sharp knife, a jug of boiling water and kitchen roll. Marshmallow is not the easiest material to cut into complex shapes, and if the knife gets sticky it becomes impossible. So every few cuts, dip the knife in the hot water and dry it (if you leave it wet, it’ll melt the marshmallow).

Place the eye idols on a surface dusted with more of the icing sugar/cornflour. Now, make some black royal icing, and, using a toothpick, draw the eye idols patterns onto the marshmallow shapes. And make some sugar cookies while you’re doing it, because it’ll take an egg white to make the royal icing, so you’ll have lots left over. I strongly suggest that instead of actually icing the cookies, you eat them by dipping them into the icing. If you make the cookies rectangular, you can pretend its humous and carrot sticks.


I know that I should be considering what a waste of time that all was, and wondering how to clean my delightfully sticky kitchen. But there’s a marshmallow eye idol in my hot chocolate, so I’m finding it difficult to be anything but content.

Cuneiform tablet coffee cake


I’ve been thinking for a while now that a cuneiform tablet cake would be fairly easy to make (typing that sentence makes me wonder if I shouldn’t find better things to think about). Now, when I was making the cakes I realised at the last moment that my stylus (chopstick…) was the wrong shape to make the cuneiform wedges. The cakes are therefore modelled on earlier, Uruk IV period tablets. Specifically, the two below.

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The cakes are far from perfect. I clearly went too far with the modelling, so the larger tablet is a bit misshapen. I’ll certainly be coming back to this to try and make one that has a better shape, and actual cuneiform on it.

If you have nothing better to do, here follows the recipe:

First, make the coffee cake:


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


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

While the cake is baking and cooling, make a coffee buttercream by creaming together 50g of butter with 100g of icing sugar, a splash of milk and a splash of espresso. Make a template in the shape of the tablet you want to create, and once the cake is cooled, use the template to cut out two identical pieces of cake. Sandwich them together and crumb coat with the buttercream (it’s generally a good idea to put it on the cake board before the crumb coat). Put the cake in the fridge for at least an hour.

Remove from the fridge and use a serrated knife to model the cake into the 3D shape of the tablet. Give it a second crumb coat for good measure, and put it back in the fridge.

Next, make the fondant. The recipe I always use for my fondant is this one:

You’ll only need half quantities, and, to make it a coffee fondant (in order to give it the appetising brown colour of clay), substitute the water with cold espresso. Roll out the fondant on a surface that you’ve heavily dusted with icing sugar, and cover the cake. Once it’s covered, use a stylus to write the signs in the fondant (I found the end of a paintbrush worked well enough, but all you really need is for it to be rounded).

Then, realise you have wasted a good few hours on this utterly pointless task, and retreat from the kitchen with a bowl of cake offcuts mixed with leftover icing, wondering if anyone will accept ‘making a cuneiform tablet cake’ as an excuse for not doing any actual work.


Up next – Max Marsh-mallowan’s eye idols (I wish I was joking).