Geology and baking

For some of you this might not be news, but I have to admit that I rather like baking. Adding ingredients into a bowl, mixing them, putting them into the oven and see what happens is  interesting. And the end results are often pretty tasty! I started by precisely following instructions and soon found out that most of it is basic chemistry (and some luck?!).

Anyway, this summer this webpage went viral (or at least did so in the geosciences circles). A young Australian baker (and Zoology graduate) made a lovely spherical, layered cake and did some unbelievable work on the Icing. Followed by the huge success (and because she felt challenged) she combined two spheres into one and tada: A planet cake!  This time she did an even more unbelievable work on the icing, making it look just like the actual planet Jupiter.

I felt that this would be a good thing to try and I did a spherical cake in August. I experienced several failures, for example my spherical baking tin shifted during baking, resulting in a core shift! My first try to make a Marshmallow icing resulted in sticky sugary stuff everywhere in the kitchen but not with some proper icing: Blue stuffIf you are wondering why I was wearing shades: My normal glasses were broken… Alice tried to help me with the mess but as you can see it looks nowhere close to what it should…

This semester I am teaching first year students in a course that gives an introduction to the different fields of geosciences. It is tradition to hand them some sweets at the last week we do the practicals (because it is close to christmas and everyone loves sweets!). I wanted to redo the planet cake for quite a while now and thought this might be the perfect chance for it (and it was basically the first “free” weekend I have had in like ever). How can you better revise what you have learned during a semester than by eating a layered cake that makes you think about the different properties of the earth? So here are some shots of the cake during baking:


Half a sphere After baking.

Half a sphere - layered with a core,  inner and outer mantel (not to scale though :-/)!

Half a sphere – layered with a core, inner and outer mantel (not to scale though :-/)!

1 half sphere + 1 half sphere = 1 planet!

1 half sphere + 1 half sphere = 1 planet!

This time the baking bits went all right, but when I joined the two sphere together I somehow lost the core so that the final planet had only two baked layers. Ah well…
The hardest bit was always going to be the decorating – I am not very artistic not very patient. Initially I wanted to do todays plate tectonic setting and point out the plate boundaries. However, after playing around a bit with the marshmallow fondant that I used to create the crust I decided to “cheat” at chose a tectonic setting that was much simpler to reproduce: Pangaea! Only one big lump of continents, some islands – job done! As you can see from the image below I still need to work on the way I drape the icing around the cake but the folding could be natural as it is close the the Variscan Orogen….

Middle to Late Triassic Pangea (Cake)!

Middle to Late Triassic Pangea (Cake)!

And here finally a cross section through the planet cake:

Core (red), mantle (yellow) and crust (blue & green).

Core (red), mantle (yellow) and crust (blue & green).

The cake was OK to eat but my students loved it (and everyone else who got some). Learned a lot again and maybe the next version will actually have a “round” core!
Next cake project I am thinking about is maybe trying to recreate a subduction zone, however that sounds very challenging. If you have any ideas and tip, please let me know!

2 thoughts on “Geology and baking

  1. That looks awesome! I’ve made Marshmallow ‘7 minute’ frosting a few times now, and always end up finding it takes about 15-20 minutes of beating with my paltry electric whisk to get a stiff enough consistency. It is awesome though! An alternative approach (some might call it slightly cheating!) might be to make the inner core a cake truffle – i.e. not bake in an core layer, but scoop 2 hemispheres out of a baked 2 layer cake, and fill with a cake truffle mixture, then sandwich the two halves together. Just a thought!

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