WHEN Crafting Traditions kitchen staffers saw Tannye Johnson’s fun birthday outfits on the previous pages, they got busy engineering a critter train cake you can couple with those costumes! You won’t need to track down exotic ingredients to make it either—all it calls for are store-bought cookies, candies and cake mix. You even use purchased pre-made frosting to put the train together. So it’s a treat to make and eat.
- Materials needed:
- Cutting board
- Finely serrated thin-blade knife
- Pastry bag
- Decorator tipsribbon, round, small and large stars (Wilton ribbon tip #5 and star tips #18 and 23)
- 10- x 5-inch jelly roll pan
- Dish towels
- Waxed paper
- 14- x 19-inch board or heavy cardboard, covered with freezer paper or plastic table covering
- Groceries needed:
- One 1-pound box of graham crackers
- 10 pretzel sticks (3 inches long)
- 6 sugar wafers
- 5 chocolate/vanilla sandwich cookies (one 2-1/8 inches across and the rest 1-5/8 inches across)
- 4 shortbread cookies (1-3/4 inches)
- 2 chocolate-covered mint cookies (1-3/4 inches)
- 1 animal cracker
- 2 rolls of Wild Cherry Life Savers
- 1 roll of Assorted Life Savers
- Red Hots or Wilton Cinnamon Sprinkle Decorations
- Small package of M&M Candies
- Red shoestring licorice or Twizzlers Pull-N-Peel Licorice
- Red gumdrop
- 3 candy clown or clown head icing decorations (optional)
- WILTON ROYAL ICING::
- 3 tablepoons Wilton Meringue Powder
- 4 cups confectioners' sugar
- 6 tablespoons warm water
- 1 package cake mix of your choice (regular size)
- Canned white and chocolate frosting
- Green food coloring
- Directions: Read all directions before beginning work. A clear day with low humidity will give you the best results with Royal Icing. Assemble and decorate the critter train. This can
- be done a week in advance and stored in an airtight container. Do make sure to have extra icing on hand the day of the party for any necessary last-minute repairs.
- CUTTING CRACKERS/COOKIES: Use a clean ruler and knife to score straight cutting lines onto graham crackers and cookies. Cut
- along straight lines with the knife, working with one cookie or cracker at a time. Place cookie or cracker always on crumb-free cutting board, cleaning the board often. Draw the knife toward you on the scored line without applying pressure. Continue to make similar strokes toward you until the cut is completed (five or more strokes).
- To cut curved lines, guide the knife along the lines to make the first stroke. Then cut in the established groove until cut is complete. Or gently carve away the cracker to the marked line.
- ICING: Make icing with recipe that follows, using it to “glue” the train pieces together and decorate them. Making sure that bowl and utensils are grease-free, beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes with heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes with hand mixer). Keep in an airtight covered bowl. Cover bowl and
- pastry bags with damp dish towels. *For stiffer icing, use 1 tablespoon less water.
- ASSEMBLY: For each car, refer to appropriate diagrams and individual directions. To “glue” pieces together, fill a round-tipped pastry tube with icing and add lines of icing to edges of pieces being added or as directed.
- Cut graham cracker base piece(s) and sugar wafer axles for each car as directed, then glue sugar wafer axles on edge about 1/2 inch from each short edge.
- Decorating:. As assembly of each car is completed, decorate cars with icing stars (using smaller star tip to make stars), or cover areas with dots, stars or rows of icing, then press in rows of Red Hots, Cinnamon Sprinkle Decorations or M&M’s as shown. If desired, add candy clowns or clown heads to back of engine cab and front and back of caboose.
- ENGINE (Fig. 1): Base: Cut two 2- x 4-inch graham crackers. Glue these together for a two-layered base. Glue on a 1-1/2-inch wafer axle (front) and a 2-inch wafer axle (back).
- Cab: Glue four shortbread cookies on edge for sides and add a 2-1/2-inch-square graham cracker roof.
- Wheels: Glue a LifeSaver wheel to each end of the front axle. Glue chocolate-covered cookies to the back axle, making sure that the engine sits evenly. Add a LifeSaver to the center of each cookie wheel. For each side, cut a 3-inch piece of licorice and glue from center of front wheel to center of back wheel.
- Front: Glue four 1-5/8-inch sandwich cookies on edge in front of cab. For “cow-catcher”, cut and use one half of one 2-1/8-inch sandwich cookie, gluing at an angle to front of graham
- cracker base. Form a smokestack by gluing together four LifeSavers, alternating colors. Glue to top front of engine front. Decorate as directed above.
- CAGE CAR (Figs. 2 a-c): Base/top: Cut two 2- x 2-1/2-inch graham crackers. Glue two 1-1/2-inch wafer axles onto one 2- x 2-1/2-inch piece. Add LifeSaver wheels to ends of both
- Cage: Cut four 1/2- x 2-1/2-inch graham cracker sides and four 1/2- x 1-3/4-inch graham cracker ends. Glue ends of two pretzel
- sticks (centered 1/2 inch apart) between each set of sides (Fig.), and glue ends of one pretzel stick centered between each set of ends (Fig. 2b). Let icing set thoroughly, about 20 minutes. Add glue to lower and side edges of a cage side and an end and press in place to base with pretzel “bars” to inside. (Side will be along 2-1/2-inch edge of base and end along 2-inch edge.) Quickly press a pretzel into the corner of the cage just formed. Glue an animal
- cracker to base inside cage. Glue in remaining side and end of the cage, adding a pretzel to all four corners.
- Top: Use template to cut two cage car top sides and two cage car top ends as follows: Trace the templates for the pieces onto
- freezer paper and cut templates out. Place templates on end of crackers and score with knife. Cut out pieces. Add glue along top edge of side and end cage pieces and press remaining 2- x 2-1/2-
- inch graham cracker top piece into place. Let
- icing set.
- Add glue along bottom and side edges of cage car top sides and ends. Set ends in place between sides on edges of top piece.
- Decorate as directed above.
- CABOOSE (Fig. 3): Base/top: Repeat as directed for Cage Car. Let icing set.
- Lower box: Add two 1-1/4- x 2-inch graham cracker pieces for sides and two 1-1/4- graham cracker pieces for lower
- ends. Add remaining 2- x 2-1/2-inch graham cracker for top.
- Upper box: Glue edges of two 3/4- x 1-3/4-inch graham cracker pieces for upper sides to edges of two 3/4- x 1-1/8-inch graham cracker pieces for upper ends. On top, glue a 1-1/4- x 2-inch graham cracker piece. Glue assembled upper box centered on top of lower box. Decorate as directed above.
- b>CAKE: Prepare cake mix as directed on package. Grease and flour bottom and sides of jelly roll pan and line the bottom neatly with waxed paper to aid in removal from pan. Bake according to package directions. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack. Let cool completely. Place cake in the middle of covered board or cardboard.
- FROSTING: Cut a piece of freezer paper the same size as the jelly roll pan bottom. Draw a train track onto the shiny side of the freezer paper as shown in Fig. 4a. Cut out the freezer-paper track as a template and position
- on cooled cake.
- Reserving 1/2 cup of canned vanilla frosting, tint the remaining vanilla frosting with green food coloring. Frost cake up to the
- edges of the template. (Don’t worry if you frost the edges of the template, this will be removed when the template is lifted.)
- Mix 1/2 cup of vanilla frosting with 1/4 cup of chocolate frosting. Lift the template; and frost train track with mixture.
- Use ribbon tip and chocolate frosting to form railroad ties (Fig. 4b), spacing them about 1-1/4 inches apart on train track. Use round tip to add the rails (spaced about 1-3/4 inches apart) and “Happy Birthday”.
- Decorate edges of cake if desired with green-tinted frosting and larger star tip. Yield: 1 Train Cake.
Originally published as Colorful Critter Train in Country Woman May/June 1995, p56
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