Last week our fabulous undergrad, O, turned 21! After seeing a photo of a poo cake a friend posted on his Facebook wall, I decided that what this young man really needed in life is a gut microbiome cake. We talk about poo all the time in lab and we’re fascinated by microbiomes, so this seemed like a fabulous project to take on this weekend instead of writing my graduate proposal. This was especially well-timed given the recent publications by the Human Microbiome Project. Today’s post will be about the cookies and the next post will show the cake (less exciting).
I originally planned on making a poo cake and some streak plate cookies (previously published here), but the recent Nature papers in conjunction with an interesting talk I heard about the vaginal microbiota made me decide to try to make cookies shaped like pie charts showing the distribution of bacterial species found in different individuals. (Sort of like the ones seen here, except less complicated and more edible.)
I debated different ways to make the cookie topping. Fondant? YUCK. Royal icing? Eeew, raw egg whites (I could not find merengue powder and it was too late to order online). Plain ol’ icing? Not solid enough. As I was researching on the internet, I found a recipe for rolled buttercream. It’s fabulous. It looks like Play-Doh and it tastes like you always wished Play-Doh would taste. Armed with this and a standard sugar cookie recipe, I shut down my word processor and hit the kitchen!
Materials and Methods
Sugar cookies were made as previously described, except 1 cup of brown sugar was used in place of 1.5 cups of white sugar.
- 1 c light corn syrup
- 1 c shortening
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 lbs powdered sugar
The corn syrup and shortening were well-combined in a stand mixer. Salt and vanilla were incorporated. Approximately one cup at a time, powdered sugar was added until the mixture was elastic, did not break when pulled, and was no longer sticky.
The mix was refrigerated overnight and split into four portions. Colors were imparted by kneading in food coloring. (This step must be accomplished slowly and carefully to avoid rendering a Jackson Pollock reproduction on the kitchen wall.)
Approximately tablespoon sized portions of each color were rolled into a ball, flattened into circles the same diameter as the sugar cookies, and frozen for 10 min to permit easier manipulation.
Wedges were cut from each circle and combined to resemble pie charts.
Assembled pie charts were transferred to the sugar cookies and the seams between each color smoothed by hand.
Cookies were frozen for storage.
Results and Discussions
These cookies were not the best sugar cookies I’ve ever made, but the topping is really quite good. I wish I’d been a little more careful with assembly of the pie chart wedges – some turned out wiggly on the edges and a few have points that don’t line up. But overall, I’m happy with the way things turned out. If I were feeling more on top of things I may have made big rectangular cookie containing the figure legend, but instead I washed the dogs and edited my labmate’s proposal.
Later this week, I’ll write up the cake!