Maths & Baking Part 3

Well, after the fun that was the Science Grrl launch and the whirlwind of Eat Your Heart Out Mr Quirky and I were really looking forward to a fun night out as Festival of the Spoken Nerd made their long awaited visit to Derby. Well, how could I resist the excuse to spend my day off doing more baking!

First up were the props for the show. Back in the summer Matt Parker asked if it would be possible to make some custard creams in the shape of a Pythagoras triangle as a surprise for the last show in FOTSN’s run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  How could I resist!  I’d thought a little about how to decorate them but my first attempts were less than satisfactory, so I was glad of the chance to have another go.   This time, I took inspiration from making Hot Cross Buns, and simply thinned down some of the biscuit mixture with milk in order to produce a piping consistency.

Pythagoras Triangle Custard Creams waiting to be sandwiched together

I settled on a suitably maths related decoration – you might just be able to spot the infinity and pi signs I piped around the edge to mimic the classic custard cream design.

The finished FOTSN Pythagoras Custard Creams

Following on from my musings on a Menger Sponge cake I decided to go back a step and make a cake based on the basic Sierpinski Carpet pattern upon which the Menger Sponge is based.  A Battenberg cake seemed the obvious way to go.  You could make it in any combination of colours and/or flavours.  This one was chocolate and vanilla.

First you make all the sections – easy in a Battenberg tin.

Sierpinski Carpet Cake Sections

Then you simply trim and assemble the cake, as you would for a normal Battenberg.

Sierpinski Carpet Cake

Of course once you’ve made one section you can make your Sierpinski Carpet Cake as big as you want.  I did contemplate making one of the subsequent iterations, but the combination of only having one tin, and baking with a migraine meant I settled for this one.

We had a fabulous time at Festival of the Spoken Nerd – if you’re as geeky as us and like your comedy too then do go and see the show if you can.  One last thing – I haven’t yet given up on biscuits of constant width – as soon as I can get hold of the supplies I need I’ll be baking as long as it takes to nail that one.

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Science Grrl

Regular readers will know that we like nothing better than to spend as much time as possible in the Quirky Kitchen baking geeky treats and boy, have we been geek baking this month.

This week saw the launch of the Science Grrl Calendar- a fabulous idea that emerged from the backlash against THAT video from the European Commission. It was a really inspiring evening, listening to fabulously glamorous scientists enthusing about their subject.  WID & I were delighted to be there along with quirky junior Hannah who was particularly inspired by some of the younger women there.

The cookies I designed for the launch party at the Science Museum took direct inspiration from the calendar photo shoots. I’ve been working on and off at developing a way to make my cookies glow in the dark for a while now but as soon as I saw the first pictures from Lia Han and Ceri Banner’s photo shoot I knew I had to make it work for the launch party. Well, I’m happy to say we did it!

Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookie

Some of the cookies depicted individual inspiring scientists.  These included Jill Tarter (of SETI), Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who discovered Pulsars), Rosalind Franklin (whose x-ray diffraction images helped Watson & Crick work out the double helix structure of DNA) and Hedy Lamarr (who along with being a famous Hollywood actress was a talented mathematician and inventor).

Jill Tarter & Jocelyn Bell Burnell Minifig Cookies

Rosalind Franklin & Hedy Lamarr Minifig Cookies

The other cookies were inspired by both the photo shoots themselves and the various scientific disciplines in which those featured work.

Earth, Sun, Stargazing & Exploding Supernova Cookies

Tsetse Fly & Neuron Cookies

PET Diagram & Magnet (with “Iron Filings” sprinkles) Cookies

Petri-dish & DNA Cookies

You might recognise the Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 and the circuit board cookie from my post about Ada Lovelace Day.

Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 & Circuit Board Cookies

What better than a glass of champagne to illustrate bubble physics?  I couldn’t resist adding popping candy to this one too.  The pump shown is the famous Broad Street Pump which had the handle removed when John Snow linked the water from the pump to an outbreak of cholera in 1854.

Broad Street Pump & Champagne Cookies

Of course, I had to make lots of the minifig scientists.

Minifig Scientist Cookies

We had so many lovely comments, but I think I was most thrilled with the reaction to the Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookies and my Rosalind Franklin Minifig Cookie.  It was also great to hear more from the scientists about how accurate I had (mostly) managed to be in icing them.  Thank you to all those who took the time to talk to me about the cookies and how I can improve them.
Do take some time to find out more about Science Grrl.  The calendar has already inspired both my girls.  You can buy yours here and help “inspire a generation” not just in sport but in science too.

Ada Lovelace Day

I’m continually inspired by science in producing the cookie designs for Quirky Cookies & Cakes.  So in honour of today being Ada Lovelace Day here’s a sneak preview of two of the cookie designs I’m making for the launch of the Science Grrl calendar at the Science Museum this Thursday.  Can you guess what the cookies are?

Do have a read about Ada and what she accomplished in her lifetime,  She really was an inspirational woman.  You can find out more about her on her Wikipedia page or there’s a Radio 4 programme about her here.  Why not join in with the celebrations and share a story about a woman scientist who has inspired you.

Maths & Baking Part 2

I’ve been promising myself that I’d get the time to develop these ideas a bit more before blogging about them, but months have passed and we’re still as chaotic as ever at Quirky Towers so here goes.  I’ve been fascinated with the idea of communicating ideas about science, engineering and mathematics in unusual ways for a while now. Much of my inspiration for baking comes from scientific concepts, indeed I’m more likely to be found reading a book about science and/or maths than anything else.  I’m especially inspired by projects such as Helen Storey’s Primitive Streak or the Wellcome Image Awards. Here are a few of my ideas so far.

I’m a huge fan of the Venn diagram.

Venn Diagram Quiche

Making a Venn Diagram quiche is tricky, but possible.  I used the thickest foil tins I could find, and cut them up to make the basic Venn shape like this.

A Venn Diagram pizza is much easier to make…..

Bacon & Mushroom / Red Pepper

and still looks fairly recognizable once cooked…

Venn Diagram Pizza

As soon as I read about the Menger Sponge in one of my favourite books Alex’s Adventures in Numberland I knew I had to make one.  Here’s my first attempt as a work in progress.

Menger Sponge Cake


I’m determined to get better at this one.  They’re the devil’s own job to cover in sugarpaste and so I’m rethinking my approach and will have another go soon.

My first homemade Pork Pi really didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.  WID & I went to school in Melton Mowbray, so the idea of using cured meat in a pork pie really goes against the grain, but I hoped the mixture of ordinary pork and bacon would mean the shape of pi would appear once the pie was cut.  It didn’t.

Pork Pi

Like the Menger Sponge though I’m determined to have another go at this one.

I’ve got lots more ideas (biscuits of constant width) which I hope to get nailed by the time the Festival of the Spoken Nerd come to Derby later this month, so watch this space.

Skull Cake and Cookies

I had a really fun commission recently for a young man’s 11th birthday – just make it gruesome! After a brief chat about designs, the theme of skulls quickly emerged as the way forward.  We had a really, really tight deadline for this commission – just a few days instead of our usual 4 week plus lead time.  Luckily, Quirky Towers is full of books about science.  We even had a model skull!

I love making marshmallow, and have thought for a while that it would be great for brains.

Skull cookies with Marshmallow Brains

I’m not done with marshmallow brains yet though – there’ll be more to reveal later this month for Eat Your Heart Out.

The cake was really fun to make.  If you don’t have a skull shaped cake tin (and let’s face it, who does?) then don’t despair – you can carve the skull from a couple of square cakes.

From this start

I covered it roughly in fondant, allowing it to crack and dry out in places to make the texture more like a really ancient skull.

I then made a start on adding fondant muscle groups, as though the cake was a partially completed forensic facial reconstruction. The finished cake looked like this.

Skull Cake

October is officially science month at Quirky Towers. Keep your eye on the blog for more science and baking fun during the next few weeks.

Em’s Horrible Histories Party Part 2

Em’s parties are the stuff of legend at Quirky Towers.  This year’s theme was Horrible Histories. You may remember my attempts at making her a dress for the party. Well we had a great time, with lots of history inspired crafts from Yellow Moon, history games invented by Em and the usual themed baking from the Quirky Kitchen.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the day.  Apologies for the lack of quality – we were too busy having fun!

Roman Empress Hannah, WWII Mummy and Restoration Princess Emily

The wrap the mummy game – great for Halloween parties too.

What else could you possibly eat other than Pepys Pizza – pizza in the shape of Samuel Pepys face!

Personalised Horrible Histories Cookies

Horrible Histories Wax Seal Cookies

Of course there had to be cookies!

The cake had scenes from the Great Fire of London, topped with Charles II holding a bottle of champagne as a nod to the Mathew Baynton in the Horrible Histories Charles II song.

Great Fire of London / Charles II Cake

Party anyone?

Tardis Cake

Another year has passed more quickly than I care to admit, and so last week included the task of baking Hannah’s 15th birthday cake.

I had planned a wonderful surprise for her of a cake complete with electronics and lots of other fun cakey stuff, but all hell broke loose at the beginning of the week, and so there I was on the morning of her birthday with only the base icing done. Best laid plans eh?

Matt Smith was the obvious choice for the Doctor, as he is her favourite incarnation. The assistant is Hannah in typical teenage slouched-against-something-with-her-arms-folded fashion.  One light for the top of the Tardis was all I could manage in the end, but we did at least get that.  The sombrero is a family in-joke from a fabulous storyline idea Hannah had months ago. (She was gutted to be too old to enter the recent script writing competition.) I’m biased of course, but if perchance any Dr Who peeps may read this post (in my dreams!) then seriously, Hannah is bursting to tell someone her idea.

I’m the first to say it’s not the best Tardis cake I’ve ever done: we tried a few different techniques which were less than successful, but given the time I had to make it I was pretty chuffed.  Onwards to Emily’s 7th birthday.  At the moment she wants a street scene from the Great Fire of London.  I’m already thinking about smoke!

Tardis Cake
Photograph Copyright Wendy Staples