Feature Christmas 2015: Call to Action

Hominid spongyform encephalophagy: cooking time 1-11/2 hours, difficulty ***

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6310 (Published 14 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6310
  1. Lucinda Whitton, senior house officer1
  1. 1Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Gloucester GL1 3NN, UK
  1. Correspondence to: lucywhitton{at}gmail.com
  • Accepted 25 October 2015

Lucinda Whitton provides a fun recipe for a “brain cake” for you to make this Christmas

With shows such as “The Great British Bake Off” captivating the nation, baking has taken Britain by storm. This article shows you how to make a “brain cake”—from the core sponge to the basal layer and gyri. Not only is it “radiculously” tasty, it will get your neurones firing as you fight with the intricacies of the anatomy. So find the mixing bowl and conjure up your culinary creativeness this Christmas. Food for thought indeed.

Figure1

Step 1: The sponge

A simple Victoria sponge recipe will do the trick. Spherical baking trays are available from specialist kitchen shops but ovenproof bowls lined with greaseproof paper can be used instead.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Butter two spherical baking trays or ovenproof bowls and line with greaseproof paper.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until smooth. Divide the mixture between the two spherical bowls and one small cupcake baking tray (to make the cerebellum).

Cook for 20-25 minutes until the cake is golden and bounces back when pressed down. Allow to cool while preparing the icing.

Ingredients

Victoria sponge
  • 200 g each of self raising flour, caster sugar, and unsalted butter, softened

  • 4 medium eggs, beaten

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 3 tbsp milk

Filling
  • 150 g unsalted butter, softened

  • 210 g icing sugar, sifted

  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

  • Jar of good quality seeded jam

Icing
  • 1 kg packet of ready to roll white icing

  • Yellow and red food colouring

Other
  • Apricot jam, boiled (optional)

  • 2 cocktail sticks

Step 2: Icing

Achieving the brain colour is one of the most difficult parts of making the brain cake. Good quality food colouring makes this easier.

Figure2

Fig 2 Start with 1 kg of white fondant icing and divide into two halves

Figure3

Fig 3 Add 2 teaspoons of yellow colouring; knead well to give an even colour

Figure4

Fig 4 Add 1 teaspoon of red colouring; knead well

Figure5

Fig 5 Knead in excess fondant icing once colour has been achieved.

Dividing the fondant into two halves at the beginning means you can dilute the intensity of the colour or start again if it goes disastrously wrong. Use the best colour for the top layer of icing: the gyri.

Step 3: Brain substance

For the butter icing, put the butter, icing sugar, and vanilla extract into a mixing bowl. Use a wide paddled whisk to achieve a smooth consistency.

Once both sponges are completely cooled, spread a layer of butter icing on top of one with a palate knife. Next, spread a thin layer of jam.

Figure6

Place the second sponge on top of the base sponge. Apply a layer of butter icing and jam to the top of the cake.

Step 4: Hemispheres

To achieve the definition of the hemispheres use a sharp knife to cut around the cake to leave two crescent shaped sponge pieces.

Figure7

Next, position the crescent shaped sponge pieces on top of the cake so that the filling layer is visible from above and the two shapes have straight ridges next to each other. In this way the hemispheres are formed.

Figure8

Step 5: Basal layer

Apply a base layer of icing to cement the brain cake together.

At this point, you can cover the entire cake in boiled jam to aid adhesion, but I find everything is sticky enough without.

Sprinkle icing sugar over the rolling pin and kitchen surface, then roll half the icing into a thin, even layer, about 3 mm thick.

Figure9

Lift the rolled out icing over your cake using the rolling pin. Once applied, use a sharp knife to trim excess icing from around the cake. Add the excess icing to the remaining half.

Apply slight pressure to the top of the cake where a natural dip should have formed to create the hemispheres.

Figure10

Step 6: The cerebellum

Take the sponge cupcake and apply a layer of butter icing and jam. Use a sharp knife to trim the cupcake if it’s too big.

Figure11

Next, apply a thin layer of icing all over the cupcake.

Identify the occipital lobe of the brain cake and, using a sharp knife, cut an indent into the lobe for the cerebellum. Place two cocktail sticks into the cerebellum. Lift the brain cake so that the cerebellum slots into the space and the cocktail sticks secure the cerebellum to the main cake.

Figure12

Step 7: Gyri

This step is the most important in terms of the cake’s overall appearance and can be as anatomically correct as you like, depending on the time available and your patience.

Figure13

To create basic gyri and sulci, roll small pieces of icing into even sausages. Starting at the hemisphere, fold up the “icing sausage” to create the gyri. The “sausage” should adhere to the base layer of icing, but if it doesn’t knead it more before placing on the cake or use a small brush with cold water to cement the underside.

Figure14

Continue with this process until the entire cake, excluding the cerebellum, is covered. Never cross the ridge of the hemispheres with gyri.

Figure15

Step 8: Fiddly folium

This step is the most difficult and requires the most patience. Use the same method as used to create the gyri but roll out the sausages very thinly—about 3 mm in diameter.

Layer horizontally until the entire cerebellum has been covered. To create the cerebellar vermis, use a cocktail stick to carefully apply pressure in the midline.

Figure16

Step 9: Dissection

After taking several pictures and admiring your hard work, use a sharp kitchen knife to dissect the finished product. Coronal or sagittal it will be enjoyed by all.

Figure17

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6310

Footnotes

  • Thanks to Geraint Fuller for neurological inspiration and Elena King (née Binns) for photography and artistic direction.

  • Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare that I have none.

View Abstract