Friday, June 08, 2007

Math project: making Mexico out of chocolate cake.

Hard to believe: Menticia told me her final math project of the year was to make a map of Mexico out of cake, with her friend's help. The map had to have landforms and rivers, and it had to have a legend, and everything had to be edible.

At first she insisted we use a "Tres Leches" recipe, but I convinced her such a soggy cake would not be easy to put frosting on. We chose, instead, the "Texas Sheet Cake" recipe below.

Since the cake had to be very large, we doubled the recipe (math!), made two 9x13 pans, and put them next to each other. Menticia and her friend - who had never before cracked an egg in her entire life - each made one cake. Here they are boiling the cocoa with butter and water.

Then we made a whole lot of icing and they went off to play while the cakes baked and then cooled under a fan.

My idea for getting Mexico onto the cake: we printed a map from the internet, drew a grid on it, then drew a larger grid on a piece of layout paper as big as two cake pans put together. I showed Menticia how to copy what she saw in each square and soon we had a large map of Mexico.

Then she and her friend cut out the bit of the Pacific Ocean which would be on the left and put it on the cake and sifted confectioners sugar over the boundary between sea and land. When they took the piece of paper off, there was a clear sugar-dust outline and they put blue icing up to that boundary.

After sifting sugar over the boundary of Mexico with the Pacific, the U.S.A., the Gulf of Mexico, and Central America, and putting colored icing in all those non-Mexico places, everything else got yellow Mexico icing.

Then we fired up the conical icing tube and they squeezed lines of blue for rivers, lines of red for political borders, and then switched tips and squished out little brown mountain ranges. I wanted to do some green tropical lushness, too, but it was all just getting too complicated.

Here it is.

In this picture you can see the legend - we made it on a matzah.

It was WAY past time for them to go home before we got this finished. I put them both in the car, slid the huge cake onto their laps, and drove VERY carefully to Menticia's house. I felt tremendous relief when I handed off this cake to Menticia's mother - if it fell on the floor after that, Not My Problem.

Be a mentor!

Texas Sheet Cake

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 cups sugar
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup butter
* 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Grease a 13X9X2-inch baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
3. In a medium saucepan combine 1 cup butter, 1/3 cup cocoa, and 1 cup of water.
4. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
5. With an electric hand-held mixer on medium speed, beat chocolate mixture into the dry mixture until thoroughly blended.
6. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat for 1 minute (batter will be thin).
7. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
8. Bake in a 350ĚŠ oven about 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.


10 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.
2. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended.
3. Beat in maple syrup.
4. Chill until just firm enough to spread, 30 minutes.

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At 11:10 AM, Blogger Jen said...

wow, that turned out great! You're a wonderful mentor, and a very creative person. I'm particularly impressed at how you are able to convey difficult concepts that the girls were able to carry out. I'm going to have to call on you when my sons need help with their projects!

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Hypatia said...

Beautiful! You three got great results out of all your hard work.

How on EARTH is that a math project?

At 2:49 PM, Blogger melinama said...

Thanks! I guess it's a math project in that fractions are required: 3/8 cup cocoa, etc. I even had them make 1-1/2 times the frosting recipe so they'd have to figure out how much to increase the ingredients...

At 6:55 PM, Anonymous sylvia said...

Very cool cake. I think that's a great idea for a math problem, especially for people who might not like math or think they're not good in math. The whole point is to get kids interested and excited. (Can you tell I'm still one of those kids?)


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