[Tastebridge] Hackercaking wrap up!

Sean Cusack sean.p.cusack at gmail.com
Thu Feb 10 18:32:23 UTC 2011

Hey kids -

A quick e-mail to everyone describing what has been learned about making
baked goods with liquid nitrogen, and a quick once over of the process we
used to make the contest hackercake (and, if anyone wants to turn this into
a blog entry, and get us a +1, I'd love you for it). A bunch of people have
taken pics of this over the last few days. Is there any way we can
centralize these?

How the contest 'cake was made:
1) Make a tray of brownies
2) Use a circular cookie cutter to cut out a circular brownie
3) Freeze circular brownie
4) Use a surform to plane one surface of the brownie
5) Refreeze
6) Use a dremel to make a deep (~0.5") cut design into said brownie (its a
smiley face - I was doing the NB logo, but shattered the cupcake in the
process and was *pissed*).
7) Refreeze
8) Get some magic shell, and smear it over the surface of the brownie.
9) Before the magic shell hardens, push down on it *hard* to get it to fill
the design cut in step 6.
10) Refreeze
11) Bust out the surform again and replane the surface - removing all the
excess magic shell until you are left with just the stuff that got pressed
into the design.
12) Wrap in plastic wrap while still frozen.
13) Allow to thaw!

Done! Now you've got a cupcake (err...brownie) with (potentially) finely
detailed design that is easy to see.

General Findings:
1) Freezing, then rethawing cake batter with LN2 preserves pretty much all
of the fudgy/fluffy/moist deliciousness initially present in your cake
batter. Yay!

2) Typical cupcake batter is as porous as an anthill. Therefore, if you try
to take power tools to it directly, large sections will fragment and the
resolution of your design will be super low. This issue was mitigated by
switching to a brownie batter instead which is a lot denser. (sidenote:
store bought pound cake also seemed to do pretty well in some prototype

3) Taking the cake all the way down to -196C (as low as you can go with
liquid N2) is waaaay too cold. If you get the batter this cold, you either
can't machine it because the surface is too hard, or it will shatter. There
is a temperature sweet spot probably around -70C or so where machining-type
tools (drills, dremels, mills, etc.) work really well. This is interesting
since it means you could probably use a dry ice bed (at -78C) with a CNC
mill to do some *really* crazy designs. Work holding would be interesting

4) The best tools for working on frozen cupcakes are: drills, dremels,
mills, wood rasps/surforms (widely spaced, coarse teeth), cheese graters,
circular saws. Bad things are high friction things like sandpaper or fine
files (generates too much heat).

5) Although fine detail is possible in cupcake design under LN2, when it
rethaws, the structures may not hold up to normal atmospheric pressure.
Therefore, simple - wider spaced designs are better.

Fun Facts:
1) If you cut a chocolate cupcake with a circular saw, the cupcake sawdust
that gets shot everywhere definitely looks like your circular saw got a
nasty case of diarrhea...and missed the toilet bowl...and smeared itself all
over the wall.

2) Freezing PBR makes PBR popcorn. Freezing Jameson makes Jameson popcorn.
Freezing Coke makes Coke popcorn. Combining coke popcorn with Jameson
popcorn tastes like awesome popcorn, but freezes your tounge.

3) Eating stuff frozen with liquid nitrogen makes you shoot smoke out of
your nostrils and mouth just like a dragon.

Ideas that I wanted to do, and that I think would work, but am not talented
enough to do:
1) Make 2 interlocking rings of cupcake
2) Make a tetris'ed/puzzle cupcake

Thanks for everyone's help and ideas! We'll be shipping out the 'cake this

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