Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house . . .
So begins Neil Gaiman's, Coraline. I bought my copy (already signed!) at Barnes and Noble in Manhattan's Union Square not long after it was released. I'd been in NYC for a month, maybe less, and took the book to a now defunct red sauce joint to treat myself to a fancy lunch (quite the splurge back then at maybe $10) and time to fall into a new world penned by one of my favorite authors.
As with pretty much every word he's written, it did not disappoint; I have re-read the book at least once a year. And let's just get it out of the way that I never saw the movie, don't want to see the movie . . . to much of my own world is tied into the book to give the visuals over to someone else.
That said, when it came to thinking about how to turn this book into a cake, the visual concept of a large button was pretty much a given:
“Coraline?” the woman said. “Is that you?” And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons. “Lunchtime, Coraline,” said the woman. “Who are you?” asked Coraline. “I’m your other mother,” said the woman.
Wanting a spool of thread to mimic the following passage, I found a vintage British industrial spool, wound two packages of black string licorice around it, and anchored it all with a big, sharp, leather needle:
“If you want to stay,” said her other father, “there’s only one little thing we’ll have to do, so you can stay here for ever and always.” They went into the kitchen. On a china plate on the kitchen table was a spool of black cotton, and a long silver needle, and, beside them, two large black buttons. “I don’t think so,” said Coraline. “Oh, but we want you to,” said her other mother. “We want you to stay. And it’s just a little thing.” “It won’t hurt,” said her other father.
As for the cake flavor itself, well, that sent me deeper into the book searching for passages that resonated on my palate.
The white cake base was baked in one 10" layer cake pan from this recipe and inspired by this:
The world she was walking through was a pale nothingness, like a blank sheet of paper or an enormous, empty white room. It had no temperature, no smell, no texture, and no taste. It certainly isn’t mist, thought Coraline, although she did not know what it was. For a moment she wondered if she might not have gone blind. But no, she could see herself, plain as day. But there was no ground beneath her feet, just a misty, milky whiteness.
Though almond is not mentioned, I added some of the extract to the batter as the Other Mother is a poisonous character, cyanide smells like almonds . . . a stretch, but a lovely flavor.
The round maraschino cherry juice-soaked/studded center (cut into with a 6" round) was inspired by this passage:
The key sat in the middle of the paper picnic cloth. Coraline let go of the string, and took a step back. Now it was all up to the hand. She turned to her dolls. “Who would like a piece of cherry cake?” she asked. “Jemima? Pinky? Primrose?” and she served each doll a slice of invisible cake on an invisible plate, chattering happily as she did so.
Finally, I cut out button holes with biscuit cutters and covered the lot in black swiss meringue buttercream, then black food color spray paint for that shiny, wet look.
Overall, I am happy with the end result. Though, in hindsight, there's so much more to incorporate: a big, rusty, black metal key, the mouse circus, and even Coraline's day-glo green gloves somehow.
Perhaps discovering cakes is similar to discovering doors . . . it's only after you've been with something a little while that you can truly see it.