Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cooking Up A Little Learning, Social Studies-Style

I almost feel like I should reintroduce myself after such a lengthy hiatus!  Well, I can't blog when I have professional things due...guilt hinders my creativity.  Report Card #2 is finished, winter blues are on their way out, I'm completing this entry on the eve of our Spring Break, and I'm so happy to be back!

I get a lot of happiness out of exposing my students to new fruits and veggies and sharing samples of a new bit o' baking.  The teacher in me also loves to connect what we're studying to food! 


The Alberta Cake

In our lovely province, the grade four curriculum includes learning about the Alberta's physical characteristics, including its natural regions and resources.   The images of the province divided colourfully into six regions from our Voices of Alberta textbook and various websites were ingrained into our minds.  I'm not sure where the inspiration came from, but I decided to decorate a brownie cake in like fashion to celebrate our group projects in the fall of 2008.

*Note:  Please be patient about the quality of these photos - five years ago, I had no inkling that I'd be blogging in the future or would be sharing my just-for-me pictures on the www!  I don't mind if you chuckle a little with me, though...there's only so much you can improve a low-quality photo with Microsoft Office 2010!

Version 1:  2008-09

I thought the cake would be more realistic if I tried to create some of the topographical features of the province, so I piled up the chocolate chunk brownie batter as high as I could on the Rocky Mountain side and used a small offset spatula to tease the batter into mountain tops.  The foothills area was spread a little lower than the Rockies, and the Canadian Shield was a little more elevated than the majority of the province, too.


Of course, the heat of the oven softened up the features but still left some relative differences in terrain.  In more recent years, I have folded the southwest corner's parch-ment paper up and placed something solid against it to keep the mountains from spreading.

Ready for regionalization!

At this point, I thought things were progressing well.  I'd begun the project around 6:30 p.m., so the details on the digital photo said, the cake came out of the oven at 7:18, and by 9:11, it was cooling on the cutting board.  I was about to learn that there was much more work to come...a lot more! 

Icing mixing was the next step.  I used Wilton paste colouring with plain old vanilla icing from the store shelf.  No offence, but making a buttercream at that time of night would've been a painful choice and I really doubted my students' tastebuds would've discerned the additional effort!  I didn't take any photos of my icing batches but as I ended up with a lot of extra sugary spread for my inaugural Alberta cake, I baked some more brownies and made some little Alberta Cake decorating kits to sell at our Grade Four bake sale. 
By the time the cake had cooled, it was probably pushing 11:00.  I'd made the icing batches, trying to match the colours on the web image I'd selected as closely as possible.  In the process, I was reaquainted with how very greasy things get when working with icing.  I probably used half of a bottle of Sunlight dish soap dealing with the slick utensils and bottles.  On the good side, I didn't need hand lotion for a week! 
I knew back then, as I know now, that I am not that handy with an offset spatula: I do not ever recall an exclamation of "Jennifer - what a fantastic job you did icing that cake!"  I can accept my report card mark of 'Progressing' on that skill.  [That's remark's just for my teacher friends regarding our newish report card grading scale! ;-)]  I opted to use my Decorator Bottle Set and later decided to buy some Flexible Funnels to help load the icing into them after having some adventures in trying to get the goofy mixture into them.  The basket-weave tip created some texture and allowed for filling in my missed sections less noticeably!
I'm sharing the following photo of me at the end of my journey (definitely not a cake walk!) for your amusement and because of my surprise at the time stamp on the photo's details; it was 3:10 a.m.!
                    Inspiration on the left,                                          zombie on the right...

...zee mastairpiece!
Don't worry - despite the late bedtime, I was very pleasant the next morning, being so pleased with how it had turned out and anticipating how excited it would make my students.  I was not disappointed with their response and was encouraged to attempt the project the next fall.

Version 2:  2009-10

There wasn't a lot of difference between the cake made this year and the initial one except that the baker went to bed a lot earlier.  I guess I got a little wiser with another candle on my birthday cake!

Something which happened for the second year as it had with the first cake was that the kids politely insisted on being able to eat their own part of the cake.  Of course, the Boreal Forest people had to share a bit with the Canadian Shielders: if you're not familiar with Alberta's geography, the Shield comprises only 3% of our province.  (N.B. I'm not inept at basic math - I know that the C.S. icing covers more than that percentage but it would really be hard to cut such a tiny part into three pieces for each of the group members!)  I always show the kids a map of how much the Shield covers of the whole country and it's always a shock to them.  Woah!!!" is usually the response.  We've been trying to find a reliable source that tells how much of Canada the Canadian Shield covers but there's quite a variety of answers so we'll just settle with more than half.

Version 3:  2010-11

I got the idea to use pieces of a Toblerone bar for the mountain peaks on the third cake, not having anyone with nut allergies in my class that year and ensuring that my Rocky Mountain group's fingers went straight to the sink to wash after devouring their region.  There was a little region-envy but the treat of brownies with frosting was generally enough to sate them! 

Version 4:  2011-12

The Parkland area on this cake wasn't anemic; last year, one of my students had a sensitivity to artificial colours and flavours so I needed to be creative.  I remembered colouring eggs using natural dyes from plant material when I taught Grade One, so I enlisted the help of a carrot to help tint the icing.  I grated the orange root, added a small bit of water to the peelings in a little pot, and boiled the life out of it until the liquid's colour concentrated.  After straining and cooling it, I poured it into a wee bit of icing and mixed it up.  Apparently, the one carrot should've been joined by a few friends to create a richer hue since the result was the palest of yellows.  Oh well...I gave it a try and the students were just as enchanted as previous years!

(I have no idea why that touque is in the picture...
remember, not thinking about blogging at that time...
and I'm now reminded of an experience involving
the spelling of the winter hat word.  I'm pondering how
I can weave the incident into a cooking blog piece...
gears are turning...I digress...)

Version 5:  2012-13

The students in my current class have been more interested in the paths of the rivers than other years so that inspired me to kick it up a notch design-wise.  One of my young charges is allergic to almonds so Toblerone mountains were out, and iced brownie triangles made their debut.  The foothills hadn't baked as tall as I'd hoped so I tried to make rosettes.  Don't look too closely as they resemble, well, never mind... :-P   As I tell my students, a mistake is a chance to learn!

The Future of the Alberta Cake

Thanks to the advent of a new chocolate bar, the foothills will be the Improvement District for the 2013-14 version.  Envision these snuggled up to the Rockies:

I'm pretty excited to see how these look on the cake next fall!  I bought and tasted one bar just in case, for quality control purposes.  ;-) 

Thanks for not giving up on the Island and I'll try not to be so long in putting together my next entry.  I'd love to hear about and see any of your specialized baking or other edible projects for teaching purposes or that you've made just to show someone you care by adding particular details especially for them!


P.S.  If you aren't able to write a comment below successfully, kindly email me.  I've been trying to change the settings as some of my readers have had difficulty dropping me a line and  I encourage people to try again!

P.P.S.  I think I found a kindred spirit via Pinterest - check out the blog Teach-Bake-Love.  I was just giddy when I started reading Melissa The Middle School Teacher's entries.  I almost felt like making a Venn diagram to compare us; I know the intersecting part of the circles would be full of similarities!  I will definitely go through more of her neat ideas during the Spring Break and if I'm not too shy, I'll leave HER a message. :-)

1 comment:

  1. Love the progression on the cakes. Excited to see the upcoming years!


Drop me a line - comments, questions, and your own ideas are all very welcome! :-)