Time consuming. That's my summary. After all the baking and tasting, I find I have a comment not on taste, but on time. The cake tasted good, looked at least somewhat like a pinecone, but the results just didn't equal the effort it took me. Part of that is my amateur decorating efforts (I'm sure I could make several more practice cakes and perfect the technique of making the pinecone out of fondant, but...), part is my relatively young skills at both sponge cake and cake rolls so the process took extra time and nail-biting, and part is that even homemade chocolate fondant doesn't taste all that good. With the presentation somewhat disappointing, the lack of a knock-out, Wow! cake taste left me a little flat.
Here's my notes on the process.
First up, a week or so ago, was the making of the chocolate fondant. I recruited younger niece, who did the hard stirring of the mixture of powdered sugar, cocoa, glycerin, gelatin, corn syrup, Spectrum shortening, vanilla, and water into a paste of sorts. Then we both donned latex gloves and started kneading. I was tentative about adding water at first, so we kneaded quite a while and still found the fondant would break if folded. I did some quick Googling, reached no real conclusions, but came back and started adding water by the tablespoon. After several rounds of that, the fondant finally reached a state that could be called 'smooth and supple'. We wrapped it up well and left it at room temperature for several days before tackling the actual pinecone cake roll.
Looking at the timing, I decided to make the almond ganache first to give it several hours to set at room temperature. That went smoothly--I do ganache a lot, as it's the favored cake frosting around here. I didn't get my almonds chopped very evenly, but I figured that just added a little extra texture. <g> Then it was on to the cake, a sponge cake roll. That went smoothly too, considering I'd never made a sponge cake before starting the Heavenly Cakes bake-along, and made my first cake roll in October. A few things didn't go according to Rose's instructions. I was using one of my baking mats, first time to use it for a cake. Rose says "Grasp the long edge of the liner and gently slide the cake from the pan...". Uh, no way. I couldn't get an edge up to be able to grasp the liner, or even see the liner, so I flipped the pan over onto a rack in classic fashion, then flipped the cake back with the liner. The cake got a quick dusting of powdered sugar, then was rolled up, liner and all, to cool. The liner made this much easier than the cake I tried without, which threatened to crack and break as I rolled. Unrolling also was easier with the liner, and the liner peeled off pretty easily at that point so I could roll the cooled cake around a layer of chocolate almond ganache.
Then it was on the decorating. To get a pinecone shape, the instructions said to cut pieces off one end of the cake and attach them to the other end. Well, the cake instantly looked like a rocket. Frosting the pieces over with more ganache only reduced the rocket shape slightly. Next was rolling out the fondant, which did stay supple--guess I did need to add all that water back when kneading it. Once the fondant was covering the cake, I did my best to smooth out the corners and get a nice base for the look of the pinecone. The result was a very long and skinny pinecone, maybe like a longleaf pine cone, unopened. All that botany I took before settling in with my geology courses in college must have stuck with me a little...
The idea for decorating is to cut a V shape, then lift the point of the V slighly to look like the scales of a mostly closed pinecone. It took a few attempts before younger niece and I got a reasonable shape--my first cuts were about a 45 degree angle, but a wider angle worked better. Lifting the point of the V was accomplished with some pointed fondant tools, and then the lifted section could be smushed a little and made convex upward to look vaguely scale-like. Even after we had a technique, I didn't think the cake was going to look much like a pinecone, but after we had about a third of the cake done, I must say it didn't look half bad. Pinecone-ish, certainly.
The ends remained unfinished, and I don't know what could have been done to complete them in theme--the larger end could have had more V cuts, I guess, but the small end of a pinecone comes to a point, and the blunt end of the cake didn't lend itself to that. As it was, niece and I left the ends smooth and rounded.
I decided to complete the picture with some sugar-dusted pine needles as Rose suggested. That meant scouting my back yard for little branches that the squirrels had cut and dropped, as the branches on my pine trees aren't quite within reach. <g> Luckily, the squirrels had left several branches for me to work with.
We cut and served the cake for afternoon tea on Christmas Eve, along with the non-wreath fruitcake that had been aging for a couple of weeks. The cake itself was enjoyed by all, though almost everyone pushed most of the fondant aside. A good dollop of whipped cream helped cut the intensity of the chocolate cake and dark chocolate fondant.
Other process pictures, or just see the whole set on Flickr: