Adventures in baking the entire Athenian Acropolis

Regular readers of this blog may know that, although from New Zealand, I am currently living in the United States, where I am studying for a PhD in classical archaeology. Long-time regular readers may further be aware that I have something of a penchant for baking. And, of course, even the most cursory of readers will be perfectly cognisant of the fact that I am completely insane.

Once a year, these three facets of my life come into glorious conjunction.

You see, getting into a PhD program is a whole process. You mail in an application with a CV and a writing sample, sure, but when there are sixty odd applicants for five or ten places, it helps to be able to narrow it down a bit. The exact steps of the ritual vary from one department or institution to another, but my department tends to invite about twenty potential students to visit us for the extravaganza that is Prospectives Weekend. There are also usually a few people who interview over Skype – like me, because a trip from New Zealand to be interviewed for a PhD program was ever so slightly outside of my budgetary reach; we usually have at least a couple of potential students from Greece and Italy who do this. Over the course of Thursday, Friday and Saturday (a weird conception of the term “weekend,” I know, but we’re academics; “work-life balance” is not a concept we’re particularly good at), our twenty-ish visiting students will sit in on several of our classes, have lunches and dinners at local restaurants with members of our faculty and current PhD students, have a crazy wild party with free booze (this one with the faculty firmly absent), and tour the city’s art museum to see all our loot. In theory though, what they’re actually here for is to be interviewed on Friday afternoon. Because they are interviewed one at a time, they all have to be kept entertained while their comrades perform unspeakable sacrifices in order to receive their initiation into the mysteries of the void I mean meet the faculty, so we have a big afternoon tea for them. And this… is where I come in. Because this is the one time of year when I really show off.

In past years I’ve made a speciality of mine, which I call the Attic Chocolate-Figure Cake: cakes decorated with chocolate ganache in the style of Attic black figure or red figure pottery, the iconic vase painting styles of ancient Athens. Here’s one of the Brygos Painter Maenad that I did in 2016.

The kylix (wine cup) that my cake was based on, painted by the so-called Brygos Painter in the white-ground technique in the first quarter of the 5th century BC.

In 2017 I decided “eh, go big or go home” and made a trireme, with gingerbread oars, a white chocolate sail, a dark chocolate ram, and some grapes for the “wine-dark sea” (#odysseypuns, #whyamisuchahugenerd).

Now, in 2018 I wasn’t present for this momentous occasion, since I was spending a year studying in Athens (long-time readers will have noted a distressing slowdown in my blog output). So naturally I have to use this year’s prospectives tea – this Friday, March 1 – to reassert my dominance.

There is some possibility that this is a greater degree of historical accuracy than a decorative cake strictly calls for.

I’m gonna make a cake of the entire Athenian Acropolis.

You know, this thing.

The rock itself will be chocolate cake, made in three batches in a large rectangular pan, cut into a roughly appropriate shape, and mortared together with white chocolate ganache, which I will also use to cover the entire surface of the cake. A sprinkling of crushed biscuits (I was thinking about ground and toasted almonds, but we have some allergies to consider) should help give it an appropriately “rocky” texture. The fortification walls and all the monuments will be gingerbread, decorated with royal icing: everything from the big tourist-grabbers like the Parthenon and the Erechtheion down to the goddamn Clepsydra fountainhouse on the north slope. I’m also going to use a green (peppermint? lime? probably peppermint) buttercream icing for bushes, and chocolate-covered pretzel sticks for trees. A project like this is a multi-day operation – I’ve already made my white chocolate ganache; I’ll probably be baking the cakes on Tuesday night and the gingerbread on Wednesday night, then staying home all day on Thursday to assemble the ludicrous thing. There will, naturally, be updates and photographic documentation throughout the process. After all, the ancient Greeks were great believers in not just achieving great deeds, but in winning through those deeds eternal glory – and what better way to do that than by posting about it on my third-rate Pokémon blog?

Part 2

2 thoughts on “Adventures in baking the entire Athenian Acropolis

  1. I unironically am looking forward to the pictures. I always loved going to the local gingerbread house charity auction – house being used loosely because most were NOT house, plenty were not single structures, and a few wouldn’t even be counted as buildings. Some of them would go for hundreds or thousands of dollars, too; granted, they were less edible than what you’re creating, but my point is, I love seeing architecture based dessert items. 🙂


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