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Turkey Cake with Chocolate Maple Glaze

freshly glazed turkey

Sick and tired of looking for vegetarian Thanksgiving options to feed your non-meat eating friends and family? I think that I may have the perfect solution.

Just kidding, unless you’re planning on serving dessert as the main course (not necessarily a course of action I would disagree with) at Thanksgiving dinner.

This turkey cake is just that: a vanilla buttermilk sheet cake sculpted into a three dimensional turkey shape and covered with a fudgy chocolate glaze. It is a real departure from more traditional pies and cakes, but you can’t get much more Thanksgiving-y than a cake shaped like a turkey.

For the cake, I opted to use a simple, thin sheet cake recipe. I typically use this recipe or a very similar variation of it for layer cakes because it is light, but fairly sturdy. This texture comes primarily from the number of eggs in the batter and it is a good choice for carving because it won’t crumble under the blade of your knife, nor will it shed an excessive number of crumbs when you try to frost it. The cake is fairly thin for a sheet cake, but I found that this made it very easy to maneuver the individual pieces of my turkey. It also produced an excellent cake-to-frosting ratio in the finished product. Besides, who has room for a massive slice of cake after a huge Thanksgiving meal anyway?

I sculpted the cake freehand, working with the idea that it would look just like this little sketch I made:

turkey sketch

As you can see, I am quite the artiste when dealing with inedible materials – though in my defense, I only sketched this for fun while the cake was baking, and did not intend to use it as more than a decoration on my scratch paper. The actual shapes you want to cut out of the sheet are defined below:

turkey cutout guide

It is best to use a serrated knife for cutting through the cake because it will produce the cleanest cuts. If you don’t have one (of your only serrated knife is so large as to be unwieldy), use a very sharp small knife instead. When you cut out the wing, drumstick and body of the bird, your pieces should look something like this:

turkey pieces

With the pieces cut out, use your knife to round the top edges of each piece, giving them a slightly more realistic look without sharp corners. Feel free to eat the scrap pieces while you work. Use a skewer to support the drumstick piece, as it will extend away from the base of the cake, and place the wing and drumstick on the turkey body. You can use the carving method with just about any sheet cake, but a sturdier (like the recipe given here) or denser (e.g. a pound cake) cake will be the easiest to work with.

turkey pieces, assembled

Once the cake is assembled, simply make the frosting and spread it on. A pourable frosting will give you the smoothest finish, but any chocolate or caramel frosting (anything brown, in other words) will make the bird look amazing. I frosted my cake on a wire rack (shown in the top photo) and transferred it to a serving plate from there so that the frosting would not pool at the base of the turkey.

glazed, finished turkey

Buttermilk Sheet Cake

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F and butter and flour a 9×13-inch rectangular baking pan (or pyrex baking dish).
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light, then beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir half of this mixture into the egg mixture, then add in the buttermilk and the rest of the flour mixture. Stir only until no streaks of flour remain.
Pour into prepared baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack.

When cake is cool, cut as directed above to achieve turkey shape. Then frost with Chocolate Maple Fudge Glaze. The maple flavor is very subtle and I primarily included it as a nod to some lovely maple-glazed Thanksgiving turkeys I’ve had before. I’ve also made this frosting without maple syrup, consider it to be entirely optional.

Chocolate Maple Fudge Glaze
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup milk (lowfat is fine)
2 tbsp maple syrup (grade B, preferably)
1/8 tsp salt
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar and cocoa in a medium saucepan and whisk until cocoa is dissolved. Add butter, milk, corn syrup and salt, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil (about 10 minutes). Continue boiling; stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature (approx 1 hour). Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla and pour on cake. Add enough sugar so that the frosting is not liquidy, but is also not stiff. Frosting should spread easily and will set up itself after a few minutes.

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  • Stefani
    November 14, 2007

    Wow! That is amazing! It is so turkey like. Love it!!

  • meeso
    November 14, 2007

    That’s some funny stuff…I love it! Now that’s creative!!!

  • Katie
    November 14, 2007

    hehe that looks great and would certainly be a talking point

  • Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy
    November 14, 2007

    Above and beyond the call of friendship! 🙂

  • Shella
    November 15, 2007

    Hey that’s very thoughtful of you – a veg thanksgiving delight!!! Very very innovative.

  • Sarah
    November 15, 2007

    I love it! I am always looking for creative things to bring into work and I think I have my next idea…I am sure my co-workers will love it! Thanks!

  • Sophia
    November 22, 2007

    Yum! Looks great! You could basically make any simple shape with this cake, couldn’t you? I’ll have to try to make one for Christmas. Maybe a christmas tree with 3-d ornaments?

  • annb
    November 23, 2012

    The cake looks disgusting, but your recipe looks tasty. Thanks for sharing.

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