Every year a little magic happens at our Department’s holiday party. If you were around last year, you might have seen what I mean: the amazing #anthrocakes that archaeologist Eric Hollinger creates for the party every year. I think you’ll agree it’s “Tut”-ally amazing!
He’s created everything from a delicious caramel recreation of the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde, to a giant chocolate Aztec calendar stone that he carved painstakingly with a nail! You can see more of his past creations here; don’t miss the chocolate terracotta army from the tomb of the first Emperor of China!
The cake is a big secret every year until the day of the party. So what did he make this year? A giant chocolate fondue volcano of Hawaiian-inspired archaeological goodness! This year's cake was inspired by the archaeological site, Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau. I've visted the site before, and I can attest to the accuracy of the sea turtles on the beach in this cake! They swim right up on the beach there, and the entire site is fascinating.
So what is so important about this site, you ask? Well, do you remember that scene from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, when Quasimodo yells “Sanctuary!” from the top of the church, claiming refuge for Esmeralda? In old Hawaii, if people needed a safe refuge, they’d make their way to Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau! A puuhonua was a place of refuge for anyone who had broken a law. Did I mention that the punishment for breaking a law in old Hawaii was death? Laws, or kapu, were central to Hawaiian society, and governed many different aspects of behavior. So if you’d transgressed, your only shot was to hightail it to a puuhonua, and hope you did not get caught on the way there.
You don't want to mess with these guys. Ki'i, guardians of the Kapu. Photo Credit: Eric Wienke, Flickr.
While this year's cake was not an exact recreation of an archaeological site, it drew inspiration from Hawaii's natural beauty and cultural heritage. It features a Hawaiian volcano with flowing (chocolate) lava, a waterfall, tropical flowers, palm trees, sharks, turtles, beaches and ocean, as well as elements of Hawaiian cultural sites. The cultural features included tapa cloth, tiki statues, huts, taro fields, outrigger canoe with sail, and stacked stone walls.
From top left, clockwise: Huts and taro field with macademia nut wall; flowing chocolate lava with coconut syrup waterfall; statue; modeling chocolate orchid; fondant palm trees and sour ropes vines; gummy turtle and chocolate covered macademia nut rocks; outrigger canoe with sail. Hawaii-inspired cake 2014, edible sculpture by Eric Hollinger. Photo Credit: Meghan Mulkerin.
The volcano was inspired by Kiluawa's recent eruptions. It was about 2.5 feet high and was built around a chocolate fountain. An underlaying structure of recycled ethofoam packing blocks and cardboard were erected to form the main body of the volcano without it becoming too heavy to move.
One challenge was to redirect the flow of chocolate from the uppermost part of the fountain out onto the mountain and back again to the bottom reservoir where it could be warmed again and pumped back to the top. This was accomplished by forming aluminum foil channels to guide the flow in to paths around and back to the bottom. The foil was hidden under a coating of melted chocolate. Once finished, party-goers were able to dip fresh cut pineapple, papaya and banana into the lava as a fondue!
The mountain was covered with a total of 11 red velvet cakes which were left mostly exposed to show the surface. The outer crust of the cake, the color, and the interior spongy bubbly nature of the cake mimicked what much of the Hawaiian lava actually looks like when it has cooled.
Hawaii just wouldn't be Hawaii without flowers, so Eric took a class on flower making! The flowers are made of a specialty modeling chocolate which is cut, shaped and then painted to look like real flowers. Some of the flowers Eric made were actual violets from his yard that were coated with sugar for preservation!
Eric used many sources to assist him in crafting the cultural objects you see on the cake. Books on Hawaiian carvings and Hawaiian canoes were studied and Curator Adrienne Kaeppler advised on the project to make sure the canoe and statue were accurate.
The canoe was carved from solid chocolate and a Pocky, chocolate covered biscuit stick, was used as a mast. It was very hard to rig the distinctive Hawaiian sail since it was made of a flexible printable icing sheet, like the kind used to print photos onto a cake. The tapa were printed onto this same material. Tapa is made from Mulberry bark pounded into a cloth and dyed. Dr. Adrienne Kaeppler, Curator of Oceanic Ethnology, has a long term project on tapa cloth, which you can read about here.
Edible tapa cloth printed on sheet icing using digital photos of real tapa from NMNH's collections. Photo Credit: Eric Hollinger.
The tiki statue was carved from solid chocolate using a real statue as a model. The huts were made using pretzel sticks and chocolate to form a frame and large shredded wheat biscuits were cut in half to form the thatch of the roof. Taro, a main staple of the Hawaiian diet, was featured in a wet field made of molten sugar and fondant taro plants. Palm trees were made of large pretzels and had fondant fronds attached at the top. The wall, which encloses the royal grounds at the actual archaeological site, was made of chocolate covering macadamia nuts.
In the end, this amazing creation featured both the flavors and images of Hawaiian cultural and natural beauty and offered a fun and interactive addition to this year's Anthropology Holiday Party! Thanks for reading and Mele Kalikimaka to you...
By: Meghan Mulkerin, Arctic Studies Program Coordinator and Social Media Manager, and Eric Hollinger, Archaeologist in NMNH's Repatriation Office, Department of Anthropology.