Dragonfire Subtleties

9th August XXXVII

Our Shire's annual Dragonfire feast is held jointly with the local campus role-playing society's annual tourney; in 2002 I was Head Cook (see full menu here). Since it's called Dragonfire, I wanted to provide some sort of edible dragon subtlety for the feast. I had a couple of hazy ideas for a biscuit-dragon and a bread-giraffe; these were translated into amazing reality by the subtlety cook, Lady Cassandra Tantifer (Claire Blackman). I shall attempt to semi-document the process, below.

Oswald the Dragon

(click on images for larger version)

Oswald was a biscuit-dragon: that is, his body was made up of piles of small, round biscuits, cemented together with icing to vaguely suggest scales. The dessert was a sideboard largely intended to be eaten in the fingers in between dancing, so biscuits made sense. The recipes I used were Elizabethan, John Partridge's Fine Cakes, and Gervase Markham's Jumbals (recipes here). Both recipes result in a dough which can be rolled out and cut into the relevant shapes (I use a sherry glass as a cutter), or else rolled into balls and stamped with a design to squash them into shape. The icing was simply sugar and rosewater, as suggested in Digby's Excellent Small Cakes recipe. It isn't madly sticky, but had enough adhesive properties to keep the biscuits from sliding off the tray when we transported the dragon.

The head, feet and spines were marzipan, shaped by Lady Cassandra, with silver cake decorator's dragees to outline the spines, and slivers of glace cherry for the eyes and toenails. (As dragons go, he tended to the cute and precious rather than the terrifying). The wings were tissue paper, stretched over a wire frame, and tissue paper and pipe cleaners provided his fiery breath.
Things I'd do differently next time: This generally worked very well; the dragon was very cute and the piled biscuits did suggest scales fairly well. My sense is, though, that the subtlety would have been very arbitrary without Cassandra's beautiful marzipan work. The other problem was keeping the biscuits fresh, since the completed subtlety was made the night before and it was very difficult to find sealed storage for it. The biscuits were a little stale by the following evening. I suspect that, as long as there's time, it would be preferable to make the biscuits early on the morning of the feast and assemble them in the afternoon.

Dragon in progress: Cassandra cementing biscuits down.

The Camel-Leopard

Since our Shire is one of the two in Africa, we like to play with images of African creatures. I've always wanted to try fiddling with French loaves to make a bread-giraffe; they seem so eminently suited to it, and it's one up on bread swans! Again, the hazy idea was mine, but Lady Cassandra really made it a reality. The camel-leopard's body is an oval French loaf, and his legs and neck are half-size versions of the long, thin French loaves, cut down to provide more stability. His head is the end of a thin loaf, and he's chewing on a sprig of winter savoury. The loaves are held together with toothpicks, kebab sticks and sheer psychokinesis on the part of the designers (he kept on wanting to sway drunkenly on his legs before falling over). His little horns are bits of bread on toothpicks, and (although you can't see it in these photos) he has a cute little stringy bread tail. We served him with the soup, but provided extra bread as well, which was fortunate, since no-one had the heart to eat him. He only fell over once during feast...

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