Dragons come in all shapes and sizes and it takes courage of all shapes to face them. Though we all face different dragons throughout our lives, we rarely stop to celebrate the work it takes to tame them. I think that’s probably my favorite aspect of Michaelmas, that celebration of courage.
After a hard year, countless tough decisions, and many fears and feelings, pausing to welcome in the new season is incredibly important. And important moments deserve cake.
With a nod to traditional Michaelmas dragon breads, this little layer cake is made with old-fashioned rolled oats and paired with the symbolic last blackberries of the season.
Top the cake with a dragon of your own design or use this one for inspiration. Don’t forget the stained-glass-like fiery flame and dragon’s wings for a final triumphant flourish.
For the cake:
1 cup rolled oats
¾ cup boiling water
¼ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
splash of vanilla
¾ cup AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
pinch of salt
For the frosting:
1 cup butter, room temperature
splash of vanilla
pinch of salt
1 16 oz-package powdered sugar
1-2 teaspoons matcha powder (or green food coloring)
½ pint of blackberries
Black sesame seeds, cacao nibs, or other small nuts or sprinkles clear hard candies (1-2 red, 1-2 orange, 1-2 yellow, and a few green) toothpicks
Baking the Cake
Set the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 6-inch pans.
In a large bowl, combine the oats and the boiling water and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Once the oatmeal has softened, add the butter, sugars, vanilla, and egg and whisk to combine.
In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add these dry ingredients to the oat mixture and stir until just combined. Divide evenly between the two prepared pans and transfer to the oven.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the middle of the cake springs back at your touch or a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely. Once the cakes are cool, level the tops with a serrated knife if necessary.
While the cake cools, prepare the decorations. Leave the oven at 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
Unwrap the hard candies and separate by color. Group one color in a small pile on a cutting board and cover with a light kitchen towel. Using a rolling pin or a heavy bottomed bottle (like a milk bottle), quickly smack the candies a few times until the pieces are no bigger than a pea. It’s okay if some pieces are bigger than the others and if some of it is just dust. Repeat with other colors.
To make the dragon’s fire: Arrange the crushed red, orange, and yellow candies into a small row about 1 1/2-2 1/2 inches long. Place the candy pieces close together with little to no blank space in between to ensure even coverage. Remember that the candy will spread as it melts.
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the candy just completely melts, sometimes this is just a minute or two, so stay close. Carefully, but while the melted candy is still hot, use a toothpick to swirl the colors together a bit and create little flame tendrils off the top. Allow to cool completely before handling.
To make the dragon’s wings: Arrange the crushed green candies in two two half moon shapes (remember to leave room between the wings so they don’t melt together). Place the candy pieces close together with little to no blank space in between to ensure even coverage. Remember that the candy will spread as it melts.
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the candy just completely melts, sometimes this is just a minute or two, so stay close. Carefully, but while the melted candy is still hot, use a toothpick to pop any big bubbles and create little notches for the wing tips.
Optional: Before the candy sets, carefully tuck a cylindrical object (a small glass jar, a thinner-rolling pin, a small round biscuit cutter) under the parchment paper under each wing. This will help give the wings shape. Allow to cool completely before handling.
Frosting and Assembly
In a large bowl, combine the butter, vanilla, and salt and beat with a hand mixer to combine. Add the powdered sugar in one cup at a time until thoroughly combined and the frosting is smooth.
Spoon about ¾ cup of frosting into another small bowl. Add matcha powder and stir to combine.
To the original frosting bowl, add the blackberries and beat with a hand mixer to combine. If you want a smoother frosting without seeds, put the berries in a blender first, pulse a few times to chop, then strain out the seeds with a piece of cheese cloth or a wire sieve. Then, add the berry puree to the frosting as originally instructed.
Place a small dab of frosting in the middle of the serving plate. Place your first cake layer on top. Add a generous amount of blackberry frosting on top of the first layer. Add a few sliced leftover blackberries, too. Top with the second layer of cake. Spoon the remainder of the blackberry frosting on top of the cake and use an offset spatula or a big wide spoon to gently smooth the frosting down the sides and across the top of the cake. The amount of frosting in this recipe will give the cake a semi-naked, rustic finish (feel free to double up the frosting if you’d prefer a thicker layer).
Transfer the matcha frosting into a piping bag fitted with a round tip or a zip top bag with the corner cut off. Pipe the outline of your dragon first, rounding its body and tail around the top of the cake. Then, gently add additional layers on top of the outline to create height and dimension. Add the legs last. Pop the cake in your refrigerator for a few minutes for the frosting to set. Use a clean finger tip or the back of a small spoon dipped in lukewarm water to smooth and combine the layers of the green dragon frosting.
Add additional dragon features, like spikes or scales, with the same bag of frosting. Before the frosting sets, poke two little sesame seeds into the head for nostrils. Two slivers of cacao nibs make perfect eyes. And more sesame seeds make fearsome claws on each little foot. Allow the frosting to set a bit before poking the melted candy flame into its mouth and gently placing the green candy wings on top of its back. Slice and serve with more fresh berries. The bravest family member gets to eat the dragon fire!
KC Hysmith is a Texas-bred, North Carolina-based writer, food historian, recipe developer, and photographer. She is a mother of two small children who love helping out in the kitchen, but refuse to eat anything they make. Follow her on Instagram for more inspiring deserts and treats.