My cake decorating skills are most kindly described as rustic, so I decided to go with it... you can't get much more rustic than an owl. This is made with 2 8" round layer cakes (4 layers in total - 2 batches of the cake).
The cake was a basic chocolate cake that I was very surprised to realize I have not published before. I guess it's been a while since I've made it, but at one point I made it often. It can be adapted to be orange flavoured, or to be made without milk or without eggs. I've replaced the oil with applesauce, back in the days when everyone was avoiding fat, and all those modifications really work quite well. The addition of cinnamon is very typical of Mexican cooking, and goes nicely with chocolate, but I opted not to add it this time. I would also not add it if I was making the orange version.
I don't usually do a ton of photos but this time I did, so they are behind the cut, along with the recipe.
My concept drawing for the cake. I really liked this little sketch, and when I realized that one of the charming things about it was that it wasn't symmetrical... well, that was a bonus! Because I can do asymmetrical, no problem.
The owl is made using 2 8" circles of cake. I did a little experiment, and made one batch of cake with grated chocolate and one with melted chocolate. They look slightly different but they really weren't different in mouth-feel. So either technique is fine.
The shaping starts by cutting out a section of about 45° of the circle - or at the one quarter points of it if you prefer - using the cake pan as a guide. The cut cake then snuggles up to the whole cake, and a layer of icing is applied over both of them. Repeat with the other 2 layers of cake and place them on top.
The ends of the cut off piece(s) are cut off in turn to form the "ears". By the way, there is no need to do this as a layer cake if you don't want so much cake. We invited quite a lot of people so we did, but it would work just as well in a single layer.
I then cut another small curved piece using the cake pan as a guide again. This small piece was cut in half and used to form the wing tips.
And the last remaining piece formed the tail, carefully placed slightly to one side for that asymmetrical effect. The final layers of icing were applied, and licorice laces used to form a branch and outline the facial features, which were made with various candies as were the claws. It occurs to me that with a little modification, this basic plan could be used to make a cat cake as well - I would cut my remaining piece after the ears came off into 1 paw and a 2 (skinny) piece tail instead of the wing tips and blunt tail.
1 9" x 13" cake OR 2 8" round cakes
1 1/4 cups soft unbleached flour
1 1/4 cups soft whole wheat flour
1 cup dark brown sugar or Sucanat
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon OPTIONAL
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips, ground
OR 112 grams(4 ounces) chocolate, melted
1 large egg (may be omitted)
1/2 cup mild vegetable oil OR applesauce
1 3/4 cups milk, almond or soy milk, OR fresh orange juice
grated zest of 1 orange OPTIONAL
Preheat the oven to 325 deg. Grease and flour a 9"x13" pan or two 8" pans; if you prefer you can line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
Sift together all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. If you use ground chocolate chips add it to the dry ingredients. When I use chocolate chips what I do is put it in the food processor and process until quite finely chopped. I keep my chocolate chips in the freezer, and the fact that they are frozen keeps them from melting in the food processor, so I suggest that yours come out of the freezer too. Otherwise, melt the chocolate gently in the microwave or in a double boiler and add it later.
Beat all the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, including the chocolate if you melted it. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Turn out of the pans after 10 minutes and let cool completely before frosting.
They can be made a day in advance and kept well wrapped before frosting if you like.