For this year’s MathsJam Bakeoff I made a hyperbolic paraboloid out of matchmakers. For anybody who doesn’t know, matchmakers are thin chocolate sticks with crunchy bits, traditionally mint but now available in orange, salted caramel and possibly other flavours. They are delicious even when they are not being used for maths.
Matchmakers are not strong. They snap easily. They are not ideal for building with. It took some experimentation to get it to work, so here are some tips for anybody who is interested in matchmaker construction.
The key to getting the whole thing to stand was a strong base structure. I pushed the uprights as far into the cake as possible to keep them vertical. The diagonal supports are also pushed slightly into the cake. Most importantly, they are all held in place with blobs of fondant icing. It looks ugly (and I wish I had coloured it brown to match the chocolate) but this was the only thing I found that stopped the base collapsing as soon as I put any weight on it.
To stick the cross pieces in place I tried:
- glacé icing
- melted Curly Wurly
- chocolate ganache
- edible glue
Glacé icing was by far the most successful, but it needed to be very thick. Add as little water as possible. The wetter it is, the more likely the matchmakers are to slide down to cake level.
The steps I used for construction are as follows.
- Push the vertical supports into the cake, one matchmaker-length apart.
- Add the diagonal supports. The points where these touch the cake should also be one matchmaker-length apart.
- Secure all the supports with fondant icing.
- Use glacé icing to glue a matchmaker to two opposite diagonal supports, going from the top of one to the bottom of the other. Continue to glue matchmakers across these supports, placing them equal distances apart, until you reach the other end.
- Repeat the process for the other pair of diagonal supports. Your glacé icing blobs for these supports will need to be thicker to make up for the fact that matchmakers have a particular property that mathematical lines do not – thickness.
- Enjoy your hyperbolic paraboloid in all its glory!
If you prefer not to use matchmakers, you could always construct your cake in Geogebra. Download the applet