This month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of giant pandas at the Zoo. So, we were busy building three cakes for giant pandas Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji. Once we get word that we’ll be making a special ice cake, we get to work right away. Every cake we make is unique to the animal or group we’re making it for. First, we consult with animal keepers to find out which ingredients we can use and if there are any favorite foods we should include. We also find out if the cake is for a special event, like a birthday, so we can decorate it for the occasion. Zoo nutritionists review our plans to make sure the ice cake will meet an animal’s nutritional needs. Then, we can start building.
To make a cake for a panda, you must be part chef, part engineer. You must think about how the cake will taste to a panda — and how each piece will fit together without toppling over. Baking a cake at home might take a few hours or even a day. For the pandas' cakes, we needed about four weeks to prepare!
The main ingredients of a panda’s cake are often water, a splash of fruit juice for scent and flavor, food coloring, and fresh produce for decoration. We began by making and freezing each piece for the cakes. Inside one of our deep freezers (which is around -22 degrees Fahrenheit), we filled two large plastic tubs with diluted juice, working at an excruciatingly slow pace. Water freezes from the outside in, and it expands as it freezes. If we filled the containers too quickly, they could crack and spill their icy contents all over the freezer floor. To avoid that dangerous situation, we added just 4 cups of diluted juice at a time and waited about an hour for a complete freeze. After about a week, we were ready to start cutting and drilling.