Not the meaty kind, but the biscuit kind – this incredible illusion sheep is really a biscuit ball dotted with maracons – ideal for sharing at a party.
Heat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/Gas 3.
Make the biscuit for the body. Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer fitted with the beater, on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until pale and creamy. Discard 2 teaspoons of the beaten egg, then add the remainder, little by little, to the creamed mixture, beating well between each addition. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and vanilla and mix on a low speed until thoroughly combined to a stiff dough. Turn out onto the work surface and knead until the mixture comes together.
Reserve 200g of the dough and wrap it in cling film. Split the remaining dough in half, roll the two halves into balls, flatten them into discs and wrap in cling film. Chill the dough portions for about 45 minutes.
While the dough is chilling, make the macarons: Place the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse five or six times until finely ground. Place the egg whites in the clean, grease-free bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk and beat on high speed to soft peaks.
Lower the speed to medium and add the caster sugar, little by little, beating well between each addition. Increase the speed to its highest setting and beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
Add the coconut essence and the ground almond and sugar mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold until the batter starts to loosen and becomes a little runny. You should be able to draw a figure-of-eight pattern with the lifted batter without the stream of mixture breaking.
Spoon the mixture into the piping bag fitted with the medium round nozzle. Pipe about 30 discs, each about 2.5cm in diameter on the silicone mats. Then, pipe a range of smaller sizes until you have covered the mat.
Let the macarons rest for 30–45 minutes, until they form a skin. Heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/Gas 5. Then, bake the macarons for 10–12 minutes, or until they are just firm to the touch and they lift from the mat easily.
Remove the chilled dough from the fridge. Cover the hemisphere tins in foil, folding the edges of the foil under each tin to secure. Roll each large piece of dough to a circle about 1cm thick and large enough to cover the upturned tin. Drape each piece over the top of one tin and mould into a smooth shape, trimming the edges above the rim of the tins so that it is easy to remove the tins after baking. Place both hemispheres on one of the baking trays lined with baking paper. Re-roll the trimmings and the remaining dough to make four feet, a face and two ears. Place these on a separate, lined baking tray.
Bake the ears and feet for 15 minutes, the face for 20–25 minutes and the two hemisphere bodies for 40 minutes, until the biscuit feels firm. Set everything aside to cool completely. For the hemispheres, carefully remove the tins, easing them out from under the biscuit domes. Set aside, leaving the oven on.
For the fence, toast the coconut in a dry frying pan for 5 minutes, until golden. Place the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the beater and cream together for about 2 minutes, then add the lime zest and sugar. Stir in the flour, salt and toasted coconut until you have a soft dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes, until firm enough to roll.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and use the fence mould or cutter to cut out fence shapes. Alternatively, roll the icing into a rectangle measuring about 30 x 5cm and, using a sharp knife, cut into 1cm fingers. Place the fence pieces on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake the shortbread for 12–15 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on the tin.
For the buttercream, beat the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the beater, on medium speed, until softened. With the mixer on a low speed, add the icing sugar, little by little, until smooth, then add the coconut and melted white chocolate and whisk again until thick and creamy. Add a tablespoon of milk to loosen, if necessary (it should be pipeable, but firm enough to hold its shape). Place half the buttercream in a mixing bowl and add green food colouring until you reach the desired grass shade. Spread the green buttercream over the cake drum as the field for the sheep to stand in. Place the remaining, plain buttercream in the piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
To assemble, pipe a little buttercream around the rim of one of the biscuit domes and place the other dome on top to make a ball. Chill for 10 minutes.
Place the ball in the centre of the green buttercream ‘field’, then pipe plain buttercream all over the ball. Add the biscuit face, ears and legs, then cover the whole structure with macarons to resemble wool. Arrange the biscuit fence around the sheep, securing with more buttercream, if necessary.
Using the sugar paste for decoration, roll out two eyes and attach these to the head. Colour a tiny bit of the sugar paste dark brown and use to make pupils for the eyes. Colour the remaining sugar paste pale pink and roll out. Using the flower cutter, cut out pink flowers. Place these around the sheep in the field.