This is going to be a long post I suspect. To try and make it less yawn-worthy I’ll separate it out into:
- The Cake
- Ganache and covering with fondant
- Fondant Frills
- Gumpaste Peony flowers
But a reminder of what the finished cake looks like, because as you’ll soon read, this cake did not look pretty during different stages, and perhaps more importantly the top tier was not meant to be frilled at all. You’ll read why it had to, if you make it that far.
Given the number of really positive comments I’ve had when making the Betty Crocker Super Moist Vanilla cake using the adaptions from Rose Bake’s post, I was a bit perplexed because I didn’t want to make a box mix, but I wanted all the flavour that came with it, and it makes a really nice moist cake. I wanted all of that, especially because I was making the cakes a week ahead freezing them, then collecting them from Natalie’s on Thursday to begin decorating. I needed a nice moist cake that would retain it’s flavour.
What I had decided to do was make the WASC cake, but instead of sour cream I made up the instant puddings. The 8″ cakes were Butterscotch. The 5″ cakes were vanilla instant pudding with a Lorann Kahlua flavour. I swapped out the milk for buttermilk.
Friday night I made all the cakes. I used my 8″ pans that are 3″ deep and essentially had 4 layers of cake mix in the two pans. I also made the 5″ cakes, also in a 3″ deep pan, but I only had one 5″ pan. It was quite a long night, especially when I made lemon curd, waffle batter and got a crusty no knead bread underway, and all the while keeping up with conversation with Kade and Randall who were staying overnight on a whirlwind stop.
The cake batter came 4 cm up the pan and then the cakes rose almost to the top. Unfortunately the 8″ cakes dipped big time, in fact they sunk lower than the 4cm of uncooked batter. I had wondered about using a rose nail to get more heat into the pans, and on reflection I should have done it. The reason I hesitated was when using them on Cameron’s cakes it made the cakes cook on the bottom with a bit hollow, and I didn’t want that either.
After the cakes had cooled I double wrapped them in Gladwrap and then left them in the fridge overnight. The next morning I torted and levelled them, only to find one of the 8″ cakes was still stodgy in the middle. I couldn’t bare the thought of having the cake cut and seeing something that looked slightly undercooked. There was nothing more to do than whip up another two cakes. This time I put the batter across both 8″ cake pans. They cooked up fine. I was worried about trimming them while they were still so fresh and wondered if I should put them in the freezer rather than the fridge to get properly cold. I decided on the fridge.
Ganache and covering with fondant
I was making a white chocolate ganache. I’d found a link on Facebook where a very talented NZ Cake Decorator had provided her recipe. I made the ganache during the week to see what it was like, so I had time to change to something else if it didn’t work out. I have little faith 😉 No, it’s just this was too important to wing it.
I used the left over Valhrona white chocolate I had used with Mr Fussy’s Devils Dream Cake, some Cadbury chocolate buttons (has cocoa butter) and the balance with Nestles compound buttons. I really liked the method used and I’ll use this method again. I added a Lorann Caramel essence to the ganache. I might have added two. I had Mr Fussy as a taste tester and he couldn’t detect the caramel so I think I used both tiny bottles. I’m not sure if I’ll use the recipe as is, I need to tweak it, or flag a white chocolate ganache and stick with chocolate with around a 50% cocoa percentage.
The reason I say that is it didn’t firm up as much as I would have liked. It was great to use. I found Ganaching the cakes much easier with this, but the pay off is it not setting firm enough. It does firm up nicely in the fridge, but it softens as the cake comes back to room temperature. And this caused me immense grief when it came to covering the cakes with fondant.
The only snag I had covering the cake with the ganache, came at the top. This is the very first cake where as I separated the cake card from the top (having brushed it with water to make it sieze and therefore “pop” off) it actually pulled the ganache off. I figured it would happen at some stage but was pretty peeved it had to be now. I had to re-warm the left over ganache to get it slightly runnier to more easily fill the void. As I moved the offset spatula around the top it kept pulling at the rest of the ganache. It was tedious work and I sort of gave up. It wasn’t until later when I was thinking about flipping the cake upside down for the fondant frills that I cursed myself not persevering and getting a perfectly flat top. I really needed that flat top when I was tipping the cake upside down.
I was pretty relaxed about covering the cakes. I knew the 8″ cake would have the sides completely covered with the fondant frills so I didn’t have to focus too hard on getting everything pristine, but that’s exactly what I needed with the 5″ cake.
My plan for the 5″ cake was to cover it and leave it perfectly plain, to then spray it with a pearl lustre dust and then pop the peony set on top, allowing the peony to be the focal point.
When it came to the 8″ cake I could tell I’d rolled the very edge of the fondant a little thin. I wasn’t too worried because I suspected this corner to end up as excess drapage. Mr Fussy pulled the cake toward me and I unrolled the fondant over the top. And very soon the weight of the fondant was pulling and I was starting to see cracks all around the top edge. They smoothed out pretty nicely, but then as I smoothed the sides I could see that the fondant was too thin and I was getting some tearing. I’ve never had that before on the sides. I also had a couple of air bubbles that refused to release the air no matter how many times I poked at them. And then as minutes passed I saw that there were small bulges in several spots around the sides of the cake.
I’ve never had that much trouble with a round cake. I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t panicking. You wouldn’t see it, but it would have been better if I could get the bubbles out and resolve the bulges. I put this down to the ganache softening too much.
In the photo above you can see a bulge in the bottom left of the cake, and another right at the front top edge. And I’m not showing you the worst bit, where I attempted to patch a tear that I deemed too wide to leave alone.
As for that 5″ tier that I needed pristine. Well that turned out not to happen. I’ve never ever had to pull the fondant off a cake before, but I had to do it twice! Each time a bit of ganache came with the cake and I had to wipe it off with a paper towel. I ended up putting the cake back into the fridge hoping it would harden up enough to allow me a better attempt. Each time it pulled at the top edge and was actually tearing right off. I put this down to the smaller diameter with the same height as the 8″ cake. It was just too much drag.
While I sat waiting for the ganache to harden I wracked my brain about how I could still get the covering I wanted. I just couldn’t see how it was going to happen. And I’m too inexperienced to know what to do. So I did the only thing I could think of, I made a collar which I then rolled around the sides, and I made a circle for the top. Of course that meant I had a seam down the back, and one around the top. No chance of letting that be seen. Lustre isn’t going to make that disappear. So it was with a sigh of relief I had fondant on the cake, but disappointment that I couldn’t get the finish I was after.
Fondant frills it would be for the top layer too. I prayed I’d done enough smoothing of the ganache after the two failed attempts to make it flat. But nope.
So much for approaching the cake covering relaxed. Though if I’d been worried before hand I’d have been a basket case with the way it all played out.
This cake is the first cake I’ve put back into the fridge with fondant on it. I’ve read heaps of people questioning about refrigerating fully decorated cakes and I knew that it was fine, but the cakes would condensate when they were removed, and needed to be left alone to try otherwise you risked leaving fingerprint impressions all over it.
I wasn’t worried about working with a cake that was condensating (is that a word?), I needed to wet the fondant strips to adhere them to the cake, it made no difference to me. I just needed the cakes cold, as Maggie Austin says, but more so because that ganache had another chance to beat me.
One of the many Craftsy classes I’ve paid for is Maggie Austin’s Fondant Frills. I’ve seen a number of these types of cakes on Pintrest and I was interested in how the look was achieved. When the class came up on special I decided I’d sign up for it.
Maggie’s “secret” is to flip the cake upside down, you place it onto the upturned baking pan with a piece of cardboard (cake card in my case) between the cake and the pan. This way you get the frills neatly falling the right way, and that first row sitting proudly above the top of the cake.
I started out with the 5″ cake. I was going to leave it all white with the option to either dust the edges of each frilled layer with a shimmer pink, or use a gold dust dotted here and there.
I pretty much held my breath while I set the cake up for flipping. It was do or die. And to be honest, with all the other things that had challenged me along the way I expected to find a few problems with the cake flipping. But I’m glad to say that it was ok. Okay until it came to flipping the cake right side up again, and only because the cake pan itself shifted a little as I took my hand away and knocked into the top frill threatening to bust it.
Having survived the first cake I was less concerned about the 8″ cake, except how long it would take to cover it with frills and whether the softening ganache was going to give me more problems. I also didn’t know how that uneven top would affect the cake. I did have visions of everything inside the fondant moving about and dislodging. Yes I’d had some worrying times during the Friday at work trying to figure out if there was another way of getting the frills on without having to flip the cake due to the uneven top.
There was, I could add gumpaste to the fondant, or modelling chocolate. But I’d mixed the gradient colours the previous weekend and I didn’t want to lighten them anymore. Adding something to the fondant was not an option. I was just going to have to suck it up. I guess I was slightly relieved when I did get the leveler out and see that it wasn’t as nasty as it felt when I ran my hand over the cake. But it wasn’t great either.
Oh, I should mention how excited I was that my KitchenAid pasta attachment had arrived on Thursday. I’d ordered it from Fishpond, a model you can’t get in NZ. It came from America. Except the first one never arrived and I had to request it be resent. I was expecting it to arrive later and was thrilled it was here in time for Mum’s cake. I practiced on Thursday night since I had fondant out and it was all going swimmingly well.
And then on Friday night it decided to misbehave and it was grabbing at the fondant. I managed to get one row on the 5″ cake before getting the pasta rolling machine out and doing the rest by hand. And I’ve got to say it’s a lot of work and more fiddly having to roll and try to pull the fondant away from the machine. I’m sure I’d have saved a lot of time if I could have used the KitchenAid. All up it took 1hr 20minutes to cover the 8″ cake. I didn’t time the 5″ cake.
My 2nd and 3rd colours were a bit too close and it’s hard to see the change in the cake. In fact I can really only see 3 colours. The pink was also brighter than I was going for, it made it very girly.
One of the things frustrating me was that a moist finger (Maggie’s instructions were to moisten the edge of the fondant strip with a little water to your finger tip) used to then place the strip against the cake was sticking to the fondant. So when I was taking my hand away I ended up pulling a hole into the strip. You can’t see any of them because the next strip covered it. But my advice is to try using a water pen. I bought a set on Saturday having learnt my lesson. Though I can’t promise it will be the answer, but surely it will save you having to wipe your hands dry after moistening each strip prior to placing it on the side of the cake.
One of Maggie’s sayings is “embrace the imperfections”. Good gracious, there’s so many imperfections in this cake and the decoration that there’s a whole lot of embracing going on.
I know it sounds like just about everything fell apart, almost every element caused me worry and extra time and Mr Fussy a lot of questions I knew he couldn’t answer. But really it was ok. I’m glad I did it, I’ve learnt there’s a lot of questions, but not necessarily immediate answers.
As for that 8″ cake. When I was finally done with covering it I had Mr Fussy help shift the lazy Susan that I’d been using while adding the frills, while I flipped the cake and then manoeuvred the cake up the right way to sit it on the lazy Susan. Mr Fussy wanted to take the cake pan from the top as I was lining up how to place the cake onto the base and I said it was ok. Famous last words. As had happened with the 5″ cake, the cake pan slid and this time it did knock the top layer of frills, and bust them. So I spent some time trying to get them upright and standing on their own. If only I’d allow him to help me some more. Oops.
I was a happy camper when I got up on Saturday and saw no more damage had been done and the broken frills were still where I’d left them. I just had to decide what to do with the 5″ cake. Should I leave it as is or add some colour here and there? In the end, after adhering the ribbon (I had a tiny bit of fondant with a few drops of water and mashed it up, then painted the sticky glue to the bottom edge of the cake and the ribbon went on easily, for the cake board I used double sided tape), I sent Natalie a few photos and we exchanged emails and I decided to place the cake onto the 8″ cake, using bubble tea straws and melted candy melts as the “glue” to stick the top cake tot he bottom, before deciding whether I thought a splash of colour would make or break the cake. I decided, obviously, that it was fine as it was. I think more colour would have been a bit too distracting. And since I wanted the peony set to be the focal point the whole less is more thought sprung to mind.
Gumpaste Peony flowers
I loved making the flowers. I had a ball. The only thing was the how long it all took. Well it didn’t take long I suppose, but there’s so many stages.
- Make gumpaste
- Glue a styrofoam ball and florist wire (I hate my glue gun!), then use florist tape to cover the wire (there’s 3 x 20 gauge wires)
- Roll gumpaste, cut, vein and frill. Adhere to the ball, then repeat.
- Leave it to dry.
- Then pretty much repeat for the leaves
- Attach leaves to the flowers and tape together.
This peony is not as large as you can make it. You can add another 3 layers of 5 petals, but they’re all wired. Not that I was against wiring, but I felt the size of the peony with the bud and leaves was in proportion to the cake.
While I only used one Peony and bud, I made 3 sets in different shades of pink. I wasn’t sure which colour I’d used, but I decided on the lightest pink since the cake was an ombre cake finishing in a blush pink colour (on the 8″ cake). I also made some extra petals. Maggie often has extras to put on the table or stick onto the side of the cake. But as it happened I didn’t have space on the cake and I wasn’t staging the cake on a table so adding extra petals wasn’t needed.
I have no idea what I’m going to do with the extra peonies. However I was looking at lots of images of Peonies to see how other people have placed them on cakes, and came across a picture of a peony that was being sold on Etsy. This person was selling them for $50. I don’t know whose currency that was. And they didn’t have any leaves, I’m not sure about a calyx since I didn’t look further. No, I don’t think my flowers will ever be good enough for sale, and I’ve not considered it.
While I made a couple of full set leaves (there’s 3 parts to them) I didn’t have room for it on the peony set since the flower itself was going to be placed almost on the surface of the cake, and the leaves would usually be a little beneath the flower. Or at least that’s how Nicholas Lodge showed assembling the flowers. I also signed up for his Craftsy class Classic Sugar Flowers.
Here’s a shot of the back side of the peony set I had on Mum’s cake.
While I’ve made a better job of wiring the leaves, I’m still from perfect. You can see the wire which you shouldn’t. I love how the flowers really come to life after steaming them.
Ok, so that’s a blow by blow account of making the cake. I am pleased with how it looks in the end, and glad my choice in decoration has hidden a multitude of problems. And you probably wouldn’t have known unless I gave a very (long) honest account of making the cake.
Last words, not that I’m promising it will be short.
Travelling to the restaurant was going really well. I was in the back of the car with a 16″ cake board on my lap with a large piece of that rubber type mat with the cake on top of that. The very last corner we rounded and the top tier dislodged from the cake and went skidding toward the frills. I hate living in a city where the streets are a mess. I guess I should be glad that we got that far before it began to unravel.
Natalie took the cake from me and then I spoke with the restaurant staff about the delicate nature of the top tier. They were quite keen to put the cake in the chiller and I asked they not. I knew the fondant would soften and droop. They really wanted to put it in the chiller since they couldn’t think where else there was enough space, but they said they’d find a way. Phew.
Then when the plates had been cleared from dinner the waiter serving our table realised the “delicate cake with the flower” was for our table. I spoke with him and again mentioned the top tier having come unstuck and said he’d need to be careful picking it up and putting it down. He said he’d have me help. But then he turned up with the cake, the whole jolly lot. The 16″ cake board with the rubber non-slip mat. Still you can’t really expect a young man to have thought that the cake wasn’t meant to be presented with all of that.
Unfortunately the cake was much too moist. Somewhere along the line the cake seemed to have gained some moisture, the cake wasn’t cakey as it had been when I’d torted and levelled it. I can only assume that some of the moisture in the Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream and/or the ganache went into the cake itself.
Well that’s it for official cake “decorating” for the year, or at least until Christmas. I have no more birthdays now. It’s been a big year I guess. Cameron’s 21st, Dad’s 70th and Mum’s special birthday.
I’m going to be scratching my head looking for reasons to practice my new found skills. There’s only one way to improve, and that’s to keep giving it a crack. And given the amount of gumpaste I’ve made today, there’s a LOT of flowers to be made. But they better be pink and yellow. I see roses in my future.
And here’s where I wonder at what point I lost anyone who began this marathon journey reading this post.