On to the plate

Experimenting with flavours, colours and style of food served at our place

50th Birthday Cake

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50_HappyBirthdayHere’s the run down on making Greg’s 50th birthday cake.

Greg’s party was the same day as Jo’s son’s wedding. I had contacted Kathy and asked if she was having a cake for Greg. I was testing the waters to see if she might, and perhaps if she might she might also ask me. I just wanted to be on top of things in the planning department.

When you’re not immersed in making cakes you don’t realise the time that is spent researching design ideas or even the time it takes to convert recipe sizes. Or may it’s just me dithering over ideas, never totally sure of what I’m doing, needing to plan every last detail out and have a few options up my sleeve.

Anyway, the same day I sought Kathy out was the day I learnt when Jo’s son’s wedding was. I now had committed to making two cakes. Although at this stage the wedding cake was just bake and cover. Based on that I got to planning and realised that this was quite do-able. I just hoped I wasn’t going to have to head out of town to any customers the week leading into the events.

50_GeometricKathy and I had a chat and I learnt Greg didn’t like chocolate (secretly dying inside knowing I needed to ganache the cake prior to covering in fondant). But his favourite dessert was Creme Brûlée (which I’ve never had). I suggested the Sour Cream Vanilla Bean cake with a Swiss Meringue Butter Cream with caramel, to try and give some of that some taste of the melted sugar on the top of a Creme Brûlée. Next we got talking about the type of cake. Kathy said a square cake would be less feminine looking (I didn’t actually roll my eyes, but I realised this cake would take a little more loving in making). Finally we discussed colours and design. Kathy said she really didn’t know, but their house was decorated using greys, black and red (good Canterbury colours there – the red and black). I asked if Kathy liked geometric shapes which she did. I was forming a plan in my head as we spoke, which was better than having no clue from the get-go.

A couple of weeks out I got to making the decorations. I used Chocit for the first time at home. I’ve used it during Kevin’s class which he held in November, but I’d not used it since. I can’t speak highly enough of Chocit and the Atlas Mercato pasta roller that Kevin had recommended if someone was in the market to buy one. Gosh it was just so good to use, and the Chocit behaved beautifully. It rolled smoothly and it cut easily. I was feeling pretty chuffed that I was ahead of the game and had the “colour” sorted and would have a fairly simple job of the final decorating of the cake.

Then that coming Tuesday is when Jo asked if it were at all possible that I could make the Frangipani flowers for the wedding cake. It was just as well Greg’s cake was mostly under control (in my mind).

SourCreamVanillaBeanDryIngredientsI was able to finish work early on the Monday of the week of the party and I’d prepared all the ingredients on the Sunday ready for me to make the cake batter. The recipe was for an 8″ round cake that makes 3 layers and I was making a 6 layer 8″ square. I had to convert the tin size and then I had to divide all the quantities by 3. I was going to make two layers at a time an bake them together. The square Magic Line cake pans were ordered from Global Sugar Art in the States but with the lip all around the tin I wasn’t able to fit two tins side by side in the oven.

50_Bake vs FanI put the first of the 3 batches in the oven, each layer on separate racks. However the one on the bottom rack, closest to the oven door baked like a wedge, that is one side was much higher than the opposite side. The height of the shortest sides was too short for my liking. I plodded on and put the next two cake layers in. The tin that baked the “wedge” was not used with the following 2 layers, but even so the same thing happened to the layer that was on the bottom rack. I watched it off and on and I actually swapped it to the top rack just after it had been in the oven for 20 minutes to try and circumvent the lopsided baking. It seemed fine when I swapped the tins over, but when the cakes were done, the one that started on the bottom rack was again a wedge. At least the two wedges would sit nicely one on top of the other (top to top). But there’s no way I could cope with using two layers that were too short. I decided that I had no option than to bake each layer individually. And I would make another two layers to replace the two lopsided ones. I was in for a long night after all. Just as well I managed to finish work early!

Mr Fussy received a SOS call asking him to stop in at the supermarket to get more sour cream, the only ingredient I didn’t have enough of to bake the extra two layers, but I got everything ready and we were right on time with having the batter ready right as I was pulling the 4th layer out (being the second cake I baked as a single layer). I was stunned at the difference it made to bake the cakes as single cakes as opposed to using fan bake to bake multiple layers. The single layers never crusted on the outside edges, and rose significantly higher.

50_Building a towerThat same evening I also ganached the 8″ tier of the wedding cake and I managed to get Greg’s cake into two halves. I piped ganche around the edge of each layer and then filled the layers with Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream. At this point it was after 10pm and I got cold feet about putting the two halves together. If things went well I would want to fix it and that could mean an even later night. Instead I covered both halves with layers of gladwrap and put the cakes in the fridge.

SaltedCaramelSauceTuesday I trimmed both halves. At this point I was very grateful I didn’t put the two halves together the previous night. I didn’t have a knife long enough to trim the cake if it had been fully assembled. Now both halves were trimmed I added the poly dowels to the bottom half to support the weight of the top half. I added a 1mm cake card to separate the two halves. This was part of my plan. Knowing Greg didn’t like chocolate, the bottom half of the cake wouldn’t have a layer of ganache on it, and therefore Greg could have a piece of cake free of chocolate. I knew the cake would be cut in half horizontally making it again two halves.

50_The towerI took a deep breath and turned the top half over to sit on the bottom half. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was totally fine. Nothing slipped, nothing came away. Since there was no crisis I decided to plod on and I ganached it. Again I had cake cards that weren’t a 100% match for each other. I hate that. Means I have to fluff about so much more trying to get it right, and did I mention it was a square cake. You might think a square cake would be easier but that’s not the case. Square cakes have to be perfect, there’s no hiding a corner that’s slightly off. I didn’t set my expectations too high (haha!) and knew that it would be a softly softly approach to squaring everything up. So Tuesday night was not quite a slap dash. I did try to get things neat and tidy, but I wasn’t aiming for perfection. That would be Wednesday night.

Or Wednesday morning.

I found that if I used my tallest acrylic scraper and held it flush on one side, then add ganache to my other scraper I could then rest the one with ganache against the one flat against the other side and move it up the cake applying a little more ganache where needed and eventually giving a pretty good finish. I had to wait a little bit for the one side of the corner from each 4 sides to set up before I could repeat the process on the other side of the corner. This one was a little more difficult because I was using my left hand to scrape up the side of the cake, which isn’t so easy when it’s not your dominant side. Everything felt odd and it took a lot more concentration. But we got there, and actually it all came together. So the last thing was the top. I had been mulling over how I would ganache the top. I really didn’t feel I could use the upside down method with cake being so tall and heavy. Instead I ganached it up the right way and then put waxed paper over it, then a large acrylic square and applied a little weight and got the spirit level out and tried as best I could to get the top level. Then into the fridge it went. And out the door for a run I was.

50_Bit by bit Ganache

Top left is the first round of ganaching. Top right was applying more ganache to the top to even them up (the top cake board was ever so slightly smaller than the bottom). And the bottom photos show the results of my method for squaring up the corners.

When I got back I took the cake from the fridge and top the acrylic square off along with the waxed paper to see how well the ganaching went. Well not as good as I had hoped. I was in for some patching up. One corner was too low. Sadly I never quite got it right and thought that it would be good enough. It wasn’t. I can clearly see how that one corner isn’t right after applying the fondant. So lesson learned. You really have to get a square cake more right than you might be able to get away with a round cake.

50_Ready to fondantFriday rolled around and while I was completely on track, I knew covering the cake in fondant was going to be tricky work. I had no intention of draping the fondant, I was always going to panel the cake. And for kicks I decided it would be fun to have each side a different shade of grey. Thursday I had coloured the fondant. It actually took quite a bit of work, and even then I wasn’t sure it the change in depth was as noticable as I wanted. It was hot work, working the colour in and I decided it was fine if I alternated a light grey next to a darker grey. So here I was Friday night figuring out how I was going to get what was almost an 8″ square onto the sides of the cake without the fondant shape distorting. And of course I wanted to make sure that it was all the same thickness. As you can see from the photo I measured out my “square”. I used the perfection strips (for rolling cookie dough) to make sure I was rolling an even thickness. And the painters tape was my guide to the square size needed.

50_4 SidesThe first one was for the top of the cake so it was slightly easier but I had to shuffle the rolled out and trimmed fondant onto another cutting mat and then sort of shimmy it off that onto the cake at the very right point. It was now that I could see that corner that wasn’t as perfect as it should have been told the truth. The fondant did stretch a bit as I got it onto the cake so I needed to use a razor to trim the piece again to the right size.

The first piece for the side also didn’t behave as well as I’d have liked. This time the fondant shrunk back a little as I got it to the side. you can see how the piece doesn’t fit as well as it should. I learnt a few things after these two sides, which would have been nice to know right off the bat. Anyway the rest of the sides were mostly fine and fit well with a little bit of trimming. I made not real effort to try and blend the sides. I didn’t want the straight edges to weave which I suspected they would if I tried to rub the edges to blend them a bit more. Next I got the same cutters I used for the Chocit decorations and impressed the fondant making each side different. I had no plan at this point about which decorative pieces would got where, but thankfully on the Saturday morning it worked out and they seemed to fit quite well.

50_ChocitI just had the cake board to cover (which again was a little problematic with the black fondant drying out too quickly and cracking), put the ribbon on and work on the “50” for the top. I’d made cookies using the same geometric shape. I used my Wilton cookie numbers to cut out the cookies. On Saturday I rolled more black fondant (having added some glycerine to help with the drying out), cut out the 5 and the 0, then used the geometric shape to then cut the shape so the number was in the middle and then flipped the fondant piece and placed the cookie over the fondant. I can’t recall what I used to get the fondant to adhere to the cookie. Maybe some piping gel. I had to touch up the fondant piece a bit which I did by using the Color Shapers. Then it was time to let the fondant dry a bit before I piped some melted chocolate onto the back of the cookies and then put cake pop sticks on. This would allow me to put the cookies onto the top of the cake and know they were secure in the cake.

The drive to the party was uneventful, but all the same I asked Mr Fussy to stop part way there so I could check the cake. I was concerned the top half of the cake could possibly budge and try to make a break for it from the lower half of the cake. I know it’s not totally rational, but I’ve never delivered a cake that’s this tall and made in two parts so I needed to give myself some reassurance that all was well. And it was.

CookieTopperOnce we arrived I placed the cookie decorations on the top, took a few quick photos and then the cake was put out the back (away from the sunshine and Greg – who didn’t know Kathy had arranged for a birthday cake) until later in the evening. Cutting the cake was a bit fiddly but we got there. There were numerous treks between the bench I was cutting the cake on, to the sink where I was continually cleaning off the knife. I have a real thing for making sure the knife is clean between cuts. I don’t want to see cake crumbs ending up embedded into the surface of the cake as I make the next cake. It was quite a slow process but in my opinion always worth it.

And there ends my massive tale. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to make Greg’s birthday cake. And I for the most part I enjoyed all the learning experiences I got from making this cake.

50th Birthday Cake

Time for a quick photo and then it was time to get this cake away from the sun. I do like the shadow the cookie decorations created though.


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