"Hey, I can do that!"

Monday, January 23, 2012

Congratulations, Francis & Ann Marie!

Congratulations, Francis & Ann Marie!

I had the distinct honor of providing the cake for my older cousin's first baby shower.  Congratulations to Francis and Ann Marie!  Their baby should arrive a month before mine.  I have to say that cake decorating while preggo is not ideal!  This cake was also particularly challenging because I was trying out so many new techniques.  Super mega post incoming ... when I get some time and more photos this post will become several separate posts.

  • 6"x4" round tier
    • carrot cake box mix
    • filled with Swiss Meringue buttercream mixed with caramel
    • iced with Swiss Meringue buttercream mixed with white chocolate ganache
  • 8"x3" round tier
    • vanilla cake box mix
    • filled one layer with raspberry cake filling (from a can)
    • filled another layer with white chocolate buttercream
    • iced with Swiss Meringue buttercream mixed with white chocolate ganache
  • 10"x3" round tier
    • dark chocolate fudge cake box mix
    • filled with Swiss Meringue buttercream mixed with milk chocolate ganache
    • iced with milk chocolate buttercream
  • internal structure built with Wilton plates and hidden pillars
  • covered with marshmallow fondant
  • decorated with gumpaste buttons
  • wrapped tier bases with 1/4" satin ribbon
  • topped with ribbed gumpaste bow
  • number of new cake toys used: 5
  • number of new recipes used: 3
For this cake I had the foresight to start very early.  All my icings were from scratch, and probably the most time consuming part of my cake endeavors.  Sorry for the lack of original pictures and the overabundance of words that follow.  First, let's talk about Swiss Meringue buttercream.


Typically I make Italian Meringue buttercream using the Wilton meringue powder instead of fresh egg whites.  It has always yielded excellent performance, but lately I have been unsatisfied with the taste of the meringue powder.  Since I'm pregnant and already have a toddler, I need my icings to be pretty darn safe (i.e. no fresh egg whites).  I've never been able to successfully make Italian Meringue buttercream using pasteurized liquid egg whites in a carton, so I decided to give the Swiss Meringue method a try.  The instructions didn't seem difficult, and I've watched a chef make it during my petit fours class.

I found a recipe on a hand-out from Make It Sweet, my local cake supply store that was pretty much the same quantity of ingredients that I used in Italian Meringue buttercream.  I substituted the fresh egg whites with AllWhites® Egg Whites and was pretty skeptical at first.  The carton said that 3 Tbs was the equivalent of 1 large egg white.  I poured 15 Tbs into my KitchenAid mixing bowl and thought that it was way too much, and it'd never work.  Normally I use 2 Tbs for an egg white.

I put in the sugar and sat the KitchenAid bowl into a pot of boiling water and stirred away with my hand whisk.  At 160 degrees F (approximately 3 minutes later), I removed the bowl, put it in my standing mixer, and whisked the snot out of it.  It didn't get to really, really stiff peaks, but it didn't look that bad.  After adding the butter, I was amazed.  The look and texture was exactly like the Italian Meringue buttercream.  The taste was subtle and I did not miss the yucky additives that came in the meringue powder.  I made another batch the next day and had the same results.  Hallelujah!  2 out of 2 success!  I like having pasteurized liquid egg whites on hand for making royal icing; making Swiss Meringue buttercream gives me another reason to use it up before it expires.

TIP: Melting caramel and trying to mix it into cold buttercream is an awful idea.  I should have taken a picture, but was too embarrassed by my stupidity.  The caramel immediately hardened and either crumbled or wrapped around my beater blade in long ribbons.  I had to toss out the buttercream because it had caramel chunks in it.  The big pieces of caramel I saved with the buttercream stuck to it and melted it down again.  The residual buttercream was enough to thin down the caramel for another try without it clumping into a huge mess.  Tasted great after that!


Next, ganache.  I must have stood in the cake aisle at the grocery store for at least 15 minutes, comparing chocolate brands and the price per ounce.  First I grabbed a bunch of boxes of Bakers chocolate like normal, but then thought better of it.  It was time to try something new with a bigger bang for my buck.  I put it back and then stared at Hershey, Nestle, Guittard, and Ghiradeli chocolate.  Hershey didn't come in convenient forms for buying large quantities and for melting down.  Nestle had large bags of chips, but the taste is nothing really to write home about.  I knew Guittard made a line of melting chocolates (A'Peels) that cakers like to use for dipping cake balls, but I had never tried it.  They came in bags of chips too, but didn't have a white chocolate version.  Ghiradeli was way out of my price range.  I bought Guittard's Real Milk Chocolate Chips and Nestle's white chocolate chips.  Melting chocolate in chip-form is tedious work, but they both turned out nice and yummy.  I might stick with Guittard for a while because it did taste good.  If I can sneak into a Sam's Club I'll try Ghiradeli at a cheaper price.

NOTE:  The Guittard chips were not the same size as Nestle chips.  They were slightly bigger ... almost too big to use in, say, chocolate chip cookies.  I dunno, maybe they're awesome in cookies.  Another day.


Fast forward past all the baking, torting, leveling, and filling ... enter new cake toy: Fat Daddio's Turntable.  My mother-in-law bought me this for Christmas, and now I don't know how I lived without it.  This turntable is super smooth and steady.  It's very heavy but the rubber lining on the bottom helps me not carve gashes in my kitchen table as I try to drag it around.

Also to help me ice cakes, I used Room Essentials 9"x12" cutting boards (from Target), Grafix Dura-Lar 9"x12" sheets, and a new triangle tool (from Hobby Lobby).

I wanted to buy some acetate sheets to use for any icing or chocolate transfers and for working with cakes.  Parchment and freezer paper curl up sometimes and don't come in conveniently sized sheets.  At Hobby Lobby, this pack of 25 9"x12" sheets was $15.  The clear sheet goes on top of the cutting board and then cutting board becomes an excellent surface to work and hold my tiers.  Whenever I need to take the tier off, I pull the sheet slowly off the edge of the board and let my tier's cake board peak over enough for me to grab hold.  Look how I made a ghetto shelf using the boards and 4 plastic cups inside my mini fridge:

For icing the cake, I used the 6" triangle tool to make sharp, straight edges.  On Amazing Wedding Cakes, I've seen Christopher Garren's decorators use all kinds of drafting tools when icing their cakes.  This was skinnier and easier to wield than my Sur La Table dough cutter.

In my previous post, I used a threaded rod to make a ribbed impression in fondant.  For this cake, I made panels of ribbed fondant to apply to the sides of my cakes.  First I rolled out my fondant to my desired thickness.  Then I rolled over it with the all thread.  Then I cut out the panels so the impressions were perpendicular to the top and bottom of the rectangle.

Powdered sugar is my preferred anti-sticking agent.

Because long rectangles of fondant can get pretty unwieldy, I could only do half the cake at a time.  Before manipulating it, I popped the panels in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.  I used a strip of freezer paper dusted with powdered sugar to flip the panel on to, then held the fondant + paper up to the cake so the panel could slide down into place.  Water brushed on and the condensation from being out of the fridge are my only "glue".

Not my best work by far ... I still have a long way to go for perfecting fondant paneling on a cake ... lots of air bubbles and residual powdered sugar that had to be corrected.  Hubby pointed out that the ribbed impression makes it really easy to see imperfections and how the fondant was stretched.  Thanks, babe!  Another problem was the condensation.  I store my tiers in the fridge and removing them will make the fondant sticky and gooey for a period of time.  That meant I couldn't touch it with anything but air.  No corrections, no smoothing, no squeezing out air bubbles, nothing or else I'd get big smudges and ruin the ribbed texture.

The panel for the 10" round tier was too long to put in the freezer, so I cooled a baking sheet and then let the fondant lay on that for a few minutes.

Got a lot better at it when it came time to wrap the 6" round tier.

I might give up on paneling fondant on cake for now.  The seams are just too hard to cover up and it's not worth the effort until some sort of epiphany hits me on how to do it well.  Getting over it and moving on.


Hurray!  Another successful loopy bow!  This made me pretty happy because it was my first time to use Nicolas Lodge's gumpaste recipe (found here).  Don't know Nic Lodge???  He's a sweetheart and so very talented, especially when it comes to gumpaste flowers.  I've had the opportunity to see him in previous That Takes The Cake shows in town and his classes always seem to be popular.

The only gumpaste I've used previously was the Wilton powder mix and also just adding Tylose to fondant.  The Wilton one turned out soft and sticky ... perhaps I made it wrong.  The fondant + Tylose version didn't really seem to work like I expected.  This recipe was great, despite my initial skepticism.  It's basically royal icing + Tylose.  It feels very malleable and dries fast.  Sugar flowers don't really interest me, so I'm not sure about its performance there, but I do know some people swear by it and will only use that recipe for their flowers.

Enter new cake toy: KitchenAid Pasta Roller.
Hubby bought this for me for Christmas.  I'm still on the learning curve for for how to use this in the best way, but I do love it.  The gumpaste needs to be rolled thin beforehand and well powdered before going in on the largest setting or else it will not roll smooth.  When I get it right, it makes my strips of gumpaste very consistent in thickness.  I rolled the loopy bow ribbon strips at setting 2.

Again, the threaded rod made some ribbed impressions.  These strips are 6" x 3/4", glued with just a dab of water, and the corners trimmed off with a paring knife.  They dried enough overnight to be handled, but were not actually used for several days later.

To assemble, I cut out some parchment paper to fit inside my 6" round cake pan.  My "glue" was orange royal icing.  There were 3 "layers" of 6 strips each.

I wanted to assemble it inside the cake pan in case the loops felt the need to slide outward.  The pan was a great size to keep it contained, safe on the inside and the outside.

I made 20 loops but only used 18.  Some bunched up paper towel strips supported a few of the loops while the royal icing dried.

After drying, it peeled right off the parchment paper nicely.  I put it back and kept it in the cake pan until the cake was delivered and ready to be set up.  It was a 3 1/2 hour drive and made it there safe and sound.


In my last tiered cake, I was unsatisfied with how thick the Wilton plates were for stacking.  There was a large gap between the two tiers that had to be hidden.

Previous tiered cake gap:

This time I wanted to try out an idea.  What if I inserted the internal structure first, then covered the tier with fondant?  The layer of fondant would hide some of the gap.  For this cake I cut the hidden Wilton pillars at 3" long, slightly shorter than the height of the tier itself.

This time I made sure to insert the pillars first, then stick the plate on top.  Last time I tried inserting the plate with the pillars already attached and the pillars started to skew its alignment as it went into the cake.

Then I cut out a ~2" wide strip of fondant, rolled it up, and unrolled it on top of the cake.  Here it is after trimming around the plate with a pizza cutter and tucking it in.

This definitely helped reduce the height of the gap, but I'm not convinced it was a good idea.  There still needed to be a border on the top and bottom of each tier to hide the seams.  Plus the seam on the top was ugly and hard to hide.  Painting in some of the left over orange royal icing helped a little.

At midnight before the day of the delivery, I had to quickly come up with a plan to hide some of the ugliness.  With my left over gumpaste rolled at setting 2, I cut out "buttons" with a wide round piping tip.  I've seen cakers do this on Amazing Wedding Cakes to make sequins.  It was fast work because you can cut 6-8 at a time before dumping them out of the tip.  What helped was keeping the tip slightly moisturized with some shortening.  While cutting, some residual gumpaste would stick to the tip end and make subsequent cuts more ragged.  I had to rub off the excess with shortening every once in a while so I could get clean circles.  Each button got a good dose of AmeriColor's Pearl Sheen with my airbrush.  The looked like delicate baby buttons!

The thread holes in the center were just 2 pokes with the tip of a mechanical pencil that had the lead retracted.  Super fast, super cute!  I didn't even have to wait for them to dry.  By the time I finished cutting, poking, and airbrushing, they were ready to go on to the cake.  Each button was attached with a dab of orange royal icing.  NONE fell off during transport, but  I did have a few spares in my "emergency cake kit" that came with me.  I let my daughter eat all the extras.

1/4" white satin ribbon wrapped around the bottom of each tier.

To "finish" the cake, I used my airbrush to blow off the excess powdered sugar from the fondant.  Then I sprayed it lightly with AmeriColor's Pearl Sheen, but you really couldn't tell ... I think to a discriminating eye it did give it a better look than without it.  I did a heavier coat on the loopy bow so it wouldn't look so matte and so the ribbed texture could stand out better.

The cake was snug in the trunk of my car for 3 1/2 hours.  I actually put it in the Fat Daddio turntable cardboard box and it was the perfect fit.  A few days before the shower, my lovely cousin e-mailed me to offer for my family to spend the night at her house.  She also expressed her concern on driving the cake:
I was curious, were you going to drive the all the way from austin with the cake already decorated?  That seems a little precarious.  (Maybe because I'm always slamming breaks and things go sliding everywhere).  
At the party, a few people asked about the drive as well.  Honestly the transportation was the easiest and least stressful part of the whole thing.  The entire cake was chilled in the mini fridge the night before.  The bottom tier had wooden skewers hidden inside the Wilton pillars, piercing through the cake board into the cake drum.  All the upper tiers were attached securely to each other.  Short of a fender bender, the Wilton support structure wasn't going to let anything happen to the cake.  The box had the flaps taped upward and Press 'N Seal covered up the top.  The box was snug in the corner of my trunk, and various trunk items prevented it from sliding around.  No biggie; I got this!

At the baby shower:

Melted white chocolate "glued" the tiers to the Wilton plates.  
After coaxing a cake server in between, it took just a few snaps to dislodge the tiers.

Luckily my cousin helped me plate the cut up slices I made.

Cutting this cake was difficult.  The fondant was soft and smooshed against the knife instead of splitting.  The cake was just box cake mix, so it was moist but not very sturdy.  The Wilton hidden pillars are pretty wide, but I'd rather that than having more than 4 supports inside a tier.  I really need to up my game and branch into doctored or scratch cakes that can take a beating.  It's not enough to look pretty just on the outside.  Each slice should look pretty too.

People seemed generally pleased with the cake.  I learned a lot and am grateful for that.  Definitely taking a break from large cakes for a while, but am glad that I typed all this out to refer back to.  Hope you guys gained some vicarious experience as well!


  1. What an awesome breakdown of your process, Chris! The cake turned out gorgeous! Thanks for posting! :)

  2. What an impressive cake, and a great site! Thanks for posting the details about what you learned-- you never hear about the little stuff, but that's what you really need!

  3. i'm an italian blogger! wooow you're great!!! i'm following you!

  4. I'm pretty new to cake making - just came across your blog - it's great to read all the deatail you include, thanks!

  5. Looks fantastic. You're right about making the cakes not just look great but they also need to be easy to serve. I strive for that balance too.

  6. WOW! I need to show this to my sister! She loves making cakes! :)
    Check out my blog too!


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