Sunday, June 24, 2012

ANATOMY OF A CAKE

People often ask what goes into making a cake of the type that I typically make.  Planning, materials, inspiration...they like to know the deets.  So, I thought this was a good opportunity to lay out how it all comes together.  The project this week was a 4th birthday cake for the daughter of my very close friend, Marilyn.  The birthday girl's name is Claire and she is the charmer for whom I made the Wicked cake a year ago.  I love that she always wants something a little different from what a 3 or 4 year old girl typically wants. This year, the request was for a "chick pirate" cake (Marilyn's words, not Claire's ;)  I was psyched!

So, the first thing I do is find out how many guests will be served and what flavor combo is requested. Then I go to town brainstorming. In this case, I tried to think of as many iconic pirate images as I could, all the while trying to figure out how I could make them fit a sassy, girly cake. I contemplated going with a sculpted pirate ship design, but I probably would have had to resort to doing part of it in rice cereal treats, which I didn't want to do.  For those who don't know, many of the sculpted "cakes" that you see on TV are actually largely made of rice cereal or even inedible construction materials covered in fondant in order to get the desired shape.  There is often a sheet cake in the wings waiting to be cut and served for eating.

After the design is sketched out, I run it by the client, with a quote based on the type of execution involved.  I typically need to have a green light to proceed at least 2 weeks from the event date.  If fondant figures are involved, I need to time to make them and let them set so that they are stable.  For this cake, I started building a figurine of Claire(as a pirate-ess) about a week and a half out.  Then on to the parchment birthday banner, anchor, skull and crossbones flag, treasure chest and gold doubloons. All were hand-sculpted of fondant.  The anchor and doubloons were painted with lustre dust after hardening.


Two days from delivery and it's time to bake.  Marilyn requested a repeat of last year's flavors, Choco-Mocha with cream cheese icing.  This year, we would also cover in fondant in order to achieve the desired design effects.  Let me tell you, I was not a fan of fondant when I started this business.  I had not tasted any where I liked the flavor, and the texture was always bizarre to me.  As I started researching though, I found a brand of fondant that is really head and shoulders above other types that I had tasted.  It's called Satin Ice and is what you will typically find in high-end bakeries.  The taste and texture are completely different and with this product, I now feel like I have a whole new world of design possibilities opened up to me.

After cakes were cooled and iced, I got to work covering the tiers in fondant.  Let me tell you, this is a very intense process.  There is a very specific technique involved in covering cake so that the fondant lays smooth, with limited bubbles, wrinkles, "elephant skin" (a very technical term) or tears.  Fondant needs to be the right texture and thickness in order to make it all work.  The bottom tier received a bright pink coat, which I then hand-embossed into a wood grain to emulate the side of a ship.  The top received a coat with a parchment effect, which I then turned into a treasure map,complete with a big pink X marks the spot.



Finally, it was time to assemble.  This cake was dense and the fondant adds extra weight, so a support system was necessary for the tiering.  I inserted wooden dowels in the bottom tier to hold the weight of the upper tier.  Each tier was also resting on a cardboard cake board to stabilize and maintain the level. Before placing all the remaining details, I created a fondant rope to act as a border for each tier and add a little more visual interest. This was done by twisting together 3 very thin strips of tan fondant and adhering to the cake with water glue.
All icons and figurines were then placed on the cake and secured in place with royal icing (also a great baker's glue).


Voila! Mission accomplished on what is one of my fave cakes so far!  That probably has alot to do with who I made it for...but regardless, I am really happy with it!

Word from Marilyn is that it was a huge hit with both the birthday girl and the guests.  Claire called me with a message of "you're amazing" and several adults said it was the "best cake they had ever had".  Holy cow!!  I feel like I have just found my own buried treasure!

Until next time...confectionately yours.

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