My First Two-Tier Cake

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Although I am constantly baking and cooking, it’s been a while since I’ve made a “proper” cake.  Actually it’s been about 7 months, and it was a cake I did for Hubby’s 40th birthday.

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Since then, I’ve been keen to get back into cake decorating, but life and toddler wrangling has kept me away.  Plus, I needed a big occasion to make one for.
So when I was having dinner at my next door neighbours house a few weeks back and she was talking about her son Jordan’s upcoming 1st birthday, I offered to do the birthday cake as my present for the birthday boy.  Inside I was getting all excited about cake decorating again, until Jordan’s older sister piped up and said “oh mum, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a little boy on top of the cake holding balloons!!!!”.  Oh Crap I thought.  I’d never done a figurine before…

So after a few YouTube tutorials and reading up my Planet Cake books, I made my first figurine.

ImageNot bad for a first attempt if I do say so myself 🙂

Initially, I had only planned to do a single tier cake.  But after I had made it, it just didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor.  So at the (nearly) last minute, well it was Thursday and the birthday party was Saturday, I decided to attempt make a second tier.  I also had reservations about the actual cake itself, as I usually use mud cakes for the decorated cakes as they are dense, can take the weight of decorations and tend to stay moist longer (I always brush each layer of cake with syrup anyway), but this time I changed recipes and used a “Devil’s Food Cake” recipe which was a little bit more ‘crumbly’ than the mud cakes and not as dense.  Luckily it all turned out alright.  One guest even said “it’s the best mud cake I’ve ever eaten”. Lol.  The top tier was devoured in seconds.

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I still can’t get the nice crisp edges on the corners, but for now, I think I’m happy to live with the rounded edges.

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Hubby’s Birthday Cake

The first cake on the list for my New Years Cake Resolution was Hubby’s birthday cake.  I didn’t have any grand plans, just a round cake covered in fondant (plastic icing/ready to roll icing) with a few decorations stuck on the outside.

Using my trusty Bible – the Planet Cake book, I followed the recipe for the chocolate mud cake and then followed the directions on how to handle the fondant and how to cover the cake.

Here’s some photos from the process:

Cocoa and flour waiting to be sifted

Baked cake cut into 3 ready to be doused in syrup then sandwiched together with ganache.  Mmm, more chocolate 😀

The sandwiched cake on the board.  Next step is to trim any of the overhanging bits to make sure that the cake is the same size as the board

Ganache covered cake.  This is the first of many ganache steps and probably one of the most important (and possibly most time consuming) steps in making fondant covered cakes.  If the cake is not ganached smooth here, the covered cake won’t have a smooth finish.  The first time I put it on, it’s purely to cover and fill any holes and make the sides level.  I liken it to plastering or  filling wall holes with filler.  I put it on nice and thick, but smooth off any excess.  I then stick it in the freezer for no more than 20 minutes to set the ganache (or if you have time, you can leave it overnight to set).  In the meantime, I boil the kettle and pour a mug of boiling water.  Once the 20 minutes is up, I bring the cake out of the freezer and dip a cranked palette knife into the hot water and trim off any jaggered pieces of ganache off and smooth out the ganache.

Wait for the areas where the hot knife has touched to dry and add another layer of ganache, this time only a small thin layer, paying particular attention to areas that are not particularly smooth or level.

I realised early into kneading the fondant, it wasn’t as easy as it looks on the YouTube videos.  Fondant doesn’t like humidity much.  I just couldn’t get the balance right between warm sticky fondant and dry cracking fondant from adding too much cornflour to stop it sticking on the bench.  And trying to knead 1.5kg of fondant on the kitchen bench when you’re not very tall is not an easy task!  I have since put in the request to Hubby, that when we finally buy our own house and can afford to do it, I want an adjustable height bench top!!  It needs to be adjustable as Hubby is 6ft 4 and I’m only a measly 5ft (Waah!)

Edit: I’ve since learned that if you buy good quality fondant (like Bakels) it makes your life so much easier

So after maybe an hour of kneading and trying to roll out fondant, I got it as thin as I could and not too thin that I that I couldn’t lift it without it tearing off the bench or off the rolling pin and I was left with fondant that was nearly a centimetre thick in some places.  And because I wasn’t too confidant about placing the fondant on the cake, I just pretty much threw it on and was left with a few air pockets.  You can just see the pin-holes on the top of the cake where I pierced the fondant with a needle to try and release the pocket and smooth it out.

In the Planet Cakes book, their race car cake had black, yellow and red race cars decorating the sides of the cake, but I thought that was a little too intricate for me, for my first fondant cake, so I just used some cookie cutters of a car and a motorbike for car and bike mad Hubby.  Plus I didn’t have any gel colours to colour the icing the dark shades or red and yellow (I had bought some black icing), all I had was some liquid food colouring from the supermarket, hence all the pastel blue, green and orange.

And with some letters cut out with some alphabet cutter and following the Planet Cake decoration idea with the chequered flag, Hubby’s birthday cake is finished!

Lorinda Seto Piping Course

With all my cake decorating so far, if I needed to write anything on the cake, I would just use cut outs because I just couldn’t do it properly.  I’d practice and practice with pen and paper, but when it came time to do it on the cake/cupcakes with icing and piping bag, I’d stuff up the style and spacing and it just looked really bodgy.

Look at that bodgy piping

So I decided to do a piping course.  I’ve always admired Lorinda Seto’s cakes and when I saw that she was offering a piping course, I signed up.

It was a half day course from 10am till 1:30 and we started with learning how to mix the royal icing powder with a small amount of water to get the right consistency for pipe work.  I’d always made my royal icing from scratch, but I think from now on, I’ll always get this mixed powder as there’s no need to fumble around with egg whites and it also means I can make up a small amounts as all recipes I’ve come across for royal icing have always said to use 1 egg white, 250 grams icing sugar and some lemon juice, which makes a fair bit and I usually only use half of it.

After watching Lorinda make a batch, we try mix our own at our own little stations set up with all the equipment we’ll need for the day.  Lorinda comes around to check everyone’s  icing to make sure it’s the right consistency – not too runny and thick enough to fall back on it self but still hold its peak.  And if it’s too thick and you’re close to the right consistency, all it takes is the smallest dab of water to make it perfect.

The next tip I learnt is so simple and has made my (cake decorating) life so much easier!!  When working with lots of different colours or different consistency of icing (ie thick for outlining and thinner for flooding), Lorinda said to put the icing in a plastic sandwich/freezer bag then insert that into your piping bag, cut the corner of the bag attach nozzle/tip and pipe as normal.  That way, when you need to change to a different icing, you’re just swapping the internal bag, cleaning your nozzles and don’t need to wash your piping bag.  What a fantastic idea!!

The first exercise was to practice little round balls.  Sounds easier than it is to do.  It’s all about getting squeezing the bag with the right amount of pressure then knowing when to stop squeezing so you get the right size.  After some (ie quite a bit) of practice I finally got the hang of it.

Example of small balls used as the border (though some didn’t survive the trip home)

The next exercise was ‘snails’, which is like the little round balls but with a tail.  I found these a lot easier to do, because you just flow from one snail to the next.

Once we got the hang of balls, we moved onto piping straight lines, curved lines and shapes.  Then we had another demonstration from Lorinda on how to pipe letter and words.  I always thought when piping thicker parts of the letter, you’d go back over it, but no, all you do is go a little slower so more icing is piped in that area and quicker at the thinner bits of the letter.  Hopefully you can see the different thickness in the letter in the photo above.

The border in the above photos were done freehand and the monogram letter was done by tracing the mirror-image version of the letter on baking/tracing paper from printed out fonts using a pencil then transferring the image to the iced cookie by putting the traced out letter, pencil side down, on the cookie and tracing it again, so that the pencil marks on the cookie transfer onto it.  Easy Peasy!
We then practised ‘icing writing’  on iced practice boards, practicing the more common words – ‘congratulations’ and ‘happy birthday’.

Last exercise for the day was the cute little bird cage cookies.  Except for the little bird, they weren’t too hard to do, just requiring a steady hand.

Pretty Bird!

The bird was a little tricky, but as there were pretty good instructions in the manual provided, it didn’t take too long to get right.

Caged bird

At this stage, I was glad it was the end of the class as my hand was starting to get quite sore from squeezing the bag and the neck ache was creeping in from leaning over the table trying to keep a steady hand.  God help me if I did this for a living! After a light lunch we were homeward bound.

A few weeks later, I decided to put my newly learnt skills to practice and made some monogram cupcakes for a friend’s birthday.  Still a little bodgy, but not too bad if I say so myself!

Busy Little Bee

It’s been a busy week for me this week.  All my free time has been taken up with cake making and decorating.

Baby shower blocks

A while ago I saw a cake design for some baby blocks from both Faye Cahill and my copy of  the Confetti Cakes Book and I’d been wanting to make it, but with no kids of my own I had to wait for the right opportunity to come along.  So I was very excited when a friend who’s pregnant and lives in Adelaide said she was coming to Sydney to have her baby shower 🙂

I started off with a 20cm square white chocolate mudcake with white chocolate ganache. I then split it into 3 layers, cut it up and shaped it into 4 blocks (I only used the 3 best ones) then covered it with ready to roll icing.  And thanks to my friend, Miss P, I’ve been introduced to Bakels RTR icing.  This stuff is FABULOUS!!  Previously I’d only worked with the Orchard’s brand of RTR fondant as it was very easy to get (available in supermarkets) and not too expensive.  Miss P need fondant for a birthday cake, cupcakes and cookies she was making for her son’s birthday and could only buy the Bakels fondant in a 7kg block.  So as I was about to buy some Orchard’s fondant, I thought I’d take the punt and buy some Bakels off her.

Like I said, this stuff is faaabulous!  Very pliable, not very sticky when being rolled out, doesn’t crack when you roll it out and pick it up, doesn’t dry out too quickly and if it does start to get dry, just needs a little bit of a knead in your warm hands to get it back to lovely soft icing.   I think I’m in love ❤

2 B or not 2 B

Anyways, I think I’ve digressed a little.  The cake design wasn’t terribly hard, but if definitely pays to spend a lot of time on the ganaching stage to ensure smooth surfaces for the fondant to go on to.

Mum-to-be was very chuffed and hopefully had a block left to take back to daddy-to-be in Adelaide.

Not ready to give up my day job just yet...

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