I loved primary school, one of my most favourite times in life. When life was a lot simpler … Bros had become the boyband of choice and the school dinners consisted of boiled cabbage and a handful of crisps, all soggy and limp from the dousing of runny gravy. The tales of the haunted staircase, discos on the roof and getting locked in the classroom because the music teacher forgot you was there (yes that did happen to me) … memories to last a lifetime. I made some amazing friends there … some I still keep in touch with and others are just blurred images in my mind.
When I started my job in the civil service a familiar face came into focus. An old school friend from primary school beamed at me from across the office floor. We had not seen or spoken to each other since primary school although we lived in the same borough all these years. Her name was Bukky and it was definitely a blast from the past.
It was her birthday and I had been commissioned to make her a birthday cake. This was going to be a fun cake to make … modern and elegant at the same time. This was not a cake design that I had made before, so I was really looking forward to decorating this one.
When I have a cake order, there are many preparatory tasks that must be done before hand. These include baking the sponges, making the buttercream and ganache and preparing the edible glue. If I am making fondant characters or other details using fondant, these are usually done the week before to allow the fondant to harden. I also cover my cake boards with fondant and put ribbon round them – this is done at least a week in advance to allow the fondant to harden and set. It’s not all just sponge and cream!
Follow the journey of this weeks cake project …..
The sponge of choice this week was ombre … a gorgeous ombre vanilla cake. First things first, prep time.
I covered my cake board a week in advance.
I wrap the edge of the cake board with double sided tape and then securely fasten black ribbon round it.
Most of my cakes are baked with four layers of delicious and moist sponges. Why four layers you ask? Well, why not? I think 4 layers gives great height to a cake and also who can say no to extra cake?
Using my basic vanilla sponge recipe, I divided the batter into 4 large bowls. I then added food colouring into each bowl … increasing the quanity of food colour paste for each bowl of batter, this to create a gradient effect when the sponge layers are stacked. I used Colour Splash coral coloured food gel. This gave a great even colour which was easy to adjust to create the ombre effect.
I baked the sponges in the oven until they were well risen, light and fluffy. I allowed the sponges to cool in their tins for about 10 minues before turning them out and wrapping them in clingfilm. The reason why I do this is because it keeps the sponges moist. I bake all my sponges at night just before I go to bed. The convenience of doing this is that the sponges will cool overnight and I can start decorating first thing in the morning. I don’t want to be wasting time waiting for sponges to cool. It’s like watching paint dry … such time wasting is not productive.
I’d like to say I woke up fresh in the morning, with a spring in my step ready for a day of decorating fun. No such luck … what with getting the kids ready for school, breakfast and school run … mornings are somewhat on the hectic side. Luckily their school is near home so a minimal amount of time was wasted.
After a light breakfast and a cup of nettle tea … I was ready to start decorating. This is my favourite part of cake making. Seeing all the elements come together is such wonderful thing.
Firsty I made my Swiss meringue buttercream. This is my buttercream of choice. I love SMB (Swiss Meringue Buttercream) because it is super smooth, light and creamy and more importantly it is less sweet than regular buttercream.
I stacked the sponges onto a piece of thick card and filled each layer with a generous amount of SMB. I created an almost naked cake effect ensuring that buttercream is filled into all the nooks and crannies. I don’t need to crumb coat this cake.
Next I ganached my cake. I needed a strong, smooth and straight base to which I could decorate, so ganaching it is (see how to ganache a cake here). Ganaching a cake involves applying a thick layer of chocolate ganache to the sponge cake and smoothening it out to create a flawless smooth base perfect for decorating.
The main advantage to ganaching a cake is that the cake on a whole stays very firm. This works well when the weather is warmer and you are at risk of buttercream melting. It is also perfect for covering with fondant as the cake will be smooth.
I brushed the ganached cake sparingly with some marmalade. This is just to help the fondant stick well to the cake.
I covered the top of the cake with a circle of white fondant, then smoothed it down gently with a smoother.
With a super sharp X-ACTO knife, I gently trimmed away the excess fondant. This had to be done really slowly because I wanted to get a really smooth finish.
I then measure the cake from top to bottom. This cake was 16cm tall. I wanted even width black and white stripes and decided on dividing the cake into 5 stripes … this meant that each stripe would be approx 3cm.
I rolled out my fondant until it was about 3mm thick, then I used a ruler to equally mark out the strips. I used a pizza cutter to cut the strips as I found this easier than using a knife. With a light dusting of cornflour, I rolled one strip round a small rolling pin and used this as a guide to wrap the fondant around the cake.
I used a smoother to lightly smooth down the fondant. I repeated the process with the white fondant and alternated with the black fondant.
Once all the strips were on the cake, I used a smoother to smooth it all down. With a small brush, I dipped it in a little water and just brushed it over the black fondant to clean all the cornflour. I had to be careful whilst doing this as black fondant is notorious for bleeding and staining when it comes into contact with water and I didn’t want to get any on the white fondant.
Hard bit over, I set the cake aside and prepared the white chocolate drip. I used 300g of white chocolate to about 150ml of cream. I melted the chocolate and cream over a double boiler until the chocolate had melted and stirred it well with the cream. I took it off the heat and set it aside to cool. When chocolate and cream is hot, it will be runny … it is only when the mixture cools that it begins to thicken. I had to make sure that I had gotten the right consistency. I checked this by periodically testing the mixtue and seeing how well it falls off a spoon. I like to have the white chocolate and cream mixture runny so it drips generously down the side of the cake, but not too runny that the white chocolate ends up in a pool on the cake board.
I poured the ganache into a squeezy bottle, then slowly dripped the sides of the cake with the mixture and not forgetting to cover the top of the cake.
After the drip has been done I put the cake in fridge for 20 minutes to allow the chocolate to set (if I wasn’t going to paint the drip I wouldn’t put it in the fridge at this stage). I put the cake in the fridge for no longer than 20 minutes as the texture of the cake can alter and can become really dry when it is too chilled.
Before painting the white chocolate drip, I made the birthday message on the cake board. I came across these silicone letter moulds and they are brilliant. So easy to use and definitely better than using any Tappits (plastic / acrylic letter stencils).
I simply rolled a little thin square of fondant over the the letter I was using, then slowly peeled it off. That simple.
Once I had arranged the letters onto the cake board and stuck it down with a dab of water, I painted it with rose gold paint. The colour rose gold I can be subjective meaning there are different variations of the colour. I bought a few different brands of supposed “rose gold” and tested them out. I really liked the Colour Splash rose gold paint. It was a very pretty and spot on in terms of colour and a great consistency.
The drip is was also painted with the rose gold. I needed about three coat of paint to get a deep and lush colour. I allowed each layer to dry before adding the next. The Colour Splash brand of rose gold was actually fast drying so it didn’t take too long to do all three coats of the paint.
Flower time! As the winter aproaches (yes winter technically begins on the 1st of December and lasts until 28th February – a bit of general knowledge there for you) the range of flowers available in my local florist was a bit meh! My favourite flowers are peonies and orchids. Peonies are usually only available in the summer season and orchids are not commonly used on cakes. However, there is an abundance of roses available in the shops at the moment and you can’t go wrong with roses. So I bought a selection of different colours and was very excited to get stuck into the flower arranging.
I trimmed each flower stem that I was going to use to about 5 to 8 cm (depending on where I was going to place it on the cake). I never put flower stems directly into the cake without wrapping and sealing the stem first. I do this by wrapping the stem with florist tape and then wrap a layer of clingfilm around it.
There is no exact way that I arrange the flowers on a cake. It all depends on the type of flower that is being used and the style of the cake. I try to arrange the flowers with a bit of height and almost always have to add a bit of foliage to it.
The drip cake itself although looks so simple, can be tricky to get perfect. I’m a little OCD and like my drips to be of equal distance and not touching the base of the cake. I don’t always get it like this but I do try.
I’m a big fan of simplicity. I don’t like to overcrowd my cakes. My thinking is that if a cake is too cluttered, it is easy to hide all the flaws. When a cake is simple, you can’t hide any flaws and therefore your cake will be perfect.
I was really pleased with the finished cake. It was just the way I wanted it to look. Simple yet perfectly fit for the birthday girl. I hope she liked it.
What cakes have you made this week?
Much love to you …
~The Cake Lady xxx