Recently, my Mom turned the big five-oh. I'm not sure how happy she is that I'm telling the entire internet that, but the fact stands!
In any case, I wanted to make her a super incredible cake, because hey, you only get one 50th birthday! So I asked what kind of cake she wanted.
"Oh, you know. Something chocolate, chocolate frosting... and oh, make it purple and pink!"
I was awful happy to hear this, you see, because I'd been just itching to try my hand at a cake like this!
Now, if you have a look at the cake sold through Williams Sonoma you will notice some key differences between the inspiration and my final product. Many of these differences are due to the fact that their cake serves 4, mine serves 12 to 16.
First, bake up 3 6-inch layers of your favourite chocolate cake. (You want to avoid anything very crumbly or soft for this, firmer cake is better when you're stacking multiple layers.)
Cool 'em, frost 'em & stack 'em, and get a thin chocolate buttercream crumb coat all around your little cake tower.
If you want your cake even taller, try splitting and filling each layer cake as you go. The bonus if you go that route, of course, is that you get a lot more frosting on this baby. I was happy with the height though, so I left it as is.
Next, you'll need to apply your fondant. I started with an ivory-coloured, store-bought fondant and used a combination of red, yellow and brown gel colours to get a terracotta shade.
For the love of goodness, be sure to add your colours bit by bit until you reach your desired shade. Yes, your arms will ache from kneading it over and over. Yes, the fondant will grow sticky and you'll need to dust it frequently with icing sugar to keep it workable. Yes, the frosting on your cake will set while you're doing this, but that's okay, just add another thin coat before you put the fondant on.
Trust me though, it is well worth the trouble to take your time on the colour, rather than to use far too much of the dye and ruin 2 pounds of fondant. This stuff ain't cheap!
And yes, I know 'ain't' ain't a word. I like to get colloquial up in here sometimes. So sue me. Side note: isn't it kind of funny how the word 'colloquial' is so formal-sounding? Oh, yes, I know you came to a baking blog for grammatical irony humor today, don't deny it.
Oh, wait, we were making a cake, weren't we?
I used a couple of actual terracotta pots to compare until I got a close enough colour. This was as dark as I could get it before my poor arms began to give up on kneading, and I still had much to do, so I had to call it close enough.
I rolled the fondant out to about an eighth of an inch thick, and wrapped a big rectangle around the cake. I used a paring knife to cut away all the excess. This technique did leave a seam on one side of the cake, but it also used less fondant than simply draping the whole cake, and I didn't want the top covered anyway.
I also cut a long, skinny rectangular strip of fondant and, after dampening the top inch or so of the side of the cake with a damp paper towel, stuck the extra strip on to make the lip of the pot. Somehow, I completely neglected to get any pictures of that process.
Next up, creating the flowers. These. Are. SO. Easy! Use a cutter (or candy thermometer protective cover, as I did, since I didn't have a cookie/fondant cutter small enough) a bit smaller than the size you want your petals, and cut circles out of coloured fondant about an 1/8 of an inch thick.
Then, work the circles with your fingers, flattening and stretching them a but until they resemble rounded flower petals.
I'm sorry this pic is so blurry - it was right around this time that I ran out of memory on the camera and had to change the SD card... and forgot to get a better shot of this. I swear, I ought to just hire a photographer to take care of this part!
So, once you have your 5 round petal shapes, arrange them into a flower shape, carefully having one petal overlap the next slightly. When you've arranged the petals to your liking, use a tiny, tiiiiny bit of water to 'glue' the petals together where they overlap. Repeat until you have enough flowers to cover the top of your cake.
If you want your flowers to curve upwards, place them into a lightly icing-sugar-dusted flower form. Or, if, like me, you can't clutter up your kitchen with a billion specialty flower forms, simply put them in tiny little bowls, or make little concave nests out of aluminum foil. Whatever works!
In any case, let your flowers sit in your mold of choice for at least 1-2 hours until the fondant firms up enough to hold its shape.
In the meantime, make your leaves:
Pretty straight forward here. Green fondant, rolled out 1/8 inch thick, cut into leaf shapes with a paring knife. Ideally, you can add the veining with an actual veining tool but again, I don't quite have every cake decorating gadget, so I simply used the wrong side of my paring knife blade to make the leaf details. It worked out quite well! If you want to give your leaves dimension, let them set on curved surfaces, or draped over a spoon handle. I did a bit of each for variety.
Now here is why I didn't want to cover the whole top of the cake with fondant - it would get between the cake and more frosting! Slather on a generous amount of chocolate frosting, being careful not to smear it over the outer fondant lip.
Then - and this is my favourite part! - cover every inch of the frosting with Oreo cookie crumbs. You won't get that at Williams Sonoma!
Oops, did I just type that? Guess I did. Well, no going back now.
Once your cake top is deliciously coated with Oreo crumbs (remove the Oreo filling before crushing them up, by the way. I know, it seems a waste of good icing guck, but this is for the greater good!) add dollops of your chocolate butter cream and press your fondant flowers on them one by one.
I made the centers of these flowers ahead of time - they're simply daubs of royal icing sprinkled with a bit of sugar and left to harden overnight. Once they're set, they'll last practically forever until you're ready to use them. Whenever I have leftover royal icing, I make flower centers of all kinds. You never know when you'll have a serious, five-alarm, cake decorating emergency, so be prepared.
Once you've arranged all your blooms and leaves, you'll have something that looks like this. Now, it's tough to see in the pictures, but as an extra detail, I took a pastry brush and some powdered sugar, and made sugar brushstrokes horizontally around the cake. I was trying to replicate the look of the terracotta pots, and though it is hard to see in the pics here, I assure you it was a lovely, subtle detail!
Sliced and served, this cake had everyone in the room - most importantly of all, the birthday girl - in smiles. The cake was so tall we split each slice into a top and bottom. There may have been minor riots over who got the Oreo-crumbiest pieces. Perhaps in future I will create a middle Oreo crumb layer to prevent such senseless cake-induced violence. (Okay, there was no violence, I'm just being dramatic again. People did argue for the top pieces though.)
I hope you're inspired to try something new yourself! Putting this cute little cake together gave me such a confidence boost, I felt like I could do anything. Maybe even bake a pie! With a home-made crust! From scratch!
But, no, that's madness. Pie crust and I... we have a dark history. Dark, and tough. And a bit chewy. But that's really for another post! I've rambled on long enough for now.
Until next time!