On Saturday we celebrated with my sister-in-love, Katie, as she and Declan prepare to welcome their first baby in May. The baby shower was exquisite with beautiful flowers and home made decorations adorning the restaurant. All the creativity and time put in by Katie's sister (and my other wonderful sister-in-love), Susan, seemed to pay off as I looked around the room and realized it was the cutest yet classiest baby shower you could imagine. I was honored and excited to make the cake for the event. And this post is about just that.
I've been making cakes as a hobby now for ten years. While I was working as a personal assistant for a lady in her home during my college years, I learned all the basics: how to make frosting (from her mom's bakery's recipe), how to properly bake and freeze (yes freeze) a cake, how to frost the frozen cake, and some basic decorating techniques. She even gave me some of her decorating supplies to get me started on my own. And ever since then I've wanted to learn more. But being as it wasn't my actual career, I never ended up getting any additional training (though I've promised myself I'll take a class this year).
When the opportunity to do Katie's shower cake came along, I decided that training or not, I wanted to try some new things (new to me anyway) with this cake. First, I decided that I wanted to work with fondant. Despite it's unpleasant taste, I have to admit that some of the cutest cakes I've ever seen are done in fondant, so I figured it was time for me to give it a shot. Second, I decided to attempt my first two tier cake. It seemed simple enough in theory. But theory and reality sometimes live a long, long way from each other.
I baked the cakes in shifts throughout the week and had them waiting in the freezer. Then on the Thursday night before the shower I practiced playing with and carving the fondant. Everything went superb that night with the trial run, so I was really pumped for the actual decorating the next night. The second my kids were in bed on Friday, I went to work. I made the frosting for the cake in record time and it was the best I've ever made. I pulled the first two cakes out of the freezer, leveled them and frosted them perfectly. I was beaming with delight. It was the smoothest icing job I'd ever done.
Now came the first tricky part for me. I don't have multiple size cake pans, so I was going to have to hand carve the next two cakes that would form the top tier. I had my cardboard guide and began carving just like I've seen the pros do on Food Network. It was easier to carve than I expected and I was mostly happy with how this top tier was going so far. Then I started frosting it...
Oh the frosting! And the crumbs! And the crumbs in the frosting! My perfectly pink frosting was quickly overtaken with dark chocolate cake crumbs the moment I began putting it on the cake. Because of the carving, the edges of the cake were much looser than I'm accustomed to and the crumbs stuck to the frosting like flies to flypaper. I was horrified. But I took a deep breath and began brainstorming the situation. I've heard of bakers doing "crumb coats" of frosting on a cake before the final layer of frosting, so I decided that even though I knew nothing about crumb coats, that I would try to make this first layer of frosting just that.
I got the cake covered in crumby pink frosting and let it set for a bit. Then I did a top coat of frosting and it actually seemed to be working quite nicely. But after I had finished I noticed the frosting seemed to be sliding down the sides of the cake so that it was way thicker at the bottom than the top. Several times I scraped the frosting from the bottom to again even out the sides of the cake, but the more I did that, the more the crumby frosting underneath began to show. My husband finally advised me to just leave it alone before I made it any worse, so I did. I had already put the dowels (hand cut by my hubby) in the bottom tier to support the top tier, so all I needed to do was put the two together and decorate.
As I was getting ready to place the top tier on the bottom tier, that little voice in my head kept repeating, "Don't do it! You'll be much happier with a one level cake that looks nice than a two tier cake that looks bad." But alas I ignored it. (I seem to be doing that a lot lately and regret it every time! When will I learn!) And as soon as I got the top tier placed it became painfully obvious that it was completely uneven.
At this point (as I'm kicking myself for not listening to myself), I decided to take it back off and scrap it. My husband, who named himself my sexy assistant for the evening, decided the best way to remove it would be for him to lift it off with his hands. It was not. The whole top layer began to come apart all over the perfectly salvageable bottom tier, but we somehow managed to scoop it off in mostly one piece.
I used the little frosting I had left to re-ice the now top of the cake and it came out fine, but not nearly as perfect as it had been just moments before. Now I was FINALLY ready to decorate it. But as I pulled out the fondant it hit me that I had used every last bit of powdered sugar to make the frosting and held nothing back for working with the fondant. (When working with fondant you use confectioners sugar the same way you would use flour to keep dough from sticking.)
So I thought to myself, maybe the fondant won't stick. Wrong.
So then I thought, maybe I could just use flour instead. It can't be that different. Wrong.
So then I just decided to work as fast as I could to get everything cut and on the cake. And that worked.
Was everything as clean and perfect as I had planned and hoped it would be? No. Was it still a really cute and absolutely delicious cake (if I do say so myself)? Yes. Did I learn from this cake decorating experience? Yes. And despite my lack of powdered sugar I still found an affinity for working with fondant and am now even more determined to get myself to some cake decorating classes.
Here are some pictures* of the process and the finished product:
I failed to mention my "sexy assistant" made AND frosted some chocolate cupcakes to make up for the missing top cake tier:
Oh and as for the crumby top tier.... let's just say I had a few eager volunteers to put it away for me:
*Cake pictures at the shower were taken by my friend Lyryn.