In anticipation of my enrolment in a cake decorating course with Planet Cake this coming Friday I thought I would do a post on my trials and tribulations of making my own special occasion or "celebration" cakes. Any occasion I can use as an excuse to bake makes me happy =D. Cakes also make awesome gifts when it's a low key celebration or when the celebrant requests no presents. I am definately no expert in making my own cakes but have had many trials and errors and have managed to impress those on the receiving end, even if I didn't think they were good enough.
I definately have a lot to learn though and when I almost fail at my first time using fondant icing I knew I needed to at least do some basic course to get me started. Ryan had bought me the Planet Cake book last year for my birthday (before my first go with fondant icing), and then we saw them at the Taste Festival in March, then when I saw that they were offering 30% off their Basics 101 course I just knew the opportunity was too good to pass up. Ryan even encouraged me to sign up.
I've made many basic chocolate cakes with cream frosting for "special occasions" before but as I said they were very basic. This cake here is pretty much the first time I've stepped outside the square and did something a little bit more out there and "fancy". Well unless you count my vanilla butter cupcakes, platter of lamingtons, or profiterole tower fancy. It's August 2008 and we're having a small family get together (small because half the fam have moved to Queensland) and I wanted to bake a birthday cake for my cousin Ben. Didn't realise that his gf would also buy him a cake. I decided to bake the cake the morning of the dinner (a big no no!) and was pretty much stressed out right until the last second as I walked out the door with it. The recipe for the cake came out of a cupcake book which was a light chocolate mudcake and I made a white chocolate ganache to cover the cake.
I ended up over baking the cake (dodgey oven on it's last legs plus overestimated coking time) and I have to trim alot of the edge of the cake off and some of it even cracks. The ganache also failed to cool and set (I was hoping to do some fancy piping with it) and I was pushing for time so I end up just pouring it over the cake (worked out well but it could have benefited from being a little bit thicker). I decorate the cake with everyone's favourite chocolate (Ferrero Rocher) and sprinkle toasted almonds around the side of the cake. I shove it in the fridge hoping that the blast of cold air will help set it a bit. The writing was done by melting dark chocolate, popping into a plastic bag with the corner cut off and then quickly (and roughly) piping it onto the cake. It was an absolute hit with the family.
I doubled the recipe as it was originally for cupcakes and was worried that it would not yield enough for a large cake, I ended up with so much leftover cake batter that there were plenty of cupcakes to go around too. This would be true to the history of cupcakes as the original concept was that they were made from just leftover batter.
It's March 2009 and Ryan's birthday. I want to suprise him so organise a little get together/movie night with some friends with Ryan not knowing that it was really a mini party for him. I was going straight from work to Ryan's house so got Di to pick up the cake for me from my house. We hid it in the fridge from Ryan and bought it out once we had all eaten the food. Ryan loves Transformers and I was actually hoping to find a figurine of some sort but couldn't find anything suitable to top a cake so did this motif by hand. To fill in the face I just used some coloured sugar crystals which I bought from Woolies.
The cake was actually a chocolate and cheese cake brownie recipe which I've made before (which was more cake like in texture) and I made a white chocolate "fudge" frosting. The fudge was pretty much a mix of cream and white chocolate, I think the difference with this to ganache is just the ratio of cream to chocolate, this was more chocolate and was quite hard when it set. The downside of this cake was that because it was refridgerated the cake and frosting ended up being really hard, but once it reached room temperature it was all good.
I think all the boys were pretty happy! No one seemed to have noticed that I was short of frosting and it only went half way down the cake.
It's April 2009 and the wonderful Di is leaving us to go on a working holiday in the UK for a year and a half (she's back now though so was only really gone for a year). I volunteer to make her cake for a farewell at church. To make it really personal I decide that this cake would have her face on it. I found this photo which I thought fit the purpose and googled for a place which did printed edible icing and found the Cakes Around Town website. I added some text to the photo and emailed it through to them and it was posted to me with no hassles.
The cake is pretty much the same as what I did for Ryan with the exception of shape and decoration of course. Di got quite a shock when she saw her face on the cake, it was quite priceless =D. That is also a glass chopping board which I found at the local chinese junk shop, I only paid a couple of bucks for it. This was before I discovered buying cake/baking supplies online.
By now (July 2009) I have my Planet Cake book and have had a read through it keen to set my hands on some fondant icing. I set the bar higher and the next occasion I volunteer to make a cake for is my church's 4 year anniversary. I decide to make the white chocolate mud cake and white chocolate ganache using the recipes from this book. 11 bags of Nestle white chocolate melts in total were used - that's over 4 kilos of white chocolate. I was very game in attempting to make the cake for the first time (and triple the quantity) and also decorating with fondant icing without practicing first. I've gone and bought all my cake making supplies from Bakery Sugar Craft.
The cake baking takes a whole day, or could have been two as I bake 2 large square cakes with the intention of somehow cutting and layering it all to make a rectangle. Somehow what seemed to have worked in my head wasn't quite practical and I end up just putting one cake on top of the other with ganache in the middle. The ganache is made and left overnight to set. Ryan helps me to cover the cake in ganache, I got really frustrated because it wasn't working as I had imagined it to.
Completely covered cake, the ganache acts as a protective layer for the cake and also tastes much better than the fondant icing. This is left covered overnight and then I smooth it out with a hot palette knife the day after. Not as smooth as I had hoped but I don't think I had all the right tools (or experience) to get a finer finish. I also end up with literally a bucket load of left over ganache as I had doubled the recipe worried I wouldn't have enough.
Once the ganache is smoothed out I cover the cake in the fondant icing. It was really tricky to use, the corners being the most hardest and I had the icing cracking in some places and not quite covering some edges. (For the non foodies fondant icing is what you also call plastic icing, it comes in a block and you roll it out and cover cakes with it, gives it the nice smooth finish and you can colour it and make it into all sorts of shapes and stuff. It does taste crap though.) I was initially going to colour some of the icing black but decided to also buy some black coloured flower/modelling paste and end up using this to make my decorations. These were all hand made using numeral and alphabetic cutters.
I needed something to go around the edge of my cake (and also cover all the mechanics) and didn't really want to make a mess colouring the icing black so ran up to IGA looking for black things I could use as decorations. Found this meter long licorice strip which was perfect to go around the base of my cake and grabbed a couple of rolls of that.
So it's a year on (August 2009) and we're going out to dinner with the family for my cousin Ben's 21st birthday. Just casual dinner in the city at a Thai restuarant, nothing fancy. Apparantly he doesn't want a cake so I just make him some cupcakes. Chocolate mudcake (recipe from Planet Cake book (with a lemon scented ganache (using my leftover ganache!). I give them to the waitress to put in the fridge for us and when I request for them at the end of dinner the lights dim and out they come with some candles - totally didn't request it but it was a nice suprise for all of us =D. My uncle who is my biggest critic of all time really really like's these and makes sure that the leftover cakes are taken home.
Another 21st birthday to go to (October 2009) and I decide to bake cupcakes. I show up to the party to discover that her friends have also baked her cupcakes and also birthday cakes (oopsy daisy!). They were still welcomed with open arms. These were simply coconut buttercake cupcakes with regular icing coloured pink.
It was also my cousin Katherine's birthday the same weekend so I offer to make her a cake too using the same recipe as above (it's always better to make double batches) but instead of cupcakes I used round cake tins and made a two layered cake instead. I sandwiched and covered it in a lemon white chocolate ganache and pop some Rafaelo's on top for decoration. It was a hit with the family.
Ryan's mum's birthday falls in November and I insist that I bake a cake rather than have him buy something for her. (Store bought cake seriously? Unless it's an ultra fancy cake from an ultra gourmet bakery of sorts but NOT The Cheese Cake Shop). He tells me that her favourite cake, or something that she would like is a black forest cake. I google and search and find a recipe from the Taste website for Black Forest Cake with Chocolate Ganache. I can't remember exactly but I'm sure I used this recipe though I do tweak it a little only really using the recipe for the cake base.
It's a bit of a warm day so when I whip my cream it doesn't quite hold as well and doesn't look very smooth here. I buy a huge jar of Morello cherries from Woolies for the filling and topping and bought some Flake chocolates and broke it up to sprinkle over the top. Ryan's mum was very happy with what she received =). The feedback I received was that it was nice and moist and not like the dried cakes that they had bought before. I was also worried about the amount of kirsch used but Ryan said it was just right, you could taste it was there but it wasn't too overpowering.
It's a week later and I get an sms that says that there is a little bit of a "suprise" get together for a friend. I offer to bake a cake again but not really having much notice I don't really have time to plan what I am making. Knowing I had some leftover cream and morello cherries in the fridge along with other bits and pieces I decide to throw together a black forest inspired cake of some sort with what I have on hand. I use the same cake recipe as above but the filling doesn't quite have as many cherries in it. I decide to beat some cocoa into the cream to make a chocolate cream topping, I scrape by with just enough to pipe the outside ring. I find some chocolate ganache in the fridge and melt this and pour it into the middle of the cake top. I don't have enough morello cherries for the top but find some glace cherries which do the job perfectly. Broken Flake bars again for a finishing touch.
I definately can't wait for this course on Friday, hopefully once I get the fundamentals downpacked I can start experimenting more with cakes and cake decorating.