Zain’s 1st birthday cake

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This was the cake for my grandson’s first birthday. Do you think that his name might be Zain? Good guess! Zain and his family live out-of-state so we travel there every year for his birthday. This was the first time I made a cake at their house so it was definitely a learning experience…what to pack for a birthday cake road trip. Considering the boy is now 6, maybe one of these trips I’ll bring everything I need. This first trip, I forgot my giant rolling-pin which explains the wrinkly fondant. The layers had been baked and frozen at my house so the cake thawed during the trip to their home.

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The bottom layer was for the grownups so it was chocolate cake with my grandmother’s peanut butter frosting. You can get the recipe here. The top layer was the smash cake for the baby so it was white cake with white buttercream icing.

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This was a very easy cake. I wanted a big difference in the size of the layers so the top tier was made from 6 inch layers and the bottom tier was 10 inch layers. Both tiers sit on cardboard cake rounds. Instead of dowels to support the top tier, I use drinking straws cut down to size. I just can’t deal with the thought of putting wooden sticks into cake that someone is going to eat. Not a good way to get more fiber in your diet!

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Since I was working out-of-town, I didn’t want to drag all my cake decorating stuff with me so I cheated and bought pre-colored fondant. A day ahead of time, I started the decorating process by making the layered stars for the top of the cake. Taking a bit of the fondant, I kneaded it to soften it then added a light dusting of gum tex to make it dry firmer. I cut out the biggest stars then put a metal skewer into them to stand up later. I cut out the letters and the white stars. I use vanilla extract as the glue for the fondant layers, so I brushed on a drop of vanilla then stuck the next layer and set them aside to dry and harden. The stars laying directly on the cake were made the next day so they would be soft and mailable.

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So the big day arrived and it was time to assemble the cake. I made the peanut butter and buttercream frostings, split the layers, iced them,  covered them in white fondant, and stacked them. (Oh, if it was only as easy to do as it is to write about doing it!) I rolled out a thin snake of fondant for the edges between the two tiers and between the bottom tier and the silver cake board. I used vanilla extract to attach them. I used a lot of vanilla to really REALLY attach the top edge because it served to secure the tiers together. I stuck the free-standing stars around the cake. I rolled out the rest of the fondant, cut out some stars and added them to the cake with the vanilla extract as my glue. This was a very easy cake to make and I think all the colors make for a great cake for a child. And the chocolate cake/peanut butter icing combo makes it great for an adult!

Assorted tips, tricks, and babbling

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Any time I bake a cake, I turn the oven on to get it up to the correct temperature and then I sit down and wait for the oven to beep to announce that it’s hot enough. Only then will I start making the cake batter. Since ovens cycle up and down to maintain their temperature, I like to give it the extra time to get there.

I mix the batter, put it in the pans, put the pans in the oven, and sit back to wait. Once the cake is baked, I let it cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out on cooling racks. I put a layer of parchment on the racks for a smooth surface for the cakes. I tip the layers out of the pans and onto the racks so the bottom is now the top. You’ll want that flat top for decorating. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly flat and even, you can trim it later.

The cakes need to cool completely. I usually bake the layers the day before I need them so they’ll have all the time in the world to cool. Once the layers are cool and you need some icing. I like to use the buttercream icing recipe from the Wilton classes. (You can find it on their website here: Wilton icing) Forget the milk, stick with water. And you’ll need to add extra water to get a medium consistency. It’s trial and error as to what works for you so add about a teaspoon or so at a time until you get something that spreads evenly but holds its shape.

I like that recipe because it develops a crust. Stop, stop, stop! I know the idea of crusty icing sounds gross but it’s not a thick crust and it will completely soften under the fondant. You want that crust so you can smooth out the icing on the cake. And you want smooth icing because the smoother the icing – the smoother the fondant. Basically, you ice the cake then let it sit for a few minutes. Use a plain paper towel or piece of parchment to lightly rub the icing and smooth out any lumps, bumps, or other bits. Repeat until everything is smooth then let it sit while you prepare the fondant. I like to use parchment because it gets shiny when the icing starts to soften and you’ll know when it’s time to take a break.

I put all my cakes on cardboard cake boards. I use two at a time, taped together, but one is rotated so the corrugations are running at an 90 degree angle for extra strength. I also cover the boards with foil wrap because that doesn’t show grease spots from the icing like cardboard does.

Take lots of pictures of your finished cakes. Lots and lots! You never know when you’ll start a cake blog and then have to kick yourself for not having photos of your fabulous work. Take way too many pictures!

My biggest tip is to just have fun. Nobody but you knows what you intended your cake to look like so nobody but you will know if it worked out exactly as you planned or not. And no one will ever see the tiny flaws that you see in your work. You wanted a perfect cake – they just want cake!

Fondant drape cake

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This was the second cake in the Wilton fondant decorating classes. This was a very easy cake to make, even though fondant and I were in the beginning stages of our relationship and I was still a bit nervous. For this cake, the class had to make that tie looking thing with the cut-outs, make the drape, and cover the cake board in fondant. The pumpkins were something I made to cover the top of the drape. You can make whatever little doo-dad you like to go there.

I covered the cake board a few days ahead of time so it would have time to dry and harden. Since I’d be working on top of it later – placing the cake and arranging the drape – I wanted it to be as firm as possible. Covering a board isn’t hard work, it’s just sticky! I use piping gel to attach the fondant to the board. The gel will be all around the side edge of the board and will later get covered by fondant. No problem there. But if you get some of the gel on the bottom of the board you’ll have a mess. The gel never dries completely so the board will stick to anything you set it on. It’s not a permanent sticking thing, just enough to be annoying and make everything you sit it on sticky.

To cover a board, prepare your fondant by kneading it until it’s soft and pliable. If you’re coloring it, add the color gel while you’re kneading. Once your fondant is workable, roll it out to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch or so. You also want to roll it about 2 inches larger than your board. Put a small dot of piping gel in the center of the board then lift the fondant and drape it over the board. Smooth it out to the edges and then down the side. Gently lift the fondant away from the side,  add a light coating of piping gel around the side and then press the fondant back onto it. Trim the excess fondant away from the bottom of the board. Smooth the edge down and under a bit to cover everything. Set it aside to firm up. Now would be a good time to make the pumpkins or whatever you chose so they can dry and harden.

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Now it’s time to bake, frost, and cover your cake. You can read about my techniques here. Put your cake in the middle of the covered cake board. Even though you’ll be working with the fondant covered cake board, make your cake on a separate board. That way you don’t have to worry about keeping the covered board clean. Once your cake is covered, you can add a dot of piping gel to the covered board to hold the board with the cake and keep it from sliding around.

To make the drape and the tie thing, roll out your colored fondant to an even thickness, about 1/8th inch or so. Decide where you want the front corner of the drape and measure from that point on the cake down to the covered board. Add 1/2 inch to one edge and cut a fondant square to that size. Fold that extra 1/2 inch under the bottom of your drape. Loosely gather the top of the fondant and place it on the cake. Now just lift and fold and wrinkle and gather the fondant until the drape falls the way you like it. Use a dab of vanilla extract to tack the fondant to the cake in a few spots to keep it in place.

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Going back to the front corner of the drape, measure where the tie will go across the top and down the side. Cut out a triangle that reaches the edge of the cake and trim it back in for the bit that hangs over the side. Trim the edges and cut out some shapes on the bottom to add interest. Use the vanilla extract again to attach it to the cake. Lay your pumpkins over the top of the drape, attaching them with the extract. Take lots of pictures then grab a knife and fork and dig in.

Blue bow cake

This was the first cake I covered in fondant. It’s the first one from the Wilton fondant classes I took at my local craft store. The one that started my descent into cake decorating mania! It was the easiest cake I’ve done and also the quickest. Most cakes take a few days to complete. There are decorations that need time to dry and harden so they can retain their shape. (On this cake it was the bow loops and the curly things.) And then you need time to bake, frost, and cover the cake. I made the decorations and baked the cake on one day, then assembled and decorated it the next day.

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The first task was to color part of the fondant blue. People talk about gel colors staining things to the point where you think just opening the bottle is enough to permanently stain everything in a 30 mile radius. I haven’t found that to be true. Yes, my hands start out turning blue or red or whatever color but, as I work it, the fondant gets more colorful and my hands get less. I think it might have something to do with me using Crisco on my work surface rather than cornstarch. I kneaded the fondant and added the gel until I got the shade I wanted then rolled out it to an even thickness. (I highly recommend the rolling pins and guide rings from Wilton for this. You put a guide ring on either end of the rolling-pin and let them do the work of making everything even.) I used an angled off set spatula to cut different width strips of the blue fondant. I rolled each one around a straw to curl and set them aside to dry. Next up were the bow loops. I cut a wide strip of blue then folded it in half and scrunched the ends together to look like a bow. Once I got the loop shape I wanted, I stuffed some paper towel bits in the openings so the loops would dry that way. The rest of the ribbons and the flower centers would get rolled out later. It was still day one of the process so this was the day the actual cake got baked and set aside to cool.

Day two started with frosting the cake and covering it with the white fondant. (There’s an earlier post about how I do that here.) Then I rolled out the remaining blue fondant and cut out the rest of the ribbon pieces and the blue centers of the flowers. Most people use water to attach fondant pieces to the base fondant but I like vanilla extract instead. It evaporates faster than water so there’s less chance of the pieces sliding away. I used a tiny paintbrush to dab the vanilla on each ribbon strip and then put the strip on the cake. The ribbons go on first, then the tails of the bows, and then the loops. The curly bits got fitted in amongst the bow pieces, again using vanilla to secure them.

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Going back to the white fondant, I used a flower cutter to get the shape. I used the vanilla extract to attach the flowers to the cake. I cut some of the flowers in half and put them on the bottom of the cake to make it look more like a gift wrapped in flowered paper. I used the flat edge of the angled spatula to push the cut flowers closer to the cake so they would look like they were continued under it. I glued the blue centers on with the vanilla and I was done!

Covering a cake with fondant

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This was the first fondant covered cake I made as part of the Wilton cake decorating classes. The one that started my obsession with fondant! I’ll tell you how I did it so you can be obsessed too! Please excuse the lack of pictures of the process. It’s not that I’m lazy, I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead so this blog wasn’t even a blip on my horizon. 

Let’s assume your cake is ready to be covered. It’s baked nicely and iced cleanly, just begging for a pretty fondant covering. Set your cake aside and prepare your work surface. Some people (most people) dust their work surface and tools with cornstarch to keep the fondant from sticking. I’m a Crisco person. For me, lightly greasing my counter top and rolling-pin works better. I think it makes the fondant softer and easier to work with. And it makes your hands soft! Grab a ball of fondant and start kneading it. If you’re going to color it, now is the time to do it. Knead it until the fondant is soft and pliable; then start rolling it out. You want it to be about 1/8th of an inch thick. Measure your cake – go up one side, across the top, and down the other side. Add 4 to 6 inches to this measurement and roll your fondant out to fit that total measurement. While you’re rolling, make sure your fondant isn’t sticking to your work surface. Slide it around; flip it over; anything to keep it moving. One of the worst things in the cake world is to do a fabulous job rolling out your fondant and then not being able to pick it up. When you’ve gotten it big enough, slide your hands (and possibly your arms) under the fondant and place it over the cake.  

Now start rubbing. You want to lightly rub the fondant to adhere it to the cake. Your goal is to make the fondant stick to the cake and to work all the fondant folds and wrinkles away from the cake and out to the edges. Hence, the extra inches of fondant you rolled out earlier. Start on the top and rub the fondant onto the cake, making everything lay flat and smooth. Don’t rush anything, just keep rubbing and smoothing. Then start down the sides. Rub one side to smooth it then work on another area. When you hit a big wrinkle, gently lift the fondant up and away from the cake to open the wrinkle up. Then get back to rubbing and smoothing. You’ll end up with a nicely covered cake with a lot of excess fondant bunched up around it. Trim away the most of the excess, leaving about half an inch or so to work with. I use a small (1/4 inch) brush and a tub of clear piping gel. Very gently lift that excess edge away from the cake and brush all the way around the bottom bit with the gel. Work the fondant back on to the cake and trim the remaining excess nicely. I like to use a tapered spatula to trim it away but you can use a knife or pizza cutter or whatever your heart desires. Once I’ve got the fondant trimmed, I like to use the flat side of the spatula to push the bottom edge of the fondant under the cake. It doesn’t really go under it; it makes edge look cleaner. And I’m all about the details so those teeny tiny (almost minuscule) ragged edges give me palpitations! That last sentence might not make my case but covering a cake really isn’t that hard to do. I hope you try it and end up agreeing with me.