Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Cake

What did I do with my snowy days down here in Atlanta?  Made a cake, of course!

The inspiration for this cake is definitely Margaret Braun.  I'm sure I've mentioned her before-- she's the 'daintier' of the two female judges on TLC's Ultimate Cake-Off and is a world renowned cake artist and author of Cakewalk.  In one of the older Ultimate Cake-Off episodes, they bring in a cake that Margaret piped and ask the competitors to pipe a similar cake in only 15 minutes.  My goal in making this cake was to create something similar (from what I could remember).  Of course, I took longer than 15 minutes. :)

Starting with the cake itself, I decided to try a red velvet cake.  I used a recipe from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible.  The first notable characteristic of this recipe was that it called for 1 BOTTLE of red food coloring...  There was no mistaking its color.

Another interesting characteristic of this recipe was that it was supposed to make either a 9" heart or a 9x2" round.  ONE 9x2" round.  However, when I was making this recipe I tried to weigh my dry ingredients.  However, all I own is a cheap, non-digital, grocery store brand scale, which I now realize tends to underestimate.  As a result, I think I ended up with a little more batter than the ever-so-meticulous Rose...

Have I mentioned that I am actually not nearly as big a fan of the actual baking as I am of decorating?  I like cooking-- it's much less precise and more forgiving.  In particular, I like to cook by feel-- no recipe.  Baking is so scientific.  I guess I should prefer that approach since I'm an engineer, but I guess I'm more interested in the artistry of decorating.  I do enough technical stuff...  That said, I want to make sure my cakes are delicious, so I do the whole baking thing. ;)

Anyway, I ran the numbers and decided that 1 9x2" round was roughly equivalent to 2 6x2" rounds.  Now that I'm actually paying attention to the numbers, I guess the 2 6" pans less volume than the 1 9" round...  Anyway, I chose to use 2 6" rounds and didn't bother to use any less batter than what I had prepared, since the pans only seemed to be a little less than 2/3 full.  However, the batter rose quite a bit.  Nothing overflowed, thankfully, but I think I need to err on the side of caution when filling my pans.

No mistaking what color this velvet is...

To stack the cakes, I trimmed off the tops that mushroomed over the pans, and then torted them with a cake leveler.

I filled the layers with chocolate ganache, using plain buttercream as a barrier.

Mmmmm.... Ganache...

After stacking all four layers, I iced the outside of the cake with another Rose recipe: Dreamy White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing.


This icing recipe is drastically different from what I've really worked with in the past (though it's very tasty).  Because it has a high concentration of chocolate, it dried VERY hard in the fridge.  It actually cracked in spots.  Before I covered this cake in fondant, I went over it and filled in the cracks and re-smoothed with a very very thin layer of buttercream.

Covering with fondant was again a challenge.  This time, as a new challenge, I colored the fondant that peachy-pink color.  I used the dough hook on my kitchen aid to knead the fondant and knead in the color.  This helped soften the fondant significantly, but did create some air bubbles.

I had an easier time rolling, but had a rough time with cracking and tearing.  It took me two attempts to get the cake covered, and because of the cake's aspect ratio, it was very hard to smooth.  Imagine a tablecloth: the wrinkles have to go somewhere.  I started smoothing sideways, and this was a mistake, because I ended up with wrinkles that had nowhere to go.  Ultimately, I made some compromises and got it covered, but it had obvious imperfections.  Fortunately, I'm taking a beginning fondant class in early march and can hopefully pick up some pointers.  I think I need to elevate the cake, but I was afraid of making this cake topple off of something that wasn't designed to support a small diameter cake.  

Then comes the fun part-- royal icing piping. 

I started with the only detail I really remembered from the Ultimate Cake Off cake-- the swags.  These swags are described in Margaret's book, too.

It's interesting to read the literature of different cake artists-- they all have their own signature repertoire and idiosyncrasies... and things they feel strongly about.  For example, Margaret Braun says in her book that airbrushes are for T-shirts and vans, and that cakes ought to be painted.  Sylvia Weinstock seems to think that fondant is the most vile stuff on the planet and she'd never serve it to her guests, so she won't use it on her cakes.

Anyway, back to Margaret's piping.  She is known for her piping skills, but as I look through the cakes in Cakewalk, it's clear that she has a reasonable sized repertoire of things she uses over and over again, and does very well.  But you don't see her doing a little bit of everything, like you see on more of the cake shows.  That said, I think what she does is very effective, so I want to learn to emulate some of those signature moves.

Margaret does these royal icing pearls.  Well, my royal icing was too stiff to make mine look like hers, so I settled for old-fashioned dots.  Since my icing was stiff, I had to push down the little points with my fingertip.

Here I'm piping the strings.  You see that you hold the tip away from the cake and let gravity form the string.  You control the pressure and duration to control the length of the string, and you attach it on the other side.   You can also see one of the marred areas of fondant in this picture.

Finishing the string.

The completed cake-- pre-painting.

Everything on the cake was piped with royal icing using various sizes of round tips.  The only exception is the bottom border, which was made from white fondant, twisted into a rope (also an idea from Braun's book).

To finish the cake, I took another page out of Braun's book (so to speak) and hand painted all the piping with a pearl paint, which is made from pearl dust and vodka.  

Fortunately, the pearl color on white is pretty forgiving if you miss a little spot.  A lot of the detailing in Braun's work is painted gold-- that's a lot more obvious.  I'll get there, but I need to find a good gold dust first.

The completed cake.

I think I succeeded in creating a cake with a Margaret Braun flavor, that still has my own personal interpretation.  Obviously with practice, all the techniques will get cleaner and more consistent.  And, ultimately, I'll get my fondant to behave.  I just bought a 2 ft length of PVC pipe that will serve as my new rolling pin....



It'd make a nice wedding cake top, don't you think?  :)

That's all for now, more royal icing and flowers after my class on Tuesday.


  1. Holy Cow Roxanne!
    That is gorgeous !
    Doesn't your hand hurt?

  2. Beautiful! Pssssh. PVC pipe?? You know that Vic Firth makes rolling pins, right? How can you pass that up?

  3. Thanks! LOL I had no idea Vic Firth had a gourmet line... might need to work on getting an endorsement. :)

  4. This is ridiculously gorgeous. Seriously.

  5. Amazing! I'm in love with this cake! well, i'm always inlove with any pink or purple :) You are very creative.

  6. its amazing you know!I can't imagine that you made that.

  7. I absolutely love your cake! I wondered how you did the bottom border, then when I read you used fondant it made sense. Really beautiful, thanks for sharing!