Monday, April 26, 2010

How to make a treasure chest cake

To start off this blog, I thought I'd post about the cake I made for the Steam Punk contest over on Cake Central. I used the WASC (White Almond Sour Cream) cake base I found here, only I used 3 1/3 cups of my Make a Mix recipe instead of the boxed white or yellow cake, and changed the almond flavoring for cinnamon instead. I filled the cake with vanilla butter cream.

As soon as I find my cake notebook again I'll post my full scratch recipe for you (but if you can find a Make A Mix Cookbook, you should totally pick it up, because the other recipes in there are really great too.)

Honestly, most of my cake recipes are variations of the WASC recipe, or my buttermilk cake recipe that I use for my red velvet cake. You can used boxed mixes for most cakes if you just aren't into scratch cooking, but the WASC cake is firmer than a boxed cake, so it lends itself better to carving. It also fills my two 8" round pans and my 9x13 perfectly instead of leaving me with thinner layers.
I started this with baking the full WASC recipe in my 12x18 pan (I usually half this recipe for an 8" round or 9x13 cake since it is meant for larger cakes, but it fills my sheet cake pan perfectly.) Before I pour batter into a cake pan I always grease and flour it--and if I'm doing one with a smooth bottom (which most of mine are), I put down parchment paper before I flour it, grease the parchment and then flour the whole thing. Theoretically just greasing and flouring should make the cake release just fine, but the parchment just makes it all pop out so cleanly I always use it now.

When the cake had cooled for five minutes I turned it over onto a cookie rack to finish cooling. I removed the parchment and sliced the cake into thirds so I had three pieces that were approximately 6x12. If you're going to cut a cake like this, it's best to chill it for a while. I like to cool the cakes most of the way, cover them, then slide them into the fridge for an hour or more to thoroughly chill before decorating. Generally I bake the cake one day, then decorate the next. If I'm going to do heavy carving, I even like to wrap the cakes tightly with plastic wrap before they fully cool and freeze them for a few hours to overnight. If you wrap them well this actually seals the moisture into the cake, and they carve more cleanly if frozen, or nearly frozen. I know some people have a problem with frozen cakes, but no one whose tasted one of mine would guess it had been frozen, and I never freeze them for more than a few days at a time.

I use the standard butter cream frosting recipe similar to the one listed on the Wilton website:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp of milk
4 cups sifted powdered sugar

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using. You can get more details and variations from the Wilton website here.

I tend follow the recipe pretty well, but then wing it a bit. If I need a nice white frosting, I use straight shortening and add a teaspoon of butter flavoring and the clear vanilla. if I'm making a colored frosting or chocolate I like to use real butter instead of shortening. Keep in mind that if you use butter it will be softer if you're decorating with the icing and doesn't hold its shape as well. If you're going to be decorating with it, straight shortening can be easier to work with and holds its shape better if it's left out on the warm counter for long periods of time.

I like to use an angled spatula like this one when I fill or cover cakes. For filling cakes you can actually use a butter knife if that's what you have, but the spatulas can be picked up all over the place from anywhere from five dollars on up, and make a nice smooth surface when you're icing the outside of a cake, so it's one of the few tools I recommend everyone have on hand. These spatulas come in several sizes, some with angled blades and some that are strait, all will do the job, but if I had to settle for buying just one, I'd go for the larger size with the angle in the blade.

I started with the bottom layer set on the cake board and then spread on butter cream, then added the second layer. At this point I should have put in some dowels and put a board between the layers because the bottom layer tends to get a little squished if there is too much weight on top, but I forgot, so I added more butter cream, then added the top layer (I promise I'll do a tutorial on filling a cake soon, and I'll be better at photographing the entire process).

After I got all three layers on I trimmed the sides so they were straight because no matter how carefully I try, I'll never cut the layers exactly the same. Then I tipped my bread knife and trimmed the top layer on an angle along the long edges so my lid would look like it had three sides. This is where it's handy to have the cake chilled well since it trims better if it's good and cold. if I'd decided to go with a rounded top I would definitely have frozen it first so I could do more detailed carving, but having the lid angles at about 120 degrees each suited my needs.

Then I finished icing the outside of the cake. Again, having the large spatula here is a big advantage as it allowed me to get the icing flat on each of the sides. Since I was going to cover it all in fondant anyway, I didn't worry about a few crumbs in the frosting, I just focused on getting the sides reasonably smooth. The thing to remember when you're working with fondant is that it will conform to any bumps beneath it, so you need to make sure it's pretty smooth so your final surface will be flat.

I like to make my own marshmallow fondant, but if you're short on time, or don't have time to practice with getting it nice and smooth, you can buy it pre-made from most cake decorating stores--but it won't taste as good! I'll post a basic fondant recipe and information soon.

I covered the cake with the fondant and trimmed it back. Because I knew I was going to cover the corners on the bottom with the silver edging I went ahead and cut the extra away to form a crisp corner, which is far easier than smoothing as one piece and keeping it wrinkle-free.

I used a plain white fondant as the base for this cake. I use gel food coloring for my cakes and frosting, and this was easiest for decorating the cake as well. Last year I bought an inexpensive kids paintbrush set in a rainbow of colors with tips ranging from tiny to half an inch in diameter. Some of the brushes are round and some are flat, but I think I only ponied up a couple of bucks for the set--which I keep with my cake supplies so there's no chance of them being used to other projects.

I used the widest flat brush to wipe some brown food coloring off the lid of the container, and rubbed it into the bottom of a little tea cup. Then I added a few tablespoons of water. I swished at the gel color with the brush until the water was a good color and then just brushed it onto the cake in long strokes that went along the wood grain. I wanted all of the lines to be long so it would look like variations in the grain. When I had covered the whole cake, I took out a smaller rounded brush and just striped the fondant lengthwise some more, creating streaks of different darknesses and widths. I swirled a couple of spots to make knots in the wood.

Then I rolled out the rest of the fondant and cut it into strips for the silver details. Adding a fondant detail onto a fondant cake is really easy. All it takes is a touch of water. I just brushed a bit of water onto the strips and they stuck great to the cake (because sugar tends to get sticky when wet!) When I had added all of the strips I used my #804 decorating tip to cut circles from the remaining fondant on the counter. I applied these with a tiny bit of water as well. You can use a really small cookie cutter, or anything else that makes the right sized circles for this.

I added a bit of black coloring to the brown water and used my wide brush again to cover the stripes and rivets on the cake. Then I pulled out my silver pearl dust, which is totally edible and comes in lots of other fun colors as well. I considered the gold and bronze colors, but thought silver suited my purpose best (and I already had some on hand which is an added bonus).

I used a small flat paint brush to 'paint' the silver on. This takes a little practice to get the hang of how it applies and how to minimize spilling the pearl dust (which comes in a tiny tube and costs about $4 each). Again, it needs to be applied to a damp cake if you want it to stick. Many people will 'paint' the coverage area with vanilla or vodka rather than using water since the water takes a lot longer to dry out (and in more humid areas that can be a real problem). Because I had just painted the strips with the black/brown color, they were still a bit sticky, so I didn't bother re-wetting the areas where I was adding the pearl dust. When I am concerned about the area staying sticky I use vanilla.

With a little ingenuity you can use the same techniques on lots of other projects as well.

**When you make a fondant-covered cake you want to avoid refrigerating it since when it comes back to room temperature water will condense on the surface (just like it does on your soda glass) and leave behind marks on the surface. This means I never fill my fondant cakes with anything that needs refrigeration.

I promise way more pictures with my future cake posts!

It all starts here!

Hello, my name is Heather Justesen and I'm a cake decorating addict.

After mulling this over for some time, and considerable encouragement from my friends, I decided to take the plunge and start blogging my cakes. I'll post recipes and directions, and then link to other cake blogs with similar content when I see something fabulous that simply has to be shared. While I may highlight a standard cake now and then that is similar to what you can order at your grocery store bakery, most of the cakes I make tend to be out of the ordinary. I'm going to be honest and show cakes that don't always turn out quite the way I hoped, as well, including what I would have done differently given a chance to do it all again.

The fact is, while much of this takes some practice, if you have a steady hand, a pinch of creativity, and some patience, most of the fun cakes I've made can be duplicated by someone of moderate skill who has the right tools. Often the 'right tools' may be mostly things you have on hand already, so don't start thinking you're going to have to spend huge amounts of money to make your kid's birthday cake.

Where possible, I'll suggest inexpensive tools or things you might have around the house already to make it fit your pocketbook better. Don't get me wrong, cake decorating can be an expensive hobby if you let it, and you'll be thrilled and amazed at the cool things out there that can make your decorating easier, but there are ways to minimize the costs and where possible, I'll mention those. I'll be blogging about my previous projects over the next few weeks, mixed in with whatever new designs I work on, but in the mean time, you can check out my cakes over at my regular blog.