Sunday, 17 May 2015

Alexander's Christening Cake

This cake was a christening gift for our friends' baby Alexander. His mum had asked for a two tier blue and white cake with rocking horses, bunting and baby blocks with his name. 

I considered making a 5" and a 7" tier but that didn't seem substantial enough for the big party so I settled on a 6" and 8" tier for a truly massive cake. This is the first two tier cake that I've made since we bought a new stove. It seemed a great opportunity to try out the side oven, in which, I'd been assured by the salesperson, I could bake four tiers at the same time and they'd all cook evenly. This oven had only been used for cooking many frozen pizzas so I was certainly pleased to put it to a more worthy use. In this case I'm pleased to say that the salesperson was correct! They look a bit sunken in the picture below but I think that was more to do with me shaping the batter in this way before they were baked.

I followed all the usual processes for making each tier as I've mentioned before; slicing, layering with buttercream and jam, covering with buttercream then marzipan and then sugarpaste icing.

The letters and rocking horses are cut from a modelling paste made of sugarpaste and CMC. If there's a way to use the cutters to cleanly cut out pieces such as these then I do not know it! This time I've found that the easiest way to use them without distorting the letters is to cut each letter but not remove them from the surplus icing until they have been left to dry overnight. I then needed to use a scalpel to carefully neaten up the edges; a time consuming but ultimately rewarding task.

I fashioned a template for the bunting swathes from a piece of greaseproof paper and used a scalpel to etch a line onto which I could glue the bunting triangles and pipe the rope. I haven't practiced piping royal icing in over a year and it does show, but I'm reasonably satisfied with the overall result.

The rocking horse on top of the cake is made from two cutouts glued together only in the top half. The bottom halves were then held apart as the model dried. Finally I added a saddle made of modelling paste and piped eyes, a mane and tail.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

A cake decorating lesson

Two of my girlfriends came around today for a cake decorating lesson. We had great fun and I was really pleased with how well their icing and decorations turned out. I said I'd write down some key points and recipes for them which I may as well share with you all. All quantities for a 6"/15cm round cake.

Elephant cake

As am aside here's a picture of the first cake decoration I tried to do before I went to learn properly at night school! I'm very proud of it for a first attempt. The model comes from The Essential Guide to Cake Decorating.

Sponge cake

200g salted butter at room temperature
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 capful of vanilla extract
30ml milk

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
  • Grease the baking tin and sprinkle with a fine dusting of flour so the cake doesn't stick
  • Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer for at least five minutes until they become almost white. It really helps to cream up faster if the butter is softened
  • Crack the eggs into another bowl and slowly add to the mix, add a little flour to stop the batter curdling
  • Add the rest of the flour and baking powder and mix. This is best done by hand so as not to overwork.
  • Add the vanilla extract for flavour and milk to loosen the consistency.
  • Split evenly between two identical tins. Spread the mixture higher around the edges so that when the cakes rise they stay as flat as possible; you want the batter to be visibly concave.
  • Baking time depends on size of tin, oven temperature etc. When cooked the cake should start to smell caramelised and when poked should feel soft and springy to touch without leaving an indentation. A skewer should come out clean.

  • Leave to cool for a few minutes but whilst still warn prick all over with a skewer and using a pastry brush liberally apply syrup.
  • Once cooled wrap in cling film and leave to rest overnight to firm up so that they are easier to slice.
  • This quantity makes around a 4" tall cake.

Stock syrup

Stock syrup is made from 50% sugar, 50% water by volume. It helps to keep a sponge cake really moist, given it takes a day or two from baking to decorating to actually getting to eat the cake! I use around 1/3rd cup of each for a 6"/15cm cake. Add the water and sugar to a pan and bring to the boil. When the sugar has dissolved remove from the heat and add a capful of vanilla extract for flavour. Leave to cool.


100g salted butter at room temperature
100g icing sugar

  • Mix together using an electric mixer for at least five minutes until the icing becomes almost white.

Marzipan and Sugarpaste

600g marzipan
600g sugarpaste for the cake
200g sugarpaste for the board

It really helps to be generous with quantities of marzipan and sugarpaste so always tend towards using too much rather than too little.

Covering the board

  • Cover the board with a layer of icing a day or two in advance to give the icing time to dry.
  • Before you roll out the icing brush the board with cooled boiled water or vodka so that the icing sticks. Be very very sparing with the icing sugar or it'll dry out the icing and leave visible marks.
  • Use a cake drum style board that is at least 3" bigger than the cake.

Decorating the cake

  • Use a cake slicer to level off the top of each cake and to slice each cake into two layers.
  • Use the bottom of one of the cakes as the bottom layer as it will have a harder and flatter base to help support the rest of the cake. 
  • Place the first layer onto a large square of baking parchment so you can easily lift and rotate the cake as you work. Smother generously with jam.
  • Place the second layer on top. Smother generously with butter cream.
  • Place the third layer on top. Smother generously with jam.
  • Place the top layer on top. It's best to use the other cake bottom upturned as the top layer as that too will be firm and flat.

  • Smother the whole four-layer cake with butter cream, filling any gaps. Use a pallette knife to remove the excess and ideally leave a fairly perfect cylinder of delicious, delicious cake.
  • Chill in the fridge for as long as you have time for. Ideally an hour or so.
  • Roll out the marzipan and carefully apply to the cake. When rolling our aim for around 5mm thick and a diameter that is at least as big as the diameter of the cake + 2 x the height of the cake. Each time you roll gently rotate the marzipan or icing by 90 degrees to help stop it sticking. 
  • Cut off the excess and polish with cake smoothers. 

  • Wash all your tools and the surface so you don't get the marzipan oils into your icing
  • Use a pastry brush to moisten the marzipan with either cooled boiled water or vodka.
  • Roll out the icing and carefully apply to the moistened marzipan.  Cut off the excess and polish with cake smoothers.

  • Carefully peel off the baking paper and place in the centre of the iced board. Finish with ribbon.

Adjusting for different sized cakes

7 inch round

  • Multiply basic sponge quantity by 1.5. 
  • 750g marzipan/sugarpaste +250g sugarpaste for the board

8 inch round

  • Multiply basic sponge quantity by 2.
  • 850g marzipan/sugarpaste + 350g sugarpaste for the board


At these sizes you can get away with using the same quantities for round and square cakes, but the square ones won't be quite as tall.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Baby shower cake

Blue baby blocks cake for shower

I was very pleased to make a cake for a friend's baby shower this week. The brief was to make a blue cake to fit with a book and alphabet themed shower. Searching for book cakes returns loads of gorgeous examples but I was quite pushed for time this weekend so settled for something I knew I could do well and quickly. Often cakes as simple as this can be harder to make than the more complex designs as there is no way to hide any imperfections! I think the simplicity is very effective.

Even though this is a well rehearsed design I did learn something new whilst baking this cake; always crack your eggs into a bowl before you add them into the mix! After spending a good few minutes beating the butter and sugar together, the first egg that I cracked straight into the mix was clearly bad. I had no choice but to throw all the mix away and start again. At least it was the first egg and not the sixth! In future I'll be certain to crack them into a bowl or cup first.

I'd made the baby blocks before for Jessica's Christening Cake. They are made from sugar paste with added Tylo to stiffen them up. The letters are cut out from a very thinly rolled coloured version of the same paste. I recommend leaving the letters for a few minutes to dry and stiffen before trying to separate them. Use a cocktail stick to remove any excess icing and a sharp knife to lift them off the board.

This is the first time I've used my new 7" round tins that I bought for the Tiffany cake but didn't get to use. They made a really good sized cake for this part with about 12 people. Slices were generous and there was plenty of cake left over to take home to hungry husbands.

That's all there is to it!