Man oh man. Has this been a rough couple of weeks! With, thankfully, some good things sprinkled in there too.
I need a bumper sticker that says "I'd rather be caking." Because that is what I would almost always rather be doing. Especially lately. Especially when I was replacing a door jam and chiseling out the openings for the hinges, latch, and lock. (Thanks to my Dad for helping with most of the problem-filled door repair!)
Oh, and I would rather have been caking when I got into a little fender-bender which, though it was very low speed and with no injuries, resulted in my car being undriveable with $3000 worth of repairs.
All of this in the few days before the arrival of the largest group of guests to ever stay in my home at one time. 8 in total. Instead of planning meals and making arrangements, I was trying to make sure we had a back door instead of a hole. And trying to figure out the whole car mess.
I could go on - the wind suddenly snapping our deck umbrella in half and hurling it across the deck, dragging some other deck furniture with it. Or stepping on a shard of glass of unknown origin in my bare feet and making a mess of the floor. Or losing the insurance check. Yes, I did that too. But enough of all of my woes! That is not what you stopped here for!
I must say, though, that there were plenty of good things about the past two weeks. My Dad came for a visit. Then my brother and sister, along with their amazing families, came to visit and we all had such a wonderful time together. And we ate like kings despite the chaos before they got here.
And we got to celebrate my niece's birthday! Little Rose turned 3 just before visiting, so of course I had to make her a cake! A giant cupcake cake. And Rose loved it!
I even managed to take lots of progress pics, so you all can make your own!
Shall we dive in?
First, a picture of the final product.
I made this cake from 2 8-inch rounds of chocolate cake, filled with strawberry swiss meringue buttercream, and covered with chocolate ganache and fondant. The base of the finished cupcake is 5 inches across and the top of the wrapper is 6 inches across.
Begin with your cake rounds. You will need a cardboard round that is 6 inches and another cut to 5 inches. Take your 6-inch cardboard and use it to cut your 8-inch layers down. Cut each layer to 6 inches using the cardboard round as a guide. Save the scraps in a bowl. You will need them soon!
Now stack and fill the 2 6-inch rounds that you just created. Use the 6-inch cardboard round as your base. An all-butter buttercream or other filling that becomes firm when refrigerated works best for this. Ganache would work perfectly, too.
Once stacked and filled, put the whole thing in the refrigerator until the icing is firm. I left mine in for about a half an hour. You don't want to leave it in too long at this point or the cake will dry out. If you are using a shortening-based buttercream, you can always stick the cake in the freezer to firm it up. It may take a little longer.
Once it is all firmed up, take it out and place your 5-inch cardboard round on the top in the center. Now it's time to carve the tapered lower half of your cupcake! It's not as hard as it may seem, I promise!
Get yourself a sharp serrated knife. Here are the two that I use. Sorry for the glare!
The larger knife is a bread knife and I use it to tort my cake layers and cut larger pieces. The smaller one is what I use the most for cake carving. It's a little flexible and that makes it easier to get the shapes I want.
Use a little icing or ganache to secure the 5-inch cardboard round to the center of the top so it doesn't slide around on you. Then cut the edges of the cake from the edge of the top cardboard to the edge of the larger bottom cardboard. Go slowly, making small cuts from top to bottom. You can round it out a little at the end. You can always cut more, but it's hard to put the cake back on once it's gone. Again, keep your scraps.
When you are finished, flip the whole thing over, so the smaller end is on the bottom, just like a real cupcake. Here is what it should look like. Slide your knife between the 6-inch cardboard, which is now on the top, and your cake. Remove that cardboard. In my picture, you will see more filling icing on the top. Just ignore it for now. I'll get to that!
Add more icing to the top. (See - I told you I would get to it!) Then take your cake scraps and build up the top into a mound. Use ganache or your filling to "glue" the scraps in place. I used ganache because I think it works a little better, but buttercream would work too. Don't use anything that dries hard (like royal icing) because you will need to carve this later. Your mound will (and should) look pretty messy at this point. You just want to make sure you have the basic shape of the cupcake top in place. You will carve it later.
Stick it back in the frig for a short time to firm it up a bit again. This will make carving a bit easier.
Then, little by little, carve the scraps on the top into a rounded mound. It doesn't have to be perfect, but you do want to make it as round as possible and even/balanced on all sides. Take little pieces of the scraps as you need them to fill in gaps or holes. Just "glue" them in place as before and let it set a little before trying to cut them.
Now you are ready to ganache the whole thing! Spread your ganache over the whole cake, spreading it with a small off-set spatula until it is as smooth as possible.
Put that baby in the frig for a little while, even overnight, to firm up the ganache. Then it's time to smooth it all. Unless you got it perfect the first time. I'm not that good, so mine needed a bit of a touch-up.
Now you can do this one of two ways. You can use the hot-knife method to smooth your ganache. This actually works really well. Boil some water. I use my tea kettle. While the water is heating, get a dish out to hold the hot water. I use a bread pan. You will also need a towel that you don't mind getting chocolatey, or, if you prefer, just use paper towels. You will use this to wipe your off-set spatula, which you will also need. For this cake, I used my small spatula, but for basic round cakes and larger cakes, the large spatula or, my favorite, my bench scraper, work well. Once the water is boiling, pour a bit in your dish/pan and dip in your spatula. Wipe it off on the towel, then use the warm edge to smooth the ganache. Don't hold it in one place or it will make a melty dent. Simply move it along the edge and it will slightly melt the ganache on the surface and smooth it all down.
The second method and the one I used for this cake is to just take your spatula and scrape the ganache to smooth it down. This is what it should look like when you are finished.
You can see that I still have a few lumps and bumps in there. You can fill those in with more ganache then smooth again. Honestly, you can do this again and again and make yourself crazy in the process. Go for it as long as you want to. I was short of time on this cake, so I made peace with my lumps and bumps.
Stick the whole thing back in the frig while you prepare your fondant. You will want some brown or chocolate fondant first. You will need to roll a round piece slightly larger than the top of your cupcake. Measure and roll according to your specific cupcake dimensions, which may be different than mine depending on how you built yours at the top. Dampen just the mound of your cupcake with a little water on a pastry brush, then roll out your fondant. Place on the top of the cupcake and trim to just below where the top of the cupcake "wrapper" would be.
Smooth with your hands and a fondant smoother.
Smooth some more with a flexi-smoother. You will love this handy DIY tool! I read about this online, quickly made my own and I love using it! Go out and get one of those office presentation folders with the clear plastic cover. Cut the cover off and then cut two palm-sized rectangles. Round the corners. Voila! Flexible fondant smoother. Useful for rounded areas like the top of your cupcake and two together also makes really sharp corners on cake edges. (I'll show you that another time.)
Now it's time to put the fondant on the sides of the cake. Measure the circumference of your cake at the widest part, near the top of the "wrapper" area. This is how long you will need your fondant to be. Start with a long log of fondant that you've pressed down with your palm.
Make sure the surface is dusted liberally with cornstarch. I use a little "pouch" of cornstarch for this. Just fill a couple of squares of cheesecloth, available at fabric and craft stores, with cornstarch then tie it into a little pouch with a rubber band. Pat it on your rolling surface to get a nice dusting of cornstarch!
Back to the fondant... Roll out the fondant into a long strip. Make sure it is wide enough, too, by measuring the distance from the bottom of your cupcake to where the top of the "wrapper" will be.
I wanted a fancier wrapper (and in some ways easier), so I took a frill cutter and cut the top edge of the "wrapper" with it. If you want your cupcake to have a more traditional look, just skip this step and cut a straight line. Use a ruler to get a straight line, then place the cutter against it to cut a decorative edge. Cut the full length of the fondant strip.
Use your pastry brush and some water to lightly dampen the lower half of your cupcake, where you want your "wrapper" to be. Roll your fondant "wrapper" strip onto a small rolling pin. You can use a large rolling pin, but a small one is easier to maneuver. You can also just roll it without the pin, but I've found it a little easier with the pin. Dust your fondant with a little cornstarch first to keep it from sticking to the roller or itself.
Unroll the strip right onto the cake. Cut with a paring knife or other sharp cutter to trim, then press the ends together to seal it all up. If you work at it a bit with your fingers and your fondant smoother, you can make that seam virtually disappear. Here is mine before smoothing and pressing it down very much.
Before worrying too much about the seam, you will want to trim your bottom edge. A pizza cutter works great for this. Trim it close to, but not right up against, the cardboard round at the bottom of the cake. The fondant may shrink up slightly after it's cut and you don't want that cardboard exposed on the bottom of your cake. Of course, if that does happen, you can always do a nice little border at the bottom edge of your cake. Easy fix!
Once you've trimmed the bottom, use your smoothers to smooth the fondant all the way around. To do the bottom edge, I lift my cake and hold it on my hand like this.
This doesn't work as well for very large cakes, but for most cakes you can do this. Hold it up and use your fondant smoother (the hard plastic one) to smooth the bottom edge down and under. Don't press too hard at the bottom edge. I have found that with practice, this is the best way to get a nice clean bottom edge. One of my goals has been to learn how to do a fondant edge that can stand on its own without adding a band or border. A nice simple and clean look.
Once you've smoothed the bottom edge, you can place your cake on your cake plate or decorative board. I used one of my smaller cake stands. I love how it looks like it could be sitting in a little cupcake or ice cream shop!
If you want the traditional folds in the wrapper, simply take a thin skewer and press it into the fondant "wrapper" vertically all around the cake.
Now you can decorate the top! I cut a wavy circle of white fondant to make an "icing" top. Place it on dry so you can move it to center it if you need to. Then lift the edges and apply water or vodka with a small paint brush to secure it. Smooth it down and pop any air bubbles with a safety pin. You can always cover any holes with the sprinkles.
Next, make little balls of lots of colors of fondant to create the look of sprinkles on top of your cupcake. I had my kids help with this part and they loved it! Apply them with a tiny drop of water or vodka randomly over the white top. Form your cherry by rolling a cherry-sized ball of red fondant. Using a cone tool (or just a toothpick or the handle end of a small paintbrush, anything that will make a little dent), make a dent in one side of the red ball. This is where the stem will go. Slightly flatten the other side for the bottom of the cherry. For the stem of my cherry, I used a small piece of cloth-wrapped floral wire. Set it in place on top of the cake with a little water or vodka.
And now you are finished!
Here is the birthday girl. She is the sweetest, most hilarious little girl! I love being around her! And I absolutely love the look on her face as she watches me place the candles on top of the cake.
Here she is blowing out the candles. So cute!
Have a wonderful weekend! And happy caking!!