Mothers’ Day Cake

I like to celebrate Mothers’ Day, and this year I had planned to make cakes for at least four of the women I know that are Mothers and in some cases, even Grand Mothers. I started planning the cakes back in March; I saw a cake in my Wilton Idea Book that I liked, and thought it would be the perfect cake.

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Now, if I am going to make four of these cakes, I need to plan ahead, and try to get some of the work done ahead of time. The book said the cake was a single 8-inch layer, torted and filled to 3 inches. To me, that is a lot of filling since the cake pans make a 2-inch layer. So I decided that I needed to use 1 1/2 layers to get the three inches the book prescribed. That meant that for each bake of 2 pans, I would get 4 torts; if I made 12 torts I would have 4 cakes; that would be 3 bakes of 2 layers each. And since I use 1 1/2 boxes of cake mix per 2 pan bake, I needed 5 boxes of cake mix and would have 1/2 a box left over. Wow! I hope you can follow all that math in my planning. (For why the 1/2 boxes of cake mix, see my article on the anatomy of a cake).

The book also said to plan for 40 roses for each cake. So in April, I started making butter cream frosting and making roses; I knew that they would dry and then I could decorate with them.

Since I had a lot of cakes to bake, I decided to start the last week of April and do a 2 pan bake each day, then I would cool the cakes, slice them, and put them in baggies in the refrigerator. I thought that bread keeps quite well when sealed and in the refrigerator so cake should also.

From this point on, it was a big learning experience for this amateur baker!!!

The first cake I put together had a couple problems; first, one of the dams leaked; I think I might have brushed it with the cutting board as I laid the next tier of cake on it and squashed it. Anyway, before I knew it, I was finding puddles of strawberry juice on the cake board. I tried to seal it off, but must have failed because days later, it was still pooling on the cake board.

The second problem with that first cake was with the butter cream icing. I changed the formula slightly, and forgot to take the difference between butter and shortning into account. Normally, I have made the butter cream frosting using the special shortening that the Decorette Shop sells; I decided to use half that special shortening and half real butter. What I forgot was that butter has water in it, and so I should have reduced the amount of water I added to the frosting.

The results were that the butter cream frosting gave in to gravity; a day after I finished that first cake, the frosting was all gathered at the base of the cake, and sitting in a puddle of strawberry juice! On to plan B, and into the garbage with cake #1!!!

So I learned something from plan A; be careful not to damage the filling dams, and remember to reduce the amount of water by a couple tablespoons when you make the frosting. And with that wisdom, I made cake #2 and #3. And when I started making cake #4, I looked back and found that I hadn’t beat gravity with cakes #2 and #3 after all. Again, the frosting was starting to sag and was tearing around the cake and coming apart in pieces. Now I was really frustrated, and was trying to revisit all the steps in making the cake to see what went wrong.

I decided that the problem might be that the refrigerated cake was too moist, and I needed to let it air dry before making the cake. So plan C was to let the cake tiers dry on the wire racks for half a day before assembling the cake. That gave better results, but I don’t feel it was perfect. And, I was down to a single cake!!

So, to compare a normal operation to this one I had been on, I decided to go to plan D and make a cake completely from scratch. I had thrown away all the extra flowers and leaves once I finished the fourth cake, so I salvaged flowers and leaves from cake #3 to use on cake #5. Then, in a single day I baked the cake, cooled and sliced the layers, assembled the cake, frosted it, and decorated it.

So, 24 hours later I still don’t have all the answers. I notice that the frosting on the sides of cake #5 is starting to droop and the top edge has come down with the drooping side.

I am sorry Mothers. First, I thought of you and was planning to give you a cake to celebrate your Day. But for the most part that plan failed. So I can only think of you on Mothers’ Day. I will deliver a couple cakes, but they are nowhere near the cakes I planned to deliver. I still have a lot to learn about icing a cake!

(Update: cake #5 also sagged and fell apart before it was delivered. I wonder if it was because it didn’t dry long enough; I did bake it and then ice and decorate it all in one day. Maybe there was still moisture in the cake).

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