Monthly Archives: June 2014

Birthday Cakes for the Twins

The original plan I had for the twins’ cakes was to sculpt their favorite characters for the tops of the cakes in an eatable media. I know that professionals use Rice Krispies and wire, wood and pipe to form the insides of the characters which they then cover with fondant. I was trying to avoid the metal and wood skeleton. I started with the idea that I could sculpt the insides from marshmallows that I cut to shape and stuck together then I would cover the marshmallows with colored fondant. I rolled some fondant and cut it into short sticks that when dry would act like nails to hold the marshmallows together. And I had three sizes of marshmallows; the small kind which are good in baked goods, a standard large size that are used as in S’mores, and a giant size that is about twice the large size.

I proceeded with that plan for several weeks; it was hard cutting the fondant to cover the marshmallow and that was bothering me. Then, one day I pressed too hard and the dry fondant shattered. That plan was a failure.

dolls 003Cake Toppers

I ended up buying toys that I could use as toppers for the cakes. One cake is a Spiderman theme, and the second is a Toothless dragon theme. Each cake has a clown figurine on top; this is the marshmallow covered with butter cream frosting and a plastic head. I needed an eatable figure on the top of the cake just so I didn’t feel totally defeated.

The internals of each cake is the same; they both consist of three layers of yellow cake mix, with the top and bottom layers sliced and filled with a strawberry glaze. I used the apricot glaze recipe that is with my Napolean recipe but substituted seedless strawberry jam. That glaze recipe is in the article Icings, Glazes and Frostings. My article on Making a Pinata Cake gives more detail on the internal structure of the Birthday Cakes.

Toothless Dragon Cake

toothy 003

When I started planning the Toothless dragon cake, I found an Internet site that showed a darling Toothless cake. I am grateful to Rouvelee Ilagan for posting what she made for Isa. I had hoped to capture a similar image when I started. But, I am not the cake decorating artist that is needed to duplicate what is on that cake.

First, the cake has tiers and the decorations extend out to the edge of the cake board. I didn’t feel I could carve too deeply into the piñata cake without really messing it up, so my cake is a circular mesa. I tried to get some texture by using shades of the gray splashed around the tower, but I should have done it directly with the frosting instead of as an after-thought.

toothy 005

I did get a couple things correct- the fish and the creel. I made the creel while I was still working with marshmallows; I made up the colors in Royal Icing and then did the basket weave around a marshmallow. When the icing had dried, I pulled the marshmallow out. The fish were also made around that time when I had the fondant out. I rolled some fondant out, and then with an Xacto knife, carved the outlines of the fish. To finish the fish, I used different sizes of the round piping tips to press curves into the fondant. A large tip created the half-circle gill and small tips were used to create scales.

toothy 007

I had only a small amount of fondant left, and so I colored it with black and green and rolled small pieces of it into the stones that are around the green on top of the tower.

Spiderman Cake

spidy 004Twist web

The real challenge in the Spiderman cake is making his web that goes out to help the clown up onto the building. I thought about using sugar strings for the web. I had heard that you could create sugar strings from boiled sugar, and I thought they would look neat. So I researched them, and quickly decided they were not for me. The directions all started by saying “Cover your floor with newspaper; cover the fronts of all your cabinets with newspaper; cover the counter top with newspaper”. At that point, I knew it was messy, and I didn’t want to try it.

I started by making the “string” from the Royal Icing I had for the creel on the Toothless cake. It worked, but was quite brittle. I would need to plan on not putting it in place until just before taking the cakes into the boys; I would have to have extra material in the trunk of the car. And even then, I was afraid that the string would snap and I would be left without any Spiderman web.

So, I tried to identify some other material that would not be stiff and brittle. I looked at licorice twists, fruit leather and jerky. The first has the problem that I need to cut it down to only one or two strands; that is difficult because of the twist. The fruit leather didn’t like to roll into a strong enough piece that it wouldn’t fall apart in the center of the string. That left me with the jerky. I got one of the long sticks of pepperoni and cut it lengthwise into a thin string.

BabyBaby- the pepperoni poacher; “who? me?”

I used Royal Icing to stick the end of the jerky to Spidy’s hand and left it on the counter overnight to dry. Bad thinking; Baby, my cat, decided she wanted some beef jerky and ate Spidy’s web. So now I have a choice of using the licorice twist or Royal Icing. In the photos, you can see I tried both; the Royal Icing is white and broad, while the twist is dark and hard to see.

spidy 007Royal Icing web to pull clown up

The part of the Spiderman cake that didn’t work quite like I had hoped was the slant on the roof of the building. I had hoped that I could slice the top layer of the cake on a slant, and then rotate the top piece 180 degrees around the vertical such that the thick part of the bottom of that layer, and the thick part of the top of that layer would be together giving a sloped roof.

spidy 008Royal Icing web

What happened is that the angle I sliced the top layer was not great enough to make a good slope to the roof; it is almost a flat roof instead of one side being 2 inches higher than the other side.

The Opened Cake

Here is the final picture of the Spiderman cake as it was cut open and served.

pinata 002Goodies in the pinata cake

Making a Pinata Cake

A few weeks ago, my niece Cindy sent me an email with an advertisement for a cake pan for making piñata cakes. I had never thought of making a pinata cake before, but decided that would be great for the cakes I was making for the twins’ fourth birthdays. However, I am more of an Alton Brown follower than one who would buy a special pan for a single use. I did buy the dome pan that was used in the cake decorating class to make the “Girl Cake” and hopefully I will find more uses for it. I had to figure out how to make the hollow center of the piñata cake using just what I have.

I decided that I could put a tin can in the center of a cake pan and that would create the cavity I needed for the piñata. Interesting enough, at this point I had to become an engineer and decide how much cake mix I needed for the layer of the cake with the hole in it. The tin can I had was 4 inches in diameter; I think that is known as a #2½. They are usually on the bottom shelf in the grocery store with tomatoes, and refried beans.

If you aren’t really interested in all this engineering and want to get directly to the making of the cake, skip down to that subtitle- MAKING THE CAKE.

I assumed that I would use the same rise in cake as I do for a normal layer. That meant I could compare the amount of batter I needed with the amount for a full 8 inch layer by comparing the area of the pans. The 8 inch layer pan would have an area of Pi R squared or 4 squared Pi or 16 pi. The area of the can would be 2 squared Pi or 4 Pi. That means the area I have to fill with batter is 16 – 4 Pi or 12 Pi. That is 3/4 of a single 8 inch layer.

Now normally I use 1½ boxes of cake mix to make 2- 8 inch layers; that means I use .75 of a box for a single layer or an area of 16 Pi. I should need ¾ of the .75 of a box- or 9/16 of a box. That is pretty close to the ½ box that I have left over from making the 2- 8 inch layers and so now I have a use for that leftover half box.

So, you need two slightly different recipes for the layers of the cake. I use the Duncan Hines cake mix and it says to use 3 eggs, 1 cup water and 1/3 cup vegetable oil for the box of cake mix. I first measure out the half box of cake mix by weight; 8.25 ounces. Now I increase the recipe to be 5 eggs, 1 ½ cups water and ½ cup vegetable oil. (one third cup is 2 sixths, and half of that would be one sixth for a total of 3 sixths which is ½.)

For the layer with the cavity, I use 2 eggs, ½ cup water and 2T + 2t vegetable oil. (1/4 cup is 4T and is also 3/12 cup; divide by 3 and 1/12 cup is 1 1/3 Tablespoons; 1/3 cup is 4/12 cup, and half that would be 2/12 cup of 2 2/3 Tablespoons; a Tablespoon is 3 teaspoons so we have 2T+2t of vegetable oil). I am certain that most people will let me do the math and just go with what I say. I hope that is most of the information you need.

I bake my cakes at 325 degrees F. This is slower than suggested on the cake mix package. I also have Magi-Cake strips that I put around the cake pans to slow the cooking of the outside edge of the layer even more, giving me fairly flat layers right out of the oven. The reason for mentioning this is that I test the doneness of the cake using a bamboo skewer and not the clock. I know that my normal time for an 8 inch layer is close to 45 minutes.


So, now the making of the cake. I started by making the standard 2- 8 inch layers; then after washing everything from making the two standard layers, I used the remaining ½ box of cake mix and made the layer with the cavity. After the batter was in the pan around the tin can in the center, I poured cold water into the can to a level just higher than the 2 inch edge of the cake pan; this would cause the center to cook slower and keep the cavity layer more level.

pinata 001

Once the skewer showed the cavity layer was completely cooked, I racked it for the 15 minutes the mix directions suggest. During this first cooling time, I took the can out of the cake so that the center could cool better.

pinata 002

While I tort only the top and bottom layer of the cake with glaze, I didn’t want to slice the cavity layer for fear it would break. I also wanted to have a sealing, non-sticky bottom to the cavity, so I used my crusting butter cream frosting between the top of the bottom layer and the cavity layer.

pinata 005

I took a break at that point to hopefully let the butter cream frosting in the bottom of the cavity to crust.
I filled the cavity with 7 ounces of Jelly Belly and M&M candies. This size cavity could probably hold 10 to 12 ounces of small candies without a problem.

pinata 007

Once the cavity was filled, I spread butter cream frosting on the top of the cavity layer and from there, the rest is like making any cake. There is one exception to being like any cake. Remember that this cake has an extra layer, making it tall; when I first got it together, it reminded me of the chocolate cakes you see at many cafes. And that means that it will require more frosting to cover.

pinata 008

I think you could easily make what would be a 2 layer pinata cake by doing the following. You could use only a single box of cake mix and follow the directions for adding the eggs, water and oil. When you are preparing your 8 inch cake pans, put the tin can that creates the cavity in one of the pans. Now, when you cook the batter, you will have one pan that is normal and one pan that has the cavity. Go ahead and cool the cake as normal.

Now comes the tricky part! Slice the normal layer in half, and you have a half layer for the bottom of the cake, and a half layer for the top of the cake. Frost the top of the bottom half layer and set the cavity layer on it. I think now you can finish your 2 layer pinata cake by filling the cavity and then frosting the top of the cavity layer and placing the top half layer in place.

My math says that the ideal size for the amount of batter would be 1.25 boxes; that would correspond to using 1.5 boxes for 2 normal 8 inch layers. But since the cake box people think one box is right for 2- 8 inch layers, then I would think you would get good rise with a single box of cake mix since you are not filling all of the 8 inch cake pans; you have the cavity-making can in one of the pans.

Next time I make a pinata cake, I will try using a single box of cake mix and let you know how it goes. Or if you should try it before I get there, send me a comment and let me know how it went.

Chocolate Boxes and Truffles Class

I took another class at Blake’s Decorette Shop. This one was on making Chocolate Boxes and Truffles. I think a more apt name would be Using Tempered Chocolate. We used the tempered chocolate in two ways; first to mold chocolate boxes and cups, and to mold the shells for truffles, and then second to dip truffles to coat them with a hard chocolate shell.

choco 001Chocolate Cups

To make the chocolate boxes, we used special molds that created the two pieces of the box. We also used a mold that created chocolate cups. The trick was to fill the mold with melted chocolate that was tempered, dump out the excess chocolate so only the sides of the mold are covered, and then let the chocolate set. We also learned to paint the mold with Disco Dust before filling it with chocolate; this leaves a color on the finished product.

choco 007Chocolate Box with Disco Dust on lid

choco 003Dipped Truffles

We learned two ways to put a hard tempered chocolate coat on truffles; the first method was again using molds, and the second method was to dip the truffle centers in the melted chocolate.

choco 006Molded Truffles- square mold and disco cust

choco 005Molded Truffles- nearly round mold

So the real trick is to first get the chocolate into the tempered state, and then to hold its temperature at about 90 degrees so you can work with it. I know my previous experiences have always had problems because the chocolate cools and then can’t be used until it is remelted.

I have been thinking about how I can maintain a constant temperature for the melted chocolate. I had heard some people say that they put a heating pad under the bowl of chocolate. I decided to try my electric fry pan. Ninty degrees is low enough that I am not afraid of causing a fire, so I lined the fry pan with a hand towel to minimize hot spots directly over the fry pan’s heating element. Then, I filled a Corning bowl with water at 90 degrees, inserted an instant read thermometer and adjusted the fry pan temperature control to the point that the thermometer stayed constant at 90 degrees.

I think I have a solution. I hope to test it with real chocolate in September once my busy summer is somewhat past.