Tag Archives: pull-apart cake

Fifth Birthday for the Twins

m falcon 001

This year, I was told that the boys wanted chocolate cake, and the theme should be Star Wars. Now I am somewhat at a loss when it comes to Star Wars; I am certain that at some time I saw at least one of the movies, but I remember nothing in particular except there was Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia. Wow, that probably was the 1977 movie!!

So, I came up with three ideas. First, I know the kids like the pull-apart cupcakes and my first thought was to make something that would be mostly a shape formed from cupcakes. The most obvious shape to me seemed to be the space ship- Millenium Falcon. I also found some cake toppers of Luke and Darth battling it out with their light sabers. I decided to give the cake some third dimension by making it from a combination of regular size and mini cupcakes.

I tried to make all my cake batter this year from a “semi-home-made” recipe. I had gotten the ideas for adding/changing ingredients of a standard boxed cake mix from the Decorette Shop which were to make the cake tastier and fuller. I had some problems and need to run some further experiments before I publish all the directions for making “semi-home-made” cakes. Needless to say, for most of the cake I made for this year’s birthdays, I use triple chocolate cake mix in a box.
To keep from killing the chocolate taste of the cake, I chose to use almost exclusively a white chocolate butter cream frosting. I wanted the lighter color of the white chocolate rather than a brown chocolate. I then colored small amounts of the frosting for the black and blue piping on the figures. I also colored some of the frosting into a blue-grey color to represent metal. That shows up on the Death Star.
d star 0004

If the cupcakes of the Millennium Falcon were primarily for the kids, then the Death Star was primarily for taste, and for the adults. I started by making two dome cakes- again with the semi-home-made triple chocolate batter. Then I split each dome horizontally into fourths and filled it. I took the ideas for filling from the cookies that Mindy made on my last trip to Seattle- Salted Caramel & Nutella Stuffed Double Chocolate Chip. So the top layer is filled with Nutella, the middle layer is chocolate- make that white chocolate ganache with a touch of strawberry jam- and the bottom layer is the salted caramel ganache. Finally, I had to frost the cake somewhat like a death star might appear. The photo I found showed it as a metal egg with lots of black “windows”. I had a bunch of engineering to do to get the cake put together. First there was getting the windows on it. I decided to try to stencil the black onto the gun metal gray. I thought I had the stencils all figured out, but I didn’t account for the contour of the egg not being constant, but instead having some points that had different radii because my frosting wasn’t exactly the same thickness all over. I also had a stenciling problem, primarily on the bottom rows, where I didn’t get the gray smooth enough; the stencils allowed the black to creep under their edge and make a mess where the frosting should have stayed gray.

Perhaps the bigger engineering problems was to make the lower dome stand on its small end, and support the upper dome. I used some of the ideas from Cake Decorating Level 1 for stacked cakes- the final lesson in that class.

platforms 001

Finally, I felt the boys needed something on the order of a standard birthday cake with candles to blow out, and so I made two 10 inch round cake layers as a starting point; I was devoting one of the layers to each of the boys. Again, I split the layers and filled them with white chocolate ganache, and then frosted the sides of the cakes in white chocolate butter cream. Here is where I changed courses slightly. I frosted the tops of the cakes in chocolate butter cream. I actually did two layers on top; the first layer is a standard frosting, and then I thinned the frosting to near liquid form so that it would run and re-frosted the top of the cake pushing the extra frosting over the sides to run down the white sides of the cake. I had seen something like this done and wanted to try it.

The reason for going brown on the top of the cakes was so the Storm Troopers would stand out. They are all white, and they hold the candles for the birthday cakes.
The Storm Troopers are white cupcakes, cored and filled with white chocolate ganache, frosted with white chocolate butter cream with a marshmallow as a head stuck on top. I used a special food marking pen to draw the face mask on the marshmallow. I have to give credit for the technique to a blogger with the name Maija.

Having delivered the cakes, and tasted some of them, I think the Storm Trooper cupcakes were the most tasty; they were light, and moist because of the ganache in the center. I was disappointed with the Death Star for several reasons. I had added chocolate chips to the batter, and that made it very dense; it was not light and moist. The fillings did not do the trick. Because the Nutella was on the top layer, there was not much of it. The middle ganache layer seemed to lose its body- perhaps any moisture in it was absorbed by the cake. And I didn’t think the salted caramel really was strong enough for the amount of cake and frosting there was. We did not cut into the platform cakes, but I believe they should be better than the Death Star, but probably still too dense.
StormTroopers 001

I have updated the article on Icings, Glazes and Frostings to include the directions for making white chocolate ganache and crusting white chocolate buttercream frosting.

Another Birthday Cake

Jason cake

It is Jason’s big 4 year birthday, and while I didn’t do anything overly spectacular, I was certain he would like the pull-apart cake made with the mini-cupcakes. And since I have just finished the Valentine cake, I had a partial box of cake mix ready to go.

I think there is something simple about the circular resulting cake, even though it can only be a single layer when made with the cupcakes. There is not much to tell about making it. Again, the basics I followed are described in the Mini Cupcake article. The frosting is white butter cream, and I mixed some black in order to pipe the message.

Valentine’s Pull-apart Cake

Valentine Cake 002

For the grand kids’ Valentine, I decided to make a pull-apart cake. This cake is made from mini-cupcakes; I invite you to look at the article I wrote about making the mini-cupcakes if you are interested in making the cupcakes richer than they would normally be coming from a cake mix box. Otherwise, you need to use a little more of the cake mix to get the 36 mini-cupcakes;

I can no longer find the article that tells what I used before I started making the richer version of cupcakes as formulated by Blake’s Decorette Shop. I believe that I weighed out half of the cake mix, and then divided the water and oil in half, and used 2 eggs- you can’t divide 3 eggs in half. Anyway, as I remember this gave me enough batter for 36 mini-cupcakes. Now, I am using the recipe in the Mini-Cupcakes article mentioned above. It only uses a quarter of the box of cake mix.

I used a “Triple Chocolate” cake mix; after all, Valentines Day is all about chocolate, and so I felt it appropriate to make the cake chocolate.

This photo shows the layout of the cupcakes to make the Valentine heart. There are 25 cupcakes in the heart, so you will have extras. One thing I like to do with the extras is to place them around the edges of the cake board as individual items and not as part of the basic design. Otherwise, I would have a lot of left over cupcakes that I would end up eating, and I don’t need to do that.

Valentine Cake 001

I used a butter cream frosting on the cupcakes; the frosting is thick enough to fill the gaps between cupcakes. Then I used white butter cream frosting to pipe lace around the heart, and to pipe the letters on the heart.

Splash- another Pull-Apart cake

Alli had a pool party for her birthday, and I was asked to make another pull-apart cake for it. The specifications were to use regular size cupcakes, the overall shape was to be a star, the cakes were to be chocolate, and the frosting was to be pink and blue. This is what I made.

splash 003

I thought naming the character “Splash” was right in keeping with the theme of a pool party. (There appear to be wrinkles in the covering of the cake board- sorry about that).

Again, the starting point was determining the layout of the cupcakes. I did the initial testing with the men from our Backgammon set; there are 16 of each color so I could definitely test how 25 would go. At that point, I did indeed have 25 pieces in the star shape, although the star wasn’t the perfect straight lines that my engineering mind wanted. I was concerned about the size of the board necessary to hold the star, and after some testing with cupcake papers, decided I needed a 2 foot square, which meant I needed to plan on covering the board for health sake. I ended up with 1/4 inch plywood.

Once I had the layout and base all planned, it was only necessary to decide on the frosting. I decided the pink, if light enough, could be skin and I could make the star into a girl with blue clothes. Once I thought about the pool aspect of the party, I was almost there- the clothes would be a bathing suit. I had to go on-line and check the department stores to determine the form of a young girl’s bathing suit, and when it showed two piece suits, I felt comfortable separating the top from the dress part. Then I had to worry about the face, feet and hands. I decided the feet and hands would be with nail polish and that would be enough. Having made red for those features, I had lipstick for the face. I just needed the eyes. I have been seeing ads on TV for “Manga” eyes which seemed to accent the lashes and dark outlines so I decided to make the figure have what I thought were Manga eyes.

Finally, I decided to put the girl’s hair up in a top-knot to keep it out of the way- of course, this also helped cover that last pointed cupcake at the top of the head.

Around the star I used up the extra cupcakes- both regular size and minis. The red roses on the mini-cupcakes are from a false start I made in planning the clothes for the figure; I felt I wanted to have roses on her clothes, but as I went to the idea of swim wear, there seemed no place for the roses- except to tie up her hair. Having made the roses in advance so they would be dry when I decorated the figure, I had them and no plan for them so when I placed the extra cupcakes around the figure, I decorated the cupcakes with the roses.

Rabbit Birthday Cake

This should be my final birthday cake for a few months. When I asked Alli what she wanted, the answer was a rabbit pull-apart chocolate cake. That describes what you see here.

cake 004

The concept of pull-apart cake is that the decoration is layered on top of bunched cupcakes so that people can reach under the decoration and grab a individual cupcake to eat. The frosting decoration breaks off and goes with the cupcake.

For this cake, I used the mini-cupcakes as they would fit tighter together and leave fewer gaps to be bridged by the frosting. For the frosting, I made a basic butter cream, but added 1/4 cup of cocoa powder (to two cups of confectioner’s sugar) to give the frosting a chocolate taste. The trick is that then you need to add more liquid; the cocoa powder drys the frosting out and makes it very difficult to spread or even to stick.

pic 002

The entire process starts with a search for a suitable shape. I found the bunny head, and then had to do the engineering to enlarge it to the size of a 1/4 sheet cake; you probably know the process of drawing squares on both the picture and the blank paper, then duplicating where the lines of the picture cross the lines of the squares that were added. I then used a compass to draw circles of the size of a regular cupcake, and when they didn’t seem very tight, circles of the size of mini-cupcakes. The final proof is when the cupcakes are baked to see how they really fit- and it is never quite like all the circles that were drawn to make decisions.

Since it was a rabbit cake, I decided to get the Easter molds out and make some chocolate rabbits in tempered dark chocolate. And I also had a few regular size cupcakes left over from the Halloween witches which I frosted, put the chocolate rabbits on, and put on the 1/4 sheet board with the pull-apart rabbit.

To try to get some differentiation into the frosting, I powdered the face with ground up chocolate sprinkles dust, and then I piped “hair” over the rest of the chocolate frosting. I guess that makes the cake “Hairy Hare”.

More Pull-Apart Cakes

For our Thanksgiving meal, I was to make a couple pies and a side casserole. What I did there will have to wait for another article. In this article, I want to show a couple pull-apart cakes I also took to Thanksgiving.

As I was doing the pies, it dawned on me that the young children really like cupcakes. They can hold them in their hands and when decorated, they are fun. So I started planning to do a pull-apart set of cupcakes with an overall frosting. I remembered how the young ones almost fought over who got the eyeballs from the turtle I had made with the birthday cake.

turkey 002

I decided I wanted to do a “crazy looking” turkey as the overall design. The other day I saw a yard in the neighborhood that was decorated with large balloon turkeys and that became my starting point. But try as a would, it took 13 cupcakes; I would need to make two batches! and then I would have 11 left over!

So while I was planning the turkey, I decided I could make the little one-eyed green guy from Monsters, Inc. And that is what I planned.

pullApart 001

This big monster only took 7 cupcakes, and so I decided to transform the last four cupcakes into individual green guys.

individual 002

I ran into a couple problems that I need to mention. First, while at birthday time I used a half recipe of Kentucky Chocolate cake to make 12 cupcakes, this time I made a full recipe expecting to get all 24 cupcakes from it; it didn’t happen. For some reason- I filled them too full?- I got only about 12 from a recipe, and I had to make a second recipe to get my needed 24 cupcakes. Second, I tried to glaze the first batch of cupcakes just as the recipe says. What a mess, because there are no sides of the pan to hold the glaze on! And then, the glaze gets in the way. I was not able to push the cupcakes together close enough, and there were big gaps at spots. Finally, since we are frosting the cupcakes, the glaze gets in the way of the frosting. I noticed as the people were eating the cupcakes from the big monster, the frosting was staying as a tent and the cupcakes they were taking were sliding out from under the frosting. So, don’t glaze the cupcakes if you are going to frost them!

The frosting on the turkey is all the Basic Cream Cheese Frosting which I found spreads so nicely. I did cheat on the band of the hat; I had blue Royal Icing that I decided to use rather than creating another color of the frosting. For the monsters, I used both frosting and icing. The arms and ears are icing and the face, eyes and mouth are all Basic Frosting thinned down enough to pipe.

Oh yes, and I noticed at our Thanksgiving meal that the women were eating cupcakes instead of the pies. I am certainly glad I decided to make the pull-aparts.

Making of a Birthday Cake

In late September, I was asked to make a cake for Alli’s ninth birthday, which we would celebrate on the second of November. The request was for “a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and some fun decoration on it. “

It all came out fairly nicely as the picture shows, but this is the story of getting there.

final bday cake 002

I knew immediately that the cake and frosting were the Kentucky Chocolate cake; it is very moist and chocolaty since it contains a whole can of Hershey’s Chocolate syrup. The trick was to decide on, and make the fun decorations. At that time, I felt I had two tools that I knew and could use- Royal Icing and Sugar Fondant. I use Royal Icing on the cutout cookies for decorations, and I use the Sugar Fondant on the napoleons I bake. Little did I know how much I needed to learn.

I felt a little girl would like flowers, birds and butterflies on her cake; probably roses as the base of a center display. And of course, there would need to be lettering for “Happy Birthday Allison”. Normally in store-bought cakes, the lettering is piped on using a pastry bag of frosting; I didn’t think I would do a good job of piping the letters, and decided to try to use preformed letters. Of course, most stores have candy letters in a set with candles, and maybe I should have gone that way; but I didn’t. I decided that I would make my own larger letters.

I spent the next couple weeks experimenting and learning how naïve I was when it came to icings, frosting and decorating a cake. I learned fairly quickly that what I make as Royal Icing wouldn’t set into candy-like letters; I quit trying to use my Royal Icing within a couple days when it wouldn’t dry like I wanted it to into brittle candy forms. And I quickly learned that my Sugar Fondant was also too brittle; I was able to mold a few figures, but my success ratio was way too small.

In Marlys’s cook book were several recipes for frosting- how to pick the right one? So I started with the one that was called Basic Frosting. When I had it mixed up, I felt something was wrong. It was very dry and would never be able to be spread. I added a very small amount of milk – 1 Tablespoon- and it at least came together into a solid. To my surprise, the result was malleable; I was able to knead it, to roll it out, and generally shape it. This became the basis for a good number of the decorations that were mostly two dimensional- things that could be cut out with miniature cookie cutters like leaves, butterflies and some flowers. I was also able to use this stiff butter cream frosting in molds for flowers and birds. And, I found directions for making a rose that worked with this stiff dough. The directions were designed for using gum paste, but I was staying away from that since I wanted good tasting decorations.

Oct 26 009

I still didn’t have letters, so I decided to get help. I went to Blake’s Decorette Shop in Tigard, and found the most helpful company of women. I especially need to recognize Michelle who gave me a quick education in fondant. And I went home with a couple pounds of Rolled Fondant and some suggestions for using the letter molds I had bought. I started having some success with the letters although I still need to learn more about the techniques for molding in plastic molds.

First molded letters

I had found on the internet, instructions for making a “Ribbon Rose” with rolled fondant, and tried that; it makes a nice looking flower, but not the delicate roses that I wanted. And as I mentioned, I found directions for constructing a rose from gum paste; I used my stiff butter cream frosting and I liked the results. I call this a play-doh rose because the construction is like using play-doh. I also knew that you were suppose to be able to pipe the roses. I found the directions on the Wilton web site, and started practicing. When I finally got what could loosely be called a flower, I was dismayed at how small it was. I went back to the Decorette Shop, and found a piping tip that was larger, and should make larger roses. And, it was obvious that this tip would not fit on the piping bag couplers that Marlys had; I had to buy a new honking big coupler.

It took a few more practice sessions, and reading some of the many hints on the website to finally get some roses that I felt I could put on the cake. One of those hints was to freeze the core of the rose so that it is firm enough to hold up when making the petals attach to it. Oh yes, the dough I was using for piping was the stiff butter cream frosting thinned out with more milk and the liquid in the food color dye.

PicMonkey Collage
In this photo, the yellow flowers are rolled fondant ribbon roses, the white flowers are what I call play-doh roses- hand crafted, and the pink flowers are the piped “Wilton” roses.

turtle pullapart 001

Somewhere along here, I got thinking about cupcakes, and pull-apart cakes. I had already committed myself mentally to making a traditional(?) cake- or at least a quarter sheet cake in a pan. But I got thinking about a Betty Crocker design I found for a pull-apart turtle cake. The recipe made two turtles from a single cake recipe, but I had already experimented with making a small Kentucky Chocolate cake by dividing the recipe ingredients by half. So I made a half recipe of the cake and formed it into 12 cupcakes. The only trick is to reduce the cooking time from 35 minutes to about 20 minutes, and to not overfill the cupcake papers; the half recipe is just right for 12 cupcakes.

pullapart placement 002
This picture shows how the 12 cupcakes are arranged to form the turtle. The head is the cupcake on the right, and the hind feet are the two cupcakes that stick out on the left.

I thought the frosting for the pull-apart cake should be firmer than a basic butter cream (what was I thinking- remember I had it so stiff I could mold it.) I chose to use Marlys’s recipe for Basic Cream Cheese Frosting which I felt would be stiff. I turned out to be a perfect spreading frosting- not overly stiff and easy to spread. I took half of the frosting and tinted it with green food coloring, and in the mixer I added Hershey’s cocoa to the other half to get the brown color I wanted. After adding the green food coloring, that half of the frosting was too loose to pipe well, and I had to add more powder sugar to stiffen it back up. For the details, I had leftover some of the original uncolored stiff butter cream frosting and I formed the two balls for the eyes, and deepened the leftover pink I had for the roses to be more red and piped it for the mouth. Perhaps the only thing I would do different in the frosting would be to make more separation between the head and the two front feet; my execution makes them run together.

I will publish Marlys’s frosting recipes in a few days, but I didn’t want to mix the recipes with the experience of making the birthday cakes. If I can learn to make these decorations, then I am certain you can too. So, make someone a birthday cake and decorate it; they will never even see the mistakes and goofs you make, and they will be excited that you remembered them and went to the effort. And the nice thing about practicing with the butter cream frosting is that when you practice on wax paper, you can scrape the mistakes off into your frosting bowl and use the frosting again until you like the results.