Friday, December 28, 2007

Project Lila

Robb and I had a wonderful opportunity to make a cake for the 3rd birthday of Lila, the daughter of our friends Geoff and Hillary. Her birthday was on Thursday December 13th, and the celebration continued through that weekend. Lucky girl!

This post has obviously taken some time, but we've had a lot of real life stuff happening, some of it happy and some of it sad, and we are able to get to writing about this really fun time now.

Lila loves princesses and pink. So, castles, tiaras, pink, pink, pink, polka dots, flowers, whimsy, pink, pink, gowns, frills, etc. swam around in our minds as we thought of lots of possibilities. We hoped to include only edible items, this is obviously a big limiting factor for novice decorators, but we were willing to be pushed to (and beyond?) our limits. We considered that cake that is shaped like a gown, with a waist-up barbie sticking out the top. Seemed too predictable... although we did purchase the pan, and some scalloped edge pans that looked like they might be useful: 6 and 8 inch just in case. We also knew that we wanted sparkle and did I mention, pink? We found some pink gel food color (and a zillion other cool colors, too), flaky edible pink glitter, some pink food spray- yes like pink spray paint, also some really cool stuff called lustre. It's a powder that you can brush on and it's really sparkly. We got some of that in dark and light pink, white and pearl. We knew that we wanted the cake to look top notch and that our frosting skills are ok, but not professional looking. We decided that we would have the best luck creating a smooth cake with fondant. We got some pre-made fondant, and also made some (recipe in the CB pg. 307), and discovered in a practice coloring and rolling session (see the Art Deco cake) that they were virtually identical. And easy to work with- really easy! We were so confident, we didn't give the fondant another thought.

Originally, Robb and I had a design that included two tiers: one 9 inch round, topped with one 6 inch scalloped, each with some combination of cake and fillings, and a pointy princess hat on top. The 6 inch layer was to hover over the 9 inch layer by about a 1/2 inch or so. We figured that we could make the pointy princess hat out of caramel, similar in concept to a caramel cage that we've all seen placed over fancy shmancy desserts. For the cone shaped mold we considered foil, but realized that we'd have trouble getting it smooth enough. We ended up making one out of radiator screen. We thought that would be smooth and flexible and could withstand the hot sugar. We also tried a styrofoam cone covered with foil, and hoped the foam wouldn't melt. We planned to get it colored pink or close enough with all manner of the pink items listed above. We tried it out and for a number of reasons, did not get a good result. #1 we overcooked the caramel, #2 the radiator screen mold was too wide and short, #3 the application of caramel wasn't uniform enough to produce a strong enough caramel network to withstand the prying needed to unmold it, and #4 and most problematic for this project, it didn't color very pink with the stuff we had to work with. I think that it could be done, but we made this discovery on the Tuesday before the party. Yikes! So, we relaxed our restriction about edibility and agreed to use a plastic tiara. That was a tough choice, but a pragmatic one.

Funny how in making this cake, the actual cake part wasn't our focus. We were feeling fairly confident in our ability to make tasty cake and had dwelled completely on the look of it. In our batting ideas around stage, we had talked about an almond flavored cake layer with some kind of pink filling. That would have been fine I'm sure, but like a lightening bolt I was struck with the idea of making the inside look like Neapolitan ice cream. Brilliant! We decided on chocolate, raspberry, and vanilla, with raspberry puree between the layers and the wonderful raspberry mousseline buttercream for frosting (see our July 17, 2007 post for our raves). We still had to pick which cake recipes, so we looked back through our notes of butter cakes and decided that we like the Chocolate Domingo and the White Velvet Butter Cake best. We agreed that we could just color some of the white cake pink and call it raspberry, which we did. The only adjustment that was made to the cake recipes aside from coloring one batch pink, was some brown and red food color was added to the chocolate layer. In a practice muffin-sized version, the chocolate layer took on a slightly chalky look once it was cut. The brown and red made it just enough richer- or my imagination said it worked! Lastly, in addition to the cake layers, raspberry puree and yummy buttercream, I thought it would be good to have an almond dacquoise layer to add a bit of nice texture. Robb agreed once he tried the muffin-sized mock up. I think this may have been his favorite part! (It definitely was. A good crunch in a lovely cake!)

So, we come to Friday night, the night before her party and we have tickets to see Paula Poundstone (right here in Peekskill at the wonderful Paramount Center for the Arts) and we get started on assembly and decoration AFTER the show. We at least had the cake layers assembled: chocolate, raspberry puree, dacquoise, pink layer, raspberry puree, dacquoise, white layer, all covered with a thin layer of the raspberry mousseline buttercream, and the same for the 6 inch layer, except that the scalloped edges got lost in the trimming and it turned out to be round. That's ok in the big scheme of things. But, oh boy, we enter murky territory...

We got the fondant colored pink finally- it took a bit of time and a total scrapping of the first attempt. Fuschia isn't really pink, at least not in the way we wanted. Adding more and more of a color that isn't what you want doesn't magically make it the right color- go figure! Lessons learned- color a little bit at a time instead of 4 pounds worth, and use pink food color if you want to end up with pink fondant! (Ok, I'm a hair colorist and I know this, but somehow after seeing Paula Poundstone, it didn't come to me in a blinding flash, until the 4 pounds were already a lovely shade of a too violet fuschia.)

We had a heck of a time getting the fondant on the cake this time. The Art Deco cake was simple, partly because it was very wide and only an inch tall. So much for smooth sailing. Our 6 inch layer was at least 6 inches tall,and we ended up with a LOT of excess fondant on the sides and had a terrible time trying to smooth it. In fact, we took so much time trying to get it sorted out, it got hard. So, we ended up with a sort of bustle of fondant on one side of the cake, and a couple of seams. We were strategic with some fondant ribbon placement and all in all I think the "bustle" area looked suggestive of flowing hair at the back of the tiara. We stuck on some flowers and dusted the whole thing with the fantastic lustre mentioned above. Some princess ribbon on the tiara added to the flowing look.

Given the excitement of the fondant effort on the 6 inch layer, and that it was past midnight, we figured we'd go with buttercream for the bottom layer. We had a terrific polka dot ribbon and I was especially keen to see it wrapped around the base of the cake; minimalist and classy. We topped it off with a small branch of alstroemeria. (I think this small hand-held bouquet is called a tussy mussy or something similar- from Victorian times.) Lila enjoyed the flowers, carrying them around and then later in the day when she was tired, she got to tear them up into very tiny pieces. What a bonus!

We intended to have the layers stacked, but the pinks clashed and the style was quite different for that to make sense. With the overhanging fondant, we did need a pedestal for the smaller layer, so it was perched on some columns with a fluffy cloud of organza ribbon beneath.

The cakes were well received, the taste was great. And despite being mashed into slices with the side of a dull cake server, it held up pretty well. We had a great time thinking and planning for this one! We learned a lot in the process- found some good sources for supplies and interesting products. To some extent executing this one was less fun- there was even a moment for one of us of laying on the kitchen floor and trying not to lose it. But, we're troopers! We made it through and isn't that what this blog project is all about...

Bake through!


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