April 17, 2011
My First 3D Cake: The Super Mario Mushroom Cake
This is a very special episode of the Aubergine Chef! So this past week (the 14th) was my birthday and every year I like to make my own birthday cake. Now I know this sounds a little sad and some of you are probably saying, “You shouldn’t have to make your own cake!!!” but hear me out! Right around this time of the year I don’t have any major expenses going out – no holidays and such – and at the same time (hopefully) I have money coming in. That alone makes it a perfect time to experiment! Add that to the fact that this is a birthday cake for me (so that if I mess up, nobody gets disappointed) and there really isn’t any reason to try something new. I like to make my own cake because it gives me a chance to try something I don’t do that often – such as tiered cakes, fondant cakes, and (in this case) a 3D cake.
I’ve always wanted to try and make a 3D cake but I’ve never really had a good reason to just do it. I learned a lot by doing this cake. I actually didn’t expect it to turn out but I’m so glad it did because now I get to share it with all of you.
So before we get into the 3D cake assembly portion of the blog post let’s get the other stuff out of the way. First and foremost, I mention in the video that I also played with some new flavors for this cake. I did make my own hibiscus (I think, I lost the packaging so it’s actually “mystery flower A” to me) and rosemary extracts. I decided to go with rosemary because believe it or not, chocolate actually goes really well with rosemary! I also said that I was going to explain how to make your own extract in the video and I totally forgot! Sorry about that – but I do have a page on my site that does give out instructions on how to make your own extract.
This time around I used the devil’s food chocolate cake (one of my favorite cakes) recipe
for the cake. I ended up having to make the largest batch of the cake three times to fill up all the pans. Remember that to find out how much of a recipe you need to fill a differently sized pan all you need to use is water. When we fill a cake pan with batter we don’t fill it based on weight – we fill it based on volume. For most cake pans, you fill the pan with batter until it is about 2/3 of the way up. For smaller cake pans, like 5″ or 6″ and smaller you would fill it 1/2 way up. Anyway, let’s say you have a recipe that makes two 9″ cakes and you want to know how you need to alter that recipe to make three 10″ cakes. Simply fill a 9″ cake pan with water until it is 2/3 of the way up. Then pour that water directly into the 10″ cake pan. Repeat this process until you have all three 10″ cake pans filled with water 2/3 of the way up – just like you would with actual cake batter. This will give you a good estimate of how you should multiply or enlarge your original recipe. Keep in mind that air being whipped and added into the batter will alter the volume of the batter so it’s not exact – but it’s much better than guessing!
For the icing I decided to go with the Swiss buttercream recipe. I haven’t made it all that often for the show (compared to the Italian buttercream) so I wanted to give it another episode. An upcoming episode, German Chocolate Cake, also uses Swiss buttercream. Swiss buttercream requires that the granulated sugar be added to the egg whites in the beginning which are then heated on a double boiler until they reach about 120 degrees F. This helps dissolve the sugar into the egg whites but it also makes the egg whites stronger by causing reactions such as water evaporating. Afterward, you simply whip the egg whites until they form a meringue then add in the room temperature butter.
In the video at the end I do say that there was only one major thing I would change about the cake if I were to do it again. Well, I’ve thought of a bunch of different things since I made that remark! So let’s go over the process together.
Once I had the cakes cooled and the tops trimmed and the icing made I then had to build
the base of the cake. The smaller tier (the face of the mushroom) was easy. It was a simple 5″ cake with two layers. The taller tier (the head of the mushroom) was a little more difficult. I’m not great at sculpting so I was actually dreading doing this part. I got the idea to start trimming the cakes into the shape I needed prior to stacking them onto each other. This was so that I wouldn’t have to cut so much once the icing was on the cake. That way I wouldn’t be putting pressure on the odd shape and dealing with squishy icing – at least as much as I would if I had done no trimming to begin with. By doing some preliminary cuts I could just go back and refine the shape after I had them stacked together. Also my friend Katie of Katie Cakes Cakery suggests partially freezing your cake to help make it easier to carve. If you have the freezer space give it a try but my freezer was much too full at the time of filming to even entertain the idea. Keep in mind though you don’t want the cake completely frozen solid. If you ice a frozen cake, when it thaws out it will expand which will crack your icing and fondant.
Once I had my preliminary cuts done, I began to build the cake. I built it on the same cake
pan that made the bottom tier so that way I could ice underneath the cake. I used a somewhat smaller cake circle so that I could ice more of the cake BUT I would definitely not do that again. After I had the cake finished the top tier was so heavy that it actually started pushing down onto the cake pan – creating a pocket inside the bottom of the cake. At first I thought this was great because it would have the neat tucked in look. Then I realized… oh I’m not in control of that effect. Is it going to continue piercing the cake? Will the cake continue to do this when I stack it? When I started to notice the piercing, it was too late but I think if I would have just used a wider cake circle I wouldn’t have had that issue to deal with. I would just ice the bottom of the cake circle in order to get the fondant to stick on the bottom when I wrapped it around the bottom edge of the cake.
Anyway, once I had the bottom tier on the cardboard I began icing it. At first I was going to do each stack individually – even icing the sides – but I realized as I put the middle layer on that this was not such a good idea. With icing covering the sides I couldn’t go back and trim the cake any more! Plus with the first stack being iced when I trimmed the top stack the crumbs just stuck in the side of the icing. So if I were to make this cake again I would stack all the cakes first and then ice the sides.
I might also treat each layer or stack of the cake as a tier. What I mean is, I would use a separate cardboard for each piece and use straws to support each tier. Now this is counter-intuitive because you can’t just slice into the cake and get a nice slice but I feel like this would help keep the cake stable and level as well as distribute such heavy weight evenly. This is a toss up though if I’d actually do it or not because the slice effect is so neat looking I wouldn’t want to give that up!
I know in my episode I have quite a bit of crumbs in my icing. I know what you’re thinking, “For shame sloppy Aubergine Chef,” but I didn’t really have the patience to do a crumb coating. You, on the other hand, probably do! A crumb coating is just a very thin layer of icing on a cake – the cake is then refrigerated (usually overnight) to help create a seal or barrier. That way when you go back and ice it again the crumbs are trapped in the initial layer of icing. That way you have fewer imperfections in your icing and fewer imperfections means smoother fondant. My biggest concern was getting the cake finished but I promise I will work more neatly next time. Maybe. If I have time.
So once I had the top tier iced it was time to smooth it down. Now Katie suggests using a plastic scraper and I think it’s a great idea. A plastic scraper can bend slightly so that you can create smooth curves around the cake – something a metal bench scraper cannot do. Plastic scrapers are relatively inexpensive – you shouldn’t pay anymore more than a dollar or two at the most – so there isn’t any reason not to have one or two lying around. Make sure that they are flexible but that they won’t snap in half when working with them. If your plastic scraper is so stiff that you can’t bend it, then what’s the point – it will just serve the same purpose as a metal bench scraper.
Once I had both tiers iced I refrigerated them for at least one hour to make sure the icing
was nice and firm. Think of a stick of butter in the refrigerator – I wanted my icing to be that firm. You want your icing to be firm before you put the fondant on because you don’t want to be dealing with squishy soft icing while trying to work fondant on the cake. (That was one of my biggest mistakes with one of my earlier tiered cake episodes.) Once you have your fondant rolled out to about 1/4″ thickness and around one or two inches past the total size of the cake (a 5×3″ cake would need 5″(top)+3″(side 1)+3″(side 2)=11″ of fondant plus one or two more inches so about 12-13″) you are ready to put it on. I like to roll the fondant on my rolling pin and glide it on. In most cases this works really well but with the top tier being as large as it was I had so much fondant I couldn’t even find my rolling pin to pick up the fondant! I ended up unrolling it a bit to find the rolling pin but then it turned out that I had more than enough fondant to cover the tier. For the 5×3″ cake I used 1# 8 ozs of fondant while for the top tier I used about 3# 6 ozs. My brother actually did the math for me for the top tier so don’t ask me how I came to that amount. You can tell how great I am at math because in the video I say that I needed 15″ of fondant for the 5×3″ cake…
Remember if you’re looking for a great fondant tutorial you should watch my covering a dummy cake in fondant episode. Anyway, once I had the fondant on the top tier I noticed
that it was much drier than I expected so it started to tear a little bit especially in the back and especially under it’s own weight. At this point I had one of two options: Work quickly and try to salvage as much as I could OR take off the fondant and start over. Clearly with my high level of patience I chose the choice that would make the best product! (haha…) I decided to work with what I could. I pushed down the ruffles as much as could as fast as could then using a pair of very sharp scissors I cut off the fondant until I had about 1″-2″ of overhang. The overhang would go around the bottom curve of the cake to create that neat wrap around appearance.
I thought that once I had the cakes covered in fondant that it would be downhill from there but I was very wrong. Remember how I mentioned that the top tier was so heavy that it actually caused the cake pan to push and pierce inside of the top tier? Well imagine that except imagine it being a soft cake instead of a hard metal pan and imagine squishy icing getting warmer and warmer. Yeah, I had to work fast because the straws just didn’t seem to be working. True they were helping by balancing the cake but the weight was so much that the straws actually start to slide outward. I must’ve put them in crooked or something – or maybe the top tier was just that heavy? I guess I’ll never know for sure but I know next time that I will make doubly sure to check that the straws are perfectly straight.
After I had the tiers stacked it was just a matter of decorating with the giant white spots
and the little eyes. The eyes I made ahead of time with chocolate fondant and white fondant. I allowed them to dry so that they would be easy to handle. To adhere dry fondant use a little gum paste glue – which is just water with gum paste gums mixed together. You can find gum paste gums at baking supply stores – its the stuff you need to make fondant into gum paste.
Towards the end of the episode the cake was really moving around so I really had to move quickly to wrap up the episode and take pictures of the cake. I actually had to use small tupperware to help support the cake while I did this. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t work perfectly but then I realized how far I had come and that a small little mistake like weight was not that bad. At least I was able to stack the cakes, carve the cakes, ice the cakes perfectly, and cover them with fondant – and at least I was able to stack the tiers for a little while. In the end it was very satisfying to try this out and I’m glad I did it. I hope that this inspires you try something different and push your boundaries a little.
Here is the recipe for the devil’s food chocolate cake and the recipe for the Swiss buttercream. I never make my own fondant – the bottom tier and the white spots were made with Wilton fondant and the red fondant was satin ice. Both are decent – usually satin ice is a little better than Wilton – so pick whichever fondant you like. Enjoy the video below and thanks for watching and joining me on this amazing cake journey!