This is the point at which I sheepishly explain my failure to write a blog post for over a year…. but the explanation is far less interesting than photographs of some of the baking I’ve done in that time, so let’s settle for the latter, shall we?
My most glamorous friend Jessie was somewhat irked when her gorgeous daughter Livia requested a “fairy princess cake” for her fourth birthday as it meant (a) Jessie’s world would become even more pink and (b) she couldn’t have the rainbow cake on which she had set her heart when she saw my previous attempts. Not one to be so easily beaten, Jessie gently suggested a Wizard of Oz theme, which went down a treat with the discerning Liv. So, here we are.
I applied a layer of buttercream all over the cake to make it as even a surface as I could, and to give the fondant something sticky to which it would adhere. I measured the cake’s top, sides and the board, and decided I needed the green fondant to measure 45cm in diameter, so rolled it accordingly. At this juncture, it becomes relevant to explain exactly how small my kitchen is. It’s really small. With a substantial seam ruining my tiny patch of worktop, the largest surface on which I can roll out fondant, pastry etc is the halogen hob. This is absolutely fine and workable, provided I don’t accidentally knock one of the knobs and switch on the heat. (Can you see where this is going?)
As I draped the rolled green fondant over the cake, I noticed the first signs of weakness on one edge, and I thought “Oh, no-no-no, I’m not having another cake-tastrophe like that” so I quickly put my hand on it to take the weight and work to secure the fondant to the buttercream before the weakness developed into a rip. It was then that I felt the weird heat of the fondant and worked out what I must’ve done. Mercifully, it seems that the heat wasn’t on for long enough to ruin it (because that would have meant throwing away the entire endeavour and starting from scratch) nor start a fire. I have now added ‘switch off the [insert expletive here] hob before rolling anything’ to my list of preparatory steps.
Now came the Yellow Brick Road, which presented its own challenges, including rolling it to the right thickness so that it wasn’t too wedge-like but was dense enough to remain vibrant yellow with no green hues coming through, cutting it to the right shape before draping it on the cake, draping it in such a way that it covered the most offensive imperfections in the green, smoothing it in situ without warping the shape, adhering it to the green without saturating it with water which could make the green seep through, that sort of thing. But I did it. Then I gently trailed the blunt edge of a fondant sculpting tool across its surface to create brickwork, being careful to make the brick sizes match the perspective implied by the shape of the road (which becomes a rather ridiculous detail to care about when you see how MASSIVE Dorothy is, in relation to the road).
Now, to the all-important sculpting of our leading lady. This was, I think, my third foray into sculpting with sugarpaste, and my first attempt at making a person. I did a trial Dorothy a week or two ago, and she turned out creepy and ugly, which wasn’t exactly my desired outcome, so I turned to trusty Pinterest to see what other people had done. I chose elements from my favourite three and set to work. This is how I did it:
1. Starting with the torso, I made a blunted cone from white, then poked a cocktail stick down its centre for stability, leaving almost a centimetre poking out of the top.
2. I mixed up a decent quantity of pale blue (always make more than you think you need, as it’ll be impossible to match the shade later) and rolled out a simple rectangle for the bodice of the dress. I used edible glue to attach it to the torso, then cut a couple of strips for the straps.
3. I mixed up something flesh-colour-adjacent, and made a simple sphere for the head, which I skewered onto the torso’s cocktail stick. I used the edible glue to attach a little button nose.
4. Two simple cylinder shapes worked well for the arms, and as I was going for a cartoon style, I decided I needn’t spend hours sculpting hands – I just gently flattened the ends to make paddle-shaped hands. I cut another cocktail stick in half, prodded it horizontally through the top of the torso and poked each arm on, letting the hands fall where they may.
5. Next, I divided my remaining blue sugarpaste into two and rolled out two circles, quite thinly. When it’s this thin, the sugarpaste dries out pretty quickly so I had to work relatively fast to ruffle each circle, then stacked them up and folded them in two because my top-heavy Dorothy was going to be sitting down.
6. Two more flesh-coloured cylinders and Dorothy had legs.
7. Hair. TRICKY. I briefly flirted with the idea of piping brown buttercream through a grass nozzle but I really wanted to do plaits, which would’ve been impossible, especially with hot hands like mine. I went for three slim strips of brown sugarpaste but realised the back of her head would be bare, which is just weird. I cut shorter strips and glued them across the back, starting at the bottom, leaving the ends hanging slightly to give a bit more volume underneath the plaits. (I can’t believe I’m writing about hair volume in the context of a person made from sugar.)
8. I laid out three strands and loosely plaited each end before securing it over the top of Dorothy’s head, at which point I took the blunt side of a sculpting tool and gave her a centre parting all the way down.
9. Ruby slippers! These were just a couple of blocks of white sugarpaste, which I roughly shaped and then painted first with water, then with red edible glitter.
Then it was time to put it all together and apply the finishing touches, i.e. little punched flowers to
hide visible imperfections in the rolled fondant embellish the scene, and a blue gingham ribbon pinned to the silver board.
And finally, the birthday girl’s reaction…
Last night, I joined my family to celebrate Mum’s fella John’s 80th birthday, which was absolutely fantastic! For this wonderful occasion, Mum asked me to bake a rainbow cake, (the other three rainbow cakes were dress rehearsals for this: The Big One), which I decided to cover in rolled fondant so that we could use edible-ink pens to graffiti messages for him. Not your typical 80th birthday cake, but then he’s not your typical 80-year-old.
This cake is the most perfect rainbow one I’ve done so far – it’s flawless. There is an even rise on every layer, they’re pretty much identical in size, fantastic colours, and they stacked up like an absolute dream. I did a really, really thin layer of buttercream because I didn’t want to overload the cake with too much sugar, so it was purely to create as neat a finish as possible for the fondant to sit on.
I was a very happy cookie at this point.
Then came the nerve-wracking bit, and the point at which I made a couple of really stupid decisions (I stopped taking photographs on account of the consequences of said stupidity, so please forgive the purely narrative account). Although the cake was only 20cm in diameter, it was tall – being a five-egg mix – so I was concerned about rolling the icing big enough to completely cover it. I measured, and made sure I had rolled to the right diameter, but then noticed that it was slightly uneven (the perils of rolling an enormous slab of fondant with a silly little 9-inch non-stick rolling pin) so I worked it a bit more. It being almost midnight at this point, I failed to twig that I had therefore made it bigger, thinner and therefore seriously compromised its strength. Rookie mistake.
With my cake standing proudly on my not-entirely-necessary-but-deeply-pleasing turntable, I used a big wooden rolling pin to move the fondant and drape it over the cake, and things were looking good. But not for long. As I started happily working to smooth one side, the other developed a fatal flaw: the icing was breaking around the top edge and, much like an avalanche, there was nothing any human could do to stop its dastardly progress. I tried to grapple with it (and obviously yelled “No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no!” at it), but after some futile attempts, I watched helplessly as the rip travelled all the way around the top edge, and the detached piece slowly folded itself in a smug, self-satisfied heap around the turntable’s ankle. “You should’ve known not to roll me too thinly”, it seemed to say. I realise, of course, that the second woeful error I had made was to have the cake standing so tall during this process; had the weight of the excess icing been resting on the work surface rather than hanging from such dizzy heights, it mightn’t have had the power to rip like that. Lesson learned.
“Right,” I said, “time for Plan B, then.”
I calmly assessed the damage and, as the top was firmly adhered to the buttercream, I decided to leave it as it was and patch the sides as best I could. I kneaded and re-rolled the fallen piece, and carefully cut two rectangles that I could piece together. I brushed the buttercream with a little water to make it more adhesive and carefully put the strips in place, pinching it together with the edges of the top, and finishing with a careful once-over with the smoothing paddle.
It’s not perfect, but it’s nothing a massive ribbon can’t conceal. Is that cheating? Perhaps. Do I care? Yes; I’m a bit gutted, to be honest.
And here is the final thing, pimped up with an unplanned ribbon and graffitied with loving messages, and chopped up in the restaurant:
Our holiday in Cornwall brought us many joys, one of which was the opportunity to fatten everyone up with some baked goods. Obviously, my beloved Kitchen Aid made the journey with us, and earned its place on the counter of our rented home for the week.
I realise there’s a risk that I’m overdoing the posts on Rainbow Cake but I haven’t finished perfecting it, so buckle up for the third attempt…
A friend quite rightly pointed out that there was a flaw in Rainbow I and Rainbow II. Specifically, they weren’t strictly rainbows; they lacked a seventh colour. Challenge accepted. So, for Rainbow III, in stepped a fifth egg and some gel colour jiggery-pokery. In layman’s terms, my baking genius friend Angharad and I boosted the Victoria sponge mix by an egg and increased the butter, sugar and flour to match, so that there was more mixture with which to make the seven layers. To get a noticeable distinction between the indigo and violet layers, we boosted the blue elements of one and the red elements of the other and added a little cocoa to get a better depth of colour.
While I faffed around with the colours, Angharad made the most perfect baking paper skirts I’ve ever seen, greased and lined the tins, carefully spread the mix into them and baked them in batches, making sure each was baked well (which was a HUGE challenge in an unfamiliar oven, without an oven thermometer) before hoiking them out to cool. She also exercised amazing self-restraint when she caught a tin on the oven as it came out, and watched the green layer tumble onto the oven lid. In this situation, I would definitely have lost my cool and binned it, but not this baker. With the help of a palette knife, a fish slice and a plate proffered by another foodie friend Chris, she rescued Mr Green and he lived to take his rightful place in the finished cake. And thus, a very happy birthday girl cut into her (complete and) celebratory cake.
On our final full day in Cornwall, we realised that the clotted cream we had enthusiastically procured on day one was languishing unloved in the fridge, so rather than buying less-than-fresh local scones, we decided to make them ourselves. Using a very simple recipe of 225g self-raising flour, pinch of salt, 55g butter, 25g sugar and 150ml milk (plus egg for glaze), we knocked up two batches and used a juice tumbler as a makeshift cutter. It wasn’t absolutely ideal as it squished the edges, preventing a pleasing straight rise but they tasted delicious fresh from the oven with clotted cream and raspberry jam.