Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Adventures in Cake Decorating #4 - Monster Cakes

The exploits in icing—and more importantly, the lessons learned from them—have been piling up these last few years thanks to The Birthdays. These would be primarily my niece and nephews' birthdays, but there are others I hope to document here as we get caught up.

We're way out of date—the first birthday cake I'm about to show you (that would be the first cake for a first birthday) was for a nephew who just this year turned four, so... yeah. But, begin at the beginning, right?

The Monster Cake

This was a fun cake. It was a ton of work, but I'd actually love to do it again because I have learned so much since then. First of all, I would make it less droopy.

This cake overcame such baking obstacles as:
  • The cake won't keep its structure.
  • The cake won't bear the weight of stacking.
  • The cake pops are falling apart when we dip them.
  • The dogs ate half the cake.
It's hard to say what was the biggest or most important lesson I learned while making the monster cake, but there were more than a few important lessons.

You're Probably Thinking Too Big
Sketch of the Grand Idea
I remember describing the initial concept of the cake to my sister as a "grand idea," but we could have executed it on a less grand scale. Or, she should have invited more people. This first birthday was a big party, so we used three boxes of cake mix—well, four, because of the dogs, but there was the equivalent of a whole cake leftover, maybe more. 

Now I'm more realistic in basing the cake size on number of servings. Search for a cake serving chart, and you'll see that an ordinary two-layer round cake can serve up to 20 people depending on how you slice it. (Although I know a certain family member who would just as well slice any round dessert into eight humongous servings and call it day). And, know your crowd. Often you can count on a small percentage who aren't going to eat any cake.

Freeze the Cake Balls and Shorten the Candy CoatingNot pictured except in my "grand idea" sketch were the cake pops we also made to complement the monster cake. We decorated a few of them to look like eyeballs and various little monsters until things got frustrating (cake balls falling apart, Candy Melts getting clumpy) and we were running out of time, and then we simply dipped them in clumpy white Candy Melts. Ta-da!

Cake balls or cake pops (just add a stick and now it's a fad!) can be easy if you follow some basic rules. They can be a picturesque fail if you don't. Form the balls, stick the sticks and then freeze them before you start dipping them in the melted candy coating.

Overheat the Candy Melts and they get clumpy. So microwave them gently and stir, stir, stir. If there are still some solid pieces, stir some more until they melt. It is OK to reheat them several times as needed, but for only 20 seconds at a time on a low power. The melted Melts are still rather thick and not an ideal dipping medium. Add a spoonful of melted shortening (vegetable oil also works) to slightly thin out the coating, and now dipping those cake pops is a cinch. Yeah, I said it.

Moisture and Structure are (Somewhat) Mutually Exclusive
Almost all cake mix boxes are labeled "super moist deluxe" or some such thing, but they're really just ordinary cake, aren't they? Plain old ordinary cake is what you want for a sturdy structure. The cakes that are truly super moist, like the ones with pudding in the mix or your chocolate cake recipe that calls for mayonnaise, are delicious for an ordinary-sized single or double-layer cake with no fancy stacking or shaping. But the extra delicious moisture provides no solid foundation and will not reliably support multiple tiers. The dowels are wont to tilt in that squishy loam of deliciousness.

We originally planned for a four-tier monster of a monster cake: A square on the bottom with fun stripes and birthday boy's name, then a round tier decorated as a blue and black polka-dotted monster with a toothy grin and googly cake ball eyes, topped with an orange monster with more cake ball eyes plus a tail that wrapped round the back, and a green hairy one-eyed cupcake-sized monster on top as the baby's personal "smash cake." The weight of the tiers was too much for the moist delicious cakes to hold, so the bottom tier became its own separate cake. We simply frosted over the mess on its surface caused by all the attempted stacking and piped on a giant number 1. In case anyone wasn't sure which birthday this was.

Icing Covers All Flaws
With the exception of deteriorating structural integrity, icing can mask just about any mistake on the cake, as mentioned just a few lines ago. Crooked line? Wipe it of and ice a new line over it. A misshapen edge? Just add more icing and smooth it out. Dogs ate half the cake? Bake more cake for a replacement section and use icing to glue it all back together.

"Remember this is the side the dogs bit off of, and we just won't serve any pieces cut from this side, OK?"

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