Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Blue and Gold Banquet Cake

Let me start off by saying I am not a professional baker, and that this cake was a total labor of love for my son and his Boy Scout pack. The mom organizing the event needed someone to help out and bake the cake, so I figured, "why not?". I already bake a good deal for the animal rescue group I volunteer with, and I have always loved trying out new recipes and ideas when it comes to baking.

I wanted to share my process on the blog because I thought it may be helpful for other moms and dads out there who want to try their hand at a few baking techniques like molding chocolates and using fondants. Sure, these can be scary at first, but once you start to work with them, it isn't half bad. After a lot of reading and research on how to make a multi-tier cake, melting chocolate, and making fondant, I managed to come up with this cake for my oldest son's Blue and Gold banquet. My ultimate goal was to make something where the boys felt special and fit with the celebratory feel of the event. Make sure to follow the links included in this post to really help you out when you set out to make a mega cake!

Here is the final result of all that hard work and a few days of prep, but after seeing the kiddos' reactions, it was completely worth every minute of trial and error! I figured I would share this picture first so that you had an idea of where things can go. 

White Chocolate Molds

The first thing I did before even making the cake was take a look at icons and symbols from the Boy Scouts of America, or BSA. In my wanderings I came across lots of fleur-de-lis and stars...which pretty much became my jumping point for inspiration. Amazon, as always to the rescue, has a fantastic silicone mold for fleur-de-lis that ended up making the perfect size and shape of what I needed and you can bet that got added to the cart right away. If you'd like to order it just follow this link. The mold is so easy to work with and the silicone pretty much made it completely oops proof when it came time to get the chocolates out.

But, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me just say that melting white chocolate can be a bit tricky and you will need a few things to make it easier. I highly recommend a good deal of patience and willingness to have things go south before getting the results you want, especially if you have never done this before. Experiment and fiddle to your heart's content and don't get discouraged! It will work out in the end :)

I used white chocolate chips and food dye for my colors, but you can order pre-dyed white chocolate, again off Amazon, and get the color results you want right away. Honestly, I will probably end up going that latter route when it comes time to do something like this again. You are also going to want a double boiler, or if you don't have one, a medium pot and large metal bowl as pictured. The key with a double boiler set up is LOW and SLOW. You want the lowest heat setting on your stove, and you do not want to rush the melting process.
White chocolate has a lovely habit of seizing up and becoming grainy if you heat it too quickly and at too high of a temperature. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to make your molds. I actually made these in the beginning of the week just to make sure I had time to form them properly.

You need to fill the lower pot with water. I kept it at about 2" deep so as not to expose the bottom of the bowl directly to the water. Then place the top pot, or metal bowl on top if you aren't working with an actual double boiler, on the lower pot and turn the heat source on to its lowest setting. While you wait for things to heat up, add in the amount of chocolate you'll need and if it isn't dyed, make sure to add in the food coloring along with a couple sprays of PAM to act as insurance. The reason why you add the dye in now and not after it's melted is because any introduction of a cooler liquid will cause the chocolate to become gross and grainy. Trust me on this one. 

Make sure to coat the chocolates as best you can if adding in your own dye and then constantly keep stirring while you wait for the chocolate to start to melt. You will need to keep a vigilant eye on it because once it starts to melt it will start melting quickly. Make sure to remove the bowl from the lower pot before the chocolate is completely melted or you will end up with, yep, grainy chocolate. When you have a few lumps of chips left, remove and keep stirring until smooth. The residual heat will be enough to help you get to this texture. Then make sure to have your mold on a cookie sheet or chopping board and, using a deep measuring spoon, scoop out your melted chocolate and pour into the individual molds. Once filled, you will need to tamp out the bubbles. Just lift the cookie sheet or board and drop it gently back down onto your counter top. Do this a few times and you'll see the bubbles coming up. You can take a toothpick to pop the bubbles as they show. After, just let the chocolate cool completely before removing and then store in an airtight container at room temp, DO NOT REFRIGERATE! No, seriously, don't do it or all your hard work will go wonky and cloud up on you. 

I filled up the mold partially so as to make the end result two colors. Do whatever inspires you! Just remember, for every color layer you do, you will have to wait for it to set before moving along to the next color. While it doesn't mean completely cool, you will need to be able to touch the back without it denting. That's going to mean a good deal of time over the double boiler/bowl and pot, and you will need to wash the top parts between color changes. I liked the dual tones, so it was totally worth the extra time and effort. 

Marshmallow Fondant

You can opt to buy ready made fondant and that's totally cool. I, personally, am not a fan of the flavor of the pre-made variety so I wanted to make my own. This is my second time working with it, and I already knew I was going to go the marshmallow fondant way of things. I used this recipe for my son's birthday cake back in December, and it worked out well enough for me to give it another go. It's actually easy to make, but messy. So again, have a good chunk of time open for you to make it and then just have some Ziploc bags greased with some Crisco on the ready to store the end result at room temp until you are ready to use it. 

You are going to want a bag of mini marshmallows, a bag of confectioner's sugar, 2 tsbps of water (but have some extra on reserve), a large 4 qt microwave safe bowl, a Crisco greased spatula, a sifter, 1 cup measuring cup, and food dye for the colors you want. You'll also be using your hands for this, so keep a blob of Crisco on a dish near by so you can just daub and smear as needed.Once you have all that, go read this post from Make Fabulous Cakes for a great step by step method of making the marshmallow fondant. A recipe for traditional is also included, but I personally like the flavor of the marshmallow stuff much better.
And just be ready to potentially need to add a little extra water or sugar since the weather can affect the end result. Kid you not, one day I was adding water, the other I needed a little more sugar. The only difference being the bright sunny day vs. the snowy rainy day. I ended up making this a couple days before actually baking the cake just to have it on hand and ready when "fondant" decorating day came about. Be ready to need to warm it up if you are doing this in the winter. Nothing a quick ride in the microwave won't be able to handle.

Baking from the Box, but Better!

Next up, baking the cake! And yes, I cheated and went with box cake mix....with a little oomph. Yes, it's true, you can anti up the texture and flavor of any boxed cake by replacing and adding in a few extra ingredients. Instead of oil, use twice the amount of melted butter as to what the box will call for, double your egg count, add in an extra tsp of vanilla, and use milk instead of water. I'll explain the dye in a minute, so hang on for that. All you have to do is prep the boxed cake as instructed but with the altered ingredients.

Now, what I did was add in some food color to make a fun surprise for the boys when the cake was cut for serving. Marbleizing your cake is super easy and a fun way to add in a little extra something. Add in your dye of choice with the already combined cake mix.

If you are just making a simple two layer cake, you will want to divide the batter before adding in your colors. I was making multiple tiers so I just made a box worth of each color I wanted, and ended up dividing a third box for the last tier. Here you can see the yellow and blue outcome of the batters getting some food coloring added into the mix.


Now, for you own sanity, I cannot stress enough to use circles of parchment paper on the bottom of your cake tins. This acts as a good bit of insurance to make sure your cake layers actually come out of the tins with little to no issue. Just trace the bottom of your tins onto the parchment paper and cut out your circles. Spray on some PAM onto your tins making sure to get the sides and bottom, then pop the parchment circle in before adding your batter. You can also use wax paper, but it must be entirely covered by the batter or hello smoke alarm.

For the fun and cool marble effect, all you really need to do is drop and array of dollops of each color around the tins and then, using a skewer or chop stick, swirl the colors together to get the colors to slightly blend together. Whatever you do, do not over blend or try to smooth out the top part or it will muddy everything together. Not nearly as pretty or marbled for the end result. And you will want to do the tamping trick again to get the excess bubbles out of the batter. Once you have it all ready to go, just bake as instructed on the box.

When all your layers are cooled completely, you will need to get things ready for the crumb layer. This is not a step you can skip when it comes to fondant. You need this layer to create a smooth base for you fondant to rest on and to help keep the cake moist. Before you do anything though, if you plan on making a multi-tier cake, you are going to want to trace the bottom of your cake tins again, but this time onto cardboard and then cover with tin foil. This is to help create a support system for the bottom cake to be able to handle the weight of the other tiers above it. You can also opt to just buy pre-made cake rounds. 
Before putting the first layer on the cardboard round, just put a dollop of frosting on the round and spread it out a little to help the round stick securely to the cake layer. Cover the top of your first layer with frosting and then pop on the second layer. At this point, take a nice sharp bread knife and even out where necessary. Make sure to brush off all excess crumbs and then finish off the cake layers with an even layer of frosting all around. Then just pop your frosting covered cake tiers into the fridge to chill. It makes them much easier to work with when it comes time to cover them in fondant. If you are taking a break, then just carefully wrap the cakes in a layer of plastic wrap once the frosting is chilled to protect them from excess moisture and odors that may live in your fridge. Usually this can be done about an hour after being in the fridge.

Now, you can opt to use ready made frosting, but make sure to keep it white for the best results with your fondant. I used a very simple frosting recipe that takes no time to make and easy to work with.

Basic Vanilla Frosting

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tbsp room temperature butter
1tsp vanilla
2 tbsps water or milk.

With a hand mixer, blend all the ingredients together to form a smooth frosting. You can add in additional water or milk if the frosting is too dry and will not smooth out nicely. 

I used this frosting to also help hold the chocolate molds and fondant stars but thinned it out a little to be more like a glue. Also, I made sure to have extra on hand for assembly time to help the tiers stick to each other. 

Decorating the Cake

Finally, you'll be working with the fondant and getting it onto your cakes. Toy around with a little bit a first to get the feel for it. Then grease up a good swath of counter with some Crisco and roll away. Again, slow and steady will be your best bet. Try not to rush, and just be ready to have to give things more than one go. The cakes being cooled will help you not have to deal with a mess of frosting and fondant colliding and give you a little extra, literal, wiggle room to shift the fondant around as you need to while covering them. 

Again, not a professional baker, so there were some foibles and flaws to mine but nothing that became a deal breaker. Use a cake stand to help make decorating a little less back breaking and easier on you. I actually covered mine with a layer of foil, then a criss-crossed later of plastic wrap to make storing them when done much easier. I'm just going to caption the pics to make it a bit more clear as to what went on for this part. I did decorate the cake the day before we actually needed it, again to give me a good buffer for any little issues that may crop up and for my own sanity. 

Bottom tier of the cake covered with fondant. Blue fondant stars on the ready in the background.

Give your cake some extra support with food safe wooden dowels stuck into the center of the bottom two tiers. Make sure to remove them as you cut and serve the cake.

Bottom layer all pulled together with fleur-de-lis and fondant stars attached with thinned out basic frosting.

Top layer ready to get wrapped up

Make a fun topper for the cake by melting the back of a fleur-de-lis on a hot pan momentarily and then attaching to another fleur-de-lis with a toothpick between the two.

Simple but effective way to create a fun point of interest at the top.

Make life easier for you by covering a cake stand with foil, then layers of plastic wrap. place the cake on top and then plot out your decorations and make wrapping up easy when all done.

Side shot of middle layer prepped and ready to go.

Layers wrapped up with plastic cling and resting on foil to make it easier to move them around without over handling them.

I ended up doing the final assembly of layers once we got to the event and hid the seams with long rolls of fondant at the base of each layer. This makes it much easier to transport the individual tiers, that is for sure. Once decorated, you will also want to store your cake in a cool, dry place until the event. Again, the fridge is not an option at this point because you will alter the look of your chocolate molds. A basement is a good option of you have it or any space without windows. If you can't or don't have a space like this, then you will just need to put the chocolate on right before the event.

When stacking the tiers on top of each other comes, you will want to just spread a dollop of basic frosting onto the top of the lower layer and then place the next layer, with the cardboard base, on top. The cardboard should rest on the support dowels and help transfer the weight of the upper layers so that your bottom layers won't be crushed. The frosting helps keep the tiers from sliding around and acts as an edible paste. 

As you can tell by the pictures and length of this post, it was a lot of hard and time consuming work, but SO worth it. Just the look on my son's face made the evening for me. Then hearing the cute stories of how the other kids reacted to it made it even better! Enjoy the process, give it time, and hopefully you too will be able to get into the endless possibilities of cake baking and decorating.