Once Upon a Cake

Once upon a time, there was a baker. This baker loved to bake, and she decided that most of the things she baked would be given away, lest she grow large from consuming all her baked goods. Having recently taken her yoga practice more seriously, she could have none of that growing large business. And so she made a habit of taking her baked goods to work, where eventually she built a reputation as the girl who’s always baking. One day, at an office Christmas party, she was approached by a coworker who asked her to do her daughter’s birthday cake in the theme of Disney’s Tangled. At first she had her doubts about accepting the job because she wasn’t sure she could pull it off, but she couldn’t say no to the challenge. She just had to make sure she could deliver…

Ok, I’m going to stop talking in “Fairy Tale” mode now and talk like myself. It gets obnoxious after a while, anyway. I’ve been absent from my blog for a while because lately there hasn’t been anything inspiring to write about. Until now. And so I find myself sitting in the midst of my war zone of an apartment, not caring (yet) how much I have to clean up after the work that was done on this cake because I have to expound on how I feel about this cake. Simply put, I love it. And that is why the pictures on this post are larger than usual.

The cake was a yellow cake, recipe from Smitten Kitchen, filled with a whipped ganache filling. The cake recipe asked for cake flour, but I didn’t have enough and since I had an abundance of regular all-purpose flour, I went with that. Besides, I also knew AP flour would yield a denser cake, which I wanted. When I eat a cake I want to know I’m eating a cake. None of this “light and fluffy” business unless I’m eating a cake that was meant to be light and fluffy like a sponge cake. Or angel food cake. Which I have no interest in. I want to feel that cake’s presence in my belly.

As for the filling, I did not believe ganache could be whipped to the consistency of frosting until I tried it. I followed a recipe from Alton Brown which is basically a ganache recipe with a 1 to 1 ratio of solids to liquids (16 oz. semisweet chocolate, 16 oz. heavy cream). I let it sit in the refrigerator until it cooled and had the consistency of pourable pudding.  And then I unleashed the power of Matilda (my KitchenAid mixer) on it for 5 minutes on high.  Resulting in the below…

It was so good.  Very chocolatey and rich.

Decorating the cake was probably the more challenging part of the journey.  I made a rough sketch of it on some paper I had lying around in my office…

The most challenging part was the topper.  Never before had I attempted to make structures out of gum paste or fondant that weren’t small flowers (and even those didn’t go beyond the simplicity of a daisy).  I channeled my inner Duff Goldman (well, inner one of his people who work at the bakery and actually create structures for the cakes) and figured out how to do it.  It nearly went off without a hitch until a crack appeared in the upper left corner of the window…and that is how rocks ended up bordering the window.  🙂

I also had a hell of a time trying to keep the gum paste/fondant mixture from sagging when I stood up the cake dummy upon which it was resting to keep its shape.  It was only later on when Su helped me with putting the tiers together that she told me I could have used wax paper and wrapped it around the structure so I could keep it upright.  Duh.  Two heads are usually better than one…

There’s a reason why there are topiaries at the entrance of the tower, as well as rocks.  You see, they weren’t part of the original vision, but as we wrapped the accent ribbon around the bottom tier, there was a gap between the ribbon and the cake board.  Which basically exposed some cardboard and white of the frosting.  Now, it was nearing 2am and Su and I were delirious from exhaustion (at least I was).  Kind and helpful person that she is, Su was originally called upon for this project to help me stack the cake tiers (and possibly help with the baking of the cakes), but it turned out she would lend me some of her brain power too.  She suggested creating little topiaries to add to the rocks.  They were first supposed to be bushes but then she thought topiaries would be more fun.  And thanks to her my vision was enhanced…

I had a lot of fun making this cake.  It was a lot of work, a lot of thought, a lot of planning, but in the end I think I succeeded in building the bridge between the vision in my head and the reality that it eventually became.  I felt like a little girl, playing with dolls and dreaming up fairy tales again.  Su and I felt like we were putting together a diorama.  If this thing weren’t made of cake, it could easily be a playset for the Tangled play figures (which, by the way, were not made by hand but bought by my client at her local Disney store specifically for placing on top of the cake!).

Now that the cake fairy tale has come true, Cinderella has to go clean the mess her apartment has become these last few days… Wait. Wasn’t Cinderella supposed to go off and marry the prince and live happily ever after? When were dirty dishes and tidying up involved? I thought she had servants for that… Oh wait, I’m not Cinderella. I’m the little baker that could.

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