Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Octonauts, to the rescue!

Two weekends ago, my "little" Jacob turned four years old. I know it's one of those things that everyone says, but it's true - time really flies! It feels like it was only yesterday we welcomed him into our lives. But then again, these four years have been filled with so many amazing memories and brought us countless funny stories, that it feels like he's been with us forever.
The birthday boy had told me that he wanted an Octonauts themed cake, since it's his favorite cartoon. For all of you out there who are not regular viewers of Disney Junior, Octonauts is an underwater rescue team that helps all living creatures in the ocean, while teaching kids facts about the different species. Our whole family loves it!
For this two tiered cake, I used my favorite vanilla cake recipe with a strawberry filling and crème anglais, topped with buttercream frosting, and covered with fondant. Flavors that both kids and adults can appreciate.
Since I'm still learning cake making as I go, and this was my first attempt at making a two tier cake, I thought I'd make this blog post about things I've learned so far. 
So, here's a few tips and tricks that I find helpful:

Make a schedule, since making a cake will take longer than you think. I've learned that time management is an important part of baking cakes. Cake bottoms can be made in advance, which is a great way to save time before an event. Make sure you freeze the layers tightly wrapped in saran wrap, the same day as you bake them. I usually fill and frost the cake while frozen (the night before being eaten), for a number of reasons: 1) It's easier to divide the layers if you're using a single cake pan, 2) it's easier to get a smooth finish on your buttercream when the cake is hard and doesn't crumble, and 3) the flavors from the fillings will have been absorbed more into the cake and deepened, as the cake slowly thaws in the refrigerator over night.

A cake turntable is an investment. It doesn't have to be a fancy one, even a spinning cheese tray will do, but this will make the world of a difference when filling, frosting, and covering your cake.

Choose fillings that are stable when making more than one tier. Most buttercreams and cream cheese frostings will do the trick and can be really tasty. Try chocolate, salted caramel, nutella, or strawberry to mix it up. I would make sure to use a recipe that isn't too sweet, since you want the cake to taste more than just sugar. (I know, who are we kidding, it's mostly sugar.) Mousses, custards and curds holds up well too, but try out a recipe that works for you, since I find that some of them can have too much gelatin in them.
Always pipe a protectant wall of buttercream along the edges of every layer to make sure the filling doesn't seep out the sides. 

Use some kind of support for the bottom cake. Every cake needs to stand on a cake circle or cardboard cutout that is the same size as the cake. This is to make moving the cake easier, plus you're keeping your cake platters looking nice. Cakes tend to be heavier than you think, and to give as much support as possible on the lower tier, and relieve it from the weight of the cake on top, I use either straws or wooden skewers. For an 8 inch bottom cake and a 6 inch top cake, I inserted three straws in the middle of the bottom cake, all the same height as the cake. There are special support dowel rods you can pick up at Michael's or AC Moore, but honestly, regular straws will do fine.

Use plastic gloves when coloring the fondant, especially if you need to use more than one color. Or you can just rock whatever color your hands end up being.

When working with fondant, a silicone mat will make your job so much easier. Of course a regular baking mat or a clean work surface will do too, but making sure that the rolled out fondant doesn't stick will involve some confectioners sugar or corn starch. A silicone mat will make it easier to transfer the fondant to the cake, and it's mess free.

Oh, and out of personal experience, just don't use your silicone mat when cutting out shapes with a knife, because you'll cut right through. D'oh!

If you're making fondant figurines, allow the figures to dry completely before you decorate the cake. It will take anything from two days up to a week depending on how much you're using. You will want to store them in a dark and dry place, preferably in a cardboard box. If you need the figures to be standing, mount them on a piece of styrofoam using some tooth picks.

I have heard that if you don't have that much time, you can put the figures in your oven with just the oven light on for a few hours. The tiny amount of heat from the lamp will help speed up the process. Just don't forget they're in there!

Lastly, make a pot of coffee. These figures took me a few hours to make, so put on some tunes and get comfortable!

I'm having so much fun trying new recipes and techniques as I go. It's a learning process, so thanks everyone for your support and encouragement!
My happy birthday boy!