A friend of mine asked me to make her daughter's first birthday cake. She sent me a photo of the dress her little girl would be wearing and asked if I could design a cake that reflected the dress. It was a whimsical purple dress with green tulle and purple roses around the waistline. I immediately knew that I wanted to focus on those adorable purple flowers.
Unfortunately for me, my icing skills are crap and I definitely can't draw roses in buttercream. So my next thought was fondant.
I always hear horror stories about fondant. "It's impossible to work with." "It is extremely delicate." Or as one friend on facebook put it: "Fondant sucks."
Needless to say, I was nervous. But I forged ahead. I turned to my best friend, Google, and type in "how to use fondant."
Let's get off subject for a moment. Have you ever payed attention to what pops up as your type your search query into Google? As I typed "how to", I could have been distracted and clicked on "how to kiss" or "how to tie a tie" or, if I was really feeling ambitious, "how to solve a rubix cube." But I digress.
I found this tutorial on how to make fondant/gum-paste flowers by one of my favorite bloggers, Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen, where I discovered that I needed supplies such as a fondant pad and veining tools. I then found What's Cooking America, which has THE BEST fondant Q&A on the internet.
Let the money spending begin.
I headed down to the NY Baker's Supply store (my second home), and stocked up on seriously overpriced supplies such as a fondant rolling pin (which I discovered I really didn't need for the small cake I was making), fondant pads, cutouts, pre-made fondant, fondant smoothers, gum-tex (to add to the fondant to help the flowers harden quickly and keep their shape) and other accoutrement. 2 hours and $100 later, I was back at my apartment, ready to make some fondant flowers.
I rolled out my fondant, cut out the flowers petals using a 2" cookie cutter, veined the flowers, added some green bulbs in the middle, and gave them their shape by letting them dry at room temperature in a standard muffin tin. I made the tendrils by cutting thin strips of green fondant and wrapping them in a spiral shape around lollipop sticks. Three days later, the flowers and tendrils were hard and held their shape! I dusted them with a little luster dust and did a happy dance. Holla!
Now it was on to the cake. Easy, peasy, no sweat, no problem. My friend wanted a plain cake, so I decided to make a delicious 3-layer, 9" butter cake, which is always a crowd pleaser. Seriously, who doesn't love a cake that is filled with butter, egg yolks, and tons of cholesterol? I knew this cake would be delicate however, and was nervous how it would hold up against the weight of the fondant.
I started the cake at around 4 pm, and at 6:30, all cakes were cooled and ready to be iced. I evened out the tops of the cake and iced the first layer. I topped it with a second layer. So far, no problem. I iced that layer, and grabbed the third and final layer. When I picked up the cake layer, it felt a little wobbly and unstable, but I paid no mind and added it to the top of the cake. Two seconds later, the layers edges collapsed. As I tried to fix the edges of the cake, it only progressively got worse, as each layer began to crumble.
I knew there would be cursing and tears with this cake, but I thought my despair would be at the hands of the tricky fondant, not a simple butter cake! I was wrong.
In frustration, I either wanted to throw the cake across the room or pound my fists into the layers of the cake and have a huge tantrum. Luckily, I was able to hold it together and instead tried a stronger yellow cake recipe. Two hours later, the cake was cooled, and I carefully assembled the cake layers with success. I breathed a sigh of relief. My stomach however, was doing backflips, not from nerves, but from constantly tasting cake and buttercream for four hours. Needless to say, I almost lost it a few times.
I watched tutorial after tutorial on YouTube on how to roll out fondant and cover the cake. Thirty minutes later, I headed to my kitchen to try the fondant myself. I added the height and width of my cake and knew I needed to roll out my fondant to at least a 14" diameter. I rolled the fondant around the pin and transfered it to the cake. It went on without a problem! Holla!
I then began to smooth the sides of the cake and found it unbelievably therapeutic. All of the stress of the afternoon dissipated as I pulled and smoothed the sides of the marshmallowy fondant. Five minute later, the cake was covered and smooth. I couldn't believe it. I made a cake with fondant! Double Holla!
I attached the flowers to the cake, added a purple ring around the bottom, and reveled at the cake. Sure, it was a little lopsided. Sure, you could kind of see the layers through the fondant. But for my first time, I think I did an ok job!
Yellow Cake Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Arrange two racks in the center of oven, and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of two 8-by-2-inch buttered cake pans with buttered parchment paper. Dust the bottoms and sides of pans with flour, and tap out any excess. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter at medium speed until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, and continue until lightened, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides once or twice. Gradually add eggs, beating after each addition until batter is no longer slick, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides, about 5 minutes.
Slowly add the flour mixture on low speed, alternating with buttermilk, a little of each at a time, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat in vanilla.
Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake for 25 minutes; rotate the pans in the oven if needed for even browning. Continue baking until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, 10 to 20 minutes more. Transfer to wire racks to cool, 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans; set cakes, top side down, on wire racks, and allow to cool completely, about 1 hour.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cream butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed. Gradually at powdered sugar and cream for 2 minutes, or until smooth. Add remaining ingredients.