Sunday, March 22, 2009

Passed the Mid-Term Exam

It's big, giant box o cake! Nifty. Weighed in at about 15 pounds and about 7.5" tall, before resting on the plywood for transport.

This was like my mid-term exam, and it went relatively well. A+ for effort and C+ or B- for decorating, so say I.

Reason for being of the cake: Paul played celebrity for a day at the semi-annual Northeast Kotei (a game tournament) in Agawam, MA. A fine opportunity to make a cake for over 100 very un-picky people. So if I muffed it up, which I magically didn't, at least it's a very forgiving crowd.

(The game is Legend of the Five Rings, or L5R. They've commissioned Paul for artwork over the last 12 or 13 years, so he goes to some of the tournaments, signs cards, sells prints, original paintings, sketches, mugs, t-shirts (of his own line), etc. I play the self-proclaimed Lovely Assistant. We've been a fixture at the NE Kotei for years. We're heading to the Tacoma, WA, kotei the first week in April. No cake for them, sorry. The narc dogs at the airport might eat it.)

Funny thing about the tournament... apparently, the tournament organizer (Eric) also had a baked goods competition with an L5R theme, unbeknownst to me. And I show up with a cake for the occasion anyway. Fantastic!

I didn't enter the contest, even though the judges tasted my cake too. They were pleased with the edible (even yummy) marshmallow fondant, and the lack of a cake mix.

I attempted so many techniques and stuff with this cake, and most of it went relatively well, yay!

Check out the fine tier separation (between yellow cake and chocolate cake) with the thin sheet of ABS plastic. Durable, lightweight, food-safe, almost easy to cut to size... what's not to like? Just don't get acetone on it, or it'll melt.

Both chcocolate cakes came out well! About flippin' time I caught a break with the choc cake deal. Yeah, yeah, they look the same in the photo. We'll they're different. The bottom one (Marcel's) is a little darker, didn't rise as high, domed (even though I used cake strips, stupid recipe!), and was a little too dense. The top one (Siren's) has the somewhat airy, moist consistency I've been looking for, but less chocolatey. That might be ok with the filling and fondant, though. Of the people I polled, the returns were split.

Tried tons, learned tons, didn't mess it up except for not enough fondant, and last minute, sloppy (but I meant it to look like that, yeah, that's the ticket...) painting.

Details of the cake:
Four layers (9 x 13" each layer) in two tiers, bottom is yellow cake, top is chocolate cake:
- Two batches All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, about 1.5" tall, each.
- One batch Marcel's First Birthday Chocolate Cake from Marcel Desaulnier's Death by Chocolate Cakes, about 1.25" tall, and domed, even with cake strips.
- One batch Siren's Chocolate Cake from Bon Appetit Cakes, about 1.65" tall.
- Syruped all layers with 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup. Yellow cake: Diluted Buttershots and clear vanilla extract. Chocolate cakes: Diluted coffee liquer and vanilla schnapps.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones), which worked great again! Forgot them on first batch of Yellow Cake, so had to cut off browned sides and slightly domed top. Didn't rise as tall as the second Yellow Cake.

Stacked all layers so that I had one 9 x 13 cake with 4 layers (two tiers), about 7.5" total height.

Used 1 batch of Mousseline BC between yellow cake layers and for crumb coat.
Used 1 1/2 batches of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated between the chocolate layers.

Used 3/8" thick sheet of ABS plastic between yellow and chocolate tiers.
Used 3 bubble tea drinking straws pushed into the yellow cake tier to support the chocolate cake tier.

Fondant painted and dyed with Wilton's gel colors.

Fondant made 1 week before decorating.
First yellow cake made 6 days in advance, and 2nd cake made 4 days before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored in 'fridge.
Both chocolate cakes made 3 days before serving.
Cake layers assembled the night before serving.
Cake decorated the night before serving, including ribbon. (Does 4 am still count as night before?)

Bottom line:
- Big ribbons cover a lot of flaws. Attach with BC that compliments cake colors.
- One batch of mm fondant wasn't really enough to cover this cake.
- Messy decorating that isn't trying to look neat and tidy is better than no decoration.
- Assemble and final crumb coat the cake the day before decorating, if possible.
- Layer of buttercream on top of the cake layer that will support the ABS sheet, otherwise the center pieces lose out on any type of frosting.
- Any liquid works for syruping, so long as it compliments the cake flavor.
- More syrup! Try at least 1 cup next time. Syrup several times before wrapping for storage, rather than just once per side.
- Siren's Chocolate Cake recipe is current favorite for chcocolate cakes. Marcel's was ok, but still not the texture I'm looking for. Next time, add another ounce of chocolate to Siren's recipe to try to boost choc flavor without mucking up the rest of the cake.- Bring down flour or sugar amount in Yellow Cake by a tablespoon or two? Still crumbly, but not as bad as without syruping.
- Transport: Wound plastic wrap around the entire cake, even under plywood. No movement, no shifting. Figure out how to wrap vertical book stack for transport.

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