I have been wanting to enter a decorated cake into the North Carolina State Fair since at least 1996. I've even submitted an application, twice. But, I never did the planning and organizing that comes along with putting together a cake like this until this year. Applications were due by September 13th and mine has been submitted!
I'm entering the Category W (Culinary) Class 101, W03103: Novelty Shape and Design—Buttercream Frosting, Fondant Icing, or Royal Icing; Your Choice of Decoration Medium(s). In case anyone else wants to know, the *top* prize is $25. Yes, 25 whole dollars. I promise I'm not doing this for the money. Ha ha!
So, I've decided on a Margaret Braun-inspired cake, 4 tiers, primarily colored in purple with accents of gold and pearl, as well as highlight colors of teal and coral. The cake will be decorated with swags, pearls, keys, locks and treasures. I'm calling it "Old Secrets." I did a rough sketch, although a few details have since changed.
I'm planning to work on the cake a few hours per week between now and early October. It's due by October 9th (I think). Because this competition is strictly based on decorations, the cake layers themselves are not real, they are styrofoam cake dummies. But, part of the judging considers that the cake must be able to be made to be entirely edible otherwise. The other criteria for judging:
I. Overall appearance......................................................50 points
- pleasing appearance
- appropriate for occasion
- shows originality
- colors appropriate
II. Techniques and Designs.................................................50 points
- demonstrates decorating skills
- repetitive designs should be consistent
- if Styrofoam used, the same techniques should be possible with real cake
So, I after polling my friends on colors (purple won out by a landslide, but let's face it, purple is my absolute favorite color, so I kinda wanted to make it purple anyway), I began by making the fondant on Tuesday of last week.
Fondant (or rolled fondant) is a sugar-based, rollable cake covering that can be easily purchased at your local craft or cake decorating store. But, it's also pretty easy to make and much, much cheaper. I knew I'd need about 10 pounds of rolled fondant just to cover my cake, so I set out to make 4 batches.
makes about 2.5 pounds
2 lb powdered sugar
1 T unflavored gelatin
3 T cold water
1/2 c light corn syrup (or "glucose")
1 1/2 T glycerin
1 T vanilla or other flavor (omitted for this, since no one will be tasting)
Sift the powdered sugar into a Kitchen-Aid mixing bowl (although I often don't believe in sifting, it is necessary for this to be sure there are no lumps in your fondant) and set aside. Sprinkle the gelatin over your water inside a small saucepan. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes or so to bloom/soften. Dissolve over low heat until transparent, then mix in the corn syrup, glycerin and vanilla (if using). Add in any colorings. (I used a 3:1 ratio of red to blue to make the dark purple.)
Set the bowl of powdered sugar on your stand mixer, with the paddle attachment on low speed. Gradually add in the liquid mixture and continue mixing until well combined. Scrape out (it will be sticky) onto a clean work surface and knead until smooth and pliable. (Some people say to use powdered sugar to dust your kneading surface, others say cornstarch. Definitely don't use flour. I actually use a spray or two of Pam and find that makes my fondant the nicest consistency and prevents sticking while kneading.) Fondant should be wrapped tightly and then placed in a zip-top plastic bag for storing. It's not necessary to refrigerate.
I made 3 batches of the dark purple fondant and one final batch of plain white.
Before you begin rolling or working with fondant, go into the bathroom and cut all of your fingernails. At least to the finger, if not all the way off. The tiniest piece of fingernail can rip or tear the fondant, which will not make you very happy. Once made, the fondant must be allowed to sit overnight in order to firm up. It will then need to be kneaded vigorously (possibly with a 10-15 second nuke in between to soften) to become pliable enough to roll out. Once it is warmed and pliable, roll out on a flat surface (I use cornstarch here, but lightly only) until the diameter reaches the diameter of your cake plus twice it's height. My bottom layer is approximately 14 inches in diameter and 4 inches high, so the fondant was rolled to a little over 22 inches. Do your best to keep it roughly a circle and pick it up periodically, redusting your surface so it doesn't stick. It should be rolled to about 1/4" thick.
Once the fondant is of the correct size, it's time to move. In order to provide a surface for the fondant to adhere to, I brushed my styrofoam "fake cake" with water then laid the fondant on top as evenly as possible. At this point, many people think they still need to be freaking out. As far as I'm concerned, once the fondant is ON TOP of the cake layer, the freaking out can cease. Now, just do your best to efficiently and neatly smooth first the top of the cake, followed gradually by the tops of the sides, then the middle, then finally the bottom of the sides of the cake. You should be able to pull and tug a little at the fondant draped around the bottom in order to make it fit. I usually use my hands or a fondant smoother to smooth the fondant all over the cake, then a sharp knife to bevel and cut the bottom edge.
I covered both the ~14" bottom tier and the 8" tier with dark purple fondant and set them aside to dry. Because I wanted the other two tiers to be a complimentary (but lighter) shade of purple, I wanted to avoid having to mix food colors in order to tint it. It's very hard to match a color exactly. I simply took most of the batch of pure white fondant I'd made and kneaded it in with the remaining purple and the resulting color was a lighter shade of purple, same tone as the other two layers. I rolled the lighter fondant out and covered my 10" and 6" layers and also set them aside to dry.
On Wednesday, the fondant coverings were mostly dry (no longer as susceptible to fingernail sticks!). Now, I began to paint the fondant. I've found that it's OK to paint fondant using a water-based food coloring, but it should be diluted using alcohol (vodka or lemon extract) in order to paint on without making the fondant sticky. I mixed up a purple similar to the colors of the fondant and painted over top for texture. I wanted to have visible brush strokes, particularly on the dark purple layer.
Once all layers were dry (overnight), it was time to stick them together and begin to pipe some decorations. I used Royal Icing (a liquid icing that dries incredibly hard like candy) to cement the cake layers together and also for my piped decorations.
makes about 3 cupes
3 T meringue powder
1 lb powdered sugar
6 T warm water
Sift the powdered sugar and meringue powder into a bowl. Beat with the water for about 7-10 minutes, until stiff peaks form. Since this recipe is made without liquid egg whites, it can remain at room temperature.
Royal Icing can be placed into an icing or decorating bag and piped onto the cake using the decorating tip of your choice. I used a #5 tip to pipe pearls, borders and the swags surrounding the two tiers.
Now, the icing must be allowed to dry, at least overnight, before painting. Next up, more fondant decorations, embellishing the royal icing decorations with gold and pearl dust and finally, making gum paste keys, locks and the treasure chest for the top. Stay tuned to this work-in-progress...