This weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to go back home to Massachusetts to celebrate my grandmother’s eightieth birthday party with a large group of our family. I was even more fortunate to be asked to make the cake. You see, a couple summers ago I took a Wilton cake decorating class with my mom. We learned how to make all sorts of things and were definitely the superior mother-daughter team in the class. As part of that class, I made a whole bunch of royal icing flowers just to practice, and stored them away in tupperware (they are just sugar and water – they don’t go bad).
Last week, I couldn’t for the life of me decide what kind of cake to make. Did I go flourless? Should I just make a sheet cake? Should I give up and order a cake from Veronica’s? I settled on chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, but I still was unsure of how I wanted to decorate it. Then, on Friday, while I was making sure I had all of the ingredients together, I found my flowers! And thus, my cake design was decided.
So, first thing you should do is prepare your pans. I am always deathly afraid of losing a layer of my cake to being stuck in the pan, so I coat them pretty liberally with Pam baking spray.
Next, cream together the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.
Add the vanilla and egg to the creamed sugar and butter and mix well.
Finally, add the flour mixture and coffee, alternating between the two and beating after each addition, until everything is combined.
It should eventually look nice and cake-batter-ish like this:
Split the cake batter evenly between two 8 inch pans and spread the top smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake at 325°F for about 25 to 30 minutes with the pans in the center of the oven or until a toothpick comes out clean. Keep an eye on the cakes during this time – they may be done sooner or later, I honestly didn’t keep time well enough since I was checking every 10 minutes or so.
Allow the cake layers to cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out onto the wire rack to cool completely. And I mean completely. Because after this, when you start frosting, warm cake will ruin your day.
To make the frosting, first beat the shortening until soft. Use the stick of crisco rather than measuring a cup out of the tub – it’s easier. Also, if you don’t plan on coloring the frosting, use the white crisco rather than the butter flavor.
Then, add the vanilla extract and water and beat well. Wilton makes clear vanilla extract and other flavorings. Again, if you plan on keeping the icing white, you should be using these clear flavors rather than the stuff you buy at the store normally.
Add the meringue powder and a full box of confectioners sugar and beat until smooth. I recommend the towel-over-the-mixer method so you don’t have a sugar-covered kitchen to clean up after.
Finally, if you need to adjust the consistency of the icing (it will be stiff at this point), now is your time to add more water. For base icing, you should add another 2 teaspoons or so to make it less stiff. For decorating, one teaspoon should do. Full disclosure: I had to make two full batches of frosting to do this cake, so you may also have that to contend with.
Before you can ice your cake, you need to level it. Cake decorating class got me to buy this awesome leveler that makes life easy, but the same thing can be accomplished with a knife if you have a steady hand.
It also got me to buy that cool turntable so that icing my cake is super easy. Also not necessary if you don’t plan on spending crazy amounts of time on cake decorating.
Fill a piping bag with the frosting and spread it over the first layer, stopping about half an inch short of the edges, to create a middle layer of buttercream. Use an offset spatula to smooth it if you’d like, but it will be between two layers so that’s probably unnecessary.
Place the second layer on top of the first. I used a cake lifter to do this, but I’m sure you could use a plate or VERY CAREFULLY use your hands. You don’t want to lose a layer at this point to a tear down the middle – that would be sad.
Finally, use the same bag to cover the cake liberally with frosting and a spatula to make it smooth. If you are following my decorating exactly, it doesn’t have to be perfect since you’ll be adding stuff on top of it. If you aren’t, you can decide your level of perfectionism.
Now, I don’t think it’s totally worthwhile to go through the step-by-step instructions of how to do a basket weave or some of the other techniques I used. If you’re interested, check on Wilton’s cake decorating website for some ideas. Instead, I’ll just show you some pictures of the cake in the process of being finished. That’s the fun stuff anyways.
This is how someone with seriously borderline OCD decorates a cake:
Then I added my awesome flowers in a swirl and wrote in a little message for Mimi!
Since it was Lent, I didn’t actually get to try the cake for myself, but I’m told it was edible, so I figured I could still post it. Happy birthday, Mimi!
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/8 cup flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 cup strong brewed coffee, cold
- Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and egg and beat until combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
- Alternate adding flour mixture and coffee to butter mixture, beating after each addition.
- Split batter evenly between two sprayed 8 inch cake pans. Bake at 325°F for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool completely.
Vanilla Buttercream Icing
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 7-8 teaspoons water
- 1 pound confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tablespoon meringue powder
- Beat shortening until softened. Add vanilla and water and beat until combined.
- Add sugar and meringue powder and beat until smooth.
- Add water to adjust consistency.