Mum’s Birthday Swirl Pound Cake

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It was my mother’s birthday yesterday, and so for the occasion I decided to try something a bit different.  I wanted to add a bit of fancy to a traditional sour cream pound cake, but with a different twist than the version I did last year for the Pie’s birthday.   I want to swirl it up.  So I’m going to make two cakes of two different flavours and mix it all up into one.  Here goes.

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Start by defrosting about 1 cup frozen berries, any kind.  This is one of those field berry combos from Costco.

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You’ll also want to zest and juice 2 lemons.

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I strain my juice, not to get rid of the pulp, but because those darned seeds are always sneaking their way out of the juicer.

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Purée the berries once they’re soft enough, too.

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Now, preheat your oven to 325°F and butter and flour a Bundt pan.

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Whisk together 3 cups cake/pastry flour (or replace 2 tablespoons per cup regular flour with 2 tablespoons cornstarch) and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.  Set that aside.

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In another bowl, a largish one, beat together 1 cup butter and 2 cups granulated sugar.

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Add in 6 eggs, one at a time, beating the whole time and scraping down the sides of the bowl.

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Add in half your flour and stir until combined.

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Dump in 1 cup sour cream and mix that in as well, before adding in the second half of the flour and fully combining that too.

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Now, divide your batter in half (you can re-use the flour bowl) and tip the berry sauce into one bowl and the lemon juice and zest into the other.

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Mix that around until the colours are uniform.  This has made the previously thick batter much more liquidy.

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Place a line of one of the batters in the bottom of your prepared Bundt pan.  Add a line of the other batter on top, so it forces the stuff on the bottom to spread out.  Keep going, alternating your batters, until the whole thing is layered.

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Mine came out all lovely and swirly.

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Bake for about an hour, until the cake tests clean when stabbed viciously with a toothpick.

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Allow it to cool completely before tipping out onto a plate.

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While the cake is cooling, you can make your cream cheese frosting (is there any other kind? Nope). Beat together 1 cup room temperature butter and 1 250g package plain cream cheese, also room temperature.

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I added in a dollop of purple gel paste food colouring, just for fun.

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Start mixing in about 2-3 cups icing sugar.  I find it makes the icing a little more fluid if you add a few tablespoons cream as well.

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All smooth and ready to go.

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I also used one of the fancy zesters to get some nice long strings of lemon peel for garnish.

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Then I slathered the cooled cake in icing and sprinkled the tops with lemon peel.  It looks luscious!

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Here is what it looks like on the inside.  I took a slice out before icing it and slid it back in with enough icing to cover the cut lines …

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Pie’s Nerdy Birthday Cake

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Yesterday the Pie turned 31, which he wasn’t really looking forward to, because now for the rest of the year he can’t tell everyone who will listen that I’m older than he is (BY FOUR MEASLY MONTHS).  Honestly, the next time someone calls me a “cradle robber” I’m going to punch him or her in the ear.  With my ring hand.

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I was originally just going to make him a wee cake (because it’s just the two of us and we’re moving shortly) but then Fussellette, who will use any excuse to have a barbecue, made an occasion of the thing and so a bunch of us went downstairs and ate grilled food and drank beverages and had cake — so obviously I had to make a slightly bigger cake.

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Gren also likes Nerds.

The Pie loves all things vanilla, so I decided on a sour cream pound cake, a traditional dish I hadn’t tried before.  I’m used to the regular ol’ normal pound cake.  Now, this recipe will yield two loaf pans’ worth of pound cake, or one ~10″ Bundt or tube pan worth.  I’m going with the loaf pan, so I can freeze the other half of this cake for when we celebrate with my parents in a few weeks (also, I packed my Bundt pans).  As always when making cakes, it’s a good idea to butter your pans and line them with parchment paper (if possible) to ensure that you don’t get anything stuck.  With a Bundt or tube pan it’s good practice to butter the thing and then dust it with flour.  Also, for a nice fluffy cake, allow all your ingredients to come to room temperature before you make this sucker.

So.  Butter and paper and butter your pans and preheat your oven to 325°F.

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Sift together 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 3 cups cake and pastry flour (which I didn’t have, so I substituted 2 tablespoons flour in each cup with 2 tablespoons corn starch).

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And actually I didn’t sift this, either, because I packed my sifter.  Anyway, set that aside for now.

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Using an electric mixer (or very powerful and fast-moving arms), beat 1 cup butter together with 2 cups granulated sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy.

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Add 6 eggs, one at a time, to the butter/sugar mixture, beating until each one is combined, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

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Now, tip in half your flour mixture and stir that until combined.

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Then dump in 1 cup (full fat) sour cream and stir that in, too.

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And now the rest of your flour.  Combine that carefully.

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Try not to flick batter everywhere.  Evidently, I failed.

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Spoon this very thick batter into your pan and smooth the top.  You’re going to want to bake this for at least an hour, probably more if you’ve done it in one pan.  Go for 60 minutes at first, and then check it every 5 minutes after that until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.

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When the cake is done, let it cool completely on a wire rack before tipping it out of the pan.  Tipping out a hot cake is a good way to get yourself a broken cake.

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So there’s your cake.  If you wish, you can leave it at that.  But this is a birthday cake! I took one of them and wrapped it up for freezing.

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So we’re going to make some icing.  Our standard cream cheese frosting is a perennial favourite, and it’s very simple.

Beat together 1 cup butter with 1 250g (8oz) package plain cream cheese (room temperature) until fully combined.

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Beat in as well 1 tablespoon vanilla (or any other flavouring you wish). Then carefully stir in at least 2 cups icing sugar (you will probably want a bit more to get the consistency you like).

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Then I sliced the cake in half horizontally.

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I filled the gap with a raspberry jam.

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Then I iced it, but only the sides at first.  Why?  Because I was going to do THIS.  But instead of sprinkles, because sprinkles are gross, I’m going to use Nerds.

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If you’ve never heard of Nerds, they’re basically small crystals of sugar coated with a sour neon candy crust.  They come in wee rectangular boxes and are a childhood favourite of pretty much everyone in my generation, because you used to be able to buy two boxes for fifty cents at the corner store.

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Fortunately for us, in the Super Size Me generation, you can now buy Nerds in giant boxes.  I wasn’t sure how many Nerds I would need for this, so I bought two boxes.  I can always rot my teeth on the other box if it isn’t needed.

So.  Spread your Nerds out in a flat rimmed dish (like a baking sheet or a dinner plate) with enough room to lay your whole cake.

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Pick your cake up and hold it by the bottom and the top (the unfrosted ends) and, working one side at a time, press the sides into the Nerds to make them stick to the frosting.

Set the cake back down and frost the top, being careful not to disturb the sides. Now I should have refrigerated my cake between frosting it and nerdifying it, so that’s why it’s all squishy and demented. Make sure you do that. Also, I discovered that my wee hands were no match for the size of this cake, so that may have added to the dementedness.

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Sprinkle the top with Nerds until it’s evenly coated.  Press them down a bit to make sure they stick.

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Chill the cake until serving. Even slightly demented, it was still mighty tasty!

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I don’t know what this is … Apple Cheesecake Maybe?

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Okay.  So.  I’m cleaning out my freezers.  This means that sometimes I come up with odd things to eat.  Today’s experiment resulted from the discovery of half a package of puff pastry and a plastic container filled with leftover cupcake frosting.  And so it begins.

Now, I’m not putting up this recipe specifically because I think it’s something you should make yourself.  It all depends on what you have hanging around your house.  This is more to show you that you can use your imagination when it comes to throwing a few ingredients together.

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Anyway, here’s what I did.  Preheat your oven to 375°F and haul out a large pie plate.

I had a small plastic tub full of what looked to be about 2-3 cups cream cheese frosting leftover from various adventures.  Basically it amounts to cream cheese, butter, icing sugar, and vanilla, and it’s fantastic.  It freezes really well, too.

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So I dumped that in a bowl and added 3 eggs to it, for cohesion.

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Then I finely chopped up 4 apples (three Red Delicious, one Granny Smith, for tartness).  Chuck those into the frosting mix.

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I also managed to cleanly slice off most of my thumbnail, but don’t worry, it didn’t make it into the dish.

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Gave it a stir.  The apples and the frosting, not my thumb. Obviously.

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Took my half package puff pastry and set it out on a floured surface.

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Rolled it out thin enough to fit in my pie plate with some overlap.

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Filled it most of the way with my apple filling.

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Gathered the corners together.

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It kind of sort of looks like I did it on purpose, no?

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I had extra filling so that went into a casserole dish.

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Then I baked them for an hour, until the mess in the casserole dish was cooked through in the centre.

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And the puff pastry was crackly and brown.

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We ate this warm with a bit of ice cream, like it was a pie, but you could eat it like a pudding, too.

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Zucchini Muffin Cakes

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The Pie says believes that the difference between a cupcake and a muffin is the icing, and this is never more true than in this particular recipe from Martha Stewart.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a muffin tray with cupcake liners.  Take a 10oz zucchini and grate it up.  You want about 1 1/2 cups grated zucchini.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup packed brown sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

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Stir in 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts.

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In another smaller bowl, crack 2 eggs and beat them up slightly.

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Add in the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/3 cup vegetable oil and mix that all together.

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Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  You don’t want to overmix muffins, or they go flat.

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This will be a very dry batter but don’t fret.

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Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners and shove the tray in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the centre cupcake/muffin tests clean with a toothpick.

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Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out to cool completely.  While that’s going on you can make your frosting.

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Having read the unfavourable reviews for Martha’s cream cheese frosting, I decided to go with our tried-and-true ratio instead.  In a bowl, mix together 1 250g package softened plain cream cheese, 1 cup butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla until creamy.

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Add in 1 1/2 – 3 cups icing sugar, until the texture and taste are to your liking.  If you find it too thick, thin it a bit with some milk.

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Spread on the cooled cupcakes and eat them all up.  Best if eaten the day you make them.

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Chocolate Rose Birthday Cupcakes

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Yesterday was Kª’s birthday (otherwise known as The Lady Downstairs).  She’s now 19, or somewhere close to that :).  She’s also the mother of two very energetic young boys, and if you include her husband, she’s outnumbered in the house by males 3 to 1.  So I thought that for her birthday I’d give her something incredibly girly — a flowered cupcake.  The recipe is Martha Stewart and I got the idea for the flower from here.  The decoration part is really time consuming (at least, with my amateur skills) but so totally worth it.

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This recipe makes 24 large cupcakes.

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First, preheat your oven to 350°F and line two muffin tins with paper liners.

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In a bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda and give that a stir.

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In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, plop in 12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) cocoa powder and 6 tablespoons hot water and mix them into a paste.  Apparently this helps to intensify the chocolate flavour.  I found I had to add an additional 4 tablespoons of water in order to get a paste, so keep that in mind.

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Add in 12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) buttermilk (or soured milk), 6 tablespoons melted butter, and 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites and whisk until combined.

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Gradually add your bowl of flour and sugar and whisk until smooth.

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Scoop the batter into your liners and bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the middle cupcake comes out clean.  Place the muffin tins on racks and allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

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While they’re cooling, plop a 250g package of plain cream cheese in a mixer together wtih about 2 cups icing sugar.  Whip that up until it’s smooth and creamy.  This is your icing.

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Frost your cooled cupcakes generously.

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Here’s where the ridiculous part comes in.  You’re going to need several packages of Fruit by the Foot, or some kind of store-brand equivalent.  I haven’t had this stuff since I was a kid.  The Pie was thrilled and went off in the throes of nostalgia, an extra candy sticking out of his mouth.

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You will need 12 strawberry flavoured ones (red) and at least 1 apple-flavoured one (green).  I could only get these variety packs, so I had to cut the green bits from the multi-coloured ones, and I ended up with some purple roses.

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Unroll one of your red strips and use a knife to cut a sine wave down the middle of it lengthwise.  Don’t worry about being perfect — it will look fine no matter what.

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Take one of the halves and, starting from the end, tightly roll it up for about five inches.  This is your “bud.”

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Take the bud and plop it in the centre of one of your frosted cupcakes.  Carefully drape the rest of the candy around the bud, tapping it into the frosting to anchor it.  I find it helps if I sort of let it feed through my fingers on one hand and use the other hand to rotate the cupcake.

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Then cut out two small leaves from the green stuff and tuck them into the frosting under the flower you have created.

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And so you are done.

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Now you just have 23 more to go.  And actually the purple ones are kind of nice, I think …

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A Whopper of a Cake Topper

Pete & Marley's Wedding
On Saturday, my cousin P-did married the lovely M and they asked me to make the topper for their cupcake tower.

After my adventures with fondant and ivy back in June, this was a real piece of cake.  I could even re-use the colours and fondant I had leftover!
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I even had the recipe down pat, using a single batch of the vanilla cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting I used so many times before, and baking the excess into cupcakes for us to eat in anticipation of the big event.   The heat made the fondant crack a bit, but all in all it worked out.
Cake Topper

Because I’ve already posted about this recipe (twice), I’m going to spare you with the details, and just titillate you with lots of nummy photos instead.
Cake Topper

Enjoy!
Cake Topper

Cake Topper

Cake Topper

Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake – Day Two

First thing to do this morning is take the white chocolate frosting and the fondant out of the fridge to come to room temperature.  Don’t forget!

Right.  So when we left off, we had just set the gum paste ivy leaves out to dry overnight. Fortunately for me, they didn’t completely dry, so I was able to cut tiny sticks of floral wire and stick them into each leaf as a stem.  Had I known how rigid and brittle dried gum paste got, I would have done this the day before, when the leaves were still flexible.  Also, the thicker the leaf, the better it worked.My plan was to wrap these new “stems” around my green licorice whip “vine” and then drape the whole thing over the cake.Of course the leaves were pretty heavy and the licorice was pretty delicate so of course the vine broke.In any case, I got all the stems in and flipped the leaves over to dry completely.My next idea was to simply drape the licorice vine over the cake, pin it in place with a few concealed floral wire “staples”, and then stick the leaves directly into the cake in strategic places.  Of course I wouldn’t get to see if my plan worked until the following day.  The tension starts to build.The worst part of decorating the cake today was that I had a medical procedure scheduled for late in the afternoon, and I wasn’t allowed to EAT ANYTHING until after it was over.  You try icing a cake and not licking your fingers.

Now, when you make a tiered cake you need to give it support so it doesn’t sag.  Not to mention the fact that a three-tiered cake is tremendously heavy, so everything has to be strong and secure.

The entire cake rests on a cake board, which you can buy at any cake or craft store.  My lovely father decided he’d make one for me out of plywood, as a cake board is essentially just a board wrapped in foil.  In addition, you need cake circles, essentially made of cardboard (though my dad used matting board here) that are exactly the size of each of your upper tiers.  They will go on the bottom of each upper tier so that you can move them around and so cutting one tier won’t result in cutting all three tiers.  It’s really amazing the amount of hidden structural material goes into a wedding cake.Now, you want to keep your cake as cold as possible, so I worked in shifts, putting each tier back into the fridge when I was finished each step.  A cold cake is stiffer and less likely to come apart on you.  Of course, the fridge I was using was downstairs in the basement and I had to negotiate several hallways in between.  As the cakes became more and more complete, my mantra became “Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …”

First you need to level the tops of your tiers.  Use a long serrated knife to remove the round bit at the top.  To ensure a perfectly smooth top, I flipped my tiers over so the natural “pan line” was the one that showed.  I had to work super hard to get the 16″ tier to come out level.

Use some royal icing or other stiff-drying frosting (which I also purchased) and plaster some on the surface of each cake circle.  This will be your glue, and will prevent the tier from sliding off when you move the cake.I did the same with the cake board, and placed the tiers on their respective surfaces, cut-side down.Then I wrapped up the ones I wasn’t using and put them back in the fridge. Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …I’m sure I’ve spoken to you before on the importance of a crumb coat.  It is what it sounds like: a coating of icing designed to freeze all your crumbs into place so they don’t show up on the surface of the finished cake.  So, smooth a thin layer of white chocolate frosting all over the cake and try to keep it as even as possible.  Then chuck the tiers back in the fridge for at least fifteen minutes so the frosting can firm up.

I found the smaller tiers easier to decorate if I placed them on an upside-down plate on top of an inverted bowl.  Of course, if you have a rotating cake stand then you’re ahead of the game.And a handy tool like a fondant smoother is useful when you are trying to make your sides uniform.  And on your second coat of icing, be generous.  This stuff can hide many mistakes.  Chuck the tiers in the fridge again after the second coat.  Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …As I mentioned earlier, this cake is no lightweight.  In order to avoid a Leaning Tower of Pisa thing, we have to provide adequate structural support for each tier on top of the bottom one.  We are going to create hidden support columns for our tiers, putting them inside the cake itself.  This next part is a little weird, but you gotta trust me on this one.

Enter the Slurpee straw.Let’s ignore the fact that I had to purchase a Slurpee in order to make off with all these straws.  The key to Slurpee straws is that they’re incredibly wide, which makes your support column all the more strong.  Another plus is that they come in lurid colours, so you are unlikely to mistake them for the substance of the cake and consume them by accident.

So, you take your bottom tier.  Rest the edges of the pan of the next tier on top for a second, just to leave a wee mark in the frosting where you want the next tier to go. 

Insert the straw into the centre of your guideline, pointing straight down, press it all the way to the bottom, and remove it.  You will remove a tiny plug of cake while you do this, but don’t worry, you’re going to put it back. 

When you pull it out you can see the line that the frosting has left on the straw.  Cut the straw at this point, then cut four more sections of straw to match this length.

Return the centre column to its original position in the cake and insert the other four columns around the centre one to evenly distribute the weight.  Repeat this straw process for every tier except the top one and put the cakes carefully back in the fridge.Now we are going to start on our fondant embellishments.  Slice off some fondant with a sharp knife and knead it with your hands to make it more malleable.I used a small amount of the icing colour we used to make the ivy leaves to create this pale green.I rolled it flat and used a pizza cutter and a metal ruler to cut long strips of the stuff.These are going to form bands at the bottom of each tier.Working carefully, so as not to stretch the fondant strip, place them along the bottom of each tier.  Because my fondant was a little on the dry side, I found it easier in the end to cut the fondant strips into sections and handle them with a fondant smoother.  You can see that I’m wearing gloves in this shot to avoid putting fingerprints on the fondant.

I used the smoother to provide support as I pressed the strip portions onto the cake.

Then, with a soft paintbrush, I gently brushed on some green lustre dust for texture.Not bad, not bad.  You won’t notice all the imperfections from a distance, once the ivy is in place.Next I rolled out some white fondant and got out the French curvesI traced the edges with a sharp pointed knife and pulled away the excess fondant.

Then ever so carefully transferred the shapes to the cake.  I used the biggest curves on the bottom tier.On the top two tiers I used used the smaller curve.Now put those all in the fridge and leave them there.  More on Monday, when we put this baby together!