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!
Cake Topper

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!

Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake

On Saturday my best friend Chel got married.  To Invis.  For the second time.

Photo by Kurt Heinecke, http://www.khstudios.biz

My wedding present to the lovely couple was their wedding cake, which they wanted to be vanilla flavoured, white on the outside, and have ivy trailing over it.

I practiced ahead of time.  I got the recipe down with the Pie’s birthday cake last summer.  Then I worked on my fondant technique with my own birthday cake, and adapted the fondant flavourings with the moose cake.  I even made my own vanilla for the occasion.Was I ready for this?  I had never made a wedding cake before.  Chel and Invis wanted it simple, but a wedding cake is still a definite challenge.

First I had to figure out how much cake I needed.  I had an 8″ springform pan, an 11″ springform pan, and then a gigantic 16″ aluminum pan (which I think my father now covets).  So I did some mental math and decided to quadruple the recipe that I had for the Pie’s birthday cake and go from there.

That’s a lot of cake.

Four kilograms of icing sugar, 2 of white chocolate.  Two litres of whipping cream.  One and a half pounds of butter and the same in shortening.  Two kilos of cream cheese.  Sixteen eggs.  Two bags of flour.  Lots of mixing.

I gave myself three days to make this cake: the first day to do the actual baking and prepare the decorations; the second day to ice the cakes, and the third day to put the cake together.  So that means you get to have three days of posts, because otherwise you’d be reading the world’s longest essay on cake.  I gotta break it up a little.  Shall we begin?

DAY ONE:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter your pans generously and dust them with flour, knocking out the excess.Of course, the whole selling point of a springform pan is it makes removing cake from it so ridiculously easy.  Unfortunately, you’d be hard pressed to find a springform pan bigger than 12″ in diameter.  So for the 16″ pan, which wasn’t springform, I had to cut out a circle in parchment paper for it and then butter and flour that as well.Separate 12 eggs and bring the whites to room temperature.  Save the yolks for making custard.

Then you want to do some sifting.  A lot of sifting.  More sifting than you actually want to do, to tell the truth.  I started out with a regular sifter.Then I got bored and my hand got tired so I switched to a fine mesh sieve instead.  In any case, sift together 13 cups flour (I used cake and pastry flour because it’s fortified with a bit of cornstarch, which helps you maintain volume in your cake) with 4 tablespoons baking powder and 4 teaspoons baking soda.  The sifting process helps to eliminate lumps and also serves to add a bit of air into your flour, making it lighter and fluffier.  Volume is key.Now set that aside.  In a larger bowl, beat together 2 cups softened butter with 2 cups vegetable shortening until fluffy and creamy.And I’m talking creamy.Add in 7 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup pure vanilla extract.

Make sure you’ve also got all those precious vanilla seeds in there too.Beat that up until it’s fluffy, and make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Now crack in 4 whole eggs and mix that up as well.Okay so this next bit you mix in your flour mixture, as well as 6 cups ice water.  But WAIT.You gotta do it a bit at a time.  You want to add the flour in three separate increments, and the ice water in two.  So you start with the flour, then add water, then flour, then water, and then the rest of your flour.  And that’s how that is done.Once you’ve done all your adding, scrape down the sides of the bowl and just keep mixing for a further minute or so.  Isn’t that lovely and smooth?Now, in yet another bowl, you want to whip up those nice warm egg whites.  Add in 1 teaspoon cream of tartar to firm things up a little and beat the whites until they are at the soft peak stage, shapely but not dry.Plop those whipped whites into your batter bowl.Gently, ever so gently, fold those whites into the batter.  This is what will give you the majority of your fluffy cake.Now distribute the batter between your three pans and smooth the tops.Now we bake.  Unfortunately the day I did this, Ottawa was in the midst of a heatwave.  So this is what I look like when it’s hot and I’m leaning over an oven: hair in pins, shorts, dishtowel tied around my waist, and a jaunty wet scarf on my neck to keep me cool.  Super sexy, I know.

Self-portrait of the baker in a heat wave.

In terms of baking times, I baked the first two tiers for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre came out clean.   I used a convection oven, so it might take a little longer in a regular oven.  The bottom tier took about 60 minutes to bake, but just keep checking on them to make sure they don’t burn.  The 16″ tier BARELY fit in the oven.When the cakes are all golden-brown and lovely, put them on racks to cool completely.  When they are completely cool, remove them from the pans, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge overnight.  It is much easier to decorate a cold cake than a warm one, trust me.While the cakes are doing their thing, you can make the fondant and frosting, as well as the gum paste for the ivy leaves.

For the fondant, I creamed together 1 cup softened butter, 1 cup vegetable shortening, 2 cups lily white corn syrup, and 6 teaspoons almond extract.When it was all creamy I was ready to add in the icing sugar.By the time I had the texture right, I had added almost 3 kilograms of the stuff (I’m Canadian, so forgive me for switching back and forth between Imperial and Metric.  It’s just what we do).  I had also neglected to take my rings off before I kneaded the stuff.  Shame on me.  Then wrap the fondant tightly in waxed paper and chuck it in the refrigerator overnight.For the frosting, start off by melting 4lb white chocolate, chopped.  I know, it’s a lot.  But it’s necessary.While your chocolate is becoming liquid, cream together 6, 250g packages of cream cheese.Really mix it well to get out all the lumps.Pour in 2 1/4 cups each whipping cream and icing sugar.  Add in 3 teaspoons vanilla extract as well.Whip that extra good until it’s super smooth and creamy.

By now your chocolate should be all melty.Pour that white goodness into your other white goodness and whip it up to create more white goodness.Now put plastic wrap on the surface of the icing and chuck that in the refrigerator overnight.

For the gum paste, I didn’t want to tempt fate (I know my own limitations, folks) so I purchased gum paste mix from a cake decoration store.The instructions on the package are to mix 16oz of the mixture with 1/4 cup water.Then you stir like crazy, eventually using your hands to knead it all in.Then wrap it tightly in a bag and leave it at room temperature for 15 minutes.Now you can dye it.  I used two different shades of Wilton icing colour: moss green and juniper green.It’s a good idea to use gloves when you do this, unless you want green hands.  Apply the colour with a toothpick.   Just remember that a little goes a long way.Then, with gloves on your pretty little hands, knead the gum paste until the colour is thoroughly mixed in.Okay, so now put a bit of spray oil on your rolling pin and roll that sucker out flat.We’re cutting out ivy leaves here, so I thought, what better template than a real ivy leaf?

Cait came over to help me with the cutting out.

First we squished real (washed) ivy into the flattened gum paste.

You can see how the veins show up nicely.

Now we took a sharp pointy knife and cut them all out.

Laid them on waxed paper to dry overnight.

Aaaand … that’s all you get for today.  I don’t know about you, but I’m pooped.  More Friday!

Chocolate Moose Cake

My siblings-in-law Rusty and Mags are arriving today for a couple of weeks.  It’s Rusty’s first time on a plane, so something tells me he’ll need some chocolate when he gets here.  And possibly booze.

I borrowed the actual cake recipe from here, but everything else I made up on my own.  Make sure you’ve got some time when you make this cake, or at least a list of other things to do.  There’s a lot of waiting around for things to cool.

First, you need a springform pan.  Mine here is 10 inches.  Anywhere around that size should be fine.  You see how it has a little lip on the bottom?

Well, flip that so the lip is facing down and lock it in place.

Now butter it like there’s no tomorrow, making sure to fill in all those wee squares, and then dust it with flour.  Knock out the excess and set that sucker aside.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

In a large bowl, sift in and whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup water and 3 large eggs.

Chop up about 8oz bittersweet or dark chocolate (or milk, if you prefer, it’s your cake — who am I to tell you what to do?).  Melt that in a double boiler with 3/4 cup butter.

Remove that from the heat and whisk in the egg mixture until it’s smooth and feels like pudding.

Then whisk all that chocolate goodness into the flour mixture and get out all the lumps.

Add in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and keep on whisking.  Make sure to rest your whisking hand often, as this is a very whisk-heavy recipe.  How many more times can I say “whisk”?

Pour that glop into your prepared springform pan.

Make sure to rap the pan on the counter to get out all those pesky air bubbles.

Bake for 75 to 90 minutes, until the cake is starting to pull away from the side of the pan and a wooden stick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove the ring and let the cake cool completely, about an hour.  Once the cake is cool you can carefully remove it from the bottom of the pan.

At this point, I brushed the cake with the contents of a wee bottle (50mL) of Grand Marnier, an orange-flavoured liqueur, to keep the cake moist while it awaits the arrival of its consumers.

While your cake is cooking and cooling, you can work on your fondant covering.

We’re going to do a cocoa-mocha fondant today.  So, in the bowl of your mixer, plop in 3/4 cup butter, softened, 3/4 cup corn syrup, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.  Mix that until creamy, then add in 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder, and, slowly, so you don’t start an icing sugar mushroom cloud, about 5 cups icing sugar.

You may need to adjust the level of icing sugar until you get the appropriate doughy texture.  You can always knead in more icing sugar with your hands.  Set that aside.  Possibly in the fridge to firm up a little.

Now we’re going to make the decorating fondant.  In a clean bowl, mix together 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/4 cup lily white corn syrup (because otherwise it won’t turn out as light as you want it to), and 1 teaspoon almond extract.

Mix that until it’s creamy, then add in about 2 cups icing sugar and mix until doughy.  Set that aside.  Again, you can put it in the fridge.  Or next to an open window to catch the cold Newfoundland breeze.  Of course if you live anywhere else at this time of year you probably have your air conditioning on so you could always use that.

Normally, you would create a buttercream icing to go under your fondant, a nice solid glue to hold everything together.  But since when do I obey the rules?  We’re going to go with a ganâche, and that’s all there is to it.

Chop up another 8oz chocolate (your choice, of course), and melt that in a double boiler.

When it’s completely melted, whisk in 2 cups whipping cream until smooth.  Chuck that in the fridge to let it cool completely and thicken.  Stir it around every once in a while.

As this cake is a welcome-to-Newfoundland dessert for my siblings-in-law, I thought I would put a moose on the cake.  The moose, in case you didn’t know, was introduced as a hunting species to Newfoundland at the end of the 19th century and, having no natural predators other than man (because introducing species to island ecosystems is a bad idea), has proliferated and is now one of the province’s biggest pests, wreaking havoc on people’s gardens within the city and accounting for high numbers of traffic fatalities for those unfortunate (or stupid) enough to drive across the island at night.  The moose is an extremely dangerous animal, for all its vegetarian-ness, but Newfoundlanders have adopted the moose as a cute symbol of what makes Newfoundlanders a bit different than everyone else.

What I’m saying is that it’s entirely appropriate to put a moose on your cake when you live in Newfoundland.

I printed out a stencil of a moose from the internet and cut it out.  I rolled out the white fondant onto a piece of waxed paper and laid my stencil on top.

I traced the outline of the stencil with a thin, sharp knife.

Then I peeled away the excess fondant.

And thar be me moose.  I set that aside to dry a little.

When your ganâche is cooled and thickened, you can slather it on your cake.

Like that.  Holy crap does that ever look good.  Chill that in the fridge to let the ganâche set a bit more while you roll out your coffee fondant.

The Pie and I used a rolling pin to ease the fondant onto the cake.  Because the ganâche is soft and squidgy it didn’t provide a very good base for the fondant and so you can see we have some cracks.  But we’re okay with that.  Plus the moose will cover up the worst of it.  For more information on dealing with fondant, check out my Raspberry Trifle Cake experiment.

Trim the excess fondant from the bottom and smooth the sides.

Lay that moose on down on top of the cake and smooth it down as well.

We used Cadbury’s chocolate covered raisins (like Glossette’s) as “moose poop” around the edges of the cake at the bottom.  And of course one big one, just behind the moose in question.

Keep this cake in the fridge to firm up the fondant and to keep the ganâche from spoiling.  Once you have cut into it make sure to keep it covered with plastic wrap, and eat it within a few days.

Raspberry Trifle Cake

Ten days ago (that would be 8 March 2011) was a very auspicious day.  It was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (go us!), and it was also Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras.  AND.  And.  It was my birthday.  I turned TWENTY-NINE.  Holy smokes.  That’s a prime number.

In honour of the occasion (and because I need to perfect my fondant for Chel‘s wedding cake in June), I made my own birthday cake.

This is very loosely based on a cupcake the Pie and I made for our own wedding back in August 2009.  The cupcake itself came from Susannah Blake’s Cupcake Heaven, but I think I’ve sufficiently changed this so I can call this recipe all my own.

Some of this stuff you can do ahead of time, like the fondant and the buttercream icing, and just put them in the fridge until you need them.

For the Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter two 8″ round baking pans.  Line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper and butter those too.
Beat together 1 cup butter, softened, and 1 cup granulated sugar, until pale and fluffy.
Add in 4 eggs, one at a time, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Sift in 2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 3 teaspoons baking powder) and fold it in.
Fold in 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and drained.  Save about half a cup of the juice you’ve drained off for your icing.  You could use fresh raspberries if you’ve got them but it seems kind of a waste if you’re just squishing them into batter. 
Spoon the batter into your prepared pans and bake for 15 minutes, until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove the pans to racks to cool completely.

For the Fondant:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whip together 3 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup butter, softened but not melted, and 1 cup corn syrup.  If you want your fondant to be white, use the light corn syrup, as the dark stuff I used gave the fondant a creamy complexion.

When the mixture is creamy and fluffy, reduce the speed to low and add 1kg icing sugar, a bit at a time.  If you do it all at once, or if you do it on high, you will get a mushroom cloud of icing sugar everywhere.

And it might even get on your dog.

When it is all incorporated, you will have a large doughy mass. 

Tip it out onto some waxed paper and knead it into a ball. If your dough is too tacky you might find that you want to add more icing sugar.  To do this simply dust a work surface with icing sugar and knead it in.

When the dough has reached the consistency that you are happy with (i.e., not sticky, but not so dry that it cracks), then you can colour it.   It helps to wear gloves for this part.

Spread a few drops of food colouring over your dough and knead them in until the colour is uniform. 

It will take a while to get it the colour you want it.

I was aiming for a pale pink but because of the yellowish tinge due to the dark corn syrup it came out more flesh coloured.  Or at least, MY flesh colour.

I pulled off an extra bit of the newly coloured dough here and added extra food colouring so it was a darker pink than the rest. 

I will use this for the decoration part.

When you have kneaded to your satisfaction, wrap the dough tightly in waxed paper and seal it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you need it.

For the Buttercream Icing:

In a stand mixer, whip 2 cups softened butter until pale and fluffy.  

Beat in 2 cups icing sugar until you get soft peaks.

Add in 4 tablespoons raspberry jam.

And that 1/2 cup reserved raspberry juice

Mix well.  It may be slightly grainy, but that’s okay for our purposes.

Plop the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

To Decorate:

Remove the icing and the fondant from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature.

Tip out the cakes and peel off the parchment paper.

Slice off the round top of each cake, if you care about such things.  I didn’t, because I wanted the top to be rounded slightly, and so I flipped one cake upside down and put the two flat sides together.  Cut each cake in half horizontally.

I am spreading raspberry jam here in the centre, with custard on the bottom and top-most layers.  I did not make the jam or the custard myself.  I suppose you could create some form of preserve with fresh raspberries, but at this point I think I’ve done enough. I tried to make custard by hand, but I messed it up twice and that’s my limit on egg-wasting.  I suppose you could use pudding if you like, but I didn’t have any on hand.
So here’s the custard.
And here’s the jam.
Then there’s another custard layer.
Don’t go all the way to the edges, because the cake’s weight will force the filling out and down the sides.

Spread a crumb coat of buttercream on your cake (just a thin layer to trap the crumbs) and place the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes until the icing has set.  Remove the cake from the refrigerator and use the remaining buttercream to smooth out the surface.  Chuck it in the refrigerator again until the second layer of icing is set.

While the cake is chilling, roll out your fondant on a surface dusted with icing sugar or corn starch.  You will want to roll it to about 1/4″ thick.  Any thinner and you will be able to see the flaws in the cake through it.  Any thicker and you will have trouble stretching it properly.  Make sure to take off your rings and watches while you do this so you don’t mar the fondant surface.

To determine the surface area you will be covering, measure the height and width of your cake.  You will need to create a round surface of fondant that is a diameter of twice the height plus the width of your cake.

Gently lift the flattened fondant over your rolling pin and use it as a lever to help you lay the fondant over your chilled cake.  I found that approach didn’t work for me, and I had to try several different methods before I found one that worked.  I rolled it out over waxed paper and used the waxed paper to do the transfer.  The only problem is that my waxed paper was too narrow and I had to double it, which resulted in it leaving a line on the fondant.  I will have to find some industrial-width waxed paper for next time.

Using your hands, gently lift and press the fondant into the sides of your cake after smoothing the top.  Don’t pull on the fondant or it will crack — lift instead and flatten out the wrinkles with the palm of your hand.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ll see what I mean when you do it.  Notice the strong colour resemblance between my hand hand the fondant?  Yes, I am pale and pasty and spring can’t come soon enough.

Trim off excess fondant at the base of the cake.  Otherwise you will have a cake that resembles a demented jellyfish.  Or some bizarre prehistoric alien life form that may slowly yet inexorably expand, engulfing your family, your house, and then the entire planet.  THE THING THAT TIME FORGOT.

So yeah, you want to trim that sucker.

There are such things as fondant smoothers that you can use to even out the fondant surface.  I didn’t have one, so I used a flat-sided plastic cup.  And that excess icing sugar or corn starch on the surface?  Don’t worry about it.  It will either come off by itself in the course of you smoothing and shaping, or you can wipe it off with a wet finger.It’s far from perfect, but quite impressive for a first attempt, if I do say so myself.

Here I have rolled out the darker fondant onto a sheet of waxed paper and traced on it a design.

Cut out the design with a sharp knife and pull off the excess, leaving the design on the waxed paper.

Lightly brush the top of the fondant pieces with water.

Carefully roll the design on the paper face down on top of the cake and press down lightly.

I took a deep breath after I’d done this.

Even more carefully, peel off the waxed paper, leaving your design on the cake.  Smooth the sharp edges with your fingers.

You can also freehand other elements out of the leftover fondant, as you see I did here.  You can also store the scraps in the fridge in an airtight container, just in case you want them for something else later.

Chill the cake to harden the fondant before serving.  Then eat as much of it as you can handle.

I would definitely recommend storing this cake in the refrigerator and eating it within a few days of making it.

Chocolate Cherry Cordials

These wee confections are the favourite treat of both my brother Ando and my father-in-law Papa John so finding a recipe on the internet was a small step towards making a really cool home-made Christmas present for the both of them.  Thanks to Veronica at Recipe Rhapsody for the idea.

These are pretty easy but they are quite time-consuming and you have to be vigilant about your chocolate coating.  You can make your cordials more alcoholic by soaking your cherries overnight in kirsch or amaretto or other liqueur but I prefer my chocolates to be teetotallers.

You will need about 2 10oz jars maraschino cherries in syrup (about 30-40 cherries), which you will need to drain (make sure to reserve some of the cherry syrup while you’re at it, a couple tablespoons’ worth just to be on the safe side).  Plop the drained cherries on a paper towel and pat them dry.

In a bowl, cream together 1/4 cup softened butter and 1 cup icing sugar.

Add in 1 tablespoon reserved cherry syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.  Stir it until you get a slimy pink goo.

Stir in a further 1 1/4 cups icing sugar.  You will end up with a nice pale pink dough.  If the dough sticks to your fingers too much you can add more icing sugar.  You need it to stick to itself but not to you.

Lay out a sheet of waxed paper and take a pinch (about 1-2 teaspoons) of your pink dough (fondant) in your hand.  Roll it into a ball and then clap your hands together to make a flattened patty.  Plop a cherry in the centre and pinch the dough all around the cherry.

Roll the cherry and fondant between your palms to create a nice sphere and set on the waxed paper.  Repeat with the rest of the fondant and cherries.  I found I had to make extra fondant to do all my cherries, but that’s fine.  Chill your fondant cherries in the freezer (overnight is good) while you melt your chocolate.

Melt 12oz chopped chocolate (dark or milk, it’s your preference) with 2 tablespoons shortening in a double boiler.  The shortening is there to make the melted chocolate smoother and shinier.  Who knew?

Using a fork, dip the cherry balls into the chocolate and set on waxed paper.

You can see here how the fork marks leave some of the fondant exposed.

Dip a spoon in the melted chocolate and use it to repair the holes.  The cherries have to be completely sealed in chocolate or bad things happen.

When the chocolate has hardened, remove from the waxed paper.  You will find that you have to re-seal the bottoms that were touching the waxed paper as well.  Make sure you get all the gaps!

You can store the chocolates in the refrigerator until they are set, but you will want to store them elsewhere so that they can liquefy like they are supposed to (this takes about two weeks).  Once they are ready, feel free to enjoy!

I think next time I would dip the cherries and put them on a wire rack (to avoid that unfortunate puddle at the bottom) and then, when dry, I would just dip them in their entirety again.  I would probably also be less vigilant in patting my cherries dry, as I think they would liquefy better if they had some liquid in them to begin with.