I always love an excuse to bake and experiment in the kitchen. I like to do it anyway, special occasion or not. Sometimes I'll just bake a cake and bring it into work 'just because'. I seem to be a glutton to punishment at times though, taking on challenges to do something 'different', and driving myself insane in the process. But the end results are always satisfying, and I get to learn from my mistakes and improve on for next time.
A few weeks ago, a good friend Anne had a Christening/Dedication Service for her baby boy, Zac. Me being me, I offered to make a cake in lieu of bringing a present. At the time though, I didn't know what I was going to get myself into. After some emails backwards and forwards my 10 inch round one tiered Christening cake covered in fondant had turned into a 2 tiered cake. She was worried about attendance numbers for the catering, which in turn got me worried that one cake wouldn't be enough. Mind you, I hadn't had that much experience working with fondant (never made figurines before) and I had never made a 2 tiered cake before either. But as I had made 2 cakes in the past few months for other people, I guess I was on a little confident cake making roll.
One of my previous cakes was an order for a 60th birthday cake. My cousin in law's cousin is getting married later in the year and I was recommended to make the cake. The design they were after was a fondant covered chocolate cake with a garland of macarons cascading down the side. As I'm not a professional/practising cake maker I was asked to make this birthday cake as a bit of a trial. I made a rich dark chocolate mud cake and covered it with white fondant. To keep with the macarons theme I made some pink macarons and filled them with white chocolate ganache. Received good feedback but not sure if I'll get the wedding cake.
My second cake was just a small simple cake (macarons were requested) ordered by a friend at work. I decided to make a coconut cake, with a lime white chocolate ganache. The macarons are lemon shells filled with the same lime ganache.
So for my Christening cake, I decided to make two different flavours for the two tiers. As Anne is lactose intolerent, I wanted to experiment and create a cake that was completely dairy/lactose free so that she wouldn't have any issues eating the cake. The bottom tier was a 10 inch dark chocolate mud cake filled with and covered in a dark chocolate ganache. The top tier was an 8 inch almond and orange cake filled and covered with a lactose and dairy free white chocolate ganache. The ganache was made of a dairy free white chocolate and lactose free long life thickened cream.
As I was working after coming home from regular work, it took me a little longer than what it normally would. I baked one cake a day, or else it would have been past midnight by the time I finished baking.
The next day is the ganaching stage. Each cake was cut into 3 layers, filled and then covered. I had gone out and bought all sorts of tools but I still couldn't get the finish as smooth as I wanted to be - like how I learnt to do it when I did the Planet Cake course.
Dark chocolate mud cake with dark chocolate ganache. The cakes are left overnight so that the ganache can set and harden.
The next day I cover the cakes in fondant. I was making this cake during an extremely cold and dry week. It played absolute havoc with the fondant. Fondant can be quite temperamental depending on the weather, normally people have problems with heat and humidity. The cold dry air wasn't any good to me either, the fondant would just dry out as soon as I rolled it out which resulted in cracks and tearing. It didn't help that the layer of ganache underneath wasn't as smooth as I wanted it to be either, resulting in a bumpy finish with the fondant. I wasn't entirely happy but there wasn't much I could do.
I left one layer white and the coloured the other one blue. The blue actually has a light marbelling effect through it (half intentional/half because I just couldn't be bothered blending in the colour any further).
It's time to assemble the cakes. The cakes are quite heavy so I had to use some wooden dowels in the bottom layer to support the top layer and stop it from sinking into the bottom layer. I also cover the cake board in fondant to give it a more streamline look.
The next day I work on making the figuring to sit on top of the cake. I have never ever made a fondant figurine before so wasn't sure what I was in for. Originally I thought a cute little teddy bear would be simple and easy enough to do. After googling some images of Christening cakes online I thought I might attempt an elephant. Elephants have a bit of significance for me as it reminds me of the toy elephant Ryan and I bought little Zac when we first went to visit him. Anne did mention though that she was keen on a tiger as it's Zac's chinese zodiac animal. I thought a tiger would be too difficult so we both agreed on either a teddy bear or an elephant if I was game enough to do it.
Being a gluten to punishment, I let myself experiment and make a tiger for the top of the cake. So I coloured in some fondant with red and yellow colouring gel (to get orange) and proceeded to mould by hand something that I thought might resemble a tiger (above). My brother walked past and asked me what I was making. He said my tiger just looked like an orange person. I was yet to put on some black strips and a face. Happy with what I produced so far for the base, I had to scrunch it back up and add some setting agent to the fondant to get it nice and hard. I then proceeded to remake my tiger.
3 hours later and this is what I produced. It was such a cold day that my hands were absolutely shaking which made it tricky to make all the stripes and stick them on. I've already got shaky hands which makes fine detailed work hard enough as it is. It wasn't perfect, but I was quite happy with my little tiger.
By the time I was ready to decorate the rest of the cake, I started to get stomach cramps which did not help at all. Again the cold dry air played havoc with my fondant and in the end I spent 2 hours rolling up individual beads to go around the edge of my two tiers. I kept trying to roll out long ropes but they would just snap when I got close to the required thickness and length. I probably wasted a lot more time trying to get the ropes rolled. Should have just given up earlier and gone with the beads. The rest of the cake was just decorated with shapes made by cutters, with the exception of the crosses which were hand cut by Ryan.
Side view of the complete cake. I asked if Ryan could see all the imperfections in the cake that I could see and he said no. And then he said that if he wanted to be really critical it just looks like my cake has a case of cellulite.
Other side of the cake and tiger.
I think my best piece of work sat on top of the cake. I was quite proud of my first ever fondant figurine. I even saved him for little Zac when I went to cut up the cake but apparently it got pinched from the bench while they were cleaning up. Some little girl pinched it and ran off with it. It's probably ended up in some garden or bin somewhere. I'll have to make another one for him, perhaps for his first birthday ;).
The cakes also received great feed back. Even my critical uncle who tasted mud cake said it was one of the best mudcakes he'd had - 'very moist, as it should be'. And Ryan now has a new favourite cake, he loved the orange and almond cake. The only issue was that the white chocolate ganache was a bit too thick, only because of technical issues which made the layers separate and fall apart.
I did walk away saying I'd never ever do this again. But reflecting back now, it was a good project to do, I learnt things which is the only way you can improve yourself.
Photo of my cake taken at the Christening by someone with a very cool camera (hides the cellulite!). Added my watermark because I don't want anyone going around stealing the image.