cake contractor, right here ::::
There is little that stops me from making a cake when asked, especially when my job contract still waits for clarification before signature. (I’ve been on this path for a few months now, so why not add a couple more?) So when my husband extolled the craft of my cake and cookie decorating to a parent in search of an economical way to celebrate her three-year-old son’s birthday, I said yes. On the docket: two construction-themed cakes and 18 royal-icing decorated cookies.
I realized while I was certainly up to the task, I had not done decorating for anyone other than my own family, that climate allowing me to roll with the mistakes and move onto Plan B without much concern. This was different. And she was going to pay me. Eek.
Below, I’ll explain some of the decorating foibles, the successes, and the general calendar for the week if you plan to do something similar. In today’s post, I provide the recipes for the fresh mango Swiss buttercream and chocolate Swiss buttercream. The marshmallow fondant recipe will be in my next post. Links for the sugar cookie and royal icing recipes are below.
Foibles and successes (in no particular order):
Cake #1: The yellow construction striped and fondant covered cake (vanilla cake). This is the cake my friend wanted for the pretty aspect of sweet and delicate minimalism. Entrenched in frosting and cookie royal icing leading up to the party, the weather took a turn. My stress rose and I prayed that the Georgia humidity would not be my homemade marshmallow fondant’s downfall. I wanted the fondant to taste good, so I made my own not factoring in the possible rainy weather.
All in all, it worked out, fondant intact though a bit soft. I did not do any fondant modeling (the addition of tylose helps with firming, if so) but my white background and yellow construction stripes were not EXACTLY like the picture my friend gave me. The humidity softened the fondant enough that I couldn’t polish the edges as crisply as I wanted. Plus, the crumb-coated, four-layered cake was refrigerated and fell a bit as it came to room temperature while I added the fondant. In general, refrigerating (or freezing) fondant is NOT a good idea because of condensation when coming back to room temperature. If well wrapped and brought to room temperature slowly in the wrap, the condensation forms on the plastic wrap and the cake is usually fine. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to risk that. Northern California had spoiled me: perfect weather practically all of the time, not a speck of humidity to worry about. Now in Georgia, the rules have changed.
I went back and forth on if I should refrigerate the cake after decorating it. My final advice was to have my friend keep the cake cool while wrapped, not necessarily refrigerated. It faired fine for the party the next day and whatever imperfections there were on delivery did not seem to worsen or be noticed. THE LESSON: In humidity, find air conditioning and use tylose to help stiffen fondant. Alternatively, you can by pre-made fondant which is more stable in general (but tastes terrible – you decide the trade-off).
The vanilla cake I made for this cake is touted as a great birthday cake recipe, and while most people I know LOVE this cake, it’s not my favorite. (If you want the recipe, e-mail or tweet me, and I’ll send you a link.) I’m such a cake snob that I assume most people will like whatever I don’t.
But the saving grace: the fresh mango Swiss buttercream. Ooooo, molly, that IS GOOD stuff.
Cake #2: The “dirt” cake (chocolate). My friend requested this cake to be the actual birthday cake for her son. We decided that Duncan Hines was a fine choice for chocolate cake, since the kids would just want to lick the frosting off anyway. The cakes rose a bit, so when cooled, I cut the domes off and used this extra cake as the “dirt.” I also bought some plain soft chocolate cookies to crumble in the mix, which didn’t make much of a difference in texture. If you want to make the cake and don’t have enough scraps for “dirt,” chocolate cookies work great.
I frosted and crumb-coated the four layers with chocolate Swiss buttercream. After chilling, I used a paper template of a number “3”, placed it on top of the cake, scattered the “dirt” with the toy trucks in place, then carefully removed the template. It worked perfectly. I kept this cake well wrapped and chilled for up to a day before the party, advising my friend to allow it to warm a bit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. This cake was the easiest of the two, in part due to the flexibility of refrigeration. Swiss buttercream is stable at room temperature, so I could have left this cake out. Much less worry than the other cake!
The toy trucks my friend chose were the perfect size for this cake:
#3 The construction-themed cookies: My friend really liked three designs: a hard hat, a concrete mixer, and a traffic cone. I used my basic sugar cookie recipe and royal icing recipe. I allowed for the icing to dry a day before delivery so that her planned packaging wouldn’t smear the icing.
I also made three “3” cookies with a popsicle stick baked into each (see the yellow striped cake picture above). One was to be used as a cake topper, the remainder as back-up 3s in case there was a breakage. (This is not a birthday for a 333 year old.) I used royal icing to make the “street” and topped each with a tiny molded fondant traffic cone. (I mentioned earlier marshmallow fondant mixed with tylose makes for better modeling. I didn’t do this since the cones were so small and not a complicated design. They stayed pretty moist and moldable, even overnight. LESSON: Use tylose when you can if molding or if humid.)
Expect to take a full week to do this, especially if you are not doing this full time, meaning you have a job elsewhere. This calendar also accounts for some wiggle room so if something messes up on Monday, you have more time to make up for the fiasco. Also, I am making two different cakes here so I refer to one cake as “chocolate” and the other as “vanilla.” You can certainly stretch this out to even longer if you bake the cake layers and cookies and freeze them. They will last for weeks if well wrapped. Thaw completely before decorating.
Day 1: Mix up sugar cookie dough. Chill overnight.
Bake chocolate cake layers. I used pans with just over 8-inch diameter. Cool completely and wrap well. Chill.
Day 2: Bake cookies and cool completely. Wait at least 24 hours before decorating to combat oil leaching from the cookies into the royal icing which can destroy the design. Cookies can be wrapped well and chilled for many days (or frozen for months). Thaw to room temperature before decorating. This is a day of wiggle room: you could easily decorate these on Day 3.
Also bake vanilla cake layers (also 8-inch diameter).
Day 3: Mix up one recipe of royal icing (see my post on Chima cookies). Depending on how large your cookies are will depend on how much royal icing you need. Start with one recipe. Wrapped well, royal icing can last for one week.
Day 4: Depending on your design, use of this day to finish up your cookie decorating. this part is done! You can also mix up the Swiss meringue buttercream today. Choose either the chocolate or mango flavor to start.
Day 5: Mix up the Swiss meringue buttercream if you have not already. You will need two recipes, divided. This means 20 egg whites total. Be prepared! Do a chocolate recipe and a mango recipe. Chill.
Day 6: Crumb coat both cakes with their respective buttercreams. Put a final coat of frosting on the chocolate cake and decorate with “dirt” as I described above.
Day 7: This is the day of delivery. You may decorate the fondant cake earlier but just make sure you have a place to store it. Fondant needs to be stored at temperatures over 45 degrees F. It is not advised to keep them stored in the refrigerator as the cold can make the fondant moist and too soft. Storing it at a cool room temperature is fine as long as you have space and the frosting you use is room temperature stable. Since I used a mango buttercream with fresh mango in it, it was better to store in the refrigerator until just before covering with fondant.
Day 7 or 8: Party day! Store the cakes at a cool room temperature, if possible.
My sugar cookie recipe is here, omitting the food coloring.
The royal icing recipe I like is showcased in my Chima Laval cookies and painter’s palette cookies.
My Swiss buttercream recipes are based off of the one I posted in my “A Lesson on Buttercreams” post just before my French macaron adventure. I’ve adjusted the ingredients in the recipe below to work for the cakes here, and added how much mango or chocolate you need for good flavor.
Marshmallow fondant recipe is in my NEXT post. Have leftovers? It keeps for weeks at room temperature well wrapped. Since I did not use it in this scenario, I do not discuss firming agents like tylose. I’ll reserve that for another time when I do more focused modeling work or agree to a fondant covered cake in humidity again (God forbid).
One year ago: accordion potatoes
Two years ago: watermelon-feta salad and lemon syrup and fermented grape soda
Three years ago: peach sauce (or baby food) and strawberry balsamic smash and apricot-earl grey tea pâte de fruit and watermelon soda floats and pasta with fresh tomatoes, dill, and feta
Four years ago: honey-tamarind pork ribs and watermelon granita and whole-wheat chocolate “PB&J” brownies and syrian baklava
- 10 large, fresh egg whites (or 300 g)
- 2½ cups (500 g) sugar
- 3 cups (687 g) unsalted butter, cubed and slightly softened
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- FOR MANGO FLAVOR: 3.4 ounces (96 g) freeze-dried mango, pulverized in a spice grinder
- 1½ cups (300g) fresh mango, pureed
- FOR CHOCOLATE FLAVOR: 12 ounces (340 g) semi-sweet chocolate
- Lightly whisk egg whites and sugar together over simmering water (double boiler) until the sugar dissolves and the egg white mixture is too hot to touch or an instant read thermometer reads 140 degrees F. It should look and feel as smooth as silk.
- Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, pour hot whites into the room temperature mixer bowl and whip on low speed, gradually increasing to high speed until egg whites double in volume. The meringue should appear to have stiff, glossy peaks. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Remove the whisk attachment and replace with paddle. Allow the meringue to cool to room temperature, or else your butter will melt. On low speed, add butter, 1 to 2 pieces at a time, continuously mixing. Continue to beat until the mixture is smooth in appearance, about 3 minutes after all of the butter is added. On a low speed, mix in vanilla. TROUBLESHOOTING: WHAT IF I END UP WITH A DRIBBLY OR CURDLED MESS? First off, don’t freak out like I did the first time I made Swiss buttercream, threw it out, started over, and ended up with the same curdled ick (SO DUMB). There are two situations we can work through: 1) If you have runny Swiss buttercream, put it back in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes, then whip it again. It should firm up nicely. 2) If you have curdled Swiss buttercream, or a “broken” buttercream, take about ¼ of it out of the bowl, put it into a smaller bowl and microwave it for 15 seconds. While the mixer is running on low with the paddle attachment, pour this heated mixture in slowly, then turn up the speed to high. Your buttercream should recover in a few minutes, looking smooth and thick. It worked for me!
- IF MAKING MANGO BUTTERCREAM: Reserve about half of the buttercream in a bowl (you want smooth buttercream for the crumb coat and outside, to make the fondant coat more smooth. The mango makes it a bit more lumpy.). In the other half, mix in 3.4 ounces freeze dried mango, pulverized in a spice grinder (do NOT use dried, chewy mango -- not the same) and pureed fresh mango. Use immediately for filling, store in fridge for a couple of days, or freeze well wrapped for up to 3 months, thaw and re-whip before using.
- IF MAKING CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM: Melt chocolate over double boiler. Allow to cool to room temperature and fold into buttercream. Use immediately or store as discussed above.