Archive for the 'food' Category

Hat Cake! …A Tutorial?

This might be a tutorial.  I’m not sure.  You tell me.   And WARNING:  lots of pictures and looooong post ahead!

A few months ago Michael’s family started planning his grandmother’s (GG’s) 90th birthday celebration.  90!  I should be so lucky….  Anyway, we had just come off our birthday season with the kids and I felt like I had my cake-making chops back in order.  When I was in college and living in Dallas I really got into making fun, fancy cakes, and then one bad wedding experience turned me off of them for quite a looooong time.  But I kept all of my cake stuff knowing that someday I’d have kids and such.  Thank goodness for that- some cake stuff is not cheap!

I’ll throw in my tips that I’ve learned.  Much of what I have learned is through trial and error, and also the best Girl Scout Leader in the world, Mrs. Kelly.  She was awesome (no uniforms!) on many levels.  She got us all together with cake kits for a day of cake making and I was hooked.

I think the best thing to do when you want to make a cake that is anything other than 2 round layers and some frosting is to have a plan.  I was reminded of this when I started thinking about GG’s cake. I decided to make her a hat cake- she loves hats and has a bazillion of them.  I had a relative plan in my head, and I figured out the pan situation ahead of time, but that was where my plan ended, which came back to bite me in the rear later.

I went to Michael’s Craft Store to get a few things. I came back with this cake mix, which I wasn’t expecting to find:

If you aren’t aware, that’s Duff, the Ace of Cakes.  Apparently he has his own line of stuff- and boy is it expensive.  But the mix wasn’t too bad price-wise and I was too curious.   Let me just say:  YUM.  Delish.  So soft, so moist, and just like making a Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker cake (add eggs, oil & water and you’re good to go).  (Personally I don’t care for Pillsbury mixes- too light and crumbly when I make them.)  The cake was just dense enough to hold up to any kind of construction, and it was just plain yummy.   My philosophy with cakes is that the cake itself doesn’t *have* to be from scratch, but the frosting should.  I don’t have issues with using pre-mixed dry ingredients, but I do have issues with scooping frosting out of a can that’s been sitting on a shelf for Lord-knows-how-long.

Back to the tutorial…  I love parchment paper!  I use it as often as possible because it guarantees things will come out nice and clean.  For the base of the cake I used two 10-inch cake rounds.  I traced the pan on parchment and cut it out.  Then I spray the pan with baking spray, set the parchment paper on the bottom, and spray again.  One thing I like is that it comes out clean and there isn’t white gunk all over the bottom of the cake.

Top left:  this is the little dome I used to make the top of the hat.  It’s a Wilton pan used to make baseballs and such.  It comes with a ring to set it in so it bakes flat and doesn’t fall over.  Smart, eh?

*Trick!*  Top right:  After baking, I carefully invert the cakes onto the cooling rack after they’ve been out for 10 minutes or so.  Problem:  they are upside down.  To handle them now would be certain death to the cake, though- they’d fall apart.  So, I place another cooling rack on them upside down (bottom left), and gently flip them all over inside the rack .  Voila!  Cakes are uprighted and cooling their heels (bottom right).  I leave the parchment paper on the bottom- keeps the crumbs on the cake and my counter a bit less messy for the moment.

Another tip:  don’t try to do a cake all in one day.  Especially if you have a lot of decorating to do.  It’s not worth the stress.   To keep my cakes fresh I let them cool completely.  Then I lay out two long pieces of foil in a cross (left).  It’s hard to see in the photo, but then I do the same again with plastic wrap.  Then I place one layer on the cross.  Wrap it up in the plastic wrap, and then the foil, making sure you keep it totally air tight.  I like to fold the last piece over and make a little fold.  It makes me feel better (right).  Then you can make them a day or two ahead and they will not be stale by the time everyone bites into them.

Some of my favorite tools- a really long, serrated knife for leveling (it’s HUGE!) and a cute cake tester.  I never bake anything longer than 20 minutes before checking on it.  We don’t have a brand new oven, and it’s not reliable for temperature, so I check all things often.  Cake testers help when you’re not quite sure- chocolate cake is especially deceptive because it just smells good and is so dark.

Top left:  if you’re going to have any sort of tiers you might want to get cardboard rounds.  They don’t show because you cover them up with frosting, and they make slicing and serving the cake a lot easier.  I had a bunch of 10-inch rounds, so I just cut one down for the little dome for the top of the hat.  Top right:  Frosting!  I love this recipe– the whipping cream really makes a huge difference.  Bottom left:  I used this cake stand, and to just give myself peace of mind I put a dollop of frosting on the platform to assure myself the cake would not fall off if tipped.  Bottom right:  first layer up!

I have seen many cakes topple over because they were not leveled.  Most cakes, unless baked in special pans with special stuff, naturally dome at the top.  You have to flatten them  to make sure everything stays nice and level- enter… THE KNIFE!  What I love about leveling:  you get to TASTE …the …CAKE.  Yum and HOORAY!  Bottom right:  You can see the construction of the actual hat.  Notice the little piece of cardboard under there.

So here’s where things got dicey and the pictures sort of fade to black.  I also bought this stencil that Wilton makes.  I had visions of making her cake say “Happy Bday” without having to pipe the words out myself.  Given the shape of the cake, though, I realized I’d have to cut the words from the stencil.  No problem.  Then I realized I’d have to cut the letters apart so they could follow the curve of the cake.  No problem.  Then I tried using the letters with a pearl dust.  I followed directions- spraying the letters with cooking spray to prevent them from sticking.   Yeah…..not so much.

This is where my plan sort of fell apart.  The original letters didn’t work, and I had rose pearl dust everywhere.  I had to smear the whole top of the hat to sort of blend in the dust, but it ended up looking pretty.  I tried to write the message with little pearls that I also bought, but hated the way it looked.

Fast forward a few hours, and below is what I ended up with.  I had to break out the piping tips and write it myself- but it turned out great.  It was still missing something, though.  Good thing I bought flowers!

I decided to use the white and pink flowers, given that I ended up not using yellow on the cake at all.  Left:  flowers in the vase (see my little Jack watching- so cute!)  Center & Right: Thankfully the flowers came with straws to hold them up, so I just cut them a smidge longer than the stems so that I could stick them in the cake and not have too much flower touch the cake itself.

The finished product!  I think it turned out wonderful!  I wasn’t sure about it until I put the flowers in.

GG herself, just before we sang “Happy Birthday.”  Notice Anna eyeing the cake, too.
And no, I did not plan the color coordination- that was pure luck!  For some reason, though, she did not wear a hat.  Bummer!
Happy Birthday, GG!  We love you!