Jul 1, 2013

Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere, et quem fors dierum cumque dabit,lucro appone

On Thursday of last week I got a phone call from a woman I work with, asking if I'd be able to do a favor for her daughter. She needed a die cake for a Latin club event Monday morning, and any of the bakeries they'd talked to said it was too short notice.  My thoughts at the time included:

1. RPG geek: dice? I kind of have to do that.
2. Mmm, cake.
3. To do it properly, since there was going to be a lot of text, it should be covered in fondant. I've never actually done that for a full sized cake before.
4. Ooh, this sounds like a blog post in the making!
5. Mmm, cake.
6. I have no prior commitments, and I'm always up for a challenge.

So after doing some math for the amount of cake required for 30 people, and then contemplating the difficulty of partitioning out cake from a cube that tall without having cake boards, I finally opted for 2 cakes, 3 layers each.  So Saturday night I made one yellow cake, one white cake, and one chocolate cake (all from scratch. Nothing against boxed mixes, but if I'm being paid for this, Betty Crocker is just not going to cut it). Due to the short time line, I wasn't able to make it out to Michaels to buy fondant to cover the cake with, and despite the fact that I didn't have glycerine, I decided to try to make it from scratch. I hadn't promised fondant, so worst case scenario I had just wasted some butter, corn syrup, and a bunch of powdered sugar. And one other suggestion that I was given was that, if it came down to it, I could cover the whole thing in coconut and say that they were fuzzy dice.  Lucky for me it didn't come down to that.

All the cake layers cooling, with the giant ball of fondant

I let everything cool/set overnight, and get up Sunday ready to start stacking and decorating.  One of my favorite simple buttercream recipes is this one from Giada deLaurentis.  After slathering frosting on to stack the cakes, and putting a good amount on the top and sides as the mortar that it is acting like, I put the cakes to the side to see how much of a disaster my fondant would be.

I will admit, I was slightly daunted by the idea of the fondant. I have watched too much Food Network Challenge, and learned to recognize the mistakes that "Hall of fame sugar artist Kerry Vincent" would tend to jump on the pros about. So I automatically assumed that many of those mistakes would be a baseline for me, with the unfortunateness of me seeing every one of them.

My fondant turned out better than I had feared, so I can't really tell you how much of a difference the glycerine makes, especially if you are using the fondant right away.  When it came to rolling out the fondant, I figure that there are a few factors that work in my favor.  I am very comfortable with dough and clay, I use my rolling pin quite a bit when making croissants (which can also stick to the table), and my massage training has contributed to me being very good with my hands.  When balanced against the fact that I had never done this before, and that I was doing it for someone else, and for money, and without all the "proper" equipment, all it meant was that I avoided it being an absolute disaster.

The tops of both cakes were actually very nice and smooth. Three out of the 4 sides of the first cake were rather rough, with a bunch of patching and such to be done.  For the second cake I made a slightly bigger piece, which cleaned up nicer. The dots for the die I also made out of fondant, and secured with a touch of buttercream.  I was quite pleased with those.

The biggest challenge for me was the same problem that plagued me throughout elementary school. There was supposed to be a fair amount of writing on the cake. To say that my handwriting is bad is an understatement. My father loves to joke that my handwriting is one of the ways that he knows that I'm his daughter. Of course, to be fair, the Rosetta Stone may have been easier to decipher than any of his handwriting. Mine isn't that bad, but it is not good.

The large letters I was able to roll from purple and yellow fondant.  As a note, I'm quite familiar with the color wheel, and how blue and red make purple.  Somehow this did not translate well into fondant. When I finally ended up with a light violet, I said it was good enough, and let it be.  Yellow at least was much easier.  So those letters I was all right with, and considered them respectable for an amateur.  

The piped letters on the other hand...  I will admit, I tend to be my harshest critic. But these were not great.  I managed to make some nice black royal icing, but everything from my pastry tips not working right to my handwriting conspired against me.  So it was a little bit of a mess. For the last words that needed to be on the cake, Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere, et quem fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro appone, I finally threw in the towel and grabbed a tube of decorating gel.  The one thing on the whole cake that was not made from scratch.  It actually fit quite nicely around the two cakes.  With someone who had writing skills doing it, I think it would have been pretty good.

The thing that I'm kicking myself about after the fact is that I didn't even remember the best trick for doing piped icing.  Print out the words, cover it with waxed paper, pipe onto the waxed paper, and then transfer to the cake.  That would have been a MUCH better idea for me.  Oh well, I guess this is one of those live and learn moments.

I'm sure that by now you really want to see how good/bad (depending on whether you are supportive or cheering for a car crash) the final product was. Well, here it is.

The finished cakes
When I dropped it off, the woman I work with was there, but the daughter wasn't. This means that I will be obsessing the entire time between now and Monday, worrying that it isn't good enough.  At least I know that the cake will taste good. So keep your fingers crossed for me that all this has a happy ending.

P.S. So the writing on the ends (as it scrolls the whole way around) got smudged in transit.  So I was told this morning that they took the cake over to the local grocery store to get it fixed.  Apparently the guy there also added some white frosting to clean it up a bit.  This leaves me both happy that they seemed to get it to work, and a little sad that they had to bring in someone else.  Of course, I tend to panic about any imperfections when I'm getting paid for something.  All I can do is hope that they think that it still tasted amazing.

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