One Man’s Minute is Another Man’s Hour

Sewing Basket Cake

Sewing Basket Cake

That’s not an actual saying, I just made it up, but it suitably represents one of the themes of this post, which I will get to in a bit. But first to the cake pictured. This is the cake I finished on the weekend for my (former) boss who retired on Monday. I think you can guess where her passions lie… (If you are interested in sewing/knitting/felting then check out her popular blog, Fadanista).

This cake took up the better part of seven evenings and a whole weekend to complete. Leaving out the baking time, and time spent ganaching the basket and the lid, I probably spent close to 10 hours decorating. Which brings me to the title of this post. This sewing basket was a project taken from the Cake Decorating series of magazines, published by DeAgostini, which I have subscribed to and seem destined to keep receiving until I am cold in my grave. (Frankly, the featured projects in each issue after about issue #100 are just plain ugly). This is a typical example of a project found in this magazine for which the decorating time is given as 2 hours!!! Seriously? I am not a novice, and it took me ten. Here is their project:

Magazine cover

Magazine cover

And here again is mine:

Pin cushion and yarn

Pin cushion and yarn

Pretty similar? So where do they get 2 hours from? It was at least 30 minutes covering that yarn ball. That’s a lot of sausage rolling! Ok, so it was a labour of love with a pleasing end result, but a project I may have thought twice about if I had known exactly what I was in for.

Anyway, here are some details. The basket part was a 9″ square chocolate cake covered first in chocolate ganache. Then I covered the top of the cake with a thin layer of marzipan and an additional layer of black RTR icing (sugarpaste). The sides were covered in chocolate brown RTR. The lid was a 1″ layer of additional chocolate cake on a 9″ cardboard cake board. The top of the lid was covered in ganache and the sides were in chocolate brown RTR. Then the top of the lid and the sides of the basket were piped in a basketweave pattern with chocolate coloured royal icing. The lettering was also done in royal icing. All other decorations were made with coloured RTR and modelling paste. I used various silicone moulds, texture mats, stitch wheels, embossers and my good old hands.

The non-edible parts were the two “pins” made from standard cake decorating flower stamens, the ribbons around the board and the lid, and a polystyrene foam ball inside the ball of yarn.

Boy was this sucker heavy!

One major problem was the fifty shades of brown I had to cope with between different brands of chocolate RTR and different batches of royal icing I mixed myself. In this photo you can see a marked difference between the lid and the basket. It was basically tantamount to the difference between milk and dark chocolate.

Fifty Shades of Brown

Fifty Shades of Brown

Thankfully the dark brown ribbon I put around the lid seemed to bring the tones closer together, and a lot of it was covered by the piece of “fabric” that adorned the top.

Now, I do love it when you find a great tip on the internet. After baking the first of two cakes for this project I was frustrated by the amount of waste that occurs when you have to cut off a domed top. Especially if what you are left with is not quite as tall as you would like. A quick trip to Googleland took me to a blog called A Cozy Kitchen where I found a great tip about tying a wet towel around the tin. No, not a whole bath towel. Something more like a long-ish hand or gym towel. A clean one…

Here is the difference between the first and second cakes:

Without towel

Without towel

With towel

With towel

What a difference! I gained at least an inch of height by not having to remove the dome. Thank you Cozy Kitchen person!

The domed cake became the source of my cake lid and I had to cut it twice to: a) remove the dome; and b) halve the remainder. Here is my own tip for bakers on how to cut even layers with just a ruler, some toothpicks and a nice long serrated bread knife.

Step 1: Stand your ruler up against the side of the cake and insert a toothpick at the desired cutting point.

Step 2: Repeat this around the whole cake spacing the toothpicks about 3 inches apart. Be sure to push the toothpicks in for about two thirds of their length, and make sure they are horizontal(!) I pushed mine in further after taking this picture.

Toothpicks level

Toothpicks level

Step 3: Start cutting with your bread knife literally resting on the top surface of one of the toothpicks. Don’t start at one side and try to cut all the way through to the opposite edge. Instead, using a back and forth gentle sawing motion, only cut about one third to one half of the way in and keep rotating the cake as you cut.Having it on a turntable is ideal. Make sure you can always feel the knife touching the tops of the toothpicks.

Step 4: Once you’ve done a full circuit you can cut in a little deeper until the layer has been cut through.

When you remove the cut layer, if you kept your knife resting on your toothpicks you should see the toothpicks nicely exposed but still lightly embedded in the bottom layer.

Exposed toothpicks in bottom layer

Exposed toothpicks in bottom layer

Using this method I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with neat level layers of equal thickness all around.

Level layer

Level layer

And the leftover dome? Goes well with leftover ganache! Or better yet, freeze it and keep it for cake pops, rum balls or some sort of fantastical invention involving warm chocolate sauce and cream…

A final note in this extraordinarily long post, on basketweave piping. This was my first ever attempt and after producing deliciously straight lines on the lid I thought it was a piece of cake. (Pun intended!)

Easy peasy basketweavy

Easy peasy basketweavy

I changed my tune considerably after attempting to do the vertical sides of the basket part of my cake. Lesson learnt? Get your royal icing consistency absolutely right and try it out before you start on vertical surfaces! When the horizontal strokes start sagging southwards it really bursts your balloon. It needs to be quite close to firm peak consistency. And it really helps if the RTR you are icing on to is set hard already because you can scrape off your mistakes and do-over.

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