My little Pickle recently turned three and my amazing sister made him a wonderful cake. So, I invited her to write a post today to share a little bit about her love of sugar craft and the process of making this amazing dinosaur cake! Over to Sarah…
I’m very excited to be writing the first guest blog for A Little Sew and Sow. I hope you enjoy reading it.
As you all know, Kelly is super talented and creative but she has never attempted to get to grips with cake decorating; she thinks she couldn’t cope with seeing her hours of hard work destroyed in a matter of minutes… she’s got a point! So when she had Henry I not only took on the role of Aunty and Godmother but I also became his chief birthday cake maker.
I started decorating cakes for family and friends around five years ago, but I only do four or five a year so I’m by no means an expert. I attended a basic cake decorating course at Anna Cake Couture a few years ago but apart from than that I’m pretty much self-taught. I make lots of mistakes and have had some complete disasters but I find that’s when I learn the most.
Henry’s 1st birthday cake was jungle-themed and his 2ndbirthday cake was digger-themed. This year there was no doubt about the theme: dinosaurs!
Kelly and our dad both have Coeliac disease so one of my first decisions was that I was going to make a two-tier cake so that one tier could be gluten free; it wouldn’t be fair if Mummy and Grampy couldn’t partake. After making this decision I trawled through Pinterest for some inspiration. Pinterest is brilliant for this sort of thing and there are some amazing cake designs out there, but I don’t like to copy anything exactly, so I set about sketching a design that combined some of my own ideas with some of the ideas I had found.
I started baking on the Thursday before the Saturday party. I used an 8-inch tin for the bottom tier of the cake and a 6-inch tin for the top tier. I tend to bake two sponges per tier. They’re very deep and take between an hour and an hour and a half to bake depending on the size of the tin, but this allows me to slice them with a wire cake slicerand create four layers of sponge per tier. Sponge number three went in the oven around 9pm after getting home from hockey training. I like to wrap the sponges in a couple of layers of cling film as soon as they’re cool to prevent them from drying out. Unfortunately this one wasn’t cool by the time I went to bed so I set an alarm for 1am so that I could get back up and wrap it – that’s how much I love that little boy!
I made vanilla sponges and I put a layer of butter cream and a layer of raspberry jam between each layer of sponge. I won’t go in to too much detail about the recipes I use or the way I construct the layers but here are three top tips for you:
1. Sugar syrup: to keep the cake moist put some sugar syrup on each layer of sponge before spreading the butter cream. I use a plastic pastry brush to dab it on. This is very simple to make and has just two ingredients – granulated sugar and water. I make this a few days in advance and put some used vanilla pods in the syrup to flavour it.
2. Butter cream: after combining your butter and icing sugar, continue to beat it with an electric whisk for a further five minutes. It will feel like a long time but it will be totally worth it. This creates a very soft and fluffy consistency that’s easier to spread on to the cake. If the butter icing is too hard it will be difficult to spread and will pull lots of crumbs away from the cake.
3. Jam: only a very thin layer of jam is required. If there is too much the layers of sponge will slip around as you’re working with the cake.
For the decorations I don’t really mind what type of icing I use but for actually covering the cake I’m quite fussy. Over the years I’ve tried several different brands and some have been a disaster. On one occasion I had to make a mad dash to Tesco around 11pm to replace the icing I’d just ripped off the cake and thrown in the bin! All I could find was their own-brand. I didn’t have particularly high hopes but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was brilliant and it’s now the only brand I use. With so many specialist brands out there I’m surprised that bog-standard Tesco icing is my favourite but I find it’s easy to work with, doesn’t crack (much!) and doesn’t get too sticky. It tastes great too. If I want the icing to be coloured I add some sugarflair pasteto the white icing. This definitely adds to the overall time it takes me to cover a cake but kneading the icing to mix in the colour is quite therapeutic amongst some of the more stressful elements!
I kept seeing lovely jungle style leaves on cakes on Pinterest but I trawled the Internet and couldn’t find a cutter that shape anywhere. I then stumbled across a post called ‘Just in case anyone’s interested…’ by Julia Hardy Cakes. This lady had also found that jungle style leaf cutters were non-existent and had come up with a genius solution. She cut a strip out of a fizzy drink can (not as difficult or dangerous as it sounds) and folded it in to a teardrop shape that could then cut into the sides of a heart shaped piece of icing. I was a bit sceptical at first and tried to use the pointy end of the heart shaped cutter instead but Julia’s method turned out to be brilliant and definitely something I will do again in the future.
I wasn’t entirely happy with the dinosaurs I made (I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I could see things wrong with them – I thought the baby dinosaur coming out of the egg looked like he had a shower cap on and the T. rex was losing his false teeth!) but Henry recognised which type of dinosaurs they were supposed to be so they obviously weren’t all that bad.
I stacked the cakes around 8am on the morning of the party. This was the earliest I’ve ever stacked cakes and I was worried that the weight of the top tier would cause the whole thing to collapse but the dowling rods did their job and the cake survived until the party – phew.
I often find that the final product doesn’t look like the initial design and this was no exception. I ended up running out of space on the cake for some of the decorations I had made. I didn’t want them to go to waste so I found a spare cake board and decorated it with the leftovers.
In total this cake took me around 22 hours to make but the look on Henry’s face when he saw it made each and every hour totally worthwhile.
Thank you for reading and thank you to Kelly for trusting me to write the first guest blog.