My head is always swirling with little bits and pieces of recipes. Sometimes they come together into something I can work with, and sometimes no amount of brainstorming will make them turn into a cohesive recipe. For months now I’ve had an idea for a cake that’s been haunting me. I got out the colored pencils and put it down on paper (and I’m no artist) to exorcise the demons, but this cake demanded to be baked!
If I sound a bubble off of level, you are very perceptive. I think this passion for baking has turned just a wee bit obsessive. Not “They’re coming to take me away, ha ha” obsessive…just a teensy weensie bit neurotic. Cool, huh?
I thought I would make this cake a couple of weeks before Easter in case anyone else was crazy enough to attempt it. I also imagined it with many different gum paste birds and cute little bees with slices of jelly beans for the wings. I had made a test bee, and loved it, but life and deadlines got in my way. I made the cake, but it was after Easter, and there were only two kinds of birds and NO bees. I’d run out of time and I’d eaten all of the jelly beans.
So much for my “Birds and Bees” cake. I did, however, manage to make pretty little apple blossoms out of gum paste. Oh, and my cookie branches turned out well, if you don’t count the ones that broke as I was moving the cake from counter to table. Several went crashing to the floor, blossoms and all. I may have had a few choice things to say about that, and swear I heard Austin Powers chastising me:
My concept was to make part of a tree, seen from a viewpoint high in the branches. So the frosting would be in glops (that’s a fancy-shmancy baking term I learned
at Cordon Bleu somewhere) to represent clusters of leaves, and I would have branches coming out from all over the cake, loaded with nests, birds, and bees. I stayed fairly true to the original idea except I decided I should add a large trunk coming out of the middle. In retrospect, the cake would have been prettier without it.
The branches were the hardest part of the cake. I used the recipe for Nonpareil Cookies, (without the last 3 ingredients, of course) and they held up pretty well, except when they were loaded with flowers and sticking out of the cake at an angle. The cake originally had several long, dainty branches coming from the sides where you see only stubby branches now. So go easy on the flowers unless the branch is upright, and make sure you bake them long enough. You want them hard and crunchy!
Roll the dough into “snakes”, narrower at one end, and snip with a scissors to create branches.
I have a thing about making everything on my cakes edible. I wouldn’t want to pull a toothpick or a piece of floral wire out of my mouth mid-bite! This can be challenging at times. Gum paste is almost perfect – it is edible and dries like porcelain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t taste very good. But…it was my best option for flowers.
I took a lot of photos of the apple blossoms in progress, but they are nowhere to be found. My best guess is that I didn’t have the SD card in my camera at the time. Sigh. There are really good tutorials for flowers online, but it isn’t that hard, really! I cut them out with gum paste cutters (like little cookie cutters), used a round tool to thin and shape them a bit, and then put some yellow royal icing in the middle of each one. Some were left open in full-bloom; on others I pressed the petals toward the center to look like a bud.
Gum paste is fun to work with, but it dries very quickly when you’re working. The trick is to only work with a little at a time and to keep the rest of the dough in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Then let the flowers dry thoroughly before using them. Overnight is best! If flavor and texture is important, you could also use candy clay. Wiltons candy melts work well for this. Here’s how you make it: Wiltons Candy Clay
Leaves were cut with gum paste cutters also, and bent into different shapes. Attach leaves and flowers to the chocolate cookie branches using royal icing or melted chocolate and let them set until firm before sticking them into the cake.
So…you’ve made your branches, flowers, and leaves. The nests were made from meringue and the birds were made from gum paste. Here’s the link for the nests from Mom Foodie. You could skip the gum paste birds and just make meringue ones as shown in her post.
All that’s left is the cake and icing. I used buttercream frosting, and LOTS of it! Those thick green branches really go through the frosting. However much you think you might need, double it! I won’t bother with the recipe for buttercream – I’m sure you have a favorite recipe – but I must mention that I added the grated peel from a couple of limes, a little of the lime juice, and some green food coloring.
That leaves us with the cake itself. I made two batches, which gave me three layers (with one leftover cake to put in the freezer) and baked them in deep 9-inch cake pans. Seriously, any cake will do. If you have a favorite cake recipe, by all means use it! I wanted a little lemon flavor, so here’s what I came up with:
|Lightly Lemon Cake
- 2¼ cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup shortening (or coconut oil), room temperature
- 1½ cups sugar
- grated lemon peel from 2 lemons
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup milk
- yellow food coloring if desired
- 5 egg whites
- Heat oven to 350 F.
- Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the grated lemon peel and mix well.
- In a small bowl combine the buttermilk, lemon juice, and milk.
- To the large bowl with the shortening and sugar mixture, alternately add the dry ingredients and milk mixture, beginning with the flour and ending with the milk mixture, adding about a third of each at a time.
- Beat for one minute at medium speed.
- In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into cake mixture.
- Divide between the cake pans. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Allow to cool for 10 minutes on a rack and then turn out of the pan to finish cooling completely.
Whew. I think that’s it! I just iced the cake with a thin coat of frosting and let it sit until firm, then used a huge tip (Wilton #789) to glop on the green frosting. I think a metal spatula would have worked well too – just slap it on like plaster! The rest is up to you. Just let your artistic side take over and decorate your heart out.
My next post will be something simple. Honest.