Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Biggest Cake I've Ever Made

A couple of weeks ago, a woman from the neighborhood called me about a cake. I didn't know this, but her son is one of the high school English teachers that I work with and he gave her my number. I've waved to her and her husband when I've been out walking, but I had no idea that she was Jimmy's mom.

Anyway ... her husband was turning 80 and she was throwing a party for him ... AND ... she wanted me to make the cake. So I had her come over and we talked about him and what she wanted for him. It turns out that Forrest taught at WIU and was a poet (Annie brought me a book of his poetry to look at). Because of their big family and all of their friends, Annie decided that she needed enough cake for about 100 people. OMG! That's a lot of cake!

Since my oven won't hold a full sheet cake (which should feed 100), I told her that I could do two half-sheets and push them together. Perfect! She decided on half chocolate and half white almond (which was great for me because I love both of those recipes). She also decided that I should put the titles of some of his poems (which she picked out) on the cake and then she would display the book next to the cake. And away she went.

So ... today is the party. Annie stopped by my house this morning to make sure that we were all set for the party and to make sure that I was delivering it at 12:15. I answered yes to both and then invited her in to see the finished cake. I breathed a sigh of relief when she reacted with enthusiasm at the sight of it. This is the finished product...

This cake wasn't made without drama ... and more examples of what not to do. Let's start back at the beginning.

First of all, I needed something on which to put the cake. I had Craig get me a thick piece of plywood because I knew this cake was going to be heavy. He brought me home a 20x28 piece of wood, which was perfect because the cake is 18x24.

I had to bake the cakes one at a time because I only have one half-sheet cake pan. By the time I was ready to put the white almond cake on the cooling racks, the chocolate cake was ready to go on the cake board. I had Jared (my 12 year old son) help me flip the cake from the racks onto the board ... and got it in the right spot on the first try.
And then I had to wait for the other half to cool.
I really need to get bigger cooling racks. Trying to flip a cake this size on two racks pushed together is a little challenging.

Next came the part that almost ended in disaster. Everyone had gone to bed and I had to figure out how to get the white half on the board next to the chocolate half. I couldn't put the board on top of the cake and flip it they way I had done before because the chocolate cake was already on the board. So my next thought was to slide it on ... but when I tried to pick the cake up off the rack, it started to break. I really didn't know what to do, so I posted my question to an online cake forum ... maybe somebody else who was online at 1:30 in the morning would have an answer. I waited and waited and waited ... no reply.

So, I flipped the cake on to a cutting board and then quickly flipped it onto the cake board next to the chocolate cake ... slight crack in the cake ... UGH! You can kind of see it on the top half of the cake.

Shortly after I started icing them together, I got the reply I was looking for. The suggestion was to put some plastic wrap over a cake board, flip the cake onto it, wrap it up good and tight in plastic, and put the whole thing in the freezer until morning. When it's frozen, it will slide easier into place and then it can thaw there and then be decorated. Wow ... I really wish I would have done that.

Oh well ... lesson learned. I was able to repair the crack with some icing. It took a whole batch of my vanilla buttercream to crumb coat this monster of cake...but I got it done and went to bed.

The next afternoon ... I spent the morning outside raking leaves with a bunch of high school kids who were trying to raise money for their speech team. I paid the organization with a check and the kids with cupcakes ... I made another batch of icing and got to work covering the cake again. It took almost the whole batch again (there's a lot in the middle to make the two halves level). Smoothing it took a long time too. I use the Viva paper towel method to smooth my cakes after the icing crusts. There was a lot of cake to smooth.

Now it was time to decorate. Annie told me that she wanted red, black, green, blue, orange, yellow, and purple on the cake. I decided, that since Forrest taught at WIU (whose colors are purple and gold), and since I covered the board in gold, that I would do the borders in purple. So I made yet another batch of vanilla buttercream, put a little bit in several different bowls, and started coloring it. I then did a title in each of the colors. I'm really not that good at writing on cakes, and I'm very concerned about centering words correctly, so this part took forever. I had both a tape measure and a ruler out ... and I was using both of them. In the end I think it turned out okay ... for a cake with nothing but writing on it. And Annie was happy with it ... so that's what counts.

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