Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Search of The White Rabbit

So, after a long hiatus, I'm back with some baking stuff. And it's birthday season again (now through early November contains ALL of my co-workers birthdays; the hazards of being a winter baby).

The challenge? An Alice in Wonderland themed cake for a co-worker who loves that story. I had a ton of thoughts - cupcakes in the shape of teacups stacked up all crazy (that will happen, I swear), a giant mushroom with the "Eat Me" candies littered on top, tiny Alice holding the giant bottle. Seriously, I had way too many ideas and then I thought - whoa, slow down. Let's not overthink this.

I came up with a crisp, clean white cake with only black and red decorations with a picture of the White Rabbit and "Eat Me" written on it. That could be elegant (my co-worker is not a little kid afterall) and whimsical, while still being challenging.

Why is it challenging? Fondant and I are not super great friends. My first attempt at fondant was pretty pathetic. And this time was proving no better.

I tried poured fondant, but having never worked with it before, I melted the buttercream coat on the first attempt and had to scrap the whole cake. On my second attempt, I let it cool too far and ended up with this gloppy mess instead of the smooth, glistening streaming perfection seen in every YouTube poured fondant video.

Forget that. Rolled fondant all the way.

You can, of course, buy fondant pre-made, but honestly making it is so surprisingly simple and cheap that I don't know why you'd shell out $21.99 at Michael's for it.

To make your own you will need:

Rolled Fondant

1 bag                           mini-marshmallows (about 10 oz.)
2 tbsp                          water
roughly 2 lbs                powdered sugar
flavouring (if desired)
colouring (if desired)

Seriously. That's it.


1) You have two options - the microwave (which I don't have) or a double boiler on the stovetop (always fun.) Either way, combine your marshmallows and water in a large glass bowl.

2) Microwave - heat in 20 second bursts; stirring between bursts until all marshmallows are completely melted. Stovetop - heat in the top of a double boiler until all marshmallows are completely melted. If you're adding flavouring, now is the time. If you need to colour the entire batch, throw that dye in as well.

3) Once your marshmallows are melted, add powdered sugar a little at a time and stir until the mixture is too difficult to stir by hand.

4) Grease your kneading surface with a little vegetable shortening (gross, I know), then dust with powdered sugar. Get your hands all greased up with shortening too and then turn out your marshmallow mixture. Knead the mixture, adding powdered sugar until it reaches a soft, workable dough stage. If you pull it and it immediately breaks - no good. Add a little water (think sprinkling, not drenching) at a time until you get a workable consistency.

5) Form the whole thing into a ball, grease the outside, wrap it in plastic, put the plastic-wrapped ball in a Ziploc bag, and let it relax overnight.

Tah-freakin'-dah. Fondant. From here it can be rolled, shaped, cut out... whatever you need to do to that.

So, now that I ditched poured fondant for rolled fondant, life was a little easier, decisions were a little easier...

Blueberry lemon cake.

With vanilla buttercream.

Covered in fondant, with cute red and black ribbons at the bottom (to both look lovely and cover up a few fondant wrinkles). A warning to the wise: dyeing fondant red is way easier at the beginning of this process than it is after it's already a dough, which is why that's less red and more of a psychedelic pink.

Now, here's where it gets a little trickier. I wanted to use one of the old illustrations for my White Rabbit. I could've done a technique similar to the one I used for Captain Ortwein's cake. But I wanted more detail than the color flow option afforded me. This called for painting. In theory, I'm reasonably talented, but no so much with the drawing/painting/visual arts. So, I decided to copy it.

If you want to try this at home, here's an easy method that nearly anyone can achieve:

Image Transfer Method for Cakes

1) Tape the image you want to copy onto a piece of cardboard.

2) Cover the image with wax paper and tape that down to the cardboard as well.

3) Using a pin, poke holes in the wax paper over the outlines of your image like in the picture. For more detailed designs, make sure your pinholes are quite close together.

4) When you're finished covering your cake in fondant, press the wax paper to the top of your cake (it should stick without any adhesive thanks to that lovely Crisco you used as a lubricant earlier)

5) You'll need colour paste (NOT LIQUID FOOD COLOURING) and a little lemon extract (or vodka). Dip a clean brush in your extract or booze, tamp out the excess liquid, dip into your colouring and begin to wash over the waxed paper. If your colouring is too watery, it'll bleed beneath the paper and you'll be left with a messy smear instead of a useable outline.

I used black because I wanted the final product in mostly black and white, but you could use a lighter colour if you intend to use several colours for the finished product.

6) Carefully, firmly pull your waxed paper from the cake top in one fell swoop. This should leave you with something that looks like this. (You can see the spots where my colouring got a little too watery and smeared... damn "This American Life" distracting me while I'm cakeing.) I know it looks a little jacked, but it's not done yet, so relax.

7) From this point you can start copying your little dot outlines with the slightly boozed up colour paste to get some a little more recognizable and presentable.

Is it perfect? No. If you look really closely, you can see the little dots. Feel free to continue going over your lines until it's as smooth as you want it to be.

8) If you're feeling inspired. Go ahead and colour it in a little. Or not. It's entirely up to you.

A few more details and a baker's box and it's totally ready for a little office birthday party on the theme of "Alice in Wonderland." Done and done. Two easy techniques for one somewhat impressive cake. So go ahead... fondant it up; paint it... slap a bow on it. You can absolutely do it. Break an egg, kids.