Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Cake that Thinks it's a Pumpkin . . . Happy Halloween Pumpkin Cake!

Happy Halloween to all you scary, spooky bakers out there. Can you guys believe it's already the end of October? Holy moly, huh? Before you know it we'll be haulin' out the holly (gulp). But never mind about that. Before the calendar advances any further, I just wanted to share with you my contribution to the current spooky festivities. We made these cakes in my Theme Cakes class this week.

Decked out like a pumpkin, complete with curling tendrils , fallen leaves, and acorns, this is a relatively simple cake to construct and decorate. While entirely edible, only the cake itself would be appealing to eat; the little decorations are made of fondant that's been allowed to harden, and then been airbrushed to enhance the colors.

The cake itself is made up of three thick 9" round yellow layers. You can make this easily by combining two cake mixes (forgive me, Gods of from-scratch baking--I swear I only use them for my cake decorating class!), one plain yellow cake and one pound cake (I think Duncan Hines works best). The pound cake gives the cake a firmer texture, and that makes it carvable--a critical quality for a cake like this.

How was this all accomplished? It's really not too complicated. Here's how to make your own:
  • Set the bottom 9" cake layer on top of a cake-board (a round of corrugated cardboard) that is 2" smaller than the cake itself. Put that on a cake decorating turntable. Ice the top of the bottom layer. Put on the next layer and ice the top of that. (We just used plain white buttercream.) Put the third layer on top of that, but don't ice it.
  • Then, trim the top outside edge of the top layer, and the bottom outside edge of the bottom layer, carefully with a sharp paring knife in order to make the whole thing look somewhat rounded. 
  • Now ice the outside of the entire cake with one "crumb coat" of orange buttercream then, keeping the whole cake on the turntable if possible, chill the cake in the fridge. When that coat of icing is firm, then lay on a thick final coat (we used vanilla-flavored, but orange-colored, buttercream) of  icing. (We applied both coats of icing using a pastry bag with a large round tip; you start at the bottom and pipe fat stripes of icing upward to the stem area, then after each coat is piped you smooth the stripes down with a spatula. This just allows you to more evenly distribute the icing all over the cake with less angst--it's the easiest way.)
  • Now, cut a simple little tool made from a firm but flexible piece of thin plastic. It should look like a bat's wing with only two scallops cut out. We just cut ours from the lid of a clear plastic food container (make sure not to make the outer corners too pointy or they'll cut too deeply into the icing). This is used to carve the curved grooves in the pumpkin's surface. Starting at the bottom of the pumpkin, gently curve the piece upward, pressing it slightly into the icing surface. Swipe it all the way to the top of the pumpkin where the stem would go. Wipe off the plastic after every single swipe. Proceed until the whole thing is shaped as you wish.
  • If you have access to a cake-decorating airbrush, know how to use it, and want to add some dimension to the cake with color, you're golden. If not, don't worry about it. You already have a very pretty orange pumpkin cake! You can easily create a stem from fondant that you color green or brown, if you like, or just use something else for the stem. Those little fondant leaves are really easy too (you can use a special fondant cutter for those; all of this fondant related stuff is easily accessible at places like JoAnne's or Michael's craft stores--just check out the cake decorating aisle). Definitely make the fondant items ahead of time (days ahead of time is fine) so they can firm up before you need to use them on the cake.

    Don't be too fear-filled to try this. Like Halloween itself, cake decorating is meant to be enjoyable, and this was a really fun cake to create.

    Have a wickedly tasty Halloween!

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