Adventures of a Cake Diva

A Blog About Adventures in Baking and Cake Decorating

Sailboat Cake: A Neat Trick for Carving Cakes. 01/22/2013

Sailboat Cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva

     I was terribly afraid that this sailboat cake would end up looking like, well, anything but a sailboat.  Carving a cake can be a little tricky.  Getting the shape right is more than half of the battle.

Sailboat Cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva   As I stood before the stack of four filled sheet cakes, I hemmed and hawed quite a bit.  At one point I remember thinking, “Just cut the freaking cake!”  But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it…

Making a template to carve cakes via Adventures of Cake Diva

   So, I drew a template of the boat’s shape onto a piece of paper.  To make sure the boat was symmetrical, I folded the paper in half, lengthwise.  Then, I cut out the template.

Using a template to carve cakes via Adventures of a Cake Diva   Next, I placed the paper template onto the cake.  Then, I used a long, sharp, serrated knife to cut the cake, using the template as a guide.

Initial shape of sailboat cake     Here’s how the cake looked after I carved the initial shape using the paper template.  Then, I used a smaller sharp, serrated knife to tweak the shape a bit.

Crumb coated sailboat cake     Before I covered the cake with rolled fondant, I covered it with a thin crumb coat of buttercream.  After I covered the cake with fondant, I added some decorative touches like the cabin on top and the gumpaste sail.  Then, I added a few fondant waves on the side of the boat, and I finished off the cake board with the “water” (presumably, Lake Michigan) using tinted royal icing.

Sailboat cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva

   I wish I would have taken a picture of my friend’s face when I presented her with this sailboat cake.  (Sheer delight.)  What made it even better was that, as soon as she saw the cake, she knew that it was a sailboat.  Whew!


Holiday Gift Guide: 5 Cool Tools for Bakers and Cakers 12/14/2012

   If you’re struggling to find a gift for the baker or cake decorator in your life, here are five cool tools to check out.  And, because I’m a budget conscious gal, the most expensive item is just under $50.

   Except for my last suggestion, I own all of these products, love them, and use them just about every time I’m in the kitchen.  The last item is on my Christmas wish list for this year.  (I sure hope Santa is reading this…)

Kitchen Scale

  1.  OXO Food Scale – This digital scale is my BFF.  To find out why, click HERE.  What I like most about this particular scale is that it has a tare feature, so you can weigh multiple ingredients in a single container.  Also, the display pulls away from the base for easy reading.  (You don’t have to crouch down to the scale to read the weight.  Score!)

Nielsen Massey Vanilla

2.  Nielsen-Massey Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract – I first tried Nielsen-Massey’s vanilla extract a couple of years ago, at the suggestion of a baking buddy.  Since then, I won’t use anything else.  It really is that good.

Sliding Measuring Cup3.  Sliding Measuring Cup – I bought this measuring cup about 10 years ago.  It’s in great condition, even after a lot of use.  The measuring cup has an adjustable plunger that slides to cleanly eject solid ingredients.  I use it religiously to measure the shortening for my “Bakery Style” American Buttercream recipe.

Bench Scraper4.  Stainless Steel Bench Scraper – This is one product that I refuse to live without.  Sounds kind of dramatic, but it’s true.  For an awesome tutorial on how to use this tool to frost your cakes, click HERE.  Most bench scrapers have a handle that extends beyond the blade.  This one doesn’t, which makes it much, much easier to achieve a smooth, even finish on my cakes.

Culinary Torch5.  Culinary Blow Torch –  This baby is on my Christmas list for this year.  I’m super jazzed at all of the possibilities.  I’m also chomping at the bit to toast marshmallow frosting that’s piped atop some delish chocolate cupcakes.  (Please Santa, I’ve been good this year.  For the most part.)

   Hope these ideas help.  Have a wonderful holiday season!


Happy Birthday, My Coffee-Loving Friend: How to Make a Coffee Cup Cake Topper 11/16/2012

Most of the time, whenever I’m baking, I’m in my happy zone.  If I’m just making a cake for the sake of doing so, it’s no biggie if it doesn’t work out.  (It’s been known to happen.)  But, if I’m making a special cake for someone, I always get a tiny case of butterflies in my stomach.  Just a little nervous flutter.

If you’re a caker, too, you know what I’m talking about.  (Just take a peak at some of the forum posts on Cake Central.)  The butterflies don’t go away until the cake is delivered and the recipient is delighted.  Then, after I return home and clean up the disaster that I created in my kitchen, I’m itching to do it all over again.  Call it a “caker’s high,” if you will.

I got my caking fix this week by making this cake for my coffee-loving friend’s birthday.  The cake was a Mocha Mud Cake with Chocolate Buttercream.  Although my guinea pigs co-workers thought is was really yummy, I’m still tweaking the recipe.  Keep your eyes open for it in a future post.  I made a fondant figurine of my friend seated by her beloved cup of coffee.  (She’s a fan of Biggby Coffee, so the design on the cup is a bit of a riff from their logo.)  Guess what?  This cup of coffee was super-duper easy to make.

Using cereal treats, form a cylinder shape. Take your time to get the height of the cup right and to mold the shape of the cup, as best as you can.  Then, taper the cup ‘s shape by carving the cylinder. Easy does it, though.  It’s better to carve it, little by little.

Once you’re satisfied with the shape, set it aside.  Next, roll out your fondant and cut it into a rectangular shape.  Cover the sides of the cup with buttercream and apply the fondant.  Smooth with your fondant smoother.  Then, make a fondant rope for the lip of the cup and apply it with a dab of water.  Decorate the sides of the cup as desired.  Lastly, pipe a big ‘ol dollop of buttercream on top for the “whipped cream.”  See how easy that was?

Do you get a case of the butterflies whenever you make a cake? Tell me about your “caker’s high.”  I know I’m not the only one who’s addicted to it.


How to Bake with Tea: Apple Chai Spice Cake with Honey Vanilla Buttercream 10/13/2012

Nothing warms me up like a cup of tea.  Last Saturday, I made a pot of Chai Spice tea after a chilly morning of apple picking.  With every sip, I marveled at how the black tea, peppered with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom, ignited my taste buds.

I started thinking about what I might do with the peck of apples I had gathered. Then, inspiration struck. Apple Chai Spice Cake.  Oh, my…

My past attempts to bake with tea have been a bit disappointing.  I’ve struggled to capture anything more than a subtle tea flavor.  After a little research, I’ve learned the best way to infuse my cakes with a potent (but not overpowering) tea flavor and aroma is really quite simple.  Steep the tea in butter.

It’s best to use loose leaf tea, since the tea leaves are a bit bigger.  If you’re a true tea connoisseur (I’m not), you’ll probably shudder at my suggestion that you can use bagged tea for this recipe.  I had plenty of good quality Chai Spice tea bags in my cupboard, so I cut these bags open and used the leaves.  If you don’t mind that some of the tea leaves will, inevitably, make their way into the cake batter, I say go for it.

Place 2 1/2 sticks (20 tablespoons) of unsalted butter into a saucepan over low heat.  Add 6-8 teaspoons of Chai Spice tea leaves.  Melt the butter and tea leaves, stirring occasionally.  (This is different from the tea to butter ratio suggested in the above link.  Don’t worry, the tea flavor is splendid.)  Once the melted butter starts to darken from the tea leaves (about 6-7 minutes), remove the saucepan from your stove.  Place the saucepan on a trivet or other heat-safe surface, and allow the tea to steep for about 7-8 minutes.

Place a sieve over a bowl.  Pour the tea butter mixture into the sieve.  Most of the liquid will strain through the sieve.  Since I used bagged tea leaves (smaller than loose leaf tea), I poured the tea butter through the strainer twice to minimize the amount of leaves remaining in the butter.  If you use loose leaf tea, you may have to use a wooden spoon to press the leaves against the fine mesh.  Allow the tea butter to come to room temperature.  It’s now ready to use.

I like to use some of the cake’s ingredients as a garnish.  I think it’s a bit of a teaser of the cake that my guests are about to partake.  I decided to sprinkle a few Chai Spice leaves all over this cake and then top it off with a couple of cinnamon sticks.  It was simple, yet elegant, cake that smelled absolutely amazing.  It tasted even better.

Have you ever baked with tea? What did you make?

Apple Chai Spice Cake

An Original Cakediva Recipe

Yield: Two 9″ round cakes

2 ¾ cups (10 ounces) of all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

1 cup (8 ounces) of tea butter – See recipe, above.  I used 2 ½ sticks of butter to make the tea butter, since some of the butter will stick to the tea leaves remaining in your sieve.

2 cups (14 ounces) of ultrafine granulated sugar

2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

5 large eggs

1 cup (8 ounces) of milk

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of ground cloves

½ teaspoon of ground ginger

½ teaspoon of cardamom

2-3 apples – cored, peeled and grated (about 1 cup, heaping)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your cake pans by spraying them with a non-stick baking spray.  Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the baking powder, salt, and spices, and use a whisk to combine them with the flour.  Set aside.  Next, put the sugar and tea butter into the bowl of your standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium speed (4 on your Kitchen Aid) until light and fluffy.  This may take a bit longer than usual, since the tea butter is not firm.  Turn your mixer down to a low setting (2 on your Kitchen Aid) and slowly add the vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, and re-start your mixer on low to fully combine the ingredients.

Next, alternate adding the dry ingredient mixture and the milk into the butter mixture, stirring well after each addition.  Then, bump up the speed on your mixer to medium-high (8 on your Kitchen Aid) for about 15 seconds.  Turn off the mixer.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer.  Slowly fold the grated apples into the cake batter until well combined.  Pour the batter into cake pans.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Cool on wire cake racks.

Honey Vanilla Buttercream

An Original Cakediva Recipe

2 sticks of butter, unsalted – chilled, but not straight from the fridge

4 tablespoons of all-vegetable shortening

3-4 tablespoons of milk

2 tablespoons of pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons of pure honey

dash of salt

4 cups of powdered sugar, sifted

In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening until smooth.  Next, while you continue to beat the mixture, add the vanilla, honey, and salt.  Then, add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  When your mixer starts to strain, add one tablespoon of milk at a time, until the buttercream reaches your preferred consistency.  (The more milk you add, the creamier the frosting.)  Beat until smooth.  If the frosting is too sweet for your liking, add another dash of salt and mix until combined.  (Keep doing this until it reaches the desired amount of sweetness.)  Lastly, before using, take a rubber spatula and stir the frosting thoroughly to eliminate any air bubbles.


Funfetti Cake (from Scratch) and a True Confession 06/16/2012

I decorated the cake with fondant elephants to match the invitations. You can (kind of) see one of the invites in the lower right-hand corner.

I’ve got to get something off of my chest.  (We’re all friends here, right?)  I offered to make a little cake for my friend’s baby shower.  When I learned that she had been craving Funfetti cake, I panicked.  I thought this meant that I might have to consider using a box mix.  Yikes.  I’m a die-hard scratch baker.  It’s who I am.  Yet, I refused to stand in the way of a pregnant woman and her cake cravings.  What to do?

After a little recon, I felt a wave of relief when I learned that Funfetti is simply a white or vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles mixed into the batter.  Whew.  I’ve spent, literally, years of my life experimenting with different white cake recipes.  Thank goodness I’ve got a good one.  It’s so light and airy, that it borderlines as a dense Angel Food. Yet, it’s moist and has a good vanilla flavor.  This recipe is amazing, whether you decide to toss in the rainbow sprinkles or not.

Sometimes, I think pictures (or at least my pictures) don’t really show you that a cake is beyond good.  I wish that you could reach into your computer screen and snag a little taste.  I have no doubt that you’d want another bite of this cake, particularly when it is paired with this smooth, creamy Vanilla Buttercream.

Now, when it comes to buttercream, I fully realize that cakers usually fall into one of two camps.  Either you prefer a non-crusting recipe, like this Vanilla Buttercream, or you only use crusting recipes, like my “Bakery Style” American Buttercream.  Choose whichever recipe best suits you.  Either will pair nicely with this yummy Funfetti cake.

Yep, I said it.  This scratch baker thinks that (scratch) Funfetti cake is pretty yummy.  I never thought I’d try Funfetti, and I’d never dreamed that I’d find it to be delish.  But, I do.  True confession.

Funfetti Cake

Yield: Two 8” round cakes

Cake Recipe Inspired by: The Whimsical Bakehouse

1 ½ sticks butter, unsalted

2 cups superfine granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/3 cups cake flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 ¼ cup milk

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles

¾ cup egg whites

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Prepare pans by spraying them with non-stick baking spray.  In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and cream of tartar.  Set aside.  In a large measuring cup, stir together milk and vanilla paste.  Set aside.  Next, in a separate bowl, beat together the butter, 1 ½ cups of sugar (reserve ½ cup), and salt until light and fluffy.  Add the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the milk mixture.  Then, add the rainbow sprinkles, and continue mixing until well-combined.

In a separate bowl, beat together the egg whites until foamy.  Then, continue beating the egg whites and add ½ cup sugar.  When stiff peaks form, use a rubber spatula to completely fold the egg whites into the cake batter.  Pour the batter into the cake pans.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Cool on wire cake rack.

Vanilla Buttercream

2 sticks butter, unsalted – chilled, but not straight from the fridge

1 cup all-vegetable shortening

4 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

5 cups powdered sugar, sifted

In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening until smooth.  Next, while you continue to beat the mixture, add the milk and vanilla.  Then, add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  Beat until smooth.  Lastly, before using, take a rubber spatula and stir the frosting thoroughly to eliminate any air bubbles.


Tutorial: Easy Peasy Whimsical Fondant Roses 02/03/2012

   I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”   While I certainly don’t think that anyone should ever actually skin a cat, I really do embrace the heart of this saying.  After all, there’s more than one way to do almost anything.  I’ve come to accept the fact that I am not good at doing a lot of things.  Whenever I’m faced with one of these things, I try to figure out a different approach that plays to my strengths.  

   A prime example of this is that I cannot, for the life of me, pipe a buttercream rose.  I’ve tried umpteen different methods, and the results are all the same.  My rose always looks like a cabbage.  It’s true.  So, about a year ago, I started learning how to make various gumpaste flowers, including the dreaded rose.  After a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned that I enjoy this aspect of cake art.  I’m starting to get pretty good at it, too.  I’ve found another way to “skin the cat,” at least when it comes to making roses for my cakes. 

   However, for some of my cakes, a realistic gumpaste rose does not fit the design, style, or theme.  It would be like me wearing a pair of heels with sweatpants.  It simply does not work.  For these cakes, a great alternative is this adorable, whimsical fondant rose.  You won’t believe how easy it is to make.

    After you have kneaded the fondant to warm it up, roll it out to about 1/4″ thick.  You’ll have problems if your fondant is thicker or thinner than this, so don’t be afraid to measure the depth with a ruler, if you need to do so. 

    Using a circular cutter, cut out five (5) circles for each rose that you wish to make.  The size of the cutter is entirely up to you. Don’t sweat it.  If you want a bigger rose, use a bigger cutter.  If you want a smaller rose, then use a smaller cutter.

   Place all five (5) of your circles in a straight line, with the top edge of each circle overlapping the bottom edge of the next circle.

   Here’s where it all starts to come together.  Start at one of the ends, and begin rolling up the fondant. 

   Keep on rolling!  (See how it’s starting to look like a rose?)

   Here’s what it will look like after you’ve rolled up all of the fondant circles.

   Find the mid-point of your rolled-up fondant and pinch the center to create a base for your rose.  (I know, I know.  I desperately need a manicure…)

   Using a pair of scissors, cut the fondant at the base of the rose.  I have a pair of scissors that I only use for cake decorating, as a safe food handling practice.  


   Using your fingers, open up some of the petals.

   And there you have it, folks.  You’ve just made one heck of an adorable whimsical rose.  

      You can use these roses as cupcake toppers.  I made these Bailey’s Irish Cream cupcakes for a good friend’s wedding.  (You’ll have to wait until closer to St. Patrick’s Day for the recipe!)  

   You can also cluster several of these roses to create a cake topper.  Really, there are countless ways that you can use these little cuties in your caking.  So, let your creative juices flow, and have fun!


A Few Tips: Simple Cake Design, A Good Use for Edible Markers, and Whimsical Roses 01/22/2012

Filed under: Cake Design,Decorating Techniques,Recipes — acakediva @ 11:56 PM
Tags: , ,

     People often ask me how I come up with my cake designs and ideas.  For me, it’s a methodical yet creative process.  I suspect that it is like this for most other cakers, too.  I’ll admit that there have been times when someone has asked me to make a cake for them, without providing much (or any) direction, and at first, I’m a little stumped.  This cake that I made for my work peeps started out that way.  When I was asked to make a cake by our unofficial party planner, I tried to suss out what she had in mind.  Her response, “You’re creative.  You’ll come up with something.”  Well, once again, I was stumped. 

     Usually, I like to personalize my cakes–it’s always fun to incorporate different aspects of the recipient’s personality and interests into the design.  One example of how I’ve personalized a cake is the baby shower cake topper I made of a mom-to-be and her beloved cat.  But, in this case, the cake was for three people who have very different personalities.  Oh, and this cake was to celebrate two birthdays, as well as to send-off a co-worker on her last day.  So, I needed a cake that was festive but didn’t scream “birthday.”  Yikes.  After spinning my wheels for a while, I opted for a simple and clean design.   

     Whenever I’m designing a cake, I always consider several things–the size and proportions of the cake’s tiers and the topper (if I’m making a tiered cake), the medium that I’ll be using (all buttercream, buttercream with fondant accents, all fondant), the overall style of the cake (whimsical, romantic, elegant, juvenile, etc.), the occasion, the colors, and personalization.  Also, I always sketch the cake with colored pencils before I actually get to work.  I’ve found that this is an invaluable step in my caking process.  Sometimes the image of a cake in my head needs some tweaking once I’ve sketched it out.  

I made these whimsical roses out of fondant for the cake's topper. I inserted toothpicks into the center roses to give them a little height.

     I finally settled on a 10″ vanilla almond cake for the bottom tier and a 6″ chocolate cake for the top tier.  I love the color scheme that I used of green, white, and brown.  (I know, the brown looks black in the photos.)  I also like the contrast of the clean, straight stripes against the scattered polka dots.  For the topper, I made a few easy peasy whimsical roses out of fondant

A fondant plaque with a handwritten message can be a nice touch. You should always use an edible marker. It's very important that everything on your cake is food safe.

    One of the tricker aspects of this cake’s design was the message.  Usually, I prefer to place the message directly onto the cake, either by piping it in buttercream or using fondant cut-out letters.  (My favorite tool for fondant letters is  Tappits.)  I just couldn’t do that on this cake, though.  It would have been a cluttered mess.  But, I had to figure out a way to convey “Happy Birthday” and “Good Luck”, as well as to make sure that everyone’s name was on the cake.  Seriously, it really is important.  People like to see their name on their cake.  I decided to handwrite the message onto a fondant plaque using edible markers.  (Americolor edible markers are my favorite, by far.)  It was a simple way to personalize the cake, and it added a nice touch.

   So, now you know what goes through my head whenever I am designing a cake.  The next time that you find yourself stumped, try out some of these tips.  Most importantly, relax!  It will all come together.  Even if it doesn’t, the person that you made the cake for will be touched by your efforts.


How to Make a “Tuxedo” Cake aka a Cake that Looks Like a Hot Fudge Sundae 09/11/2011

You can make this Tuxedo Cake!

     This summer, I made this wedding cake, and every time I looked at it, it reminded me of a hot fudge sundae.  Yum.  It was a three tiered cake, covered in hand-made/homemade fondant, and then I poured warm chocolate ganache over each tier.  Previously, I had made cakes where ganache or whipped ganache was a filling between the cake layers, but this was the first time that I poured ganache on top of each cake.  Even though I made a practice cake a couple weeks prior to the wedding cake, I was soooo nervous when it came to making the real deal, because once you pour warm chocolate over your cake, there aren’t any do-overs.  (Yikes!) 

     Actually, this technique isn’t very difficult, and the end result is quite elegant.   I thought I’d share with you how I achieved this effect.  I don’t have step-by-step pictures, since this blog was but a twinkle in my eye when I made this cake.  I will do my best to explain. 

     The recipe that I used for the ganache was: 9 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (chopped) and 1 cup of heavy cream.  I placed the chocolate into a microwave-safe 2 cup measuring cup (preferably with a spout) and then I poured the heavy cream over the chocolate.  Then, I placed the measuring cup into the microwave, and warmed the chocolate for 45 seconds.  After the 45 seconds elapsed, I took the measuring cup out of the microwave and used a very small whisk to start to combine the chocolate and cream.  I continued microwaving the measuring cup in 15-20 second increments, followed by whisking, until the ingredients were well combined and smooth.  

      Next, I took my warm ganache, and I started at the bottom tier of my stacked cake.  (My cake was covered in fondant, you can use this technique with a cake iced in buttercream, too.)  Using the spout of the measuring cup, I poured the warm ganache, starting with the section toward the center and moving out toward the edge of the cake.  Then, I took a very small cake spatula, and I gently “pushed” the ganache over the edge of the cake. 

     See?  I told you that this technique wasn’t difficult.  So, why don’t you give it a try?  It really is a fairly easy way to “dress” up a cake, and it is delicious, too.


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