Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tales of a Tiered Cake #6 – Assembling the Tiers

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This is my 6th post in this series chronicling my efforts to make a tiered engagement cake for the double engagement of my children. To see the other posts, search my blog for Tales of a Tiered Cake.
To begin my chocolate tier, I have one 12-inch layer frozen. The bottom layer is on a 12-cake board. The cake has shrunk a little from cooking so the board is slightly larger than the cake. This will actually make icing the cake a little easier as it will provide a guide for putting on an even layer of buttercream. I’ve piped a ring of buttercream around the cake using a 1/2-inch tube. This is so that the cherry filling will not ooze out the sides or poke through the side frosting.
Next, I’m going to spoon on an even layer of cherries, using about 4 cups of cherry filling. We did a little taste test with a crumb of cake, filling and buttercream, and have decided that we liked the two fillings mixed together – so that would be the canned cherry filling and the frozen cherry filling combined. I’m thinking that I’ll redo that recipe to include both kinds of cherries, and since the canned cherries are already gooey, there’ll be no need for cornstarch in the final recipe.
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On top of the cherries, I’ll spread an even layer of chocolate buttercream, just so that the cherries are covered. Next the frozen cake layer gets placed on top, with the bottom of the cake facing up. This will give me a nice smooth surface on which to place the frosting. The cake is now placed on my decorating turntable for icing.
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The next step is to crumb-coat the whole cake with a thin layer of frosting. This is to trap in crumbs, smooth out holes, and provide a nice base-coat for the final layer of buttercream. The crumb coat does not have to be perfectly smooth. After crumb-coating, place the cake in the refrigerator until the frosting is firm.
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For the top coat of buttercream, I like to start on the sides, then do the top, and then finish the sides again. Other decorators start with the top. Spread the frosting on with a decorating spatula, using the size you are comfortable with. I use mostly a 7-inch, and a 14-inch for the top.
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When you get close to having the final coat, the spatula can be heated in hot water and then glided over the frosting. This will melt it slightly, making for a smoother coat. Honestly, I have trouble making smooth frosting. Most of the top will be covered by the next tier and the outer edge will have a frosting border, so I haven’t spent that much time on it. The sides are right out there, and I can’t seem to get them perfectly smooth.
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If this were a regular party or occasion cake, I would pat on some nuts or chocolate shavings, but I don’t think that will look great with this cake, so I’m going to use a cake decorating comb to put a nice design into the sides. Because I’ve used the bottom cake board as an icing guide, I know I’ll have enough frosting to use the comb without the cake showing through.
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The cake gets refrigerated until the buttercream is firm. Once the cake is cold, I’ll be able to smooth out the little “nubs” you see in the design made by the comb. The warmth of my finger will be enough to smooth those down.
I’m ready to insert my supports for the next tier. I’m going to freeze the cake with the plastic supports in the cake. There will be some cake in the straws which will act as extra support for the tier above. I use straws instead of dowels because they’re easier to cut. First I have to mark where the 9-inch tier will rest and then I’ll put supports closer to the center than the marks to make sure that the supports are totally under the next cake tier.
I have an 8-inch plastic separator plate that I’ll be using to mark the cake. It has little feet on the bottom raising it off of the surface of the cake. I’ll just make a few marks that will help me center the next tier.

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Now that I see where the next tier will go, I can see that I didn't do a good enough job smoothing out the top. I'm hoping that the border decoration will hide most of the flaws. If I have a really bad spot, I guess I'll have to put a flower there!
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My goal was to cut the straws just slightly taller than the cake. You can see that although I cut the straws to all the same length they’re sticking out of the cake differently. It’s clear that although my cake looked pretty level, it is not. I’ll mark the straws with a pencil (while still in the cake), remove them with needlenose pliers that I bought specifically for cooking and place them back into the cake. All of the straws need to be cut because I only want them to be 1/16th-inch taller than the cake. Most decorators make the supports the same height as the cake, but I’m concerned that when the tier gets removed, the frosting will all come off, too.
I’ve asked tons of decorator’s what they do about frosting sticking to the to the tier above, and the most common answer I get is that they don’t care! But I do care. I want those who eat my cakes (whether they are friends or clients) to enjoy them completely, and that means that there must be frosting on the top of the cake. Rose Levy Beranbaum, on of my all-time favorite authors suggests that I cut the straws just a hair taller than the cake. The only problem with this method is that it would be tricky to move the cake without the layer moving slightly. Since I won’t have to move this cake once it is assembled, I’m going to use that method. But just to test out other methods, for the tier above, I’m going to try cutting the supports to the height of the cake, set a piece of parchment on the frosting and then set my tier on top of that. That seems to be a method that a lot of decorators use. I’ll have extra buttercream on hand, just in case the parchment lifts too much of the frosting off. And then I’ll be able to report back about this common method.
The next step will be to make the next two tiers, which will be the same except that I’ll be making a vanilla cake instead of chocolate.

6 comments:

Lisa said...

Beautiful cake. Thanks for the tips. I can really use it when it comes to cakes.

Lori Lynn said...

Wow. So impressive. I definitely don't have the patience, but I sure appreciate your talent Penny.
LL

Penny Wantuck Eisenberg said...

Patience when baking is a definite virtue...

Lorell Miller said...

Penny - how did the parchment paper work between the tiers? I worry about the frosting sticking to the upper tier too! However, I can't do the extra long supports like you describe as I will need to transport the cake all stacked (3 tiers total) and the trip will involve a short bit up a steep hill with some turns... but if the parchment works, I could do that with supports that are the same height as the teir.

Penny Wantuck Eisenberg said...

Lorell - I haven't stacked them yet. I'll be doing that on Saturday and will report back then. Hopefully it will not be too late for you to get the benefit of my experience. I'm going to have extra frosting ready in case the frosting comes off with the paper, and then I'll just pipe on some frosting while the caterer cuts the rest of the cake. Not what I want to be doing, but taste rules!

Lorell Miller said...

I'll be baking and stacking my cakes next Thursday, so I can't wait to hear how it goes!