April 19, 2011

The cake that almost killed me

Hey! I made that cake. 

Ohhhh, pretty roses. 

Yep. I made that cake, and it almost killed me. 

There were several aspects to the cake that I had to conquer. 1) The cake has vertical layers, not horizontal. 2) The icing is buttercream. 3) The technique of making the roses.

Now, none of those issues are that difficult alone, but combined, they almost killed me. 

First, let's discuss the buttercream icing. I used the recipe from the same blog I found the roses and vertical layers techniques on. She said this buttercream was the perfect consistency for the roses. She also said that you would need to make a LOT of the buttercream because the roses required a LOT of icing. 

I make icing from scratch all the time, and I wasn't worried about this step.

Oh the naivety.

I had never made butter cream icing before. Do you know the main ingredients in buttercream icing? Crisco and powdered sugar. As part of my "only eat real foods" mantra, I'm against Crisco, but this was for a special occasion, so I went for it. 

In my stand mixer I put the Crisco. Then I beat it to make it fluffy. Piece of cake. Next, I was to add the powdered sugar, two cups at a time, to the Crisco, all the while, mixing it. Working with powdered sugar is always a bit messy, so I was prepared for it. Just a few plumes of sugar from the mixer upon each addition. No life-threatening problem that a wet paper towel wouldn't clean up. 

As I got to the second addition of the powdered sugar, the mix was getting increasingly thick. So thick that the mixer wasn't really mixing it. The whisk attachment was filled with the mixture, and I could see that I was about to blow up my stand mixer because it was working really hard. I still had another round of powdered sugar to add, and I knew that wasn't happening in my stand mixer. 

I reverted back to the old days before my lovely red KitchenAid gift, and pulled out the hand-held mixer. I got out the biggest bowl in my house and put half of the icing mixture in it. I whipped it up, and I could finally see the consistency that I was going for. I continued to add in the mixture, whipping it by hand, until I had made the entire recipe. 

Then I looked up. 

There was icing everywhere. To be more specific, there was buttercream pellets everywhere. Little balls of buttercream. While I was still using the stand mixer, the icing had begun to overflow, and so there were little icing balls around the stand mixer and on the cabinet. 

When I transfered the mixer to my big bowl, the hand mixer had flung icing balls all over my counter, the floor, the backsplash and the utensils in our utensil crock. 

Not good. 

I promise that I know how to use the hand mixer. It was the sheer volume of the mixture, and the fact that the Crisco was like a soft clay. A soft clay filled with sugar. 

I knew if I took a wet rag or sponge to the icing balls, they would simply smear, creating a bigger mess. So what's a girl to do? 

I took a dry towel and gingerly swept all the icing balls onto the floor. 

(My husband just fainted reading that part.)

Yep, so now I had icing balls all over my floor. But there was a method in my madness, because then I retrieved the vacuum, and vacuumed all those suckers up. 

Icing disaster solved. Now back to the cake. 

As mentioned, the cake was to have vertical layers. Why? It's cool. 

How do you make vertical layers, you might ask. Well, you make vertical layers by cooking four cakes. In my case, two nine-inch square chocolate ones and two nine-inch square strawberry ones. No problem. 

Then, you stack the strawberries on top of each other and the chocolates on top of each other and freeze them. 

After freezing them, you make a template of three progressively smaller squares and place them on each of the stacked cakes. You then cut straight down into the cake, following the templates, to make a center square, inside a larger square inside a larger square. 

The idea is that you would then separate these squares and rebuilt the cakes, alternating cakes. This is a photo of the cake that was mostly strawberry. 

In theory, this sounded okay to me. In practice, not so much. 

The cakes were frozen. Frozen! Cutting through frozen cakes is very difficult. Did you know that? Inserting a knife straight up and down, while following the template, through a frozen two-tier cake is difficult. Who would have thought? 

I will admit that I said some not-so-nice words while I was cutting through my frozen cakes. But I kept on until both cakes were cut. Time to separate the layers. 

Now on to separating the layers and rebuilding the cakes, alternating the flavors. This also seemed easy in theory.

Not so much.

When I began to separate the squares, the outer square on both cakes promptly fell apart. 

Several of the other squares began to crack, while I was separating them and moving them around. 

And, the cakes didn't go back together seamlessly. Even though I used the same template on both cakes, the chocolate and strawberry squares didn't fit exactly like puzzle pieces. There were gaps, and the squares weren't level. 

Still I pushed onward. 

I decided that the cake that was mostly chocolate came together the best, so that's the one I would present to other people. 

I made a tourniquet and secured it around the cakes, and placed them back in the refrigerator while I dealt with the icing. See above..

Finally, it was time to ice the cake. I only had time, and patience, to deal with one of the cakes, the one I was using for the party. 

I knew that I first had to cover the cake in icing to make an all-white background. 

Oh wait! Buttercream doesn't spread! Or at least, mine didn't. I never felt that my buttercream consistency was what it should have been, and the minute I tried to spread it on the cake, the chocolate cake began to tear. And so did my wits. 

I decided I would use my piping bag and practice piping the roses on the cake. Then, I would take a knife and gently spread out the roses to actually make the crumb layer. THEN I would go back and make the roses for real. 

Yes, seriously. 

After that was finished, I threw the cake at the wall and went to bed. 

No, I took it to a party. But I really thought about throwing it against the wall. 

Let's look at it to remind myself that it wasn't all a bad nightmare. 

Ahhh, pretty roses and vertical layers.

Now, ask me if it was worth it. 

Go ahead. 


I would vote no on the vertical layers. Yes, they were interesting and made for an impressive talking point, but they will not be making another appearance in my kitchen. Awesome idea. I conquered it. I'm over it.

The roses? Yes. I would do the roses again.

Buttercream icing balls on the floor and all. 

(Husband just fainted again.)



  1. Oh, I don't even know what to say. I think I would have just started driving and never looked back.

  2. That cake was delicioius...and pretty, too!


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