I make cakes for fun. Since I work and have small kids, I usually make cakes at night after my kids go to bed. This usually means that I stay up most of the night, and so does my husband. Because I don’t do it very often, it doesn’t make me crazy.
A few people have asked me if they could pay me to make cakes, but I’ve always said no. The sheer amount of time it takes to produce a cake would compel me to charge more money than I feel comfortable asking friends or acquaintances. Mostly, though, I just don’t have that much free time, so I’m pretty protective of the little that I’ve got.
Back in October, though, I got an email message from Sara, a super cool, super amazing local designer. Sara’s family planned to celebrate the adoption of four-year-old Rylie in a big way.
“I might be out of line so please let me know if so! I have noticed how amazing your cakes are (hasn’t everyone?). And I was wondering if you would be willing to make a cake for Rylie’s adoption? I have a cake in mind. Rylie’s would be tiered but still pretty simple. I could pay you, or if you want I could make you a super cute logo for Flour Arrangements? What do you think? It’s okay if not! Seriously.”
I always wished that I had a super cute logo for my blog, but I realized that if I waited for that to happen, I’d never write anything. So I just started writing about my baking projects with the hope that someday I could justify paying someone to create a logo for me.
What Sara didn’t know was that I had thought about asking her if she’d trade a birthday cake for some design work. Now I feel silly that I didn’t. One thing I’ve learned from Sara is that if you’re curious about something, you should just ask. People can always say no or tell you to back off or whatever they need to tell you. She’s from New York. You usually know what she’s thinking, and I like that about her.
I wrote back: “Cake for super cute logo? Awesome trade, lady. Tell me about your vision. It would be fun to make a cool cake for such an amazing little girl on such a momentous occasion.”
She sent me a picture of the cake — a three-tiered cake with hearts all over it — and I started getting excited. I’d never made a tiered cake before, but the simple, lovely design made me want to try.
I also felt excited and honored to contribute to the celebration. I wanted to help make the adoption party special for Rylie and her family. It’s hard to imagine that she hasn’t been part of their lives forever. She even looks like Sara and Thor and her brother Henry.
Sara had asked for pink cake “inside,” so I started looking for recipes. My initial search turned up cakes that relied on raspberry Jell-O to achieve their rosy hue; this seemed like a bad idea. I have nothing against Jell-O, but using Jell-O to color cake batter seems wrong and just plain weird. Finally I stumbled upon a recipe for a Pink Lady Cake on Smitten Kitchen that included pureed strawberries for color, not to mention taste.
Now that I had the cake, I needed to make sure I wouldn’t screw up the party with a sorry excuse for a tiered cake. I’ve brought an over-the-top practice cake to my neighbor’s house more than once, but a three-tiered cake seemed just too much for that. I needed an occasion for this trial run. Fortunately, my husband had a birthday about a month before the adoption party; if his three-tiered birthday cake flopped, I’d still have time to come up with a new plan.
I pulled off the birthday cake with minutes to spare. I now felt ready to make Rylie’s cake. So ready, in fact, that when asked to make a cake for the cast party of a musical during the same weekend, I said, “Sure.” So much for protecting my already minimal free time.
On two separate nights the week before the party, I baked a single recipe of the strawberry cake. The first night, I made three eight-inch cakes, which I cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap, tucked in zip lock bags, and popped into the freezer. On the second night, I baked three six-inch cakes and two five-inch cakes, wrapping and freezing them as well.
On Sunday, I thawed them in their wrappings to prevent condensation from making the cakes soggy. After trimming the rounded tops, I brushed the cakes with a simple syrup flavored with Framboise and Creme de Cacao.
I mixed up several batches of marshmallow fondant to cover each cake. Kneading color into fondant usually takes lots of time and effort; this all-white cake, with the exception of a single pink heart, made this step of the prep work much simpler.
I lightly frosted each tier with a simple vanilla butter cream before wrapping it in fondant. Then I got to work cutting fondant hearts and borders. Finally, I was ready to head to the party venue to assemble the cake. The rough ground, speed bumps, and steep narrow road between my kitchen and town made me nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I made my husband drive the car. I’m a wimp. Thankfully, he humors me.
I didn’t even recognize the inside of the building, which Sara and some friends had transformed into a Valentine’s Day dreamland. I don’t think I’ve seen that many pink and red hearts in one place before. Ever. Rylie (not to mention every little girl at the party) was going to freak out.
Once I caught my breath, I got down to business, sticking wooden skewers in the lower two tiers and then stacking cake upon cake. I unrolled my previously cut 1 1/4-inch bands of fondant and applied them around the bottom edge of each tier. Then I started applying the hearts in a straight line up the cake. This took some time, especially when I painted too much water on the back of a heart, which made it slip down the side of the cake. I tried to work slowly, holding each heart to ensure that it would stay in place. After that first row, I made three more straight lines up the cake at roughly 90-degree angles. I filled in the remaining spaces with hearts as evenly as I could.
The top of the cake looked uneven to me, so I placed four of the remaining hearts flat on the top. I shaped some leftover fondant into thin wedges to slide under the hearts to give it a level appearance. I played with the thickness and arrangement of the wedges until it the cake looked mostly level.
I made it home just in time to brush the corn starch and sugar off of my arms and face, change my clothes, and head back to town for the adoption ceremony. As soon as Rylie and her family entered the courtroom, I got teary-eyed. And once people started talking, I lost it completely. I’m a sucker for love stories.David Newsome. Close-up of the cake courtesy of Joan Benney.