I Raised My Hand

San Francisco-20121222-00166You get into bad habits when you have children.  For instance, when your kid comes home and says “Can you make a cake for school?”  I say yes.  I like making cake.  I like my kid.  I like her school.  No brainer, huh?  I said yes, of course.  But without understanding the scope of the request.  The request should have been:  “Can you make cake for the Winter Ball?  For three hundred kids?  Please?”


Last spring I made cake for Chaz Brenchley and his now-wife Karen’s wedding.  That was cake for 100 with very specific parameters; now, having committed to making three times that amount of cake I wanted to keep things simple.  A 100-person cake requires (approximately) a 12″ tier, a 10″ tier, and an 8″ tier (each two filled layers), so I undertook three cakes of that size: a yellow cake with vanilla buttercream filling and fondant (blue); a red-velvet cake with cream-cheese frosting; and a chocolate cake with peppermint buttercream filling, fondant (pink) and crushed peppermints.

IMG_0454As you’ll note from the photo above, I have a layman’s kitchen.  It’s a lovely kitchen, but it’s not set up for this kind of scale.  So I had to work in shifts, like a WWII factory: over three nights I made the tiers–six layers a night–and froze them.  (Thank God we have a standing freezer; even then I had to reorganize the contents thereof to accommodate all that cake.)  I admit that I had to redo the bottom tiers of the red-velvet cake.  Red-velvet is finicky.  It requires vinegar and baking soda as rising agents, and if you don’t stir it the right amount–just enough to get everything mixed, but not so much as to undo the chemical process–you wind up with two dense, tasty, red-velvet pancakes.  The first two tiers (8″ and 10″, for those playing at home) made it okay, but the layers for third tier looked like Horton the Elephant had mistaken them for cushions.  Redoing them increased my chaos but made the cake sit properly.  The unsettlingly red color comes from food-coloring.  I admit I am a little baffled by the allure of red-velvet cake (and I understand there are land wars that break out over the subject of milk-frosting vs. cream cheese frosting).  In any case, when the cake was finished and frosted–using four pounds of cream cheese and an unholy amount of confectioner’s sugar–it was fine.


The chocolate tiers and the yellow tiers were easier–I have tried-and-true recipes I love for both (I used the chocolate cake recipe for a recent BVC get-together; you’ll have to ask my colleagues how it went over).  With all of these cakes I had to crumb coat each tier–that is, put a thin coat of frosting on each tier after putting the filling in.  This binds any crumbs to the cake and keeps them from getting out into the frosting or making lumps in your fondant.  Here you see the yellow cake, crumb coated.

Finally, for the yellow and chocolate tiers, I put on fondant.  Fondant is both fun to work with a terrific pain in the butt.  You want it smooth and perfect; it wants to wrinkle and tear.  A good deal can be worked out by dint of running the heel of your hand over the surface of the fondant, which seals it to the layer and tends to burnish the finish so it’s not sticky.  You don’t want to use water to adhere fondant to fondant (as with the stars on the yellow cake) because it simply makes the fondant gummy.  So use a little liqueur of some sort–the alcohol evaporates, leaving the fondant stuck to the other fondant.

At the end of the process we loaded all three cakes into boxes and delivered them to the hotel where the Winter Ball was being held.  The doorman on duty was adorable–offered to follow me home, if I’d promise to make him cakes like that.  And every adult we passed by in delivering the cakes to the ballroom looked intrigued.  As for the destined audience?  I’m told that there were no more than a few slices left at the end of the night.

I’m pleased that the kids were pleased.  Meanwhile, I’m on cake hiatus for a while.


Posted in Food and Cooking Tagged permalink

About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


I Raised My Hand — 5 Comments

  1. OMG, Mad. Cake for 300? Your kid should be grateful till the end of time. And yes, the BVC chocolate cake (somewhere there is a photograph of it, we must track it down) was unbelievably good. I should’ve tapped you for my daughter’s wedding cake.

  2. Wow. I bow before your cake-chef-itude. Those are beautiful cakes.

    Something I’ve wondered for a while: Does fondant taste like anything? Do people eat it, or just leave it and around it?

    • Commercial fondant–Wilton or Satin Ice or something like that–tastes like sugar. If it’s been sitting around in the store for a while it tastes a little bit like stale air and sugar. There are several “boutique” fondant makers whose fondant tastes better, I’m told–that’s their selling peg, to justify the considerable hike in price (and fondant isn’t cheap–I used 15 pounds for the two cakes, at about $3 a pound).

      I’ve made fondant–it’s basically just sugar dough: all the confectioner’s sugar in the world, plus Karo syrup, glucose, gelatin, plus a little glycerin, plus some flavoring–but it’s hard to get the consistency right, and I don’t do it often enough to really get practice (my home-made fondant is generally too soft to work with well; it gets downright floppy). On the other hand, homemade fondant tastes a lot better. B

  3. I do remember my mother making fondant on one occasion…there were several years when I was about 10 years old where she’d go candy-making crazy over the holidays. But the fondant-making stands out. If I recall correctly, she used it to make mint candy. I don’t remember the cooking part of it as much as the rolling and the cutting of the rolls.