This was fun. This weekend I had the opportunity to create a 3D Russian Doll cake for a totally fab first birthday. It's not every day someone actually chooses the sculpted cake design I provide for them as an option. Fortunately, Jane did. Thanks, Jane!
It's funny, somehow I ended up with this side-gig that capitalizes on all my weakness. (Well, technically if I were an accountant or something, THAT would be capitalizing on all my weakness, but this is runner-up.) Making cakes is such a skill-test for me. I love it. It is such a technical process that requires measuring and accuracy at every. single. step. It's my nature to round up, round down and take on a 'you get the idea' mentality... but I have learned first hand, cakes will just NOT work if you don't strive for absolute perfection at every point in the process. It's really helped me to think harder, work harder and really pay-attention... longer. It's great practice for life.
How It All Began:
I received a 'Russian Doll Cake' request for a first birthday. I also received a couple of pictures to give me an idea of where this woman's head was in terms of design. Buuut... I like to always present back custom design options. It's the designer in me I suppose, but I figure my job is to always show back cake designs they didn't know they wanted.
Enter: Cake Design Sketches.
I wasn't sure how traditional, how 'baby'ish, or how elaborate this cake was intended to be so I provided back four cake sketches that range in detail, difficulty (a.k.a. cost), and overall aesthetic.
From here, a direction was chosen and all that was tweaked was the over all color scheme. At this point, I referred back to the original inspirational imagery that was shared with me and I used this to determine the colors.
There were some additions to this original order as well. Cupcakes for the kiddos and a small cake for the birthday girl were created and designed to match back to the main cake directly. This is a great option for you if you are having adults and kids for a party. Cupcakes are much easier for children. Self-serve, grab and go... while still allowing you to serve a big 'WOW' factor for the adults who can appreciate it!
Also added were some russian doll illustrations. Knowing that I am also a designer and illustrator, this (smart) lady also hit me up for some custom illustrations to pair back to this cake. This is also a great idea because A) I very much enjoy this part as well and B) you can get a 100% holistic decor vibe for your party. Knowing that there would be kids there, these illustrations were printed black and white for coloring in addition to being printed and placed throughout the venue as additional decor.
Time To Build
A schedule is SUPER important for me as this is again, my side job. I work full time and this cake was due on a Saturday which means no full available days for me to do this. (Psst: If ya'll could just need cakes on Sundays that'd be great.)
I try to always bake two days out, build and start decorating one day out and finalize everything the day of delivery. I can't start too far in advance because these cakes need to be fresh of course. Given that this was a Saturday delivery and it's a sculpted cake which is much more intricate to build, this is how it started:
Sunday before: Inventory. Order via Amazon Prime (my absolute favorite) any and all items I'd need more of (fondant, cupcake liners, cake drums)
Monday before: Make full-scale mock up on paper. More mathematically advanced people could probably just do the numbers in their heads and get going but I'm visual and math is NOT my strength. I'm not about to screw up someone's cake so, I draw it out. I always draw the initial cake sketch with an approximate idea of the build. I start to consider it at that stage so that A) my finished product matches the drawing and B) I make sure I can even do it. However, I still - at this stage - need to draw on paper a full-scale version to nail down the exact layers, cake pan sizes, amount of batter I'll need to make, cake board sizes and quantities. (Math: Blaaghh)
Tuesday: Make grocery list, get groceries. Make frosting.
Thursday: Start assembly.
Friday: Finish assembly, start decorating. Bake cupcakes and mini cake.
Saturday: Finish decorating everything. DELIVER!
Saturday night: Eat, sleep, drink. (I pretty much don't leave my kitchen once I start decorating. I literally don't eat, drink (sometimes sleep) ...even make myself coffee! I am just in GO mode. - Decorating is the home-stretch and my favorite part. I don't need anything else. That's how I knew/know this is a hobby to stick with.)
I cut and built each cake layer so that it was
EXACTLY 2.5" high and checked,
ith a level, that each cake layer was even once it was added.
Creating a full-scale drawing benefit me in two ways. Aside from helping me to check my proportions, it also gave me a full-size shape to cut into foam core for a guide. I held this up against the cake frequently to check my carving and to see that the cake was filling out proportionately.
Remember that part earlier where I mentioned absolute perfection every.step. of the way? THIS is the time for that. I cut and built each cake layer so that it was EXACTLY 2.5" high and checked, with a level, that each cake layer was even once it was added. I learned to take these steps in a YouTube video long ago actually... when I was first learning about cakes, but it's undeniably the most important step of the entire process.
Because of this, the end product was symmetrical and the foam core cake-cutting guide I had made from my drawing was still accurate and everything worked out perfectly.
Frosting + The Fun Part
Once built, I crumb-coated the cake and then frosted it in stages. Another note I've learned along the way is that the fondant finish of a cake is smooth ONLY if the frosting is smooth. The frosting has to be PERFECTLY smooth. (Again, with the perfection thing. It's relentless.)
Once the cake was built and primed for fondant decorating, I just went to town with the details. Where fondant was applied over-top existing fondant, I just dabbed both surfaces with water - careful not to let it drip as water marks stain fondant.
Once it's built there is often powdered sugar residue throughout. Powdered sugar is the fondant was flour is to sugar cookie dough. It keeps it from sticking when you roll it out.
The last step in finishing the cake is to clean up the powdered sugar by carefully wiping the cake with a paper towel dabbed in a big of vegetable shortening. This pics up any loose powder and any oil is absorbed by the fondant so no marks are left behind.
Thanks again, Jane for letting me make you such a cool cake!