Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pin to Present - Rose Cake (and a valuable lesson)

Let's start off this post with a key takeaway I've learned recently:

Never try a new recipe the night before. Ever.

I know this may seem like a "duh" concept to many of you (and trust me when I say I know better), but for some reason I seem to think that if I try a new recipe, it will come out perfectly glorious on the first attempt.

I was in charge of making the cake for my great-grandma's 101st birthday. I'm going to be honest - even though I love to bake, I've never actually baked a cake from scratch before. Looking back, at least I had the sense not to try that...I'm sure it would have been an absolute fiasco.

Anyway, I had pinned this cake design months ago, so all i needed was a recipe. The week of the party I kept seeing Pinterest pins on how to make boxed cake mix taste homemade. Immediately my mind thought "AWESOME - this will be soooo easy!" Very rookie mistake my friends. Even though I found great suggestions on blogs like One Good Thing By Jillee, 366 Days of Pinterest, and even the Huffington Post, I had trouble finding an exact recipe that would work for the cake mix I had purchased.

I finally found something on Gourmet Recipe that I deemed close enough, so a few days beforehand I set out for Target and JoAnn Fabrics to pick up ingredients, a cake carrier, cake plates, and a 1m icing tip. On Friday night, as I sat looking at the recipe and my ingredients, like any good baker (haha) I kind of winged it:
    Based on the Gourmet Recipe I found, and info. I found Googling "how to make boxed cake mix taste better," this is the actual recipe I used:
    • 1 box of Betty Crocker Super Moist White Cake Mix
    • 1 (3 oz.) box of instant vanilla pudding
    • 3 egg whites 
    • 1 whole egg
    • 1 cup of sour cream
    • 1/2 cup melted butter
    • 2 cups whole milk
    I should apologize here - unfortunately, the only pictures of the cake are of the finished product. Due to the fact that it was the night before the party, I was attempting to make a cake I'd never made before, and was extremely stressed about getting it done/having it look right, photos just didn't happen. So I'm sorry.

    Alright, back to the cake. As I was preparing to make the first cake layer, I had a brain mishap. I don't know what happened, but I wasn't paying attention and instead of beating the eggs/egg whites separately (which you should always do), I simply threw all the ingredients together. I then poured 1/2 the batter into a 9" cake pan. Of course, when I baked it, the cake rose maybe 1/2 inch. No lie - it looked like a massive pancake (sigh). I realized I'd have to make another batch, so I started pulling all of the needed ingredients together again. Then I realized - I didn't have another package of pudding. So, off I trekked to Target at 9:30 p.m. for pudding. When I got there, I also grabbed another package of pretty much every other ingredient to make SURE I would have everything on hand if needed - I also bought another 9" cake pan since I only had one; I wasn't going to sit around and wait that long for the freaking cake to bake!

    Back at my apartment, I beat the eggs/egg whites together first. Then beat in the other wet ingredients. Then beat in the dry ingredients a little at a time. Again, divided the batter between my now two cake pans, and crossed my fingers and toes. While these cakes rose higher than the first batch, it still wasn't up to par with what I had hoped for. So I ended up using the two cakes from the second batch, and one from the first batch (for the middle layer) - essentially a three-layer cake.

    While I waited for those to cool, I whipped up the frosting. I found a great cream cheese buttercream recipe from The Misadventures of Mrs. B:
    • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature 
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 4 cups powdered sugar
    It turned out deliciously! So fluffy and perfect, I couldn't WAIT to frost the cake. Remember this pin from above? I loved the lavender coloring, so I decided that's what I wanted the frosting to look like. I went into my cupboard to pull out my special purple icing coloring only to discover that it had hardened and was no longer any good. Frustrated, I began searching through my cupboards for regular food BLUE. By now it was 11p.m. - too late to make another Target run. Of course I overreacted and wanted to throw in the towel and just go pick up a cake somewhere the next morning. Tom talked me off the ledge and convinced me that yes, a white cake will look just fine, no, no one will care if it's white, and other nice reassuring things a boyfriend tells his girlfriend when she's acting like a psychopath about frosting.

    You might be asking yourself, why not just make the cake a different color? If you know me, I like to make things difficult for myself. I can't just do a simple thing - I always try to go above and beyond. This cake is the perfect example - another element I decided to add to the cake (a.k.a. more stress), was bunting. I found free printables from Niner Bakers and Martha Stewart. I printed and cut out each letter to spell "Happy Birthday Alice," taped the letters to matching floss, and tied to two bamboo skewers. Since our printer didn't have color ink, the "Happy Birthday" was printed in purple at work a couple of days beforehand. I wanted the cake and bunting to match, so having a red cake with purple bunting was a no-no in my mind. So. Fine. I stuck with the white frosting.

    Having averted that disaster, I then frosted and assembled the cake layers, and applied a basic crumb coating. Now for the roses. I had watched a couple of YouTube videos and read tutorials on how to do it, and it looked pretty easy. When I sat down with my brand new 1m frosting tip and started going through my couplers, I quickly realized that I didn't have a coupler big enough for the tip*. At this point, I wanted to pull all of my hair out and chuck the damn cake through the window. Seriously, what else could go wrong? The next biggest tip I had was a 21 star, so I thought what the hell and gave it a whirl. It didn't turn out quite like I was hoping, but after a few tries I finally got the hang of it and was able to finish the cake. 
    I brought the cake to the party, and great-grandma got teary-eyed not believing I would go to so much trouble for her birthday. Everyone seemed to enjoy the cake (or they were just being polite), even though it was a little dense and rich. All in all it turned out ok. NOT in any way like I had pictured in my mind, but I learned a great lesson in that I will never EVER try a new recipe the night before.

    *I found out days later that you don't technically need a coupler for a 1m tip - you can just push it through the end of your frosting bag. Not exactly something I was happy to learn...

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