Let me start by saying that I love making cakes for my daughter’s birthdays. It is a challenging but rewarding creative outlet for me, and nothing beats seeing their faces light up when they see these cakes! I do not know what possessed me to bring my then almost 4 year old into Michael’s with me to pick the cake pan that she wanted me to make for her 4th birthday. Perhaps I wanted to share my love of all things Michael’s with her. Perhaps i was feeling uninspired and looking for her ideas. Perhaps I should have thought twice, as this is the cake she picked:
When will I ever learn to NOT let my daughter pick her own birthday cake?
Yes, she picked out the Wilton Romantic Castle Cake Set. This may not seem like the biggest deal for some, but this amateur cake decorator had only attempted the shaped pan, colour by number cakes in the past. Did I mention that this amateur cake decorator was also 6 months pregnant and heavily medicated to prevent myself from being violently ill and hospitalized? Maybe that had something to do with the lapse in judgement! To make things more difficult for myself (I am good at that), I offered to make the cake for a friend whose daughter has a birthday a month before my own so that I could do a trial run. As with all my cakes, I try to spread the process out into many steps over as many days as possible to make things easier and allow for a lot of time to troubleshoot should things go wrong. I started a few weeks in advance with the fondant. Having never used fondant before, I wanted some time to play around. I picked up Ready To Use Rolled Fondant and some Pink Icing Colour. I dipped a toothpick into the icing colour and poked it all over the fondant to start the colour off. Then I dug in, hands on to knead the colour through the surprisingly stiff fondant. Thankfully I had the foresight to throw on a pair of latex gloves prior to diving in so I didn’t end up with pink stained hands! Once the colour was worked through, I rolled it out as thin as I could get it – about 1/8 of an inch.
Wilton Rolled Fondant Dyed Pink
Once the fondant was as thin and smooth as I could get it, I used my handy-dandy Wilton Floral Garland Ejector Set to punch out the flowers. I tried a few different methods but discovered my groove in punching a ring or two of flowers around the outer edge and then gently pulling away the extra fondant around them. I’d set the flowers aside, roll up the extra fondant into a ball and repeat. 4 hours later I had 600 flowers! This is a great project to do ahead of time because the flowers will keep really nicely for months as long as they are stored in an airtight container in a cool place. This is also a fairly mindless job, so set yourself up somewhere comfortable, preferably in view of a TV and have a Cake Boss marathon to get yourself in the mood
600 Fondant Flowers in 4 hours!
The next step – also a great one to do ahead of time – was to attach the dowel rods to the towers and decorate the roofs. I cut my Wilton Plastic Dowel Rods to approximate size; 4 to fit 3/4 of the way through the 2 bottom cake layers, and 3 to go 3/4 of the way through the top 2 layers (each will be approximately 3 1/2 inches long, however you want to estimate on the long side as you can always cut shorter, but can not add length!). I melted a package of Wilton Candy Melts in White to use as glue. I spread a thick layer on the bottom of each tower and firmly pressed the cut dowel rod into the Candy Melt. I set the towers upside down on a flat surface (my table in this case) with the dowels sticking up in the air to dry. I’ve read soem reviews of people choosing to drill into the towers, with varied results, but you don’t want to risk the tower splitting (which many do), so this is definitely the best and easiest way to go.
Decorating the roofs was next in line, and there are a few different ways to go about this. The first time around I used purple icing and purple sparkling sugar, as pictured below that resulted in a very bright and vivid, almost neon purple colour on the roofs. The second time I used icing dyed purple again, but with white, almost iridescent cake sparkles for a softer, more gentle look. After seeing both outcomes, I would choose the sparkles over the sprinkles simply because the sparkles were coarser and heavier and dragged the icing down on some of the towers that I had been a little heavy handed with. Whatever way you go, the process is the same.
Prepping the towers – icing and sparkles
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a dirty little cake secret. When decorating a cake (especially one as ridiculously extravagant as this one), I typically cheat a bit and use a cake mix and pre-made icing – I like Duncan Hines mixes and whipped frosting. My rule of thumb is that if I’m spending a lot of time decorating, I am not spending a lot of time baking. If I want to whip up something from scratch, it will not be decorated extravagantly. I simply don’t have time for both! So I used my trusty pre-made fluffy white icing, and added a few drops of violet icing colour. As you can see from the photo above, I used my very professional butter knife to actually do the icing. I discovered the hard way that if you use too much icing, the weight of it will just make your roofs droopy and saggy, so you want to keep the icing layer very thin. Once iced, I set the roofs on a cooling rack placed on top of a cookie sheet for the sparkles (pictured above). That way you can shake the sparkles on, and the excess will collect on the cookie sheet to be used again.
For the cakes themselves I used a 10×2 and a 6×2 inch round Wilton performance pans. As I do for all my cakes, I baked them 2 days before the event so they could cool overnight and be ready to decorate. I had no desire to have a million round pans floating around so I just baked one large and one small cake at a time and cleaned the pans to do the second set. My oven isn’t large enough to properly bake 4 cakes at a time anyways, so it made no difference to me. I used Wilton’s Cake Release for the first time with these cakes and it was totally worth it just in time saving alone! Greasing pans is one of my least favourite things to do, so I was happy that this product worked so well. Once the cakes were cooled, I used a standard bread knife to level the cakes and they stacked beautifully. Now that I had the cakes baked, I compared their height to the dowels I had attached on my towers and made some minor height adjustments to fit them perfectly. At this point I also cut one of the dowels into 3 pieces, each the height of the 2 large bottom layers. I arranged them in a triangle pattern and pushed them into in the middle of the large lower cakes spread apart just enough to be close to the edge of the smaller upper cake layer. I then cut a cake circle to match the diameter of the upper cake exactly (although in hindsight I could have simply purchased a cake circle to match). I places the cake circle on top of the dowels and the 2 small cakes on top of the cake board. I had read several recommendations that this extra support was needed as the finished product would be very heavy.
I did a quick crumb sweep with a silicone pastry brush to get rid of any loose crumbs, and then applied a VERY thin layer of icing as a sort of crumb seal. I let it set for a bit before I continue to ice the entire cake. This crumb seal I typically do with white or other very light coloured icing where a dark cake crumb will show up significantly. Considering that this was such a heavy cake, I used 2 14″ cake circles wrapped in aluminum foil and tightly taped as my base.
Crumb Catcher Layer
Once the entire cake was iced, I also completed the flowers and the windows. For the flowers, I simply used the leftover purple icing I had iced the roofs with. I popped a coupler into a disposable decorating bag and added very tiny #2 round decorating tip before putting the icing in. I piped little dots into the centers of the fondant flowers. Using the same icing, I swapped out the #2 tip for a #3 round decorating tip to fill in the arch around the windows, both on the towers and the freestanding ones. After piping the icing, I sprinkled the sparkles on to match the roof decorations. I used a Q-Tip and toothpick to clean out the extra icing and sprinkles from the windows, door and large front tower so they looked neat and tidy before adding the flowers and leaves. It was suggested to use a larger tip to ice around the trim for the door as well as the scalloped edge of the large front roof, but in an effort to save time, I simply did a double line, patted it down a bit with a finger dipped in cornstarch and then added the sparkles. By this point I had done all I could before transporting the cake, so the rest was left for the next day – the day of the big party!!
Flowers dotted, cake iced and windows glittered – all in a day’s work!
The big day had finally arrived! After transporting the cake and all the accessories, the first thing I did was to “glue” the roofs on to the towers. I had the foresight to bring a large thermos of boiling water to melt the candy melts to make my glue. I spread the melted candy onto the top of the tower and firmly pressed the roof on (very carefully, just pressing on the very top point so as not to wreck the icing and sparkles). After holding that for a minute or so, I set it aside and continued on with the others. By the time I was done with the last one, the first was ready to be inserted!
As you can see from the photo above, I inserted the first large tower prior to adding on the flowers and leaves. This was the only tower I did that for as I quickly realized that it was much easier to add flowers and leaves and then insert rather than decorating an upright tower. The instructions called for a #349 Leaf Decorating Tip, which i could not find anywhere! I had to settle for a #352 tip, which wasn’t bad, but it was a bit on the large side, so some of my leaves ended up more like trailing ivy For the bottom of the windows, given the large leaf tip I had, I would pipe one leaf horizontally on each side of the window, plus 2 in the middle, one up and one down. I’d then press 3 fondant flowers into the leaves which acted as a bit of a glue to hold the flowers in place.
Top Layer Done!
For the top edge of the first layer I did an alternating pattern of leaves up and down, sometimes doubling up so it wasn’t too boring and uniform. I pressed the flowers in after every quarter section of cake I completed so that the icing leaves weren’t too dry. I then got my #5 round decorating tip and piped in the dot trim around the bottom of the towers and the bottom edge of the top layer.
Second Layer Done!
After that it was a matter of rinse, lather, repeat for the other towers, windows and trim. One word of caution; be EXTREMELY careful about your tower placement! On my first attempt at this cake, one of my towers that was inserted into the lower layer of the cake ended up being too close to the edge and the side of the cake crumbled around the tower as there was not enough cake around it to hold it in place. Luckily I was thinking on my feet, and a bit of dental floss tied from the leaning tower to its neighbour as well as a strategically placed “wall of ivy” hid the erosion. Thank goodness for extra fondant flowers! I must admit I was rather impressed with the save, if I do say so myself.
Cake tower emergency – nothing a little wall of ivy, flowers and dental floss can’t fix!
Several months of blood, sweat and tears (about 20 hours in total – per cake), and my masterpiece was finished. The cramped hands, sore back and mountains of frustration were so worth it. The girls were mesmerized, the birthday girls thought they were princesses themselves, and I felt pretty proud that i had tackled this and it had turned out all right given my significant lack of expertise. I picked up some small princess figurines from WalMart and glued them with little green icing “hills” covered with flowers that I stuck some candles into as well. I finished it off by writing the birthday girls names on the front of the cake circle, and voila – a Princess Castle Cake fit for…..well, a princess!!
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