Adventures of a Cake Diva

A Blog About Adventures in Baking and Cake Decorating

Sailboat Cake: A Neat Trick for Carving Cakes. 01/22/2013

Sailboat Cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva

     I was terribly afraid that this sailboat cake would end up looking like, well, anything but a sailboat.  Carving a cake can be a little tricky.  Getting the shape right is more than half of the battle.

Sailboat Cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva   As I stood before the stack of four filled sheet cakes, I hemmed and hawed quite a bit.  At one point I remember thinking, “Just cut the freaking cake!”  But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it…

Making a template to carve cakes via Adventures of Cake Diva

   So, I drew a template of the boat’s shape onto a piece of paper.  To make sure the boat was symmetrical, I folded the paper in half, lengthwise.  Then, I cut out the template.

Using a template to carve cakes via Adventures of a Cake Diva   Next, I placed the paper template onto the cake.  Then, I used a long, sharp, serrated knife to cut the cake, using the template as a guide.

Initial shape of sailboat cake     Here’s how the cake looked after I carved the initial shape using the paper template.  Then, I used a smaller sharp, serrated knife to tweak the shape a bit.

Crumb coated sailboat cake     Before I covered the cake with rolled fondant, I covered it with a thin crumb coat of buttercream.  After I covered the cake with fondant, I added some decorative touches like the cabin on top and the gumpaste sail.  Then, I added a few fondant waves on the side of the boat, and I finished off the cake board with the “water” (presumably, Lake Michigan) using tinted royal icing.

Sailboat cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva

   I wish I would have taken a picture of my friend’s face when I presented her with this sailboat cake.  (Sheer delight.)  What made it even better was that, as soon as she saw the cake, she knew that it was a sailboat.  Whew!


Happy Birthday, My Coffee-Loving Friend: How to Make a Coffee Cup Cake Topper 11/16/2012

Most of the time, whenever I’m baking, I’m in my happy zone.  If I’m just making a cake for the sake of doing so, it’s no biggie if it doesn’t work out.  (It’s been known to happen.)  But, if I’m making a special cake for someone, I always get a tiny case of butterflies in my stomach.  Just a little nervous flutter.

If you’re a caker, too, you know what I’m talking about.  (Just take a peak at some of the forum posts on Cake Central.)  The butterflies don’t go away until the cake is delivered and the recipient is delighted.  Then, after I return home and clean up the disaster that I created in my kitchen, I’m itching to do it all over again.  Call it a “caker’s high,” if you will.

I got my caking fix this week by making this cake for my coffee-loving friend’s birthday.  The cake was a Mocha Mud Cake with Chocolate Buttercream.  Although my guinea pigs co-workers thought is was really yummy, I’m still tweaking the recipe.  Keep your eyes open for it in a future post.  I made a fondant figurine of my friend seated by her beloved cup of coffee.  (She’s a fan of Biggby Coffee, so the design on the cup is a bit of a riff from their logo.)  Guess what?  This cup of coffee was super-duper easy to make.

Using cereal treats, form a cylinder shape. Take your time to get the height of the cup right and to mold the shape of the cup, as best as you can.  Then, taper the cup ‘s shape by carving the cylinder. Easy does it, though.  It’s better to carve it, little by little.

Once you’re satisfied with the shape, set it aside.  Next, roll out your fondant and cut it into a rectangular shape.  Cover the sides of the cup with buttercream and apply the fondant.  Smooth with your fondant smoother.  Then, make a fondant rope for the lip of the cup and apply it with a dab of water.  Decorate the sides of the cup as desired.  Lastly, pipe a big ‘ol dollop of buttercream on top for the “whipped cream.”  See how easy that was?

Do you get a case of the butterflies whenever you make a cake? Tell me about your “caker’s high.”  I know I’m not the only one who’s addicted to it.


How to Bake with Tea: Apple Chai Spice Cake with Honey Vanilla Buttercream 10/13/2012

Nothing warms me up like a cup of tea.  Last Saturday, I made a pot of Chai Spice tea after a chilly morning of apple picking.  With every sip, I marveled at how the black tea, peppered with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom, ignited my taste buds.

I started thinking about what I might do with the peck of apples I had gathered. Then, inspiration struck. Apple Chai Spice Cake.  Oh, my…

My past attempts to bake with tea have been a bit disappointing.  I’ve struggled to capture anything more than a subtle tea flavor.  After a little research, I’ve learned the best way to infuse my cakes with a potent (but not overpowering) tea flavor and aroma is really quite simple.  Steep the tea in butter.

It’s best to use loose leaf tea, since the tea leaves are a bit bigger.  If you’re a true tea connoisseur (I’m not), you’ll probably shudder at my suggestion that you can use bagged tea for this recipe.  I had plenty of good quality Chai Spice tea bags in my cupboard, so I cut these bags open and used the leaves.  If you don’t mind that some of the tea leaves will, inevitably, make their way into the cake batter, I say go for it.

Place 2 1/2 sticks (20 tablespoons) of unsalted butter into a saucepan over low heat.  Add 6-8 teaspoons of Chai Spice tea leaves.  Melt the butter and tea leaves, stirring occasionally.  (This is different from the tea to butter ratio suggested in the above link.  Don’t worry, the tea flavor is splendid.)  Once the melted butter starts to darken from the tea leaves (about 6-7 minutes), remove the saucepan from your stove.  Place the saucepan on a trivet or other heat-safe surface, and allow the tea to steep for about 7-8 minutes.

Place a sieve over a bowl.  Pour the tea butter mixture into the sieve.  Most of the liquid will strain through the sieve.  Since I used bagged tea leaves (smaller than loose leaf tea), I poured the tea butter through the strainer twice to minimize the amount of leaves remaining in the butter.  If you use loose leaf tea, you may have to use a wooden spoon to press the leaves against the fine mesh.  Allow the tea butter to come to room temperature.  It’s now ready to use.

I like to use some of the cake’s ingredients as a garnish.  I think it’s a bit of a teaser of the cake that my guests are about to partake.  I decided to sprinkle a few Chai Spice leaves all over this cake and then top it off with a couple of cinnamon sticks.  It was simple, yet elegant, cake that smelled absolutely amazing.  It tasted even better.

Have you ever baked with tea? What did you make?

Apple Chai Spice Cake

An Original Cakediva Recipe

Yield: Two 9″ round cakes

2 ¾ cups (10 ounces) of all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

1 cup (8 ounces) of tea butter – See recipe, above.  I used 2 ½ sticks of butter to make the tea butter, since some of the butter will stick to the tea leaves remaining in your sieve.

2 cups (14 ounces) of ultrafine granulated sugar

2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

5 large eggs

1 cup (8 ounces) of milk

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of ground cloves

½ teaspoon of ground ginger

½ teaspoon of cardamom

2-3 apples – cored, peeled and grated (about 1 cup, heaping)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your cake pans by spraying them with a non-stick baking spray.  Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the baking powder, salt, and spices, and use a whisk to combine them with the flour.  Set aside.  Next, put the sugar and tea butter into the bowl of your standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium speed (4 on your Kitchen Aid) until light and fluffy.  This may take a bit longer than usual, since the tea butter is not firm.  Turn your mixer down to a low setting (2 on your Kitchen Aid) and slowly add the vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, and re-start your mixer on low to fully combine the ingredients.

Next, alternate adding the dry ingredient mixture and the milk into the butter mixture, stirring well after each addition.  Then, bump up the speed on your mixer to medium-high (8 on your Kitchen Aid) for about 15 seconds.  Turn off the mixer.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer.  Slowly fold the grated apples into the cake batter until well combined.  Pour the batter into cake pans.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Cool on wire cake racks.

Honey Vanilla Buttercream

An Original Cakediva Recipe

2 sticks of butter, unsalted – chilled, but not straight from the fridge

4 tablespoons of all-vegetable shortening

3-4 tablespoons of milk

2 tablespoons of pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons of pure honey

dash of salt

4 cups of powdered sugar, sifted

In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening until smooth.  Next, while you continue to beat the mixture, add the vanilla, honey, and salt.  Then, add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  When your mixer starts to strain, add one tablespoon of milk at a time, until the buttercream reaches your preferred consistency.  (The more milk you add, the creamier the frosting.)  Beat until smooth.  If the frosting is too sweet for your liking, add another dash of salt and mix until combined.  (Keep doing this until it reaches the desired amount of sweetness.)  Lastly, before using, take a rubber spatula and stir the frosting thoroughly to eliminate any air bubbles.


Here Fishy, Fishy: How to Make a Cake Topper Using Rice Krispie Treats 04/29/2012

   I’ve had thirty-some birthdays in my life with just as many cakes to celebrate.  Most of them, I don’t remember.  Maybe you’re the same way.  But, there have been two cakes that I will never forget.  My mother made both of them for me when I was a child.

   When I turned five (or maybe six), my birthday cake looked like a giant hamburger.  Why did she make this cake?  Because, at that age, I would have eaten a hamburger for dinner every night, if she would have let me.

   For my eighth birthday, my mother converted our kitchen table into a Ms. Pac-Man board. She made several cakes–one for Ms. Pac-Man and each of the ghosts.  Why did she make this for me?  Because the pizza place that we frequented had a small arcade.  I always begged her for quarters so I could play Ms. Pac-Man.  When our pizza was ready, it was a bit of a fight to get me to the table to eat.  If it were up to me, I would have skipped dinner and kept playing.

   Both of these cakes said something about me, at that time in my life.  Because of this, I can still remember them (many, many) years later.  Maybe this is why I have a little bit of a soft spot for making birthday cakes for kids.

   This week, I made this birthday cake for a little boy.  While I was working away, I snapped a few photos of how I made the fish topper.  As I write this, I am feeling a bit like a magician who performs a trick and then shows the audience how it was done.  (For me, this is always a bit of a let down.)  I am really hoping that isn’t the case here.  Even though the construction is fairly simple (albeit time-consuming), I think the end result is still pretty neat.

Gradually build the shape.   Before you start, pull out a cake pan the size of the cake that your topper will sit upon.  This will help you to scale the topper to the correct size.  Turn the pan upside down, and place a cake board on top.    You can use a cake board that is the same size of the pan or a slightly smaller size.

   Place a small amount of room temperature Rice Krispie Treats (from now on, “RKT”) on top of the cake board.  Then,  sculpt the shape of the fish by gradually building it, layer by layer.  At this point, just focus on getting the general shape.  Since this cake was for a child, I wanted the fish to look cartoon-like and not too terribly realistic.  To achieve this, I made the fish’s body, and particularly the face, really round.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact, it won’t be perfect.  That’s okay.  This is a process, at least it is for me.

I know, I know. I need a manicure! 🙂

Fill in any gaps.  After you’ve shaped the fish’s body, take a good look for any gaps of missing RKT.  In the end, this “sculpture” will be covered with fondant, which will magnify every crevice.  Take the time to make sure that you have a solid base.


Fine tune the shape of the fish’s body.  Using your hands, mold (push) the RKT into the shape that you want for the body.  You’ll notice that some of the RKT will start to crush together.  This is actually a good thing.  You’ll have fewer craggy edges to contend with when you cover the sculpture with fondant.

   You might find that you need to remove some excess RKT.  Use a sharp knife to saw away the excess, a little at a time.  If you accidentally take off too much, no worries.  Just add more RKT to build the shape again.

   As you go along, take a couple of steps back from your work space, and look at the fish’s body from all angles.  Also, it’s helpful to take a few short breaks to reapproach the sculpture with fresh eyes.  The RKT will remain malleable for a good couple of hours, so you can take your time to some extent.

Once you have finished the fish’s body, or while you’re taking a break from sculpting, start working on the tail.  Using a ruler, figure out the width and length that you’ll need to make the tail.  Remember that you will have 1/8″-1/4″ of fondant that will cover the RKT.  You should subtract this amount from your length measurement, since it will reduce your surface space.  Add this amount to your height measurement, since the fondant covering will make your fish a wee bit taller.

Make a template for the tail and side fins.  Once you’ve figured out the tail’s measurements, draw a template for the tail.  The picture to the left shows my free-hand tail drawings.  Since I was aiming for a cartoonish look to the fish, I kept the shape simple and clean.  Cut out your tail drawings and hold them up to your RKT sculpture.  Make sure that you are happy with the tail size and shape.  You can also make a paper template for the two side fins, too.  I just cut them out of gumpaste free-hand with my X-Acto knife.

Using your paper templates, cut out two tails and side fins using gumpaste (preferred) or fondant.  Make 3-4 gumpaste cubes for the top fins.  Tint either gumpaste (preferred) or fondant an orange-yellow color.  This should be the same color that you will tint the fondant to cover the fish’s body.

   Using an X-Acto knife and your paper template as a guide, cut out two tails.  Lay the tails on top of each other, and insert in the middle 3-4 toothpicks.  In the picture to the left, I had just laid one tail on top of the other.  See the seam?  Take a dab of water to your finger and then rub the seam.  It will disappear.  I used my gumpaste tools to make a few markings on each side of the tail.

   Cut out the two side fins.  Also, shape 3-4 cubes of gumpaste (approximately 1/2″ tall) for the top fins.  Insert a toothpick into each cube.  All of these pieces will need at least 2 days to dry.  I always set my figures on a plate that has been sprinkled with cornstarch (prevents sticking) to dry out.

Cover the RKT sculpture with a thin layer of buttercream.   I always put a thick layer of buttercream on the RKT and then swipe away small amounts until a thin layer remains. Some cakers cover their RKT with white chocolate, rather than buttercream.  I’ve always used buttercream, and I’ve never had a problem.

I snapped this photo before smoothing the fondant.

Cover the RKT sculpture with fondant.  Use your fondant smoother to smooth out the fondant, just like you would for a cake.

Decorate the fish.  Make the eyes, mouth, and eyebrows from fondant.  Use a dab of water to apply these pieces to the body.  Cut out 3-4 ribbons of yellow fondant to make the side stripes.  Attach the fondant ribbons to the sides of the body with a tad of water.

   Insert 3-4  toothpicks into the top of the fish to create holes for inserting the toothpicks that are imbedded into each of the top fins.  Do the same at the rear of the fish to make the holes for inserting the tail.  Don’t try to insert the top fins or the tail without making these holes.  At this point, the fish’s body (RKT) is very hard, and you will run the risk of breaking these pieces.  Then, insert the top fins and the tail.

 Ta-da!  You’ve just made a cutie little cake topper!  Once you get the hang of it, you can make all sorts of cool things using these skills, like a fire truck, the neck of a bottle for a bottle cake, or a coral reef for a mermaid to rest upon.  Now that you know how it’s done, I hope that the magic hasn’t been lost for you.  I was still amazed when I made this fish and set it on top of the little boy’s birthday cake.


A Few Tips: Simple Cake Design, A Good Use for Edible Markers, and Whimsical Roses 01/22/2012

Filed under: Cake Design,Decorating Techniques,Recipes — acakediva @ 11:56 PM
Tags: , ,

     People often ask me how I come up with my cake designs and ideas.  For me, it’s a methodical yet creative process.  I suspect that it is like this for most other cakers, too.  I’ll admit that there have been times when someone has asked me to make a cake for them, without providing much (or any) direction, and at first, I’m a little stumped.  This cake that I made for my work peeps started out that way.  When I was asked to make a cake by our unofficial party planner, I tried to suss out what she had in mind.  Her response, “You’re creative.  You’ll come up with something.”  Well, once again, I was stumped. 

     Usually, I like to personalize my cakes–it’s always fun to incorporate different aspects of the recipient’s personality and interests into the design.  One example of how I’ve personalized a cake is the baby shower cake topper I made of a mom-to-be and her beloved cat.  But, in this case, the cake was for three people who have very different personalities.  Oh, and this cake was to celebrate two birthdays, as well as to send-off a co-worker on her last day.  So, I needed a cake that was festive but didn’t scream “birthday.”  Yikes.  After spinning my wheels for a while, I opted for a simple and clean design.   

     Whenever I’m designing a cake, I always consider several things–the size and proportions of the cake’s tiers and the topper (if I’m making a tiered cake), the medium that I’ll be using (all buttercream, buttercream with fondant accents, all fondant), the overall style of the cake (whimsical, romantic, elegant, juvenile, etc.), the occasion, the colors, and personalization.  Also, I always sketch the cake with colored pencils before I actually get to work.  I’ve found that this is an invaluable step in my caking process.  Sometimes the image of a cake in my head needs some tweaking once I’ve sketched it out.  

I made these whimsical roses out of fondant for the cake's topper. I inserted toothpicks into the center roses to give them a little height.

     I finally settled on a 10″ vanilla almond cake for the bottom tier and a 6″ chocolate cake for the top tier.  I love the color scheme that I used of green, white, and brown.  (I know, the brown looks black in the photos.)  I also like the contrast of the clean, straight stripes against the scattered polka dots.  For the topper, I made a few easy peasy whimsical roses out of fondant

A fondant plaque with a handwritten message can be a nice touch. You should always use an edible marker. It's very important that everything on your cake is food safe.

    One of the tricker aspects of this cake’s design was the message.  Usually, I prefer to place the message directly onto the cake, either by piping it in buttercream or using fondant cut-out letters.  (My favorite tool for fondant letters is  Tappits.)  I just couldn’t do that on this cake, though.  It would have been a cluttered mess.  But, I had to figure out a way to convey “Happy Birthday” and “Good Luck”, as well as to make sure that everyone’s name was on the cake.  Seriously, it really is important.  People like to see their name on their cake.  I decided to handwrite the message onto a fondant plaque using edible markers.  (Americolor edible markers are my favorite, by far.)  It was a simple way to personalize the cake, and it added a nice touch.

   So, now you know what goes through my head whenever I am designing a cake.  The next time that you find yourself stumped, try out some of these tips.  Most importantly, relax!  It will all come together.  Even if it doesn’t, the person that you made the cake for will be touched by your efforts.


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