Nothing inspires my creativity like the last minute. Usually I like to be the person who is ahead of the game and is set up for success, but lately more often than not I’m running behind on my baking projects and have to change direction because, well… I just don’t feel like it. I blame it on the exercise.
That’s right. Every time I hit the gym, I don’t want to do anything else for the rest of the day. No cooking, no cleaning, no baking.
But when one of my bartender gal pals messaged me on Tuesday to remind me that her 30th birthday was on Thursday and that she wanted me to celebrate with her while she was at work (I’m floored that she didn’t take her 30th birthday off from work, but hey. Good for her!) I spurred into action because I KNEW I had to make a cake for her. I guess her birthday slipped my mind because I had been traveling recently, but that was no excuse to not show up with a cake. So into cake mode I went.
My friend loves all things cream cheese and cheesecake, so a cream cheese frosting was a must for this cake. It also pairs really well with lemon, and since I’m trying to perfect my lemon cake recipe for my menu, I figured now is the time to try it out and I carpe-d the diem. (Reminder: I would never do this for a real cake order, but I always try to give my new friends a cake or dessert on the first birthday that we spend together. Most of them are so grateful to be getting a free cake that’s worth a lotta $$ that they don’t mind if I try out a new recipe on their birthday cake.) Miraculously I had all of the ingredients on hand already, so I set to work immediately.
One thing I knew from square one as far as decorating this cake was concerned is that even though the super cute cake topper that I bought for her was black and red, there would be absolutely no way that I was going to attempt to dye frosting black or red in such a short period of time. I’m just not willing to risk it. (The short explanation is that black/red frosting requires so much dye to look black/red instead of gray/pink that oftentimes the frosting flavor - and sometimes the texture - is ruined before it even gets close to black/red. My tip of the week is this: always use blue or purple dye as a base color for black, and pink or orange dye as a base color for red before dying the frosting, and then add the black or red dye. This significantly cuts down on the amount of dye the frosting needs in order to actually appear to be the right hue. Because black and red frostings are so incredibly hard to nail down, most bakers will just buy them pre-dyed instead of doing it themselves.)
Since black and red were out of the question for decorating her cake, I had to come up with something else that was pretty but festive enough to celebrate my vivacious friend and worked with the cake topper I bought her. Hmmm...
I have deeply loved the red and purple color combination ever since Meryl Streep pulled off red earrings with a purple dress so fantastically while insulting Anne Hatheway’s wardrobe in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada.
Eureka! I am WELL equipped with enough purple dye and decor to style an entire bakery’s worth of cakes with it, so I certainly can pull off a purple cake now! (I mean, it is my favorite color and the color I chose to brand my business with…) So I set to work dying the cream cheese frosting two different shades of purple as the lemon cake baked happily in the oven.
The next morning, I went into my cake supply closet to grab a cake board when I realized… there were no more cake boards in my supply closet.
What's a chef to do?! Fortunately, I’ve been hoarding cardboard boxes like every good adult millennial does, so I took a trick out of the old bakery play book and traced a 9” cake pan on a cardboard box to use as my cake drum. I went back into my supply closet to get an Xacto knife but that’s when something caught my eye.
When my Man Candy™ borrowed my cake carrier to take the Angel Food Cake With Chocolate Whipped Cream and Strawberries (I have got to work on my cake naming skills) to share with his colleague, he returned the gold wrapped cake board with it, but I didn't notice it until now.
After returning my undamaged cardboard box to the hoarding pile where it belongs, I peeled the gold wrapping off the cake board to reveal the cake board beneath it. However, I had really fallen in love with the cake board décor idea that I came up with, so I decided to go ahead with it anyway, even thought it was no longer necessary at that point in time.
While I was digging through my supply closet, I came across something else that I hoard: gift bags and matching tissue paper. I don’t know why, but it’s just a thing that I do. Fortunately, I bought two matching red and white polka dot gift bags that presumably were meant to be a Valentine's Day gift wrapper for my Man Candy™, but clearly I did not give him said gift (sorry, MC™!)
I cut the panels of the bags off and wrapped them around the cake board to spruce it up, then immediately got to work on stacking and decorating my cake on it.
I spread the two tones of purple cream cheese frosting in between the bottom layers, and then smeared it on the outside of the cake as well so that the inside filling mirrored the ombre frosting.
I went for an exaggerated white chocolate cake drip on this one, and I actually really love it. Usually I don’t want my cake drips to touch the cake board, but for this one, I felt like it was pretty perfect. The only issue is that it didn’t leave space for my bottom border of purple chocolate candies, so I made a decision and just placed the border around the spaces of the cake that were not covered by the elaborate drip. Then I topped it all off with some sprinkles and the cake topper and schlepped it half a mile down the street to take it to the bar where my dear friend works.
All of this to say that decorating the cake board of your cakes can be incredibly impactful for your overall design and presentation. I remember our chefs teaching a whole section on how to cover cake boards with fondant, and reminding all of the students that we should invest in a hot glue gun and ribbon to glue to edges of the board for a more polished look. Furthermore, I once worked in a bakery that taught me techniques for taping square paper onto a flat round surface - a technique that I still use today to jazz up my presentation.
Then again, it doesn’t have to be something that’s added on to your cake board that makes it special.One time, my niece was having a princess themed birthday party, so I made an actual tutu and fit it around the stand to amp up the display.
I think it was a hit!
Either way you choose, if you want to really step up your presentation, don’t neglect your cake boards!
Happy eating, y’all!
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