There wasn’t any actual toil or trouble in the making of this cake, but there were plenty of ruffles, and this is the only setting in which Shakespeare might ever make sense to me, so there you have the name.
I recently got the opportunity to make a cake celebrating a co-worker’s retirement. While I was happy to put together something celebrating this woman’s decades of accomplishments, I won’t lie when I say a major piece of motivation was that I had the chance to experiment with a couple of buttercream decorating techniques I’ve been itching to try (unless a co-worker is reading this right now, and in that case I am a model employee and this was a completely selfless act from which I gained no pleasure). 🙂
The retirement party was going to be a surprise so I couldn’t ask the honoree what her favorite flavors are. In those instances, I always like to go with a marble (chocolate swirled in with vanilla) cake since it usually covers all the bases for the indecisive who don’t have flavor preferences. But I did do something entirely unlike me- I branched outside my comfort zone and decided to try something other than my go-to buttercream icing I can make (and sometimes, swear I have eaten) in my sleep. I found a recipe for a white chocolate buttercream frosting that had the same butter/shortening ratio so I figured it would still reach the stiffer, smoother texture I need for smoothing my cakes to look streak-free:
White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 cups confectioners sugar
Instructions for medium consistency:
In a large bowl, cream shortening and butter with an electric mixer. Add vanilla. Melt chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons heavy cream and stir together until smooth, then beat into mixture. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Beat again before using.
**BIG disclaimer here- the original recipe also calls for 1 Tablespoon of meringue powder, but I read that and laughed because I thought I knew better than the recipe and didn’t actually need this obscure powder that is way too expensive and difficult to find (meaning: I simply can’t conveniently find it at my grocery store right down the street). I gave it a Google and read that the powder will 1) cause the icing to crust (ideal for smoothing a cake or making flowers) and 2) preserve its shelf life. But in my experiences shortening makes the icing crust just fine, and the icing wouldn’t need to last any longer than 20 minutes after it’s presented at the party since it would hopefully be so delicious it would immediately be demolished. So, long story made even more long and boring, I 86’ed the meringue powder. I did realize the consistency was thinner than I wanted and didn’t think it would hold the designs I wanted to do, so I added a bit more powdered sugar and melted chocolate to thicken it up a bit. Morale of the story: Next time, maybe it’ll be worth the subway ride into the city and the $20 expense on 5 pounds of meringue powder when I only need 1 tablespoon, just to see if it makes the frosting any better at the end of the day. Oh the troubles I’ll go through in the name of all things yummy.
Okay, there ends that diatribe. So- next step was to color the frosting purple as it’s our corporate brand color- not a lot of creativity on my part there but it would match the purple branded foam fingers in the office, so it was an obvious choice.
Next, next step- I made 4 9″ rounds from which I sliced off the rounded tops to make a flat surface (read: cake balls later!) and stacked the cakes with about 1/2 an inch of icing in between each layer.
And then– The crumb layer. This is a very important step as you want to do a thin layer of icing first and foremost to trap in all your crumbs. Put the cake in the fridge for about 10 minutes after doing this and you’ll be able to do a second layer of icing, easy as pie (or cake, I guess) without any crumbs showing through.
Then finally came my favorite part: getting to try these new decorating techniques. Some people have bucket lists; on mine I guess would be different decorating tricks I want to try before I die. We all have to have goals after all.
Challenge 1: The overlapped flower swirl. By itself it doesn’t look like anything special, but when I saw it online on other cakes in mass (and especially incorporating the overlap component) I thought the look was very feminine, simple but elegant- it had to be mine. I used a filled pastry bag with the star Wilton tip #21, and, starting at the bottom of the side of the cake, swirled the bag around once in a counterclockwise motion so the tip ended up at the top of the swirl (12 o’clock). I did this so that, when I did the next swirl right on top of the previous one, I would hide where one swirl ended and the other began. Again, I won’t pretend it’s anything impressive by itself, but I loved it all around the sides in mass.
Challenge 2: The ribbon technique. I’ve seen this technique also used on sides of the cake but I love the trick it plays on the eye when looking straight down on it- like a delicious bulls eye or maze that I would love to eat my way out of. I filled another pastry bag, this time using the rose petal tip, Wilton #125. I put the cake on top of a lazy susan with a spinning base so I could hold the bag with one hand and turn the cake with the other in an attempt to get as long a ribbon as possible without breaking the icing. With the fattest part of the tip facing inward toward the center of the cake, frost a strip, and without picking up the bag so the icing doesn’t break, go halfway backward so the icing overlaps and looks like a strand of ribbon. (It’s demonstrated on parchment paper here). Then change direction again so you’re once more going in your original direction, reversing and overlapping with each stroke so that the ribbon effect continues.
Do one circle around the edge of the cake, then keep repeating so you have a series of consecutively smaller circles until you get to the very center.
Once the cake was all said and done, I went back and forth from thinking it looked beautiful to thinking it looked like a concoction of too many techniques from multiple cakes smushed into one big Franken-cake. Regardless, it was done!
And then came the hardest part of every cake I take into the office:
Challenge 3: Morgan vs. the Subway commute. Any and every package my sister and I have delivered to the house takes the “cake quiz”- “Can this box be re-purposed later for cake transportation?” If it’s “yes,” then it stays and inevitably gets resurrected weeks later to carry a cake on the subway into the office. So in a box that used to hold my sister’s Christmas-gifted blender, I trekked with the cake from Astoria to the West Village, lasting through a transfer at Times Square but losing one too many brain cells due my holding my breath throughout my entire commute. Dealing with crowded subway cars and confused looks from other passengers, I made it to the office, placed the cake on the break room table, and fell to the floor in triumphant relief. (So I guess I lied before- obviously, this is where the “toil and trouble” reference surfaces.)
But both I and the cake made it in one piece and the guest of honor was completely surprised. I can’t wait until the next person retires!
If co-workers read that last bit, you know what I mean… I hope.