One thing I never had to worry about is having too much spare time. Because if my schedule looks like it’s lightening up, Miss Arabella will fill the gap. This time it was her friend’s sister who was turning 21 and would it be at all possible for me to make the cake. ’I told them you would, mum, I mean, I did say I’d ask you, but you can, can’t you mum?’ ‘What do they want?’ ‘Just a round coconut cake; that won’t take long’, said Miss Arabella who has a deep hatred of cooking and is no expert on the subject.
So I agreed to make the round coconut cake but then a couple of days before the delivery date the sister of the birthday girl saw me at the swim centre and said her sister would like a ‘day of the dead’ theme and could I do that but without the skull. I had no idea what she was talking about so I just smiled and said, ‘Absolutely; not a problem’. Then Arabella sent through the photo of where the inspiration had come from. ’So you just have to do this’, she said, ‘but remember mum; without the skull’.
I made two coconut cakes using a Donna Hay recipe and froze them overnight as this makes them a lot less delicate and there are no cake crumbs to drag through the icing. I made a chocolate ganache and smeared some on the cake board so that the bottom layer of the cake would stick to it and reduce the risk of the cake sliding off the board. The cakes were cut to a total height of 7cms each then I put the cut layer down on the board, then the other layer directly on top and I secured the two layers by pushing three skewers through the cake.
I covered the cake in chocolate ganache that I made by melting 600gms of dark chocolate with 3/4 cup of pouring cream over a saucepan of simmering water. When the ganache had hardened, I combined three packets of Orchard White Icing that totalled 1.5kgs in weight then lifted it over the cake. Once I had smoothed the sides and used a fine skewer to pierce the air bubbles, my blank canvas was ready.
I needed another packet of Orchard White Icing that I divided into four lots and dyed each pile a different colour using Wilton liquid dyes. You do need to add a little more icing sugar to the icing when mixing in the dye as the liquid causes the icing to become sticky. I used a CK Candy Writer in black to draw on the vines. It was five hours from when I pulled the cakes out of the freezer to when I had finished decorating the cake. This definitely wasn’t a sprint-to-the-finish but more of a marathon however I’m sure that anyone with some training and the right tools would be able to recreate this in a lot less time.
The birthday girl’s sister and her mother came to collect the cake a few hours before the party. They were very happy with it and thought it was very pretty which is just the look they were hoping for.
Then it was on with the party where my Archie was the barman and as he had come straight from uni, he had his guitar with him and later in the evening morphed from barman to entertainer. I asked him how the cake was and he said, ‘Didn’t have any’. So there you have it.
And it’s not perfect. There are a couple of dents where I leant on it when using the candy writer – bummer!
A Birthday Cake Inspired by ‘Day of the Dead’
Serves: 20-40 (depending on use – dessert or a small piece to have with coffee)
Degree of Difficulty: 4/5 (because it’s time intensive)
Cost: There’s a lot of bits and pieces you need to purchase to decorate a cake well but once you have a supply, these cakes aren’t overly expensive but a local cake shop will sell you one for a lot less than something like this would cost to make – but it won’t be as nice!
You will need to make two of these cakes. Here is the ingredient list for one cake:
- 500g (1 lb) butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/5 tspns vanilla extract
- 8 eggs
- 4 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
- 1 cup dessicated coconut
- 1 tbspn + 1 tspn baking powder
- 4 packets Orchard white icing (2kgs)
- food dyes – pink, orange, green, blue
- 1 x black candy writer
- edible glue (found in specialty kitchenware shops)
- a small paint brush
- little flower cutters (I used primrose cutters made by Fnvn)
Pre-heat oven to 160C (325F). Grease and line 2 x 25cm round cake tins. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add the eggs two at a time, beating well. Sift the flour and baking powder over the butter mixture and mix until well combined. Add the coconut and mix well.
Pour the mixture in the cake tin and back for 1 hr and 50 mins or until tested with a cake skewer. Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then wrap in cling film and store upside down in a freezer overnight.
Remove cakes from the freezer, unwrap and level cakes to a height of 7cms each. I do this by holding the cake on its side and measuring around it with a metal tape measure.
When the ganache has cooled and thickened to a spreading consistency, smear a little on the cake board then place one of the cakes upside down on the cake board. Place remaining cake on top. Secure with three skewers and use scissors to cut skewers to the height of the cake.
Cover cake evenly in ganache and allow to harden. Meanwhile take 3 packets of white icing and mould together. Dust a bench with icing sugar then roll icing to 3mm thickness. Lift the icing off the bench by rolling it up in the rolling pin then let if fall over the cake. Use your hands dusted in icing sugar to smooth the icing around the cake. This takes some time!
Take another packet of icing and mix with any leftover icing then divide into 4 lots. Dye each lot a different colour. I used orange, blue, green and pink. Roll out icing and begin to decorate cake. Stick icing onto cake by dipping a paint brush in edible glue and wiping over the back of each cut-out. Don’t use too much glue or the cut-outs will slide around (especially on the vertical sides of the cake) and create stains on the white surface.
I cut all the pieces out by hand using a small sharp knife except for the small flowers where I used my primrose cutters. To make the vines, it is quite difficult to use the candy writer on a vertical surface and doing black on white means if you make any errors you won’t be able to remove the black and start again! However, wherever my vines went a little messy, I stuck a green leaf over that area – problem fixed!
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