Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hot Air Balloon Cake

Cakes are my weakness.  Some people like salty snacks, potato chips, nuts and others.  I like the sweet ones.  I can forgo a lot of sugary snacks, but cake and chocolate are hard to pass by.  This week was Teacher Appreciation Day at my daughter's school.  I chose to send a cake.  Here's the finished product.

And here's how I got to it.  Years ago I took a course in cake decorating.  It was during my learn-stuff-I-want-to-learn period.  I took flower arranging, auto mechanics, photography, stone cutting, financial planning, and more in the adult education programs.  The doll cake, Barbie cake were always winners and for the boys, they loved the car cake.

Betty Croker has always been one of my favorite people to turn to when I need instructions.  I've used other brands of cake mixes, but find hers are the most moist.  And what good is a great looking cake if it doesn't taste good.  At office parties I would often take a small piece of cake and taste it, evaluating if it was worth the calories.  With Betty Croker I'm never disappointed.

 This is a Wilton cake pan.  It makes the cake a snap.  The framework is there.

Using one box of cake mix, prepare batter as directed.  Use the 9 x 13 pan directions for cooking.  I use PAM to oil the pan and I dusted it with flour even though it doesn't say to do so.  I want it to flip out of the pan the way if does in the muffin commercials. 

I shake the batter pan slightly and the batter self-levels.  However, in the cooking process the cake will rise.  To decorate a cake, you need it to be level.  A trick my cake decorating teacher taught me was to put a can of water in the oven during baking.  This will keep the cake from rising too high.  It won't complete stop it, but it will lower it.  

If you use a shiny pan (as I did) bake the cake at 325 degree instead of the normal 350 degrees.

Remove from oven and let cool (in the pan) for 10 minutes before turning it onto a rack and letting it completely cool.  If time permits you might bake the cake the day before you decorate it.  If time is not on your side, let it cool for a couple of hours.  I've never refrigerated the cake to cool it.  I think the cake would be took rigid and the icing, coming in contact with a cold cake, might make it harder to maintain a uniform look.  But I've never used a refrigerated cake, so I could be wrong.

Now to the icing.  I love Butter Cream Icing.  Many people like other kinds, but we're all allowed our tastes.  So whatever icing you like, use it.  Just make sure it will pipe out of the tips and not melt from the warmth of your hand (as chocolate will) or come out in blobs.

Using a heavy duty mixer add the ingredients, one pound confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup of butter or margarine, 3 cups of solid vegetable shortening (liquid will not work), and 2 tablespoons of lemon flavor.  The original recipe called for white vanilla, but I like lemon better, so I used that, but you can use white vanilla.

White vanilla prevents the icing from turning a brownish color.  If you use white icing on the cake, you want it to be white.

 Shortening and Butter

 Love that lemony smell.

Confectioners sugar comes in this two pound bag.  Use one pound at a time.

 Mix until the icing doubles in size.  This takes about 15 minutes on setting 4.  I have a cover for my mixer, but I initially put a towel over it in case the flower makes a cloud.

After the first mixing add the second pound of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water and mix for 15-20 minutes, again on a high setting.  When this finishes, you're ready to color the icing and decorate the cake.

Coloring icing takes elbow grease.  Put an amount equal to what you think you will need for the project in a small bowl.  I used plastic margarine containers and filled them about halfway.  I made three colors, pink, green, and yellow.  For the basket I used a container of Betty Croker chocolate icing that I bought in the grocery store.  Deep, rich colors, like chocolate, Christmas red, navy blue, etc., take so much food color that it clouds the taste.   Using various star and piping tubes, I followed the lines on the cake.  To keep track of the colors and where they would go, I made a small free hand diagram and put the colors on it.  You don't have to do this, but it helped me keep from making mistakes.

As an aside, speaking of mistakes, since I took the course years ago, I don't eat my mistakes.  After you've decorated so many cakes, you just wash the icing off your hands and go on.  My kids love the mistakes.  They eat them.      

One thing I mentioned above was to try and cook a level cake.  This is nearly impossible, so when the cake is cool, turn it over and slice off the bulge until the cake is level.  Be careful.  This is not a huge amount of cake.

Using whatever surface you're going to present the cake on, add a little icing to it.  This will allow the cake to adhere to the surface and it won't move around as you decorate it.

Now fill the pastry bags will icing and follow the pattern on the cake.  Your outcome can be anything you want it to be, but it's sure to wow children and adults.