Creating cakes with a little wow factor is one of my favourite pastimes.
And I don’t doubt that this is due largely in part I’m sure to the influence of my Mum who decorated wedding cakes for years as a way to generate an income while we were tiny kids. To be honest if anyone asked me to create a cake for them for anything very special, I’d probably run a mile rather than create anything less than perfect but I do find it a creative outlet. It’s also an endeavour where I can let my imagine run away with itself which means I end up having a stack of fun.
I created this cake for my second daughter’s 1st birthday (she was my 4th child so I’m proud I still had the energy to put some effort into the cake)! I had actually seen the heart candles in the gift store at our local shops and the theme basically took shape from there. I had several different sized heart shape cookie cutters (and I think the small heart shape actually came from the play doh cutter set).
I always think about the kids cakes a few weeks ahead of the party because I hate a last minute rush the night before a party. Frankly I’d rather do it all in the lead up and then have a reasonably early night. That way, I’m not tired when I’m trying to cope with Pass the Parcel or children fighting over new birthday presents on top of a late night.
Anyway, onto How to Create the Heart Cake …
A week ahead buy yourself a packet of Royal Icing. Perhaps Mum’s royal icing was our version of play doh as we grew up, I’m not sure, but that’s the way I think of it now. This ready made icing is at Woolworths and Coles and is in the sugar and icing sugar section. It saves you heaps of time and is just so easy to use (much easier than making from scratch). The instructions on the pack are great if you’ve never used it before – they’ll tell you how to cover a whole cake but if you’re just using it the way I do, all you need to do is to break it into quite small sections to make up your colours. If it’s a bit stiff, pop it into the microwave but only for a few seconds. While you’re in that section, pick up a packet of pure icing sugar (not icing mixture).
So for Abby’s cake, I needed dark pink and light pink. Instead of the normal liquid food colouring, try and buy the gel or powder food colouring. You’ll get a really intense colour without the icing getting too sticky and hard to use. I usually buy the gel colourings from Spotlight who have a great range of colours or get a pack online and it will last you forever. If you’re using the gel colours, use the tiniest bit of colour. You can always add more but once it’s too dark, you’re done for. So start slowly and work it in.
Like I say, treat it just like play doh and you won’t go wrong. Roll it out, cut it into shapes, or mold anything you want really. The only thing you should do is keep some pure icing sugar in a sifter handy and dust the bench or board you’re using to roll out the icing so it doesn’t stick to the bench.
So for Abby’s cake, make about 12 large dark pink hearts. Colour your icing to the desired pink, dust the bench, roll out the icing to about 3mm thick and then cut out using your large heart shaped cutter. Once you have the shapes, lay them on baking paper on a nice big flat tray that you can put up out of the way to dry out for a few days. Once the icing dries, they’ll be nice and stiff and really easy to put onto your cake.
Do the same with the smaller hearts (this is where I used the play doh cutters). I made heaps and heaps of these in both light pink and dark pink (I used them to top all the cupcakes as well). Set all these out onto baking paper again and put them up out of the way.
I also added little pink flowers here and there. Again, I cut them out flat with a tiny flower cutter but then to get them to dry with some of the petals sitting upwards (like a real flower) I simply draped each little flower over one of Toby’s marbles. And left them like this until they dried.
The large 3D heart that looked like a cushion I made with all the leftover icing. I made the royal icing the palest of pinks and then basically (again like play doh) shaped it into a heart with a flat bottom and a rounded top. Once I was happy with the shape I laid it onto another tray and then used the end of a bamboo skewer (you know the ones you use for kebabs) to create the little star shape. Just press the last 1/2 cm of the skewer against the icing to make a little indentation. Do this all over so it looks like a lovely little heart cushion. Then set this one aside to dry too.
That’s it for the decorations. Leave them all up high away from little fingers. The only enemy (beside inquisitive little fingers and tastebuds) is humidity. Just make sure it’s drying somewhere fairly dry (i.e. not near where the kettle boils everyday or in the laundry with the dryer going).
The day before the party you can then make your cake (or even buy it if baking doesn’t ring your bell). This cake would work with basically any type of cake. I usually make a white chocolate mud cake as it’s nice and dense, goes a long way but holds it’s shape really well and lasts a few days without getting stale. Let it cool, cool, cool. No icing anywhere near a remotely warm cake!!
Then once the kids are in bed, you can play!
I find that often having a good presentation plate really brings the cake to life and since I found this elevated cake plate (I think at Wheel & Barrow) years ago, I’ve never looked back. It’s stunning and really sets the cake off.
Once your cake is out of the tin, put in onto the plate you’d like to use and then use a bread knife to ‘even out’ the surface of the cake. Bend down so you’re at eye level with the cake and just get it as level as you can. It may only be a tiny bit here and there but it does make a difference. This is another reason for the mud cake – they don’t fall apart when you’re trying to trim them.
Make up a butter icing mix (thanks very much taste.com.au) and get a lovely even coat of icing all over your cake. Just make sure the icing isn’t too runny.
Then all you need to do is place all your pre-made hearts into position on your cake. For the ‘double hearts’ all I did was to place a small amount of icing onto the back of the small heart so that it sticks to the larger heart. Then with the little pink cachous (available at supermarkets but this shop is just near where I live and it’s gorgeous) in the ‘pin cushion’ heart, I just use a toothpick to dab the tiniest bit of icing onto them so that they stick in place. Do the same for the centre of the flowers.
For the top of the cupcakes, all you need to do is place the little hearts on top of the icing.
I know this sounds fiddly but it’s really quite easy and you’ll be so proud of yourself. I always sit at the kitchen bench with the TV on and potter around for ages.
The great thing about this idea is that it’s completely transferable. You could do blue and yellow stars for a little boy, you could do big and little gingerbread men and use the coloured cachous for buttons. Basically any cookie cutter shape and there’s a theme. I’ve even seen Alphabet cookie cutters from Nigella Lawson which would be oh so cute.
Have a play, let your imagination run wild. It is more work than ordering from the bakery, but rewarding if you’re into stuff like that. The best news? The kids will love it!
Got any cake decorating tips/hints/shortcuts? Share the love … Nikki x