Go big or go home. Words to live by in life and in the cake world. As many of you know, I am a self taught decorator. This means I learned most of what I know through trial and error, both yummy and frustrating. It is true that a big part of success is learning from your failures. So here are some of my biggest and most delicious fails, how I fixed them and how you can avoid making my same mistakes.
1. Falling Fondant
Scene: Outdoor Graduation party for my cousin. Temperature 85 degrees. Feels like 98. No Air conditioning in the kitchen.
Weather can wreak havoc with your cake designs. This cake was frosted with whipped cream frosting, light, fluffy and delicious. However it, does not have the density to support Marshmallow Fondant. The heat and humidity caused the fondant curtain to slide off the back of the cake.
For outdoor display or in high humidity, use a solid Buttercream and wrap the whole entire cake in fondant if you intend to use fondant decorations. Keep it in the fridge until the very last minute. Fondant embellishments of any kind can be attached to a fondant base layer securely with water or sugar glue (simple syrup).
This was my first attempt at a topsy turvy cake. The original design called for orange fondant chevron stripes. They always look so perfect in Pinterest pictures. In the real world, when I tried to attach my chevron stripes, they stretched and lost all of their precision. I tried to attach them in smaller pieces but the thickness of the fondant made the cake look childish.
The Solution: Have a Plan “B”. In this case I was able to freehand paint the chevrons. Just mix your food color like you would paint to get the right color and add a few drops of vodka to thin the color. Paint the fondant like you would paper. This technique works best on fondant that has set overnight. If you are keeping your cake in the fridge, be sure to bring it to room temperature before you start adding color to reduce issues with condensation. The vodka will allow the paint to be dry to the touch, even though it may still look shiny.
3.Structural Instability or Murphy’s Law of Gravity
If it can fall, settle or squish, it will. Cake, especially moist fluffy cakes that people actually enjoy eating, will not support any weight beyond roughly two layers.
This cake is actually 4 layers separated by buttercream. But all cake is deceptively heavy and as it came to room temperature this is what happened…
There are several things that could have saved this cake that we will come back to later (possibly in later posts) as it had multiple issues. The first challenge was the extreme angle on the cake board.
The Solution: When stacking multiple layers (more than 2) always separate them on cake boards and use dowels or straws so that the layers are not actually resting directly on cake. This also prevents the layers from collapsing down on each other as the cake and frosting comes to room temperature.
But if you eat it fast enough no one will notice!
Ordinary tiered cakes (when properly stacked) are very secure, even through long scary delivery drives.
4.Dry, Cracked, Bubbled Fondant
There is nothing worse than rolling out fondant and finding it riddled with “elephant skin”. This can happen straight out of the package or if it hasn’t been sealed completely in plastic wrap.
When you are working with fondant, prevention is the best cure. Keep your fondant covered tightly with plastic until you are ready for it.
If you don’t work some moisture back into it, you will be risking tears and cracks on the surface of the cake. That is much harder to fix.
The Solution: Cover your counter top with a thin layer white shortening.
This will keep the fondant from sticking and moisten the dough as you knead. Keep kneading until you don’t see any dry cracks, adding more shortening as needed until it looks smooth.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there will be dry bits on edges of a big chunk of fondant.
If you have dry crumbs like this…
…Make sure to cut them all away before you begin. Dry Fondant will NOT reincorporate. It’s very frustrating picking out little crumbs.
Even when fondant is the perfect consistency there is still the possibility that it will crack after you cover the cake.
(Or someone will poke a hole in it.)
The Solution: For small holes and cracks where the buttercream shows through you can Spackle it.
Take a small ball of the same color fondant and add water a drop at a time to make a paste.
Then, with an off set spatula you can spread the fondant paste over the crack, smoothing it into the surface. The thinner the better.
While you may be able to see something was there it won’t be near as noticeable as a gaping hole with buttercream oozing out.
Next we come to bubbled fondant. This summer was the first time this phenomena had ever happened to me. Apparently, drastic temperature changes can cause cakes to release gases that will cause blisters in your fondant.
This cake bubbled enough to stretch and crack the fondant. It required major surgery. If it hadn’t cracked I could have just poked a tiny pinhole in the bubble to let the air out and everything would have been fine. But the giant crack made it so the air was already out. so I used the paste method described above.
So notice that the paste is grey. That’s because this is painted fondant. The damage here was extensive so I used some of my extra embellishments to cover the worst of it. That is another good reason to make lots of extra stars, flowers or other bits of swag to finish up a cake.
There is nothing worse than spending hours creating edible works of art only to have them break on application.
The Solution: Make EXTRAS of EVERYTHING. Fondant dries hard but it’s very brittle. Plan ahead how you are going to attach it to the cake. While it’s soft you can build it around paper covered wire or tooth picks. I used a long wooden skewer attached to the back of this US Navy anchor to secure it to the top of the cake.
Dry fondant does not bend, it breaks. I made this badge twice because of that. If your design calls for a piece to be flat on the round edge of a cake then you need to let it dry on the same round edge or make it and apply it immediately to the cake. Fake Styrofoam cakes work great for that.
6.Fingerprints on (and in) the frosting
So you have a frosted your cake, spun it on the turn table till you are dizzy and finally have a pristine buttercream. Get that cake to the fridge! Chilling it for at least a half hour will let the buttercream set hard and prevent small knocks and blemishes as you add on to it. But what if someone bumps you and you accidentally stick you thumb in the frosting while trying to get it out of the fridge?
The Solution: Use an offset spatula and run it under very hot water. Dry it off and use the warm blade to smooth over the buttercream.
Repeat the heat process until you have your perfection back. And if that doesn’t work stick a flower there. Flowers are great for that.
Fondant is a different animal all together.
When applying lots of fun blinged out decorations to fondant covered cakes, it’s inevitable that some of those luster dusts will leave marks.
The Solution: All you need is a bit of water and q-tips.
Dip the q-tip in water and gently wipe away the smudge. Then allow the spot to dry.
You might be able to tell where that spot was but no one else will.
7.Visible Seams and Raw Edges
So this is where you can really get creative. Unfinished or sloppy edges can make or break a cake. Have you ever seen a buttercream cake without a shell border? They look naked! And visible fondant seams…well, don’t get me started.
The Solution: Use your design to cover them up.
So there you have it, my top 7 Cake fails and some of the ways that I “fixed” them. There have been so many more examples over the years but the more cakes I do the more I’m reminded that it’s just cake. Just because it wasn’t in the original plan doesn’t mean it can’t still be amazing…this cake won the blue ribbon.
Have you ever had a spectacular cake failure? Have any of these happened to you? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear about how you turned a mistake into an edible work of art.
Keep it Savvy!