Friday, February 22, 2013

delusions of grandeur part 5: robot cake

We must have watched that Betty Crocker/Howdini robot cake tutorial a hundred times. You know the one; the tutorial that comes up as the top eight hits when you search for robot cake tutorial videos? This one right here. Someone's marketing intern spends a lot of time getting that thing posted EVERYWHERE.

And I was going to make it. I had decided not to go overboard on the cake this year, as last year's Zelda cake had me up till three in the morning. I'm too tired for that. So I was going to make the quick robot cake. The easy robot cake. The fast robot cake.

And then, my almost-three-year-old uttered the words that spelled my certain doom: "I want the robot cake to stand up."

It was innocent, really. But birthday wishes are nearly impossible to deny. I mean, he only has so many years he'll be willing to let me make silly things for him. I'll blink my eyes one day and he'll have sprouted chin whiskers and sarcasm, and my days of making robot cakes are over.

Or at least that's how I justify this year's delusion of grandeur. Cake Boss makes it all look so do-able. I blame Cake Boss.

I hemmed and hawed on whether or not to build this, and in the end, to draw the Mister into the fray with me, I asked him to be the Wielder of the Drill. I found this tutorial on making a cake stand, then simplified it by using pre-cut wooden plaques and dowels from the craft store, plus some super-strength hot glue.

To make it, pick up an 8-inch round plaque  and two 5x7-inch rectangular plaques. Drill holes to fit the 3/4-inch dowel, then glue in place with hot glue. Use a level while the glue sets, and offset the feet to offer a wider base in more directions for stability. Voila!

The video there calls for using donuts to cover the leg dowels. I tried using donuts. Here's some proof, along with the five-layer vanilla buttermilk M&M cake (we call it Pancake Cake) getting a crumb coat of maple sugar frosting.

But I didn't like the way it looked. Especially after a day in the fridge where, even wrapped, the leg donuts started to dry up and show off their seams. Yuck. I needed a plan B, and luckily, I had one in the form of a half a tray of leftover Rice Krispies treats I'd made for the head. In future photos, that's what you'll see (covered entirely in marshmallow fondant) in place of the donut legs.

It went back in the fridge after the crumb coat. Then I started rolling out the fondant . . . and then rolling it out again . . . and then rolling it out again. Four times in all, by the time I'd smoothed the fondant onto the cake without it ripping outright.

And I don't have a lot of photos of the cake in process from this point forward because of the sugar and the sticky all over my hands . . . so let's look at at some more photos of half-eaten cake while I tell you a little bit about it.

First off, the recipes. 

I was looking for something nice and sturdy for the robot cake, since it was going to be several layers high. Regular box mix isn't dense enough (and doesn't taste as good as the recipe I eventually chose . . . trust me. And the family. And the guests at the party. And the Mister's co-workers.) so I went to my stand-by cookbook for tall cakes: Sky High by Alisa Huntsman, Peter Wynne, and Tina Rupp. 

I chose the Vanilla Buttermilk Cake recipe. I wanted something kinda plain because I planned to add M&Ms to the batter. It tastes like the very best pancakes you've ever eaten, but more cake-y. I'm going to link you here to a VERY similar recipe at Sweetapolita, but I still recommend picking up a copy of this book. I've used at least five recipes from it, and they've all been really, really satisfying. You know what I mean. Sometimes desserts look or sound better than they taste. The recipes I've used from this book live up to your expectations.

I made two full recipes for a total of six layers (but only used five for the final cake). Instead of using the chocolate icing recipe included with this cake recipe in the book, I made maple cream cheese icing. Well, semi-made. 

I mixed four tubs of store-bought cream cheese icing with food coloring and maple flavoring (to taste; I think it was two teaspoons) in my Kitchen-Aid. I recommend it. The combination was pretty darn good.

The cake doesn't develop much of a dome as it bakes, so I didn't have to do any trimming, and the amount of frosting I mixed up was just about the right amount for sticking the cake securely to the robot-legs cake stand, frosting between each layer, and crumb coating the entire stack.  

The cupcakes were simpler.  Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cakes, made with a double-chocolate cake mix doctored with extra eggs and buttermilk as recommended in Hello, Cupcake. I added peanut butter chips in, too. A lot of them. Bwa-ha-ha! Birthdays rule! (Until the diabetes sets in.)

Peanut butter cream cheese icing, of course, like last year, because it's so darn good. Half a cup of peanut butter to one tub of cream cheese icing. 

Because I was busting these out while my kiddo and the Mister were out on the town, I didn't have anyone around to snap photos while my hands were covered in stuff you shouldn't get on a camera. And at the party I was flying around and didn't get a chance to snap as many photos as I would have liked, so the only images I have of the finished cupcakes are in shots like these, where you can almost make them out in the crepe streamers.

Rar. The green peanut butter icing had blue and green sugar crystals dusted on the rims. Some of the cupcakes spelled out my kiddo's name in silver fondant letters; others had individual fondant robot parts painted with food coloring and dusted with pearl dust, and were arranged to form whole robots. (Surely someone has a photo. I'll update this if one pops up.)

Speaking of fondant, I've worked with marshmallow fondant before, and I still can't get it right. There's some technique I'm missing, wherein the stuff doesn't rip and tear and pull apart when you're trying to drape it over a simple round cake. 

So I did it four times. The second time, I was this close, and then the weight of the fondant itself pulled a tear right along the top edge. The third time, it stuck to the table. Arrgh.

I finally got it on there, but as I'd worked it unto death, there are the tiniest micro-fractures in it. Of course, because I'd spent so much time rolling everything out, by the time I finally had it good to go, the crumb coat wasn't sticky any more. I brushed a little corn syrup on the sides of the cake to help the fondant stick. It worked like a charm.

In the comments section of the marshmallow fondant recipe I used, a few people imply that this recipe isn't awesome for making decorations, but that wasn't my experience. It set up fine, just like other recipes I've used. The flat decorations stuck easily using a paintbrush + lemon juice/water to glue them in place, and the round balls on top of his antennae firmed up very well. I had just as easy a time cutting the rolled fondant with a knife as I did with cookie cutters or the pizza cutter. Other than the draping, it was very easy to work with.

In some places, like the eyes, I had several layers of fondant decorations stuck on top of one another. They stayed in place perfectly. 

The head is made of the standard Treats recipe on the back of the Rice Krispies box, molded in a small, buttered Pyrex bowl. When it had set up in the refrigerator, I slipped it out, iced it (with the leftover peanut butter icing, as I'd used up all of the maple) and covered it in leftover fondant . . . which this time did NOT rip apart. 

The rivets are made using the same drinking straw punch-out method I used on last year's Zelda cake, pressed on using lemon juice/water glue. There are just fewer of them, thank heavens.

I'd pressed the leftover Rice Krispies treats into a cake pan and didn't really have a plan in mind for them until the donut plan went to pieces (literally). I've never used them in an application like this before, and so it was a really happy discovery how well they worked to cover the legs.

I just cut rectangles to fit, and the treats molded easily in my hands to fit around the dowels. My only caveat is that the marshmallow fondant can look a little lumpy over the treats. I think this can be alleviated by adding an extra layer of icing before applying the fondant; lesson learned for next time.

Okay, this is getting legendarily wordy, so let me sum it up with a couple detail photos from the postmortem.

Oh man! I can't believe I finished that whole post! A doozy for sure. Thanks for sticking with it. I learn so much every time I make one of these cakes, and I hope I've anticipated some of the questions other novices might have.

If you have any other questions, ask 'em in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. Otherwise, you can make these photos a bit larger by clicking on them, and get a bit more detail that way! And a big thank you to my sister-in-law M and the Mister for thinking to capture a few photos to add to my few. You guys rock!


Amy of While Wearing Heels said...

Let me pick my jaw up off of the floor. This is AMAZING. You thought of and created every detail possible. WOW!

Kendra@My Insanity said...

I'm so glad the video helped! Your cake is amazing! It is all silvery and shimmery like I wanted mine to be before I ran out of time and fondant.

Anyway, I'm thinking about doing a post featuring a couple of ideas inspired by the robot party and am wondering if you would like to be featured! I would post a couple of photos of your cake and direct readers back to your post for all of the details. Let me know what you think!

Thanks for leaving the comment and great work on this cake! It is awesome!

Night Garden Design said...

Thank you both! It was a labor of love, for sure.

Kendra, sure, yes, borrow whichever photos you need for the feature. I'd love to know when your post goes up, thanks!