Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Train Wreck

Okay. So I lied. It wasn't intentional. It just sort of happened. I said on Tuesday that I'd post pics in 'a day or two', and this is something like day five. Oh well. The lying was to be expected, I suppose. I mean once you start buying vodka and making alcoholic desserts, it's only a matter of time until you land on that slippery downhill slope. Thankfully mom isn't a blog follower.

I'll get to the promised vodka painted cake in just a moment. Literally. In like lightning speed. And the reason for this is... I'm no longer blogging from a phone! I took the leap and bought a laptop. What this likely means for me is less sleep. What it means for you is more frequent blogs and more pictures. The laptop is of the Apple variety, but I made another one of those not as glamorous but more responsible decisions and opted for a 'gently used' computer. It saved a ton of money, and I can live with a few cosmetic imperfections if it is still highly functional. (Who is this mature and wise man typing about being okay without having new and shiny? It's the guy who is also finally okay with buying white T-shirts from Walmart [especially when it's midnight and all of the other white shirts in the house are forming a dirty mountain in floor of the closet], that's who.) But as I was saying, the laptop isn't beautiful... and this brings us back to painting with vodka and last weekend's cake.

The cake was for a very cool three year old who likes trains. For weeks the plan was to try to sculpt a train from rice cereal bars and use dry ice and a fan to serve as the steam from the engine. Just days before the start of the work, I saw a picture of a cake that looked like a classic pull toy sitting on a wood floor. The picture was nice and reminded me of an episode of Ace of Cakes where they painted woodgrain on a guitar cake. It looked simple enough, and in the end I decided that we would save the smoking engine for later and attempt the pull toy/wood floor/cake painting to go for a more classic look instead.

The results are shown below, but brace yourself. The finished cake had more issues than a hoarder's magazine rack (Remember I never claimed to be good - just an aspiring student).

First the woodgrain paint job:

Then the train:

And it's wreckage:

The first thing that stands out to me is the sad fondant job. Though I don't know how, I overlooked the crazy huge bulge on the side of the cake. (Maybe it was the vodka. Or maybe it was Memphis. Maybe it was southern summer nights... but I digress). By the time I noticed the problem, there was no fixing it. In addition to the bulge on the side, I tore the fondant when covering the cake, so the fondant became patchwork. This was the biggest cake that I've tried to cover (13x18 - making the fondant approximately 17 x 22), and a second set of hands or a larger rolling pin would have been helpful. The only saving grace was the fact that the cake was intended to look like planks of wood, so the patchwork didn't stand out immediately. What did stand out could almost be passed off as intentional flaws for a distressed look. The next time I do a hardwood cake, I may start by cutting individual wood planks. This would mean much smaller pieces and would greatly reduce the risk of tearing.

Another big thing that went wrong on this little engine that couldn't is the layer of fresh strawberries in the middle. Using a fruit filling was also a first. I tried to manually cut the top half of the cake off to add the center layer of frosting and berries. It worked fine for one end, but I accidentally cut at an angle and tore the top of the chocolate half of the cake. I managed to add the strawberries, piece together the cake and add the buttercream and fondant before the strawberries started weeping. Obviously my first attempt of piping a barrier of icing to stop the flow of juices had failed miserably. While I was applying the brown paint, the cake started applying a fresh coat of sticky sweetness to my counter. The cake had to be moved to a large pan for storage and transport. The clear seepage is visible in the picture.

The train was formed out of rice cereal bars and fondant. There was one toothpick involved. Otherwise everything on the cake board (which was a little too small) was edible. This was my first time to make a train or work with the cereal bars. The bars were easy to use, but they needed work. The biggest reason was that I waited too long to get started. The yellow layers of the wheels weren't uniform. I should have cut the circles for the wheels a few days earlier. This would have allowed ample drying time, and the small cuts would have been easier once the fondant circles dried. Actually the entire train should have been made a few days earlier. More attention could have been given to details. Lines could have been straighter. Additional train components could have been made. But starting earlier would make too much sense, and waiting until the last minute to begin a project and then running like mad is so much more enjoyable.

The piping on the cake should have been of a different font, and the cord of the train was too thick.

In general the cake looked homemade, and this is my biggest fear with everything I bake. The goal is always to make a professional looking dessert, but that seldom seems to happen. They typically look like any John or Jane Doe (or should I say 'dough') could recreate them.

I'll stop whining now. This caking is learning process, so I'll just plan to use the lessons learned on this project to make the next one better.

The last few days of school have been great! We've been in the kitchen, and I've taken multiple pictures. There was also another birthday cake project this weekend, so I've plenty more to ramble on about. Unfortunately it's 2 in the morning and my aged body has limits, so I'll try to visit again tomorrow.

Until then happy late night grubbing (I recommend cereal in a frosted bowl).


  1. Any Jane Dough would think that cake was amazing. Stop your whining.

  2. Thanks Jenn! Sorry for whining. I just like to pick out the flaws to try to reduce them the next time.

  3. I think the cake looks great for a starter...I can so see you on Food Network Challenge.