Thursday, February 16, 2012

An Apple Cider Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday Eric!

Today he turns 26 and I went all out in making his birthday cake this year. Last year I made him a strawberry cake with cream cheese filling and chocolate frosting, decorated with fresh strawberries and candy clay roses. This year it's going to be an apple cider cake with caramel buttercream filling and with homemade fondant.

Apple Cider Cake:
I've been dying to test out this cake forever. Last autumn I got so caught up with making all kinds of pumpkin recipes, I never got around to the apple cider cake. Fortunately, Eric loves apple cider even more than I do, making this the perfect cake for his birthday. However, his birthday doesn't fall in the perfect month for buying apple cider. So I will admit this up front: I used the powdered apple cider mix instead of the real thing in this cake. It still turned out tasty, but I can't wait to make this cake again when apple cider is in season.
Fresh out of the oven
1 spice cake mix
1 3-ounce package instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/2 cup apple cider
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, pour into two 8-inch round pans that are greased and floured. Bake according to package directions. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Eric's mom taught me a cool baking trick today that her mom taught her. Grease and flour your cake pans, then line the bottom with waxed paper. The cake just slides out and then you just peel the waxed paper from the bottom of the cake.

Caramel Buttercream
Ever since we made buttercream frosting for the very first time, both of us have been a little obsessed with it. I don't think we'll ever use store-bought frosting again. So I knew I had to use buttercream on his cake. But I didn't want to make plain buttercream. What goes with apples? Caramel!

But sadly I don't have a caramel recipe for you. I used this Martha Stewart recipe for the caramel buttercream, but I was terribly disappointed in it. While the taste was pretty good--there's got to be better out there though--I wasn't at all pleased with the texture. Not to mention this frosting is a ton of work. So I think I'm going to work on developing my own caramel buttercream recipe.

Anyway, once the cake had cooled I filled it with the frosting then put a thin layer over the rest of the cake so the fondant would stick.

Marshmallow Fondant 
Eric couldn't care less about fondant. As I said, he loves buttercream and would have been more than happy to have his birthday cake covered in frosting. But I was looking for an excuse to make fondant. I don't really like the taste of store-bought fondant (does anyone?), but I've read rave reviews on this basic homemade marshmallow fondant and thought Eric's birthday was the perfect excuse to try it out.

16 ounce bag of marshmallows
2 tablespoons of water
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 pounds powdered sugar, sifted
food coloring, optional

Grease a large, microwave-safe bowl with the shortening and place the marshmallows, water, and vanilla extract in the bowl. Microwave the marshmallows in 30-second intervals until the marshmallows puff up and soften, between 2 and 3 minutes. Grease a spatula with shortening and stir until the mixture is well combined. If you want to color your fondant, add the food coloring while mixing. I made mine green.

Now, most recipes I found recommended greasing your hands in order to work the sugar into the marshmallow mixture. I tried this but had better luck when I powdered my hands with sugar. So the choice is yours. Knead the sugar into the marshmallow mixture 1 cup of sugar at time. The more sugar you add the easier this becomes. About 2 cups of sugar in, I moved my fondant to a cutting board generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. All other recipes said to grease you work area with shortening or sprinkle with cornstarch. Powdered sugar worked just fine for me. Once you've worked in all the sugar, the fondant will no longer be sticky. 

I read that the fondant is easier to work with if you let it sit over night, so I prepared it the day before, double wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter overnight. However, you can work with it right away.

When I was ready to cover my cake, I rolled the fondant out with a rolling pin to about 3 or 4 inches wider than the diameter of my cake. To get the fondant on the cake, I rolled it the fondant around the baking pin and unrolled it on top of the cake, then trimmed the edges (I used a pizza cutter). It was a lot easier than I thought it'd be. My biggest problem was that my frosting would not stay on my cake, which caused all kinds of issues with the fondant.

The fondant didn't look too pretty, but it did taste really good. I can't wait to play with it more. Maybe one day I'll be able to make beautiful cakes.
I've been watching a lot of Cupcake Wars lately and on the show they are always making decorations by piping melted chocolate on waxed paper, so I thought I'd give it a try too for Eric's birthday. While this was incredibly simple and easy to do, I forgot that I'd need something to adhere the the chocolate to the cake. I had some glittery gel that I used on my gingerbread house last December. But the gel was messy and . . . well . . . put it this way, the cake tasted awesome, even if it wasn't the prettiest cake. Most importantly Eric liked the cake, and that's all that mattered.



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