My son turned the grand old age of 1 in January so what better excuse to get baking! What is it about landmark birthdays (1st birthdays make it into this category because you survived a 365 days of sleep deprivation and still kept your tiny human alive and kicking) that make me decide to attempt overly-ambitious cake projects that cause all manner of stress and just call out to be a GBBO-style baking disaster??
When the basketball-loving Perky Kebab turned 30 I baked him a giant basketball cake. Or at least I tried to. It was a classic case of all the gear and no idea. I obviously had to have a perfectly round cake for a basketball. As a result I needed special hemisphere cake tins and why buy the small or medium size when there are large ones with almost the same dimensions as a basketball on offer? The result: more cake than you could ever foist onto a group of 30 party goers.
I had hoped that said basketball cake would earn a place here on the Perky Pancake, but alas it wasn’t to be. The party was a surprise so in amongst preparing 3 courses for 30 people, decorating the flat, receiving delivery of hired tables, chairs, plates and glasses, I decided to bake the cake and decorate it on the same day. Who could have predicted I wouldn’t have enough time??
Well, come 6pm (guests arriving at 7), the cake was still naked. A hurried application of buttercream followed by a sheet of orange fondant that was too small for the cake (gah!) resulted in a pretty odd looking basketball, added to which I hurriedly piped on some black lines which the word “wonky” doesn’t even sum up. It was a disaster akin to a major GBBO fail. Luckily for me, low lighting levels combined with copious levels of wine consumption by the guests pre-dessert meant I pretty much got away with it.
Needless to say I have since felt the need to repeat the 3D ball cake baking exercise to see if I could do better. And, having invested in the cake tins, you can expect a 3D ball cake for all major birthdays going forward!
So Leo’s 1st birthday was the moment for a ball cake redo. Why not spend hours making a cake he’s never actually going to remember? Well, for my own sake of course! What else are 1st birthday parties for other than for the parents?
After much deliberation over what sort of ball-like creature/item I should make, I decided on a penguin. Yes, a little random. Leo has never shown any preference for the creature other than finding the phrase “p p p p pick up a penguin” intensely amusing…twice. But in line with the “1st birthdays are all about me” line of thought, it was what took my fancy. (Obviously the story told in future years to Leo will go “well if was your favourite animal when you were 1 and was in fact your first word!”).
Thank you Lakeland for the inspiration behind the cake (yes, I essentially copied it from here) and the recipe is taken from BBC Good Food; the same one I used for our wedding cake. It’s basically a giant chocolate brownie so nice and sturdy for icing purposes. Buttercream credit goes to the Hummingbird Bakery for their delicious chocolate buttercream recipe.
It has to be said that whilst making the cakes and applying the buttercream is pretty straightforward, decorating this puppy was no walk in the park. I’d like to blame the Singaporean tropical climate on some of the stress involved though sadly we have excellent air con so really any issues were due to my lack of skill!
The tricky bit is, unsurprisingly, getting the ball covered in fondant. Time and patience are all you need though – keep smoothing that fondant over the ball a little at a time, round and down, and you will be fine. After that’s done, the rest of the decoration is really fun and you can let your imagination and artistic flair run wild (says the accountant…).
If you can pull it off, it’s fair to say you’ll have a show-stopper of a cake on your hands with the added bonus that it tastes completely delicious too!
Serves a huge number of people – probably about 50!
You will need:
2 large hemisphere cake pans (20cm across x 10cm high
1 cake board at least 30cm across
A wooden skewer or tooth pick
For the cake: (From BBC Good Food)
(NB you ideally want to bake this the night before or at least a good 5 hours before to allow it time to chill down before icing)
650g unsalted butter
650g plain chocolate (70% cocoa)
100ml very strong coffee- espresso is ideal
3 tsp vanilla essence
650g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
950g light soft brown sugar
2 x 284ml/9½ fl oz soured cream
For the buttercream: (from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)
600g icing sugar, sifted
200g unsalted butter at room temperature
80g cocoa powder, sifted
80ml full fat milk
For the icing:
1kg ready to roll black fondant icing
500g ready to roll white fondant icing
150g orange ready to roll icing
To make the cakes:
- Pre heat the oven to 160°c/140°c fan/320°f/gas mark 3. Grease the cake tins with butter or oil and coat lightly with flour.
- Put the butter and chocolate into a medium saucepan and melt gently over a low heat, stirring all the time. Stir in the coffee and vanilla extract.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the largest bowl you have. Stir in the sugar, breaking up any large lumps as you do so.
- Beat the eggs and sour cream together in a separate bowl then pour into the flour mix together with the chocolate mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth chocolatey batter.
- Pour into your prepared cake tins, filling to 2cm from the top (you’ll have a bit left over). Bake in the oven for 2 hours and 10 minutes until risen and cooked through (insert a knife or skewer into the middle to check no wet mix comes out with the knife/skewer). Don’t open the door until at least 2 hours are up either!
- Leave to cool in the tins for at least 45 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully. Ideally refrigerate them before you start applying the buttercream but if you don’t have time don’t worry.
To make the buttercream:
- Beat the icing sugar, butter and cocoa powder together in a freestanding electric mixer or using an electric whisk on a medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together.
- Turn the mixer down to a slow speed and add milk to the butter mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time. Once all of the milk has been added turn the mixer up to a high speed and beat for around 5 minutes – the longer the better as it will get lighter and fluffier.
To assemble the cake:
- Level off the top of your cakes. Using a bread knife and a steady hand, cut off the top of both cakes (i.e. the bit that rose up when cooking, not the ball shape side!) so you have 2 flat surfaces. (you can keep the offcuts to use in sundaes…see excellent chocolate sauce recipe here)
- Use about 1/4 of the butter cream to sandwich the cakes together. If your cakes are a bit wonky you can use the buttercream to level them up so you end up with a round ball.
- You would usually add a thin “crumb coat” of buttercream to the cake at this point but I found that the mould gives a really smooth “uncrumby” finish so I covered the cakes with all of the remaining butter cream getting it as smooth as possible with a blunt knife.
- Put into the fridge to firm up for at least an hour.
- Once firm, run a palate knife all over the cake to ensure it is as smooth as possible (any lumpy bits will show through the icing).
- Keep back about 250g black icing for the wings, eyes and hair. On a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar, roll out the rest of the icing into a circle which is large enough to fit over your ball and cover it completely. It needs to be about 5mm thick and 45cm in diameter.
- Using a rolling pin to help you, pick up the circle and gently lay it over your ball so it looks like it’s covered in a sheet. Then gently use your hands to smooth the icing over the ball, working down and around. You’ll end up with a pool of it at the bottom so gently trim this with a knife so you can tuck it neatly (ish!) around the bottom of the ball.
- Next, roll out your white icing. Keep back about 100g for the tummy and eyes of the penguin and roll out the rest into a circle to cover your cake drum/board. Again, keep it as thick as you can to prevent it tearing. When you’re ready, slightly dampen the board/drum with a little water to make sure the icing doesn’t slip. Then using the rolling pin to help again, gently drape the icing over the drum. Use a knife to trim off the excess at the sides.
- Then you just need to roll out more white icing for the tummy and eyes, cutting out rounds to fit and the same with the black icing to make circles for the eyes and 2 wings. Attach to the penguin using a little water or edible glue.
- To make the hair, roll out 3 short sausages of black icing and stick them to the top of his head using a little water or edible glue if you have it.
- For the beak, first stick a toothpick into the spot where you want it on the cake. Then make a ball with orange icing, form it into a cone shape then flatten the top and bottom sides so you have a triangle-esque shape. Using a knife, cut into the front of the beak so it opens slightly. Push onto the toothpick.
- To make the feet, make 2 further triangle shaped pieces of orange icing then using some dowel put 2 indents into each foot to make webbed feet. Push under and against the penguin.
And ta da! You have your very own penguin cake!