We all know cake is my nemesis – burnt tops, sunken middles, epic cooking times.. But it was my niece’s 4th birthday last week and she wanted a Rapunzel Cake. Apparently its now a Disney thing and the film’Tangled’ took our beloved Brother’s Grim story and made it popular with the current under 5’s (things you don’t realise if you don’t have children).
I love a challenge and so when the opportunity arose to make this cake I ran with it. I let my imagination run wild too and channeled my inner Cake Boss to sketch out a fabulous cake that I simply had to deliver. All of those years at university spent watching Buddy Valastro make peoples dreams come true and here was my opportunity. Except I’m a doctor, not a baker or an artist, I’m not even a very good cook. It was OK though – I had some very good advice from my husband – ‘just follow the recipe and you will be fine.’ That’s because last week I made banana bread but instead of oil I wanted to use apple sauce but we didn’t have any so I blended apples.. Apples cannot replace the fat content of a cake and as I turned my back I caught my husband in the corner of my eye lobbing the whole cake in the bin – flash back to the courgette loaf catastrophe at the end of last year.
So where to start? Planning – I decided to draw what I wanted the cake to look like –
From there the planning stopped and three days of chaos ensued. The party was on Saturday. I knew I wanted to make the cakes on Thursday and decorate them on Friday but I was so excited I decided to attempt the tower on Wednesday. I wanted to make the tower from rice crispies like Buddy does. So I quickly Googled ‘rice crispy model’ and watched a YouTube Video of a lady making a small animal, modelling it around a wire. I went to the shops looking for a stick or something to model my tower onto and I came back with an extra large wooden spoon.. And a box of rice crispies – I already had a small bag of marshmallows at home..
To make the rice crispy mix – heat marshmallows in the microwave for 3-4 minutes, watch them as they expand quite quickly and before you know it you will have marshmallow on the roof of the microwave and that is a sticky mess that will set you back at least 30mins. Mix in rice crispies to the melted marshmallows – keep adding rice crispies until you think they are just coated in the marshmallow. Leave them to cool for about 5-10mins so they become more easy to mould.
I moulded the rice crispies around the abnormally large wooden spoon squeezing and packing them in as much as possible until I make something that resembled Rapunzel’s tower (unless you have a dirty mind like my mother and thought it was something else..). At this point I thought once it had set I could shave it and use buttercream to really make it perfect before it was iced. It just didn’t seem to set hard. I left it standing overnight – if it survived I would decorate it on Thursday while the cakes were in the oven. I woke up to this..
It was probably fate. I had a rethink and whilst my cakes were in the oven decided to model the tower around something hollow. Whilst buying more supplies I had an epiphany – a Pringles box! I made a flat tray of rice crispy mix and rolled it around the Pringles box when it cooled and almost completely set. I used melted marshmallows as glue on the tube to help the mixture sit. I then made the ‘room’ Rapunzel lives in and the roof from rice crispies alone.
Once set I covered them in butter icing which acts like cement and then covered them in ready to roll white icing. I then made the brick pattern using a roller tool. I cut out ’tiles’ from purple icing for the roof and from there this is what I came out with..
For the cakes I used a Mary Berry recipe for chocolate cake. I made 4 – two for each tier. Once cooled I took the tops off to leave me with a flat surface and wrapped them in cling film overnight, ready for decorating on Friday. I followed the same principle as I did with the tower – I covered the cakes (and filled the middles) with chocolate butter icing and popped them in the fridge to cool. To use the ready roll icing you really have to knead it for about 20mins to get it warmed up and soft. I think the hardest part of this whole process was covering the cakes. I watched about a dozen YouTube videos and felt that for sure I would cover the cake with no folds or holes. This was not the case!
The bottom tier was huge! It took over 1.5kg of green icing to cover it and this meant that once I had rolled it out it was so heavy to lift (and perhaps a bit thin) it started to tear. My husband helpfully woke up after his post night shift nap at exactly this point and helpfully put his fist through the entire sheet of icing whilst trying to ‘help’ me lift it. I had to re knead and roll from the beginning as by this point the icing had cooled and started to harden again. The second time I tried to roll the icing with more force and much quicker to keep it warm when I lay it on the cake. I think this helped. But I ended up with a lot of folds and a few tears. I was absolutely devastated and took it out on my husbands stupidity for ruining the first attempt when actually I think I needed a bigger sheet of icing to start with.. Or a smaller cake. The second tier was smaller but I rolled out the same amount of icing and this meant that when I placed it over the cake and smoothed it down with my cake smoother I actually didn’t get any (many) folds! I was thrilled! Sorry for the lack of photos – it was a tense time! I recommend watching a video of how to ice a cake!
I managed to pull myself together and decided to cover the green cake in leaves to cover up the folds and tears and I think it worked well.
The cake had to travel over an hour to make it to its final destination. I therefore decided to keep it separate and build it once I arrived. I made Rapunzel’s long blonde hair in advance and wrapped it in cling film so it remained soft to attach it to the cake right at the end.
Despite it being a bit wobbly and the small towers trying to escape and Rapunzel’s hair being a bit heavy the cake was a success! Sophie had a wonderful 4th birthday party and loved her cake! So did her friends! Job done!
Some problems I encountered and how I overcame them:
- fail to prepare, prepare to fail
I went to the shops twice a day for three days whilst making this cake. I massively underestimated how much cake mix I would need and actually how much butter, flour, cocoa powder etc I needed. Instead of just doing a pretty sketch I eventually sat down and scaled up my cake mix recipe and also the buttercream. Mr Google is also your friend – having never done this I genuinely thought one pack (250g) of ready roll icing would cover a 26cm cake.. I know! I think the extra shopping trips added to my stress levels and general feeling of incompetence.
- Rice crispy cakes for moulding
Initially I followed a recipe for rice crispy cakes. This included melted butter. I found that my mixture just wasn’t sticky enough to mould and probably contributed to the demise of my first tower. Just use melted marshmallows and crispies.
- Marshmallows are sticky
I had a stick of butter at my work station (the dining room table) and kept rubbing it all over my hands, it meant I could handle the rice crispy mix to mould my tower without getting tangled in marshmallow sticky hell
- Remember gravity
Gravity is not your friend. When you are making a tower structural stability is of the up most importance. Therefore it is essential to make the components as light as possible – I think hollow is better. I also never knew that you had to support the tiers of the cake with plastic rods and cardboard bases – its so easy to do and means if the cake is sitting for a long time – for example if you are stupid enough to agree to make a friends wedding cake – the tiers don’t sink into each other.
- Softened butter
Until now I always used bars of hard butter to make cakes. But the recipe always calls for softened butter – I read you should put them in hot water in the wrapper. This helps but is a massive pain. Instead I found ‘Stalk’ butter – way cheaper and soft from the fridge. So much easier!
- Cooking big cakes
If you double the mixture you effectively should expect to double the cooking time. My cakes were quite large and so took about 55mins to give me a clean skewer. I kept my cool, the oven door closed and had no sunken middles. Having said that, at about 35mins I popped a sheet of grease proof paper on top to stop the top from catching.
- Split butter icing
Apparently you can over whisk butter icing. If the butter melts too much the mixture becomes pale and grainy. I don’t think I knew this before. I actually covered the bottom tier in it before I decided something wasn’t quite right. I scraped it all off and started again.
- don’t try your luck
Having done so well I got cocky and thought I could make Rapunzel’s face.. Know when to stop!