I had the fortune and pleasure to be asked to make a birthday cake with two accompanying requests: in some way, incorporate Liberty Art Fabrics into the design, and avoid heavy flavours.
I didn't really know much about Liberty Art Fabrics when I started, so I immediately went to their website to look through their fabric patterns online. A folder of inspiration images was started, with a few that were finally picked out to inspire the colour and decoration of the cake.
The second demand was easily met. Just a little while earlier, my friend and co-worker extraordinaire Joaquin had a craving for a crepe with crushed almonds and cinnamon. With a topping of whipped cream, it was a great combination of light and subtle flavours with a pleasant lingering aftertaste.
I didn't have an almond cake recipe on hand, so I went searching through my cake bible (Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen) for a recipe. Since I wanted to make a tall cake, the cake also had to be structurally quite sound - dense enough to stand some stacking.
One of the recipes that seemed like a good candidate was the Almond Pound Cake, or Pain des Gênes. Despite the name, it was not a typical pound cake recipe with a high proportion of butter, but more like a sponge with whipped egg yolks and egg whites. I wasn't sure of how it the cake would turn out, so I had to do a test run. I also had some Swiss meringue buttercream on hand, so I was able to do a concurrent test of the cinnamon-almond combination (to the benefit of the tasting staff/everyone in the office, of course).
I had a rough idea of how I wanted the cake to look in terms of height and massing, but I wasn't sure how I was going to pull of the Liberty Art Fabrics part of it. The design inspiration is deliberately derived from Lori Hutchinson's work as The Caketress here in Toronto. Her cakes incorporate a lot of fashion and fabric inspirations, so needless to say I combed through her blog multiple times before settling on a design for this birthday cake.
A total of five cakes were needed for the final cake - three 8" layers and two 6" layers, baked in two batches the night before. Even with that much cake, Rice Krispie treats were needed to provide the height needed for the final design.
Stacking & masking!
Each 8" cake was sliced into layers and iced with the cinnamon Swiss meringue buttercream, and then the entire assembly masked with more of the same. The same was done for the 6" layers, which were then put into the cake to set overnight.
Masked cakes taking up all of the space in my fridge (groceries huddled up in the nosebleed section)
When the buttercream had hardened, both cakes were covered with marshmallow fondant. A little ruching was added, but I don't think that the fondant was thick enough to be fully ruched so I held back.
Gumpaste was chosen for the ruffles and the flowers because of its malleability, quick dry time and hardness when dry. The ruffles were added strip by strip, layer by layer, and stuck to the surface with a little water and dissolved gumpaste. Acanthus leaves were also added for a different texture, although I think that I could have added more for greater effect.
I was surprised by how well the gumpaste stuck, and didn't need any toothpicks or assistance to keep everything in place. Unfortunately, I don't have many progress photos of the gumpaste ruffle process because it dries so quickly.
Only one flower was added as a test, as the cake had to be stored in the fridge overnight and I had concerns about the gumpaste softening and also the weight of the flowers. Thankfully, my concerns were dispersed the next morning when I found everything exactly in the same place as the previous night. The remaining flowers were added in the office for photos, and then stored in the fridge until the evening.
Section view through the 6" cake
I'd also glad that I caught a photo of the sliced cake, as it shows the fondant thickness - about 1/8" of an inch. I haven't have many fondant-covered cakes that have such a thin covering, as it's much much harder to get a smooth even surface (I'm still working on that point).
Close-up of the ranunculus
The cake was delivered in the office, with a small group a friends and myself present to explain the entire process. It was a pleasure to go through the different aspects of the cake to a truly appreciative audience, and was the perfect expression of the whole purpose of making these cakes - a complete, multi-layered experience.