Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Swirly Roses Birthday Cake!

When I posted pictures of our first ombre (graduated colors) cake on Facebook, a dear friend said she would love step-by-step directions.  So, since I was going to attempt the cake again for Sarah's birthday, I took many pictures for this little lesson.

I am a big fan of the Cake Mix Doctor, and almost always start with one of her recipes.  One of my favorites is the Bride's White Cake (which I usually make for Sarah's birthday, topped with fresh raspberries).  I've made it so many times, I know the recipe by heart.
(but I'll show you the page from  my cookbook, anyway-- what a mess!)

Here's what you will need:
(Wow, I feel like The Pioneer Woman!)

Bride's White Cake, a la The Cake Mix Doctor
First, preheat your oven to 350.  Adjust your oven racks so that your oven is divided in thirds.   Grease and flour 4-9" round cake pans.  Or, if you are lazy like me, use Baker's Joy, one of the best baking inventions ever.

(This is the recipe for 1 2-layer cake; for this ombre version, I did this twice.)
1 box white cake mix (I always use Duncan Hines.  Always.)
1 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla (Jackson County's Marion-Kay, of course!)

Put all ingredients in mixing bowl.  Don't use a big powerful mixer (like a pink Kitchenaid) as they incorporate too much air into the cake -- instead, use a hand mixer (when I read this hint in her book, I thought the Cake Mix Doctor was just being cautious, but she was so right.)  On a low speed, mix for about 30 seconds.  Scrape the bowl, and on medium speed, beat for 2 minutes.  Be sure to beat for the entire 2 minutes.  (Believe me, I have proven that hint correct, as well.)  Now you could stop here, divide your batter between two pans and have a beautiful white cake.

BUT, if you want to make a fancy, ombre cake, get out your food dyes!  Make the two recipes of white cake, then divide each batch in two -- into 4 bowls.  This is going to make a nice, tall cake!  (However, it would be easy to make just one cake batter recipe and divide that into 4 bowls -- you would just reduce the baking time, since the layers would be thin.)
The tinting is just a little tricky, but you can do it!  For the purple cake, we started with the lightest layer, using just a bit of violet Wilton gel color.  Then, a little more for the second layer, etc., etc.  Just take your time, and add a little bit of color at a time.

I decided to call this cake "The Sunrise Cake"; I started with a soft yellow for the 1st layer.  For the second, I started with the yellow again, but then added orange, little by little, until it was a nice yellow-orange.  The third layer was orange, then for the 4th, I started with the orange and added red.  Just like the color wheel!  (The colors you see in the bowls are very close to the colors you will see in the finished cake -- just a little more vibrant after baked!)

Transfer the batter to your prepared pans, and bake at 350 for 25-28 minutes, two layers on each oven rack, leaving space between the pans.  Rotate cakes and switch racks after 14 minutes so the cakes on the bottom rack don't get too brown.  Cakes are done when they spring back when poked with your finger, or when a toothpick comes out clean.

( I must interject a sad Sunrise Cake story.  My dear Clay, kitchen cleaner and helper extrordinare, offered to switch the pans half way through the baking time so I could go upstairs and write a bit.  Unfortunately, the pot holder he used was damp, his fingers were scorched and he dropped one of the pans while saying something sweet, I'm sure.  So, we lost a layer -- which will become apparent in some of the following photos):
Small sigh

Let your cake layers cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the outside, invert the cakes, then invert again so that the crown of the cake is pointing up (yet another appreciated CMD hint). Let the layers cool completely. When they are cool, trim each layer to the same height, using a serated knife. There are all sorts of fancy ways to do this, but here's my way:

Choose something in your kitchen that's a little more narrow than your layers and use that as your guide, cutting a small channel all around each layer (for this cake, my toothpick box was perfect.)  Slice through the cake using that channel as a guide, then carefully lift the excess cake off and feed it to your loved ones.  Presto!  Nice even layers!

Meanwhile, make the white chocolate/cream cheese frosting.  (I doubled this recipe, too.)
White Chocolate/Cream Cheese Frosting
6 ounces of white chocolate, chopped and melted over a double boiler then allowed to cool  (I use Ghirardelli bars)
1-8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the cream cheese and butter for about a minute, or until they are nice and smooth.  Mix in the white chocolate and beat for 30 seconds or so.  And then, mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla (I always make a mess at this point) and beat for a minute or so.  When it is just right, stop.

Now you're going to divide the frosting into four bowls, but a little differently than you did for the cake batter -- one bowl should have about 1/2 of the frosting, and the remainder split evenly between the other 3 bowls.   This is so that you can:  A) ice a thin layer of frosting on each cake layer, B) pipe a dam around each layer, C) put a crumb layer over the entire cake and D) still have plenty of frosting for decorating the top of the cake in the swirly roses.  Tint the icing just as you did for the batter.
I like a little jam/jelly/marmalade in my cake; for this one, I used lemon curd.  Spoon 2 tablespoons of lemon curd for each layer into a small dish and give it a good stir to make it smooth and spreadable.  Now you're ready for assembly!
Choose the 3 (or 2, in my case) deepest-color layers; ice each layer with a thin layer of the frosting.  Pipe a dam of icing all the way around and fill that dam with the lemon curd.  Something like this:

Stack the layers color-wise, and place the lightest-colored layer on the top, cut side down (this gives you a nice top surface for smooth frosting.)  Crumb coat the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting, and put in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

I thought I would be extra fancy, and fill the piping bag with all  4 colors, hoping for a gradual color change (you can see the bag in the messy picture with the four bowls of frosting).  It did work nicely, but there wasn't enough room in the bag for all the frosting it took to get around the cake, so I had to improvise a bit and use a second bag, refilled with the color I was working on.  Actually, I don't think you can tell.  Next time, I would fill 2 or 3 bags that same way -- I think that would work.

To pipe the swirly roses, fit your piping bag with a star tip, and starting at the center of each rose, just make a concentric circle.
Start piping roses in a row on the bottom of the cake and work your way up.  Whenever your frosting seems to get a little warm, and doesn't make a crisp swirl, just put your piping bag in the freezer for a few minutes.  I did this several times in the course of working on this cake.

When you get to the top of your cake, just fill it all up with roses.  Remember, they don't have to look perfect to be beautiful (words to live by!)
I always have some little points of frosting -- dip your finger in some cornstarch and just tap those down:
There you go!

And here is our birthday girl!
And a slice!
(it still looks pretty with just 3 layers, doesn't it?)

Peace.  And swirly roses.


  1. someone asked me what all you can do and I told them it would be easier to tell them what you can't do....which I said I don't think there is anything that you can't do. You just amaze me!
    love this and love you.