My birthday is coming up next week. For most people birthdays bring up lots of questions: what do you want to receive? Should you do a night out on the town, or a dinner at home? Did you really think this is what your life would be like by this age? My god, I’m how many years old now?
But for me, the great question is: how do I top The Beehive Cake?
Yes, The Beehive Cake: my last great cake creation, as captured by the cellphone camera of CupcakeMonsterLee.
This cake, which I made a month ago for my boyfriend Dave’s birthday (shout out: he blogs about investing and business-y type things at wonktheplank), was my grandest creation yet. It was conceived in a fit of madness and daring, and was inspired by a Martha Stewart cover that Dave and I glimpsed in the grocery store, and that probably drove up sales of Williams Sonoma’s beehive-shaped cake pan by, oh, three hundred percent or so (really, who’s going to actually go out and purchase a specialty cake pan that she will use once every five years, if not to emulate The Martha?).
Dave thought that it looked so ridiculous, so over-the-top, that of course he wanted me to recreate it for his birthday. For reasons that are still unclear to me, Dave gets a tremendous kick out of elaborately decorated cakes. In fact, he’s still chuckling about the carrot cake I made for his last birthday; the large, cartoon-like frosting carrots that adorned the top sent him into fits of uncontrollable laughter.
Right away, after choosing The Beehive Cake as my new project, I decided against the specialty cake pan. After all, half the fun of making elaborate cakes is figuring out how exactly you will achieve the impossible, and buying a beehive-shaped cake pan that does most of the work for you takes the fun out of it. Instead, I decided to create The Beehive Cake the old-fashioned way: with multiple tiers, frosting, and, of course, a lot of food coloring.
My first step was to make a double recipe of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake from The Cake Bible , which turned out to be perfect for this project because it was sturdy and easy-to work with. I made four layers using cake pans of slightly varying sizes and, once they had cooled overnight, used a serrated knife to round the top of each layers, making them more dome-like.
My next step was to make the frosting and filling – and herein lies the fatal flaw of The Beehive Cake. The frosting and filling I chose were just too sweet for the already-sweet cake layers, and the end result was a little cloying. For the yellow frosting I used butter, milk, powdered sugar and melted white chocolate (and of course, lots of food coloring), but the powdered sugar and white chocolate was just too much. Same thing for the milk chocolate filling – the chocolate and the powdered sugar set your teeth on edge.
Another problem was that I didn’t make enough frosting to execute my original plan of piping yellow frosting all around the cake. Instead, I had to resort to my back-up method: after I sandwiched the layers together with the milk chocolate filling, I spackled on the yellow frosting and smoothed it down with a flat spatula. This method is definitely easier than piping frosting, but it always shows imperfections, and lacked the smoothness that I was seeking.
I was much more pleased with how the little bees that covered the cake came out (I think you can just make them out in the picture), which I made by using chocolate covered-almonds and piping on stripes and eyes using remnants of the yellow frosting. I created the door to the Beehive using the leftover milk chocolate filling, and edging it with white chocolate chips.
In the end, The Beehive Cake had the spectacular look I was going for, but at the end of the day the damn thing was just too sweet. However, this is the wonderful thing about baking: even though it wasn’t perfect, even though it had some flaws, everybody still loved it. Or, if they didn’t, they were far too polite to let me know the truth.
So it brings me back to my original question: how do I top The Beehive Cake?
Obviously, I’ll be focusing more on the flavor of this cake, and trying to make it sweet and celebratory without being cloying. I’ve already decided that I want my flavors to a freshing combination of honey, lemon and lavender, since we’ll be eating this in August in DC and, if history is any judge, it will be 105 degrees out. I may even try to make a more traditional buttercream and see if I can’t achieve the flavorful, but not too sweet, frosting that I’ve been seeking.
As the look of the cake, I’m still waiting on that flash of divine inspiration. Which reminds me, I’ve been meaning to check out the latest Martha Stewart cover.