I was very excited to pick up this month’s Martha Stewart Living and see an article, “A Cake Takes Shape,” on using sheet cakes to make animal shaped cakes. A couple of months ago Jaime and I did something similar to make a hot air balloon cake for a baby shower.
I was tasked with making a hot-air balloon themed cake for a friend’s baby shower, a task that I delightfully accepted and then promptly roped my husband into. I didn’t want to have to buy new pans for the cake, after all I didn’t see myself making many hot-air balloon themed cakes, so I made do with two basic 9” round pans and a 9 x 13” sheet pan. We had quite a bit of extra cake that we didn’t need for the balloon, that we happily ate. You could probably make this with three 9″ rounds.
To make templates for the cake, I traced one of my round pans onto a piece of parchment paper and cut it out. I then drew a basket shape on a piece of parchment paper and cut it out. I played around with the alignment of these templates and tweaked the shape of the basket until I was happy with them.
a little very crunched for time with this one—we were transporting the cake by DC cab well after the shower started—which accounts for the lack of step by step photos. Taking a large two layer cake in a DC cab is something I’ll be happy to never repeat, but at the time the alternatives—taking the metro or finding parking near Dupont Circle on a Saturday afternoon—seemed worse. The cake made it to the shower in once piece, although I had to do a couple minor touch-ups at the shower. I have a whole new appreciation for the contestants on the Ultimate Cake Off.
I adapted the recipe for this vanilla cake from Robert Carter’s Ultimate Coconut Cake (Peninsula Grill) recipe on on the Martha Stewart website. This is a very dense, rich cake, which I’ve found holds its shape well when cut.
To make the vanilla cake, I used:
- Shortening and flour (to grease and flour the pans)
- 2 pounds (8 sticks) unsalted butter
- 6 cups sugar
- 12 eggs
- 9 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons baking power
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons vanilla extract
To make the cake, I preheated the oven to 325 degrees and greased and floured two 9-inch round cake pans and one 9 by 13 inch rectangular cake pan.
Using a stand mixer, I creamed the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes until the butter and sugar mixture was light and fluffy. I added the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
I combined the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) in a large bowl. I mixed together the heavy cream and vanilla in a medium bowl.
With the mixer on low, I added the flour and cream mixtures to the butter mixture, alternating between the flour and cream mixtures. I mixed the batter until just combined.
I spread 1/4 of the batter into each of the round pans and the remaining batter (1/2) into the rectangular pan using a rubber spatula.
I cooked the cake for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake came out clean).
While cakes were baking, I made a simple syrup and buttercream frosting.
To make the simple syrup, I used:
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
I combined the water and sugar in a small saucepan. I heated the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture boiled and the sugar dissolved. I removed the syrup from the heat and let cool.
To make the buttercream frosting, I used:
- 1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks), at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 6 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream (more if needed to achieve the right consistency)
Using the stand mixer, I beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar and beat until light and fluffy. I added the vanilla and heavy cream and continued to beat until combined.
Once the cakes were cool, I removed the cakes from the pans and used my parchment template to cut the sheet cake into a basket shape. I brushed each layer of the cake with the cooled simple syrup.
I placed about 1 1/2 cups of the frosting into a small bowl and used that frosting to crumb coat the pieces of the cake. I wrapped the crumb coated cake in plastic wrap and placed it and the remaining frosting in the fridge overnight. (You could probably cut down the refrigeration time, but at this point I needed some sleep!)
In the morning, I made a quick strawberry filling.
To make the strawberry filling, I used:
- 3 cups chopped frozen strawberries
- Sugar to taste (I used about 1/4 cup)
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- Lemon juice to taste (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 cup water
I placed the frozen strawberries, the sugar, the lemon juice, and about half of the water in a medium saucepan and cooked over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the berries were thawed. I mixed together the cornstarch and remaining water and added the mixture to the saucepan. I continued to stir the mixture in the saucepan until the filling boiled and thickened. I removed the filling from the heat and cooled.
When the filling was completely cooled, I spread the filing over one layer of the crumb coated cake and topped with the remaining layer of cake. (Note the basket part of the cake was a single layer without filling.)
I then crumb coated the filled cake. I wrapped the cake in plastic wrap and placed the cake in the fridge for about an hour.
Jaime and I then mixed the remaining frosting, at room temperature, until it was spreadable. We divided it into three bowls and dyed it yellow, green, and brown with food coloring.
We couldn’t find a cake board large enough for this cake, so we placed the cake on a piece of cardboard (from a food box) covered with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. We assembled the cake on the board, using straws for the ties between the balloon and basket.
We frosted the cake, using a round tip for the details on the balloon and a basket weave tip for the basket weave on the basket. We added candy accents on the balloon and basket.
We surrounded the cake with sun and cloud shaped sugar cookies. We did not have a cloud cookie cutter so I used a small round biscuit cutter to cut clusters of circles. (I pushed down the cutter all the way on the outside edge of the cluster, but did not push the cutter all the way down on the inside of the cluster.) I used the sugar cookie recipe I blogged about here for the sun and clouds.