For almost a decade, baking has been my favourite method of stress relief. The soothing, familiar process of icing a cake never fails to calm me down when I’m feeling stressed. For a the last few years, I have added drawing and painting to my collection of stress-busting hobbies. When I’m painting, time seems to lose it’s meaning – often I will have no idea if 5 minutes or 5 hours has elapsed because I’m focusing only on the painting in front of me. It’s very therapeutic to focus your attention so acutely on one activity that other worries fade away. I used to get a similar feeling when I was playing golf or doing an intense taekwondo session. Whatever your release, I feel it’s important that you have some sort of hobby that lets you focus and centre yourself.
This cake combines my two passions of baking and watercolour painting. My flatmate asked if I was baking for this any special occasion. I replied that it both was and wasn’t for an occasion. Tonight I’m celebrating one of my best friend’s last weekend in London before she jets off for a 6 month backpacking adventure around South America. Naturally, I had to bake her the infamous Cake of Death. I am also the type of weirdo that starts practising my brother and his fiancee’s wedding cake about a year in advance and made it purely to try out a few new techniques.
From a technical perspective, this cake was both a success and a disaster. Firstly, the disaster… I tried to cover a cake in fondant for the first time only to have it crack irreparably on me twice! The first time I thought I had rolled it too thinly, so I opened my second backup packet of fondant and rolled it out more thickly. Same catastrophic failure! And when I tried to remove the fondant from the cake the second time, the icing stuck to it and made it impossible to roll out again. So I was left with a cake with smudged icing and 1kg of useless fondant. Yay.
However, I was not ready to give up that easily. I salvaged some of the fondant and cut out a circle to put on top of the cake and hide the worst of the damage. Then I thought I’d just do a watercolour doodle on top for the heck of it. The wedding theme is white, lavender, and gold accents. I made edible ‘watercolour paint’ by diluting some gel food colouring with vodka (it evaporates more quickly). It was a bit tricky to work with and the colours were much darker and more muted than I was expecting.
And since this cake was purely for instructional purposes (and I knew the Swindian wouldn’t care so long as she got to eat the cake!) I decided to see if it was possible to paint on buttercream icing. I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The icing was ivory in colour and rougher vs the fondant is snow white and perfectly smooth. But since my brother really doesn’t like fondant, perhaps I will ditch the idea entirely and just do an all buttercream cake. Anyway, I’ve got about 11 months to decide!
Happy Baking and Painting!
Hand Painted Watercolour Cake
Cake of Death
Makes one 3 layer 6″ cake
Note: I have not included instructions on how to paint on the cake. That is still a WIP for me so when I’ve mastered it perhaps I’ll do a specific tutorial on hand painting cakres.
- 1 3/4 cups/220g all-purpose flour
- 2 cups/400g white sugar
- 3/4 cup/ 90g unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup/250 ml strong brewed coffee, room temperature
- 1 cup/250ml buttermilk (add a few tsp of white vinegar or lemon juice to the milk)
- 1/2 cup/125ml vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease, coat with cocoa powder, and line with baking parchment three 6 inch round cake pans. (if you only have two baking tins – like me – just bake the layers in 2 batches and wash the baking tins in between).
- In large bowl combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center.
- Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Batter will be thin. Divide evenly into prepared pans.
- Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Note: these took ages! They are quite thick cakes, so just keep testing them with the tooth pick.
- Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and finish cooling on a wire rack.
- Frost with vanilla buttercream and decorate as desired.
- 250g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 500g icing sugar
- 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
- 4-5 tbsp milk
- Beat the butter and vanilla together until the butter is fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Gradually add in the icing sugar with the mixer on low speed. Add milk as required. Continue slowly adding icing sugar until it is all used up. The amount of milk you may need will vary each time you make the icing. Your icing should be soft enough that you can easily spread it, but firm enough that it holds it shape.
- Beat on high for a further 30 seconds until icing is dreamily fluffy. Use immediately.