When last we met, my chocolate chip cake had just spent 85 minutes baking. I’d lashed together two cooling racks just to fit the darn thing. And just as I was mopping the flop sweat off my brow, I noticed that the center of this very large cake was sinking. Quickly.
I cried. There was nothing else to do.
But then I glanced at the die-cast McQueen I planned to use as my model, and began to wonder if perhaps I could use this sloping to my advantage. The car’s fenders do curve and roll, including a dip right under the windows…
Once the cake was cool enough to handle but still warm, I said a little prayer, placed the doubled cooling rack on top, held on for dear life, and flipped it over. And what do you know: It slipped right out. That dang flower nail sat in the collapsed center like the button in a polka-dotted sofa cushion. I yanked it out and threw it directly into the garbage.
While the cake finished cooling I strategized. If I cut off about three inches from each end, I’d have a 6 x 12 shape with upward slopes at either end. I could use the cut-off sections to build the upper part of the car. That seemed like it just might work.
Using Harry’s toy as a guide, I trimmed the edges until they kinda-sorta looked like McQueen’s fenders. And then I cut the scraps into a 3D puzzle, until I’d cobbled together a cake that actually resembled its intended subject, complete with space for Oreo wheels. I was shocked. Seriously, I didn’t think this was going to work until about 40 minutes in—mid-afternoon, the day before the party—when I stepped back and saw this:
Next up: Gluing the puzzle together using Sara’s Foolproof Frosting, then applying the crumb coat, a thin layer of frosting that would act as a seal, keeping the thousands of itty-bitty crumbs from marring the surface of the finished cake. By then it was late afternoon, time to make dinner (yup, that’s right, I spent the entire day in the kitchen). It was a good point to stop—if you don’t allow your crumb coat to crust over a bit, it won’t do its job properly.
After dinner was cleared away, all that was left was what I’d been dreading all along, what I expected to be the hard part (ha! as if what came before was easy): Decorating the cake until it was recognizably McQueen. That’s right, pastry bag time. I mixed up my colors using about a thousand small bowls, in these approximate quantities:
1 1/2 cups red
1/2 cup black
1/4 cup gray
1/4 cup blue
1/4 cup yellow
1/4 cup orange
First up, black outlines, using a number 3 tip. Once I’d sketched out all the bits and pieces that make McQueen McQueen (including the Piston Cup on his hood, which Harry was adamant be included—that’s what makes this a Cars 2 McQueen, not just a garden-variety version), I added the little hits of color, using a number 1 tip for the tiniest details and a 2 for the rest: windows, headlights and taillights, eyes, smile, lightning bolts, and on top a giant 5, for Harry’s age.
I was starting to feel pretty good about this cake.
Not bad, amirite?
Things sped up from there, once I piled red frosting into a bag fitted with a number 16 star tip. This is the absolute easiest way to decorate a cake in a manner that might make people think you know what you’re doing. All you do is hold the bag close to the cake, perpendicular to it, and squeeze out a little dollop. Release the squeeze, pull the bag straight up, and you’ll have a pretty little squiggle of frosting. Apply another right next to it, and another, and another, moving in rows across the cake.
If you look closely you’ll see that I did quite a sloppy job. It was after 10PM and I was tiiiired, too tired for precision. This is why I could never be a pastry chef.
Sometime around 11:00, I called Stephen in to see my masterpiece:
I was thrilled with the way last year’s fire truck cake came out. I was even pretty pleased with the near-disastrous Handy Manny fondant cake. But this cake, my friends, this cake is a cake for the ages. It’s like I had another child.
Such a shame that the thing is, y’know, meant to be eaten. All I have left now is the memory.
So, any tips for me, to make next time easier? Any tales from the trenches of your own cake-making?