I always have headache in May. Not because of Aspiring Bakers (but the AB event in May this year did add to my stress level), but because my son's birthday falls in May, and I have to bake him a nice cake for celebrating in school. Not just any cake, it has to be a nice train cake. You dunno him, he has very high expectations of everything, including his birthday cake. Last year I made him 2 cakes. I invited his best friend (just one boy, luckily not the whole class!) over for a small party at home and I made him an aeroplane cake, which somehow for one reason or another, he didn't like it at all, in fact he didn't take a single bite. I dunno why, I thought it was pretty nice, I was rather proud of it! Then for the celebration at school, it was a cake with fondant choo-choo-train which he went completely gaga over it.
This year I asked him few weeks ago what he wanted. At first, he said he wanted a tractor cake. Then few days ago, he changed his mind and said he now wants the same train cake as last year, a very long one, and must have cargo trains filled with chocolates and sweets. He said "Ik wil een heel lange train cake, met aanhangwagen en snoepjes".
Do I have to make exactly the same cake as last year? Very sian (boring) you know? And also a lot of effort you know? He doesn't know and he doesn't care, of course.
So I spent many days poring over the internet for ideas. I first saw this nice train cake from Kristin, which I was very impressed with. It was a multi-tiered fondant-covered train cake with a winding slope around the cake. Very very beautiful but technically very challenging. I did a simple fondant train topper with train head and cargo trains last year, but I have not attempted covering a whole cake with fondant, so I asked Kristin a few questions about making the train cake, and she kindly answered all my questions, even providing me recipes of her marshmallow fondant and buttercream. I promised her I will try my best to attempt the cake.....but time was not on my side and I was really not confident enough to make the winding slope. Making the house cake with farm and garden on Sat and holding the birthday party on Sun had already flattened me out, and I had only Sun night and Mon (a public holiday) left for the train cake for school. Luckily I had already made the cakes beforehand on Thurs, but still there was a lot of work to be done. So I had to settle for something simpler. It was originally a simple cake which grew beyond proportions to become a very complicated cake, hahaha!
Anyway, as promised, here is the part 2 of the 2 tier fondant train cake which I finished on Monday 20 May 2013, part 1 has already been posted here.
I tried to take photos along the way to illustrate, but it was difficult when my hands were sticky, in addition I was already running late in schedule. Nevertheless, I still managed to take some step-by-step snapshots of how I made the cake. Hopefully this will be useful to bakers who would like to have a try at making a fondant-covered cake. This is my first time doing a fondant cake, so I am not an expert either, I am just sharing what little that I know. :)
1) First make 4 cakes in advance and chill them in the fridge. I made two 7-inch cakes (steamed chocolate cake recipe) and two 8-inch cakes (baked chocolate cake recipe) on Thursday night, 3 days in advance. The reason why I used steaming and baking at the same time was to save time, as I had to make 4 cakes on one night. The cakes were sealed first in 2 layers of plastic clingwrap and then individually in ziploc bags, so as to keep them fresh and moist. Chilling in the fridge also serves to harden the cakes, making it easier for cutting and crumbcoating.
2) Prepare your favourite frosting for crumbcoating the cakes. (I used ready-made buttercream bought from a cake-supplies shop, that required only the addition of butter and liquid and whisking for 10 minutes till light and fluffy. 250g of ready-made buttercream + 250g butter + 100ml liquid yielded 1 portion (1/2 kg) of buttercream. I prepared 2 portions, which was 1 kg in total, but it was way too much. In the end, I only used up 1 portion or 1/2 kg of buttercream.)
3) Use a sharp serrated knife to level the top of the cake.
4) Then turn the 2 cakes with the top facing each other so that the flat base of the cake is either facing downwards on the cakeboard or facing upwards. Apply a layer of frosting between the 2 cakes.
5) Then crumbcoat the cake and let it chill in the fridge to harden. (I forgot to chill the cake after crumbcoating so the buttercream frosting was kind of melting when it was time to apply the fondant.)
6) Now the 2 crumbcoated tiers are ready for fondant to be applied.
7) Now it's time to prepare and color the fondant. Use a toothpick to dip a little of the food colouring and prick all over the fondant. Then sprinkle some icing sugar (or cornstarch or mixture of both) on a clean dry work surface and knead the fondant to a smooth pliable consistency. Add more colouring if the colour is not deep enough and knead further. If the fondant gets too dry, you can smear some baking spray or crisco shortening and knead it further. If it gets too sticky, sprinkle some icing sugar or cornstarch and knead it further. (You can prepare your own marshmallow fondant but I am using 1 kg of ready-made white marshmallow fondant bought from a cake-supplies shop, and I used wilton royal blue colour.)
8) Now I get a nice baby-blue ball of fondant. I kept it sealed in clingwrap to avoid drying out. Then I divided the fondant into 2 portions, one of 600g for the lower tier and one of 400g for the upper tier. I referred to the wilton fondant sizing website for calculating how much I needed for each cake tier. Based on my calculation, a 7-inch diameter, 3-inch thick cake would require 16 oz (450g) of fondant, whereas a 8-inch diameter, 3.5 inch thick cake would require 21 oz (600g) of fondant. Because I didn't want to open the other 1 kg pack of fondant, I just stuck to 1 kg, when in fact I needed about 1050g!
9) On a clean dry worksurface, dusted with icing sugar and/or cornstarch, roll the fondant using a rolling pin until the required diameter is reached. To calculate the diameter of the fondant you need, use the cake diameter + 2 times the height + some buffer. For eg for the smaller cake, it was (7" + 3"x2 + 2" extra buffer) = 15" total, and for the bigger cake, it was (7.5" + 3.5"x2 + 2" extra buffer) = 17" total. I only realised on hindsight that the 2 inch buffer was barely enough, but even with a 2 inch buffer, my rolled fondant was already paper-thin and it eventually tore at the seams, which means I actually needed more than 1 kg of fondant! So the moral of the story is always to provide more buffer and make sure your fondant is not thinner than 1/4 inch, otherwise it will break easily.
10) Drape your fondant onto the rolling pin, and carefully transfer it onto the cake. A useful tip is to ensure that the side which touches the work surface (i.e. coated with icing sugar) is facing up, so that when you drape it over the cake, you can simply roll the fondant over. You should place your cake on a turntable or lazy susan, so that you can turn the cake as you smooth out the fondant. I only have one lazy susan, so one of them had to be placed on a plate on top of a big bowl as shown in the picture below.
11) Smooth the fondant using a fondant smoother both on the top of the cake and on the sides.
12) As you can see, I am not an expert. My fondant was rolled too thin and it broke at a few places near the seams. Luckily I could hide the blemishes later using some candy strips and cookies.
13) Cut away the excess using a pizza-cutter or a sharp knife, I didn't cut everything off straight away, I left some margins to conceal the cake board which I was going to place below the smaller cake (upper tier).
14) Prepare a round cake board for supporting the upper cake tier. My upper cake tier was 7-inch, so I needed something smaller, a 6-inch round cake board. This was made using cardboard, with both sides wrapped in aluminium foil and a hole was pricked in the centre. Smear the cake board with buttercream or any other frosting on both sides and stick it to the bottom of the upper cake tier.
15) Then for the lower (bigger) cake tier, you can either use wooden dowels or plastic lollipop sticks or even hard sturdy straws as support pillars. I used Wilton cake pop sticks as support pillars. I pricked a few holes near the centre of the cake (you don't want the holes to appear outside the diameter of the upper cake tier) and cut the support pillars to the desired height of the lower cake tier. I also cut a hole right in the middle of the lower cake tier, and cut a stick that was long enough to go through the upper cake tier but not pierce through its fondant surface.
16) Finally I assembled both cakes together. My 2-tier cake was pretty high, about 17.5 cm and very heavy too!
17) Next, I covered up the blemishes and imperfections of the fondant by sticking candy strips and cookies onto the fondant with buttercream, and I continued to decorate further with fondant train toppers on top. To save time, you can prepare the fondant train toppers days in advance and keep them wrapped in plastic clingwrap.
18) After many days of hard work, this was how my 2-tier fondant train cake looked like!
I hope you have enjoyed the tutorial. For more pictures of the cake, pls refer to part one.