Another trial run for my LOTR food theme party. Finding 23K gold dust at a baking supply shop and hearing tell of others' forays into One Ring cakes made this experiment inevitable.
When I considered the cake, a few things became a priority. The cake must taste and look good. It must keep well for several days because logistically, I will need to spread out the party preparations and I already have too many things that need to be made the day before. It also shouldn't taste like chocolate as I already use chocolate in several other things. After some research, I decided on a pale, rich, white chocolate layer cake, with a cognac buttercream and apricot preserves for between the layers. This combination continues the gold theme into the cake, which satisfies my inner Martha Stewart.
I then decided to cover the cake with rolled fondant. It provides the perfect, porcelain smooth surface for applying the gold dust, and also serves to keep the cake fresh longer. So the cake can be made several days in advance, and if necessary, frozen for even longer. This also means that, under the fondant, any pleasing combination of flavors can be used for the cake. Chocolate cake with raspberries and white chocolate mousse covered with a chocolate fondant comes to mind.
In making this cake, I have found one resource sufficient; The Cake Bible. Please note that I do not include any recipes here. This write up is full of advice on how to make a cake look like the One Ring, not how to bake. Not only don’t I wish to violate the incomparable Rose Levy Beranbaum’s copyrights, but this write up is quite long enough already (19619 characters!). And anyway, it doesn’t matter what I used. Just about any cake that can take a bit of handling will work for this, as will all sorts of fillings and frostings. Just use what you like.
How big should the cake be? As big as possible was my opinion, but use whatever fits your needs. The ring shape is achieved by placing a smaller pan inside a larger and baking the batter in the gap between the two. Just make sure that the large pan will fit in your oven, and sit level. I use a 17’’ and 12’’ pan. These are both 3’’ deep with false bottoms, also referred to as cheesecake pans. A springform would also work for the larger pan.
Proportions are important. As I learned in my first cake, if the center hole is too small, the cake looks like a giant doughnut. My first effort had a 10’’ hole, was approx. 4.5’’ tall, with the 17’’ exterior diameter. I drastically beveled the edges of the cake because I wanted to reduce the apparent depth of the cake, and the angles I chose made the resemblance to a doughnut worse. I decided that the new cake would be 17’’ exterior, 12’’ interior, and 5-5.5’’ tall. During assembly, I realized that it would be too tall, and I subsequently left out a layer, resulting in a 3 layer cake slightly over 4’’ tall. I may one day purchase a 14’’ pan and try making the cake even closer to realistic proportions. But the narrower the band of cake, the more fragile the layer.
Pictures are up on my website: www.geocities.com/chattering_teeth
So, how many will this cake serve? A 17’’;12’’ ring cake will generously serve between 50 and 65 people. A 17'';14’’ cake will serve about 35-45. Using 0.75-1’’ wide slices for a cake 2-2.5’’ in depth as a guideline, figure out the circumference of the cake you plan to make, and go from there.
Scheduling and Logistics – You rule the ring, it doesn’t rule you.
This is the schedule I follow:
Make the fondant any time in advance or while the cake is baking/cooling, or while the assembled cake is chilling. It is rather stiff when freshly made and becomes easier to roll after sitting for several hours, so it is better to make it in advance. Rolled fondant freezes indefinitely and keeps for a month at room temperature. Rolled fondant is also available in baking supply stores.
Bake the cake layers and allow them to cool thoroughly. This will take hours and is extremely important, as any cake you use will be extremely fragile until it has settled to room temperature. Make the buttercream and leave it at room temperature.
Split the cake into layers. Wash the larger pan and use it to support the cake as you fill it. Alternate layers of cake and filling, allow each layer of buttercream to set before adding the next layer.
Chill the filled cake for several hours so that the buttercream is firm.
Unmold, even out with buttercream, bevel the exterior edges, and cover with fondant.
Set it aside until the fondant is uniformly dry to the touch, ideally overnight.
Apply gold dust, decorate with lettering.
Clearly this is a project which takes at least 2 days, depending on when you start and the size of your cake. Cooling, chilling, assembling, and decorating are quicker for a significantly smaller cake.
How much batter, et al? Quantities are very important as cakes need to go into the oven as soon as they are mixed. If not, the chemical leavening gives out, the mechanical leavening poops out and the cake’s texture suffers. Also, it helps to know ingredient quantities when shopping. My plan so far has been to bake the cake as two 2’’ layers that get split into a total of four 1’’ layers. Why? Well, cutting layers is irksome, but I would rather cut twice for 4 layers than bake 4 layers independently since I only have one pan setup and each batch needs to be completely cooled before being removed from that same pan.
The recipes I’ve used make two 9’’ rounds that are 1.25’’high, or one 2.5’’ high by 9’’ round. Ratio of cake batter based on pan area: (area of the larger pan – area of smaller pan)/by the area of a 9'' pan. Pi is also a constant, so this works out to 1.79. If I wanted a 2.5’’ thick layer, I would need to multiply the cake recipe by 1.79. But I only wanted a 2’’ layer, so: 1.79 x .80 = 1.43. I went with 1.5 for ease.
So, 1.5 batches of batter for each double layer. It turns out that due to other factors a double layer using a yellow butter cake was considerably taller than I had expected and I ended up with a 2.5'' double layer.
Moving on to the filling. Thank goodness there is a table in the Cake Bible. It declares that one needs 1 cup between each layer and for the top of a 9’’ round cake. This is for a 0.25’’ thick layer of buttercream. I multiplied this by 4 for layers and top and then multiplied by 1.8. This leads to 7.2 cups of buttercream. A little extra is good so I made it an even 8 cups. After actually making the cake, I used some on the sides to fill in gaps. 8 cups was just barely enough for 3 layers and the sides.
How much jam? It is just to glaze the layers, and I used most of two 15 oz. jars of apricot jam. I pureed the jam in a blender so it would spread evenly and thinly.
Then there is the fondant. According to the book, 2.5 pounds is enough to cover a 9’’ x 4’’ round cake. So, 2.5 x 1.8 = 4.5. I rolled it slightly thinner than 0.25’’ and used about 3.75 pounds.
Implementation – Forging the ring.
Preparing and baking the cake: Grease the larger pan, line the bottom with parchment paper (you may need to use 2 pieces for a very large pan), grease again (even the center where the smaller pan will sit) and then flour the pan. Grease and flour the exterior sides of the smaller pan. Center the smaller pan in the larger.
Follow all the instructions on your recipe and fill the cake pan, being careful not to shift the center pan. Level the batter and place the pan in the oven. Make sure that it sits level. My first effort did not, and I ended up with an interesting problem of vastly uneven layers.
Bake, cool completely, unmold the cake and carefully remove it to a holding surface. A piece of foil is sufficient. Wash and dry the cake pans and repeat for the second double layer. Make the buttercream during all the waiting, but be sure to keep it at room temperature until you are ready to frost the layers.
Unmolding the cake is easier if you slide an offset spatula between the parchment paper and the bottom of the pan. This will allow you to ease the edge of the cake onto your holding surface, and then using the spatula to encourage the cake to stay put, you can pull the bottom of the pan free. To remove the parchment paper, run the spatula between the paper and the bottom of the cake, and then gently pull out from inside the hole. The parchment paper can be wiped free of crumbs and reused. In fact, you will need it again for frosting the cake, so don’t throw it out just yet.
Cutting layers and assembly: Now, you could do this directly on the final presentation surface, but I assembled the split layers of cake back into the large cake pan, so that the cake had extra support while being frosted. If it is a very large cake, as mine is, and unless you have a spare pan bottom of the right size or some other extremely large flat item with which to shift the cake layers, most of the split layers will need to be cut into two or three pieces. DO NOT cut the foundation layer in pieces, however. Instead, line the pan bottom with the parchment paper, and slide it under the foundation layer. A long offset spatula works wonders for this as the parchment will want to go sliding all over the place. Or, you could just use the bottom layer of the second cake, which will already be on the pan bottom, on parchment. Then, place the bottom, layer and all, back into the pan.
I used a pasteboard strip 1’’ wide by 8’’ long (which I had cut off the back of a notepad) as my splitting template. This left me with a 1.5'' layer which I used for my cake foundation. Resting the bottom edge of the template against the table, and using a long, sharp, thin, serrated knife, I first made a shallow cut all the way around the exterior, holding the knife against the top edge of the template and sawing into the cake. Then holding the template on the inside of the ring, and following the first shallow cut, I pushed the knife through the cake until the tip came out on the inside of the ring and rested on top of the pasteboard guide. I then carefully cut the layer free following the guide on the inside and the shallow cut on the outside. I then cut my 2nd and 3rd layer into half circles.
Splitting can also be done with a cake leveler, and this is where cutting the cake into pieces becomes convenient. The leveler does not have to be wide enough to span the entire width of the cake. Since you will need to cut some layers into 2 or 3 pieces anyway, simply adjust the leveler to the right height and push it down through the cake until the legs rest on the table. Then proceed to cut the layer free. Just be careful while removing the leveler or else you may snag the cake and tear off a bit.
Glazing and frosting: Heat the jam until it is bubbling hot. Glaze all the split layers on top and sides with a thin layer of the jam, and let them dry. Then, proceed to fill the cake, spreading a layer of buttercream about 0.25’’ thick on the foundation layer, placing it in a cold spot to chill until the buttercream is firm, and then repeating until the entire cake is frosted, including the top. The sides of the cake do not matter as much at this point, just make sure you have good even layers of buttercream. Also, when reassembling layers that have been cut into two or three pieces, be sure to off set the cuts on the next layer, or it can lead to a weak structure. Chill until firm and then unmold onto the intended serving surface.
I use a 24’’ square hardboard purchased from Home Depot and which I cover with poly foil. Move the cake to the board and remove the pan bottom. Slide the spatula between the cake and the parchment and then gently pull the parchment out from the middle as before. Fill any gaps and uneven spots on the interior and exterior of the cake with more buttercream. However, be sure that only the gaps are filled, don't build up the depth of the cake at all. Press the spatula gently against the cake and pull it around the whole circumference so that you have perfectly flat perpendicular-to-the-table sides to the cake. This is easier with a cake turntable and that invaluable large offset spatula. Using a sharp paring knife, bevel the outside top and bottom edge of the cake by 0.5’’ at a 45 degree angle. Smooth the frosting again and coat any newly exposed cake thinly. The cake is now ready to cover with fondant.
Covering with fondant: I like to flavor the fondant with almond extract for this cake so it actually tastes good. Roll out pieces long enough to reach from the inside of the cake to the outside, with a bit of extra. The pieces should be fairly wide as well as the seams are difficult to mask. However, fondant tears readily, so use pieces that you can handle comfortably. Press the fondant to the cake gently, so that it adheres to the buttercream. Smooth it from the top down the sides, and make sure there are no bubbles. Bubbles can be smoothed away if there is an open edge, but must be pricked with a pin once the cake is completely covered. Trim the fondant on the inner and outer base of the cake leaving a small amount of excess. Tamp it to the base of the cake, and define the beveled bottom edge. The side edges of the sheet of fondant should be fairly even and smooth so that the next piece can be trimmed to match it easily. Roll another piece of fondant, overlap it slightly with the previous, and repeat. Using a sharp knife, trim where it overlaps to about 1/16th of an inch, then pushing at the fondant gently, coax the cut edges to meet. Continue until the entire cake is covered and all the edges and seams are as neat as you can get them. Then, taking a piece of fondant about the size of a large egg, break it up and mix it with about 1 tablespoon of almond extract, vodka, vanilla, or other spirit. Keep in mind that vanilla, as well as other things, will tint the fondant. Mix until a smooth, thick paste is formed. Using a spatula, spackle the seams and any dents or rough spots, until the surface of the cake is as even as you can make it. Allow the cake to dry. Be careful moving the cake. If the board flexes, the surface of the fondant will craze.
Applying the gold: All that glitters is not gold, sometimes it’s luster dust.
I used 23K gold dust both of the times I made this cake, about 4 grams per cake due to waste. I have, however, tested luster dust in Old Gold. It works just as well, although it takes a bit more to be as opaque and it glitters more.
Dissolving the gold dust in vodka and painting it on leads to a thick, unappetizing spray-painted craft project look. Dabbing it onto moistened fondant leads to a mottled surface and takes forever. Unless you have an airbrush, blowing it onto a wet surface is wasteful and leads to gold lung. Applying it directly with a dry brush to a dry surface is by far the best method. It has the least amount of waste, is the easiest to do and control, and has the most consistent results. Since I inhaled so much gold dust from my last effort, I’ve been feeling rather consumptive, so avoiding personal injury is another side benefit of dry brushing. Any relatively soft brush will work. Basically apply as if applying blush, a bit at a time, and add more to reach the desired density of color.
Why dry? Well, this is especially important if you are using gold dust. When mixed into a substance, rather than resting on top, it turns a nasty greenish grey. Since the brush is essentially rubbing the surface of the fondant, you risk leaving patches rough with the action of the brush that may also exhibit a dirty grey color that you will just have to cover up when they are dry anyway.
Applying the lettering: This is my favorite part. I use an ink made of vodka, red, orange, and yellow powdered food colorings, old gold, Aztec gold, and rouge flamme luster dusts. The ink is intensely colored and somewhat thick. This prevents it dripping and running as I write on the vertical sides of the cake, and it offers good coverage. I apply it with a #1 natural bristle brush directly onto the cake. I find it easiest if I print out a copy of the inscription scaled close to the required dimensions, and then I do one phrase per quadrant of cake. Both inscriptions are read right to left, which means that the phrases run counter clockwise on the exterior of the cake and clockwise on the interior of the cake. It is awkward doing the lettering on the inside of the cake, so just take it slow. The lettering will dry within an hour.
Serving: It is important to keep the cake at cool room temperature when serving. Too warm and the buttercream will soften to the point where it is difficult to cut the cake and serve it. Use a sharp knife and cut firmly through the fondant. If the cake has warmed up due to factors beyond your control, the fondant will peel away from the cake and the layers will slide around. To help reduce these effects, cut slightly wider slices. Also, pierce the fondant with the tip of the knife and cut through the layer of fondant before slicing the cake.
Beranbaum, Rose Levy. The Cake Bible. William Morrow & Co., Inc. New York. 1988.
Recipes I have used for this: White Chocolate Whisper Cake, All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake, Neoclassic Buttercream, Rolled Fondant.
New York Cake and Baking Distributors: 56 W. 22nd Street, between 5th & 6th 212-675-2253, nycakesupplies.com.
- My source for pans, glycerin, powdered food coloring, luster dust, gold powder, and hours of good clean fun. The chocolate is overpriced, though. Their website does not support online ordering, but they will do phone orders. Unfortunately their site is also not particularly well supported. Lots of missing pictures and incomplete descriptions. However, a google search for luster dust will result in many baking supply sites.
- This is a site I've recently discovered for candy making supplies. They've a full range of cake baking supplies as well, an almost exhaustive list in fact. The site is fully operational, if a little clunky. Go and be amazed at the scope of materials available!