For the first time in the (unspeakable number) years that I’ve been making cake, I had to deliver a cake that I was not happy about having to deliver. It was a 3-tiered cake with 9” round bottom, a 6”X6” round barrel center tier, and a 5”round top tier. Vanilla cake with cream cheese filling and vanilla ermine icing. The cake, filling, and icing were delicious. The decoration was pretty and the fondant went on almost like a dream.
Sometime around 4:00am, I noticed that the top two tiers were starting to lean sideways. They resembled the leaning tower of Pisa on top of the base cake. How that happened, I still don’t know because the cake was doweled to support the upper tiers and there was the single 13” long wooden dowel running through from top to the cake board to keep everything aligned. I added two more 13” dowels to realign the top tiers to the bottom. That only halfway worked.
The worst part for me was that the filling and icing were seemingly melting, causing unsightly bulges in the, once smooth, fondant. Because, this is South Florida, my icing is 50/50 butter and Crisco brand shortening. I’d noticed, while icing the cakes, that the icing seemed a bit softer than usual, but assumed that it would do the right thing once it had a chance to rest on the cake in the refrigerator for a bit. Guess it fooled me because, it set up as usual, but softened again some hours after the cake was assembled, causing the fondant to lump and bulge, the top tier to lose height by a few millimeters, and slowly melting off the gold-painted confetti from the bottom tier.
I stuck it in the freezer, fondant and all, to at least stop the magma-like flow of buttercream underneath the fondant. At 6:00 am, I put on rubber gloves to try to reshape the bulbous top layer. Ok, at 11:30 am, I delivered a lumpy bumpy mess of a cake because I had to deliver SOMETHING. So, here’s a question: What the he’ll happened?!?! This exact combination of flavors and stacking I’d made for a 3-tiered wedding cake back in July, when summer was in full swing, and I didn’t have a moment’s worry then.
I’ve been reading that shortening doesn’t contain hydrogenated oil anymore, causing the shortening to soften, but I’ve never experienced it to this degree! The icing still piped beautifully, but it was not strong enough to keep the cake layers apart. Is there a way to make a stiff consistency buttercream across the board that does not involve adding more confectioner’s sugar (waaaay too sweet) or melted chocolate (not an option for chocolate allergic clients) or refrigerating for a while (only to have it soften again at room temp)? The adding more powdered sugar option is out because I believe that a sweet can be too sweet. It’s not for dietary purposes that I don’t want too sweet icing; all my desserts (including cake) are less sweet than most American desserts because too much sugar, like too much salt or too much scotch bonnet, just masks the FLAVORS of the food. The melted chocolate is not always an option because of possible food allergies, the additional cost (hurting my bottom line) of adding chocolate, the extra time involved in melting and cooling and mixing it in just right so that it doesn’t seize or solidify in tiny chunks in my smooth icing I just find chocolate too volatile to count on it every time. The advice of putting icing in refrigerator for a bit only works if your warm hands have melted the butter too much to pipe cleanly or when you’ve over beaten it and it needs a good sit in the cool to reform itself
So, as I had expected, my client wants to chat with me about the cake. I know that they ate and enjoyed the eating of it. I don’t yet know what she’s going to say, but I’d like some advice from my cake people as to what I could offer her so that she may have satisfaction. I’m not writing any of the ideas that have come to me so far so as to not influence anyone’s advice.
I'm sorry to hear of all the issues that you had. I guess if they ate it and it tasted good you could offer an apology and a partial refund or a free cake at a later date. It's always frustating when things like this happen when you tried to do everything right. Good luck.
it sounds like it was just a bit looser this time -- but more importantly cream cheese filling and ermine icing must be kept refrigerated in order to be safe to consume -- not just for a bit otherwise the food becomes hazardous -- you say it softened some hours later -- you should not have delivered it if it sat out for hours --
you can try adding cornstarch to the icing -- I've never tried it with ermine but it's the go to for American buttercream but if it is held properly you won't have that problem anyway --
best to you
K8memphis, thanks for getting back to me. Yes, the icing was very loose. The cake never had a chance to sit out for hours bc I noticed that and had to keep putting it in the fridge. I kept it in the refrigerator each time I was working on a decorative element. At the last minute, I put the whole thing into the freezer just to be able to reshape the top tier. I’ve always used ermine and NEVER had this happen. I’ll try adding cornstarch to the recipe. Do you suggest using the cornstarch raw or adding it to the cooking process?
Doz, I suppose the cake deities decided to play tricks on me this time!
i'm not sure when to add it -- a tablespoon before cooking would work -- do you have any leftover? try some in that now and see how it does
you might want to sift it into there -- don't know how that will go
K8memphis, I have some left over and will try sifting in the cornstarch. I may also make a small batch with the cornstarch added during the cooking phase; this won’t happen until after the holidays. I’ll let you know when I get the results. Thank you.
would love to know how it goes for you -- thank you
Oh soooo sorry to hear of your troubles :( Good luck w/the customer......I'm rather sure if they were unhappy they would have said so. Sounds like you dodged the bullet this time in that category. Since I have not made ermine icing I can't even offer any suggestions other than to agree w/K8s suggestions.
but if you cook the flour/milk/sugar mixture long enough you should always be fine -- there are some recipes circulating where you add the sugar after cooking the mixture -- sugar is like a liquid so I mean I always added it to my flour & milk -- actually I learned to mix it well into the flour then you add the milk because then you avoid all the lumps -- then turn on the fire --
and I mean I cooked mine over a high flame in a thick pot and stirred it like a crazy woman -- I used a wooden flat blade to keep it from sticking on the bottom because this was pre-silicone days -- but a nice silicone spatula is probably what you use -- then it all got good & hot and when it thickened it went fast -- gotta get it thick enough -- should be perfect -- never had mine run
I have no where near as much experience as -K8memphis or kakeladi, but if you add the cornstarch then cook it, won't the cornstarch make it thicken....like a lot? I've always used either flour or cornstarch to thicken sauces and glazes, so it seems like if you have both in the same pot, you will wind up with a glob???
If they ate the cake and enjoyed it, but your customer was disappointed in the appearance, I think you should explain that sometimes you have issues in the Florida heat and refund no more than 20% of the total cost.
sandra -- yes you're right but the recipe should have already made glop -- then you whip in butter and it turns into a beautiful easy to smooth icing -- so the flour alone should have done that -- maybe something was miscalculated a bit this time or something -- so I was just coming at it from a how to fix this stand point -- then after I thought about it -- if made right and cooked long enough it should be fine as it was for op every other time -- just something went awry -- so adding starch to the glop stage really isn't necessary -- but still fun to find out how it goes --
and yes a refund is in order I agree
I was not disputing anything that was said, just trying to get my head around this cooked flour icing, which I've never made. Now it makes perfect sense. Thanks for clarifying, Kate! I've heard of a lot of people who love it, I've just never given it a try.
it is very ugly before you put the butter in -- it is truly glop
I didn't think you were disputing at all -- I was clarifying my thought process >shudder< hahahaha
That is good to know so if I ever give it a try, I won't panic, lol. I know June uses it all the time and loves it.
Reply coming soon. It’s disappeared 3 times today
you can start a new post and link to this one if it's easier --
K8memphis, I know it’s been a while. There was some heartbreaking family business to arrange.
So, I did try the ermine adding cornstarch to the cooking. While it yielded a tasty and smooth icing, it was really hard on the muscles to stir. I don’t think the Hulk could have stirred the mass if I hadn’t halved the recipe. Secondly, the finished icing had an elastic-like appearance and consistency, so what you first pipe is not how it’s going to look even five minutes later, although it pretty much kept its shape. It doesn’t solidify, so not good support for any amount of layers. And, finally, the icing didn’t melt on the tongue the same way. It held together similar to a Starburst fruit chew, such that you have to crush it onto the palette with your tongue to begin the melting process. It tasted wonderful but had an “elastic” mouth-feel. My son loved it, but it couldn’t do what I expect an icing/filling to do for me. I do thank you
Honestly, this far out from the cake fail, and after all I’ve experienced in this new year 2019, Ive moved on. The one thing that has stuck with me, though, is the client’s statement “it didn’t look like what I expected”. And, truly trying to look at it unbiasedly, I keep returning to the idea that, the falling-apart of the cake notwithstanding, I turned in a cake that I believe had a beautiful design that (again, if not for the Leaning Tower of Pisa situation) was artistically executed better than her original idea/photo. So, I guess my question is how have/do you handle(d) a client’s (mis)concept(ion) in their dream versus how it executed in real life? After all, you cannot account for what is in your client’s mind’s eye.
1universe I make cooked flour/ermine icing all the time. It’s my go to icing. I used cornstarch just once, and as you say, it changed the consistency and taste. I have always doctored my flour icing by adding 2 cups of icing sugar and a couple of tablespoons of meringue powder right at the end of adding the pudding mixture. Helps the icing pipe better, and set firmer. I’ve tried several cooked flour icing recipes, and settled on one that works every time. In the summer when it’s hot and humid I do a 50/50 of cooked flour icing and royal icing. Here is the recipe I use.
After 4 months it’s good you were able to put behind you and move on. And after your remark about how well you executed the wedding cake, I would really like to see a picture of the cake. Can you post here, or a link to where I can see it.
1universe, there are always going to be some people who are not satisfied, no matter how well you do. Just accept that you ran into one of them and let it go. In the big scheme of things, she is unimportant.
Since this post was originally started, I have made June's recipe for Ermine icing and Mike and I both loved it! I made it right by the recipe with no additions and it was great. I wasn't trying to pipe with it though. I also tried a new cake recipe that called for a cream cheese Ermine icing. Again, I made it following the recipe and it is super tasty, but pretty much a bowl of thick soup. I've been spooning in over cakes for family.