My caking problem: Underestimating a cake design

I am not sure if it is just me, but one of the things I always mess up with is underestimating a cake design. This usually happens when I really like a specific theme or design, and somebody asks me to make it for the first time. Since I am overwhelmed by my eagerness to make the cake and because I have imagined making this cake for a very long time, I think that pulling it off would be “a piece of cake.” But I am dead wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Case in point: this 3D hot air balloon cake that I made for a first birthday yesterday.

hot air balloon cake
Rainbow colored hot air balloon cake with cloud cupcakes

I’ve already talked about my love for hot air balloons and how I want to make a hot air balloon cake. Well, I got my wish when I received this order. I was ecstatic and excited. Finally, I thought, I would get to make one of the cake designs on my wish list! This would be a lot of fun! What could go wrong? After all, only the basket of the hot air balloon would be cake; the balloon itself could be made from a styrofoam ball but I’ll cover it in fondant. That should be easy. I’d request for the lines on the styro balloon to be carved so that I wouldn’t have to measure the size of each panel/portion. I’d cover the cake in buttercream frosting and pipe basketweave all over it. Easy peasy! “This is a going to be a simple but beautiful cake,” I thought. I was WRONG.

Let’s start with the cake basket since it was the first thing that I did. Just before I started on this project, I saw a video by Malaysian food blogger Azlita Aziz where she was piping a basketweave pattern on her cake. (I saw the video on Facebook, but I can no longer find it. Please click the previous link to find her blog. Her blog is not written in English, but the pictures and videos are awesome; you’ll definitely learn from them.) Perfect! It was exactly what I needed! So here’s me piping the basketweave pattern on the cake.

basketweave pattern
I just started, so this looks perfect! (Please don’t mind the styro base. I’ll cover that with ribbon later.)
basketweave buttercream pattern
I used this scraper to draw lines on the cake as a guide.

The cake is 7 inches round by 5 inches thick, moist chocolate, covered with chocolate American buttercream frosting. The icing I used for the basketweave pattern is reddish brown in color (I just added a few drops of red to my chocolate buttercream), and I used a round tip (it was made in China, so it didn’t have a proper measurement, but it is probably equivalent to a Wilton 2 or 3). I used a scraper to draw lines on the side of the cake as a guide, and I mounted the cake on a tilting turntable to make things easier for me. When I first started, my lines were still perfect, and fresh hands applied a steady pressure on the icing bag. Eventually, gravity took a toll on my right arm, and my lines began to get fatter and more wobbly! And I wasn’t even halfway around the cake! Azlita Aziz’s video made it look so easy. I wasn’t expecting it to be this difficult!

I made a few boo-boos here and there when my hand wanted to give up, but I didn’t stress a lot about them. The pattern is too intricate for those mistakes to be noticeable. The party guests are not going to inspect every inch of the cake! Chill!

After I finished the basket, I placed it in the cake chiller then I moved on to the styrofoam balloon.

hot air balloon cake
Styrofoam balloon in all its naked glory.

I asked a friend to make this for me. I started working on covering this at 3 pm on Sunday afternoon. I thought that what I would be doing is simple: prepare small fondant portions in seven colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and brown) then cover each panel or portion. As the hours passed by, I slowly realized that covering it is not an easy feat. It was difficult not to touch the other parts as I pushed down and smoothed the fondant. Plus, there were a lot of seams I had to cover up. I used my Walnut Hollow extruder to do the job. I worked non-stop on this part until around 9:30 pm. I made the half-body baby figurine within 30 minutes. My arms, shoulders, and legs (I stand up while working) were all sore when I called it a night.

hot air balloon cake
Styrofoam hot air balloon cake covered in rainbow colored fondant. Colors are so vibrant, thanks to Chef Master Christmas Red, Lemon Yellow, Golden Yellow, Sky Blue, Violet , and Buckeye Brown and Americolor Electric Green.

The following morning, while I frosted the cupcakes and prepared the final touches for the cake, I had to ask my husband to make the structure to hold up the balloon. Being married to a civil engineer has its perks (I am a civil engineer by profession too, but I never practiced. I suck at things like this.) It took him about an hour and a half to complete the support for the balloon. Then off we went to delivery. We assembled the cake on site.

hot air balloon cake
Hot air balloon cake and cloud cupcakes. Pardon the photo quality. I only used my mobile phone.

The most difficult part of this cake was the balloon and the structure. I wasn’t expecting to spend more than six hours on covering the balloon and another hour and a half to fabricate the supports. While I was planning for this cake, I actually thought I would only need four  hours, tops, for both processes to be completed! Well, you’ll never really know until you try. Now I know what to expect when I get another order for a hot air balloon cake.

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