When I was a kid, many years ago now, 1st birthdays weren’t celebrated by smashing a cake. We didn’t have elaborate cake creations depicting scenes from favourite movies or shows like Frozen, Dora or Disney. And there was no such thing as paying tribute to a favourite team or sporting idol with your birthday cake. Instead we were happy with a sponge, filled with jam and cream if you were lucky (and not always fresh cream…anyone remember the mock variety?!), with the age appropriate number of candles on top. My, how things have changed. These days, cakes are carefully planned and constructed weeks in advance, with much time and effort going into the baking and decorating, only to be swiftly cut up and devoured on the blowing out of the candles.
This week my brief was to make a “Splatter Cake” for my niece’s 12th birthday. The birthday girl had requested a vanilla cake, purple on the outside with multi-coloured balls as the border and a “12” candle on top, splattered in various colours of “paint”. Compared to some other cakes I’ve been asked to do this one seemed relatively straight forward at first glance, requiring less precision and more “splat” to achieve the desired effect, and I looked forward to getting messy in the kitchen and creating a birthday masterpiece.
I have a few “go-to” recipes in various flavours that I use when it comes to a tiered or fondant covered cake. I usually go with something a bit denser than a sponge or butter cake to ensure it can stand up to the weight of the ganache or buttercream filling, as well as the fondant and decorations on top. For this cake I opted for a white vanilla mud cake with Nutella Swiss meringue buttercream between the layers and a vanilla buttercream on the outside.
I also wanted to create a little surprise inside and had decided to fill the bottom layer with M&M’s. A smaller circle was cut form the middle of the main cake to give me not only a top tier but also somewhere to put the chocolatey treats. After cutting, filling and covering the cake with the buttercream it went into the fridge to firm up before covering with the fondant. I do this so that it’s not too soft and squishy when the fondant goes on, and can be smoothed off easier to give a cleaner and sharper look to the top and sides.
With the buttercream firm, the next step was to cover it in the purple fondant, my niece’s favourite colour, and get ready to splatter. My “paint” was white chocolate, coloured with different shades of food colouring, selected from the many I have in my decorating drawers. One tip when colouring chocolate is to make sure you use a gel or powder based colour as water based colours tend to make the chocolate seize and you end up with a firm unmanageable mess, useless when you need a runny consistency to create the splatter effect. I used white chocolate melts rather than ordinary chocolate as the melts tend to set firmer which is what I wanted for the finished decoration.
My advice when you are ready to splatter is to make sure you cover your surrounding work area in paper, cling film or some other protection as this gets messy! Using a silicone pastry brush I worked with one colour at a time and splattered away over the cake until I got the effect I was after. It’s not often I’m expected to make a huge mess in the kitchen but there was really no other way to get this abstract splatter look onto the cake.
To complete the colourful, playful look for this cake I finished the borders with coloured fondant balls. I wasn’t particularly fussy about getting them all the same size as the splatter on the cake gave it a disorganised feel anyway and so the asymmetry of the balls kind of fit with the whole look. I went for bold, bright colours to stand out against the purple background and give the cake it’s finishing touch.
And so, with cake complete, it was time to deliver it to the birthday dinner and wait for the cutting to reveal the surprise inside. The birthday girl loved it, with the added bonus of a weeks supply of M&M’s to go home with as well. Not sure the parents loved the sugar high the kids went home on, but birthdays only come around once a year and I think they should always be celebrated with a special cake to mark each milestone. It also gives me an excuse to make something memorable for my nieces and nephews, not that I really need one!
Happy Birthday to my beautiful niece. Can’t wait to see what next years cake idea will be!