Our bishop was coming for a special visit to our church and I knew I had to plan a special cake. I baked all the cakes off for my 3 tiered cake and then found out he changed plans and was coming …during period of fasting. I was so frustrated –God forgive me– and then I thought about chucking the whole project, and then I replanned the whole project to be vegan. A lot of components turned out beautifully. Some, not so much. Vegan baking nearly kicked me to the curb this time. But, I wanted to share what I learned and also document it for myself to learn from my mistakes. I also wanted to share some love I felt from DH, my mom and my friends at church which was more important. This post is dedicated to them. Here is the post-game analysis:
I. The Cakes
I used different cakes in each tier so we will take them one by one.
1st tier (did not survive): I used the recipe for the “Double Vanilla-Bean Birthday Cake” from this book which uses flax-eggs. It was a sturdy cake and I enjoyed the taste of the flax seeds but its not for everyone.
3rd tier: The cake was also from this book, “Super-Easy Vanilla Cake.” Overall I liked this vanilla cake the best. It was sturdy. The vanilla was not overwhelmed by the flavor of the flax seeds.
2nd tier: I used Joshua John Russell’s vegan chocolate cake which is available on Craftsy. It uses vegetable oil. I like the taste. It is hard to mess up the taste of a chocolate cake especially when paired with ganache. The texture, due to the vegetable oil, is very moist which makes it difficult for stacking but not impossible.
II. The Fillings
This is how things went south. You are already dealing with less than ideal structure with vegan cakes so you don’t want to introduce soft fillings on top of that. Unfortunately, I did.
1st tier (RIP): I used an aquafaba (for those of you who are not familiar with this very cool product — it is the water drained from chickpeas) based SMBC also from “Modern Vegan Baking.” What is not mentioned in the book but is mentioned in the author’s blog (which, of course, I just read now) this vegan SMBC is too soft at room temp so the cake needs to be refrigerated until serving. Not ideal for a ganache covered cake which you want at room temp. Basically the first tier cracked then collapsed. You might be wondering why there are only 2 tiers in the picture –more about this in the stacking section. Also, you would typically have your butter reach room temp before throwing it into SMBC but Earth Balance buttery sticks have a lower melting temp so keep them in the fridge until just before you add it to your vegan meringue.
Do use vegan SMBC when the cake is both filled and frosted with it so that you can keep it refrigerated.
Do not use it as a filling if you plan on keeping the cake at room temp.
2nd tier: I used vegan ganache mixed with raspberry preserves for the filling. I used soy milk instead of heavy cream for the ganache at a 2:1 ratio of chocolate to soy milk. This was possibly too stiff because the soy milk does not have enough fat. Good for stacking the cake but not ideal for spreading. Next time I will try 1.5:1 ratio of chocolate to soy milk or possibly try coconut cream instead.
3rd tier: I used the vegan SMBC for a dam and then filled with strawberry preserves. The cake held up but it was just too moist. I would use a vegan American buttercream instead.
III. The Frosting
Ganache is my go-to for sturdy cake frostings. I tried using coconut milk at my usual 2:1 chocolate to cream ratio but it was just too stiff. I kept having to reheat the ganache to get it on the cake which was just miserable. It made the cake so difficult to get smooth which led to an inferior finish on the cake. I will try a different ratio next time or coconut cream instead.
I was actually pretty happy with the decorations
2nd tier: The silicone onlay actually turned out pretty well. I used this damask mold from Marvelous Molds. Although the directions say to use cornstarch to prep the mold that did not work at all. I used shortening brushed into the mold instead and it came out beautifully.
3rd tier: I loved how this turned out. I used this Wilton mold with yellow fondant and painted the pieces with Spanish gold luster dust. I hand-cut the Orthodox cross.
The Egg: Rice Krispies treats covered with fondant and more pieces from the Wilton damask mold. I was very proud of this piece in particular.
1st tier (RIP): Its a shame. I airbrushed it with gold and it was very pretty. Most people will tell you not to use water-based airbrush colors on ganache. But I tried making my own airbrush color with luster dust and vodka and it clogged the tip of my airbrush. So I had to use the water-based and it turned out just fine.
V. The Cake stand: This guy made me very angry. It could not handle the weight of the cake. The top tilted.
VI. The Finale: The Stacking aka The Melting Point:
I did not stack the cake until I got to church this morning. The 1st tier which did not make it was already developing a crack due to the soft filling. I thought if I did a lot of doweling I could still stack it. I was wrong. The cake stand tilted, the bottom tier was being crushed by the weight of the second tier. I started hyperventilating. DH was trying to help but my brain was not getting enough oxygen so I could not communicate. When I realized there was no hope I announced we were sacrificing the bottom tier. We had to try to get the two top tiers off. We ended up lifting the top tiers and — while DH was holding them up — scraping the bottom tier off the cake plate and then lowering the 2nd tier (which was now the 1st tier) back down on the cake plate. Then I had to repair the new bottom tier, clean up the cake plate and try to rebalance the whole thing. There was chocolate all over the floor, the table and my nose. DH actually mopped the floor for me while I repaired the cake. My hands were shaking. Friends came to reassure me and I had to keep from crying. OVER A CAKE. I missed mass. My mother had to take care of my kids. My husband feared for my mental well-being. OVER A CAKE.
VII. The Lesson
It’s just a cake. But, unfortunately, my brain is not wired to accept anything less than my own ridiculous expectations in any venture. In the end it turned out just fine. And I felt the love of my friends and family. I don’t know if this vegan cake saga is concluded but it is taking a nap for now.