Ruffled Buttercream Birthday Cake


This ruffled buttercream cake was a commissioned confection for a special lady's birthday. It's not often one is granted full creative liberty for a cake but that's the level of trust put into our little kitchen.  Thank you Ben for giving us this opportunity!

The facts were laid out on the table: (1) the birthday girl loves the color green with a bias towards mint, (2) she loves marine life, (3) thinks octopuses are rad, and (4) loves red velvet cake. 

And with that, the game plan was formulated!



First and foremost was the matter of the flavor. Selecting a red velvet cake was easy as I have a go-to recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery. I am not a fan of red velvet but even I devour trimmings off this cake! Because red velvet has such a distinct color, it needs a solid crumb coat to hide its vibrant red, especially with a light colored frosting so plan accordingly.

The next step, and most important, was selecting a frosting technique. My rule of thumb is, "anything but fondant!" Sure, it looks pretty and permits tons of options in terms of decorating and style. What matters, however, is taste. Cakes are meant to be eaten and fondant is generally bland. The best compromise that I could reach in terms of form and function was buttercream.  To create that aquatic ambiance, I went with the a ripple and ruffle to imitate the look of coral sea-life. This style married perfectly with the green-hue and I tried to stay as close to a soft mint as possible.


After making a batch of buttercream, I added concentrated food coloring to create the dominant, lightest shade of mint. Count how many drops you add in case you need to make another batch of frosting! You will need enough of this base shade to apply a thin but thorough crumb coat as well as enough to apply a second coat to the tiny top layer and to create two rows of ruffles. Let the cake chill in the fridge for at least an hour before adding the ruffles- warm buttercream is not cooperative! 

Once the crumb coat was set, I refrosted the top layer and set it atop the bottom layer of cake.  I didn't want to risk accidentally nicking the top row of ruffles by placing it on the end product. Using a strip of plain, white fondant, I rolled out a rope and twisted it to create this nautical border. It's fatter than I wanted but ah well. In retrospect, I would have also made some cute, tiny 3-D star fish with the white fondant as well.

Split the remaining frosting evenly into three bowls. You already have your lightest shade so leave that be. Add 2-4 more drops of food coloring into one of the bowls and 5-6 drops into the other to create a gradient of shades. Mix well to ensure the color is nice and even.

Frosting is ready to go - onto the ruffles!


Depending on what size ruffles you want will determine the tip that you utilize. If you want fat ruffles like my cake, use a Wilton 125 (petal) tip. If you want tighter, smaller ruffles, use a Wilton 103 or 104 tip. Load your piping back with the lightest shade of color and starting from the top, make your first two rows (directions down below) of ruffles. Follow with the next shade for another two rows and finish with the darkest shade of frosting. 

As for the octopus topper, the husband graciously stepped into help as I was covered in confectioners sugar and flour. Using the rest of the plain, white fondant, he added a drop of red food coloring and kneaded it in to create this soft shade of pink. The mustache and eyes were created with black fondant from the grocery store.

Throw on some sugar pearls and let the cake rest in the fridge to set. All done!

I hope that you are as tickled with this cake as we were with the end result. Special thanks to the husband for having my back in every aspect- from hugs to fondant.


Ruffled Buttercream Birthday Cake

Cake
Use the cake of your choosing! This is a 9-inch round base with a 6-inch round top. If you have left over batter, make a few cupcakes for yourself.  The base of this cake is the birthday girl's favorite, red velvet.

Frosting
by Bubble and Sweet

500g icing sugar sifted (1 lb and 1 5/8oz powdered sugar)
350g white vegetable shortening * or crisco (around 2 cups) (12 3/8 oz)
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract

*note- depending on size of the cake, you may need to double the amount of frosting. Make your first batch and decide from there. If you're making a gradient, be sure to always count the number of drops applied and, if you have a scale, weight the amount of frosting to ensure easy duplication.*

In the bowl of a large stand mixer using the whisk attachment, mix the icing sugar and warm water until combined.

Add the vegetable shortening and whisk at high for around 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined. You may add any color or flavor at this stage to achieve your desired frosting.

Technique

super helpful tutorial

Frost the crumb coat (a rough initial layer of frosting to catch any crumbs and create a solid colored base). Let your crumb coat chill in the fridge or freezer for at least 1 hour to make sure your butter doesn't get too warm.

Place cake on a lazy-susan or frosting stand. Warning: make sure the stand is the same size as the base layer of cake or else frosting that last row will be a headache. Using a Wilton petal tip (103 and 104 for small ruffles; 125 for fat ruffles like this post's cake), start from the top of the cake and work your way down. Put the fat end of the tip into cake and gently turn the cake as you frost.

The way you tilt your hand and amount of pressure will influence the shape of the ruffles. If your ruffles sags, prop it up gently with a toothpick or frost another ruffle underneath it. It doesn't have to be perfect hence the rustic look. The tip must be firmly planted to the side of the cake or else it will droop.