Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Cake Day

Pointe Shoes Ballet Cake - Finished

I’d like to say that I have no clue what went wrong, but in most cases that just isn’t true with this project.  There are a couple that I’m really not sure about, but the others, I really do know what I did wrong.  This whole project ended up being kind of a disaster the minute I started putting all the pieces together.  It is kind of embarrassing how badly this turned out.  I’m not even entirely sure where to start there were so many problems.

Pointe Shoes Ballet Cake - Cake Pieces

I did all my baking on Wednesday and didn’t seem to have any problems.  I did realize, after the fact of course, that I probably should have done my second cake similar to my first, just without the strawberries, to keep a flavor consistency throughout the entire cake.  I knew that the base cake, a super moist strawberry, just wouldn’t hold up for stacking very much so I made a different one for the top, a strawberry variation on a pink lemonade cake that I’ve done in the past.  My base strawberry cake has real strawberries and strawberry jello in it (I’ll post the recipes in another post), but for some reason, my brain couldn’t translate that into a normal vanilla cake with strawberry jello for flavor leaving both cakes tasting pretty much the same.  So that was kind of strike one.

Thursday was planned to mix up the icing and fondant I’d be using.  It didn’t dawn on me until late Wednesday that I’d forgotten the marshmallows I’d need to make the fondant.  I always freeze my extra icing and fondant, so I knew I probably had some on hand, but I wasn’t sure if any of it were good batches.  It took several iterations of making my own fondant before I figured out a way to make it consistently the same and I knew I had some in the freezer that was good but also some that would be decent for sculpting, but not so much for covering and I needed it to cover.  I just didn’t know which was which.  I had plenty of white and decided I’d just take the chance instead of making another trip to the store just for marshmallows.  That was my second mistake.

The icing I’d decided on came out awesome.  The flavor goal on this cake was to make a strawberry limeade combination.  Since the cakes were strawberry, the icing ended up being the limeade part.  I had the base layers and the total of 9 top layers to ice, so I made a batch and a half as I usually don’t need more than that for what is the equivalent of two cake mixes.  This ended up being yet another mistake as in the end, I didn’t have enough.  I also didn’t have any more of the limeade I’d used so I had to improvise with more of my frozen stash, using my standard buttercream, some of my pink lemonade and some lime juice.  The improvisation turned out surprisingly well and you ended up not really being able to taste the difference between the two icings.

The real, major problems with this project came when I was stacking the top layers of the cake which were supposed to be the point shoes.  I’d baked 9 four inch cakes that I’d planned to stack 4 1/2 layers tall for each.  These were done in the strawberry lemonade recipe and they turned out a little weird.  They tested done and felt done when I took them out of the pans to cool.  I didn’t really notice the weirdness until I started to level and assemble them.  They were incredibly dense and felt almost as if they weren’t baked all the way.  Almost in a thick brownie consistency.

Pointe Shoes Ballet Cake - Cake Pieces - Pointe Shoes

The initial stacking seemed to go well.  I stuck them in the fridge while I was working on the second one to keep the icing firm.  I figured that with as small as these were, they would be fine without me needing any kind of support and again, when I first started these, they seemed like they were going to work perfectly.

Pointe Shoes Ballet Cake - Cake Pieces - Pointe Shoe Beginning Assembly

After I stacked them and put an initial layer of icing on them, I started to shape them.  The goal was to give them just a slight curve front to back and then along the sides with the toe of the shoe angling in with enough of a small indent to show the inside of the shoe.  And again, everything seemed to be going perfectly, all that I needed to do was cover these in fondant and add the details like stitching and ribbons.

Pointe Shoes Ballet Cake - Cake Pieces - Pointe Shoe Assembled

This is where everything started going downhill like a freight train without brakes.  The first one I tried to cover, the fondant just wouldn’t lay right and it seemed like it was way too dry, leaving tiny cracks and creases all over the place.  I knew right away that I’d rolled it out too thin, so I pulled it off and tried again.  I got the very top of the shoe looking okay before it started getting ugly again, so I cut it where the seam in the shoe normally is and pulled the rest off.  I managed to get it covered when I noticed that the curve along the back was way sharper than I’d cut it, so I figured I’d had it out too long and the icing was getting too soft, so I went to stick it in the fridge and get the second one.  The second on had fallen backwards, thankfully into a cream container that mostly still held it up.

After a lot of shoving and rearranging, I managed to get them both back to the way they were supposed to be and I kept trying to get the fondant to come out.  The second one started covering way better than the first one, so I thought I’d had the issues solved.  Since I have this love hate relationship with fondant and I ALWAYS end up doing at least one re-cover almost every time I use it, I thought for sure that was going to be the case this time as well.  Not.

The second cake kept trying to have the layers slide while I’m trying like crazy to get the fondant on cleanly.  Go to stick it back in the fridge, and the first cake is completely out of whack and trying to fall over.  Since it is already covered, I make a mess of trying to straighten it out, past the point of really being able to fix it.  I have NEVER had a cake that the layers tried to slide apart.  Looking at both of them covered, even if I were able to clean up all the indents from finger prints, they are still going to look like my 12 year old did them.  I honestly hate how they look.  I had thought they looked pretty darn good before I started fighting with the fondant.

At this point, I am beyond pushing for time.  I still have a huge dinner to fix, which I haven’t even begun to start yet and I still have to finish this stupid cake.  My amazing, wonderful, super awesome daughter, who I’m trying my best to make this cake for, is in the kitchen with me helping me in every way she can and trying to keep me from chucking the whole thing against the wall.  I’ve completely forgotten my camera at this point and feel like I’m going to cry because I’ve never made her a cake that wasn’t cute or pretty or stunning and I feel like I’m letting both her and myself down.

We both agree we like the shoes without the fondant, so off it goes again.  This is the point where I realize I didn’t have enough icing and scrambled to make that work while needing to stop and take my oldest to work, which cut over a half and hour out of time I really didn’t have.  I got back and started working on re-icing the shoes and deciding the stupid things needed a stick in the middle for support while my daughter started the prep work for the dinner.

I’d already been worrying about what I was going to do for the ribbons since I didn’t have time, nor would the fondant have cooperated when I just decided to saw screw it and cheat and used real ribbons.  After all is said and done, this ended up being kind of an ugly cake.  I had to use a cake plate to put the pointe shoes on the base cake because of the weight, but they weren’t large enough to cover the majority of it, so there is a lot of that exposed.  The icing is far from smooth and the shoes just look kind of fat and clumsy.

When it came time to serve the cake, I pulled the shoes off the top and set them aside, intending on serving the base cake because I knew that part came out good.  I go to pull off the cake plate and it was pushed so far into the base that nearly half of the top layer pulled off with it.  I ended up serving a seriously tasty pile of slop to my family.  Strawberry limeade in a cake is really awesome, by the way.

I have never been so glad to be done with a cake in my life.  I’m also stupidly happy that I don’t do this for a living.  It is partly because of times like this that I never would.  It’s okay to serve slop to my family, but I would never, ever be able to hand something like this over to a customer.  I did try a bit of the top layer and that cake was really not very good at all and ended up in the trash by the end of the night after everyone was gone, even with all that work so I was extremely glad I decided not to serve that part.

Pointe Shoes Ballet Cake - Finished

This is an example of my ambition outstripping my level of talent.  I’ve had it happen before, but never quite so spectacularly.  There was a point when I was going between the two cakes, trying to make them work when I think, subconsciously, I was hoping I just drop the stupid thing.

Thankfully, dinner turned out awesome, if a little late, and that at least the part of the cake we did eat tasted really good or I don’t think I could have handled the hit to my ego.  I’ve had cakes not turn out great before, but usually they are still cute or funny or the kids still loved them.  I think I actually hate this cake.  I was really tempted to just not post about it, but decided that after literally having nightmares about it last night that my poor brain needed to purge the event.  I now have to take my daughter to ballet and have her teacher, who had been looking forward to seeing this years ballet cake, ask about it and I’ll have to hang my head and try not to die of embarrassment.

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Author: TJ Fox

Slightly sane artist, book addict, wife and mother of 3 who is forever rethinking her place in this world.

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