A story about a very special birthday cake

Recently my Mum celebrated her 60th birthday (Happy birthday again Mum! - as my biggest fan you'll probably be the first to read this blog!).

Some of you will know that I am from Christchurch, New Zealand (yes...the town that has had the devastating earthquakes) but I am now living in Melbourne so I flew home to Christchurch for a few days to celebrate Mum's birthday with her.  We had a lovely family BBQ on her actual birthday & then I arranged a very special high tea for family & friends at the stunning Kaituna Homestead in Kaituna Valley, Banks Peninsula (www.kaitunahomestead.com).  I'll be dedicating a separate blog to the high tea so for now, I thought I would write about the birthday cake that I made Mum as it was my first attempt at making a decorated cake.  As ridiculous as it sounds, I've only focused on decorated cupcakes & cookies up to now so I decided it was about time that I branched out!    

Given the added logistics of me living in Melbourne & my Mum in Christchurch, I knew I would be somewhat limited as to how many 'cake tools' I could take with me (especially given that my husband & I were planning a two week holiday in New Zealand after my Mum's birthday so let's be honest, my suitcase would be chockablock with clothes...).  There were a couple of other factors to consider as well like the kitchen in my Mum's house having a tiny amount of bench space, the limited amount of time I had to make the cake once I arrived & the fact that I had to somehow transport the cake from my Mum's house to the afternoon tea at Kaituna Homestead which was a 30 minute drive away (can I just say, that car ride was an anxious one & my husband had to drive painstakingly slow, especially around the corners!  The cake was slip-sliding around all over the show in its box despite my best efforts to hold the base without putting a fist through the side of the cake!  You can breathe a sigh of relief though as I can thankfully say that it did arrive in one piece!)

So I wasn't going to bite off more than I could chew (excuse the pun!) & make some sort of three tiered masterpiece.  Given how much I love Peggy Porschen's cakes, I turned to her beautiful 'Boutique Baking' book for inspiration.  My Mum's favourite flavour is lemon so I decided to make Peggy's Lemon Limoncello cake, which is three layers of lemon sponges, brushed with lemon sugar syrup & then sandwiched together & iced with a beautifully light lemon buttercream (is your mouth watering yet?...) 

Once I decided on the cake, the next thing on my list was to source some pretty candles & candleholders.  Even though the cake in Peggy's book was simply decorated with little sugar florist paste daisies (which I made in advance in Melbourne & took with me to Christchurch) no birthday cake would be complete without candles! 

Adorning the top of another of Peggy's cakes from her Boutique Baking book, her White Chocolate Passion cake, there were some gorgeous tapered pastel coloured candles & silver flower candleholders - the like of which I had never seen before.  So I set about searching the internet for something similar in Australia.  I managed to find the same tapered candles but they were ridiculously priced (surprise surprise!) & I couldn't find anything like the candleholders so I decided to extend the search to the UK.  

Thanks to Google, that's when I came across Vivi Celebrations in London (www.vivicelebrations.com) & I quickly realised that Vivi sold the exact same candles & candleholders used on Peggy's cake! Barely able to contain my excitement, I promptly ordered them.  Vivi sent me a lovely email shortly afterwards thanking me for my purchase.  We ended up exchanging a few emails & I told Vivi that I had first seen the candles & candle holders in Peggy's Boutique Baking book.  Well much to my delight, Vivi confirmed that they were indeed her candleholders!  I would recommend checking out Vivi's website.  She has a lovely range of unique silver plated candle holders for cakes as well as all sorts of pretty adornments & gift ideas for Christmas & special celebrations... just something different that you don't see everyday.  I think most of us will remember as children, having coloured plastic candle holders on our birthday cakes, but you don't often see pretty silver plated candleholders like these!  

Anyway, fast forward to the day before I made the cake as Peggy's instructions were to make the sponges one day ahead of decorating & eating, which was great because it gave me more time to decorate the cake on the morning of Mum's afternoon tea.  The sponges turned out really well & I brushed them with some lemony sugar syrup before covering them in cling film overnight.

The morning of Mum's afternoon tea arrived & I was up early to assemble & decorate the cake.  In my Mum's tiny kitchen I set about making the buttercream & sandwiching the sponges together - that was the easy part!  I then had to carefully cut around the sides of the cake to get a nice even finish for icing.  The next step was to 'crumb coat' the cake, which is when you coat the cake in a thin layer of buttercream & then chill to set before finishing with the final layer.  The crumb coat is basically like an undercoat of paint & not only seals the crumbs to the cake, it also means that the crumbs won't show through when you ice with the final layer of buttercream.

Once I had finished the crumb coat, it was time for me to do the part which I was most nervous about - icing the cake with the final layer of buttercream.  I was most worried about achieving a smooth finish & sharp edges around the top of the cake.  Before I left Melbourne, I had watched a tutorial online about how to ice a cake with buttercream so I had a rough idea of what to do.  Peggy's book also had really good instructions so I followed those very closely.  After much faffing about, humming & ha-ing over whether the icing looked smooth enough & the edges looked sharp enough, I was finished.  I refrigerated the cake again to set the icing & then decorated it with the sugar flowers & of course the beautiful candles & candle holders.

For my first attempt at a proper decorated cake, I am quite pleased with how it turned out.  It was by no means perfect, but everyone loved it & most importantly my Mum was well chuffed with it!  I really enjoyed making it & I'm now keen to expand my skills & learn more about making celebration cakes.  

If you're like me & you're a complete novice when it comes to making decorated cakes, check out the Craftsy website (www.craftsy.com) which has a free online tutorial on Modern Buttercream by Joshua John Russell, which teaches you the basics of how to put together a layered cake & finish with buttercream.  I'm sure there are many different methods & ways of assembling & icing cakes, but given it's a free tutorial, it's a good place to start at least! 


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