This was my first time making a marble cake, and indeed making fondant too. Nevertheless I like a challenge. Pretty much the only tools I had were: a cake tin, rolling pin, scissors, a paintbrush and cutlery. I didn't even have scales, or cups, or a wooden mixing spoon. I know. Student life. But I got by okay.
I broke the one rule of baking (guessing your ingredient measurements by eye, and my cake still tastes delicious?! I don't advise doing this though, I think I was just lucky). And by all means - use an electric mixer, and the correct fondant/cake tools etc - and I am sure your cake will turn out much better than mine!
I decided on a theme of nature for my cake and got some inspiration while I was outside. I had the idea to create a little face-in-the-bark cake after walking my dog in the woods and seeing so many trees that had eyes in the bark - created by nature but looked like they had been etched in.
I find the fact that trees have eyes is incredible and shows how interconnected everything in this world is. As for why I decided to make the face an evil one, well, that's just more fun isn't it?
Step 1: Make Your Marble Cake
I followed a simple marble cake recipe which is as follows:
225g (8oz) butter, softened
225g (8oz) caster sugar
275g (9¾oz) self-raising flour
2 level tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
2 tbsp milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
1½ level tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp hot water
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Lightly grease your tin (no idea what size mine is - again I am seriously lacking in tools, like a ruler - but my cake was approximately the width of a standard knife that you eat with. For a higher tree stump I would suggest making two of these and sandwiching them together).
Line with a wide strip of non-stick baking parchment to go up the wide sides and over the base.
Measure the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, eggs, milk and vanilla extract into a large bowl and beat with a hand-held electric mixer for about two minutes, until well blended.
Spoon half into another bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the cocoa powder and hot water together until smooth. Allow to cool slightly, then add to one of the bowls of cake mixture, mixing well until evenly blended.
Spoon the vanilla and chocolate cake mixtures randomly into the prepared tin until all of the mixture is used up, and gently level the surface. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, until the cake is well risen, springy to the touch and starting to shrink away from the sides of the tin. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack, peel off the lining paper and leave to cool completely.
Step 2: Cover Your Cake in Icing
Use chocolate ganache or buttercream icing.
I used a mixture of chocolate and vanilla buttercream icing because why not? You can use any standard recipe for this or buy some from the store. I also cut my cake in half and put the vanilla buttercream in the middle, so it now resembles a marble sandwich cake. I don't know, maybe it's going to be the next Victoria Sponge.
Since I am not 'in the know' with fondant, I couldn't tell you the technical reason why you must do this before you put the fondant on but you really must. Make sure the cake is entirely covered with the icing so your fondant has something to stick to.
PS. Look how well I iced it... Not!
Step 3: Prepare the Fondant
This was my first time making fondant icing and so I was pretty excited.
I used a recipe that promised great flavours and great results - and it really delivered on both of these. It used 4 ingredients, was so easy and came together in about 15 minutes.
4 cups (1 lb 2½ oz/520 g) confectioners’ (icing) sugar
2 tbsp (30 ml) water or lemon juice
3 1/2 cups (9 oz/250 g) marshmallows
2/3 cup (2 3/4 oz/80 g) white baking chocolate or white candy melts, chopped
This recipe made around 840g of fondant and was a pretty much perfect amount for my cake, I had just a little left over.
Apparently using white chocolate makes your fondant more firm, more elastic and just easier to use in general. So I 100% recommend it as I found this batch so easy to roll out and shape etc.
Sift the confectioner’s (icing) sugar into a large bowl and make a well in the centre
Pour the marshmallows and the water or lemon juice in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat the mixture in a microwave oven at full power for 40 seconds. Stir the mixture well.
Place the mixture back into a microwave oven at full power, stirring at 30-second intervals or until all the marshmallows have melted, and the mixture is smooth. Mine melted straight away
Add the chopped chocolate to the warm melted marshmallows and stir until the chocolate is melted and no lumps are visible
Next you could add food colouring but I kept my fondant white and then painted it while it was on my cake
Pour the marshmallow mixture into the well in the confectioner’s (icing) sugar
Blend the marshmallow mixture into the confectioner’s (icing) sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula
Mix until you have a sticky paste, and all of the confectioners’ (icing) sugar has been incorporated
If the paste becomes too firm nearing the end of mixing, knead the last bit of confectioners’ (icing) sugar into the marshmallow fondant with your hands
Spray a large piece of cling wrap and a spatula with non-stick cooking spray and scrape the sticky fondant onto the plastic. I used greaseproof paper and a tupperware and it was fine.
Wrap the fondant and place it in a ziplock bag: leave it to firm for a few hours or overnight
Step 4: Create the Smooth Top for Your Tree Stump
Okay so your tree stump is going to look pretty basic at this stage but don't worry, it will come together. I thought it wouldn't. The picture was taken while I thought it looked bad still. Be patient!
I rolled out my fondant very thinly on a surface dusted with icing sugar. Then I transferred it onto my cake and cut it to size, saving the trimmings.
I then used my expert fondant tools (the end of a spoon and a pair of scissors) to cut some cracks and hack marks into the stump. I left the cake an hour or so after this then began to paint it.
I mixed a little brown gel food paste (I use Sugarflair Colours) with vodka to paint the tree. Again, no idea about using vodka but that's what the fondant queens tell you to use so I did! Beginning in the centre of the cake, I imagine you are supposed to use a lazy Susan/turntable to turn your cake as you let your paintbrush paint in a circular motion out towards the edge of the cake - I have no such device (I wish) so i just sort of painted it freely. Again if you have the correct device I think it will look great!
Then I painted darker bits here and there.
Step 5: Create the Bark for Your Tree Stump
Roll out the fondant thinly again and cut it into strips that are the same height as your cake. I used scissors to cut mine but you could use a pizza cutter too.
I let it sit for around 10 minutes so it was easier to move the pieces. Then I folded the strips in a fan-like or pleated way, and used my spoon to press the top and bottom of the strip into the cake to achieve a more lifelike cut look. I also made a little face which I stuck on with some of the leftover icing.
I then scrunched up foil and pressed it into the fondant to achieve a bark like texture. My fondant was still a little soft and so the effect wasn't as good as I wanted, so I definitely recommend leaving the fondant for a LONG time to firm up before you put it on the cake.
I let this dry for an hour or so, then began painting it again. Using a thin paintbrush, I got into the cracks and made them darker, and dabbled my paintbrush over the bark pieces. You need the tiniest amount of vodka to paint with really so now I have almost a full bottle left over, ha.
Thankfully I found the steps outlined above on Pinterest. They were a little hard for me to understand (perhaps due to me being a fondant novice, so I hope I have simplified them enough here for everyone to understand).
Step 6: EAT YOUR CAKE
Look how pretty it is! Tasty too.