I wanted to make something special for my journalism students, because all but 2 of them graduate this Friday. I considered cupcakes, but seriously, decorating each individual cupcake sounded like too much work. And it has been several years since my last cake decorating attempt, so: time to try again.
I found this great yellow cake recipe on Smitten Kitchen, as well as some awesome cake decorating tips. The tips helped me learn from my past mistakes: i.e. that you really, really need a coat of frosting as a primer to make the crumbs stick to it and not the top layer of frosting, and that writing with frosting works much better if the base is already cold. A. can attest that since I did not know these tips when I tried many years ago to make him a birthday cake–his favorite: chocolate cake with white frosting, and red icing for the Stanford logo)–there was much frustration, culminating in a flung spatula (at least it was clean).
Here are the lovingly chronicled steps of my cake-making extravaganza:
Saturday: made the cakes and froze them; made the ganache and refrigerated it.
The cake was not perfectly leveled, but close enough (and gave us enough scraps to eat as dessert!).
- 12 oz. chocolate chips (semi-sweet or dark)
- 1 cup heavy cream
Gently warm cream until bubbles just form on the outside of the saucepan; do not boil. Pour hot cream over chocolate chips in a wide, shallow bowl. Stir well with a whisk until smooth. Refrigerate for desired consistency.
Sunday: let ganache come to room temperature and spread it over the frozen cake base; saved about 1/4 cup ganache for base of mortarboard. Assembled layers and stuck them back in the freezer (probably could have started using the fridge at this point). Made buttercream frosting. Frosted frozen cake with a crumb-masking base. Froze again while I made the green frosting and the chocolate mortarboard. Finished with a top coat of frosting, assembled graduation cap, and decorated with writing and green sprinkles.
To make the mortarboard, I drew a square with Sharpie on parchment paper so I could see the lines through the other side. On the non-Sharpied side, I poured melted chocolate into the square, spooning it out to the edges and making the lines as straight as possible. Then the whole parchment paper went into the freezer for about 10 minutes until it was solid. I used the ganache blob as a base, then stuck the chocolate square on top. (Incidentally, you can make chocolate into pretty much anything this way; I made a friend some chocolate mousse for her birthday with chocolate antlers.) Voila!
Makes one cake; serves 20-25 super-amazing seniors and 2 awesome juniors, plus 1 teacher.