Oh Hey, Ombré

DSC_0406I know what you’re thinking. “Whoa whoa whoa, wait a second – no cupcakes? An actual CAKE?! What is going on?” Your sentiment is warranted, but what can I say? I’m just full of surprises, sort of like the from-scratch funfetti inside of this little pink ombré number I whipped up last weekend. And who doesn’t love surprises?

Speaking of surprises, I’ve been on a bit of a cake kick ever since I did this fun sprinkle cake for my friend Brittney’s “blog birthday” last week. But truth be told, I’ve generally shied away from baking cakes in the past because they have always been a little intimidating to me, for a number of different reasons. 1) They’re a lot of pressure. You’ve got one shot to get it right – not 24. It’s not like decorating cupcakes where you can try new things as you go, figuring out what works best along the way. If you don’t successfully recreate the vision in your head on that one cake, well, that’s it. 2) There is more technique required. Trust me, I’ve made my share of cakes that look like a kindergartner was responsible for them – uneven tops, lumpy sides, crumb-filled icing and all. In order to make the cakes you see in magazines and all over Pinterest, you have to master the basics: leveling, torting, filling, and crumb-coating. These are oh-so-critical for creating the perfect canvas for your edible little masterpiece. 3. Cakes are a tougher sell. It’s easy to get people to commit to a little cupcake, but getting people to commit to a whole piece of cake takes significantly more convincing. I don’t know if it’s the bigger serving size or the extra steps of slicing and plating, but, either way, people hesitate. Now I’ll admit that I generally don’t like hearing “no” (I know you’re shocked), but that applies even moreso in this context. It’s just such a baking buzzkill.

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Despite all of this, last week’s project reminded me how fun and simple decorating cakes could actually be (that is, now that I’ve tackled those basics I mentioned earlier)! This is especially true with smaller, six-inch cakes like the one I did for Brittney. They’re much more manageable and a great way to test out both recipes and decorating techniques before attempting them on a full-size cake. And, in a way, cakes take way less time than cupcakes, since you are only focusing on one cake instead of 24 mini ones.

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Anyway, all the feedback and requests the sprinkle cake generated motivated me to experiment a little more with actual cakes. Gotta give the people what they want, right? When researching the design for Brittney’s cake, I came across several that I just loved. One that particularly piqued my interest was the ombré concept that has been popping up everywhere. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a decorating technique that incorporates a number of different shades of the same color (or complementary colors), with the darkest gradually blending into each progressively lighter shade as you move up the cake. It’s understated but fun, and appears to be all the rage right now. Hear that? Yup, that’s me hopping on the bandwagon. Given that I only had part of the day to dedicate to decorating (you’ll see why in Thursday’s post) and the other options were a little more involved, ombré was the ideal choice. Plus this cake would pair perfectly with the mounds of decor left over from my 30th birthday party – a full set-up for some fun staging was all ready to go!

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For the cake itself, I wanted to do something with a little more pizzazz than just plain vanilla, but I needed a cake that wouldn’t clash with the ombré outside when sliced. I guess I was still feeling some birthday vibes, because when I came across a recipe for a homemade funfetti cake, I knew we had a winner. Plus, this recipe had enough of a twist to make it interesting: it incorporates a hint of lemon and is topped and filled with a marshmallow buttercream frosting. Perfection.

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I decided to do a three-layer, six-inch round cake – essentially an oversized “smash cake.” I baked the cake and frosting as called for in the recipes, and then got right to work on the ombré part of the show. After leveling each of the individual cakes, I started the stacking and filling process. Once the cake was built, I ensured that the sides were all even and the top was level. Then I applied a “crumb coat” of frosting and placed the cake in the freezer for 30 minutes to set. In the meantime, I prepared the two shades of pink frosting that I would use in addition to the white.

IMG_4153Once the crumb coat was set, I removed the cake from the freezer and applied the initial coat of ombré, starting with the dark pink on the bottom third of the cake, then the light pink on the middle third, and the white at the top. I used a cake scraper and a turntable to smooth out the sides. Once the excess icing was off, I took a small offset spatula and pressed the end gently into the frosting at the bottom of the cake, gently but continuously turning the turntable while very gradually moving the edge of the spatula farther up the cake. You never remove the end of the spatula from the cake’s surface, but, rather, just slowly raise your arm so that you achieve the effect all the way up to the top of the cake. This leaves you with a fun swirl pattern that both blends the colors and adds some great texture. It also eliminates the need for the icing to be absolutely perfect, which worked out well because I ran out of white icing for the top of the cake. Oopsies. If you’re a visual learner like yours truly, you can find full tutorials, here, here, and here.

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For my first attempt at ombré, I was pretty happy with how this turned out. I definitely want to practice and try out some other techniques, but this was fun, relatively simple, and would really be perfect for any occasion! Not to mention, the cake itself was de-licious. That little hint of lemon really deepened the flavor and gave it an unexpected flare. But enough of my gabbing. I’ll just shut up, because these pictures speak for themselves.

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Funfetti Cake with Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting

INGREDIENTS

Funfetti Cake (adapted from Baked Bree):

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
3/4 cup rainbow sprinkles

Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting (adapted from Baked Bree):

1 cup room temperature butter
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

INSTRUCTIONS

1. To make this funfetti goodness, preheat the oven to 350. Whisk together cake four, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together buttermilk and egg whites. Put the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of the mixer and rub it together with your fingers. Inhale because it will smell delicious! Add the butter and cream together until creamy (about 3 minutes). Add the vanilla and lemon extracts. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Then add 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture and mix until incorporated. Repeat until all of the ingredients are added. If using a stand mixer, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times throughout this process. Finally, gently fold in the sprinkles until combined.

Pour batter into two 8 or 9-inch pans (or, in this case, three 6-inch pans!) that have been sprayed with cooking spray with flour. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

2. Now onto the frosting. Cream the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add the marshmallow creme and whip for 2 minutes. Add the confectioners sugar and continue to beat for another 2 minutes. Add vanilla and lemon extracts and mix until incorporated.

3. Assemble your cake! Level each layer so that they will stack evenly. Place the first layer on a cake board and top with a layer of filling. Place the next layer on and repeat. Place the top layer on and cover with a crumb coat. Freeze for 30 minutes to set. This will make your decorating efforts much easier – I promise! Remove from freezer and frost as desired.

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