TThe process of transporting your cake is perhaps the most worrying stage in every baker’s journey. While you can’t control everything, here are the tips I swear by to help keep a bun intact during its first trip into the big bad world.
Hold the whipped cream
First, avoid soft fillings. Buttercream works great because the solid layers hold your cake together. However, a soft, loose filling such as whipped cream may not be the best idea. If one of the filling ingredients is soft, such as fruit compote, caramel, curd or jam, be sure to put a border of buttercream around the edge of each layer before loading the center with the soft filling. This will hold the cake layers up and also prevent the filling from sliding around too much. Think of it as a fence or dam to secure to your gaskets. (See below for the “capping” method for filling a cake, as well as my recipes for Swiss buttercream, and raspberry compote filling.)
If it’s hot, keep the cake in the fridge until you need to leave, then blow the car air conditioner off and make sure you’re warmly dressed – you want the car to feel like it’s inside the fridge. If your flight is longer than four hours, consider using a pad that does not require refrigeration.
Decorate at your destination
I generally choose a decorating method that is conducive to travel, such as a solid buttercream ruffle or smaller embellishments such as wafer flowers or sprinkles that can easily snap into place. If you are using fragile or larger decorations such as fresh flowers, meringues, or chocolate, it is best to add them after you reach your destination. Not only will it make traveling less stressful, but it will also ensure that your cake looks perfect when served.
Get support in all the right places
If you plan to transport a tiered cake, the use of internal cake supports is essential. There are different types of nails that can be used to support the cake, such as hollow plastic nails, durable plastic straws, and even wooden skewers. Whatever you choose, it should be safe with food.
I personally prefer to use wooden cake screws. They can be found in cake decorating stores and are durable but inexpensive. The sizes of the tiered cakes I usually make are 23 cm (9 in), 18 cm (7 in), and 13 cm (5 in). Of course, you can use different sizes depending on your requirements – and how much you can physically lift.
tiered cake stacking
1. Mark the height of four nails and trim using clippers, small branch shears or wedge cutters.
2. Insert the trimmed nails into the cake, well inside where the next cake layer will be. Use a spare cake dowel or cutter to push it down into the cake.
3. Add cake nails to the second cake tier (if the cake has more than two tiers), then carefully lift the second layer (including the cardboard cake board) on top of the first layer using a metal spatula or cake lifter.
4. Use a large spatula to help gently move the second cake layer from the cake lifter and place it in the center of the first cake layer.
5. To make sure the seams won’t slip off, sharpen one end of a long wooden dowel with a clean pencil sharpener – make the dowel a little shorter than the cake. Then push the kickstand down through all of the cake layers.
6. Hide the hole created on top of the cake—as well as any other gaps or imperfections between the layers—with a offset spatula and a bit of the remaining frosting. We finish decorating the cake as desired.
And remember to pick nails after cutting, or let the future of the cake know there are nails in the cake.
Put it in a box
If you are transporting a small cake over long distances, get a sturdy box to put the cake in (or invest in a professional cake carrier). The plate or plate on which the cake is placed should touch the sides of the box so that it does not slide around. Instead of lowering the cake into the box, I use a box cutter to open one side of the box so the cake can slide in and out easily. Use packing tape to seal the box before traveling.
When you put a cake in the back of a car (I usually put it in a clean trunk), either in a box or just stacked on a cake board, you want to make sure it doesn’t move while you’re driving. The easiest way to do this is to place the cake or box on top of a non-slip mat.
The best option is a silicone baking mat that is larger than your cake. Lay the mat down first and then place the cake on top of it. If you don’t have a silicone baking mat, use a silicone pot holder, yoga mat, or even a rubber cupboard liner. Anything that helps hold the cake (rubber, silicone, plastic) will work. And of course, no sudden curb!
Cake filling: the “capping” method
Using a piping bag, place a ring of buttercream around the edge of the cake layer. This acts as a wall to prevent the filler from escaping. Fill the “capping” with butter cream with the filling of your choice, then add the next layer of cake and continue with the filling and placing the layers.
Raspberry compote filling
4 cups Fresh or frozen berries (500g)
Half a cup white Sugar (165 grams)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 Teaspoon lemon peel, finely grated
Half a cup corn flour (30g)
Put the berries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Stir the mixture until it begins to boil.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the filling to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn off the fire and remove the pot from the fire. If you want a seedless compote, pour the mixture into a metal sieve suspended over a bowl and push it through with a silicone spatula. Use an appropriate amount of pressure to get all of the liquid out through the sieve. You should be left with about ½ cup of the pulp that you can compost, or add a little more to your morning granola. Or feel free to leave the seeds inside if you prefer.
In a separate small bowl, make a slurry by mixing 1/4 cup water with the cornmeal. Stir until the cornmeal is completely dissolved in the water. Stir the cornmeal mixture with the berry compote until combined.
Return the compote to the saucepan and heat it over medium-high heat – be sure to stir constantly during this stage to keep it from burning. Cook until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.
Keep stirring and cooking for a few more minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the compote into a bowl to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.
The perfect Swiss meringue buttercream
Through years of making and eating countless types of frosting, cream cheese and buttercream, I’ve found that meringue-based buttercreams create the softest finish. I enjoy making Swiss buttercream in my kitchen – it’s silky smooth and fluffy, too stable for stacking multiple cake layers, and it tastes great.
Make 10 cups (2.5 liters)
2½ cups caster Sugar (550g)
10 large egg whites (pasteurized egg whites are available in cartons in most major supermarkets), refrigerated
900 grams unsalted butter, Lightened to a spreadable consistency
2 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
Place the sugar and egg whites in a heatproof glass bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are slightly warm to the touch (at least 40°C). (You can omit this step entirely if you’re using pasteurized egg whites, and instead just put the sugar and egg whites right into the blender.)
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Switch to the racket attachment. Add the butter in thirds and beat on high speed after each addition until smooth. Don’t be alarmed if the buttercream appears curdled—it will become light and fluffy again as the beating continues for two to three minutes (I totally promise!). Add the vanilla paste and whisk until combined.
The butter is now ready to use. If you are making buttercream beforehand and find that there are visible bubbles when using it, you may need to mix it more before using. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat on low speed for two to three minutes to get rid of air bubbles.
storage: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside in a cool, dry place until needed. You can refrigerate this buttercream for up to 10 days or freeze it for up to 2 months. Thaw frozen buttercream overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature (reheat gently in the microwave in batches for 20 seconds if necessary). Beat buttercream on low speed until smooth before applying to cake.
This is an edited excerpt from Bake My Day by Catherine Sabbath, photographed by Jeremy Simmons, now available from Murdoch Books ($45)