Sunday, August 29, 2010

How NOT to make a swimming pool cake

No, the title is not a typo. An alternative title could be the "Heart-stopper cake". This cake brought back happily forgotten memories of knotted stomachs, sweaty palms and enhanced heart rates while being in the office at 2 a.m. with another 2 documents to turn around by the morning.

The birthday girl had a simple request: "Blue swimming pool cake with a slide. Yes, very blue. And flowers". Not being a kiddy cake person, I had my doubts if I could wing it. But I trawled the web for some ideas, was seduced by the photographs and valiantly decided it was going to be fun. After all, how hard can it be? I have done several tiered cakes, I am fairly decent at creating little figurines when playing with my daughter's clay. The water will just be buttercream glazed with blue glazing gel. As I said, what can go wrong? Famous last words.

I decided to do an 11 inch round bottom tier comprising 2 layers of cake, and a small single 6 inch top tier so that the slide has somewhere to flow down from. The cake would be covered with, and the little people made of, fondant. So far so good.

Then things started to go south. In my folly, I decided to cover the bottom layer with a second layer of fondant and then hollow out the centre portion of that cake where the "water" was supposed to be. The idea was that the water would then rest in that little recess and therefore look more realistic. A bit like a big SK-II mask with one big hole in the centre. Big mistake. Huge. For you experienced cake makers out there, can you immediately see where I went wrong?

After composing the cake, it looked pretty good. Here are some pictures.

I was wondering why the sides of the cakes look a little rumpled. I put it to some slip in my execution and just put the cake away.

Around 11 p.m. comes one of those moments when your palm turns from warm to clammy and your tongue dries up in one second flat and you lose the ability even to swear. One section of the cake had collapsed due to the lack of support in the centre of the fondant covering, resulting in the fondant stretching and slowly creeping downwards, such that the sides of the cake sagged like ... well, rude things come to mind but I shall refrain. Suffice to say, I will not be so self-satisfied the next time I look at Cake Wrecks. (No pictures of the wreck though - should have taken some on hindsight.)

What am I going to do?? The party is tomorrow and how am I going to tell the birthday girl and her mother that her very blue swimming pool and slide cake has melted into some Freddy Kreuger's confection? Why or why did I decide to do this baking for charity thing??! Why or why did I cut that stupid hole in the fondant??

No choice. I decided to be ruthless and amputate the saggy slouchy bits. I chopped off all the sides of the cake. Then it's on to making buttercream at 1 a.m. and putting it on the sides to replace the discarded sugar paste. Then slowly putting on bits of rainbow balls at the side to mask the less than perfect sides. And piping a border round the pool to disguise the slouchy shoulders. And redoing the green "grass" again using desiccated coconut. Hubby was kind enough to wait up with me and help me with putting on the rainbow balls and to help clean up. It was past 2 a.m. when we finished. The cake was not as fine as I would like it to be. The piping was not neat and the pool and figures were starting to look tired from all that surgery. Can't worry about it anymore. We went to bed.

And the result? Here are some pictures. See if you can spot the difference.

Well, the cake was not all I wanted it to be, but at least I could deliver a cake! And all things considered, I think my rescue operation was good given the circumstances. Most importantly, the birthday gal and the kids loved it anyway. They completely overlooked the slightly sloping shoulders and the less than perfect piping and just oohed and aahed at the little people on the cake, which they promptly devoured. I think they were quite thrilled that the cake was a swimming pool and had a slide. Aren't kids just wonderful?

Oh yes, at least the chocolate cake was delicious. Moist and chocolatey without being dense.

So in conclusion, here is how NOT to make a swimming pool cake:

1. Don't cut a hole in the middle of a fondant layer. Without the centre support, the sides will sag and eventually parts of it will collapse.
2. Don't use cheap fondant. I have found Massa Ticino to be wonderful in our humid weather, even if more expensive. Worth every penny. Does not crack no matter how you handle it. Yes, you guessed it, I ran out of Massa Ticino and used some other brand which regrettably does not perform the same way.
3. Don't put the figurines on the gel till the last minute. The colouring in them will seep into the blue of the "water" if left to stand overnight. Not pretty.
4. Don't put the cake in the fridge. The figurines looked as though they were glistening with sweat after some time out of the fridge due to the humidity in the air and the temperature change.
5. I would skip the buttercream undercoat for the water and just use glazing gel next time.
6. I would make the cake as a buttercream cake instead of a fondant cake the next time.

I must be crazy, but after the party I told hubby, "I know now exactly what NOT to do, so the next time I will be able to do it much better. I want to do it again!" He shook his head resignedly and I thought I heard him mutter something like "Seow".

Seriously, but for the heart stopping collapse, I did have fun making the cake and the figurines (thanks AL for trusting me enough to make the cake though I don't really do kiddy cakes and there are lots of people out there way more experienced than I in this area), and ... I really would love the chance to do it again - can somebody out there please order one from me soon? I promise it will be good this time round!


  1. it tasted fantastic and was a hit amongst the kids AND the adults! i'm in awe how u managed to salvage the cake in such short hours and in that unearthly hour... you are Skillful! =)

  2. Hey, thanks. hope not to have to employ these "skills" too often. not good for my heart!

  3. memories of this specially crafted cake will always be treasured in my li'l girl's and my is a 'one of its kind' boutique cake and we love it! looked spectacular and tasted fabulous. you really have a gifting in baking!

  4. that is exactly what I enjoy about baking - making something special and seeing that look of delight on the recipient's face. thanks again for your confidence in me :)

  5. hey, would you be interested to make one for my son's first come 2nd february??
    it looks great and perfect! he loves de pool and i cant seem to find anything suitable.
    please let me know it's alright for you. i know it's just before your new year. hope you can find time for us.

    many thanks!

  6. Sharifah, I am sooo sorry for not replying earlier. I just saw your comment! I'm sorry to have missed the chance to make your son's birthday cake :( Hope he had a good birthday celebration.

  7. Hi there, is this Massa Ticino fondant available in regular bake shops? My daughter has asked me to bake a cake for her birthday and I actually have no idea how to go about the fondant.

  8. Hi Chi Ling, you can get it from Bakery Laboratory 64540500. Have fun!!

  9. I would've panicked about the cake all night if I was in your place. Seriously, you're good! You make it sound like baking a pool cake is harder than how contractors make a real swimming pool! LOL

  10. Hi Cathy, yes if there was a Panic Plus button I would have hit it - 3 times!

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