Kara called me out of the blue about a month ago to ask me if I would make her parents a cake to help celebrate their 40th anniversary. They were coming to Seattle for a visit and as a surprise Kara and her brother Jay wanted to honor the milestone with a special cake and champagne toast in their hotel room. What an honor it was to be asked to make a cake to celebrate a 40th anniversary! I have to say I was more nervous making this cake than any cake I've ever made. Kara wanted something wedding-cakey but nothing too feminine. Plus she wanted each cake to be true to what it really was; no over-the-top decorating needed.
Since I didn't want any chocolate icing polluting the pristine carrot cake, separating the cakes in some way seemed like the best option. Stacking the cake was interesting and a bit challenging but I eventually figured it out. Initially. I wanted to use Styrofoam in between the cakes but to my shock it would have cost three times more than the price of the plastic columns! I had no idea Styrofoam was so expensive. In the end I think the cake looked a little cliche but at least it was stable.
The bottom layer was a classic Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting which was Kara's mom's favorite. The cake came out better than any carrot cake I've ever made. I got the recipe from Spectacular Cakes by Mich Turner. It was incredibly moist and was filled with not only carrots, but unsweetened coconut, walnuts, rum-soaked golden raisins, and orange and lemon juices. The frosting was just a basic no-frills cream cheese frosting, however I did use clear vanilla extract to try to keep it as white as possible. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out a good way to steal a piece of it, but the crumbs I sampled were tasty! I think I'll be making this recipe again soon.
For the Germans Chocolate Cake, which was Kara's father's favorite, I used David Lebovitz's recipe. I had high expectations and I was not disappointed. The cake was very light and had a pleasant, not overwhelming cocoa flavor. The coconut-pecan filling was delectable but slightly more runny than I expected. As such, I didn't feel the need for the simple syrup and omitted it all together. My only complaint about his recipe for for his chocolate icing. Mine never solidified! It was a very runny, non-spreadable chocolate sauce that in no way resembled frosting. I don't know if there was something wrong with my ingredients or if he forgot an ingredient but something was off. Eventually I added about 8 cups of sifted powdered sugar and only then it finally got to the point where it resembled frosting. I had left over batter and made cupcakes with it. Much to the chagrin of my co-workers, my husband won the coin toss and brought them to work to share.
For the cake "40" cake topper I wanted something elegant and actually went to SEVEN different stores looking for something I could use. Can you believe I actually considered using house numbers I got so desperate? At one party supply store I explained to the sales girl that I wanted something tasteful and elegant and she claimed to have and I quote: "just the thing!". I felt like punching her when she brought me over to the birthday candles and showed me a bubbly, waxy, white, two-dollar number "4" and "0". I just starred at her and walked away without saying a word. Apparently being married forty years isn't long enough for anyone to give a flip. Grr! So I ended up just making it myself out of sugar paste. I liked the way it came out but I really wished I would have used red ink to trace out the numbers instead of black (this is what happens when you're making important decisions at 1am). I learned a pretty cool tip about painting sugar paste in a hurry - instead of using vodka or lemon extract to mix with the food coloring gel or powder, use grain alcohol or Everclear instead. Because it is so high in alcohol, it dries almost instantly. Seriously, it was evaporating faster than I could paint with it!
Kara's brother sent me a picture of the cake setup in the hotel room so I could see what it looked like. I think it was taken using a camera phone and the quality is a little grainy but I still think it looked handsome sitting on the table. Since they were married in the 1960s, I gave the photo a little '60 treatment just for fun. It looks so retro!
Although these cakes probably should not have been my test-bed for piping frosting and they weren't as perfect as I hoped, I think they came out pretty good and I think Kara would agree -- check out her text message: