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Candle Cake Design ~ A Work in Progress



Light one candle for all we believe in,
That anger not tear us apart;
And light one candle to bind us together
With peace as the song in our heart!
Light One Candle ~ Peter Yarrow

One of my friends is having one of those roundy birthdays soon. Those milestone birthdays still mean something, even at 40, 50, or 60 when the annual ones lose their luster. In this case, part of what it means is an excuse to throw a party. A huge one.

Hours of live music, potluck dinner, friends from near and far. someoneElse had a rehearsal yesterday. From what I hear the music is a fantastic assortment of (mostly local) talent. The cooks out here get serious when it comes to potlucks and midsummer means their gardens are bountiful.

This is going to be fun.

Not being a musician but still wanting to contribute something more significant than a side-dish, I offered to make the cake. At the time, the guest count was ~50 and the party had no particular theme. Fifty people means a lot of cake so I started playing with ideas for how to make it all work.

Fast forward a bit and plans have firmed up.

Head count has increased. I expected that and planned for ~65 people. In this case, "increase" means not 10 additional people, but closer to doubled. Yes, maybe up to 100. For some reason, this doesn't make me as nervous as it seems like it should.

What made me really happy, though, was that the party has acquired a theme: Light One Candle. (The song quoted under the image will be sung by all of the musicians, with words distributed to the audience, at the end of the show.) This made the concept for the cake design obvious.

It has to be a candle cake.

No, not the candle salad, a candle cake. Google has tons of candle cakes, mostly upright cylinders with a tea light burning on top so it really looks like a candle. Some of these, particularly some of the Christmas, are really lovely. Each cake could be 4 layers tall at most since I have to transport them. This would made each cake barely as tall as wide.

Not exactly the tall candle I was after. That would take a cake no larger than 6" across, which is small in any case. In this case it was ridiculous since it would have meant multiple cakes. Many cakes. Easily a dozen cakes.

No, no, and no. That just would not cut it.

After measuring my largest cake pans, I sat down with Photoshop. Half an hour later, I had the basics of the cake laid out. Two large rectangular cakes (two layers each, each layer a double batch of standard cake recipe) form the candle, while a three layer round will be carved into a flame. It is going to be assembled as three separate cakes here and laid out to form the candle at the event. To make it look more like a candle, the top half will be covered in coconut flakes to look like melted wax.

The coconut cake recipe is from Jenifer K. Ward with a few minor tweaks. (Thanks to Kairu Yao, who suggested it with words like "amazing" -- not "amazing" but "amaaaaaaazing" which is a much higher level of praise. It's getting lime buttercream dusted with the "melted wax" of toasted coconut.

The dark chocolate cake, made from a reliable old recipe, gets a simple milk chocolate buttercream. There may be a bittersweet ganache poured over that but I'm not positive that's going to happen.

The flame is going to be a black raspberry and almond marble cake with orange buttercream. I found several flame-like colors of sanding sugar tucked in a drawer so the pale orange frosting will be dusted with shiny highlights.

Once I figured out a design, I had to figure out how much cake to bake (2 or 3 layers was the big question) and how much frosting to make. You know how much frosting this cake takes? Fifteen pounds. That's thirty cups or about two gallons.

Wilton has a handy chart that shows a wide range of pan sizes and how much batter and frosting are needed for each. Party Cake Baking Time and Batter Amounts - 2 in. Deep Pans. Their serving sizes are smaller than I plan on so I am ignoring that part but the rest is very useful. Check out their entire Bake a Cake section for similar info for deeper pans, tips on frosting, and instructions for cutting a cake into 300 pieces. Just in case you get crazier than me.

As you might guess, this is not a single day project. All of the cake layers save the marble one are baked and frozen. The orange frosting is also made. Mise in place for the last cake is arrayed on the counter, awaiting me later today, and there are two grocery bags of mostly powdered sugar sitting on the dining room table. One more day of prep and most of the real work will be done.

I'll post again when it's all done with photos of the final product. I am so excited to see how it turns out. Even though it's a lot of work, it's been fun. Being ill has meant very little cooking recently and even less fun stuff.

This cake, crazy though it may be, is nothing but fun.

Tell me I am not alone. Share your craziest food prep adventure with me in comments.

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