Pirate Birthday Cake
Because who doesn't want a pirate-themed birthday cake when they're turning four.
Disclaimer: I got the idea to make this cake from the book 'Planet Cake' by Paris Cutler (which you can find on Amazon HERE* if you want to buy it yourself). The recipes for the chocolate mud cake and ganache are not my own but are from this book. I bought white ready-to-roll (RTR) icing from the local supermarket rather than make it myself, but coloured the icing myself to get the colours I wanted (though see top tip #3 below re: using pre-coloured icing where possible instead). I also tried my best to copy the pirate cake design in the 'Planet Cake' book, but did make some minor adjustments to make my pirate face look less scary and more friendly to the party of four year old children that the cake was for.
*I do not work for or get paid by Amazon or any other companies that I have mentioned in this blog post to promote their products. I just think it useful for you as readers to know where I get my baking materials from so that you know where to look for the materials if you want to try the recipe yourself!
One tall or three small 20cm / 8in round cake tins, baking paper and scissors
20cm / 8inch set-up board, larger display board (see top tip #2 below for explanation) and turntable (not essential)
Serrated bread knife, palette knives (large and small), pastry brush, plastic scraper and plastic jug
Rolling pin, non-stick silicone baking mat (not essential), flour shaker (not essential), pizza cutter, small sharp knife, icing smoothers (not essential), small star cutter and piping bag and nozzle (if you want to write on the cake)
Top Tip #1: According to the 'Planet Cake' book if you want to make a professional-looking cake without stressing or things going wrong, you should stick to the three-day rule. Day 1 = Make cake and allow adequate cooling. Day 2 = Cut and ganache the cake and allow adequate setting time. Day 3 = Final ganache touch-ups and decorate the cake. I followed this three-day rule when making this cake and wholeheartedly recommend that you do the same to avoid turning into a frustrated stress ball. If things do wrong, it also means you have allowed yourself time to fix any mishaps.
Top Tip #2: The 'Planet Cake' book also recommends that you have two cake boards to present the cake on: (1) a set-up board which should be the same size as the cake (i.e. 22cm / 9in) which acts as a guide to help you to evenly cover the cake with ganache (and allows you to make a mess without ruining your presentation board); and (2) a presentation board larger than the set-up board which you stick the set-up board to once the ganache has set and you are ready to decorate the cake. I thought this was a great tip so I popped down to Hobbycraft for my cake boards. You can check out their selection of cake boards HERE*.
Top Tip #3: I decided to colour my RTR icing myself rather than use pre-coloured icing because I didn't really like the coloured icing selection I found in the local supermarket. However, adding the colours myself led to me over-kneading the icing which caused the icing to crack very easily as I started to cover the cake. It was fixable but did cause me quite a lot of extra stress that I could have done without! Therefore, if you can I recommend that you use pre-coloured icing where possible to avoid your icing from cracking easily. However, if you do want to colour the icing yourself, try to knead the icing as little as possible when adding the colours. Also, if you want to get yourself some excellent but decently priced food colouring gels, check out the ones I used on Amazon HERE*.
Chocolate Mud Cake (Recipe from 'Planet Cake' by Paris Cutler)
220g unsalted butter
220g dark chocolate, chopped into pieces
25g coffee granules (I decided not to include coffee in my cake as I thought the flavour would be a bit too rich for the children)
125g self-raising flour
125g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
480g caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
7 teaspoons vegetable oil
Makes: one tall 20cm / 8in round cake or three small 20cm / 8in cakes (the book recommends using one cake tin but I ended up splitting my cake mixture into three cake tins as I didn't have one cake tin that was deep enough)
Dark Chocolate Ganache (Recipe from 'Planet Cake' by Paris Cutler)
1.2kg dark chocolate, chopped (you could use milk chocolate if you prefer)
600ml single or 'pouring' cream (though I used double cream by accident and it worked fine)
Makes: Enough ganache to fill and cover your cake with a bit left over to fix any mishaps with or eat with a spoon in celebration for completing this mammoth cake.
Syrup (Recipe from 'Planet Cake' by Paris Cutler)
100g apricot jam (smooth / no bits if possible)
100ml boiling water
2 teaspoons orange liqueur (optional)
Decoration (Design taken from 'Planet Cake' by Paris Cutler)
1.2kg blue icing (to cover the cake)
200g white icing (for the skull and crossbones)
50g red icing (for the bandana)
50g grey icing (for the swords)
20g black icing (for the sword handles)
50g yellow icing (for the stars)
Silver cachous (little editable silver balls you can get from the baking section of most supermarkets)
Small bag of chocolate coins
Cornflour (a small amount, to use when rolling your icing out)
Royal icing (a small amount of icing sugar mixed with water to form a smooth paste, to use to stick the cake and set-up board to its display board and to write on the cake with if you want to)
1. Make the chocolate mud cake (day 1): Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (140°C fan). Grease the base and sides and line the base of one deep 20cm / 8in cake tin or three smaller 20cm / 8in cake tins. Put the butter, chocolate and coffee granules (if using) into a saucepan with 160ml of water and stir over a low heat until melted, then remove from the heat and put to one side to cool.
2. Sift the flours, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and make a well in the centre. In a separate bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, vegetable oil and buttermilk. Add the combined egg, oil and buttermilk mixture and the melted chocolate mixture to the flour bowl and stir with a large spoon until completely combined.
3. Pour the mixture into your cake tin(s), dividing evenly if using three tins. If baking in one tin, bake for 1 hour 40 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean, though it may be a little sticky. If baking in three tins, bake each cake for 30 - 35 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre of each cake comes out clean, though it may be a little sticky.
4. Once cooked, leave the cake(s) in the tin(s) until cold. Storage: Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three weeks or freeze for up to two months.
5. Make the ganache (day 1): Place the chopped chocolate into a large bowl. Put the cream in a saucepan and slowly bring to boiling point. Once boiling, pour the hot cream over the chocolate and leave for a minute to allow the chocolate to melt. Then, beat with a hand whisk or wooden spoon until smooth. Allow to cool completely and then leave to set overnight (if possible) or for several hours in the fridge. Storage: Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or freeze for up to two months.
6. Level the cake layers (day 2): If you cooked your cake in one tin, remove from the tin and slice your cake horizontally into three even layers. If you cooked your cakes in three tins, remove from the tins and slice the tops off each cake layer and ensure they are all even in size.
7. Brush the cake layers with syrup (day 2): Make the syrup by whisking the apricot jam with 100ml boiling water (and the orange liqueur if using) until smooth. Remove any lumps / strain the mixture using a fine sieve if needed. Lay your three cake layers out on your work surface and brush fairly liberally with the syrup (keep whatever syrup is leftover for when you cover the cake with icing).
8. Ganache the cake (day 2): Remove your ganache from the fridge and allow it to come back to room temperature. If the ganache is still too hard when you are ready to use it, heat it in short burst in the microwave or in a saucepan over a low heat (stirring to ensure it doesn't burn) until it reaches the consistency of smooth peanut butter.
9. Use a palette knife to spread some ganache onto your set-up cake board and then place the first cake layer on top. Apply ganache to each layer of the cake, about 1cm thick, and sandwich the layers together. Place the cake on a turntable (if you have one).
10. With a palette knife, apply ganache all around the side of the cake out to the edge of the set-up board. Then, slowly run a plastic scraper around the side of the cake, ensuring that you hold the scraper straight on the edge of the board to scrape of the excess ganache. You may need to repeat this process of applying ganache and scraping it off the sides a couple of times until your cake has a perfectly vertical edge, a smooth finish and any gaps are filled in. Your goal is to fill the side of the cake until it meets the rim of the set-up board.
11. Once the sides of the cake are complete, apply ganache to the top of the cake, again applying and scraping off as needed to ensure to the top of the cake is level. Leave to set in the fridge overnight (if possible) or for several hours at least.
12. Hot-knife the cake for a smooth finish (day 3): to achieve a prefect result you will need a jug of boiling water and a long knife to run over the cake to make sure the edge is perfect. Take a large palette knife or the back of a bread knife and leave it to stand in a jug of hot water for a few seconds. Hold the knife at both ends and glide it over the surface of the cake, making sure to apply even pressure along the whole length of the knife. If the cake is uneven, apply more ganache to level the cake. Run the plastic scraper once more around the side of the cake ( a small amount of chocolate 'overhang' will develop around the top of the sides of the cake) and then let the cake set again in the fridge before cutting off the chocolate 'overhang' with a hot knife. Put the cake to one side (but not in the fridge) to set whilst you prepare your icing (allowing your cake to come to room temperature before icing it will ensure the cake doesn't 'sweat' under the icing).
13. Cover the cake with icing (day 3): Once the ganache is completely set and the cake has come to room temperature, brush the cake all over with a little syrup to help the icing to stick to the cake. Stick your cake on its set-up board to your display board using a little royal icing.
14. Lightly dust your work surface with cornflour before rolling out the blue icing using a rolling pin, rolling about six times in one direction before turning the icing and repeating until your icing is about 5mm thick and is large enough to cover the top and sides of the cake. If your work surface gets sticky use a bit more cornflour but never use cornflour on top of the icing or on the rolling pin, only underneath. I used a non-stick silicone baking mat to roll my icing out on (which you can find on Amazon HERE*) which worked amazingly compared to using my wooden work surfaces which generally turns into a sticky icing horror story.
15. Pick up the icing by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Lift the icing up and unroll it over the cake starting from the base. Run your hands over the top and sides of the cake to secure the icing and to ensure there are no air bubbles. If you have icing smoothers, use these to smooth the icing or just use clean, dry hands to smooth the icing on the top and sides of the cake.
16. Trim the icing around the base of your cake using a small sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Try not to trim the icing too close to the base of the cake as the icing tends to shrink a little as it dries.
17. Decorate your cake (day 3): Straight after covering the cake and while the icing is still soft, gently press silver cachous all the way around the side of the cake in a random pattern. Run your hands around the side of the cake to smooth the icing and to ensure the cachous are even with the icing. Next, roll out your yellow icing and use a small star cutter to cut enough stars for you to dot all the way around the side of the cake in a random pattern. Use a pastry brush or your fingers to brush a small amount of water on the back of the stars before sticking them onto the side of the cake to ensure they stick firmly to the blue icing.
18. The 'Planet Cake' book has some handy templates in the back of the book which helped me to create the skull, crossbones, bandana and sword and handle shapes using the white, red, grey and black icing. If you don't plan on buying the book, I suggest using Google to search for some skull and crossbones and sword images that you can print off, cut out and use as templates for your icing shapes. Stick the icing shapes onto the top and sides of the cake as shown in the pictures above using a dab of water.
19. For the bandana, cut a small hat shape out of the red icing and stick this above the skull with a dab of water. Then, cut two small triangles the same size out of the red icing. Pinch two corners of each triangle together to create pleats and then stick both pleated triangles on the right hand side of the bandana with a dab of water. Use a small round piping nozzle to cut a small circle of red icing to stick where the two triangles meet to finish the bandana knot.
20. For the finishing touches, I made my skull and crossbones look a little friendlier with some goofy eyes made of circles of different coloured icing and silver cachous. I also used royal icing to stick the chocolate coins in a stack at the front of the cake's display board and wrote the birthday girl's name in royal icing underneath the skull and crossbones. Do what you like for your finishing touches!
21. Pat yourself on the back for completing this mammoth cake. Take lots of pictures of your masterpiece. Vow to not even look at chocolate ganache or icing for at least two weeks.