It's well known by now among friends and family that I love to bake, and so when my step-brother asked me a few months ago to make the cake for his daughter Franchesca's 5th birthday, I was really chuffed. That is, until when asked what sort of cake she wanted, she said 'a dog cake'. ARGH! Novelty cakes are not something I've ever done before and I have absolutely no confidence when it comes to decoration anyway (although I'm not sure what I was expecting her to say; I doubt that pineapple upside down cakes or victoria sponges are really the thing for 5 year olds!)
After much deliberation I decided to try a cake in the shape of a sausage dog, with the idea that I could make it comically large to hopefully detract from the fact that it would have to be iced quite simply. Also my step-brother used to have a sausage dog that he doted on, so that was quite a nice link too!
Everything started off well - I used a simple choc sponge recipe, baking 3 large square cakes, and 2 in round sandwich tins. Two of the square cakes were cut in half and sandwiched together with chocolate buttercream to make the body, and then I cut out head shapes from the round cakes and sandwiched them together. The off cuts from the round cakes made a tail and a neck, and the legs were made out of the last square cake. I used some ready rolled icing to make a coat, with the leftovers making a collar and an eye (Mike really helped me out there with his precision measurements, I was all for randomly guessing sizes but he held me back!)
Then it was time to coat the rest of the cake in chocolate buttercream, and that's where it all started to go wrong. I made up a big batch of the stuff, but for some reason, it just went really watery and was impossible to use. I really don't know what went wrong; although I had tripled the recipe so perhaps it wasn't as straight forward as that? So I hunted out another recipe I had for chocolate fudge frosting and that didn't let me down, but I was too frightened to mess with the measurements so ended up having to make 4 separate batches! Unfortunately, as the frosting was so thick, it was really difficult to ice and kept falling off the cake and even making the cake crumble a bit around the edges. Argh! I have to admit Mike had to step in and ice the last half of the cake as I was seriously starting to lose my temper and almost ready to sling it in the bin and go to Asda, or give poor Chesca a half iced cake!
I should point out that it was probably the hottest day of the year so far, which may have contributed to the rising stress levels in the kitchen! The cake ended up being almost 30 inches long, and Mike had to make a board for it out of MDF, with 2 cake boards glued on to it! The weather also caused a bit of a problem when getting it to the pub, as the car was like an oven, and we had to drive really slowly because I was worried about it getting rattled around. By the time we got there I was almost too scared to lift the lid in case it had started to melt or got bashed! In the end, I was really proud of the cake - it was so nice to see Chesca's face when it was presented to her (and also the faces of all of the other diners when they saw someone staggering out of the kitchen carrying it!); it definitely made all the blood, sweat and tears worth it. I'm not sure that novelty cakes are going to be my thing, but I'm so glad I did it and grateful to Matt for trusting me to make such an important cake!
This is where she said, 'I want the eye' and just ripped it right off! That was difficult to watch...