Tselling your pie is arguably the most terrifying stage of any baker’s journey. While you can’t control everything, here are the tips I swear by for keeping a cake intact on its first trip to the big bad world.
Hold the whipped cream
First of all, avoid soft fillings. Buttercream works great because the stiff layers hold your cake together. However, a soft, loose filling like whipped cream may not be the best idea. If any part of the filling is soft, such as a fruit compote, caramel, cottage cheese or jam, be sure to place a border of buttercream around the edge of each layer before loading the center with the soft filling. This will hold the cake layers up and also keep the filling from sliding around too much. Think of it as a fence or dam to hold in your fill. (See below for the “dam” method of filling a cake, plus my recipes for a Swiss meringue buttercream and raspberry compote filling.)
If the weather is hot, keep the cake in the fridge until you have to leave, then blow the air conditioner into the car and dress warmly — you want the car to feel like the inside of a refrigerator. If your trip is longer than four hours, consider using a filling that doesn’t require refrigeration.
Decorate at your destination
I generally choose a decorating method that is conducive to travel, such as stiff buttercream ruffles or smaller embellishments like waffle flowers or sprinkles that can be easily held in place. If you’re using fragile or larger decorations, such as fresh flowers, meringues, or chocolate, it’s best to add them after you’ve arrived at your destination. Not only does it make traveling less stressful, it also makes sure your cake looks perfect when it’s served.
Get support in the right places
If you plan on transporting a cake in layers, using internal cake supports is essential. There are several types of dowels that can be used to support a cake, such as hollow plastic dowels, sturdy plastic straws, and even wooden skewers. Whatever you choose, it should be food safe.
My personal preference is to use wooden cake dowels. They can be found in cake decorating stores and are sturdy yet inexpensive. The layered cake sizes I usually make are 23 cm (9 in), 18 cm (7 in), and 13 cm (5 in). Of course, you can use different sizes depending on your requirements – and how much you can physically lift.
Stacking a layered cake
1. Mark the height of four dowels and trim them with clippers, small branch secateurs or dowel cutter.
2. Insert the trimmed dowels into the cake, well inwards where the next cake layer will sit. Use an extra cake dowel or scrap to push them straight down into the cake.
3. Add cake dowels to the second cake layer (if your cake has more than two layers), then carefully lift the second layer (including the cardboard cake board) on top of the first layer with a metal spatula or cake lift.
4. Use a large offset spatula to gently slide the second cake layer off the cake lifter and into place in the center of the first cake layer.
5. To keep the layers from slipping, sharpen one end of a long wooden dowel with a clean sharpener – make the dowel slightly shorter than the cake. Then drive the dowel down through all the cake layers.
6. Mask the hole made at the top of the cake—as well as any other gaps or blemishes between the layers—with an offset spatula and a little leftover icing. Finish the cake as desired.
And don’t forget to sort out the dowels after cutting, or let your cake recipient know that there are dowels in the cake.
Box it in
If you’re transporting a smaller cake over long distances, buy a sturdy box to put the cake in (or invest in a professional cake carrier). The plate or plate the cake is on should touch the sides of the box so it doesn’t shift. Instead of lowering the cake into the box, I use a box cutter to open one side of the box so the cake can slide in and out easily. Use packing tape to close the box before traveling.
get a grip
If you put a cake in the back of a car (I usually put mine in the clean trunk), whether it’s in a box or just on a cake shelf, you want to make sure it doesn’t move while you’re driving. The easiest way to do this is to place the cake or box on a non-slip mat.
The best option is a silicone baking mat that is larger than your cake. Put the mat down first and then put the cake on it. If you don’t have a silicone baking mat, use a silicone pot holder, yoga mat, or even a rubber cabinet liner. Anything that helps grip the cake (rubber, silicone, plastic) will work. And of course do not brake abruptly!
Filling the pie: the ‘dam’ method
Pipe a ring of buttercream along the edge of the cake layer with a piping bag. This acts as a wall to prevent your filling from escaping. Fill the buttercream “dam” with the filling of your choice, then add the next layer of cake and continue filling and layering.
Raspberry compote filling
4 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (500g)
¾ cup white sugar (165g)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoon lemon peel, finely grated
¼ cup cornstarch (30g)
Place raspberries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and a quarter cup of water in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Stir the mixture until it starts to boil.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the filling for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the heat. If you want a seedless compote, pour the mixture through a metal sieve suspended over a bowl and push through with a silicone spatula. Use a fair amount of pressure to really get all the liquid through the strainer. You should be left with about a half cup of seedy pulp that you can compost, or add a dollop to your morning granola. Or feel free to leave the seeds in if you prefer.
In a separate small bowl, make a slurry by combining a quarter cup of water with the cornstarch. Stir until the cornstarch is completely dissolved in the water. Stir this cornflour mixture into the sifted raspberry compote until incorporated.
Return the compote to the pan and heat over medium heat – making sure to stir constantly during this phase to prevent it from burning. Cook until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.
Keep stirring and cook for a few more minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the compote into a bowl to cool, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.
Perfect Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Through years of making and eating countless variations of frostings, cream cheeses and buttercreams, I’ve found that meringue-based buttercreams create the smoothest aftertaste. I enjoy making Swiss Meringue Buttercream in my kitchen – it’s silky smooth and fluffy, extremely stable for stacking multiple pie layers and tastes simply divine.
makes 10 cups (2.5 litres)
2½ cups caster sugar (550g)
10 large proteins (pasteurized egg whites are available in cardboard boxes at most major supermarkets), refrigerated
900g unsalted butter, softens to a spreadable consistency
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
Place the sugar and egg whites in a heatproof glass bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and beat until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites feel a little warm (at least 40C). (You can skip this step altogether if you’re using pasteurized egg whites, and just put the sugar and egg whites straight into the mixer instead.)
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until mixture forms stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment. Add the butter in thirds and beat on high speed after each addition until incorporated. Don’t be alarmed if the buttercream seems curdled – it will become light and fluffy again if you continue beating for about two to three minutes (I absolutely promise!). Add the vanilla bean paste and beat until just blended.
The buttercream is now ready to use. If you’re making buttercream ahead of time and you notice air bubbles showing when you start using it, you may need to mix it further before use. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat on low speed for two to three minutes to remove the air bubbles.
Storage: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool, dry place until needed. You can keep this buttercream in the fridge for up to 10 days or freeze it for up to two months. Thaw frozen buttercream overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature (warm gently in the microwave in 20-second bursts if necessary). Beat the buttercream on low speed until smooth before applying it to your cake.
This is an edited extract from Bake my day by Katherine Sabbath, photography by Jeremy Simons, available now from Murdoch Books ($45)