Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My first cake order - Madagascar theme cake

Baking can be quite an expensive hobby sometimes. Especially when you're a self thaught novice where mistakes and wastage are inevitable. Especially in my case, where the number of recipes that I want to try my hands on doesn't really balanced the level of consumption of me and the people surrounds me. I'm running out of people to be treated as "lab rats" or probably nicer to say "taste testers". So, when my friend ordered a cake for her nephew's second birthday, eventhough i'm in the middle of two major assignments, I just couldn't say no. My first official order? The first time I actually getting paid for doing what I love? How can I possibly say no.

The biggest question here is not what design or what flavours should I make the cake, it was how much should I charge? With little to no experience on pricing strategies nor business strategies for that matter, I would just have to guess it this time. I still feel inadequate to charge for my time. With the quality control being inexistent, I still feel very scared of how people might think of my rates. I'm happy enough if people exchange me for all the expenses of buying the ingredients. The most expensive ones would be the chocolates. I thought by using the supermarket brand, it would be much much cheaper. But I was wrong. The couverture chocolate sold in the supermarket is actually almost doubled the price of my fancy Lindt couverture chocolates I bought at Essential Ingredients. I guess buying in bulk really pays off sometimes. I thought of using compound chocolates, but for the chocolate ganache, it will go through several times of reheating. And to my knowledge, compound chocolates are not meant to be reheated. Couverture in the other hand will be fine. I may be wrong on this, but the limited time that I have will not allow me to do a trial and error.

I want to try using a lighter chocolate cake this time. I'm not a big fan of mud cakes or any dense cake in that matter. Ideally, I'd go for a sponge cake anytime. But I know, sponge cakes cannot suffice the weight of the icing, it needs a dense cake. I just realized by doing this cake that I actually don't have a basic chocolate cake in my recipe repertoire. You would have think for someone who bakes as much as I do, chocolate cake recipe should have been one of my staple recipe. I found a recipe of a chocolate cake that I found interesting. So based on that recipe, I start calculating my cost. Give and take here and there (I can't really measure the cost of my flour and sugar as I buy it in bulk and was too lazy to calculate how much it cost per 100g) I ended up with a couple of options. $45 for choc cake with choc buttercream, $55 for choc cake with choc mousse filling and choc buttercream, $65 for choc mud cake with choc ganache. To serve 30 people, I think that's a very good price. I absolutely have no idea whether those prices are good or not. More experienced cake decorator out there, please help me out.......

I ended up over budget since the chocolate cake recipe said it would serve 15, but it ended up not rising and quite short, so I have to make 3 times the recipe instead of 2. My friend opt for the cheapest option, which uses choc buttercream. It actually work to my advantage, one, I get to try Cake Journal's IMBC (Italian Meringue Butter Cream) recipe and two, I don't have to sacrifice my chocolates even more, because even at $65, I don't think it will cover the cost of the chocolates. There must be a better way.. I need to do more research.

The birthday boy loves sponge bob, Alex the lion from Madagascar, and Thomas the Tank. So naturally, that's what he wants for his birthday. At first, the thought of modelling all the Madagascar cast seems very daunting, and Thomas the Tank has navy blue and christmas red colours (the two colours that are hard to produce in icing). So I pushed the sponge bob idea. But it's very unlike me to turn down a good challenge. After hours of looking at Madagascar pictures, I decided to go ahead with the madagascar design. In one of my cake decorating books, I found a cake design where it looks like a round jungle with animal heads popping out between the trees. This is perfect for my Madagascar cake. I only need to model the heads of the cast, I don't need to do their bodies.

Out of the four (well, Melvin the Giraffe has to be singled out as I ran out of time), I think my Gloria the hippo looks the most like the real one, with the Zebra (I forgot his name) being the hardest one to sculpt. The feedback from everyone has been fantastic. They loved every bit of the cake. The flavour, the look, everything. It's a job well done!

Step-by-step chocolate cake (for this cake I made 3 times the recipe)
Recipe taken from Notebook - September 2007, page 136

125g butter, chopped
2 tsp instant coffee powder
3/4 cup (185ml) water
100g good-quality dark cooking chocolate, chopped
1 cup (200g) brown sugar
1/2 cup (75g) self-raising flour
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1/4 cup (30g) cocoa powder
1/4 cup (30g) almond meal
1 egg, lightly whisked

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line the base and side of an 18cmround (base measurement) cake pan.Place the butter, coffee, water, chocolate and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until butter and chocolate melt and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.Transfer mixture to a bowl. Sift the combined flours and cocoa powder over the chocolate mixture and add the almond meal. Use a balloon whisk to gently fold the flour into the chocolate mixture. Add the egg and stir to combine.Pour cake mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside for 30 minutes before turning on to a wire rack to cool completely.


  1. OMG! CUTENESS ALERT!!! Congratulations! This is amazing! Your animals look great. I am VERY impressed.

  2. You've done an amazingly good job on your first cake order! No basic starter cakes for you! :)

  3. What a great job you did on your first paid cake! You know it's funny, but I don't have a chocolate cake recipe either!

  4. This cake is beautiful! You are so talented. I can't believe you taught yourself how to do this. Shaping the characters must have taken forever.

  5. Holy wow that's your first cake?! That's awesome!