I don't like failing at things. At all. Especially when the thing looks fairly easy. And my first inclination is to not share with the world when I royally screw things up.
I've never gone to culinary school, never taken a baking class and am in no way a professional baker. I'm a 911 dispatcher, not Martha Stewart. I see so many blogs and YouTube videos where ordinary people create amazing things and everything always turns out looking spectacular. But that's not my reality. A lot of what I try just doesn't work out. So I've decided to share this experience to let everyone know that this stuff is not always as easy as it looks.
Enter the Harley Quinn cake disaster of 2016.
I subscribe the YouTube channel "Nerdy Nummies" and I absolutely adore Rosanna Pansino. She's just too cute for words, and she is beyond talented. I've been wanting to try something out from her show, but hadn't gotten around to it. So imagine my delight when I saw that she made a Harley Quinn cake - and I found it right before my nephew's 19th birthday party!
(image copyright nerdoramanetwork.tv)
The nephew LOVES Harley, so I was really excited to make this for him. Excited, but a bit scared... because fondant.
I hate the taste of fondant. I don't use it and it intimidates me.
The other intimidation factor was that its a checkerboard cake. So when you cut into it, its supposed to be red and black checkered on the inside. The technique looked fairly simple. Easy freakin peasy. But seeing as I've never done anything like that before, I was still pretty intimidated by the idea.
For the love of nephew, I decided to try to tackle this thing. So I made my list of supplies and went nuts at Michael's. This cake ended up costing a LOT of money because I didn't have any of the stuff I needed to make it. Had I planned things out better, I would have started buying supplies way ahead of time on Amazon and I would have bought a little at a time. But I didn't plan and had to get it all in one trip, two days before the party.
Having not done much research, I started the cake the day before. The decorations for the top are supposed to be a solid jester hat thing and eye mask, both made of fondant, and they're supposed to stand straight up when you stick them in the cake. Well it turns out that fondant takes days to dry when you are trying to harden it. I saw that some people dried it in the oven, but the horror stories I read about turned me off to the idea. I opted to cross my fingers and hope that 24 hours of drying time would be enough.
I got to work rolling the stuff out. It kinda had the consistency of Play-Doh. I started rolling it out on the marble baking slab that the boyfriend has at his house. I immediately found out that this was a mistake, because the fondant was sticking to it like crazy. I read posts saying "don't roll out on flour!" and "don't roll out on powdered sugar!" so I was afraid to try either of them. Instead, I tried rolling it out on parchment paper. TALK ABOUT A PAIN IN THE ASS! No matter how much I taped it to the table and weighted down the ends, the stupid paper just kept sliding everywhere. GAHHHH
I did the best I could, using my regular rolling pin instead of getting a fondant roller. This was a mistake too - the fondant roller is an even size from edge to edge, not smaller at the edges like my wooden roller. So between that and the stupid STUPID parchment paper, my fondant came out with totally inconsistent thicknesses.
After a slew of curse words that would make even my cop friends blush, I finally said "screw it" and cut out the shapes. Then I unceremoniously threw them on the dining table in the other room and crossed my fingers that they'd dry in time.
Its a really good thing my little one wasn't in the house to hear any of that.
Next came the cake baking. The recipe she used was delicious - basically a doctored white cake mix. The black came out perfectly! The red... not so much. I used a lot of good quality red food coloring, and it still came out more of a dark salmon color. NOT the vibrant red I was looking for. I again got irritated and decided that was as good as it was going to get and threw them in the oven.
Once cooled, I leveled all of the cakes and tightly wrapped them in plastic wrap. I put them in the freezer for a while so they would be a bit stronger for the making of the checkerboards.
That didn't work.
Nearly every circle I cut out broke in some spot when I tried to lift and move it. And I was being so careful! I managed to get them put together, but they were broken in so many spots that I wasn't sure if the layers would hold. I even used some red frosting to try to glue the breaks back together.
I did the best I could with it, assembled the pieces and put everything back in the freezer. An hour or so later, I unwrapped them and started the process of stacking them.
This is where I nearly lost my s**t.
Two of the layers BROKE broke, the first as I went to set it onto the bottom layer. Which means it was stuck to the frosting I'd put onto the bottom layer. Which means I couldn't take it off. Which means that this broken mess was now supposed to support 2 more cake layers on top if it.
I nearly threw in the towel at that point. But pride and fiances made me determined to try to salvage it. I decided to do more frosting gluing, layer the stupid cake, then put a thin layer of frosting over it to keep the cake from drying out overnight.
From that came the ugliest cake I have ever seen.
Look at that mess. Within 5 minutes, the bottom layers began collapsing. The whole cake started leaning, the weak layers began bowing out... and it was made all the uglier by the thin Pepto Bismol Pink frosting. By this time, it was nearly midnight and I was nearly in tears. I gave up for the night and went to bed.
The next morning, after taking another good look at that monstrosity, I decided to start from scratch. I made 4 more cakes (yes - its 4 cakes. 2 red and 2 black), did a little day drinking and went to work on it.
Bake, cover, freeze. Check.
While they froze, I cut into the failed cake to see if the technique at least worked. On the inside it actually looked pretty cool! Or it would have if the layers held together. But it was checkerboard, so at least that part had worked.
While the layers continued to freeze, I started making my red frosting. I ended up with the same stupid dark salmon color as I did with the cakes. I really need to figure out how people get vibrant, deep reds when they color things. This is where it becomes painfully obvious that I am not a professional. I again said "screw it" and decided that he was getting a freaking salmon colored cake.
Time to unwrap the chilled cakes.
It was so sticky that a handprint-shaped layer came off of the top. Then the side randomly broke off.
At this point, I was over it. His four layer cake was now going to be three layers. And it was not going to be checkerboard. I put the broken one in a ziploc bag for the boyfriend to munch on and stacked the layers black, salmon, black. No cutting circles. No checkerboard. OH FREAKING WELL!
On to the decorations. At this point, the party is a couple of hours away and I'm not even close to done.
I rolled out the black fondant to make the diamond shaped pieces for the sides and set those aside, again doing a terrible job of making the thicknesses even. I frosted the cake, stuck the diamonds and little pearl candies on and piped the white border around the bottom. So far so good.
I rolled out the white fondant and cut what was supposed to be Harley's neck ruffle. I was in a hurry and did a very poor job of it, making it way too big and not circular. When I went to put it on the top, it started to drape over my hands - i was afraid my nails would put a hole in it, so I quickly put it on the cake. Half of it draped over the side and it looked all wrong, but I couldn't take it off. It was stuck to the frosting. What-FREAKING-ever. Now its a whimsical white cake topper. And I messed up the frosting trying to put it on. I didn't even care anymore. I put the blanking gumballs in random spots and moved on.
Next step - retrieve the hopefully-dried fondant jester hat thingy and eye mask. Stick them in the cake and be done.
Ha. Ha. Hahaha. Like that'll happen. They weren't dried enough, so they started bending and cracking horizontally. And the water that was supposed to glue them to each other was still gooey, so they were separating vertically as well.
I laid them down flat on top of the cake, let out another string of expletives, poured some more bourbon and called it DONE.
Thank God for day drinking.
Party time rolled around and the nephew ended up loving his cake! He immediately recognized that it was Harley Quinn themed, and he seemed genuinely touched that I made it for him. He even Snapchatted a picture of it with a sweet message and little hearts and crying emoticons and stuff. It made my heart happy. So, while this is technically a fail because it didn't turn out at all how it was supposed to, it still turned out pretty freakin' cute. And I still love and admire Rosanna. Anyone that can make this thing look easy has a whole lot of talent.