Last weekend, in addition to the workshop I attended, I decorated Natasha and Vijai's wedding cake. They had it made at a bakery in Bellevue and dropped it off at my house late Friday night after all my potluck guests had left. I had a great plan and even had a back-up plan too in case the first idea failed. Turns out they both failed and I had to improvise a third plan at the last minute.
Plan #1 was to use orange, brown, and yellow fondant to make a fall-color themed design of flowers and leaves. On Friday night I rolled out the fondant and tried to cut out flowers and leaves with fondant shape cutters. It totally did not work. The fondant was way too wet and as a result wouldn't easily come out of the forms and did not seem like it was ever going to dry into any sort of shape. Since it was already 11:30 and I knew I had a long day of workshop attending and wedding reception fun ahead on Saturday, I decided to cut my losses and go to bed and execute Plan #2 first thing in the morning.
Plan #2 was to use brown frosting to create a henna-like pattern on the cake (I was inspired by the henna artist who decorated our hands). I got up in the morning, found a nice cake design I liked online, printed it, and got to work making the frosting (with a quick 7am run to the grocery store after I realized we were out of Crisco). My first attempt at the frosting was pretty much a disaster.
Decorating frosting only really has four ingredients: Crisco, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and water. Seems pretty hard to go wrong, right? Perhaps for anyone but me! The trick with frosting that you're going to make fine lines with is you need it to be thin (watery) so it comes out the bag/decorating tip smoothly. So I added more water than the frosting recipe calls for (I've done this tons of times before so didn't think I even needed to measure the water). I also started adding brown coloring. I had to add a lot of it to make it very dark brown and I kept beating the frosting the entire time. It started to look clumpy and there were beads of water all over the frosting. It was very clear this frosting was not going to work. I thought I had beat it for too long.
Not one to freak out, I put the bowl of frosting aside and started over. Unfortunately I made the exact same mistake again, except the second time I realized the mistake was not over-beating the frosting - it was adding too much water. The powdered sugar can only absorb so much water. I had passed that limit. But, since I had few options left, I decided it was going to have to work.
I filled up my decorating bag and got to work making the henna design on the cake. Unfortunately it looked like poop (and I mean literal poop - it was brown frosting after all). And I found that it is impossible to make an intricate design without being able to rest your elbow on the table, and that was impossible with such a large cake. It looked terrible. But, not to be deterred, I scraped off all my brown frosting and smoothed the top of the cake again (I knew the bakery would have used massive amounts of white frosting so I knew I had a lot to work with).
At that point I did start freaking out a little. I've never come this close to f'ing up a cake before - let alone for someone else's wedding! The main problem I was having thinking of a good design that was simple was that it was a big sheet cake - that's a lot of unbroken space to play with. So I thought back to the cakes I've done before trying to think of one that could work for a sheet cake - the grape vine one came to my mind from our housewarming party. It's pretty simple and I knew I could pull it off quickly and make it look nice.
I was not going to
Plan #3: I drove up to Joann's in Lynnwood and bought the colored decorating frosting that already comes in tubes. As soon as I got home I had the cake decorated in a half an hour. Now I just wonder why I didn't stick to a simple plan that I knew I could accomplish from the beginning.
Now I know: don't add too much water to the frosting. Or better yet, just buy the stuff in the tube!