I've discovered the magic of powdered sugar! Without it I couldn’t have made the fluffy sky-blue buttercream frosting and the marzipan desert landscape on this cake.
About a month ago, my cousin asked me to make a birthday cake for the only little tyke in the family. The theme for his fourth birthday — Planes (the Disney spin off of Pixar’s Cars). I gathered ideas and sketched the cake. When the plans were ready, I headed off to travel through Asia.
Last weekend was all about “Project Planes.” I first started tiered and fondant cake making in middle school. Some cakes were successes, others were accidentally destroyed during transportation and subsequently used in cake fights (the buttercream hadn't cooled long enough and the cake layers slid in the car). Through those experiences I learned a lot! And, I was very excited to have an excuse to try again.
The entire cake is edible! Inside the blue buttercream sky and marzipan desert is a super rich buttermilk chocolate cake filled with fluffy chocolate ganache mousse & cocoa cream cheese frosting. It’s rich, it’s moist, it’s easy to whip up, and it’s not too sweet. If that’s not enticing enough, everyone said one of the best cakes they’ve ever had — even those in my family who don’t like chocolate cake loved it!
The plane, that Martin Elias cleverly named Propellor (instead of Dusty), the clouds, the sign and the desert are all sculpted from fondant and marzipan. This is probably the most time consuming part of this kind of cake making. Mormor and Morfar’s jaw dropped when they saw me detail the pieces. I think they were wondering how I had the patience for it. I, on the other hand, started to worry that I had set my goals too high when the plane, before it had wings, looked like a submarine.
When the cake was finished, we consumed twenty four hours of work in 20 minutes. :) Martin Elias even ate the airplane!
Happy 4th birthday little guy!
PLANES CAKE RECIPES
Below are the recipes for the chocolate cake and the three types of frosting/filling. The blue buttercream is optional. The cake is just as good “naked” — just filled with the mousse and cream cheese filling.
I based all the recipes on ones from one of my favorite bloggers (Molly Yeh). (You don’t know how excited I was when she commented on my Instagram of this cake!)
Decor: I prefer to make everything from scratch, but to save time, I bought ready made marzipan and fondant, and I tested both to see what I preferred working with. Marzipan is tastier and doesn’t crack as easily when dry, but it gets sticky when adding food coloring. Fondant is easier to smooth and easier to color to your preferred pigment, but it cracks and breaks easily when dry. Have extra powdered sugar on hand, it will make it easier to make shapes. Also, keep everything covered in plastic wrap until you use it.
The BEST Buttermilk Chocolate Cake
Adapted from My Name is Yeh Buttermilk Chocolate Cake Recipe
Makes one 9in (23cm) cake
(to make a tiered cake double the recipe)
1 ¼ cup (265g) Sugar
1 ¾ cup (225g) Flour
1 cup (120g) Cocoa
1 ½ tsp Baking Powder
1 ½ tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Kosher Salt
2 large Eggs
1 cup (2 ½ dl) Buttermilk
1 tbsp (1 ss) Vanilla Extract
½ cup (1 dl) Olive Oil
¾ cup (1 ¾ dl) Boiling Water
Preheat the oven to 350℉ (180℃).
Butter and line the bottom of a 9in spring-form cake pan with parchment paper.
Whisk together the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and olive oil. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Then whisk in the boiling water. The batter will be very thin.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Start checking after about 25 minutes.
Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes in their pans. Then remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Fill with chocolate mousse filling and cocoa cream cheese frosting.
*The cake can baked up to a week in advance. Just wrap (without filling) tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.
*If you’re planning on frosting the cake with buttercream like I did: Cut the mounded top off with a serrated knife. Cut the cake in half so that you have two cake rounds. Wrap each round in plastic wrap and freeze for a half hour up to a week (this isn’t absolutely necessary but makes it easier to frost)
Chocolate Mousse Filling
1 ½ cup (3 dl) Heavy Whipping Cream
1 tbsp (1ss) Sugar
Splash of Vanilla
1 tbsp (1ss) Cocoa Powder
1 ¾ oz (50g) Dark 70% Chocolate, melted and cooled
Pour the cream into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add a dash of sugar and splash of vanilla.
Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks form. Gradually add the cocoa. Continue beating till stiff peaks form. Fold in the melted chocolate.
Cocoa Cream Cheese Frosting
½ cup (113g) Butter, softened
8 oz (200g) Cream Cheese, softened
2 cups (250g) Powdered Sugar
1 tbsp (1 ss) Vanilla Extract
(Pinch of salt if not using salted butter)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, and salt if using.
(to frost the outside of the tiered cake, I made 2 ½ batches of this buttercream)
1 cup (226g) Butter, softened
1 ⅓ cup (165g) Powdered Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
(if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of kosher salt)
Using an electric mixer to beat all ingredients together until smooth.
Assembling A Tiered & Buttercream Frosted Cake
If you baked two cakes in the same size pan, trim one cake to make it smaller in diameter than the other. Both should be leveled and then cut in half with a serrated knife to make two rounds.
If you can't find pre-made cake board, cut a piece of cardboard the same diameter as the small cake and cover it in foil.
Place the bottom layer of the big cake on your serving plate. Spread half your mousse frosting on the bottom layer. Then spread half of your cream cheese frosting over that. Sandwich the cake closed by placing the second layer of the big cake on top of the frosting. Place the small cake on the cake board and frost it in the same way as the large cake.
Push three straws/bamboo skewers/cake dowels into the bottom layer to form a triangle at the the center of the cake. Trim them level with the top of the cake. This gives the cake support.
Crumb coat both cakes. Then center the little cake on top of the large one. Frost both cakes with the buttercream. Smooth with a flat spatula or bench scraper. (Click here for more cake decorating tips).