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Believe Cakes Uncategorized Anti-Gravity Wine Barrel Cake

Anti-Gravity Wine Barrel Cake

70th Birthday Cake for Aunt May/ Āyí

Six months prior to my aunt’s 70th birthday, my cousin (aka Chau Wai Wai) asked me to make her mom’s cake & I was up for anything. I had no idea what the cake was going to be nor how large until I found out that the number of party guests was to be 150. And since my entire family lives in NYC, there would be the first-time added challenge for me to bake, assemble & decorate the cake outside of my own kitchen.

I knew my aunt was a huge fan of red wine, having seen her face flush & giddy from it many times 😂. I was ideating on making the cake into the shape of a wine bottle. But then I came across a cake design that had the wow factor I am always looking for: a “floating” wine bottle pouring wine into a glass. I decided that the cake itself would be a wine barrel since it would be big enough to serve a larger party. Instead of pairing the wine with a classic cheese board, I paired it with “Classic” Lay’s potato chips since it was my aunt’s favorite snack.

Structure & Planning for Defying Gravity

There were a lot of things I needed to account for in order to pull off this cake:

  • The wine barrel was going to be a little over 12″ tall so it would need supporting dowels & a cake board in the center layer.
  • Since I wanted the pouring wine effect to stand out with the tall cake, the pipe connecting to the wine bottle needed to be quite long.
  • In order to support the weight of a long pipe & floating bottle on top of the cake, the pipe had to connect through the cake layers & secure/screw into the middle cake board.
  • To get the look of a real wine glass, the pipe needed to be clear & narrow to simulate a glass stem.
  • The wine glass needed to be a heavy plastic goblet that could have the stem removed.
  • Taking into consideration that the cake needed to be transported from Long Island (cousin’s house) to Flushing Queens (party restaurant/venue), I wanted to add connection fittings into the pipe that could be disconnected in transport & re-threaded at the venue.

The sketch above was key for planning the structural dimensions. PVC piping was the answer for this design. Fortunately I was able to get clear 1/2″ PVC pipe, elbows & fittings delivered to me in Chicago a week prior to heading to NY. If I had more time, I would’ve opted for 1/4″ PVC but that thickness in clear color is not readily available & delivered in a few days.

Next came the construction & binding of the piping. This is where I passed on the hard engineering to my handy husband George who had to pull out the solder gun. He also had to help secure all the joints & fit the middle cake board with the flange for the PVC to secure into:

Soldering the Dollar Tree plastic goblets with precision

Traveling & Baking in a Foreign Kitchen

Not really knowing the extent of tools my cousin had in her kitchen, I planned on bringing all my own, just in case. I pretty much packed a suitcase full of my kitchen supplies for this bake. (Thank you Southwest Airlines for the free check-in!) I prepared two batches of marshmallow fondant at home to bring with me. Among other things, I brought cutters, fondant decorating tools & brushes, rolling pin & mats, food coloring (gel & powder) and even the pasta roller attachment for the stand mixer. It turned out that my cousin had a lot of caking supplies but I’m still glad I was fully equipped so I could feel more at home in someone else’s kitchen.

The Barrel Cake

Wai Wai is known for her delicious carrot cake (or so she says! 😜) so she was in charge of making three 10″ layers while I had to make the other 3 layers of vanilla cake. I used a new recipe that called for butter & it came out more like a firm pound cake. It did work very well for supporting the weight of all the layers plus everything going on top but if I had to do it over, I’d probably find another recipe that was less firm/dense & more moist/delicious. Once it was all stacked & iced, I realized how massive this cake really was. It took the space of 3 shelves in the refrigerator:

Barrel cake dirty iced

Wood Grain Fondant

Next came the fondant detail. I was debating between covering the entire cake with one gigantic sheet of fondant vs adhering the fondant as individual “planks”. I’ve always done the former because I was never sure whether the buttercream underneath would squeeze out. Even so, I decided there was no possibility that I could get a fondant sheet large enough to go over the size of this cake… it would’ve been the size of a 3 foot circle.

Since the circumference was roughly 32″, each plank was approximately 4″x12″. I recorded the entire process of covering the cake & I think this method was more time-intensive than using a single sheet & smoothing down. But it gorgeously gave the appearance of the wood planks of a wine barrel.

Covering the barrel cake with fondant planks

To achieve the look of wood, I used the fondant “blade” tool to impress the grain lines onto the fondant planks. The last step for the wooden grain was to paint with brown food coloring powder & vodka. The first layer came out very light & I ended up painting about 3 layers of brown to get the deeper wood colors. I especially like this paint brush technique because it gives it the natural imperfect browns of real wood planks.

Impressing the wood grain detail & painting wood colors

The detail of iron branding the wood barrel with my aunt’s Chinese name & age was my way of customizing (although she was not very happy to have her name printed on the cake). To emboss the Chinese characters into the fondant. I meticulously cut out the characters onto parchment paper, pressed the paper into the fondant to impress the shapes & then turned it over to my more artistic sister to paint in the letters with black food coloring.

Lay’s Potato Chips

Gum Paste (GP) is an essential ingredient to utilize in cake decorating because it can be rolled paper thin to achieve delicate objects like flowers but also dries hard so it works well in sculpting figures/models. Although it can be made using Tylose or Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC), I prefer to purchase it because I find it tricky to get the right consistency & store-bought tends to keep longer on the shelf without drying out. It can be quite expensive for even small amounts (roughly $11 USD per pound) but because I prefer the Satin Ice brand, it is more cost effective to buy in the 5lb. size. Please note that a little gum paste can go a long way especially since it gets rolled so thin for flowers. But depending on the size of the flower & how many, it may require a lot of layers of petals. For sculpting, I do not recommend making the entire figure out of gum paste because it dries so fast that it is hard to get smooth shapes without wrinkles. I typically do a mixture of fondant & gum paste for figures to get the pliability of fondant with the firmness to hold its shape from the gum paste.

The Lay’s Classic potato chip bag was made from an entire batch of rice krispy treat mashed into the shape of a pillow. I then covered it with a sheet of fondant on top & bottom and crimped the edges to create a bag. In order to get the shiny yellow color like a plastic chip bag, I airbrushed the top sheet with yellow food color. The Lay’s circle logo was cut out using a blade knife for the letters on top of 2 concentric fondant circles. (Honestly at this point, I was too tired to be as precise as using a cutout template so I basically eyeballed it.👁️)

The potato chips were made with yellow gum paste but this is where the KitchenAid stand mixer pasta roller came in handy! There are two reasons why I love utilizing a pasta roller for gum paste: 1) I struggle with rolling GP evenly to the same thickness with a hand roller or rolling pin. Using the pasta roller, it flattens the GP in a uniform thickness without having to fret. 2) I use the number settings to control the thickness easily. For example, I used setting #5 to get the thickness of the chips but I generally use #7 for sugar flowers.

After rolling, I cut circles using a 2″ circle cutter & stretched some out to get an oval shape while left the rest circular. To get the nonuniform & wavy look of potato chips, I laid & dried the GP chips on an egg carton. The added detail was brushing brown food color powder along the ends of the chips to get the browned edges of real potato chips.

Pouring Wine from Candy

In order to get the look of wine in the glass, I needed something thick enough to coat the inside of the cup. In researching, I found some really cool “splashing” effects made with melted hard candy so I started experimenting. Knowing that it would take multiple tries, I opted for an extra large bag of Jolly Ranchers 🍬. In the first few attempts, I realized quickly how hot the candy gets when at its melting temperature. I tried it on some practice plastic wine cups (the really thin & cheap ones that have the detachable base) & it immediately melted the cup out of shape. Luckily, the plastic goblets at the Dollar Tree are much thicker & able to withstand some heat.

The other challenge is that once it’s melted hot enough, it thins out & pours nicely BUT it cools almost immediately so you have maybe 60 seconds before it’s no longer workable. I had to reheat the candy several times in the microwave to get the inside of the cup coated for a half-full glass of wine look. Again, I leveraged George who is willing to get a little burnt for the sake of his wife’s cake endeavors! 🥰

Lastly (and finally), I wasn’t confident that the melted hard candy would coat evenly along the entire length of the PVC pipe so I covered it with dark purple fondant & brushed red piping gel over it to get the liquid look. (I honestly wasn’t completely happy with how that came out but I was down to the wire on timing & it had to do.) I then connected the empty plastic wine bottle to the top end. Shout out to Wai Wai for using the WD-40 method to detach the wine label from a real red wine bottle to adhere to the plastic bottle so it looked legit 😎!

I held that awkward looking pipe by the wine bottle the entire drive to the restaurant. Once there, I screwed it into the base of the wine cup & presto 🪄: floating bottle!

Here she is: the birthday girl with her anti-gravity wine barrel cake!

Overall, it was a labor intensive & technical cake but it was the showstopper of the party so huge success! Happiest birthday to my second mother, Āyí & here’s to many more!! And as always, thanks to my family for supporting my passion for caking & believing in my abilities! 🤗

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