I’m a huge fan of cooking shows on TV, but one of my absolute favourites has to be the Great British Bake Off! The Bake Off tent encases so many things I adore including the challenges, the fab contestants with their amazing camaraderie and of course the cheeky innuendos; which has made it obligatory viewing for me for the last 10 years!
My love of baking stems from many, many days making a mess in my Nanny & Mum’s kitchen as a child. If I’m honest the mess part may not have changed as I’ve gotten older! Baking has so many happy memories for me & I find the time I take baking something a great form of relaxation, even if some bakes are slightly stressful & challenging.
Therefore this year I decided to take on my own bake along challenge!! Each week I would attempt a bake along the lines of the signature, technical or showstopper from each of the shows themes. Believe me it sounded like a great idea at the time & my family, friends and work colleagues volunteered to be chief tasters pretty quickly!
Selecting what to bake each week off the restricted trailers for next week’s show was definitely difficult, but with the help of some eagle-eyed friends I managed to get a good option every week.
For Dessert week however I stumbled. I could tell the choices were something meringue based (signature) or a elaborate spherical or hemispherical based dessert (showstopper). As panic set in, a friend encouraged me to break out the hemisphere cake pan I had in the cupboard (unused!) and made a suggestion of a Disney themed design following my fab trip to Disneyland Paris in summer. The slightly intimidating challenge of a hemisphere Minnie Mouse cake was set!
As I’ve said before, I’m predominantly a recipe girl. However on this one I had to use a mix of sources and effectively make my own recipe with a picture as a guide for what I wanted it to look like!
Hemisphere cakes are, thankfully, not as hard as they initially appear. The cake is a fairly standard vanilla sponge recipe, but there are definitely tricks and tips to using the speciality tins. Grease & flour the tin thoroughly, or the cake will definitely stick! Also, you need to stabilise the tin for baking to prevent getting cake batter everywhere in your oven! The best thing I found for this was a metal presentation ring, but be careful it will obviously get hot.
The cooking time in the hemisphere shape is considerably longer than I would expect for a batter this size, if it was in a regular round tin. Give yourself plenty of time, as the cake takes that extra time and does need to cool completely before you try to remove it. Otherwise you risk the cake breaking, leaving the top section of the dome in the tin.
The decoration of the cake was the biggest learning curve for me. I’ve made a few cakes that I’ve decorated very simply with fondant but this was a leap into the unknown. Thankfully there are plenty of online video tutorials to give you tips & inspiration and hopefully you’ll be able to learn from some of my mistakes!
To get the reasonable ratio of ears to cake, a phrase I never thought I’d say, I used my handy Minnie ears from my trip. Yes, I did honestly stand in my kitchen putting Minnie ears on a cake tin – you are welcome! From this I was able to scale down the cutter size to make a ratio that would look best, but feel free to make it look right to your eye. I made roughly 8.8cm diameter ears based on a 16cm tin.
The first mistake I made was using fondant to make the ears instead of flower paste. As I learnt flower paste sets rock hard after 24 hours, whereas the fondant will firm up slightly but never set, which meant I needed to add additional supports to the ears to prevent them from being floppy. Not an ideal look for Minnie! When you use the sugar paste, make sure you insert the cocktail sticks through them carefully, you don’t want it to pierce the front or back of the ear. I would also suggest maybe creating a fan shaped skeleton of cocktail sticks to give you extra points of stability when attaching to the cake.
The hardest part of the bake for me was the flower paste bow, but I ended up quite chuffed with my first attempt! I had watched several videos online, and thankfully knew to use the flower paste for this construction. I started by measuring out the two rectangles I would need for the bow and the centre wrap. Then I carefully folded the bigger rectangle in half to meet in the middle at what would become the back of the bow.
From here I folded the sides of the bow back into an almost W shape and pinched it together to create the folds. Using some edible glue and a baking paintbrush I then glued this shut. Use the glue sparingly and try not to get it on your fingers! I repeated this on the other side & the pinched the front flat side into the centre using the glued sections as a guide.
With the bow taking shape I gently rolled the centre smaller rectangle round the middle to form the ‘knot’ in the bow. I had also read that it was important to keep the bow 3D in structure or it would look flat on the cake ultimately. For this they cleverly recommended tightly rolling two clean food bags and inserting them in the loops of the bow to give it shape. As the bow would end up stood upright on the cake, I also decided to stand it upright for the setting time (24 hours) to end up in the form it would be presented. This gave me a chance to look at the bow and add indentations, extra pleats etc to give it additional shape & make it more realistic.
The time had come, with everything cooled & set overnight, to start on the construction & final decoration. Starting with the cake, I cut this horizontally & applied a layer of buttercream & jam before putting on a rough crumb coating. Whilst this firmed up in the fridge I took the opportunity to roll out the red fondant.
Once the final buttercream was applied it was time to pick up the fondant and cover the cake. Now my flat was a bit hot at this point & the fondant was very pliable from rolling it out. Try to keep it cooler to make it easier to handle!
Once draped over the cake I used a cake smoother to gently rub the fondant on for a neat finish. The challenge of covering a hemisphere cake is getting a singular layer, avoiding the need to fold the fondant over itself as you approach the cake base. To prevent this, gently stretch the fondant out and use the smoother to press the fondant into the base. Using a knife cut off the surplus the whole way around, but be sure to not cut it too high or you will leave a gap at the bottom of the cake.
At this stage I needed to add the constructed elements of the ears & bow before the placement of the dots. On Bake Off you often see them knelt down staring at a cake as they decorate or level it, & now I know why! Getting to eye level with the cake I inserted the first ear nervously, before carefully placing the rock solid bow in the centre & the second ear at the same angle on the other side. To secure the bow I inserted a few cocktail sticks in the loop sections, out of visible sight.
The final icing was the iconic Minnie dots, which were best produced out of thinly rolled white fondant. I suddenly realised at this stage that none of my pastry cutters were small enough! A lesson my Nanny taught me came in extremely handy – Make do & improvise….
Thankfully a bottle cap (thoroughly cleaned) was the perfect size and allowed me to produce perfect dots for the cake. To make it look authentic I cut a few of the dots in half to get them running off the edge of the cake & under the ears. These were carefully applied by eye using a little of the edible glue to stick them on securely.
TA-DA!!! The finished Minnie Mouse Hemisphere Cake!
Overall, although the cake was not perfect by a long shot, I was thrilled at what I had been able to achieve by pushing myself out of my baking comfort level. The biggest success of the cake was however my niece’s reaction to seeing the final bake, that little shout of “MINNIE!” made it all entirely worth it. I’ve even had a request to make a couple of these for birthdays, so definitely a worthwhile challenge!
In case you wish to break out of your baking comfort zone as well I have written up a recipe of my bake, along with all my tips above! If you try making it don’t forget to tag A Girl & Her Appetite in your pictures so I can see all your fantastic baking attempts too!!
Week 6: GBBO Desserts Week (2019)