I was hosting a late summer dinner party with a Greek theme: lemon chicken, Greek country bread (Horiatiko Psomi), traditional Greek Salad, Lamb kabobs; you get the idea. But I wanted to finish it all off with something unique. A co-worker gave me cake molds that were intended to make a sphere cake - two half dome shaped cake pans. Put a half sphere on top of three 8x8 cake layers, add some blue frosting and a few extra additions and 'Opa!' - you have a cake in the shape of a Greek Orthodox church.
Step 1: Assemble the Troops
- 2 8x8 cake pans
- 1/2 sphere cake pan (you can find these at craft stores, specialty bake shops, or, if you live in Marin county, stop by and I'll let you borrow one of mine)
- Normal cake making equipment - I use my beloved gun-metal gray KitchenAid Pro 500 Bowl Lift mixer, a series of mixing bowls, spatulas, measuring cups, etc.
- Since this particular cake is all about presentation, I broke out all the frosting tools - a handy small frosting spatula and this awesome texture tool
- A cake saw - this is a pretty cool tool that looks like a hacksaw with a thin wire stretched between two arms. It is used to level layers so you can stack the layers
For the cake itself, I am using an adjusted recipe from Smitten Kitchen called the Best Yellow Layer Cake. In addition to doubling this recipe, I traded out the buttermilk with 1% milk. Any basic cake recipe will work for this - use your favorite. This cake is moist and can go in any number of directions. I've added cocoa or cinnamon in the past. It is my go-to base cake; quick, easy, delicious.
For the frosting, I went with a Classic Vanilla Buttercream frosting from Addapinch - if you follow the tips, it comes out really white and fluffy. I needed that to pull of the look of the plaster from the Greek buildings in Oia (Santorini) that inspired the cake to begin with. Before I started, my biggest fear was getting the blue just right. I picked up a few different blue food dyes - the basic pastel blue, a purple, a turquoise and a teal.
Step 2: Do Your Research
I visited Santorini in Greece several years ago and was taken aback by the stunning simplicity of Oia - a small town on the edge of the island. It really feels like you are at the end of the Earth. No wonder people thought the world was flat.
Here you will find endless winding paths between homes, churches, restaurants and, if you look closely, an awesome bookstore called Atlantis Books. There is a sizeable population of friendly dogs just wondering about who will follow you for a small fee of a treat and/or a good belly rub. This is not the town to get your plastic trinkets and t-shirts. Here, you will fight through language barriers for rich black Greek coffee, fresh bread, savory treats and a Mythos beer. And don't leave until you watch the sunset. Every day at dusk, a round of cheers erupts as the last little glimpse of the sun disappears. At night, Oia is a town of long meals with friends, traveling film festivals and toasts to long lives and good health.
To balance the previous effusive statements of Oia, I should also disclose that Oia was the setting for that awkward date film Summer Lovers starring Peter Gallagher, Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher's eyebrows. I'll let the link fill in the blanks, but know that if you visit Oia, you can actually go to the apartment where all the 'action' takes place and soak up all that emotional turmoil. You can also buy a postcard confirming you found the mecca of vacation relationship adventures.
You can see that blue is going to be the key - to capture that smooth, almost glossy reflection of the Aegean Sea surrounding the island.
I used a few pictures from an image search, and a few that I took myself, but given the complexity of the buildings themselves - the octagon base for the rounded top, all those distinct cut out windows - I knew I should go for a simple homage rather than a true articulation. Lesson: know your limits.
Step 3: Patty Cake, Patty Cake, Bake Me a Cake
A pretty straight forward step, but a few tricks that I used, and often do for baking.
Tip 1: Gather and measure all your ingredients first, and place out on your counter or prep surface so they can get to room temperature. The only exception for this is milk/dairy or if the recipe calls for cold ingredients. Baking is chemistry and a lot happens when you combine things together. Each ingredient could also have its own thing happening when it goes from refrigerator cold to being smooshed up with other parts in a high speed mixer. So you are better off with all things starting at the same temperature.
Tip 2: Once the batter is ready, pour into the prepared pans and bang a few times onto a hard surface to encourage all the air to get out of the batter. This will give a more level and even cake when it comes out. Also, the cakes will rise less and give you a more predictable and workable cake.
For this cake I doubled the recipe, but made it in two batches. The first was two 8x8 pans, the second was another 8x8 and the half sphere. If you buy the round cake kit, it comes with this cool disc that will balance the sphere pan. Put that collar and sphere pan on a baking tray or pie plate. In all cases, only fill the baking pans 1/2 way - the cakes will rise a bit (despite the banging in Tip 2) and you don't want a huge mess.
This recipe calls for 35 minutes in the oven - just enough time to clean up and make the second batter batch.
Step 4: Make the Frosting; Then Apply Like Plaster
The frosting will be used as mortar binding each layer together. You don't need too much between each layer, but it may be a good idea to be prepared to make more in a quick moment. Better to have frosting left over to add to other projects (or sneak a finger full) than to have a thin coat.
First figure out what order you want to stack your cakes. The half sphere I used held a little less than half one batch of batter, so I ended up throwing a small amount of batter into another 8x8 pan. The result is four 8x8 cakes, one that was super thin. I decided to make the thin cake the top layer. The most solid and least funky looking cake should be the bottom. Starting with your bottom layer, place on a cake mat or some other surface that can easily move around.
Using the cake saw, cut off the top of the first layer to create a flat surface for the next level. Sure, you will cover this all in frosting, but cutting each layer allows for a really stable cake as you move up. If you don't have a cake saw, use a large serrated knife to cut off the top. Don't discard the cake tops - they make for nice treats so you are not tempted to steal a bite.
Once the layer is level, slather with the white frosting. Once the main base is all assembled, the sides will be need to be gone over again, but try to get a nice consistent layer of frosting all around.
Repeat for each layer - first cutting the top before placing square on the previous layer. Slather, and repeat.
As I used three different 8x8 pans, I had a fair amount of variation in my cakes (side note: why can't baking equipment manufacturers agree on what 8 inches means?). I tried to cover this variation with more frosting, so I ended up making two and a half batches of the frosting. It could have used more. Keep stacking until you get your base. Spend some time going over the base with your frosting tools - I used a small and large spreader, and this fun flat plastic blade that smooths. Given the thickness of the frosting and the variance of the cakes, this was going to be more of a hint towards the goal - not a fully accurate representation.
Step 5: Dome Top
The half sphere cake turned out perfect! Those little half sphere cake pans are kinda worth it. Seriously, stop by to borrow them anytime.
For the blue frosting, I ended up using three applications (squeezes) of good 'ole blue - no purple, no turquoise, no teal. The blue was glossy and smooth. To keep the shape, I decided to place the dome in the freezer for a bit while the base cake settled on its plate in the refrigerator. That was a mistake. People started showing up for the party and I forgot about the dome in the freezer for too long. Each should have been in the refrigerator for a short time (less than an hour), just enough time to firm up.
Then I should have taken them out to come back to room temperature, place the dome on top (after one last smoothing of the top of the base). But luckily, the cooler full of drinks was less full by the time the cake was brought out. I don't think anyone noticed.
Step 6: Present and Enjoy!
I added fresh berries around the edges just to hide the fact that this cake is so far from healthy. It went over well and I was really happy with my first attempt. I don't think I have a future in architectural baking, but the lack of leftovers says I did good enough.
Next time, I would spend more time with decorations. Most of cake making is the presentation. I'll use the cake recipe again (and again) and the half sphere cake pan is kind of awesome. This particular cake is gadget intensive, but what projects in the kitchen aren't? It was fun.
So please - go forth and build and let me know how it goes.