Cake of the Day: Watercolor Graffiti Cake by Sweetapolita


Photo: Rosie Alyea

This edible work of art comes from baker and photographer Rosie Alyea of the blog Sweetapolita. We featured Alyea’s vanilla blackberry cake earlier in our Cake of the Day series, and we now bring you this Technicolor treat from her newly released book, The Sweetapolita Bakebook. Brush up your paint skills and bring out your inner artist!

Watercolor Graffiti Cake 

I love abstract artistic cakes because when you cut the cake, no two slices are the same. Each one boasts its own colors, bits of gold, and hits of glitter. What I love about this technique is that it’s a sitdown-and-listen-to-music and express-yourself cake. There’s no wrong pattern, and it’s not time-sensitive. You can go back as many times as you wish to blend and add highlights of glitter. Of course, you can do this on any single-tiered cake covered in fondant, but I think the multiple tiers have a spectacular effect.

Makes about 35 servings

3 recipes Chocolate Butter Cake batter (recipe follows)
3 recipes Swiss Meringue Buttercream (recipe follows), flavored as desired
4¼ pounds (2 kg) white ready-to-use fondant AmeriColor gel paste food colors in Deep Pink, Sky Blue, and Regal Purple
Vodka or clear lemon extract
Light blue and purple disco dust (I used CK Products Waterfall and Lilac)
24-karat gold highlighter dust
Large white sugar flower (optional)
Bright pink petal dust (optional)
1 ounce (30 g) white candy melts (optional)

5-inch, 7-inch, and 9-inch round thin cake boards
¼-inch wooden dowels
12-inch cake drum or platter
Cake-decorating turntable (optional)
Nonslip squares
Small round sponges (I like Plaid brand 1-inch Spouncers)
Food-safe paintbrushes

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease the bottoms of three 5 × 2-inch, three 7 × 2-inch, and three 9 × 2-inch round cake pans and line with parchment.

Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans. Bake two pans in the center of the oven until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. Repeat with the final layers. Let the cakes cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen, and carefully turn the layers out onto wire racks. Peel off the paper, and let cool completely.

Fill and frost each cake tier with the buttercream on the coordinating round thin cake boards, preparing them for covering with fondant (see page 135 for instructions). Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Cover each tier with the fondant, using 1 pound plus 14 ounces (850 g) for the 9-inch tier, 1 pound plus 5 ounces (600 g) for the 7-inch tier, and 1 pound plus 1 ounce  (485 g) for the 5-inch tier. Refrigerate for 1 more hour. Reserve excess fondant in a plastic zip-top bag.

Dowel and stack the chilled tiers onto your cake drum. Transfer to the turntable (if using).

Squeeze the gel paste colors into small individual bowls and dilute with vodka or lemon extract (about a teaspoon per drop of color). Starting from the top and working down, use the sponges to dab colors onto the cake. Working on areas that are about 6 inches wide at a time, press a tissue on what you’ve painted, and then pull it off to reveal a textured finish. Repeat all over the cake, leaving some white space here and there.

Blend any harsh lines or areas with a vodka-soaked tissue (the vodka acts as an eraser of sorts; you can also use clear lemon extract). And add any dabs of bright color in areas you think need a boost. Sprinkle light blue disco dust on some of the light blue areas and purple disco dust on the purple areas. Mix the gold dust with vodka using a small paintbrush to create a thick paint. Splatter gold randomly around the cake.

If topping with a sugar flower, use a small dry paintbrush to dust the edges of the flower with bright pink petal dust. Put the white candy melts in a small microwave-safe bowl or ramekin, and microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring well, until melted. Transfer to a small plastic zip-top bag and cut a small hole in one of the corners. Take a grape-size piece of the reserved white fondant and roll it into a ball with your hands. Squeeze a small amount of the melted coating where you want to secure your flower. Press the ball of fondant on top of the coating and press to secure. Add another squeeze of coating and carefully press your flower to secure it. Hold in place until it begins to set, about 1 minute.

The cake will keep at cool room temperature for up to 24 hours, and then refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Note: Depending on the cake design, I find it’s often better to stack the cake tiers prior to decorating. With this cake, I chose to do it that way so that I could work on the three tiers as one canvas, rather than three separate ones. If you would rather paint each cake tier separately and then stack the finished cakes afterwards, that would work just fine as well.

Wow Factor with Now Factor
For a time-effective finishing touch to any cake, purchase a handmade white sugar flower from a cake-decorating supply shop, and customize it with petal or luster dust before attaching the flower to the cake.

Chocolate Butter Cake
Makes three 8-inch round layers

2¹⁄³ cups (315 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (120 g) best-quality Dutch-process dark cocoa powder (I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (360 ml) buttermilk, room temperature
½ cup (120 ml) hot coffee
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2½ cups (560 g) packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
¼ cup (60 g) mayonnaise, room temperature
1½ teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease the bottoms of three 8 × 2-inch round cake pans and line with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. In a large measuring glass with a spout, combine the buttermilk and coffee. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and using a rubber spatula, fold in one-third of the flour mixture until just combined. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and fold until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk mixtures. Fold in the mayonnaise.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and vinegar, and quickly fold into the batter. Don’t over-mix. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans.

Bake the first two layers in the center of the oven until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. Repeat with the final layer. Let the cake layers cool in their pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Using a knife, loosen the sides of the cakes and carefully turn them out onto wire racks. Peel off the papers and let cool completely.

The cake layers will keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes 6 cups

7 large egg whites
1¾ cups (350 g) granulated sugar
2 cups (455 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, or the seeds of ½ vanilla bean
Pinch of salt

Wipe the stainless steel bowl, whisk, and whisk and paddle attachment of an electric mixer with a paper towel dampened with a little lemon juice to eliminate any trace of grease. Add the egg whites and sugar and put the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly but gently, until the temperature reaches 130°F (54°C).

Return the bowl to the mixer and fit it with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until it reaches the stiff peak stage (very thick and glossy), about 2 minutes. Decrease the speed to medium and beat until the bottom of the bowl is cool, about 10 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment, and with the mixer running on low speed, add the butter one piece at a time. Beat until the mixture is silky smooth, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla and salt, and beat on low speed for 3 more minutes.

The buttercream will keep covered at room temperature for 1 day, refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Bring the buttercream to room temperature when ready to use (this can take up to 8 to 12 hours).

To bring buttercream back to a spreadable consistency, beat on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes. If your buttercream still isn’t fluffy, you can microwave about 1 cup of it for about 10 seconds to soften (it’s okay if it partially melts), and then add it to the remaining buttercream and beat again.

Note: Use fresh egg whites instead of the pasteurized carton variety, as they lead to the most voluminous meringues

Reprinted from The Sweetapolita Bakebook: 75 Fanciful Cakes, Cookies & More to Make & Decorate. Copyright © 2015 by Rosie Alyea. Photos by Rosie Alyea. Property of Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC


More edible works of art from Cake of the Day:

Vanilla Blackberry Mascarpone Cake

Pomegranate Citrus Meringue Cake

Stained Glass Window Cake