Sunday, July 8, 2012

Surprise Inside Cake - Hidden Stars "Let Freedom Ring"


I've been saving this idea and many more where this came from all for my upcoming book of "twice baked cake" designs. But the time is here and now my fellow Americans. (And those of you from so many other countries.) It still amazes me that people all over the world can see this so very quickly. I'm thankful that technology has connected all of us with similar obsessions passions together! Welcome and thanks for joining me on this baking adventure!

Seems there is a bit of fuss over things hidden inside cakes lately. Perhaps since we all love a nice surprise. Or maybe because so very much has been done with the outsides of cakes that we'd like to see something happening elsewhere, like the inside, which is what counts according to my parents. Hidden flags, ornaments, angels, shamrocks, hearts, crosses, candles and Easter eggs are some of the many great designs by Amanda at Melissa Diamond of recently perfected a method for hidden leopard spots that is insanely cute. She also teaches how to do a zebra striped pattern. I'm sure you've also seen lots of rainbows, checkerboards and stripes of all different directions that have been showing up everywhere lately. All these are fantastic. But still somewhat limiting. I wanted more.

I've been dying to share this concept with all of you since the very second I thought of it. It hit me like a ton of cake batter one day and my mind has been racing with about a zillion themes to use it on ever since. The possibilities are endless. Literally. An overused term I know, but absolutely true in this regard. The recent feature, How to Create Effects with Cake Batter, by Amelia Carbine of CakeFu has put surprise inside cakes in even more of a spotlight. That's when I knew the time had come. I'm still writing the book. And saving some very special ideas just for that.  For now, I hope you'll be as happy to see this cake as I was to make it.

Fluffy white buttercream topped with marshmallows and cookies.
Remind me to tell you about the marshmallows later on.

Later that same night . . . 
after the sun was no longer available for natural lighting . . .
Not perfect but definitely seeing stars now.

My original polka dot cake.
Mini donuts with dots.

Although I am still very pleased with the Polka Dot and Hidden Donuts cakes, I wanted to find a way to put any shape to fit any theme inside of a cake. I am extremely challenged when it comes to carving so that particular method wasn't happening here. Not physically challenged. Mentally. Whatever part of the brain one needs to grasp and excel in that skill is completely missing from my tiny head. I have the utmost respect for those that can carve and model and draw. I cannot. Thank goodness for molds and stamps and cookie cutters! Those and some other convenient tools that are frowned upon by some master class artists are about the only ways I can produce a decent outcome most days. And yet I long to pipe like a master class baker someday. (Sincere and wistful sigh . . . )

Carving also means the object needs to be the same all around for it to work without worrying about which way the design is facing. You want the design to appear no matter where you cut the cake. So previous methods like carving by Amanda Rettke, or piping by Melissa Diamond, were too limiting for what I'd envisioned. Don't get me wrong. I love and admire their work. They are rock stars and have come up with methods that are nothing short of genius. I just had something else in mind. This new method uses cookies rather than cake hidden inside batter to create hidden inside effects. Simple. And you probably already own a few cookie cutters and some cake pans so no extra checkerboard pans to run out and buy. No fancy tools or methods are required. But what an impact from such an easy process. You're guests will be scratching their heads trying to figure it out long after the last crumbs are consumed. It's up to you whether or not you want to give away the secret.

Very out of focus photo of early attempts to hide shapes. No time for fancy photos, sorry.

I started off trying to decide which design to share with you first. Not an easy task since again, the ideas are countless. Flowers . . .  NO, wait, . . .  butterflies! My sweet friend, Jessica and I agreed that this was the best one to start with. Yeah, they'd all like butterflies! I'd shared the book idea and random photos along the way and swore her to secrecy while I plotted out the cake plans. She has been a very patient listener during my maniac ramblings about this method. Thanks so very much Jessica for all of your encouragement and patience and inspiration to be a better baker and blogger. I truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. She's responsible for urging me out into the big wide world with this method and the black and white fantasy wafer paper flower. Both might still be in waiting were it not for her.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . I was rummaging around my stash to find just the right pedestal to put the beautiful butterfly cake on. And there it sat. A pretty little scalloped trim with raised dots accents, from the side. If you look at the top, you can see that it also has an apple pie decal baked into the surface. At the time I got this at Michael's on clearance, the plan was to sand the decal off and resurface it somehow. But the chemicals and process to get that accomplished were more than I wanted to tackle. So it stayed as is. Thank goodness! The whole idea of a hidden inside cake is to cut it open and gasp at the middle. At which point the pie design would also appear. As American as apple pie.

The inspiration.
While looking for the right pedestal, I spied my stash of ribbon-in-waiting. You see, I have TONS of projects planned to share with you, down to the ribbon. There just aren't enough hours in the day lately. Sitting near the top in plain view and almost jumping up and down was this spool of ribbon screaming, "Let Freedom Ring." I swear I heard ringing but I've had a bit of a sinus issue lately so maybe that would explain it. Between the apple pie on the pedestal and the ribbon and the idea for this design being born on the 4th of July, I felt like I just HAD to make this cake. At that point it would've been un-American not to. Throw in this Liberty Bell cutter that I'd found a few weeks ago and just knew I had to have for some unknown reason and, Walla! A firm plan was formed.

Although surprises hidden inside cakes are not a new concept, I think you'll find that this method is. No tricky carving or piping. Just cutting out shapes with a cookie cutter and stacking them up into a nice little ring. The goal was to make sure every slice came out the same with a uniform pattern. Most of you probably already have an idea in mind right now for a cutter that you already own. Please send photos of your hidden inside cakes to me and I'll do my best to post them here for all to see. Are you excited to try it yourself yet? It's so easy! You can let your kids help with this one. Unless they happen to be the ones you're trying to surprise. : )


I experimented a LOT before I figured out what I believe is the best method so far. It's been hard to keep the eggs and sugar in stock around here lately! This method uses cookies for the hidden pattern because they show up much better than designs cut from cake. Some of my earlier attempts to stack shapes in a ring pattern weren't as successful. The same star shapes made from cake didn't always produce as crisp of a design. Cake still produces a decent effect but there are advantages to using cookies. And some disadvantages as well. Using baked cookies to form the ring allows them to stand up to the manipulation of forming the ring and to hold their shape during the second bake with the cake batter. But baked cookies are also rigid and can break easily, even when they're slightly underbaked. They also won't stack together as tightly together to form the curves without leaving gaps at the outer edge of the ring. Cake cutouts win here because they can be compressed more easily to fill the gaps on the outer edge of the ring. One cookie option would be to roll out your cookies so that one half of the shape will be thinner than the other. The other process that I used here was to only bake half of the amount of cookies needed for the ring and leave the other half unbaked at first. This way the unbaked cookies could conform to the curves better.

I adapted my sugar cookie recipe from the one favored by Marian  of Sweetopia.  There are lots of great cookie bakers and tutorials out there and I defer to any of them for cookie expertise. You can also use your own favorite sugar cookie recipe. Any recipe where the cookies hold their shape during baking will do. Just be sure to only bake them until set but not browned. The most important tip I can offer about sugar cookies is to follow the advice when they suggest rolling out the dough between two parchment sheets. If you haven't tried this before, DO IT. You'll be ah-mazed at the difference it makes in time and quality!

Enough chit chat. On to the good stuff. The INSIDE story . . .

Let Freedom Ring
Twice Baked Cake

During the gathering of supplies for this cake, I discovered that I only have one seven inch round cake pan. Seven inches fit perfectly on the apple pie cake pedestal you see. I could've trimmed down some eight inch baked layers but again, as fate would have it, I'd picked up several Panettone molds a few weeks ago. Exactly seven inches in diameter. So we were back in business. 

These were a wonderful alternative and the added height allowed me to experiment some more with adding two layers of the pattern inside. Which didn't work at all. The cookies all pretty much sunk to the same level so it's best to bake your cookie rings inside a regular cake pan. The cakes baked up moist and relatively flat so if you don't want to invest much and need several seven inch pans, you can give them a try for about .75 each. Disposable aluminum pans would also work well here.


I baked one batch of sugar cookie dough and colored one half red and the other half blue. 
This made enough cookies for both the patterns inside the cake and the outer decorations with leftovers.


I think it's important to hint at what's inside the cake so star cookies seemed like the natural choice. And let's face it, I'd never have matched that blue again in fondant no matter how long I tried. The crack in the bell was enhanced slightly using a knife blade while the cookies were still warm. The marshmallow stars happened to be easier than fondant for this project. Plus I knew you'd want to see yet another decorating option. So what may look like elephant skinned fondant stars are really soft pillows of marshmallow-y goodness. DE-licious!

Once the first half of the cookies were baked and cooled, the raw cookies cut with the same cutter were sandwiched, every other cookie with the baked cookies. The baked/raw sandwiches were then placed against the exterior of a cake pan and baked again just long enough to set but not to be dry. It helps during both bakings to only bake long enough to get the cookies to be set or no longer shiny but not brown. If you're good at counting, and I know you are, you'll see that this particular cake ends up with three baking steps so you can call it thrice baked if you'd prefer. Speaking of counting . . . how many cookies does it take exactly?


The amount of cookies needed per ring will vary depending on how big you make your ring and the thickness of your dough. Just choose your shape and start cutting. You'll need a cutter that is slightly shorter than the layer you plan to bake. (More on techniques for working with tall cutters in a future post.) I rolled my dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Start by trying out a single size of cutter for your first project and you'll get an idea for how many you'll use. Again, one batch of cookie dough was plenty for all the stars you see here. You are seeing stars, aren't you?

Any gaps can be filled in with partial shapes if you're unable to smish them into enough of a ring.


You can see here that the ring shape isn't as tight or uniform as it was in the pan. The baked rings have to be moved to the pans and the larger the diameter of the cookie ring, the more likely it is to separate into segments during the transfer. That's okay. The segments seem to break cleanly between cookies. Just reassemble the ring in the same order on top of a thin layer of batter and then pour more batter on top. Cake rings or cookie cutters should be used to hold the ring in place until after the batter is added. The cake rings are lifted up out of the batter while the ring of cookies stays put. I was in a hurry so I failed to use rings here. A future post will show you the RIGHT way to do this step. I've also come up with some DIY alternatives to expensive cake rings that can be made to any diameter in a snap.

The four seven inch layers for this cake were not all the same height as I was still playing around with stacking rings inside the taller pans and the like. Bad baker/blogger! Just couldn't wait to show you the concept. Try to make your layers even so that you won't be trying to neaten them up later and potentially ruin your pattern. Just make sure the cookie ring is covered slightly with cake batter and you'll be good to go. I used two cake mixes for the four layers shown here. No attempt was made to even out the baked layers before frosting but you'll do a much better job at this, I know. I'll even try to show you the proper way on the next project, the butterflies. Unless another plan emerges before then . . .


I wasn't wild about the tallest layer here. Too much white cake showing, it took way too long to bake that layer and although the interior of the cake was still moist, the outer edges were brown and slightly crusty. Not the desired outcome. I didn't bother trimming them since the cake was made just for you to look at. Stick to traditional layer heights for the best ratio of pattern.

I'm impatient. Have you guessed? So waiting to see what happens inside is very hard on me no matter how many times I do it. One trick I learned from the leopard print cake class on is that it's okay to slice a wedge of the cake and remove it carefully to peek inside. Just replace the wedge once you've stopped giggling and frost the cake. No one will ever know. Unless you take pictures, which we'd all love to see. Thanks Melissa for allowing me to share this tidbit! If you want to know more of her tricks, join her school. The $30 fee covers a whole year of video classes which is extremely reasonable given the costs of some single technique classes these days. 

Some of you may be concerned about adding dyes to your batter or dough or how it affects the taste. I cannot taste a difference in cake with or without colors even at these strong intensities, even blindfolded. Did the same test on my hubby and came up with the same results. Could it be that our taste buds are starting to look alike after all these years? They say that couples start to look alike after awhile. Maybe the same is true for taste buds. I've used AmeriColor gels, Wilton and others without an issue. Perhaps any distaste is covered by my habit of adding a teaspoon of almond extract to any white cake recipe or mix I make. I started doing this many years ago to mask the flavor of eggs and oil and everyone that tastes my cakes seems to love the subtle flavor. Remember that extracts bake out in the oven so a teaspoon in the batter doesn't have quite the punch it would if you added the same amount to frosting.

Kelsey Hilts of Itsy Bitsy Foodies prepared a post about DIY natural food dyes if you'd like to try them out instead: 
Hope that you'll share how they tasted if you choose to use them.


Some of you may also want to use a "from scratch" cake batter. Be my guest. Any batter should do just fine here. I've been using a lot of cake mixes lately just to get the method right and to save time. In order to feel like I'm truly baking . . . well, really, in order to make sure there are no lumps in the cake and that the batter doesn't get over mixed while trying to get them out, I usually sift the cake mix. Does that count as from scratch? Nope. But it's fun playing with my sifter and watching those wheels do their magic in a few quick turns. If you can't sift, at least whisk the dry mix to break up all the clumps before adding the wet ingredients.

If the work involved here seems like too much effort, remember that you're focusing most of your energy on the inside of the cake. Keep the outside clean and simple. All the more to surprise and awe your guests with. Start off with a single ring in just one or two layers. The less is more concept works great well here and looks every bit, if not more impressive than an overcomplicated exterior. Bake your cookies the day before. I'll admit I got a bit carried away with the stars, especially the two-colored cutouts. Couldn't even stop experimenting long enough to show you a decent first cake of this method. For shame. Hopefully you get the idea and will be as excited as I was by all the possibilities! I promise to slow down and do it right for you next time.

For the record, all that fuss I made earlier about the cherry pie on the pedestal and in the end it was on the wrong side of the pedestal when I cut the cake. Probably should've marked it somehow. And as it turns out, I could've used the 8 inch pans which would've avoided the tall layer problem. Must've been the sinus meds talking earlier in the day, which would explain the dizziness I thought was just giddy adrenaline. And so we learn . . .

Which brings up another point, since stars are a pretty random pattern that can be viewed in any direction, placement in the pan wasn't an issue for this project. If you choose a cutter that has an obvious top and bottom, remember that if you plan to flip your cake over and use the nice flat surface created by the bottom of the pan, your design will also be flipped. Do butterflies fly upside down? Maybe. Sometimes. Scroll back up to the butterfly photo and you'll see that purple ones do. Plan ahead and you'll avoid some of the mistakes made by someone that didn't. (Who, me??? Never!)

Thanks for dropping in!

You can find the cookie recipe here.


Niki said...

i absolutely LOVE this idea! but im a bit worried of the cookie part...does it taste like cookie dough or is it hard inside the cake or does the cake kind of soften the cookie?

Marian (Sweetopia) said...

Oh my goodness! Tonight I sat down and read more of your blog, and I think you are awesome in so many ways!

Love all your 'surprise' cakes and the planning, creativity and experimenting which goes into them. Brilliant! You make me smile (thank you!), and I love your writing style! Thank you also for linking to Sweetopia and using my recipe. xo

Looking forward to more!

Deborah Stauch said...

Nicki: The cookie part tastes about the same as the cake but is slightly denser. It is not hard since the cookies are barely baked before hand and absorb some of the moisture from the batter. Thanks for looking!

Marian: Thank you so very much for the kind thoughts! It means a lot coming from you. I adore your style!
Happy Caking!

Unknown said...

I guess you could say that I'm a young one in the baking world. I've been into baking for 10 years, but took some time off to have kids and now, getting back into it, I feel like everything is brand-new! Your surprise cakes are simply amazing. I'm definitely going to try this method sometime. It looks incredible and sounds absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for sharing your secrets. You're awesome!

Deborah Stauch said...

Thanks Sendy! How sweet you are. I can see how you might feel about the baking world seeming brand new. So much has changed but the basics will never change. Hope you'll share your creation to the Facebook page I created for Polka Dot and other Twice Baked hidden surprise cakes. Happy Caking!

Mad scientist said...

My dear girl the cakes and pictures are eye-candy! Very exceptional! I am newborn in to the world of baking (5 years) and do not blog about it...I am an unknown! I would love to try what you have made here ! Hoping to make pumpkins instead of stars. I was wondering if your cake recipe is for sharing ?? (A namastey and on my knees!)

Patricia said...

Genial. Top yaou of Paris France

Erica G said...

Omigosh! Love, love, LOVE this post! Time-consuming? Yes. But I think I may try to incorporate this in my twins' next birthday party somehow. Thank you so much for sharing.

Christy said...

For my daughter's 6th birthday in August, I'm going to attempt the butterfly cake. I was concerned about the cookie texture as well, but see you addressed that from others questions.
I'm not a creative person so I'm always thankful when creative people share! When I first saw this, I shared the link with my dear friend Amanda and then saw you had tagged her (Amanda Rettke/I AM Baker) lol!!

Surabhi said...

Though I love baking I have never been able to find time for the same. I so want to pursure baking as my F/T job but I know I have to master it first. I love your page and Rosie Cake-Diva on facebook. You guys are an inspiration. Thank you !!!!

Deborah Stauch said...

Thanks for all the kind words!

Deborah Stauch said...


Best of luck on your daughter's cake. Please let me know if you have any questions. I've got a couple more tricks that might come in handy. Amanda iambaker is the QUEEN MOTHER of hidden inside cakes and such an inspiration! You are lucky to have her as a friend.

TomW said...

Roll the cookie dough so it *isn't* flat - one edge is thinner than the other. Then they'll form a ring better. (It doesn't have to be a lot thinner... think 5mm on one side vs 4mm on the other).

Deborah Stauch said...

Thanks Tom. Beveling the cookies makes all the difference. If the ring isn't tight, batter can seep in between the shapes and ruin the design. I've come up with some much easier methods but am saving them for my book. Happy Caking!

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