Cake disaster
November 30, 2012 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Please help me fix my cake disaster.

I made a cake tonight for a birthday party tomorrow. It is a chocolate layer cake (which I have made a million times before) with a ton of chocolate ganache (pourable) on top. I've never made ganache before and while it tastes really good, I didn't really know how to work with it as a frosting and my cake looks really lopsided and lumpy. But it tastes good.

I would rather not throw this cake away but I'm not going to bring it to a party looking the way it does. Is there anything I can do to it to salvage it, even if it means somehow breaking it up and making it into something else? I considered making a buttercream to put over the ganache so I could level and smooth everything out. But I'm worried that it's just going to be another thick layer of frosting and still look bad.

I need this cake/dessert for tomorrow night and I need the fix to be something relatively easy. Any ideas for what to do with a chocolate cake covered in a thick chocolate ganache?
posted by triggerfinger to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that I've already made a bunch of cake pops with leftover cake and while I considered doing more of them I think that doing a bunch more cake pops (with the frosting and decorating that goes along with it) will be too time consuming to do tomorrow.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:46 PM on November 30, 2012

If you chill the ganache, it should harden up. That won't help with current lopsidedness, but it will be good for structural integrity.

It's hard to tell what to do with no photo - and I'm no professional - but when I've had serious lopsided layer cakes, I generally try to get them to set straighter by propping up the falling side in the fridge until the icing sets, and/or covering with sprinkles to distract from any oddness. People seem very forgiving if you distract them with sprinkles.
posted by jb at 9:51 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chocolate shavings hide a multitude of lumpy cake sins. Cover the cake with 'em and refrigerate.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:55 PM on November 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: If the ganache has set, buttercream over the top might well work -- it might have to be a rather thick layer for you to be able to smooth out the top, but you rarely hear complaints about too much homemade buttercream. Alternatively, you could add a little more ganache as an adhesive and them cover the entire top of the cake with fruit -- a bunch of raspberries all standing on end would be delicious, or, for a cheaper alternative, very thin slices or supremed wedges of orange.

If you really just want to give up on the ganache, you could cut a very thin layer off the top of the cake. Nobody will notice post-buttercream.

Finally, if all else fails: trifle.
posted by ostro at 9:57 PM on November 30, 2012

If in doubt, garnish. Strawberries, cream, spun toffee, chocolate shavings or curls, wafers, bought icing flowers etc. Go big, go asymmetric, be bold and people will assume it's part of the design, assuming they can see through the frills in the first place.
posted by ninazer0 at 10:02 PM on November 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Here is a picture. The bottom layer is sloping a little downward on one side - I don't know if you can really see that in the picture. The top layer is even enough, but because I cut both the circles out of a bigger cake, the sides are really lumpy. It's been in the fridge for an hour so the ganache has mostly set (and is pretty thick). Should I take it out of the fridge overnight so I can work with it in the morning?

This is the last time I try two new cake strategies (layers and ganache) in one try.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:04 PM on November 30, 2012

I agree with ninazer0. You are at this point, going to see the flaws no matter what you do, because you are aware of them. But if you cover that cake in cut fruit and sprinkles and twirls of shaved white chocolate etc, no-one will notice. I would either attempt to trim the ganache around the edge on the plate in order to make it look finished (I can't tell how hard that is, I think its risky), or place cut fruit in a ring over that ganache so that it looks deliberate, like press the fruit into the ganache, but overhanging the plate too. I think it will be fine!
posted by Joh at 10:11 PM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's that bad. It's not perfect, by any means, but who cares? It looks really really tasty and that's pretty important. I sure as heck wouldn't decline a piece!!

Seriously, whack some decorations over the worst of it and call it a Rustic Chocoaganza or something and cut into that bad boy and hand out slices asap. People with delicious cake in their mouths don't tend to make comments of any sort.
posted by ninazer0 at 10:16 PM on November 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think if you ring the bottom (on another plate) with strawberries, and another ring of strawberries where the top layer meets the bigger one, you'll hide the biggest flaws. Add some flowers and leaves to the plate as well, and then, cut it fast and get it onto plates. People will not care once they start eating, trust me.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:19 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this definitely calls for chocolate shavings and berries.
posted by batmonkey at 10:34 PM on November 30, 2012

If you completely chill it, the ganache might be firm enough that you could tie a wide ribbon around the cake to hide the lumps on the sides (not sure of this as I don't have a lot of experience with ganache). Or, if it's still pretty soft, you could put nuts on the sides; you put some chopped nuts in your hand and press it against the sides and repeat all around the cake. Fruit or maybe flowers would also work; I'm thinking you don't necessarily need to cover up all the lumps or make them go away, just distract the eye for a minute.

If nothing seems to work, I would just cut it, spread the slices out in a pretty way on a nice platter, and be done with it. Everybody will just be thrilled to have homemade chocolate cake, I'm sure (homemade cakes are pretty rare in the wild these days, I find, and even if they aren't perfect, they are highly appreciated).
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:34 PM on November 30, 2012

Okay, true fact. That cake is so over the top ridiculous I think you just need to own it. I would be completely thrilled if someone brought that to a party. Bonus points for haphazard birthday candles (think like, the first failed cake in the woodcutters cottage in Disney's Sleeping Beauty)
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 10:36 PM on November 30, 2012 [13 favorites]

Leave it out so the ganache softens, then roll out some fondant and cover that mess right up.
posted by nicwolff at 10:45 PM on November 30, 2012

Actually, yeah, after seeing that picture: embrace the puddle. Love the puddle. I'm picturing the Marzipan Monster (maybe some kind of Mayan-end-of-the-world thing?) emerging in wrath from the top layer, while marzipan citizenry scream and run on the plate.
posted by ostro at 10:52 PM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Use ALL THE BERRIES. So the ganache puddles and lumps? Berry dip. The lopsidedness? Space for berries. Go mulitcoloured if you can, a range of flavours. Then white chocolate shavings or something to break it up.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:14 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

The top and bottom layers totally lay the groundwork for a rule-of-thirds based decoration scheme! Create a gradient of berries-to-chocolate on the horizontal plane with more berries in the top third. It will look balanced and taste amazing.
posted by SakuraK at 11:23 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please don't make cake balls or trifle out of that beautiful cake. It looks sooo yummy.

If you don't want to use strawberries as garnish, go out in the morning and get some gold stars to sprinkle on it. Or do a white chocolate drizzle.
posted by donajo at 2:41 AM on December 1, 2012

Do you have a cookie press/icing press?

Here's what I would do.

1. Make a map/diagram of your cake.

2. Make florets with your favorite icing. Not like a crazy amount -- just at compass points or whatever feels right to you.

3. Glitter/ sprinkle, dot, garnish the shit out of EVERYTHING.
posted by spunweb at 3:01 AM on December 1, 2012

Fancy icing makes everything classy.
posted by spunweb at 3:08 AM on December 1, 2012

Here, let me eat that sad cake and put it out of its misery.

I'm just kidding. Sort of. That cake looks delicious and I want to eat it.

I think you should definitely put berries in the moat. That would turn it into something I wish there were more of. Like fondue AND cake in one dish, omg.

I think the top of the top layer, and the sides of the top layer, look divine. You shouldn't touch those. If you like, press some smaller fruit or shavings or coconut or whatever in the sides of the bottom layer. Then the whole thing will looks like a beautiful small cake, resting on a chocolatey, fruity plinth.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:29 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

That cake looks freaking awesome. Unless you're going to a fancy pants party, I think it looks super and I agree that you should totally own it. HOWEVER, it does need a little something to add interest. Any of the decoration ideas above have potential. I also want to suggest marzipan (instead of fondant, if you're set on covering it), or, even better, something Dr. Seuss- themed, because that cake looks like Dr. Seuss invented it. This is a compliment.
posted by windykites at 3:36 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd go for berries (less sweet) rather than adding buttercream (more sweet). At my kid's birthday party last summer, we made an amazing beach cake, covered with buttercream waves. So I can tell you with confidence that it is quite easy to use buttercream frosting to make a cake so sweet and rich that even a room full of seven year olds will refuse to eat it. (It still looked awesome. It had leaping Swedish fish, yo!)
posted by instamatic at 4:26 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd say pipe some whipped cream, add some chocolate shards, and make those some boozy berries around the bottom of it. It looks delicious as it is, it just needs a little something that says "PARTY!"
posted by peagood at 5:34 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The cake really doesn't look that bad - if you had to, you could serve it to guests (I've served worse looking even to a pastry chef). But I would heartily second all of the suggestions for garnishing with fruit and whipped cream and chocolate shavings - yum.

For the future: I worked briefly as a desserts baker for a restaurant and we used ganache for the tops of pies and cakes, but rarely the sides - first the ganache on the top, then disguise the drippy sides with icing or whipped cream or nuts. The top of your cake looks lovely and shiny.

Also, most home cooks who do layers don't cut them from a larger cake, but just buy pans of the sizes they need. I have equal size layer pans that I bought at the same time - they are very cheap. This would help with your lumpy side problem. I'm impressed that it stayed together - did you make pound cake?
posted by jb at 7:00 AM on December 1, 2012

Nthing covering this baby with a cloud of fine chocolate shavings- it will mask lopsidedness and the texture of the cake showing through the ganache. If the ganache is already hardened on there, do a very quick pass over the cake with a hair drier to get it "sticky" again. Once you've got a beautiful masking layer of chocolate shavings (and the finer the shavings, the more delicate and subtle the extra chocolate will be) I don't think you'll want to add whipped cream or berries.
posted by Lisitasan at 7:23 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

For some reason, I'm really invested in how this cake turns out. Please post an "after" pic. I like the berries idea a lot. For the topper, you could also go to the gift wrap section and get one of those flouncy pre-made bows that you stick on packages. A length of matching ribbon around the top layer and it will look pretty smart. A dish of more berries and fresh whip off to the side to garnish slices and YUM!
posted by amanda at 7:27 AM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

The top of your cake looks pretty nice; it's only the sides that are lumpy. What I have done many times in this situation is to cover just the sides of the cake, most simply with finely chopped nuts. Basically this technique.

You'll need to have the ganache slightly tacky in order for the nuts to stick, so if it's set by now, you might want to run over the sides with a warm knife or something, or just leave it at room temp until it warms.

Pecans and hazelnuts are my favorite nuts to use for this technique, especially on a chocolate cake. I would not recommend chocolate shavings for your covering medium, as they tend to melt on your skin and do not have the bulk to fill in dents the way that nuts do.

For a more finished look, once you've covered the sides, you could add whole nuts in a ring around the top and/or bottom edges of the cake as well (like so).
posted by zadermatermorts at 9:46 AM on December 1, 2012

I would get everyone at the party nice and drunk and then brandish the cake triumphantly. Also do the nutty sides as suggested above.

OMG ALSO you could make a little flag on a toothpick and the emblem should be one of those tumblr YOU TRIED gold stars.
posted by elizardbits at 9:56 AM on December 1, 2012

There are so many fantastic ideas in this thread, please let us know what you finally decide to do.
posted by ambrosia at 10:19 AM on December 1, 2012

You could embrace the chocolate puddles and go with a theme. Willie Wonka or Candyland are coming to mind. Draw (or print out from online pictures) some oompa-loompas or Queen Frostine and the other characters/trees/castle/etc of the theme. Glue them to toothpicks and arrange around the puddles.
posted by CathyG at 11:47 AM on December 1, 2012

If you are pressed for time, just coat the whole thing with whipped cream with a little dash of something boozy in it.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:48 AM on December 1, 2012

OOH! Good idea CathyG! Make a tiny chocolate-coated marzipan Augustus Gloop!
posted by peagood at 6:20 PM on December 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all the great answers! I ended up making a trifle.

I did first try to cover up some of it with fruit, as people have suggested. I cut off the puddle, put it on a new plate, put a line of raspberries around the moat and a circle of them the top and it still looked pretty wonky - the one other person who saw it looked at it after the raspberries were on and said, "yeah, maybe do a trifle". If it was going to be a party with just close friends, I wouldn't have cared, but this was a party with like 60 people, a majority of whom I did not know and I had visions of people sadly shaking their heads at the girl who made the sad, crooked cake as I walked by. And to be honest, I poured so much ganache over it while trying to straighten it out that there was almost too much ganache. There was probably as much ganache as there was cake and while it tastes amazing, it is rich. I say this as a person who generally has no problem eating rich food and could probably drink a big glass of heavy cream with a meal if I ever wanted to.

So I broke up the cake and put a layer in a bowl and then put chocolate pudding over that and then whipped cream, with crushed heath bars on top. I had to make a whole second chocolate cake so that I had enough for my cake layers. I wasn't really sure how it would turn out, as I've never done a trifle before but it was so. good. I actually think I liked it better than just the cake and ganache alone. It was all eaten pretty quickly at the party and a few people that I didn't know sought me out to tell me how good it was. One even said I should open a bakery, haha. So, success!

Here is the trifle, which tasted better than it looks in the picture. Here is the raspberry cheesecake pie I also made and here are the cake pops made from the leftover cake.

Thank you so much for all your great answers! You've given me lots of good ideas for my next big baking session.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:57 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh my. I am available anytime to help you clean up any future disasters.

(yeah, yeah, I'll get in line.)
posted by iamkimiam at 5:19 PM on December 2, 2012

Yummmm. Good job! Did you follow a recipe? Or what kind of pudding did you use? Now I want to try making a cake disaster trifle...
posted by barnone at 12:23 PM on December 3, 2012

Response by poster: barnone: I used this chocolate black out cake receipe. It was an amazing cake. For the ganache I used a different recipe than the one that goes with the cake recipe but it was basically one part heavy cream, one part chocolate and a little bit of butter for shine. The pudding was Jello Instant (!), chocolate flavor because I was running low on time and wouldn't have been able to cook and cool regular pudding fast enough.

The trifle turned out great and I will definitely make it again.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:55 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

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