It was the 9th of May. Our school’s Teachers’ Day celebration was due for the 11th. I had already planned on baking a cake for my fellow colleagues to celebrate. I knew I wanted to do blackboard-themed cake, I just didn’t know whether I wanted the whole cake to be blackboard or just a blackboard on the top. After researching many blackboard cakes I discovered that a lot of them were made with fondant. At this time I hadn’t covered a cake with fondant yet so I didn’t wanna risk it.
I decided to go with a fully buttercream-covered cake with a fondant blackboard on the top. The cake looks fine enough, I think. But I’m gonna tell you about everything that went wrong with this cake. The decoration, specifically. First things first, let’s see how to make a checkerboard cake.
- Take 4 batches of my butter cake recipe, half of which are going to be chocolate. Not much of a difference, just add a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder to each batch of the recipe. So in this case, you need 4 tbsp. of cocoa powder altogether. (I didn’t use dark cocoa powder for this cake because it’s essentially a butter cake and I didn’t want to take away from that taste by making the chocolate taste too overpowering.)
- It’s essentially a marble cake recipe, but without the marbling. Just keep both the batters separate. So the 2 batches of vanilla flavoured batter should be split between two 8-inch pans and the same with the chocolate flavoured batter. Once all the cakes are baked and cooled, you should have yourself 2 vanilla and 2 chocolate butter cakes.
- Before you start stacking your cakes, you want to level them by first marking off the height of the cake you want. I’ve described how I do this in my mermaid-themed cake. Once the ridge is set, place your knife on one side of the cake along the ridge. Do not cut straight through! Even if you can ensure the knife stays along the ridge on your side, the knife might create a “dip” in the cake on the other side. Place the knife on one side, then start turning the cake around on your Lazy Susan (of course, you needed to have your cake on your turntable first of all). Gently push the knife through bit by bit. As you keep turning the cake, the knife would keep cutting into the cake until it reaches the centre. I first learnt about this trick on Youtube and it has not failed me since. Tip: Once your knife is set on the edge of the cake before you start cutting, be careful not to let the knife slip up off the cake. I did once, and the knife slipped up and hit that part of my index finger right underneath the nail. The knife was sharper than I expected…well, you know the rest.
- Once all your 4 layers of cake are levelled, use circle cutters to cut the cake into concentric circle. For example, since my cake was 8 inches in diameter, I cut out circles 6, 4, and 2 inches in diameter so you end up with 4 circles of different sizes in each layer. Altogether you should now have 16 circles.
- Alternate the vanilla and chocolate cake circles in each layer. Start with 2 layers, separate the circles from one another. First, put a 6 inch chocolate circle inside an 8 inch vanilla circle and a 6 inch vanilla circle inside the 8 inch chocolate circle. Then place the 4 inch vanilla circle into the first set and vice versa with the chocolate. Finally, place the 2 inch chocolate into the first set and vice versa for the smallest vanilla circle. Repeat this whole process for the remaining 2 cake layers. Now you have 2 cake layers which are vanilla-chocolate-vanilla-chocolate (v-c-v-c) and another 2 layers which are chocolate-vanilla-chocolate-vanilla (c-v-c-v).
- Then, alternate these layers on top of each other now. So if you’re starting with v-c-v-c layer at the bottom, the next layer should be c-v-c-v and again with the last 2 layers. Finally, just frost it as normal – crumb coat then another layer of frosting. When you cut into it, you should have something that looks this. Simple procedure to get such a unique inside of a cake.
Tip about circle cutters: I went everywhere looking for these specific circle cutter sizes but I couldn’t find a 6 inch cutter anywhere. The set of circle cutters I did manage to find started at 4 inches and went all the way down to less than an inch. There was also no cutter which was exactly 2 inches so all I had to do was get the 2 closest ones, place them over my cake layers and just estimate exactly which size I wanted. FYI, the cutter slightly larger than 2 inches made the cut. As for the 6 inch cutter, I ended up getting a 6 inch cake pan made out of a thin flimsy material so I could flatten the rim and use that as a cutter.
Important: Be careful when you’re handling each circle of cake especially the larger ones. Remember even large cakes can break apart and it works the same way for layers as well. If you don’t make sure to hold the entire base a part of it can break off of the rest.
What to do if the circle breaks anyway? Well if you think about it, all these different pieces are assembled together anyway. They’re not really attached. So if you do end up accidentally breaking one of the circles, just place it wherever it needs to be in the form of the original circle. It will hold up with the rest of the cakes and the buttercream anyway.
So I started out with some white store-bought fondant. I thought it was a cheaper option than to buy the individual coloured-fondants. I was thinking of making the green chalkboard but when I coloured the fondant green, it wasn’t quite the right colour. Now in hindsight, I think it was a combination of not kneading enough as well as not letting it rest. (You can read more about the importance of letting coloured buttercream and fondant rest.) So I pulled out more white fondant and coloured it black. And another ball of fondant got coloured with chocolate brown. For this cake though, the fact that I didn’t knead the colours in properly worked out well. The marbling effect with the white fondant gave the black a nice “chalk-y” look and the brown a nice wooden effect. I made the base, just a rectangular black and 4 thin brown slabs to go on the sides.
The mistake I made with this blackboard though was that I put it in the fridge until it was time to place it on the cake. You shouldn’t need to put fondant in the fridge or it will “sweat” (condensation) and the colours will bleed. Another mistake was putting it on a porcelain plate. You should only need to place fondant between 2 pieces of plastic like cling wrap and keep it in a dry place. This piece stuck to my plate and I almost ripped it apart trying to get it off the plate. Another main mistake, the brand of the fondant. I’m never using this fondant again. Moving forward it’s only home-made marshmallow fondant for me.
As for the writing on the board, I’ve been known to mess up writing on cakes a lot. So I traced the words with a toothpick first. And then wiped off the toothpick and dipped it in my white colour and wrote on the board. I did read somewhere that you can use white-coloured rose water. This didn’t work for me as the wordings faded off after a few hours in the fridge. When you are directly using white colouring, just easily writing it on will not work as well. You will need to keep dabbing the colour onto the trace you made earlier. Then the wordings last.
As I mentioned earlier, this cake was made on the 9th of May 2018. Which was for Malaysians, an historic day. As a result we got the next two days as holidays which meant the Teachers’ Day celebration at school was postponed. Now the cake wasn’t going to last to the new celebration day which was 27th of June. But I did manage to keep the cake fresh in the fridge, just covered in a cardboard box, till Monday, 14th May. The cake would even last up to a week if un-iced outside the refrigerator in an airtight container.
And, there you have it. My teachers’ day checkerboard, vanilla & chocolate flavoured butter cake.