Champagne

I was 40 last year but for various reasons didn’t get round to having a party. Ditto my husband 2 years earlier so when we got our building work finished and the garden sorted out and decided to hold a garden party not being 40 seemed as good a pretext to celebrate as any. We invited about 60 people and decided to let the pub take the catering strain (and a fabulous job they did too, thank you Karen and Nick at www.bellatbuckland.co.uk ) but a party isn’t a party without a cake.

60 people needs a big cake so I embarked on my first attempt at tiering. Nothing too structurally complicated, it started with a 9″ square dense fruit cake covered with ivory fondant (should have been white but my 4 year old was being particularly distracting while I was shopping. Hey ho.) On top of this went a 7″ square sour cream lemon cake, also covered with fondant icing. I’ve never made sour cream cake before and I was particularly impressed with it, very easy to make but a lovely moist cake. I didn’t assemble this until the morning of the party so no need for any dowels or other scaffolding.

So far, so simple but what to decorate it with? I ruled out making figures, I was fairly sure that would have ended in tears and decided on a champagne bottle. My plan was actually a half bottle lying down across the lemon cake using mini chocolate cakes cut in half to make the bottle and marzipan to form the shape of the neck. Naturally events conspired against me. I started running out of shopping time due to 4 year old’s school settling in sessions and baking time due to the entire village losing power for an evening after a silaging mishap took out a power cable. I was left making the cakes in an old chopped tomato can which made it too big for the top of the cake. Roll on Plan B.

Plan B meant making a complete, if slightly scaled down, bottle to stand on top of the cake. It started well. I made a simple chocolate cake mix and baked 3 mini chocolate cakes which I sandwiched together with chocolate buttercream.

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I completely covered this with marzipan before starting on the bottle neck. Of all the things I have had to do late night dashes to the supermarket for (calpol, milk, bread) marzipan is possibly the oddest but I’d completely underestimated the size of a bottle neck. On my return, armed with another 500g of marzipan, I had a reasonable stab at creating the right shape. Even the perfectionist I live with agreed the proportions were about right so I left it to dry. I hadn’t factored in the weather. It’s been hot for the last week or so, positively tropical for Somerset, and the marzipan softened and flowed under its own weight. My nicely proportioned champagne bottle was starting to resemble Newcastle Brown.

The following day I had another go at moulding it to the proper shape before covering with bottle green fondant. By this stage the sides were starting to flow a bit too although the extra fondant layer did contain it a little. I was running out of time so I decided to press on as I had more confidence in my abilities to actually decorate it than improve the shape. The decoration probably was the high point. Dr Oetker gold spray was perfect for the “foil” and I used black fondant icing for the labelling with a combination of writing icing and gold flakes for the detail. It was the shortest squattest champagne bottle ever seen but I found it quite endearing.

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On cutting the chocolate cake I discovered why everything had rippled quite so badly. The buttercream had also melted in the heat and squished out of its layers forming a new layer between the cake and the marzipan. I think I will wait for a cold spell before I try anything like this again.

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