Amirah Hassem's Flower Pot Cake
For the Vanilla Cake:
- 2 1/4 cups (335 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tbs baking powder
- 1/4 tsp table salt
- 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups (315 g) granulated white sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups (310 ml) milk
- Cooking spray
For the Frosting:
- 8 oz (1 cup/225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 16 oz (445 g) cream cheese, cold
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 32 oz (910 g) powdered or confectioner's sugar
- Food coloring: light brown (we mix dark brown and neon orange colors for a perfect terra cotta, but you can also mix purple and yellow, blue and orange, or red and green), purple, orange, yellow, red or pink and green
For the Cake Decorations:
- 1 3/4 cups (1 lb/455 g) rainbow sprinkle explosion mix
- 8-10 Oreo cookies, crushed, for the soil
For the Cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C) and put the oven rack in the middle of the oven. If you are using a convection oven, set it to 325°F (165°C).
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until they are really mixed together. You have to mix all the dry ingredients together first, so that there are no clumps in your batter, which will create white spots.
- Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter and sugar together, until they become fluffy. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula so it’s all mixed in from the sides.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter-sugar mixture, with the mixer on medium speed. Again, make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Add the vanilla to the milk and set it aside.
- Mix about one-third of your dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, then blend in half of the milk, always mixing on medium speed.
- Mix in the second third of the dry ingredients, then the remaining milk mixture. Stop the mixer for a few seconds and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl as you go, then mix in the last of the flour mixture. Make sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth. You don’t want any lumps, but don’t over mix it—stop the mixer as soon as the batter is smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly into four portions. They don’t have to be exactly identical, but you want them to be close: You can use any small bowls that are all the same size: Just slowly pour the batter into each of the bowls a little at a
time until they are all at the same height.
- Spray four 8-inch (20-cm) round baking pans with cooking spray, then pour the undyed batter into the greased pans.
- Bake the cakes two at a time for 10 minutes without opening the oven door. Then rotate each pan so the front faces the back. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the middle of the cake. (Cakes are very sensitive. The less you open your oven, the better your cake will come out!)
- Let the cakes cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes. (When they’re warm, they’re really fragile, and that’s when they tend to break.) Then flip them over onto a baking sheet or cooling rack and let them cool completely before you frost them.
For the Frosting:
- Use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter until it is smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend it together until there are no lumps. Then add the vanilla. Stop the mixer and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.
- Mix in the powdered sugar a little bit at a time on the lowest speed—otherwise it will fly everywhere! Make sure it is smooth. Use the spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.
- Dye a third of the frosting light brown (for the pot); 1 cup (255g) each of it purple, orange, yellow, and pink (for the flowers); and ½ cup (128g) of it green (for the leaves). Remember to start with one drop of food coloring, mix it in, and add more until it is as bright as you want it to be. If you don’t have the exact colors, try red and blue for purple, and yellow and red for orange, for example. For making the flowers, it’s easiest just to fill several different piping bags with the frostings, so that you can easily have them all on hand to add flowers in the pattern you like. You should have plenty of white left over for filling in the layers, or if you need more of any color.
- Use right away. Technically the frosting will last at least a week in the refrigerator, but fresh frosting is key! It tastes and feels so much better.
For the Magic:
- Make the “soil”: It’s Oreo cookies, how could it not taste good? Smash whole cookies in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, or use a food processor if you have one.
- Once your cakes are baked and completely cool, lay them out with the tops facing up. (The top is what you see when the cake comes out of the oven, and the bottom is the part of the cake touching the pan.)
- Use a 2-inch (5-cm) round cookie cutter to cut the center out of every cake but the top one. Never cut a hole in your top layer of cake!
- Before you assemble your cake, you’ll need a base to build it on. You can use an 8” cardboard cake round.
- You start to build a four-layer cake by putting a small ring of frosting directly on top of the board in roughly the same shape as the cake ring. This is so that the cake really sticks to the base and isn’t sliding around while you’re working.
- Put the first layer of cake directly on top of the frosting.
- Cover the top of the cake with an even layer of frosting. Using a piping bag, make sure to squeeze on the same amount of frosting for every layer: You just add on the same number of rings every time. We use 3 rings.
- Add the second layer of cake. Eyeball it from the top after you do, to make sure the holes line up. It’s easier to adjust as you go, rather than to fix a tilting cake at the end.
- Add another layer of frosting.
- Repeat with the next layer making sure to top it with an even layer of frosting.
- Now, pour the sprinkles down into the center of the hole! A measuring cup with a spout works perfectly. You’ll need about 1¾ cups (1 pound/455 g) of sprinkles to fill this cake.
- Now add the final layer! Flip it upside-down first, so you have a flat surface to frost on the top of the cake. Refrigerate the cake to set the layers and frosting.
- Now frost the outside of the whole cake in light brown frosting to make a flower pot. You can frost a thicker rim around the top, to get a planter effect. You can use a spatula or the dull side of a butter knife to apply the frosting, or an offset spatula made just for this purpose. This is even easier if you have your cake set on some kind of rotating cake stand, because you can smooth and spin, smooth and spin.
- Lastly, wipe the board clean with a damp cloth.
- Add the soil: Use your hands to make a thick, fluffy border of cookie crumbs around the edge of the top of the flower pot. Be sure to leave the center of the top clear for your flowers, because frosting doesn't stick as easily to cookie crumbs.
- Grow flowers! Fill piping bags with piping tips and frosting for your flowers and leaves. Use the Russian tips shown for flowers, and the flat leaf tips to make the leaves (both are shown on page 27). If you’re using a homemade piping bag without a special tip, you will have to get creative and draw your own: Make swirls for the flowers, or draw “petals” from a candy center. If you want a flat petal or leaf, just cut the hole in your bag at an angle. Either way, it’ll still look great. It also helps to practice a little on parchment or waxed paper or even a plate before you begin. Then slowly add flowers to the top of your cake, adding a few of each color at a time, letting them just overlap the “soil.” Then fill in any spaces between the flowers with green for the leaves. (And if your frosting starts to get too warm, which makes for droopy flowers, just put it in the fridge for a minute or two.)