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Why Wine and Baking Don't Mix

December 4, 2017


This is a burning question on everyone's minds, I'm sure.


I like to try new things, or revisit techniques I haven't experimented with for a while. Because when it's for testing and NOT for an actual order, I approach these projects in what could be called a more "relaxed" manner. It might involve setting up my equipment while still in my leopard bathrobe (see below). It may involve wine, and lots of it. It also usually involves screwing up then having to repeat the process sans wine and in the appropriate attire.

And I'm pleased to report that was the case this weekend! More to come on the wine disaster later in this post.


Recently, I saw a cake done by Erica O'Brien (who's blog is fantastic and her Craftsy videos are also super excellent and worth the fee). This cake had what I'd consider to be a glorious floral pattern beloved by grannies the world over, and I knew I had to figure it out. The process wasn't detailed out in the blog post I was reading, so I did some research. God bless the Internet.


I figured the design had to be a chocolate transfer sheet; it's the only application that could make sense given the colorful repeating patterns. Transfer sheets are pieces of acetate (clear plastic) with colored cocoa butter designs on one side. You apply melted and/or tempered chocolate to the acetate, let it set, and then peel away the plastic leaving you with a beautiful design. It basically turns chocolate into edible wallpaper. 



After much research, I found I was correct. The technique is actually pretty simple. You apply untempered chocolate (because no one wants cracking when you cut the cake!) to the appropriately sized transfer sheet then, when the chocolate has juuuuuuust firmed up enough to move but is still pliable, you pick it up and slap it around the cake. 


Easy enough, right? 




Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially in pastry. Making sure the transfer sheet and the cake are properly prepped is crucial. It involves a lot of measuring, then double and triple checking your measurements. 


To begin, prepare your cake as your normally would using a Swiss Meringue buttercream frosting. Next, make sure your sides are straight and level. Get something with a square edge, like a ruler, and a level, and diligently check to make sure the sides of your cake are straight and even from top to bottom.



This is important because when you apply the chocolate transfer sheet, you need it to evenly adhere to the cake. If the frosting is lopsided, the transfer sheet will cave in, or buckle, or ruffle, or do something equally egregious. Just take the time to make sure the cake is straight. And if you need some cheap tools to ensure it's straight and level, I suggest you buy one of these and one of these. You're welcome.


Once your cake is all prepped, let it chill in the fridge for a bit so that it firms up. Use this time to tidy up and set up your mise en place for your transfer sheets.


Now you're ready for the hard part. The measuring. I'm terrible at measuring anything; I'm the queen of eyeballing it. Luckily for me, I'm pretty good at eyeballing. Except that one time I decided to create a "picture wall" and willy nilly hung about 20 frames on the wall in a pretty haphazard fashion. The husband was not pleased. But that's neither here nor there; we're not hanging pictures, we're measuring cake. 


First thing's first. Measure the height of your cake. Double check it and write it down. Then, using one of those soft tape measures or a piece of string, measure the circumference of your cake. Double and triple check those measurements, making note of them as well. 


Now we've reached the arts and crafts portion of today's program. The transfer sheet, usually around 11x14-ish, will not be long enough to wrap around your cake so you'll need to connect two together (this is for a 6" cake, by the way).


Trim 2 of your transfer sheets using an exacto knife; you'll need to remove the clear margins and trim to the correct height for your cake. 


From here, you need to connect the sheets. With the cocoa butter side facing down, line up the edges as best as you can, so that they touch but do not overlap. Then Scotch tape it together. 


Ps, did you know that Scotch tape is non-toxic? I didn't. The more you know...


Anyway. Your transfer sheets are connected, you just need to trim off the end so the length is the same number as the circumference of your cake, plus 1/4". For example, if the circumference of your cake is 12", make the length of your taped-together-transfer-sheets 12.25". The extra quarter inch ensures that you'll definitely meet and very slightly overlap where the seam will be on the cake. 


Ok, so cake is chilled, transfer sheets are cut to size, now you just need to put the chocolate on. I used Callebaut white chocolate; Erica O'brien used white candy melts but I have a strong aversion to candy melts. I know it's "candy", I just hate them! They taste bad, and they don't behave like regular chocolate, and they have a tendency to "gloop". I hate gloop. Excuse me for a second while I go start a Change.org petition to remove candy melts from craft store shelves everywhere. Ugh, I'll get off my soapbox now.


Back to business. Melt your chocolate and temp it somewhere between 85 and 90 degrees F. More than 90 degrees and it'll be too hot to apply and will take too long to cool and you'll be irritated, much like I was the first time I tried this. I also applied the chocolate to the non-cocoa butter side of the transfer sheet on this same first round, so needless to say I was pretty angry once I sobered up. Full disclosure: I was working on this Saturday night and was about 3 glasses of wine deep, which is likely why I screwed up.


The wine was great though; if you're curious I was drinking a delightful 2015 Bordeaux. It's delicious and at $15.99, a fantastic bargain. 

Fast forward to Sunday morning and I'm attempting it for the second time, sober, and things went much more smoothly. What. A. Shock. Luckily, the evening before I somehow had the wherewithal to pre-cut more than one transfer sheet. I double checked these measurements again, because wine, and magically they were correct.


One thing I didn't mention, and I didn't do this in the first go-round either, again because wine, but I set up little barriers on either side of the transfer sheet so that the chocolate would be spread to an even thickness. Again, Erica O'Brien did this and because I didn't do it the first time, I get why it's so important. She used two rulers, one on either side of the transfer sheet. I only had one ruler, so on the other I used silicone cake lace mats, which are maybe 1/8" thick and were pretty close to the same thickness as the ruler. 


Then I heated the white chocolate to 90 degrees F, and liberally poured it onto the CORRECT side of the transfer sheet. Using an offset spatula, I spread the melted chocolate as evenly as possible over the transfer sheet and scraped off the excess using a bench scraper. Removing the ruler and mats, I scraped up any chocolate around the transfer sheet while it set. 

I waited a minute or two and then, very carefully, lifted the the transfer sheet off the counter and applied it to the cake, wrapping it around and lightly pressing so that the chocolate would stick to the buttercream. And then I just left it and let it hang out for a bit in the fridge. Once the chocolate was firm, I peeled off the acetate, and it was done!



I purposely made the chocolate a little higher than the top of my cake so that I could it make it look like I piled a bunch of stuff on top, kind of like an overflowing treasure chest. I decided to use fondant pearls and arranged them on the top and a little over the sides. 


It's kinda cute, right? I've got the hang of it now and will definitely be trying again with different designs. I'll also avoid wine and my bathrobe so that I only have to do it once, instead of twice :)