Bake #3: Chocolate Layer Cake

The Challenge:

A chocolate layer cake

My Bake:

A chocolate record player illusion cake. Featuring a mirror glaze, wood-effect fondant and molded chocolate controls.

What Happened?

Oh god! Do I really need to talk about this one? Can’t we just pretend it never happened? Way back, when I was just a GBBO fan and they hadn’t even announced a Canadian version, I authoritatively mansplained to anyone who might listen that the optimum strategy for the first few episodes of these kinds of shows was: aim for the middle. Pick things which you know will work and which you can execute well. Don’t try to do anything too elaborate or novel that might not work and leave you in danger of getting kicked off.

That’s great advice, which I totally ignored in this bake. Somehow I got it into my head that, I needed to make a cake which looked like something – an illusion cake – which was not in the brief so I really have no idea where that came from. Next I decided it required showing a million different skills – most of which I had only a rudimentary handle on. So I had a mirror glaze, 3-tone chocolate fondant, white-chocolate marscapone butter cream and molded, filled chocolate details for which I 3d printed my own molds. So like I say, not too elaborate. On top of that, although I had practiced all these elements separately, I apparently thought that just sticking them together in the tent wouldn’t really present a problem.

The one sensible decision I made was to use a base cake which I know works. Based on the Moosewood Cookbook’s “Six-minute Chocolate Cake” – this is a cake risen with baking soda and vinegar which is mixed directly in the pan – no bowl needed – it does take about six minutes to throw together and then it goes straight in the oven. We make this cake regularly at home, it tastes fantastic and I figured if I get that in quickly I have hours to do all the other stuff.

Yeah well that was the plan.I was worried about getting the cake out of the pan in one piece because it wasn’t spring form and I thought it might stick. We don’t really worry about that at home because we just take slices straight from the pan. So I lined the pans with parchment paper. The problem was though that as I mixed the batter the parchment came away from the pan and the batter leaked under it so I had to fish the paper out again. I did this by hand and in the process things got messy – really very messy.

Since I already had my hands covered in batter by this time I just continued trying to mix the whole thing by hand. This apparently caused some controversy in some quarters. A few people have claimed this was “unhygienic”.  I’m not buying this: Bread dough is mixed by hand, so too is shortcrust pastry, in fact all manner of baked products are mixed by hand, it’s just easier in most cases. I washed my hands first, the batter itself was completely vegan (mostly just oil, cocoa and flour) so no this was not a health and safety issue! A totally messy ridiculous thing to do – sure.

Anyway, I was now slipping behind schedule. I started work on molded chocolate. So that involves tempering the chocolate. Tempering is a process which controls the crystallization of chocolate to make it predominantly crystallize in a single form which is stable and has a slightly higher melting point which makes the finished product nice and shiny and solid and is less likely to melt to the touch. There are several important rules to follow when tempering, perhaps the most important rule is: “don’t temper chocolate in a tent when it’s 30ºC and 90% humidity and you’re in a hurry”. I got the chocolate in the molds anyway and put them into the freezer without much hope of them working out.

Next up buttercream and mirror glaze – both were pretty straightforward but I was starting to get panicky now and more and more dishes were piling up. The real problem though was the fondant. Fondant usually has gelatin in it and as a vegetarian I do not eat it (plus it generally is a bit gross tasting!) So I was making my own using agar agar – a seaweed based gelling agent which takes the place of gelatin. However in the heat it was just turning into a sloppy mess. I kept adding icing sugar to firm it up – I used several kilos of the stuff! But no matter, it just wouldn’t  turn into the the lovely rollable plastic dough it should have been. It was meant to roll out into a nice large sheet but it just wouldn’t stay together so I stuck it onto the base of the cake in strips. It had totally lost it’s wood grain look. Instead it looked more like the skin of one of those iron age bodies they dig out of Irish peat bogs every now and then – yum!

I had the mirror glaze on the “record” and melting iron-age bog body fondant on the base. It looked absolutely dreadful. But perhaps with the chocolate knobs and arm it would be ok? Nope. The chocolate wouldn’t come out of the molds. I was going to roll a little disk of white fondant to put on the top as a record label but there frankly wasn’t a clean enough inch of workspace left to roll white fondant.

Time was called. It was a horrible mess. I started preparing my gracious going home vox-pop ready for judgement.


Rochelle and Bruno were very kind. They pointed out all the bits that didn’t suck – the mirror glaze was not bad, it looked overall vaguely like a record player. Like a record player that had been rescued from the wreckage of house fire maybe. On the plus side it did taste good. Both the cake and buttercream had worked. I was still pretty sure I was going home.


Overall it was probably the worst looking cake I have ever made in my life. I learned what I already knew – be authentic, do what you do and do it well. I don’t make fondant covered illusion cakes. I didn’t have to. And it didn’t work!


I was astonished it was not me who went home. When I first met Pierre I thought “well I wonder who will come second in this series?”  He knows everything about patisserie and I was sure he would be going the distance. He was unlucky, he had a marginally worse day than me.


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