I went to a specialty baking store in Malaysia with my sister many months ago and found some really cute pirate candles and immediately thought of using them for my boyfriend’s birthday – he has this thing about pirates...Arrrrrr! I have been holding out since then and waiting till December for his birthday to put them to good use. My idea was to bake a pirate ship cake so I could stick those cute little pirates on top of it. I Googled for some ideas, and found this which pretty much fit the bill for me. Of course I had to simplify it a little more as I did not have as much time to play around with things like fondant, and also because baking goods are hard to find in Melbourne and are very very pricey as well. After putting some thought into it, I decided what my pirate ship would look like. I pretty much had to improvise an alternative way to create the railing around the ship’s deck.
At this point I was pretty excited about baking my first 3D cake. I must admit that this was by far the most complicated cake I have ever attempted, and that there hasn’t been many at all. Now, I only had a few hours to complete the whole thing so I decided to cheat and use cake mix from a box which would save me some time. He had mentioned a craving for marble cake the day before, so I used one box of Devil’s Food Cake mix, and one box of Vanilla Cake mix – both by Betty Crocker.
I prepared both the cake batters, and used a mixing spoon to put alternate spoons of the chocolate and vanilla batters into a 20cm x 5cm round cake tin. Once it was filled to about half full (use half of both the batters, roughly 2 – 3 layers of batter depending on how large your ladle is), I used a butter knife to swirl the batter to create the marble effect. This was then baked in an oven that was preheated to 180˚C for about 50 – 55 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to rest for 5 – 10 minutes, then remove from the baking tin and leave to cool on a cooling rack. It is very important that the cake layers are completely cool before the icing process. If you are in a hurry (like I was), pop the cake on a plate and into the freezer for 15 minutes or so. Problem solved. ^_^ Repeat for the second layer.
While the cake layers were being baked and cooled, I got started on making the sails and drawing the shape of the ship out on paper to use when shaping the layers of the cake. The technique I used was to draw one half of the ship’s shape, and then fold the paper in half before cutting the shape out so that both sides would be symmetrical. Using sketch paper, I measured and cut out the sails for the ship. I looked at some photos of the Black Pearl for inspiration and decided on two masts, with a combination of big and small sails for my little pirate ship.
To age the paper, I sprayed cooking oil onto the four sides of each sail and put them into the oven at about 230˚C for about 10 – 12 minutes. Sketch paper is fairly thick, so if you are using paper that is thinner, keep an eye on it as it will burn easily at such high temperatures. When the paper is browned, remove from the oven to cool. After that, I used a blade to cut two small crosses on the top and bottom of each sail so that the skewer would not tear the paper too much. I then traced Pirate Font I found on the internet to write the birthday message on the sail. To prepare the skewers, I rubbed some of the chocolate frosting that came with the chocolate cake mix onto the bamboo skewers to darken their colour.
For the frosting, I used a Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe my sister recommended. I found that the amount of dark chocolate suggested in the recipe did not give the frosting enough colour and enough oomph. I doubled the amount of dark chocolate to achieve the taste I wanted. It turned out surprisingly well as it was glossy and smooth, but not overly sweet. Paired with the marble cake, it was just nice. The outer layer of the icing tends to firm up when refrigerated, but underneath that, it remains soft. I only wish I had some brown food colouring that day as I would have preferred to have the ship a darker shade of brown. Once the buttercream was ready, I was ready to glue the pieces of my pirate ship together.
Tip: To ensure that the meringue has been beaten until it’s stiff, hold the mixing bowl upside down for 10 seconds – if the meringue does not fall, you can move on to the next step.
Using the pattern I had cut out before, I stacked both the cakes and cut out the shape of my ship. I then used the extra bits of cake and cut out the shape for the third layer which made up the front, back and sides of the ship. This created the depression in the deck.
Using the buttercream, I applied a generous amount between the layers of my ship so that it would look taller. Be sure to frost the top of the second layer before attaching the third layer! Once all the pieces were glued together with the buttercream, I started frosting the rest of the cake. This was the longest part of the whole process. It is important to make sure that there are no air bubbles in the frosting as that will make the frosting process even harder.
To create the water, I used the vanilla frosting from the vanilla cake mix and added some blue food colouring. I then used a spatula and spread this into wavy peaks onto a black plate for contrast. Next, I added a few more drops of the colouring and smeared it onto the frosting to create some dark blue swirls in the “sea”. Now that the sea was ready, it was time to transfer the ship onto it. Smooth out the icing where required. Using a pizza cutter, I then drew the lines on the ship to emulate wooden boards. I used chocolate buttons as windows, and chocolate chips as rivets for decorating the ship. Maltezers were my chocolate of choice as the cannonballs.
Be careful when sticking the chocolate chips on so as not to accidentally rough up the frosting. Use tweezers if you have any because I can tell you that trying to pick up chocolate chips using only the edge of a pair of chopsticks really tested my chopstick skills. The skewers prepared earlier were then used to hold up the sails and then carefully poked into the cake. As a final touch, the pirate candles were added, together with the rest of the regular stick candles, which I stuck at an outward angle so that they looked like cannons/tubes of fireworks (also so they wouldn’t burn the sails!).