Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Misadventures in Piñata Cake Land

In my endless trolling of Baking Sites I ran across Nordic Ware’s Piñata Cake Pan.  It looked unique, it looked intriguing, it looked like something I had to HAVE!!!  This pan was different from anything I had played with before.  This piñata cake pan lets you bake a cake with a hole in the middle!  And inside that hole you could stuff candy or fruit, or whatever you imagination could conger up.  How cool it that?
Here is the pan... 

It comes in two part: the main pan, and a mini-dome pan that is secured to larger pan.  The mini-dome acts like a barrier and forces the cake to bake around in, leaving a dome shaped hole in the center of the finished cake.
But how to decorate my Piñata Cake?  The finished cake is shaped like a ball so the obvious choice is a soccer, basketball, or volleyball, but nooooo I have to be different.  I have to do something fancy.  Silly me, when will I ever learn.  In the end I decided on a Puffer Fish.
Ta, da, here is the finished cake. (No submissions to Cake Wrecks, pleaaaase.)

My Puffer Fish looks a little squashed. In fact he is A LOT squashed, but his flattened shape is all part of my Misadventures in Piñata Cake Land so read on if you dare....
This misadventure begins (like that all do), with the baking of a cake.  I guess I should have predicated something would go wrong, but I’m an optimist and never see disaster barreling towards me like an out-of-control freight train.  So here is the cake going into the oven.  It is a 16 oz Duncan Hines Blue Velvet varieties.  It is one of their Signature cakes and calls for a stick of butter and 3 eggs.

The instructions that come with the cake pan said to fill the pan 3/4 full.  I put ALL the batter into the pan and decided it looked about 3/4 full.  I was very scientific about my measurements.  Into the oven it goes, and about 25 minutes into the baking cycle I checked the cake.  Oh the horror that greeted my unsuspecting eyes. 

The half-baked batter had bubbled up and filled the inverted mini-dome of the pan.  I took the cake out of the oven, scooped the still liquid batter out of the mini-dome, and put the cake back into the oven.

After another  15 minutes in the oven, and the cake was done.   Doesn't look too appealing does it?

The metal arms that link the mini-dome to the main cake pan were covered in caked and needed to be cut free.  Later I came to realize this was a good thing because having to trim the cake down to the height of the pan ensured that both cakes were exactly the same size.  In theory having two cake exactly the same size would give me a perfectly shaped “ball” cake.  Bawhahaha.  My “Theory” didn’t take into account that pesky little thing called GRAVITY!

Having learned my “overflow” lesson from the first cake, I removed 1 cup of batter before filling the piñata cake pan again.  With 1 cup removed, the batter was just touching the underside of the inverted dome.  I figured that this cake would be safe from overflow…

WRONG!  The batter still overflowed.  Not as much as the first time of course, but I still had to pull the cake out and scoop out the semi-liquid overflow.  Guess for this particular brand of box cake mix I need to remove 1-1/4 cups.

But in the end I had two perfectly round cakes, with a fist sized cavity in each.  Happy Days!  Time to fill my fishy Piñata Cake.

I frosted the seam of the bottom cake, and filled the cavity with gummy worms.  Why gummy worms?  I figured this was going to be a fish cake, and what is inside the belly of a fish????  Well worms of course.  I don’t know if my creative genius is cute or disgusting.

More frosting, and then the fondant decorations.  For the scales of the fish I just cut out circles of pink and green fondant.  I use the Fondarific brand because this stuff has a shelf life of a year and it NEVER gets hard.  Just keep the fondant wrapped in its plastic bag, and it will be still be soft and pliable 9 months after you open the container.  It is not the best tasting fondant I’ve tried, but if you don’t make fondant cakes very often this is the best one to keep in your pantry.  

I had been working on my cake for about an hour when I noticed the first crack.  It was on the bottom half of the cake near where my fondant fish scales started.  I was a little worried, make that a lot worried.  I stuck some long wooden skewers into the cake, and hoped for the best.   I also noticed that the cake seemed flatter than it was earlier.  It no longer had that round soccer ball shape.  It looked like a ball that saw slowly losing air.
And the longer I worked, the bigger the crack got.  I added three rows of smaller fondant circles trying to hide and stabilize the crack.  I also added white fondant circles to cover the face of the fish.  Originally I was just going to keep the face as just frosting, but all my attempts at crack repairs had destroyed the smooth finish of the buttercream.    My new motto: when something looks bad---cover it in fondant.

But alas, nothing could camouflage the every widening crack.  In a last-ditch effort to keep the cake together I made a long ribbon out of plastic wrap and tied it around the collapsing bottom layer.  Then into the fridge it went.  I was hoping the cold temperature would stabilize the cake.  Duh… just had a thought.  Guess I should have chilled the cake before I started to decorate it.  Bet you were whispering that thought to yourself all along.   But be nice.  It was late and I was trying to finish the cake!

Next I made some fish body parts (fins, tail, mouth, eyes) out of white chocolate.  I just formed them free hand, embedded long wooden skewers into the melted chocolate, and let them set overnight.   The next morning I decided I didn’t like the white fins against the pink and green body, so I covered the white chocolate with a thin film of green fondant.

And I was very happy to find that a night in the refrigerator had stabilized the cake.  There were a few cracks still visible so I just covered them with more fondant fish scales.  But I kept the plastic “Belt” around the belly of the fish until the cake arrived at my family’s Labor Day party.
Once at the party I quickly stuck the body part into the fish and snapped a few pictures.  And as the cake slowly warmed, it got flatter and flatter.  No more cracks appeared, but by the time I cut the cake my Puffer Fish was starting to look like a Flounder.  
Cutting the cake also brought to light another problem: the gummy worms.  In hindsight they probably weren’t the best choice of candy to fill my Piñata Cake.   For one thing I couldn’t cut the cake with those things in the center.  Gummy worms are tough.  The long worms also didn’t “spill” from the cake in broken Piñata style.  I had to stick a fork inside the cake and pull those little suckers out.   Next time I will fill will M&M’s or Skittles.

So lessons learned from my first Piñata Cake :
1)      Don’t overfill the pan.  This is a little hard to judge beforehand because different recipes will rise by different amounts, so opt for a cake that doesn’t have much lift.  Go for dense cake instead of light and fluffy.
2)      Don’t underfill the pan.  A little overfill is good because the extra cake can be trimmed away ensuring that both halves of your cake are exactly the same size.
3)      Use a Dense type of cake mix.  In addition to reducing the rise of the cake, a denser cake will help to make the cake more stable.
4)      Use small hard candies to fill the central cavity.  This will give you the best show of tumbling candy when the cake is cut. 
5)      Next time I will also cut a core from the top of the cake and drop more candy into the cavity.  This will give you more candy to spill out, and it will also fill the cavity to capacity and keep the upper layer of cake from sinking.
6)      Chill/freeze the frosted cake before decorating.  This will help stabilize the cake and keep it from compressing.

So I think that is it.  I certainly learned a lot from my Misadventures with the Nordic Ware Piñata Cake Pan.  But the cake was a hit at the party, so I will definitely make one again.


  1. Do you think using their recipe they provide would have made a difference? I was hoping for an easy way out b/c i need to make two of these, I wanted to use boxed mix.

  2. Hi Jepfmom, I haven't looked at their recipe but I sure it will work better than the box mix. They are probably using a sturdy, pound cake take recipe.

    Let me know how it goes.