It’s March Madness time again, and that can only mean one thing – my annual basketball cake extraordinaire. My husband, Scott, works for ESPN and along with a myriad of perks, one of the best days of the year is the first day of the NCAA tournament. His group (.com) gets together and organizes a food drive so that their two-day event of watching b-ball games all day (they claim they do some work here and there) can be fueled properly with the likes of 13 different kinds of chips, various cookies, baked goods, wings, pizza, and all other culinary delights that would make any chef’s stomach turn! My annual “showing” at this event started Scott’s first year working for ESPN when he called me at 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon and (an advance apology to all the men reading this blog) very typically asked “I need to bring in something for work tomorrow, can you go pick up some cookies or something?” I then patiently explained to Scott that I am a pastry chef, everyone knows this, and that I look like an idiot if I send him in with store-bought cookies! So off to the grocery store I went (at this point as a dutiful girlfriend, not even a ring on my finger!) to bake something for the ESPN.com group. The first year were basketball cupcakes (very do-able with short notice.) The second year – a sheet cake decorated as a basketball court. Each year I felt the pressure to one-up myself, so the third year I made the basketball hoop cake that many of you have seen already on the blog. The next year (last year) we had literally just moved the week or two before the tournament, so I, in trying to grow as a person, said that I was bowing out for the year – usually I can’t say “no” and take on much more than I can handle (to the joy of my family and friends around me!) Some of Scott’s colleagues, however, recently reminded us that I managed to send in basketball cookies (we sell them at the store) with a little personal message “GO ‘Cuse.” Yes, I am an Syracuse grad. So, this year, I needed to come back in a big way. So ta-da! This is it – I have decided this is my basketball cake swan song – I am not sure there is much more I can do with cake, fondant,a ball and a hoop. (Well…that’s not true…I have one more idea up my sleeve, but I am not promising anything…)
So enough with the back story – about the cake…I started with the board for the cake. I covered it entirely in fondant, attempting to mimic the floor of a basketball court. I think this is my favorite part of the cake. (And probably the most time consuming.) I would estimate that the board alone took me four hours. I marbled the fondant to get a “wood-grain” look and then cut thin strips and laid them at random lengths. Next, I worked on the hoop, which is the only part of the cake that does contain something non-edible (a big taboo for cake decorators.) I wasn’t confident that I could transport a cake with a tall enough hoop if I attempted to make the post myself, so I decided a wood dowel would have to do. I attached a dried square of white gum paste with royal icing (the glue that was used throughout this cake) and let that dry for a couple of days.I also attached a dried ring of red gum paste to the backboard to make the rim and let that dry overnight as well (using royal again.) The red square was pipped with red royal – however – I forgot to do this until I had already mounted the hoop onto the cake, so I had to pipe vertically, which is always a challenge. I think I was just so excited to see how it would look on top of the cake, I forgot to make sure I was finished with it! The net was probably the most challenging aspect of the cake, and was, you guessed it, piped with royal icing. Because of the stiff consistency of royal, it can “hang,” for lack of a better word. (It is often used for lace and filigree work on elaborate wedding cakes.) For this application, I kept pipping swags, making sure to gently attach each row to the preceding. I was pleased with the result, but again – this required a lot of patience and a very steady hand. Not to mention that afterward, the net is very delicate! Both basketballs were formed from gum paste as well, and threaded onto the end of wire while still pliable. I re-enforced the “connection” by plugging up the small holes made the the wires with a small amount of royal icing. These were allowed to dry for a couple of days a well. The wire was bent after the balls were attached, however – very carefully. The scoreboard was a simple square of black fondant laid on the cake and then I piped on the details with buttercream. I used a #1 tip, and even then, had much less room then I had anticipated. I wish this section had come out cleaner looking, but oh well. I couldn’t have used a smaller tip, so that’s that. The ESPN was also cut from fondant and laid on the cake.
So..I think that is pretty much all I can tell you…that is the cake, soup to nuts. I was and still am very pleased with the result.