My first real bakery job (minus scooping cookies and scones for the masses at the UC Davis Coffee House), was as a cake decorator at Sacramento’s beloved Freeport Bakery. A month or so after applying to be a counter clerk, I found myself in the kitchen on the night shift (the lowest tier of cake decorators), elbow deep in whipped cream, sliced strawberry, and chocolate ganache.
One of the key responsibilities for the night decorators was filling and frosting the two different cakes that used fresh whipped cream to sell the following morning. This was not because whipped cream was the easiest frosting to start the new cake decorators on (quite the opposite, in fact), it was because it needed to be made fresh everyday and was a big pain to work with (meaning nobody else wanted to deal with the few dozen cakes that are made and sold daily). The timing fit for us PM decorators (since the other cakes the AM shift frosted could be made and stored in advanced), but the theory was - if you could ice a cake with whipped cream, then you would be prepared to ice a cake with anything. And let me tell, there were PLENTY of cakes to work on to practice and refine our cake decorating techniques.
Albeit delicious, the “Shadow Fresa” quickly became my nemesis. Layers of chocolate cake, whipped cream and sliced strawberries, whipped cream frosting, and a chocolate ganache drip around the edges. Whipped cream is one of the less stable frostings to work with, especially when made in large batches, so filling and frosting a cake with it is not a simple task. The more you fuss with the cream, the more difficult it becomes to work with - starting a downward spiral of floppy peaks that won’t pipe or smooth out for the life of you. Once you finally master frosting the Shadow Fresa comes the added bonus of drizzling chocolate ganache over the edges. If the ganache is too cold, it does not drizzle nor drip but either seizes up or remains as ugly blobs of chocolate. Too hot, and it melts and pulls the whipped cream right off the sides of the cake. Unless you heat the ganache to the perfect temperature, chances are you will be scraping whipped cream, hard work, and tears into the garbage bin. Needless to say, I learned how to make a drip cake as quickly as possible.
The Drip Cake Phenomenon ready picked up steam in 2015 (big thanks to rock-star Katherine Sabbath) and is now a cake trend that just keeps getting better, more fanciful, and exceedingly more popular literally everyday. There are classic chocolate drips to neon, technicolored Willy Wonka drips – those left rustic, natural, and beautiful to those covered in sprinkles, candy, gold leaf, donuts, etc. Whichever style you choose, anyone that has ever tried a drip cake probably understands the pain and headache that usually comes along with it. Use a glaze that is too runny, and it slides right off the sides and pools at the bottom of the cake stand. Too thick, and you are trying to force, nudge, plead, and beg your drips to look natural and not like blobs left on the side of your cake. Now, as an experienced cake-dripper (I’ve been drizzling cakes since 2007 after all - ah, I’m old!), I thought I would share some key pointers for creating gorgeous chocolate, ganache, caramel, and fruit glaze cake drips
How to Make a Drip Cake:
Chill your cake - A great start to a perfect drippy cake is a good base, or something for the chocolate or glaze to drip of off. A smooth buttercream finish works the best. Chilled, and you are golden. A cold, smooth cake not only creates a seamless, uninterrupted finish for the glaze to drip down, but the chilled cake helps control the drips from sliding all the way down the cake. Also, if the test drip doesn't turn out (see tip 5), it can easily be scraped off. Even when I drip a naked cake, I like to give it either aa bit of a crumb coat or ice just the top of the cake.
Use a recipe that works as a good glaze - This might be a no-brainer, but try to use a recipe that works as a suitable glaze. For example, honey by it self might be too runny while peanut butter is too thick. Recipes that I find suitable for drizzling include: chocolate ganache, white chocolate ganache (plain, flavored, or tinted with gel food coloring), chocolate glaze, caramel sauce (although sometimes a bit tricker and harder to set), and powdered sugar glaze (either mixed with a touch of milk or fruit juice/puree). I’m sure there are plenty more, but hopefully these are a good start for you all.
Patience - Many glazes and sauces are made on the stove or require some heat. You must allow the glaze to cool a bit before dripping on your cake. My basic chocolate glaze (recipe below) takes a good 10 to 15 minutes to cool. Freshly made caramel may take even longer!
Consistency is key! - Other than temperature, the consistency of the glaze is very important. Sometimes this directly relates to the temperature (ganache and caramel will thicken as they cool), but other times it does not. Regardless, you are looking for a glaze that is thick yet still fluid. It should slowly drip off of spoon, not run or plop. To adjust, wait until cool, add more powdered sugar/liquid, or reheat as necessary.
Test - The best way to find out if your glaze is the correct temperature and consistency? Try a few practice drips on the actual cake! If the glaze is really off then this might cause some damage to the cake, but chances are it won’t be tragic if it is slightly too warm or thick. Try these practice drips on the edge (not the center of the cake - see tip 6) and watch to see the rate at which it drips. Does is slide right off? Does it stop halfway down? Adjust accordingly before taking the glaze to the entire cake.
Work from the outside in - Until you have the confidence to pour your glaze over the top of your entire cake (I still don’t - unless I am feeling extra brave and adventurous that day), start by working with only a few drips at a time around the edge of your cake. Using a spoon, I start making drips around the edges. I find that I am able to control the drips and design of the cake more this way. I love the idea of “perfectly imperfect” so this helps give me back some control while the drips still (hopefully) appear natural. If this feels too staged or fake to you, then feel free to skip to tip 7 and really go for it!
Filling the center - Once I ensure that all of my individual drips are looking their best, it is time to fill in the center. At this point, the glaze or chocolate sometimes cools or thickens up on me, so I always re-check the consistency. If the glaze cools/thickens up too much, it may not spread or blend evenly. Less is more here - you don't want too much spilling over the edges and ruining your gorgeous drips!
Smooth and tap - Hopefully you re-checked the consistency before filling in the center and it all oozes back together into a smooth finish. To help, use a small off-set spatula to gently even it out. I like to tap the bottom of the cake on the counter to help the top settle, smooth, and pop any air bubbles. A little “jiggling” of the cake helps too.
If you couldn't already tell by the photos, this Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cake is absolutely delicious. Two things as simple and pure as dark chocolate and fresh strawberries have never tasted (or looked) so good. The chocolate cake is my classic recipe, scaled down for this small 6-inch cake. With Valentine's Day coming up, I wanted to create a decadent sweetheart cake to be intimately shared with your loved ones. The flavors a fresh and straightforward, nothing too fancy or overly complicated. But, I have to tell you, that strawberry buttercream really does taste like strawberries! It's so good. And of course, our chocolate glaze. Doesn't the whole cake look just like a chocolate-dipped strawberry?
Classic Chocolate Cake
– 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
– 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
– 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon canola oil
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
– 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 3/4 cup milk
– 1/2 cup warm water
1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 6-inch cake pans and set aside.
2. Sift together all of the dry ingredients (not the sugar) and set aside.
3. Place sugar and oil in the bowl of an electric mixer.
4. Mix with a paddle attachment until combined.
5. Add in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Mix until combined.
6. In alternating batched (starting and ending with the dry), add in the dry and wet ingredients in about 3 batches. Mix until just combined.
8. Evenly distribute the batter into the prepared pans.
9. Bake about 223 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
10. Let cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.
Fresh Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
– 3 large egg whites
– 1 cup granulated sugar
– 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 4 to 6 tablespoons strawberry puree (recipe to follow)
1. Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gently whisk until combined.
2. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and place over medium heat.
3. Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler.
4. Whisking occasionally, heat the egg mixture until it registers between 150 to 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.
5. Once hot, carefully return the mixing bowl to the electric mixer.
6. Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg mixture on high until stiff, glossy peaks and the outside of the mixing bowl returns to room temperature.
7. Turn down the mixer to medium-low, and add in the butter, a few tablespoons at a time.
8. Once the butter is incorporated, stop the mixer and swap the whisk for the paddle attachment.
9. Add in the vanilla and beat until smooth.
10. Adding in only a tablespoon or two at a time, beat in the strawberry puree (NOTE: forcing in that much liquid into the buttercream might be difficult and cause it to split. Work in small batches and keep beating until smooth).
– 6 to 8 medium strawberries
– 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
– pinch salt
Blend in a food processor until fairly smooth. It is okay if some small chunks are still present.
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons white corn syrup
1. Place the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl and set aside.
2. Gently heat the cream and corn syrup until the cream begins to steam and barely come to a simmer.
3. Pour the cream mixture over the chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth.
4. Stir in pinch salt, if desired.
5. Place chocolate glaze in the refrigerator for about 10 to 15 minutes before dripping over the finished cake.
Assembly Tips for making a drip cake:
– Let the cakes completely cool before trimming off the tops to make them level.
– Use a few sliced strawberries to add to the strawberry buttercream for the filling.
– Chill the frosted cake before adding the chocolate glaze (see tips for more info).
– Store any leftover buttercream in the refrigerator for about 1 week or in the freezer (sorry, there might be leftovers with such a small cake).