Let's be honest here....
Everyone’s ‘socially distant’ graduations probably sucked more than a little this year. My niece got SUPER robbed of so many graduation experiences – and though I saw a lot of creativity and resilience in the way she and her classmates have responded to missing so many senior year experiences, it was still a little sad to see.
Sooo when I got a text from my SIL asking if I wanted to make her an awesome graduation cake…..HECK yes! A crap ton of blue frosting, my airbrush kit, some gum paste lettters and an edible icing sheet later – easily the BEST grad cake I’ve ever made! Recipe + supply list below!
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Vanilla Cake Layers:
This is a scaled (x1.5) and slightly-simplified layer cake recipe from ChelSweets.com - I highly recommend checking out her site if you haven't before; it's amazing!
I made vanilla layers for the base tier of this cake, and banana layers for the top tier per request; if you want my banana cake recipe shoot me an email!
4 7/8 c. all-purpose flour
4 1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 3/4 t. baking powder
1 ½ t. salt
1 ½ cup unsalted butter (or 3 sticks) room temperature
3 t. clear vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups buttermilk, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three 8-inch cake pans and three six-inch cake pans with parchment rounds, and /or grease with non-stick or baker’s floured cooking spray.
Mix together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt) in a stand mixer with a paddle until fully combined. Mix chunks of room-temperature butter slowly into the dry mix, on a low speed. Continue to mix until no large chunks of butter remain, and the mixture becomes crumbly.
Pour in egg whites and mix on low until just incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract in two installments, on a low speed. Add in and oil, and mix at a low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds.
Using a kitchen scale, pour 680 grams of batter into each of your 8” pans. Divide batter evenly between the remaining two 6” pans – I had about 325 grams in each of my smaller pans.
Using the kitchen scale guarantees your layers will bake to be the same height.
Bake for 35-37 minutes, (or until a skewer comes out clean). Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then run an offset spatula around perimeter of the pan to separate the cake from the pan. Place cake layers into the freezer for 45 minutes, to accelerate the cooling process.
Once the layers have fully cooled, the caramelized bits can be trimmed from the sides / top of the cake using a serrated knife if desired. Be sure the layers are completely cooled or chilled before trimming. If you try to trim the layers while they’re still warm, they will crumble apart.
While you’re waiting…make your frosting!
Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:
12 oz (one and a half packages) cream cheese, softened
16 Tablespoons (two sticks) butter, softened
10 c powdered sugar
3 T clear vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt (if using unsalted butter)
1/4-1/2 cup whipping/heavy cream
Save and add later – 4-5 large drops blue gel food color (I used Americolor Navy Blue – a combination of blue + black + a tinge of purple works as well! You use less gel color and stain people’s mouths less if you only use colored icing for the outer layer (not the filling and crumb-coat).
- 1 8- or 10 -inch cardboard cake circle (I prefer Wilton’s center-punched circles) and 1 six-inch cake board – + 4-5 plastic straws to use as cake dowels – one option is to buy a set like this one that contains a variety of cake circle sizes and trimmable dowels
- Small piping bag & tip – this set has been one of my favorites!
- Gum paste or fondant – I used SatinIce’s gum paste; I’ve found I can roll it thinner than fondant and it will still hold its shape
- Edible Harry Potter icing sheet – I bought this one from Amazon!
- Here’s a link to the airbrush kit I use – about $86.90 when I bought mine, and it’s easy to use and works great! Silver edible decorating spray is another great option if you’re not ready to invest in an airbrush.
- Parchment paper and scissors
- Gold edible decorating spray (to decorate the Snitch) + a sheet of white or gold cardstock
- skewers or straws + key chain rings + hot glue – or whatever you want to use to make Quidditch hoops!
- Cake leveler, cake turntable, large offset spatula, and pastry cutter/bench scraper - not all 100% necessary but incredibly helpful! (Here’s a link to the cake turntable I use)
Once your cakes are cool, level them (if needed/desired; these cakes usually bake fairly flat so I didn’t trim much from the tops). This can be done with a cake leveler or a large serrated knife and a ruler. Place a smear of frosting on your large cake circle (to keep the cake from sliding while you decorate it) and center your large first cake layer in the center of the circle. Spread the layer with frosting). Add your next cake layer on top, and repeat the process with your remaining cake layers.
Next, repeat the same process with your smaller cardboard circle and cake layers. Of note – if your circles aren’t pre-center-punched, be sure to grab a dowel or straw and make your own hole in the exact center of the circle! This will allow you to center the tier on the base tier later on.
Now you're ready to crumb-coat . If you're unfamiliar with crumb-coating, it's just what it sounds like – spreading a thin layer of frosting over the entire outside of the cake tiers to keep crumbs out of your final layer.
Add your blue gel color to the rest of your frosting, and mix until the color is even.
Once your crumb coats have set (this takes about 5-10 minutes in the fridge), add your final layers of frosting and smooth. I do like to use an offset spatula and bench scraper for this part. For my larger tier, I was able to smooth the frosting fairly well free-handed, but I struggled getting the sides smoothed on my smaller one. Trimming the layers just smaller than the cake circle and using the cardboard as a guide for my bench scraper worked well for smoothing the frosting on the top tier!
Once your base tier is frosted you’re ready to add stripes! I cut eight 1” and eight 1/2” strips of parchment paper and placed them in an alternating pattern around the cake. Once they’re well-adhered to the frosting, use your airbrush or an edible cake spray to spray on silver stripes! I recommend allowing the spray to dry for 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t smear or drip as you remove the parchment paper, but maybe you’re less clumsy than I am!
I added my niece’s initials in gum paste lettering – I used this alphabet and printed the letter the size I wanted on printer paper, then traced and cut them out of fondant.
Okaaaay. The stacking process!
‘How to Make a Tiered Cake’ by Chelsweets is still my favorite video tutorial to date – sometimes seeing the process can be very helpful!
Basically, doweling a tiered cake is done to ensure that the top tier doesn’t crush the lower tier, as well as keeping it centered. I used four shorter cut-to-height plastic straws for my base tier dowels, and one taller one cut at an angle in the center to hold my top tier in place.
Grab your ruler for this next part! Since I was centering a 6-inch cake on top of an 8-inch cake, I pushed the straws down into the base tier just over one inch from the cake edge, placing them evenly at quarter intervals around the cake. Place your last, tallest straw or dowel into the exact center of the cake, making sure to keep it straight up as you press down. Now you’re ready – center the hole in the bottom of your top tier cake circle over the tallest dowel and let the top tier gently down onto the base tier. The dowel will poke into the center of the top tier to hold it in place.
Cut your edible icing sheet to size – I cut off the ‘Draco Dormiens nunquam titillandus' logo from the bottom to add to the back of the base tier, and obviously cut off the ‘happy birthday.’ It fit perfectly on my top cake tier!
I found that my cardboard cake circle showed more than I was happy with, so I piped some extra frosting onto the base of the top tier to hide it.
Make your snitch by forming a ball of gum paste and spraying it with cake spray, and cut/feather paper wings to press into the sides. A toothpick helps to get the ends of the wings into the gum paste.
Hot glue some rings to the top of three skewers to make your Quidditch hoops, and spray them with the airbrush or cake spray you used on the stripes.
Add your decorations to the top of the cake – and find someone to give you a high-five! (Shoot me a DM on Instagram if you can’t find anyone right away!)