#2: Poker cake – how to do it.

Possibly the most ambitious cake I’ve ever made! This was for my fella’s 30th birthday – as a poker player and avid cake lover, it was the perfect cake.

It’s a chocolate cake with lemon buttercream and fondant icing. If you have tins and basic equipment you can make this without buying loads of fancy stuff (I used a wine bottle top to cut out the chips and a cassette tape box to measure the cards!)

I did a lot of research for ideas, sketched my design, did a lot of bad maths for dimensions then just went for it!

Here’s how I did it.

The cake

I made two 20cm round cakes and one deep 20cm square cake which I cut in half. One batch of the below quantities makes the two round cakes and another batch makes the square cake.

The recipe is from my mum’s book which made almost every birthday cake we had as kids. The recipe is stained with cake batter but still works a treat. It’s also light enough not to be too sweet under all that icing.

Ingredients (quick mix chocolate cake) – you will need to make two batches of this:
175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
175g self-raising flour
1 and a half tsp baking powder
6 drops vanilla essence
4 tbsp cocoa powder (sieved)

1. Cream the butter and sugar together for a couple of minutes, then add the eggs. Mix for 2-3 minutes until creamy and smooth

2. Fold in the other ingredients.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC/325ºF/Gas Mark 3 and grease two round 20cm tins.

4. Distribute mix evenly between tins and bake for 25-30 mins (a skewer should come out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake).

5. Leave in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool.

6. Make another batch of the mix and pour into a 20cm, deep-sided square tin. Bake for 35-40 mins (mine took a little longer than this, so check it’s properly cooked as it’s quite deep).

7. Leave in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool.

8. Cut the tops off all three cakes to level them. You can use a cake leveler for this but I used a very sharp bread knife.

9. Stack the two round cakes on top of each other and carefully cut across them, so you end up with 4 semi-circles. These will form the round edges of the cake.

10. Cut the square cake into 2 layers. This will be sandwiched back together with buttercream!

The lemon buttercream

I doubled my recipe and used the below quantities. There’s quite a lot left over but better to have a bit too much than not enough!

450g unsalted butter
2tsp vanilla essence
zest of 1 lemon
900g sifted icing sugar
80ml cold water

1. Beat the butter until soft and light

2. Gradually beat in the icing sugar and water

3. Beat until light and fluffy

4. Add the vanilla essence and lemon zest towards the end.

5. Cover a large cake board with foil. Put the square cake onto it diagonally (fix it to the board with a blob of buttercream).

6. Fasten a semi-circle of cake to opposite ends with buttercream.

7. Sandwich on the top layers with more buttercream, making sure everything is level.

8. Cover the top and sides, smoothing and levelling with a palette knife.

9. Leave to set for an hour while you make the decorations (ideally in the fridge but mine is too small so I just left it on the counter!)

Decorating the cake

Be prepared to make a mess!

Now comes the fun part! Obviously you can alter the design depending on the time you have and what you fancy but I used the below quantities.

You can get the edible food dust and ready to roll icing from specialist cake shops (I went to the excellent Party Party shop in Dalston which is miles from where I live but awesome). You can also get a lot of it online.

You can use pens but I think the depth of colour with dust is better and pens tend to dry out pretty quickly meaning you will have to buy another one for the next cake. You can actually pay for laser inked designs but this is a bit more expensive and not as fun!

Also you can colour your own icing but I wouldn’t recommend it – the depth and evenness of colour for the green would be very time-consuming to create yourself. I thought I’d have time to do this but after dying the blue for the chips I decided to buy ready-to-roll green.

You will need:
5 packs ready-to-roll green icing
1 pack ready-to-roll white icing
Blue food colouring paste (or you can use ready-to-roll but you don’t need a whole pack)
Red food colouring paste (or you can use ready-to-roll but you don’t need a whole pack)
Edible red dust (I used Rainbow Dust Edible Plain & Simple)
Edible black dust (as above)
Gin, vodka or another white alcohol (for mixing with the pigment. But you might need a well-deserved drink by the end!)
Something to cut out small circles (I used a wine bottle screw top)
Something to measure right angles to cut out the cards (I used a cassette tape box)

Covering the cake
1. Line your workspace with baking paper – this is to stop the icing from sticking to your work surface. If you have fancy-schmancy marble tops you probably don’t need to do this. Dust with icing sugar.

2. Roll out your green icing sugar, lifting and rotating regularly to stop it sticking. You’ll need it to be about 48cms x 30 to make sure it will cover the whole cake. Don’t roll too thin or it will break.

3. Carefully lift the icing onto the cake – if you use baking paper it will help spread the weight of the icing.

4. Smooth the top of the cake with your hands (dust them lightly in icing sugar to help stop them stick).

5. Working from the top round, smooth the icing down over the sides of the cake until you reach the board. Trim the excess round the bottom with a knife. Wipe any smudged buttercream off with a paper towel.

6. Using a blog of leftover green icing, smooth the surface of the icing to give it a nice finish. You can also use cake smoothers but you don’t have to, as I learned in this hilarious video where the maker is whispering in the middle of the night!

Making the decorations

7. To make the cards, roll out enough icing to make 8 cards (you can make more for the deck if you like/have time)

8. Carefully cut them so they’re right-angled – the fondant is quite soft so be careful you don’t stretch them out of shape. Mine were about 8cm x 5cm.

9. Round the corners carefully (or cut them off).

10. To make the backs, dip your brush into the alcohol, getting rid of any excess. Then dip into the red dust before drawing diagonal lines across the back, and a border. You might want to practise on some spare icing first!

11. To decorate the faces, draw whatever cards you want in red and / or black dust depending on the hand you want!

12. Leave to dry on a baking tray.

13. For the chips, roll out blue, white and red icing and cut circles for however many chips you want – I used about 8-9 of each I think but you could use more.

14. Using black dust and alcohol (as above), paint dots round the outside of the chips.

15. Leave to dry on a baking tray.

16. Arrange your cards and chips, fastening to the cake using blobs of buttercream. You can also decorate the board with extra chips.

17. Voila! One ace cake!


2 thoughts on “#2: Poker cake – how to do it.

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