Buckminster Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, and died July 1, 1983, so whenever July rolls around we’re inspired to celebrate his life and accomplishments. This year, we endeavored to celebrate in the most ambitious way yet—by baking a geodesic dome cake! And boy, were we ever in for a challenge. Here’s the full process we went through... mistakes and all:
Step 1: Decide Upon the Components
One of the biggest challenges was figuring out where to begin with this crazy project. We decided on fondant for the outer layer, an orange cake as the base, and chocolate buttercream to hold it all together. When searching for cake recipes, we discovered that Madeira cake is firm and has excellent self-rising properties, so it seemed like a natural fit for a dome shape. The only problem with this reasoning is that when you bake a self-rising cake in a dome pan, you end up with a football/oyster/UFO:
There are definitely possibilities here... oyster cake with fondant pearl, anyone?
Step 2: Bake Your Test Cake on the Hottest Day of the Year
This is key. If you skip this step, you might be patient enough to think through the assembly of the cake and the ideal fondant patterning technique, which would prevent you from creating the Royal Mess Blob:
Making the Royal Mess Blob, eating it, deciding that eating chunks of straight fondant is not suitable for most adults, fighting over who had to take the rest of the cake home and eat it for breakfast—all were key in our creative process.
Step 3: Revise the Plan
After our informative trial session, we decided to take a new approach for the big day. Instead of baking the cake in a dome pan, we would bake two cakes in normal round pans and use the natural dome of one layer as a guide to carve the rest cake into a proper dome shape. Then we would lightly score the fondant so that it would stay intact.
Step 4: Panic a Little When Nothing Goes According to Plan
We aren’t sure what happened, but we know what did NOT happen: neither cake layer formed the slightest dome at all. We scrambled to make a third layer using the original dome-pan technique, but had to bake it in a different oven and lacking a few key ingredients, all of which produced a slightly burnt perimeter. Much scraping ensued, but it’s okay. The magic cloak of invisibility/buttercream/fondant would hide the blemishes, and the general dome shape was intact.
But speaking of fondant, that was our next problem. Our ball of sugar dough leftover from the Royal Mess Blob trial session had become dry and somewhat brittle. Was it because we used vegan marshmallows? Probably not. It was most likely because we used obscene quantities of powdered sugar and then stored the leftovers in the fridge for five days. We frantically researched methods to restore its pliability, and the forecast was looking grim as we had no glycerine or shortening. Luckily, kneading the dough with the slightest bit of canola oil managed to do the trick.
All we had to do next was glue all the pieces together with loads of buttercream, do a bit of trimming and shaping, score our fondant with as much geodesic precision as we could muster, and drape the fondant over the dome. With the exception of one accidental misplaced slash through our geodesic pattern, we did a pretty good job:
Step 5: Achieve Miraculously Moderate Success and Impress the Guests
All in all, the cake was a success. Cole Gerst, author and illustrator of Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry watched us cut the cake and said, “So that’s what the inside of a geodesic dome looks like!”