Cookbook: Surprise-Inside Cakes by Amanda Rettke
Overall Impression: This is one of the most creative and inventive cake cookbooks I’ve seen in a long time.
Make one of these elaborate, surprising cakes and without a doubt, you will bring a smile to someone’s face. These surprise-inside cakes are the epitome of special. When you flip through this cookbook, it's impossible not to be amazed. Amazed that the author, Amanda Rettke of I Am Baker, took the time to dream these cakes up, amazed that she came up with so many detailed designs, and amazed that she actually figured out a way to execute them.
Even after making a few of these cakes myself, I’m still stunned that I produced them in my own kitchen. Here's a closer look!
Recipes I Tried
- Basic White Cake
- Basic Buttercream Frosting
- Stripe Birthday Cake
- Rainbow Heart Cake
Cooking From Surprise-Inside Cakes
The book is organized from "easy" to "challenging," and Amanda starts the book by sharing basic cake and frosting recipes. She even includes her go-to brownie recipe, which she uses in the Neapolitan Hi-Hat Surprise-Inside Cake. There are also detailed step-by-step photos to show you how to assemble and make each surprise-inside cake.
How These Recipes Work for Non-Expert Bakers
Now I would not call myself an expert baker by any means, but I have baked a lot of cakes in recent years — bundt cakes in particular, though these are quite different from layered cakes. Even so, I quickly realized that even the "easy cakes" were a little challenging for me.
I was determined to get the cakes looking as perfect as possible: flat cakes with minimal holes. After baking a few homemade cakes, I ultimately decided to go the box mix route (which Rettke says is ok to use as a substitute; she recommends Betty Crocker). After going through several boxes of cake mix, I finally felt like I was (somewhat) in the groove of things, but then I couldn’t get the darn cakes out of the pans in one piece!
After corresponding with the author about this, I felt extremely silly; I had forgotten the simplest thing — parchment paper. Use parchment paper (and non-stick baking spray), my friends, and you should have absolutely no problem getting those cakes out!
What You Need to Bake Out of Surprise-Inside Cakes
Experience and troubleshooting aside, you will need a few more things for baking out of this book.
Each of these cakes takes a lot of time and planning. Aside from actually baking and assembling the cakes, they also require a lot of freezing time: before assembly, after assembly, and again before cutting into the cake. You need to plan accordingly and will usually need to start baking your special surprise-inside cake at least two to three days before you plan to serve it.
Also, this might sound weird, but don’t try to make these cakes when your freezer is going to be full. You’ll need some extra freezer space for all these cakes. I live in Wisconsin where we thankfully have a huge stand-alone freezer in our basement so I had no problem. Still, this is something important to think about and plan around.
This cookbook also takes dedication, time, and investment in a lot of different sized cake pans, if you don't already own them. I only had 9-inch round cake pans, so I purchased two 8-inch round cake pans and three 6-inch round cake pans. I also purchased a turntable and offset spatula — these tools, in particular, are invaluable. I have now mastered the crumb coat and can successfully frost a cake with an offset spatula!
One final thought: I encourage you to make a practice cake before actually making one of these cakes for an event, just to ensure you have it down and are happy with the results.
My Experience: Stripe Birthday Cake
I started with the Stripe Birthday cake, which is the first one listed in the book. I thought this one would be a breeze since it’s labeled as “easy," and maybe this would have been true if I'd had more experience with layered cakes. This was, by far, the tallest cake I have ever baked, though I also didn’t level my cakes all that much.
The excitement and "Oh, wow!" shouts I got from my kids when I cut into this one was the best. And that’s what it’s all for, right?
Cutting into the cake was fine since it had been in the freezer for so long, but I ran into problems when I tried to actually put it on a plate. Again, this was probably because my cake was so tall. (Note to self for next time!) You can easily lay the slice down on its side, though.
Rainbow Butterfly Cake with buttercream roses.
My Experience: The Famous Rainbow Heart Cake
After the success with my first surprise-inside cake, my then-6-year-old took the book, flipped all the way to the challenging section and asked for the famous Rainbow Heart Cake for her upcoming 7th birthday party.
I did this over a 3-day period:
Day One was for baking the actual round cakes, both the 6-inch and 8-inch cakes, and freezing them.
Day Two was for making the frosting, simple syrup, assembling my surprise-inside cake and doing the crumb coat.
Day Three was for the final buttercream roses, frosting, decorating, freezing again, and serving.
I don’t think my girls and I were breathing when we cut into this one. When I removed that first glorious slice, their faces lit up and my oldest, Phoebe, said, "Wow! You made a rainbow butterfly!!!"
But I knew something went wrong even before cutting into the cake. I must have made my rainbow layer cakes too thick again because I could only safely fit 4 layers as opposed to 6. Nevertheless, there were huge smiles all around and very happy kids as we all shared that first big slice.
When I initially cut into my cake, everything held together just fine, but after sitting on display for a little while, I found that the inside part started to crumble. For this reason, Amanda recommends placing the remaining cake back into the freezer. (By the way, if you're planning on transporting this cake anywhere, I would say plan, plan, plan! Freeze that cake for as long as possible and if your drive to your party destination is longer than a 30 or 45 minute drive, I would freeze the cake again for at least an hour before cutting into it and serving.)
Overall, the cakes from Surprise-Inside Cakes tasted delicious, my kids were happy, and I felt like I accomplished a lot. If you are serious about baking one of these cakes and need some help, Rettke has online video tutorials on Craftsy.com. You can watch her bake five different surprise-inside cakes, which you can start and stop and come back to watch at any time, all for $19.99.
This book is not only filled with the fabulous and stunning surprise-inside cake recipes, but also has basic cake recipe staples that you can use for any occasion. This book is truly inspiring and might get your creative juices flowing to come up with a special surprise-inside cake for someone all on your own.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Surprise-Inside Cakes by Amanda Rettke
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Image credits: Alice Choi)