Island cake how-to using agar powder

So talk about a crazy year, huh? I’ve been home since mid March so I’ve been using my time at home to try as many fun baking projects as I can. Some of which I’ve had on my bucket list for years. Some of which I’ve had on my bucket list for a week lol Like this island cake. I first saw a video for this on YouTube and was immediately intrigued. It’s basically chocolate cake that has been fashioned to look like an island which is then surrounded by a gelatin ocean. Earlier this year I was starting to learn how to do professional level cakes at the bakery I work at. Even though I was brought on as an assistant pastry chef in training they must have seen something in me to take the time to train me on cakes. Which has been a really cool experience getting to learn from professionally trained pastry chefs. Unfortunately my training was cut short because of a certain pandemic. But the training I had was enough to make me want to keep up my learning as much as I can while at home. If you follow me on twitter or instagram Ive been posting my cakes. Here’s a little collage of cakes I’ve been making for those that aren’t on twitter or instagram.

I’ve definitely come a long way with my skills. I went from not knowing anything about cakes (literally, nothing) to learning how to properly make cakes and properly filling and decorating them. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride.

But back to this island cake. I immediately became obsessed with this idea. Now I recently came across agar powder about a year ago which is basically vegan gelatin. And I’ve been playing around with it making everything from gummies to marshmallows to panna cottas.

So I’ve a pretty good handle on how to use it at this point and I knew I could probably use it to try and make this island cake. In these next parts I’ll be getting into more detail about how I made this cake so if you want to skip these parts and just look at the pictures that’s totally fine. I’m sure the process probably isn’t all that exciting for anyone that’s not a baker lol

Fortunately I already had some vegan chocolate cake set aside in the freezer so that was one less thing I had to worry about making. The hardest parts here were trying to come up with alternatives to what were used in the youtube tutorial like white chocolate, gelatin, and food dyes which I never keep on hand. So in place of:

  • white chocolate: I opted to use buttercream which I was able to manipulate for the shading on the island as well as mimic waves in the water.
  • gelatin: I used agar powder
  • food dyes: I used spirulina powder for the water. I also mixed the spirulina with some graham cracker crumbs to add some foliage on top of the island.

So putting it all together. I first cut out pieces on either side of my cake to get the illusion of an island. I then used the spare pieces of cake and molded them on top of the island to add some depth. I next mixed melted chocolate and coconut oil which I used to paint the island to make it look more rocky and also used it as a glue to add the spirulina foliage as well as some graham cracker sand on the bottom of the ocean floor. I then put it in the freezer so it could set up a bit before I added the buttercream which just added some depth to the island.

I then placed the cake in a clear bowl and let it hang out in the freezer again while I prepared the water. Now one thing I did before adding the water was I made a clear agar powder solution which I attempted to drizzle over the cake in an effort to help set everything in place a bit. Whether this helped at all I don’t really know. But I like to think maybe it helped a little lol I then moved on to making the ocean water.

For this I combined 2 cups of water with a small amount of spirlina powder and 2 tsp agar powder and let it simmer for 5 min. It was then a bit of a delicate balance of cooling down the agar just enough before it started to set so that I could add it to the cake without it destroying everything too much lol And then it was time to wait for everything to set.

Once everything was set I went back in with the melted chocolate, spirulina foliage, and the buttercream and added some finishing touches. The nice thing about agar is that once it is set it does remove pretty easily from whatever container it is in so I was able to just plop the cake right out of the glass bowl. But this is where springform pans and acetate paper also come in handy. I don’t keep acetate paper on hand and I didn’t have the right size springform pans so I had to come up with an alternative option which was a glass bowl. But it worked out just fine.

Upon seeing the finished product I actually felt like this is one of those cakes that looks a lot harder to make than it actually is. Since I already had the cake made it only took me an afternoon to put this together. And now enjoy the mini photoshoot I had once I cut into the cake:

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