Santa isn't going to know what hit him this year.
Hyper-realistic cakes are all the rage this year (we're talking Croc cakes, cakes that look like fruit, or meat) and YouTube star Yolanda Gampp is partially to thank for the mesmerizing trend. Gampp reimagines some of your favorite items in dessert form for her YouTube channel and website, How to Cake It — so PEOPLE tapped the baker to think up a cake you could make for the holidays.
Instead of leaving Old St. Nick a little plate of cookies on Christmas Eve, why not make him a giant chocolate chip cookie cake? Gampp's mega-size holiday cookie, adapted from one of her most popular videos, is made of one vanilla-chocolate chip cake layer, dark chocolate ganache, fondant, Hershey's kisses (they look like giant chocolate chips!), melted chocolate and festive sprinkles, of course.
Despite the involved process — don't worry, she lays it all out in detail in the full recipe below — Gampp assures that this is the perfect place to start for beginners.
"It's one of my favorite cakes because it's so simple and it doesn't require really clean lines and sharp edges," she tells PEOPLE. "You can roll the fondant so super thin and then just put it on top. And it's a nice balance between the little sweet bit of fondant, but then underneath it you've got that really dark chocolate ganache. It's actually quite balanced."
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Before Gampp had over 4 million subscribers on YouTube, she attended culinary school and worked in a number of bakeries and restaurant kitchens — but interestingly, she credits trial and error for her current career. "I'm basically completely self-taught in the world of decorating cakes," she says. "I've been doing it for 22 years now."
The best lesson she can share for those looking to make realstic cakes is to do your research. "I'm obsessed with studying anything I'm going to make," she says. "Now sometimes it's more fun than other times, like looking at several pictures of chocolate chip cookies or even just buying some and eating them is so much more fun than trying to look up what a live lobster's face looks like. But I've become obsessed with the fine details no matter what."
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During her time studying cookies (what a great gig, right?) for this cake, she noticed the different shades of brown that appear after baking along the edges and in the nooks and crannies of the cookie. To achieve the tones, Gampp uses a food-safe brush and cocoa powder. She likens the technique to applying makeup: "When you put blush on your face, you do a couple of sweeps and you're like, I can't really see that. So if you want it more impactful, you add more."
Gampp shares tips like this not only on her YouTube channel but also in How to Cake It's free and paid tutorials. The Bake You Happy classes, taught by Gampp and other dessert artists, make for great last-minute gifts for the holidays. Or if you want to stock a family member up on baking tools, How to Cake It sells some genius products, like the MixerMate spatula that helps you get every last drop of batter off your mixer's paddle.
"Baking is one of those things that has always brought families together," says Gampp. "When you try it yourself, you realize it takes time, it takes energy, and it's something you can be so proud of at the end. And then you can share it with people you love, which is even better!"
Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake
1 (8-inch) round of Yo’s Ultimate Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Chips (recipe follows) or your favorite vanilla cake mix, baked and cooled overnight
Simple syrup, cooled (recipe follows)
Dark chocolate ganache, cooled (recipe follows)
1 lb. white fondant
Ivory gel food coloring
Brown gel food coloring
Cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed cocoa)
Green candy melts
Vegetable or coconut oil (optional)
1. Use a small paring knife to round out the sides of your cake, and carve in valleys and grooves just like you’d see on a cookie.
2. Shower your cake with simple syrup and allow a couple of minutes to absorb.
3.Crumb coat your cake with dark chocolate ganache using a small offset spatula. If you feel like your ganache is too firm and is dredging up crumbs from your cake, you can pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds to soften it up.
4. Once your crumb coat has set, apply another thin layer of chocolate ganache. Place it in the fridge to chill.
5. While your cake is chilling, use brown and ivory gel food colors to dye your fondant the perfect cookie hue. You’re looking for a light golden brown tan color.
6. Thinly roll out your fondant, and to ensure it sticks, brush the edges of your cookie with a little water. Drape your fondant over your cookie and use your fingers to press it into all of the carved grooves and valleys. Trim the excess fondant from the bottom of your cake with a small paring knife.
7. Use your fingertips and a clean dry paintbrush to create cracks in your fondant, making it look more realistic.
8. Ensure your cookies have the perfect golden brown hue by using a soft-bristled brush to lightly dust the whole cookie with cocoa powder, making the edges and high points a little darker.
9. Using a small paring knife, cut your chocolate kisses in different angles, and use a little bit of melted chocolate to glue your “giant chocolate chips” to your cookie cake. Gently press them into your fondant making sure they stick. You want to make them look like they’re emerging from a freshly baked cookie!
10. Melt candy melts in the microwave in increments of 20 seconds, stirring in between each round. If your candy melts are a little too thick, you can add a small amount of coconut or vegetable oil to help you out. When cool (but still fluid!), pour over half of your cookie to give it a "dipped" look.
11. While your candy melt dip is still wet, pour over sprinkles of your choice!
Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Chips
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. table salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup whole milk
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line the bottom of 1 (8-inch) cake pan with parchment paper, spreading small bits of shortening on the bottom of the pan to secure it.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar of medium speed until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula when necessary.
5. Add the flour mixture in four parts, alternating with the milk in three parts, beating just until each addition is incorporated before adding the next; do not overmix.
6. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips into your batter.
7. Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and spread it so that it is smooth. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
8. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely in the pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Loosen the edges with a straight spatula, invert the pan to remove the cake, and peel off the parchment.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
¼ lb. good-quality dark chocolate (between 56% and 72%)
½ cup heavy cream (35%)
1. Chop the chocolate as finely as you can. Place it in a heatproof bowl. Alternatively, you can also use callets.
2. Pour the cream into a heavy saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring just to a simmer. You should see bubbles around the edges of the pot and movement just under the surface of the cream. Do not let it boil.
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and cover the bowl with a lid, large plate or cake pan. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Uncover the bowl and gently stir with a spatula, starting in the middle and working your way out. The ganache will start to darken and come together into a velvety mixture. To ensure that no lumps are left, pour the ganache through a sieve into a clean bowl.
5. Let it cool for at least several hours or overnight (not in the fridge!).
¼ cup water
¼ cup granulated sugar
1. In a small-sized pot, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved
2. Let it cool completely, and store in the fridge for up to one month.
**These recipes were provided to PEOPLE by a chef, restaurant or culinary professional. They have not been tested for home use.**
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