Who Needs a Succulent Garden When You Can Make This Sweet Cactus Cake?
Nick Makrides of The Scran Line has been thrilling Instagram and YouTube with his vibrant baked creations, and he’s now revealing the recipes in his new cookbook, Sugar Rebels ($20). He breaks down step-by-step instructions for constructing some seriously over-the-top sweets: The cupcakes are layered in various gradients; the cakes are multi-tiered; and everything comes with the type of signature flair only Makrides can conjure.
Makrides pulls inspiration from pop culture and trends, music, and the LGBTQIA community. “Pop divas like Gaga, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj are a constant source of inspiration for me,” writes Makrides in the introduction to the chapter “Rebel Pride.” “I love the way their music makes me feel empowered and confident. It’s also taught me how to deal with life’s ups and downs in a healthy way. I try to reflect that feeling in my desserts.” His neon-colored confections are often rainbow-splattered and proud of it.
One of the joys of Sugar Rebels is that every creation seems larger than life. Do you eat it or marvel? Whether it’s the Voodoo Halloween cake decked out in a realistic golden skull or the Forbidden Donut emoji-esque macaroon, Makrides’ creations don’t seem like they should be real — but they are. Take, for example, the Cactus Garden Cake, a layered chocolate cake with a ganache drizzle and several different kinds of frosting topped off with cartoon-like blossoming cacti. They are not your everyday millennial succulents, but they’re sure to make your heart happy.
Cactus Garden Cake
Here’s an example of a cake trend that I ignored and came back to once it was over, with my own twist and take on it. When I was coming up with this cake design, I didn’t want the cacti to look real. I wanted them to look bright, colorful and almost like they were inspired by a cartoon alien planet.
Recipe Notes: This cake is a serious undertaking for any baker, so Brit + Co decided to break the recipe into pieces for your ease of use. Click the links within the ingredients list to automatically jump to the recipe within the page to avoid scrolling. If you need additional photo step-by-step instruction, check out this handy cake-decorating guide which walks through how to add a crumb layer, bench scrape the frosting smoothly, and decoratively drizzle the white chocolate on top.
- 2 batches chocolate cake
- 1 batch raspberry frosting
- 2 1/2 batches Swiss meringue frosting
- 1 batch teal ganache drizzle
- 1 batch American buttercream frosting
- various cactus decorations
Directions for Cake Assembly:
1. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature in the tins, then chill them in the fridge overnight, still in their tins (you can wrap the tins in plastic wrap if you like). Chilling your cakes overnight makes them easier to trim and decorate, so I always bake my cakes the day before I decorate them. You can bake the cakes up to a week in advance and freeze them by tightly wrapping them in plastic wrap. To thaw the cakes, take them out the night before decorating.
Crumb-coat the cake using the raspberry frosting. To prepare the striped frosting, add the peach and white frosting to two separate piping bags.
3. Pipe a ring of peach frosting around the bottom of your cake, then a ring of white frosting above that. Repeat until you get to the top of the cake. Add some more peach frosting to the top. Use a small offset spatula to spread it out, aiming to get it flat. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because we’re going to come back to it.
4. Use a cake scraper to carefully scrape the frosting around the cake. Scrape any excess frosting off the cake scraper each time you go around the cake to ensure the different layers of colored frosting stay nice and neat. Continue scraping until the cake is smooth on the sides, then gently smooth out the top with the scraper.
5. Fill a piping bag with the teal ganache and drizzle it around the top of the cake, letting it drip down the side.
6. Finish by carefully adding the chilled cacti decorations to the top.
(Makes 1 batch)
- baking oil spray
- 2 1/3 cups plain (all‑purpose) flour
- 1 pound caster (superfine) sugar
- 3 1/2 ounces unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 12 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, softened
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 12 fluid ounces whole milk
1. Preheat a fan-forced oven to 275°F or a conventional oven to 320°F. Spray three 8-inch cake tins with oil spray, and line the bottoms with baking paper. Set aside.
3. Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt to a large mixing bowl and mix with a hand mixer until well combined.
4. Next, add the softened butter and mix on low speed until the batter reaches a crumbly, sand-like texture.
5. Add the eggs and milk and mix again on low speed until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Scrape down the side of the bowl and mix for another 20 seconds. It’s at this point that you can add any additional flavorings or food-gel colorings to the batter.
6. Divide the cake mixture between the three tins. I find that using an ice-cream scoop makes it easy to distribute the batter evenly, ensuring that all three cakes bake at the same rate.
7. Bake for 50–60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. If the toothpick is coated with wet batter, continue baking, for 10 minutes at a time, until fully baked.
8. Then, assemble and decorate your cake!
(Makes 1 batch)
- 1/2 cup raspberry jam
- 1 teaspoon raspberry flavoring (optional)
- 2 drops pink food gel coloring
- 1 1/2 batches Swiss meringue buttercream frosting
1. Add the raspberry jam, raspberry flavoring (if using) and the pink food gel to the buttercream and mix with a hand mixer until well combined. This is the frosting you’ll use to fill and crumb-coat the cake.
(Makes 1 batch pink frosting, 1 batch white frosting)
- 1 batch Swiss meringue buttercream frosting
- 3 drops pink food gel coloring
- 3 drops orange food‑gel coloring
1. Divide the frosting between two bowls.
2. To make the peach frosting, color one bowl with the orange and pink food gel and mix until well combined.
3. Leave the other bowl white.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
(Makes 1 batch)
- 7 ounces fresh egg whites (usually about 6 large eggs)
- 7 ounces granulated sugar
- 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1. Add 1 1/2 ounces sifted unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder when you add the vanilla extract. My cake recipes often call for more than one batch of frosting. Depending on the size of your mixing bowl, you may need to split the frosting into two batches when flavoring and coloring it.
2. Begin by filling a large saucepan 1/4 of the way with water. Let it come to a gentle boil over a medium-high heat.
3. Separate your egg whites from your yolks in a large, very clean, glass or metal mixing bowl. We only need the egg whites for this recipe, so you can store the yolks in an airtight container in the fridge to use for something else. (My go-to recipe for using up egg yolks is custard. Yum!) Add your sugar to the egg whites and use a hand whisk to mix them together.
4. Place your bowl on top of the pan of boiling water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. This is called the double-boiler method and is a very gentle way of cooking or melting something.
5. Gently whisk your egg white and sugar mixture for about 3–4 minutes, or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Check that it’s dissolved by running it through two fingers. If you can’t feel the sugar granules, then it’s time to take it off the heat. If you can, then continue whisking for another 2–3 minutes and keep testing until you can no longer feel any granules.
6. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on high speed for about 4–5 minutes. The mixture will become thick and glossy and will begin to cool.
7. Gradually add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is on high speed. At first, your egg whites will deflate and look like the butter is causing them to split, but don’t panic! It will come back together. It takes a couple of minutes for the butter and meringue to become best friends.
8. Once you have added all the butter, add the vanilla extract and mix first on low speed to combine, then on high speed for 5 minutes.
9. You’ll know it’s done when the frosting has come together, has turned pale in color (if you’re making vanilla) and is nice and fluffy.
10. If you find your frosting is too aerated, then mix at the lowest speed for about 10 minutes and it will become perfectly smooth again.
Teal Ganache Drizzle
(Makes 1 batch)
- 5 1/2 ounces white chocolate buttons
- 2 1/2 fluid ounces heavy whipping cream
- 1 drop teal food-gel coloring
1. Combine the white chocolate and cream in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 20 seconds at a time, mixing between each interval until smooth. Add a drop of teal food gel and mix until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature.
2. Alternatively, you can make the ganache using the double-boiler method. Fill a large saucepan 1/3 of the way with water and bring to the boil. Place the bowl containing the chocolate and cream on top and gently mix until the two ingredients are completely melted and smooth.
3. To soften the ganache to drizzling consistency, microwave on high, for 5 seconds at a time, mixing well in between each interval. Dip a spoon into the ganache and, if it drizzles down and doesn’t look transparent, it’s ready to use on the cake.
(Makes all cacti needed for decoration)
- 1 batch American buttercream frosting
- teal: 5 drops teal food-gel coloring
- lime-green: 4 drops teal food-gel coloring and 4 drops yellow food gel coloring
- pink: 3 drops pink food-gel coloring
- peach: 3 drops pink food-gel coloring and 3 drops orange food-gel coloring
- purple: 3 drops purple food-gel coloring and 2 drops pink food-gel coloring
- 2 Rice Krispies Treats
1. Check out the image to guide you in creating the cacti. Begin by lining two baking trays with baking paper. Set aside.
2. Set about 3 tablespoons of the American buttercream frosting aside. This is your plain white frosting.
3. Color 1/4 of the remaining frosting teal, and another 1/4 of the frosting lime-green. Divide the remaining frosting between three mixing bowls and color them pink, peach, and purple following the coloring formulations in the ingredients list.
4. For the large and small bulb cacti, use your hands to mold a small log out of one of the Rice Krispies Treats. Aim to get one end of the log a little flatter than the other. Fit the end of a piping bag with a Wilton #32 tip and fill it with the lime-green frosting. Add a small bulb of lime-green frosting to the bottom of the Rice Krispies log and stick it to a baking tray. Pipe lines around the log, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. Continue until the cactus is completely frosted.
5. Fit the end of a piping bag with a small round tip and fill it with the white frosting. Pipe random little dots all over your cactus. To make the smaller cactus, repeat the same process with a Rice Krispies ball about the size of a plum.
6. For the purple spikey cactus, fit the end of a piping bag with a small leaf tip and fill it with the purple frosting. Begin by piping a circle of leaves onto the baking paper, about 2 inches in diameter, then fill that in with more leaves. As you pull away from the bottom, try and pull the piping bag straight up to give the leaves some height. If you feel it needs more volume, pipe some extra smaller leaves on top.
7. For the pickle cactus, pipe some tall pickle shapes about 2 inches in height with the lime-green frosting. Do it slowly so that you don’t risk them toppling over. Pipe a little bulb of pink frosting on top using a small round tip.
8. For the spikey bulb cactus, fit a piping bag with a Wilton 8B tip and fill it with the teal frosting. Pipe some frilly looking bulbs onto the baking paper, then pipe some little peach flowers on top using a small, closed-star tip and the peach buttercream. To finish, pipe little white buttercream spikes all over the cactus. (These are just some of the cacti I have made, but I’d encourage you guys to hop online and look at the thousands of cacti designs. Be inspired and experiment with your own designs and color combinations.)
9. Once you’ve finished making your cacti, pop them in the fridge for at least 2 hours to chill.
American Buttercream Frosting
(Makes 1 batch)
- 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 2–4 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature (optional but recommended)
1.Add 2 3/4 ounces sifted unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder with the icing sugar.
2. Add your softened butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. You can also use a hand mixer for this recipe, but if you do use a hand mixer, make sure your bowl is large. Mix the butter on low speed to begin with, then switch to the highest speed and mix for 5 minutes until the butter is fluffy and turns pale in color.
3. Stop your mixer and scrape down the side of the bowl using a spatula. Add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and mix again on low speed. LOW SPEED, PEOPLE! The last thing you need is to end up in a sugar dust storm!
4. Once all the sugar has been incorporated, it’s safe to turn your mixer up to high speed. Continue beating on high speed for about 5–6 minutes, or until the butter turns pale in color and becomes fluffy again. If you want to soften your buttercream and make it a little smoother, add the milk and continue mixing for another couple of minutes on medium speed. At this stage, you can also add any food flavorings or food-gel colorings.
(Recipe excerpted with permission from Sugar Rebels by Nick Makrides, published by Hardie Grant April 2019.)