I think I'll tell you what didn't work first, then cheer myself with the good news.
Flop #1: The Cake
I had a recipe for Buttermilk White Cake that I had high hopes for because buttermilk makes all baked goods lovely and moist, right? Blech, it felt like cornbread in your mouth.
#2: The Frosting
I've made Swiss Meringue Buttercream before. Now THAT is frosting, in the cookbook alongside the recipe I've written a little note that says 'heaven on a cupcake'. And it is, but its also very light and delicate and so I've never tried to use it for decorating. So when I found Italian Meringue Buttercream, along with promises that it is more stable than the Swiss method, I was excited to try it. Things were going along swimmingly until the last step *cue ominous music*, adding the butter. It turned into butter soup. It was delicious soup but useless for icing a cake. I tried adding powdered sugar, hoping to thicken it enough to salvage the mess but after adding enough to make my teeth ache, it was still a loss. So I whipped up a batch of the old standby.
And landing somewhere in between yay and boo: reverse icing. I'll briefly explain: you ice a piece of parchment, assemble the cake on top, ice the sides and flip the whole thing over. Why would anyone try this insanity? Its supposed to give you an absolutely level top and a sharp edge, which it did. But the cake was frozen (easier to work with) when I started and once it started to warm up weird things happened. The top became, ah... not level. And air bubbles started to push out the frosting on the sides making big, ugly cake hernias. Hmm, yep, I should probably file that under flop.
Here is the cake before things started going downhill:
I am depressed, maybe it wasn't a good idea to start with the bad news.
So, what worked?
My diy Bake-Even strips! I just dampened some strips of towel and wrapped them around the pans before sliding them in the oven. The cakes came out nice and high but with no dome. Of course, afterward it occurred to me to Google it and I see that other folks are wrapping their lengths of wet towel in foil. Must try!
I'm also pretty pleased with my first frozen buttercream transfer. I'll briefly explain: print a mirror image of a graphic, tape wax paper over it, outline the design, fill in with thin frosting and freeze until it turns into a pancake you can flip over and place on the cake. I know mine has weird lines, but I'm learning. This was actually easier than I expected, you should try it too.
Or not, if cake decorating doesn't blow your skirt up.