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I never thought I’d be greasing water balloons with shortening at 11 p.m. on a Thursday, but here I am, living out that sixth grade motivational poster: “Shoot for the moon—even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Or maybe I’m more of the “Hang in there” cat. Either way, I went after one of Pinterest’s hottest dessert trends—making a bubble cake from scratch—and learned a whole lot in the process.

If you’ve been scrolling the inspo site recently, you’ve probably noticed these whimsical, translucent dome-topped cakes popping up in your feed, replacing the naked cakes and neon drip confections of years past. In fact, Pinterest says searches for bubble cakes have climbed 55 percent over the past two years, prompting the brand to deem it one of the biggest emerging food trends of 2022. The concept seems simple—dip balloons in a gelatin mixture to form bubbles, pop said balloons and arrange gelatinous exoskeleton “bubbles” atop a cake—but the effect is otherworldly. So naturally, I had to know: How hard are they, really, for the average home baker to make?

The answer: If you’re expecting perfection, call a pro. But if you want an oddly satisfying way to spend a Saturday (or late Thursday night) while simultaneously earning the award for Coolest Aunt/Mom/Shameless-Instagram-Likes-Hunter around, go for it. Here’s exactly what to do (and what to avoid), based on my experience.

bubble cake tutorial purple orb
CANDACE DAVISON

1. Order 5-inch Balloons or Water Balloons

Full-size balloons, even blown up small, will be too big or oblong. Water balloons can be hard to come by, but most party stores stock packs of 5-inch balloons, which are basically the same thing.

You’ll also need:

2. Blow Up the Balloons and Grease Them

Vary the sizes of the balloons you blow up, so they’re about 1 to 3 inches in size. Then, grab a paper towel and apply a light coat of shortening to the balloon. You want to give it a light, clear sheen—no opaque streaks. (You’ll be dipping the balloon in a gelatin mixture, letting it dry and then popping it, and this shortening trick, which I learned from Chelsweets, keeps the balloon from sticking to the gelatin. It’s crucial for easily removing the balloon bits without breaking your gelatin orbs.)

bubble cake gelatin
CANDACE DAVISON

3. Pour a 2:1 ratio of water to gelatin in a microwave-safe bowl or mug

Mix gently, then let the gelatin mixture sit and “bloom” for about 5 minutes. (I used 2 ounces of water to 4 ounces of gelatin.) It’ll look like a super thick, grainy slime—kinda like a body scrub mixed with Elmer’s Glue. That happens almost immediately, but it’s still worth giving it time; I didn’t the first time around and wound up with a watery, clumpy mess.

After that, pop it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds. Stir in a few drops of gel food coloring, adding more until you achieve the color you’d like. (Pro Tip: Use Fancy Sprinkles Jelly Hues food coloring for really vibrant colors. We used traditional gel for the blue bubbles, Jelly Hues for the purple, and you can see there's a huge difference in how saturated the color is.) Break up any clumps or large bubbles.

NOTE: Hot gelatin smells awful. Like a wet-dog-threw-up-on-your-carpet awful. Have your diffuser on standby.

bubble cake dipped balloon
CANDACE DAVISON

4. Dip, then Double-Dip, Your Balloons

The first time you dip a balloon, it’ll likely look streaky. That’s what a second (or, occasionally, third) dip is for. Just like painting your nails, these require an extra coat for a streak-free finish.

bubble cake tutorial balloons
CANDACE DAVISON

5. Let Them Harden Overnight

Place the balloons on a cooling rack with parchment paper underneath. They’ll need at least 10 to 12 hours to firm up. You may hear crinkling noises as the gelatin hardens; that’s fine. Your orb babies will be OK, promise.

One caveat: If you have a grid-style cooling rack, threading the balloon closure through the grid can help hold the balloons in place, so they don’t wobble around. If you don’t—I didn’t—you may get grid lines on one side of your balloon. C’est la vie.

bubble cake tutorial clip
CANDACE DAVISON

6. Pop Those Balloons

Grab scissors and pierce each one. It’s kind of mesmerizing to watch them shrink away from the gelatin. You can use tweezers or your fingers to peel away the balloon remnants.

If you didn’t use shortening, you’ll still have an orb shape, albeit one that’s opaquer due to its balloon liner. You can use it as-is—just warn people not to eat ‘em—or give it a few more hours to rest. I found that over time, the balloon guts would peel away from the gelatin on their own. It just required more patience.

bubble cake closeup
CANDACE DAVISON

7. Decorate Your Cake

Stack those orbs! Show them off! There are no rules! Just be sure to ‘gram, post and pin your creation, because you sure as hell aren’t making those gelatin bubbles for their flavor. (Psst: Don’t eat them. While the gelatin bubbles are edible, they don’t taste that great. This is totally an aesthetic play.)

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