Special equipment: 1 (16-inch circle) 3/4-inch-thick Masonite, foam board, or plywood, sides covered with ribbon 3 foam boards, 3/16-inch thick, cut into 14, 10, and 6-inch circles 7 (8-inch) wooden dowels Fun-Tak 5 (7 3/4-inch) wooden dowels
Cover 16-inch board with Royal Icing and set aside to dry. Each tier needs a sturdy base. Trace a 14-inch cake pan onto 3/16-inch foam board. Repeat with 10 and 6-inch cakes. This will be the base for each tier. Carefully cut out the rounds. Once cakes have cooled slightly, remove from pans. Do not remove parchment. When completely cooled, place each cake right side up on foam board round, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. This makes the layers firm and easy to handle. They can also be frozen at this point. Begin with the largest tier. Remove the 14-inch cakes from the refrigerator. If they did not bake level, even the tops with a serrated knife. Use a turntable to make it even all around. Repeat with the other 4 cakes. Split each cake in half horizontally. Each tier will not consist of 4 layers. On a level work surface, place a 14-inch, 10-inch, and 6-inch tier with a foam board base next to each other. Brush the cut surface of the bottom base cake layers with the Armagnac Simple Syrup. The syrup will moisten the cake and add a subtle flavor. With a #6 plain tip, pipe buttercream around the perimeter of each cake that has been moistened with syrup. This "dam" will prevent the jam from seeping out. Fill the 14-inch cake layer with 3 cups of jam, the 10-inch cake layer with 1 3/4 cups of jam, and the 6-inch cake layer with 1/2 cup of jam. Repeat this process with the remaining 3 cake layers for each tier, stacking the layers on top of each other. Using an offset spatula to give each tier a "crumb coat," ice top and sides of cake with a thin coat of buttercream. This thin layer of icing will seal the cake. Start from the center and work toward and over the edge, making sure to spread the buttercream over the sides of the tier. Refrigerate for 1 hour to set the cake and buttercream. Give the tiers a final coat of buttercream. Be sure to cover all exposed cake. The icing should be smooth and uniform. Refrigerate the tiers again to chill the final coat of buttercream. Place 14-inch tier on 16-inch board covered with Royal Icing. Using a 12-inch pastry bag fitted with a large leaf tip (Ateco #115), ice cake in a basket weave pattern. Insert 8-inch dowels evenly spaced in the center of cake. Add pieces of Fun-Tak to level off each dowel and prevent the tiers from sliding. Place the 10-inch tier on top and center. Repeat the basket weave on the 10-inch tier. Insert the 7 3/4-inch dowels evenly spaced in the center of the 10-inch tier. Add more Fun-Tak to level dowels. Top with 6-inch tier and center. Frost the 6-inch cake with a basket-weave pattern. Decorate between each tier with assorted fruits.
Twelve batches of batter are needed to yield 2 (6-inch) round layers, 2 (10-inch) layers, and 2 (14-inch) layers. Fill each 6-inch pan with 1 3/4 cups of batter. Fill each 10-inch pan with 5 cups of batter. Fill each 14-inch pan with 11 cups of batter. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter baking pans; line bottom of each baking pan with a round of parchment paper. Butter parchment and dust pans with flour, making sure to coat pans evenly. Tap out excess flour. In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract, then the eggs, 1 at a time. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder 3 times. Add to egg mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk, starting and ending with flour. Measure batter into prepared pans. Bake 6-inch rounds for about 35 minutes, 10-inch rounds for about 45 minutes, and the 14-inch round for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cakes are done when the tops are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Yield: 3 cups batter
In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, bring 4 cups of water and the sugar to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and add Armagnac. Let stand at room temperature to cool. Set aside. Can be made several days in advance. Yield: 7 cups
Combine egg whites, sugar, and vanilla in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar has dissolved and whites are hot to the touch, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer bowl to the electric mixer. Using whisk attachment, mix on low speed, gradually increasing to high speed, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, beat butter until creamy and fluffy. At low speed, add the butter to egg whites until smooth. Add vanilla, and continue mixing until incorporated. Yield: 5 cups
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine confectioners' sugar and meringue powder or egg whites. Mixing on low speed, add a scant 1/2 cup water drop by drop. For a thinner consistency, usually used for flooding, add more water. A thicker consistency is generally used for further embellishing. Mix until icing holds a ribbon-like trail on the surface for five seconds when you raise the paddle. Note: Raw eggs should not be used in food prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, or anyone whose health is compromised. *RAW EGG WARNING Food Network Kitchens suggest caution in consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs due to the slight risk of Salmonella or other food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell. Yield: 2 1/3 cups