Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last treat of 2011

For Christmas, I was fortunate to receive many baking, confectionary and decorating supplies such as The Art of Cake by Mich Turner, gum paste molds, spacers, ribbon cutters, petal cutters, a candy thermometer and Sugar Baby by Gesine Bullock-Prado.

Since I already mentioned in my last post that the Mater cake was my last cake of the year and it's already the evening of New Year's Eve, I decided to make something quick and delicious from Sugar Baby using my new candy thermometer (I hate my old one).

I don't have very much experience with making candy/cooking with sugar. I have made vanilla bean marshmallows and fleur-de-sel caramels, but that's about it. In my new book, I jumped right to the hottest recipes (300ºF-310ºF) also known as the "Hard-Crack Stage". This chapter includes recipes for confections such as rock candy, peanut brittle, butter almond toffee, cotton candy, lollipops, and the recipe for my last treat of the year: sponge toffee! The deliciously unique part about the sponge toffee recipe in Sugar Baby is the use of maple syrup (Vermont, where the author is from, has a large maple syrup industry) rather than corn syrup. Two things that my husband loves 1) maple, 2) sponge toffee. I am the wife of the year!

Unlike caramels that you have to constantly stir (for a really long time), once the sugar is dissolved, you just wait and watch until the candy thermometer reads 300ºF. I clipped my old and new thermometer to the sides of the pan just to compare the two and my new thermometer reached 300ºF much quicker! Once it's at the right temperature, you then carefully sprinkle and stir in baking soda, and pour into your pan. Mine was already quite spongey in the pot so I scooped it out rather than poured it and spread it out with a spatula. Easy! I think next time I may not spread it as thinly. It does cool down fairly quickly, making this a great last minute treat.

I may have flattened some of the airy pockets when spreading it with my spatula, but the texture is great and the flavour is delightful.

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that you have a healthy 2012 with room for a sweet treat here and there!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Mater of celebration!

Last cake of the year!

Amongst the holiday baking for family dinners (two gingerbread cakes with cream cheese frosting, a pecan tart and a lemon meringue tart), I made a cake for my nephew's 2nd birthday party which was today. The theme of the party was Pixar's Cars. After deliberating with my sister, I decided to make a Mater cake. 

My cake sculpting experience is rather limited. I typically do regular shaped cakes (round, square, sheet) and make gumpaste/modeling paste figurines and details. I've done one sculpted cake before - it was a baby grand piano to celebrate the refurbishing of a 100 year-old family piano. I will blog about that another time when I'm on a baking break. Sculpting a cake to resemble a car takes a lot of planning and measuring. I borrowed two little Mater toys from my nephew to help with figuring out proportions of the truck and the little details.

It is much easier to carve a cold cake then a room temperature cake. A cake chilled in the freezer is best, however I did not have room in my freezer for that much cake so I did my chilling in the fridge. Once I cut the sheet cakes down to size, I filled my cake and chilled it again before carving out the front, back and the cab. 

The least favourite part of cake decorating for me is crumb coating and masking cakes. I am getting faster but I still find it tedious. After masking this sculpted cake, I promise that I will never ever complain about masking a round cake again. I used a 4" offset spatula but some smaller special shaped trowel ones would have been more ideal.

Covering a sculpted cake in fondant is a bit stressful as you need to work very quickly to smooth the fondant into all of the creases and crevices. 

Because it was such a large cake and I used about 6 pounds of fondant to cover it, I also had to work quickly to cut off any excess fondant from the bottom to relieve the weight on the corners of the cake and avoid tears (both kinds!). 

The tow rig is made with gum paste and the details are painted/brushed on using gel paste, and coloured dusting sugars. 

The cake is vanilla, filled and masked with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream. The board is covered with royal icing and brown sugar to look like desert dirt.

I was happy with my second attempt at a sculpted cake and I think that the birthday boy was too!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One good drink deserves another...

Good morning Guinness! (and Jameson Irish Whiskey...and Bailey's Irish Cream...)

For the next potluck I decided to make cupcakes that I've done before and have been quite well-received. They are chocolate Guinness cupcakes with a whiskey chocolate ganache filling and Bailey's Irish Cream frosting. The original recipe is from Smitten Kitchen and was adapted slightly by the Curious Domestic.  

I prefer to ice my cupcakes with a generous swirl of frosting for an optimal icing to cake ratio, however this frosting is very sweet and a smaller swirl goes a long way. 

Now the beauty of this recipe is that it leaves you with a few extra goodies to make another treat. The Curious Domestic uses the leftover cake from making the holes in the cupcakes for filling, and leftover ganache to make little 'truffles'. The leftover ingredients screamed 'cake balls!' to me. There has to be a more appealing name for these little confections of cake, frosting and chocolate. Henceforth in this post, they shall be referred to as 'cake sphere-lets', uh.. 'cake globes'...hmm...'cake crumblettes''cute spherical cakelets'....cake balls it is! I made cake balls once after a little cupcake project hiccup - they aren't my favourite thing to make with all the fuss of dipping things in melted chocolate (unless they are peppermint patties - have to stick that in so that my husband can sigh in relief) and I don't think I would ever bake a cake with the sole intention of crumbling it up and mashing it with icing, but they are a tasty use of cake scraps and leftover icing. 

For these cake balls I had about 1 1/4 cup of cake crumbs and I mixed this with 2 tablespoons each of leftover chocolate ganache and Bailey's frosting. Now normally I would put this mixture into the fridge before rolling them into perfectly shaped little balls, but I had to get to a potluck so I made them into shapes loosely resembling balls before I left and placed them in the fridge to harden. To coat the cake balls, I melted 5 oz of semi-sweet chocolate in a small bowl over a pot of boiling water. I probably could have used more chocolate to make the dipping a bit easier but I did not want to use up that much chocolate for a leftovers treat. You want to dip quickly as the chocolate heats up the cake ball and the longer you roll the ball around in there, the higher the chance you may end up with cake crumb escapees ruining the smoothness of your chocolate. I decorated the cake balls (a little haphazardly) with some leftover frosting and voila! Chocolate, Guinness, whiskey and Bailey's cake balls! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nothing says the holidays like liquor-infused baked goods!

So much for a baking break. 'Tis the season of potlucks. I always struggle with whether to bring something cooked and savoury rather than a sweet treat, but the struggle is always short lived and out comes the butter, milk, eggs, sugar and flour.

This week: 2 potlucks in 3 days. With all of the business of the season and planning desserts and cakes for family Christmas dinners and an upcoming birthday, there isn't a lot of time for making anything elaborately decorated. I decided to compensate with alcohol.

Hello amaretto.

For my first potluck, I decided to make the Chocolate Amaretto Bundt Cake from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. I haven't done a lot of baking of desserts that don't end up being covered in icing or fondant. How you make a bundt cake pretty? I used the Heritage Bundt Cake pan from Williams Sonoma. The pan creates a beautiful swirl design. I've made one bundt cake before - it was the recipe that came with the pan. I found it on the dry side and it needed to be a la mode to improve the moistness and palatability. This chocolate amaretto cake promised to be delightfully moist.

I've read about dusting a lightly greased pan for a chocolate cake with cocoa powder rather than flour in order to avoid remnants of white flour on a dark cake. I attempted this with little success - the cocoa powder stuck in clumps to the greased pan and it dissolved slightly. I brushed the excess cocoa powder out with a pastry brush and dusted the pan (easily) with flour. I had no issues with white residue on the cake, despite using flour. I (not so) lightly dusted the cake with icing sugar - just like a light dusting of snow. 

The cake was, as promised, quite moist with a nice, strong amaretto flavour which comes from using good amounts of both almond extract and amaretto liqueur. I still think the cake might be improved with some sort of chocolate glaze although I would use a different pan in that case because I feel that a glaze would detract from the simple beauty of the swirl design. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Humble Beginnings - January 2010

So while most bakers are ramping up their baking for the holidays, I've decided to take a little bit a of baking break. It might have something to do with the string of cakes I've done lately while working full time and doing my masters. Whew! I have to admit, I did a little baking today...just a touch. I made a quick batch of chocolate peppermint macarons - so quick that I barely waited for them to cool prior to filling them with peppermint buttercream.

While I'm on a bit of a break, I thought it might be a good time to reminisce about the early days!

I took my first intro to cake decorating course in November 2009. In this course I learned royal icing and buttercream basics - stars, rosettes, shells, rose buds, daisies, roses, leaves, etc., and how to level, fill, mask and ice a cake in buttercream.

The end result was a good foundation of piping basics, however I really wanted to get into decorating cakes with fondant.

My first fondant-covered cake was done in January 2010 for my nephew's 1 month old celebration. I did some 'research' using Google and found some videos on YouTube in order to learn how to cover a cake in fondant and also how to do some basic animal figure modelling.

My nephew was born in the year of the Ox, so my first fondant figure was a very chubby ox.

I attempted to make modelling paste by adding tylose powder to fondant (which is still how I do it now), but at that time, I did not know about letting the fondant set for a few hours to a day prior to modelling with it, so the fondant was still quite soft. The result was a Chinese ox that became obese by the next morning. I also had not known about letting the body set before putting a large head on the body, hence the head had sunk back a bit so that he was looking up a little. I attempted to fix this by sticking a piece of fondant at the back of his neck to hold his head up properly - enter neck fat on my already obese ox. 

I was really anxious about covering my first cake in fondant as I had read about all of these terrible things that could happen, such as lumps, air bubbles, tearing, cracks, etc.

It was simpler than I thought! Beginner's luck I guess. The cake was a butter cake filled and masked in vanilla frosting. I covered the little 5-inch cake with fondant first. It was perfectly smooth - I was so happy! The perfection did not last long. I moved my cake over to roll out the fondant to cover the 8-inch cake. While rolling out the fondant, I put the end of the rolling pin into the 5-inch cake. I smoothed it the best that I could. I've said it before -  there is always a back of the cake. Lesson learned: move your covered cakes away from your workspace for safety! 

So, this cake was my first fondant-covered cake. Although I received a good foundation in my intro to cake decorating course, I think that it's important to know that you can learn so much with reading various free resources on the internet. It is helpful to look at several different resources on the same topic (there are many different opinions out there!) and then decide what makes sense for you. This cake was an encouraging start and the beginning of a wonderful new hobby. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

We three penguins...

are wishing a 2-year old girl a very happy birthday!

This cake began with a request for a snowflake-themed birthday cake. I had a few thoughts about little winter characters that could make it cute but consistent with a winter theme. I thought about little snowmen (snowpeople?), a little girl in winter garb, and then while shopping for cake supplies (which lately, seems to be a weekly adventure), I came across an older winter issue of Cake Craft and Decoration hiding underneath new issues with an adorable penguin on the front cover. I just had to make penguins!

I feel like each penguin has its own distinct personality...

As a trio, they look as if they are singing 'Happy Birthday' or carolling!

The cake itself was vanilla, filled with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream, and masked in vanilla. This week I rolled my fondant just under 1/4" thick as planned. I probably wasted a bit more fondant than I needed too but was happy with the smooth results - at some point I will figure out what fondant amounts work best for me - for now I prefer to overestimate the amount of fondant I need to cover a cake. Since I wrote on the challenge of air bubbles last week, I thought I should mention that I did get an evil air bubble on this cake. Just so you know, the simple pin pricking and smoothing out with your hand/fondant smoother works like a charm when you've masked your cake in buttercream rather than frosting. Not to worry for frosting-lovers, I have a plan for adhering fondant to frosting with better results.

And to end this post, a little penguin carolling in front of the fireplace with stockings...

I'm going to be taking a little decorating break for the holidays to spend some time with the family - a perfect time to write about some of my older cake adventures...