Friday, August 17, 2012

Running: Cake on track, moving...not so much.

Last cake before moving! Less than two weeks to moving and it's time to pack away the baking supplies. Next project will be in my brand new kitchen! How appropriate that as I'm running out of time to get ready for the move, I make a running cake. I don't know if it was the stress of moving, but I also seemed to run into a few more problems with this one than usual. 

This cake was originally going to be a small cake for two (my very athletic friend and her equally athletic boyfriend), however my friend preferred to have a full track on the cake so the scope and size of the cake grew a tad. 

This was my first time making characters in a standing position (minus the zombies on this cake, but they were much smaller). Normally the characters are sitting which is structurally much easier. These characters had to be started earlier than usual to allow the legs to set properly before adding the other components. To ensure the figures were stable for delivery, I used wooden skewers instead of my usual spaghetti to support them. The heads and arms were supported with small pieces of spaghetti and gumpaste glue. In the past, I've made hair using an extruder and modelling paste however this can be quite heavy and can weigh the heads down. As I really needed these figures to be stable, I opted to pipe the hair using royal icing.

I made the running medal using modelling paste. I used a very small silicone mold for the leaves. I carefully cut out a running figure on cardstock and then used an x-acto knife to cut out the figure from modelling paste. The medal was dusted with gold lustre dust.

I cut the track in one piece from modelling paste. I let it sit for a bit to set before trying to lift it onto the cake so that it would not stretch out of shape. At this point I also dusted the track with terracotta petal dust so it had a texture and colour similar to a real track. You certainly learn from your mistakes are you an amateur cake decorator. To adhere the track to the cake, I painted the back of it with gumpaste glue. This was not the smartest move. As I was trying to place it on the cake, sections of the track adhered to the cake and it was very difficult to move the track into place without getting terracotta coloured petal dust all over the cake. Thankfully, I was planning on piping grass in the centre anyway. Other stray bits of red were brushed away with a Q-tip dipped in vodka. In retrospect, I should have laid the track on the cake, positioned it and then lifted and carefully glued one small section at a time. 

There are many challenges that may arise with cake decorating. One of the most frustrating things for me is working very hard to make detailed items to put on top of the cake, only to find that the cake on which I'm putting them is less than perfect. I have had my share of issues with air bubbles forming underneath fondant. I have had better results with using swiss meringue buttercream underneath fondant versus frosting but even so, I still end up with some lumps and bumps. 
Sure enough, as I was packing up my supplies for the evening, I took one last look at the cake only to see that a very large bubble had formed on the side of the cake. I attributed this to not smoothing the buttercream adequately to rid it of all air bubbles and/or not smoothing the fondant firmly enough against the cold buttercream. 
At this point, the fondant had softened a bit as the buttercream underneath warmed to room temperature. While you can poke a hole and push out the air, smoothing the fondant against the softening buttercream, you need to be careful not to press too firmly or the fondant will tear. Similarly you want to be careful with your fondant smoother as the softened fondant can be a bit tacky and your smoother may be stick to the cake like a magnet. 

As it was the first time I've used wooden skewers to support figurines, I learned another important lesson: cut the skewer to match the depth of the cake before attaching a whole figurine to it! 
To ensure the figurines did not sink into the cake and also to avoid any bits of skewer wood getting into the cake, I placed a straw in the cake where each skewer would be placed. When I placed the female figurine, I came to the unfortunate realization that the skewer was too long and her foot was sticking out above the track. It is very difficult to cut a skewer with a figure on it! I first tried this out using a plain skewer to see how gentle I could be with taking off an inch of the wood. This was successful so I moved onto fixing the figure. All was going well, and then of course, the spaghetti holding the head snapped and the head fell off a half hour before I needed to leave to deliver the cake. You have to think very quickly to try and fix things like this - it is important not to panic! It was going to be impossible to extract the broken spaghetti from the figurine without risking further damage, so I used my inscriber tool to push the spaghetti piece down in the body and the other piece up into the head. This left room for another little piece of spaghetti. If I had had more time, I would have used gumpaste glue to reattach and allowed it time to set. As time was not on my side, I could not be so subtle. I quickly made a small batch of royal icing and coloured it to match the skin. I used this to coat the piece of spaghetti holding the head to the neck. I used a very slightly wet paintbrush to smooth the excess icing around the neck. It did not blend perfectly but apparently it survived a few position changes on the cake track due to the competitive nature of the couple!

While this cake certainly had some challenges with a few valuable lessons learned, I was happy with the overall look. Most importantly my friend and her boyfriend enjoyed the cake.

So now the packing continues. I bid adieu to baking for the next couple of weeks as we get settled into our mostly finished house. I look forward to getting back to baking in our brand new kitchen!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Strawberry Lemon Cake

It has been a while since my last post as I have been spending more time at Home Depot than in my kitchen, and I have been getting ready for the new house and spending as much time as possible with my family in the condo before we say goodbye to our first home. I have dabbled in a bit of baking but have had less time to photograph and write about my goodies. 

This weekend, my husband and I went to a friend's house for dinner and we offered to bring dessert. I wanted to make something summery and fruity. I considered doing a tart filled with vanilla bean custard and topped with fresh berries, but I wanted something that I could decorate a little as I think I've been in a slight cake decorating withdrawal. 

I thought about summer flavours and lemons and strawberries came to mind. If you look up lemon strawberry cakes, they are typically very light cakes with some sort of whipped cream type topping. I am not a big fan of whipped cream toppings. I don't enjoy the flavour and texture as much as frosting or buttercream, they are not particularly heat stable, and you can't do much with decorating those cakes. I decided to make a vanilla butter-based cake filled with fresh lemon curd. I covered it with strawberry frosting which is one of my favourite icing flavours. 

I wanted the decoration to be simple and to give a hint of what was inside the cake. Browsing through my books once again, I came across a quilled paisley cake. I am not a big paisley fan but was intrigued by the quilling. 

Quilling is a paper craft that involves rolling thin strips of paper very tightly around a needle/quill and allowing them to uncoil to various sizes, pinching them into various shapes to make flowers, leaves, animals, etc. There are some really elaborate designs out there. A quick google search on quilled cakes revealed some beautiful fondant cakes - some very simple and some extremely elaborate, typically involving flowers and leaves. I decided to make a quilled gum paste lemon slice. I rolled out my gum paste very thinly and I used my ribbon cutter to make 1/4" wide strips. Normally my type A personality would have ensured that each little wedge of lemon was made exactly the same but I was feeling more relaxed this weekend and rolled each strip until they looked approximately the same. If they didn't, I just readjusted and trimmed away excess gum paste as required. I was looking for overall effect rather than becoming a gum paste quilling master in one day. I thought it resembled a lemon slice, so I was pleased. 

I have made strawberry frosting on numerous occasions but I have never made lemon curd. Whenever I am about to try something new, I refer to my abundant collection of baking books and review different recipes, comparing ingredient ratios and techniques. Some recipes involved cooking the curd on direct heat (increases risk of scrambling your yolks), a few involved heating the curd over a bain-marie and one recipe involved cooking a lemon, sugar and butter mixture and then adding some of that to an egg yolk and sugar mixture to temper and then cooking the entire mixture on direct heat. I decided to go with the bain-marie method as I felt this would be the most fail-proof. 

The problem with reading and comparing numerous recipes is that there is a chance you will get them mixed up and combine elements of different recipes...or perhaps it's just me. I ended up adding twice as much fresh lemon juice to the mixture than I was supposed to. I carefully removed what I could which left me with 1.5x the amount I was supposed to use. I figured that since there was a lot of variation in the amount of lemon juice, egg, sugar, zest and butter from recipe to recipe, I could still salvage the curd. There was no way I was going to toss the mixture and separate another 7 eggs. I added a few more yolks, a little extra sugar and it turned out beautifully. Good to know you can take some liberties with ingredient amounts and it will still work. 

To finish the cake, I piped a shell border around the bottom and top borders. The top border ended up being a bit on the messy side as I did some shells too close to the edge and they were precariously hanging over the side, threatening to flop down the side. I also piped a few dots of lemon curd around the quilled gum paste lemon slice.

In the end, it was a successful marriage of lemon and strawberry. As an added bonus, we have a full mason jar of leftover lemon curd. I think it may be time to whip up some scones.