Monday, December 31, 2012

It's close to midnight...and it's my last cake of the year

For months I had my sister try to convince my nephew that he wanted a Despicable Me themed cake for his 3rd birthday party as I just had a hankering to make some cute yellow minions. This worked for short while but soon he changed his mind and requested a Harry Potter werewolf cake. Not really wanting to try to come up with a design that might fit that request, I continued to have my sister show him cute videos of minions. Enter my older nephew. He was watching a video for Michael Jackson's Thriller and the younger one became fascinated with it. Not only did he want a werewolf cake, but it had to specifically be a Michael Jackson werewolf. For weeks leading up to the party, I hoped that he would change his mind. Once the invitations went out, I started the planning process on how I would make a Michael Jackson Thriller werewolf cake.

We celebrated my brother's birthday a few weeks ago. My sister-in-law brought out this delicious chocolate cake and my nephew exclaims, "werewolf cake!" I looked at the chocolate frosted cake and thought to myself, 'wow, if he thinks a frosting-covered chocolate cake is a werewolf, this is going to be an easy cake'. And the he added, "but I want a face on it."

For the past few weeks I have been thinking about how to make a werewolf. I definitely wanted it to be cute/cartoon-like since it was for a 3-year-old child. I thought about making the whole cake a standing werewolf but then I thought about how I didn't think my nerves could handle the drive with a cake that required significant structural support. It also would have meant the possibility of not having enough cake servings unless I wanted to make a 3-foot-tall cake.

I decided to make the werewolf jumping out of the cake. The body was made from rice cereal treats. I have recently found it easier to work with pre-made rice cereal treats vs homemade. It is much easier to get a more condense and solid shape and I don't have individual pieces of rice cereal and gooey strings of marshmallow sticking all over my hands. The head was also make from rice cereal treats. I have to admit, looking at the cereal form, I really didn't know how it was going to end up looking like a wolf. I used modelling chocolate on the head to form facial details like eyebrows and to fill out the cheeks and the mane. At this point it looked like some form of voodoo mask. I covered the head in fondant and used a modelling stick and additional fondant to make the fur. I added variations in fur colour with white, brown and black petal dust. The position of the arms ended up being a bit funny. Instead of an 'I'm going to get you' position, he looks more like he's saying 'I don't want any trouble!'

The hands, nails and teeth were made with gumpaste. I used a stitching tool to give a ribbed looked to the collar of the varsity jacket.

I also dusted the cake with petal dust to make it look like dirt and more graveyard like. I painted his name on the cake using red gel paste mixed with vodka.

I enjoyed his reaction to the cake. He hung on to his dad and said, "It's scary...."
After singing 'happy birthday' I played the Thriller song and video on my phone for him. He is so entranced by that video. I don't remember how old I was when I first watched that video but I would think that 3-year-old would be scared, especially when the zombies are rising from the graves. He can't take his eyes off the video. It's like he sees it as an instructional dance video. He does the zombie walk and he sings along and mimics all of the dance steps. He even does an excellent MJ spin!

It was certainly a fun cake to wrap up a busy year of work, school, moving and baking. I have to say, I am pretty tired though and I am happy to put the cake decorating supplies away for a couple of weeks. I think I'll start off the year with a few simpler projects. I look forward to the baking challenges of next year. I'm sure my nephews will dream up some impossible cakes for me to make.
Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fashioning a cake fit for a fashionista

When I was asked to make a cake with a fashionista theme, I didn't know if I would be able to meet the challenge. The scariest part was that I had never made a shoe before and it was a rather important part of the cake. Other minor challenges included not having very much experience (i.e. no training) in making flowers, no experience with pleating and using a temperature sensitive cake filling (cream cheese frosting) requiring refrigeration of the fondant-covered cake. 

I was pretty much given free reign with the design of the cake. I decided to go for an elegant cake design personalized with the birthday girl's likes: her favourite colour (grey), Christian Louboutin patent peep toe pumps, Tiffany & Co., Holt Renfrew and Mini Cooper. The requested cake flavour was carrot with cream cheese frosting. Since I needed to refrigerate this cake, I decided to use a different fondant. I used Satin Ice as I had read that refrigeration doesn't compromise the look or texture of the fondant. I had also read however that the fondant also dries very quickly and thus leads to a greater potential for an 'elephant skin' look to the fondant which is not desirable. The only time I've ever had an issue with 'elephant skin' was when I participated in a class where we were instructed to use corn starch rather than confectioner's sugar for rolling out the fondant. I found the corn starch really dried out the fondant. With this in mind, I made sure to use confectioner's sugar rather than corn starch to prevent sticking, and I also tried to work faster to cover the cake. I was disappointed to have some spots with a more rough texture. Luckily, I was covering the cake in pleating, so I was able to cover these spots. Overall, the fondant did set quite nicely and most importantly, not one drop of condensation or stickiness when I took it out of the fridge. I did take precautions with this though and put the cake in a box, wrapped the box in plastic wrap and also adjusted the temperature in the fridge (I have an extra fridge that I can use just for cake stuff). I also kept my house temperature on the cold side. Based on the performance of the fondant with refrigeration, I think the brand is a keeper for me. I might just knead a bit of shortening into it before rolling out although this doesn't seem to be recommended by the manufacturer.

This was the first time I had tried to make a realistic-looking flower. I think that it still ended up taking on more of a fantasy flower look than a real peony but I think it was still pretty. The last time I made a peony-like flower, I used modelling paste rather than gum paste alone. I found that it was too soft to work with and therefore the edges of the petals would tear when thinning them with a ball tool. This time I used gumpaste. It was easier to roll out very thin pieces of fondant and shape the petals. The gumpaste did set very fast though and didn't allow very much manipulation of petals after the flower was done. I set the flower in a bowl covered with foil to dry. I think next time, I will make the foil more shallow so that the petals at the bottom of the peony will be more open.

When I placed the peony on the cake, I filled in the bottom with a few extra petals. I did a very light dusting with pink petal dust to give the petals a more realistic shading/colouring. The brush I was using wasn't quite soft enough so I had to be extra careful as the petals are very delicate and fragile.

The birthday girl drives a Mini. Rather than putting a car on a fashionista cake, I decided to put a the key fob on it. This was made from 50/50 or half gumpaste and half fondant. It was challenging painting the logo on it as the key was quite small. I used a 000 size brush, but even so, I barely squeezed the word 'MINI' on it. 

The Tiffany box is made from Rice Krispie treats. I discovered that pre-made treats are much easier to work with then homemade treats. It is easier to make a more compacted and smoother structure. In the past, I have noticed that it is more difficult to really compress homemade treats so that the shape will be stable. Although the gumpaste ribbon covers most of it, I did paint the logo on the top of the box. 

The Holt Renfrew bag was one of my favourite things, mostly because of the striped tissue paper. For some reason, I found it difficult to get the right colour for the bag. It took two attempts and a lot of combinations of gel paste before I got a colour I was satisfied with. I started with 'fuschia' but found it was just too dull. I ended up brightening it with electric pink gel paste. I painted the logo onto the bag using white petal dust mixed with a bit of vodka. The striped tissue is made with gumpaste and the handle made with 50/50 and an extruder. 

At first when I thought about using grey on a cake I thought to myself that it wouldn't be a very appetizing cake colour. After looking at a few images of grey cakes, I thought it could look rather nice - modern and elegant. To make this grey cake visually more interesting, I added white pleating using 50/50 and a gumpaste pearl medallion. I brushed the pearl medallion with a bit of lustre dust so they looked more authentic. I think that they grey and white went very nicely with the pink of the peony and Holt Renfrew bag.

Now for the shoe. I had less than two weeks to figure out this shoe and after researching online, I found that it was recommended to let the sole and heel dry for a week. This meant that if the shoe broke, or looked awful, I would need to think of something else to put on the cake.
To make the sole, I carved a piece of foam to a high heel shape and covered it with parchment. I allowed the gumpaste sole to dry for 5 days along with the heel. The biggest challenge and scariest part of the shoe was the fact that it was a pump and not a sandal, meaning that I had to figure out how to cut out one piece of gumpaste to fit around the whole shoe. A sandal would have been much easier for a first shoe attempt but I was told the birthday girl had a pair of patent peep toe pumps. I'm not the best person at looking at a 3-dimensional item and being able to transfer that into a flat shape that can become a 3-dimensional item. I think I had a brain teaser game that had challenges like that - I was awful at it. I tried to make a paper template by making a foot shape out of old fondant I wasn't using anymore. This got me closer to figuring out the general shape that it had to be but it was difficult to bend the paper around the shoe to see if it would be the right fit. I need to use something more flexible to make the template, so I decided to use the medium that I would be making the actual shoe with - gumpaste.

I was really happy with the curve of the arch on the pump. I don't think that I could have hoped for a better outcome for a first shoe attempt. I think the peep toe was a bit large but that's just me being picky!
To get a 'patent' look, I used 2 coats of vodka mixed with black gel paste.

I am very proud of this cake. It was a great learning experience as I figured out quite a few new techniques. I'm not sure how soon I'd like to try another shoe though - it may have been beginner's luck! 

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Celebrating the year of the dragon and a year of blogging

I started this blog about one year ago with my first entry about a cake that I made for my mother's birthday. After a two and a half-month baking and three month blogging break, I am returning with a cake for my mother's birthday (her 60th birthday to be exact, which is a big one!).

I have not decorated a cake since August. At that time, we were wrapping up our life chapter in our first home. The baking and blogging break coincided with the transition from our condo to our not-quite-finished-being-renovated house. A delayed permit from the city meant throwing all our belongings in the basement and living with my parents for a short time. This is the first cake that I made in our new kitchen. It has taken me a month to write a blog on this cake due to the ongoing process of getting settled into the house (our basement is still full of boxes), work, singing and school commitments. 

This dragon cake is appropriate in a couple of ways. The first and foremost important is that my mom is born in the year of the dragon. The dragon is a symbol of power, strength, luck and prosperity. Interestingly, the dragon also represents change and mobility. This has certainly been a year of change and mobility - literally. We bought a house in May, sold our condo in June, took possession of the house in July and started some major renovations that finished in September. Instead of designing cakes, I was designing rooms in our house. It is a lot of work picking out fixtures, tile, appliances, flooring, doors, etc. 

I am happy to be somewhat settled in and working on cakes again.

The flavour of this cake was mocha with dulce de leche buttercream as per my mom's request. 

This is the second cake that I've carved. The first one being Mater for my nephew's birthday last December.

When thinking about the best method of getting the dragon shape, my original thought was to use a straight-edge bundt cake pan and arrange the pieces into a snake-like shape. After cutting out a paper template, I did not feel that I could get the width or shape that I wanted. I ended up cutting a piece of freezer paper to the size of the cake board (20" diameter) and freehanded the shape of the dragon. I then took out some baking pans and looked at the best combination of pan shapes/sizes to create the dragon. I ended up using a 9x13" pan for most of the body and a 8-inch round pan for the tail end. It was much easier than baking a half sheet size cake.
I still had quite a bit of leftover cake that I used to make cake pops later that week.

One of the challenges I had with the carved cake was how to get it on the cake board. Normally, I cover my cakes in fondant before placing it on the fondant-covered cake board. In this case, since the cake was an awkward shape and in 3 pieces it was necessary to cover the cake once it was already on the board. It wasn't too bad. I used my freezer paper template to see where I wanted the cake to be positioned on the board. I then used an inscriber tool to lightly mark the outline of the dragon onto the fondant. Each piece had it's own cake board which made it easy to transfer to the large cake board. Once placed on the board, I covered the shape in pieces of fondant rather than one large big piece since any seams would be hidden by scales. I just had to be careful when trimming off the excess.

The scales were cut out of modelling paste and then thinned using a ball tool. This took a really, really long time! It is really best to leave the modelling paste wrapped overnight to firm up a bit. It makes thinning the circles easier and neater. I discovered this while making the cake as I was running out of coloured modelling paste. My poor sister was frantically colouring more fondant mixed with tylose and cutting out circles the afternoon of my mother's party. The dragon was dusted with various colours of pearl lustre dust. Teachable moment: when you are severely behind in making a cake, it is very important to stay calm and focused. For this cake, I did not remain calm as I was becoming increasingly late for my mom's birthday dinner. While dusting the dragon, I was gently/or not so gently blowing excess dust off of the cake board. At one point, instead of blowing on the cake board, I blew into the small container of lustre dust. I ended up with an orange face and orange teeth.

The head was made from Rice Krispie treats. I had grandiose plans for decorating the face, however I ran out of time, so it was decorated rather quickly and less precisely than what I would have liked. It looks a bit muppet-y to me but the overall dragon look is there. 

The most important thing is that my mom was surprised and she loved the cake. 

My baking projects will likely be a little less frequent in the coming year as I try to wrap up my graduate studies but I still hope to be baking and blogging once in a while for fun and stress-relief.