Monday, December 30, 2013

Peonies and piping

It was about two and a half months before I made another cake after the one that I dropped. I wasn't necessarily discouraged. It's more a lack of time. Less than a week after the cake disaster, we hopped on a plane to Europe and spent a fabulous two and a half weeks in Paris, Edinburgh, Aberlour, Castle Combe and London. Two and a half weeks was fabulous but it wasn't enough time to get through all of the gorgeous pastries that I wanted to try. After that, I really had to focus on my graduate studies. Before I knew it, it was already November and my mother's birthday. 

I wanted to take the opportunity to practice a couple of skills - flowers and piping. I had seen quite a few beautiful wedding cakes with lace-like piped pattern and wanted to give it a try. There were a lot of very similar cakes and I wondered if there was some sort of template out there or if people were just piping the design freehand. I perused a couple of cake decorating stores and could not seem to find any templates so I decided to just give it a shot on my own. The flower shape I used for the lace is a dogwood flower. I bought some very fine decorating tips - size 0 and 00 to do the intricate lines. When I got started I realized that those tips were just too small for me to work with on a cake. Since I moved a size up for the smaller tips, I unfortunately did not have tips large enough for the thicker lines and ended up just cutting a hole in the end of a disposable piping bag. It wasn't ideal but it worked. From far away, the piping looks neat enough. It was not as smooth as I would have liked close up. One of the tools that I find extremely helpful when piping royal icing or doing stringwork is this yellow spatula-pick thingy. It is absolutely fabulous for scraping off mistakes or broken lines. I don't actually know the real name for this tool but 'Boo-boo stick' seems appropriate given it's most useful function. 
I've only attempted one peony-like flower before. I like them because they still look very pretty if not terribly realistic or accurate. There are lots of tutorials online. There are also a few different styles of peony cutters. I used this one. I did the veining of each petal by hand using a gumpaste veining tool. It was tempting to purchase a silicone mold kit but they are quite expensive and at the rate I'm making cakes right now, I might make one peony a year. I think I liked the overall shape of this peony better than my previous attempt. I left it more open at the bottom so I didn't need any filler petals when I placed it on the cake. I still ended up having it quite condensed in the centre and would like to try again to make it even more open. 
The flavour of the cake was coconut and it was filled with pineapple swiss meringue buttercream. To make the coconut cake, I took my favourite vanilla cake recipe and switched out the milk for coconut milk. I also pulsed some unsweetened dried coconut in the food processor and added it to the dry ingredients. I added a bit of coconut extract to the simple syrup but found that it smelled really artificial so I made another batch of simple syrup and added only one drop of extract. It was a little better. 
For the pineapple buttercream, I used canned pineapple chunks along with the juices to make a pineapple reduction. I pureed the pineapple reduction and added it to the buttercream. It was a subtle flavour but nice. 

The one that got away...

I debated whether to write about this cake that I did back in August for my niece's first birthday because the outcome was less than optimal. The purpose of my blog is to write and share my hobby with others and that includes projects or situations that may be a challenge or that may not be a success. This is one such project.  
One may look at the picture above and wonder what the challenges might have been. Overall it's a pretty cake. My sister-in-law wanted something pink and girly and suggested an ombré cake. She doesn't like fondant very much so I did a frosting-covered layer on the bottom and a fondant-covered layer for the top.  
The ruffled flower was made by cutting about 1-inch wide strips of thinly rolled modelling paste and rolling a modelling stick back and forth along the edges to create a ruffled effect. I was a bit short on time to make this cake as I had been working late and getting ready for a trip overseas. The flower ended up being a tad off-centre. In retrospect I should have been taking a step back to look at the cake after each flower layer to ensure that it was straight or in addition to marking the cake for the outer edge of the flower I could have also marked the centre of the flower. This would have not required a significant amount of extra time and would have ensured a straighter flower. Alas, that wasn't the suboptimal part of this cake project. 
For the ombré rosettes, I used a fairly large star tip. I portioned out just under a third of my batch of frosting and tinted it dark pink. For the next shade of pink, I just added white frosting to the leftover dark pink to get a lighter shade and then repeated for the lightest colour pink. This part was decently problem-free with the exception of some of the edges not being very neat. 
I placed the cake on a fondant-covered board as I usually do, and was annoyed that I managed to get a fingerprint on one side of the board near the front. The cake was placed off-centre to allow room for my niece's name. 

Like many of my other cakes, I placed the board on a cake stand to photograph it. Sometimes to get a good angle, I move the cake around on the table, sometimes I stand on my tiptoes, sometimes I stand on a chair. I had really gotten all of the photos that I needed and then I thought, 'ah, just one more'. I moved the cake stand back to get a better angle. Since I had placed the cake off-centre on the board, the centre of gravity was toward the back. As I pushed the cake stand back, the cake slipped off of the cake stand, and I'm not sure if I froze but everything really did feel like slow motion. The cake slipped onto the table, then slid off of the table and onto the floor. Surprisingly the cake landed upright however the impact of the fall caused the cake to collapse. It was not salvageable. This was not a reality tv show or a bakery where there might be extra staff, buttercream/frosting lying around, extra fondant, extra sponge cake. I had nothing. My husband held me while I sobbed. And then I went into panic mode. There was an hour until the party started but it would take an hour to get there. I thought that maybe I could make another cake and get it there by the time people had finished eating. I sent my husband to the grocery store to get more butter. I called my sister for reinforcements. I turned on the oven to preheat. As I watched the oven climb slowly in temperature, I came to the realization that it would be impossible. I called my husband and told him to forget the butter. I called my sister to tell her not to bother coming over. My husband called his sister to tell her what had happened. I felt awful on the way to the party. I felt awful when I arrived at the party and my niece was wearing a dress that matched the destroyed cake perfectly. It didn't take too long for me to be able to laugh a little about it and thankfully the cake was for family and they were very understanding.

I don't really have a moral to this story. As I am just a hobbyist, it is unrealistic for me to have extra cakes on hand in case something like this happens. Perhaps don't place cakes off-centre on cake boards or be extra careful while taking photos. In the grand scheme of things, it's just a cake. Although if you've ever watched Kings of Pastry, don't tell the MOF hopefuls that it's just sugar. In the end, I was there to celebrate the first year of a wonderful, beautiful, healthy little girl. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"There's a hair on this cake"

When I was in the midst of making this cake back in July for my brother-in-law's birthday, I had no intention of posting it on my blog. I wasn't quite sure how it was going to turn out as I have only done two carved cakes before and the subject matter was a little, shall we say, inelegant. 
Let me give a little bit of context to this cake. Back in May, I bought my sister a birthday card on which there was a rather hairy lad posing with barely there cutoff shorts and on the inside of the card it said something along the lines of "see, there are worse things than getting older." My sister's husband thought the card was rather gross and based on his reaction, I had decided to make this cheeky cake for his birthday. 

The three photos on the left were taken with my iPhone as I was making the cake to keep my sister up to date on progress, but I thought that I would include them to show how it was made. Each 'cheek' was made from two 6" round cakes that were about 1.5 to 2 inches high and I used two 9x13" cakes that were about 1 to 1.5" high for the lower back and legs. Prior to carving the cake, I had sketched the general shape out onto freezer paper and used this as a template. I filled and stacked the cakes and placed them in the fridge for the buttercream to harden. I trimmed the general shape of the cheeks and then placed the lower back and legs pieces together with the cheeks. Once it was together, I carved the shape of the cheeks to fit with the body. After I was pleased with the shape, I crumb-coated the whole thing in buttercream and placed it in the fridge to set. 

Now, typically I cover my boards in fondant as it provides a much more finished look to your overall cake. It is a bit of a pet peeve of mine to see an amazingly executed cake on a foil board when I know that cake would have taken many, many hours to make and it would have only been an extra few minutes to cover the board in fondant. In this case, since the cake was a joke for my family, and I hadn't planned to post photos and I wasn't 100% confident it would turn out, I did not cover my board and carved the cake directly on the board. If you were to cover your board in fondant, you would need to cut out a cardboard cake board to the shape of the cake, carve and cover your cake on that, and then carefully transfer the cake to the finished fondant-covered board. 

Once the buttercream was set, it was ready to be covered in flesh-coloured fondant. I have to say that it was quite humourous smoothing the fondant on this cake as I had to use my hands primarily versus a fondant smoother. I used a bulbulous cone modelling tool and dogbone tool to define the cheeks and the legs.

To create some of the hair, I used very fine pieces of brown gumpaste and carefully placed these in the fondant before the fondant dried. As you can see in the picture, due to the difference in temperature between the cold buttercream and the humid July weather, the fondant started to 'sweat' a little (how appropriate). Sweaty fondant is not really a big deal. Just don't touch it and it will dry just fine. 

I used a stitching tool and veining tool for the details on the cutoff jean shorts. I used a bit of dark yellow petal dust to simulate yellow stitching on the jeans. I wish I had purchased a few different shades of blue petal dust to add some more depth to the denim. The frayed edges were made using an extruder and a few different shades of blue.

The rest of the hair was added using brown edible marker. Now from the carving pictures above, I don't need to tell you that the cake wasn't chocolate. Somehow that just seemed like it would be going a bit too far and I was certain that no one would want to eat a chocolate cake if they got past the sight of the external appearance. The cake was vanilla and the swiss meringue buttercream was banana cream flavour.

The cake was quite a surprise. My brother-in-law had guessed that I had made him a basketball-themed cake. He was a good sport about it and we got some memorable photos of the occasion. I feel like I should make some form of butt pun for the end of this post but I shall refrain. My next post should be along shortly as I'm not sure how long I want this to be the first thing people see when visiting my blog!

Monday, October 14, 2013

An elephant-themed first birthday cake

It has been almost 3 months since my last post. I have done some baking within that time but I haven't had the time to sort through photos and write about them. I am hoping to complete my MSc within the next year so I've been really scaling down on the baking projects. I do certainly miss it as a creative outlet but I'll get back to it soon enough. In the meantime, I will be posting a few projects that I had done in the summer. 

This was an elephant-themed birthday cake for the first birthday of a friend's son that I made back in July. I apologize for the grainy photo quality. I didn't check the settings on the camera before I started taking photos so I didn't notice that the ISO had been set really high. 

My friend really liked the elephant cake that I did for a baby shower back in March. The birthday boy's favourite colour is yellow and we thought that brown would be a nice contrast colour. I wanted to make the cake a little different from the other elephant and decided to do a 3-dimensional elephant instead. 
I've made 3-D animals in the past and they usually consist of a separate body, limbs and head. For this cake I wanted to keep the "Republican" elephant shape, meaning that it had to be formed with one piece of fondant. It was harder than I thought to manipulate the one piece of fondant into the desired shape, particularly with the trunk. The fondant that I use dries rather quickly and it was mixed with tylose for stability, so I really had to work fast. It took a couple of tries before I was satisfied with the shape. In retrospect, I wonder if it would have been easier to use modelling chocolate as it is easier to manipulate without seams and wrinkles. 

The balloon was made from gumpaste for fast drying and attached to floral wire. I had to make the balloon fairly thin as the floral wire was a higher gauge (thinner) and I wanted it to be able to support the balloon without putting any weight on the elephant's trunk. In the future I will keep some heavier gauge floral wire on hand. 

I wrote the birthday boy's name out on little modelling paste circus flags and used an extruder for the fondant 'string' and bows. 

The flavour was a rich chocolate cake with raspberry swiss meringue buttercream. For the buttercream I used thawed frozen raspberries, pureed them and then strained them for a fine mesh sieve to get rid of all of the seeds. It was a subtle raspberry flavour. If you want a more concentrated flavour you could probably reduce the puree on the stove and allow to cool before adding it to the buttercream. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cupcake chemistry

It has been a very long time since I've posted - just over 2 months. I really don't know where the time has gone. I have still been baking but haven't had the time to sort through and edit photos. Is it the responsibilities of having a house now versus the condo? Is it that I've been working hard on my Master's thesis? Perhaps a little of both. 

I made these Breaking Bad themed cupcakes mid-June for a university graduate. The Breaking Bad theme worked well for the graduate's favourite show and an Honours Bachelor of Science degree. 

The 'elements' spell out "Yo, Michael - HBSc. You Cooked It!" Where possible, I used the correct atomic numbers for the elements. For made up elements, I tried to use atomic numbers most closely resembling the letters used.

The round bottom flask and Erlenmeyer flask with funnel are from Walter and Jesse's mobile meth lab. I used petal dust to make them look well used.

The gloves are heavy duty for Breaking Bad meth-making. I don't ever recall using such large gloves for chemistry labs in university. The respirator is representative of the equipment Walter and Jesse used in their fancy 'laundry' lab. 

While the majority of the meth in the show appeared to be consumed via smoking, I believe that when Jesse and his girlfriend were getting high together, they used the above drug paraphernalia. 

For the crystal meth, I originally made some blue candy. It was my first time making hard candy and I was so excited that it actually worked. The next day, I was cleaning my candy thermometer and noticed that the glass thermometer tip was broken. I had not noticed any broken glass anywhere on the kitchen counters and had already washed the pot that I used. I could only assume that the glass somehow ended up in my batch of blue candy. Alas, I had to throw my first candy attempt in the garbage. Not having the time to make another batch of candy, I resorted to using ready made rock candy. It worked quite well as it was super easy to break into little pieces, but unfortunately I don't get bragging rights for actually making the 'meth'. 

What set of Breaking Bad cupcakes would be complete without Walter Whites tighty-whities - the lab attire of choice when you're cooking meth in a mobile home in the desert. 

And last, but certainly not least, Mr. Heisenberg himself, with his signature hat and goatee. I actually really hate that hat. 

While baking is slightly less lucrative than cooking meth, I think the chemistry is much more rewarding. 
These cupcakes were coffee flavoured using quite a generous amount of espresso powder. The frosting was amaretto and contained an also equally generous amount of Disarrono Amaretto Liqueur. 

While I will be taking a bit of a cake-ation for the month of August, I will be trying to catch up on posting some pictures of recent projects as time permits. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A despicably pretty minion cake

This cake has a bit of a history. Since seeing the movie Despicable Me, I really wanted to make a minion cake because they are just so darn cute and I love cute things. My youngest nephew's birthday is in December and last summer my sister tried to show him multiple Despicable Me videos to convince him that he wanted a minion cake for his birthday. He ended up wanting a Michael Jackson Thriller werewolf cake, which he got. He is already planning his cake for next year - something to do withe Harry Potter and Spiderman. He said to me "Aunt 'Deece' (which is how he says my name) you can have funny little yellow guy for your birthday." I didn't do a decorated cake for my birthday or my husband's birthday this year - I did an apple cake with butterscotch cream cheese frosting and a banana chocolate chip toffee cake with bourbon frosting and chocolate ganache. They were delicious but did not fill the 'funny little yellow guy' quota. Someone in my family was going to get a minion cake. It was only a matter of time. Next family birthday - my sister. I thought it would be a great cake for my sister as a reminder that she really needs to work on her cake idea brainwashing skills with her kids. 
The cake design in itself was not overly complicated. It's basically a yellow cylinder. It did require some structural support though and some cake carving skills to get a symmetrical domed top. The cake was six 6-inch layers of almond butter cake filled with strawberry swiss meringue buttercream. I used a plastic centre dowel when stacking the cakes to ensure that it wasn't a leaning minion in the end. Once the cake was all stacked, filled and crumb coated, it measured about 8 inches tall. 
The main challenge of the cake was covering such a tall and narrow cake with fondant without tearing and creasing or pleating. I am not sure what the proper technique for covering a tall cake is but what I did managed to work well. I rolled out my circle of fondant a couple of inches smaller than what it should have been for a normal cake knowing that the fondant was going to stretch quite a bit as I smoothed the fondant against the cake to get out any pleats or folds. The other part is that knowing it was going to stretch and therefore be susceptible to tearing, I rolled my fondant thicker than usual. Normally I roll my fondant about 3/8" thick or slightly thinner and this time I rolled my fondant 1/4" thick. The last component: you have to work very fast! As the fondant dries (which depending on which brand you use can be very fast) it becomes more difficult to smooth out any folds without leaving marks on the cake. I ended up with one very small tear at the very bottom of the cake which wasn't such a big deal since it was being covered with a dress. 

I looked at several pictures of minions to decide what facial expression I wanted. They also vary a little bit in hairstyles. I went with a little bit of hair scattered evenly over the top of the head. The hair was made from gumpaste. I let it dry overnight and then placed it into the scalp right after covering the cake with fondant while the fondant was still very soft. I made quite a few extra pieces of hair accounting for possible breakage. I used a daisy cutter/plunger for the little hair accessory.
For the mouth I used a ball tool to indent the shape of the mouth while the fondant was still soft. This resulted in cleaner edge than if I had cut out the shape of the mouth. I then spread a very thin strip of purple fondant in the indented area and filled it with uneven looking teeth. 

Now I know that a pink dress is not the typical outfit for a minion - they are typically wearing blue overalls unless they are in disguise trying to get a stuffed toy unicorn from a toy store, or cleaning as a French maid. I decided that seeing as how the cake was for my sister and it was also Mother's Day weekend, I would do something spring-like and feminine. I wanted to keep the dress in a similar style to the overalls they wear. I first wrapped a skirt around the minion creating folds for pleats as I went around the body. I cut out a rectangular piece for the front and then strips for the waistband. I used a stitching tool to create the look of seams on the dress. 
Since the cake was celebrating my sister's birthday, I thought it was only appropriate to have the minion celebrating with a cupcake. It was also a very logical place to stick a birthday candle.
My youngest nephew spent a lot of time staring at this cake. My sister said to him, "See, don't you want a little funny yellow guy for your birthday?" My nephew replies, "Yes, and I want Harry Potter, and Spider Man...." I think we should just quit while we're ahead and stop asking him about his cake for next December. If we don't, I'm going to end up making ten different cakes for one birthday.

I had a great time making this cake. People often ask if it is heartbreaking to cut into a cake that I've spent so many hours making and my response is typically 'no'. This cake was not the most time consuming cake that I've done but I think it was the hardest one to cut into. I wanted to keep it, like a stuffed toy. Thank goodness for a blog to document the memories!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A collage of cupcakes

My husband recently mentioned to me that my life is a little like a sitcom. I say 'yes' to everything and then hope it all comes together. I somehow manage to jump from adventure to adventure and it all works out in the end. This is probably not good for the sanity of myself nor those around me and is generally a flawed philosophy for life. 
I also can't keep things simple. I think 'Fifty cupcakes? A variety of themes? No problem. I'll do a few 3-dimensional decorations and the rest will be simple 2-dimensional decorations. Tah dah!' And then as I start to make things, I think to myself, '2-dimensional is no fun! I want to make cuter things!' And then halfway through the week, I have bags under my eyes, I clutch my decoration to-do list on the subway and revise my plan of attack on my way home from work each day. I think to myself, ' I need a baking break' and then I somehow finish the cupcakes, I am thrilled with them and think 'wow, I should do this again soon!'. This is the story of my life. Actually below is the story of someone else's life - in cupcake form! 

I was told a few things about the guest of honour: He likes a particular business organization, cycling, tools and food. For the business aspect, I did a couple of books titled 'The Art of Business' and a couple of business shirts and ties. I made some simple bicycles for the cycling.

I think I had the most fun making the tools and the food. I had done several of the tools before when making construction-themed cupcakes. This time I also made hand saws, wrench and nuts, and screwdrivers in addition to the drill, measuring tape, square and pencil, and my favourite, the X-acto knife. 

I tried to make a variety of foods to go on the cupcakes. These toppers involved a lot of different colours and a lot of small details which meant a lot of work for my finger muscles! On a couple of mornings, I was convinced that I was developing arthritis in my hands. 

No birthday would be complete without cake (or I suppose cupcakes in this case) and I couldn't resist putting a piece of a cake on top of cake. I have an appreciation for redundancy. My husband would call it recursion. Geek. 

Following along with sweet foods, I made a few little donuts with sprinkles. Who doesn't love desserts with sprinkles? Doesn't it make you feel happy, young and carefree? I felt slightly carefree while making these donuts, and then I looked at my decorating to do list and it brought me back to reality. 

I made quite a few fast food items including hot dogs, hamburger and fries, pizza and fish and chips. The fish and chips was one of my favourites and I included the peas in a ramekin (as they do at our favourite pub) which I usually push to the side because I hate peas. I've really tried to like them. I even have a t-shirt that says 'Give peas a chance'. I'll stick with the fondant ones, thank you. 

I was also happy with how the hamburger turned out. This one had lettuce, cheddar cheese and tomato slices. I also made little fondant sesame seeds. 
I included some stereotypical 'guy' foods like barbecue stuff and steak. I included peas with the steak. I don't know if that's a real thing. I suppose the healthcare professional side of me was thinking, 'That's a really big piece of meat. It needs some vegetables and fries don't count!'

My other favourite food (in true form and fondant form) is sushi and maki. This maki is made with fondant cucumber, crab, avocado and rice. Each rice grain was rolled by hand to taper the ends (because I have an abundance of extra time OCD). 
Group shot! Although there were a few distinct themes for this cupcake collage, overall they worked well together. The cupcake flavours were vanilla/vanilla, vanilla/chocolate, chocolate/chocolate, chocolate/vanilla and red velvet with cream cheese frosting. 

Okay, one more group shot. I couldn't decide which photo I liked better.
Next cake project will be something simple but delicious! We'll see if it's blog worthy and if I'm able to get photos before it's gobbled up.