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.