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. 

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