Monday, July 20, 2009

Final Exam Cake Photos

Top shelf:
Golden Vanilla Cake with Citrus Buttercream and Berry Preserves
Book covered in chocolate plastic, piping done with royal icing.

Bottom shelf:
Chocolate Mmmm Cake with Midnight Ganache
Books covered in fondant and chocolate plastic, piping done with royal icing.

All roses and begonias are edible.

(I will post detailed in-progress stuff later this week, probably.)

Then we moved the cake closer to the kitchen, so the lighting changed slightly. Cake and flowers were still ok even a few hours later...

Thanks for checking out these photos! Anyone need me to make a cake for them?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Last Practice Cake

I guess you can sort of see they're books... (I hope so, anyway.) That's about the only kind thing I have to say about this decorating job. It looks pretty bad, in my estimation, but it certainly lived up to being a practice cake. Nearly all the techniques ended up not working. So at least I know not to use them on the Final Exam cake.

The co-workers are probably thrilled this is the last practice cake. However, I think it tasted good so I'm going out on a high note in that regard.

Note: The far left book and the second-to-left-book make one full title of a book. I just broke them up here to try a couple different ways to pipe the book names. Also, this cake is about 11" tall by 9" wide, by 6.5" deep. It was heeeeavy, probably over 20 pounds including the serving platter.

Details of the cake:
Three batches Siren's Chocolate Cake, all 9" x 13".
Each cake cut in half and stacked to create 3 tiers of 2 layers each, about 9" x 6.5" x 12" tall. (Carving the top removed some of the original height, of course.)

Syruped all cakes with 1/2 cup coffee liqueur.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones).

Used 4 batches of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated, with 3.5 oz Lindt 70% and the other 20 oz Nestle Semi-sweet chips, instead of milk chocolate.

Fondant (from Peggy Weaver's mm fondant recipe, with less sugar) and Chocolate Plastic (from the King Arthur Flour Cake Class) painted with Wilton's gel colors.

Used royal icing for piping, a mix between the recipes in The Cake Bible and Spectacular Cakes. Painted with lustre dust, but it's difficult to see.

Cake made about 2 weeks before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored at room temperature on the kitchen counter.
Chocolate Frosting made about 10 days before serving.
Cake assembled about 1 week before serving.
Cake decorated 1 day before serving.

Bottom line:
- Left book: painted fondant. Looks like crap. Don't do that again.
- 2nd to left book: fondant rolled in cocoa powder and then painted. Worked extremely well, color-wise. Probably the staple in the Final Exam cake.
- 2nd to right book: painted chocolate plastic. Hard to get a distinct color difference on such a dark surface to start with.
- Right book: Choc plastic. Wonderful to work with, and most people like the taste better than fondant. If it took color better, it would be the staple. But I'll still use it liberally in the Final Exam.

- Texturing with vinyl and duck cloth (like canvas) didn't work too well after the fondant and choc plastic were on the cake. Can't really put them on before attaching to cake because I still have to smooth it down. But maybe not so much with the choc plastic. Try it again on the Final Exam.

- Royal icing piped onto the vertical parts had trouble adhering. Try a light coating of vodka or vanilla extract next time? Also, get a size 1 tip. Size 2 was slightly too large.

- Figure out a way to make the gold lustre dust accents more sparkly. Hard to tell it was gold.

- Get a lamp for decorating the cake. Even though the new(ish) dining room light is very bright, I couldn't get a good angle for the spine of the books. They were all in shadow, and I couldn't judge distance. That didn't help the royal icing adhere, believe me.

- Prepare extra choc frosting (ganache). Make at least 2 batches more so that there's enough from crumb coat and fondant/choc plastic adhesive.

- Making the cake 2 weeks before the Final Exam is fine. Even assembling it a few days in advance is ok. Must be the liqueur as a preservative, and the humid weather. (Rained all during practice cake construction, which was about a week.)

- Stable during transportation, even though it was a little top-heavy. Final Exam cake will be wider than tall, so it will have a better center of gravity.

- For decorating Final Exam cake:
1) Put on pages first. Roll out enough fondant to cover the two sides that will be pages, and drape over entire section. Cut slits where book covers will go, but don't remove page fondant. Paint before adhering other book parts.
2) For front and back covers of entire stack, roll out fondant and/or choc plastic, then wrap around spine and cover. Do not try to cover the top where the pages are.
3) Try piping on spines before adhering spines to books.
4) Paint on the lustre dust over white royal icing, don't try to incorporate it into royal icing.
5) Place each shelf of books on a smaller cardboard or plastic section before putting them onto the wooden shelves, which don't fit into the 'fridge.
6) Use edible flowers to cover messed up areas. (Hopefully that won't be the entire Final Exam cake.)

Good luck to me, I'm almost done! Working on the Final Exam cake as I post this one...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stencil Madness

Kind of reminds me of Wedgwood China, a little, in a way, almost.

But it worked, it worked! I love how easy it was to create this design. Stencils, baby! Oh, yeah. Now I just have to get a small enough stencil for the sides of the cake. And having a non-lumpy, non-lopsided cake might be helpful too. But the main point of this cake was to test this stenciling technique.

Oh, and to take a stab at the 6" round cake size, and attempt to curb the crumbliness of the All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible by partially substituting all-purpose flour for cake flour. It sort of worked, but the leavening was off, and so it got a bit more dense. Blah. Still tasty, and not objectionable, I think. Co-workers scarfed it in record time, but it was a small cake anyway.

Details of the cake:
One batch All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, two 6" round layers, about 2" tall each (before carving off not-fallen bits), plus several mini-cupcakes.

Substituted 75% all-purpose flour for 75% of the cake flour. (Researched viability first.)

Syruped both layers (and mini-cupcakes) with 1/4+ cup (total) vanilla liqueur and vanilla extract.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones).

Used Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC) that was a mix of the recipes in The Cake Bible and from the King Arthur Flour Cake Class. Added 1/4 tsp orange oil.

Used blueberry jam (preserves, whatever) in a thin thin sheet on the bottom cake layer, before I put on the buttercream.

Fondant dyed with Wilton's gel colors.

Used royal icing for the stencil and piping, a mix between the recipes in The Cake Bible and Spectacular Cakes.

Cake made about 6 days before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored at room temperature on the kitchen counter.
Buttercream made 1 day before serving.
Cake assembled and decorated 1 day before serving.

Bottom line:
First, I think I filled the cake pans too high. Second, I think the cake was slightly over-leavened because it rose fast and then fell slightly in the center. Also, it ended up a bit dense, but not crumbly! I think I'm on the right track, but I want to try a 50/50 mix next time, and maybe tweak the leavening just slightly. Maybe not.

This is the first time I got to practice my new frosting techniques (for the crumb coat anyway) since the King Arthur Flour Cake Class. I do believe I seriously cut down the time and effort I spent on frosting. I felt so much more comfortable, without the usual struggling. What a huge relief. I may even invest in a real cake decorating metal spatula. (I use various silicone spatulas right now.)

For royal icing next time, I think I'll go more closely with the Spectacular Cakes version. It calls for almost twice as much powdered sugar as the The Cake Bible version, so I split the difference. However, it took a little too long to harden, and the color from the fondant bled into the icing around the base, slightly.

Jam layer worked well. Do that instead of trying to add a lot of booze to the buttercream. also, the orange oil worked well with the blueberry jam and the cake itself. Add a tiny bit more, maybe 3/8 tsp or even 1/2 tsp. Try lemon oil instead, maybe?

Ah, the IMBC... So lovely and wonderful when it works well, which it did this time. I like the volume of the recipe from the King Arthur Flour Cake Class, and I think there's slightly more room for error, but I think it's a little too sweet, especially sitting under fondant. The main difference between this recipe and the Mousseline BC from The Cake Bible is the amount of meringue and simple syrup. Again, I split the difference, and got what I think is a very fine IMBC. Yay!

Syruping mini-cupcakes is a waste of time. See, the top is moist and doesn't need syruping. The bottom is dry, and you can't get the liquid down there, even by poking holes in the cake with a toothpick and then applying the liquid. So serve 'em within a day or two, or not at all.

I'm fairly confident that I could turn out a wedding cake tomorrow and not embarrass myself, but I still want to practice several things. But time is running short...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wedding Cake Class at King Arthur Flour

The smoothest buttercream frosting? Uh, no. The best borders at the base of the tiers? Not so much. However, the texture of the Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC, or Mousseline Buttercream in The Cake Bible) is flawless. Flawless, I say! And that is an incredible feat.

This cake is the product of a wonderful class I took at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center. The class was Tiers of Joy: Wedding Cakes with Elisabeth Berthasavage, and I highly recommend it! Visiting the middle of Vermont anytime soon? Check out their class calendar, and learn about baking all sorts of things, from pizza dough to pastries. You will not be sorry.

(Hosted a small, impromptu cookout so people could come over and eat cake. They only ate the top tier. Co-workers got the bottom tier as usual.)

Among other topics, I broadened my cake education horizons by learning how to make and shape marzipan and chocolate plastic, pipe chocolate, and smooth buttercream frosting (still practicing that part). Oh yes, that is indeed a marzipan rose atop my cake class product. And it was darn tasty, if you like marzipan. Also, Elisabeth was kind enough to see my sketch of L&M's wedding cake, and offer professional tips and advice. She looked a little skeptical, but at least she didn't say it was doomed to failure.

I met some wonderful people in the class, and I especially appreciate Betsy's expert tips about carving L&M's wedding cake and decorating it. Here are some of the practice cakes from some of the other students:

All are a bit more ornate than mine, I was definitely the slowest in the class. I also had the least amount of experience, from what I could tell. So I guess that just meant I had more to learn, and learn I did.

Details of the cake:

One batch x 3, and adjusted for humid weather of King Arthur Flour's Butter Cake, one 10" round layer and one 6" round layer, each about 2" tall.

(No syruping or Magi-cake strips, sadly.)

Torted into 2 layers each.

Total height of each tier: about 2.5".

Used 1 batch of Italian Meringue Buttercream, no extra flavoring except a tiny amount of vanilla.

Marzipan, fondant, piped chocolate, and buttercream used for flower decorations.

Marzipan, fondant, and chocolate made a few days before decorating.
Buttercream made 2 days before serving.
Cake made 2 days before serving. Stored by Baking Center assistants. (Thanks Molly and Michelle!)
Cake layers torted and assembled 1 day before serving.
Cake decorated 1 day before serving.

Bottom line:
Give me a regular cake recipe and I'll mess it up. I believe that has become an immutable law of the universe. Even this cake came out dense and heavy. A couple of co-workers said they preferred it, but I'd like a not heavy cake. The cake was not crumbly, and it was easy to work with the torted layers too. The taste was pretty good.

Now that I know how to really apply buttercream, maybe I'll use that to cover more cakes instead of defaulting to the fondant. Must practice.

Also must practice marzipan roses and chocolate plastic roses. The latter was much easier than the former, but I like the taste of the marzipan. Both media did not quite solidify to cement after being molded and left out overnight. They were not malleable anymore, though.

Excellent class. Can't wait to take another one at KA Flour, if I can justify the time and expense. (It is 2+ hours away, and any multiple day class would mean I have to get a hotel room, probably.) Rumors of a marzipan class in December. Hmmm....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

(Frozen) Cake Truffle... Dumpling... Ball... Things...

Not even worth photographing, seriously. But I'm documenting it because it involves frozen cake and what not to do with cake truffles.

After much trial and error, and not much success, I created Butter Cake Truffles. (Or cake dumplings, which one of my co-workers suggested and I like calling them, but they're really not dumplings. Original idea from Bakerella's Cake Truffles. This bakery in Texas calls them cake balls, and they look fabulous!) They were supposed to be Lemon-Berry, but the lemon glaze didn't set up, and all the berry jams I used in the cake didn't affect the taste much at all, one way or the other.

Little buggers just did not work nearly as easily as the chocolate cake dumplings. First, I used way too much buttercream, so it had an unpleasant mushy texture. Eventually I called in cake re-inforcements (the experimental frozen cake) to try and negate the mushiness. It didn't work. Then, the glaze didn't set up, and I tried several different glaze ingredient combinations along with freezing the naked cake balls for days. Finally, it all came together, into something close enough to edible, but I did resort to covering them with melted chocolate. It wasn't pretty. Poor, poor co-workers. They did say they liked the chocolate covering, though.

Details of the cake:
One batch All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, 9" x 13" and about 1.5" tall.

Syruped with 1/4+ cup vanilla liqueur and vanilla extract.

Started with the one batch of cake, but used too much buttercream, so I dug out the other 1/2 batch from the cryogenic experiments in the freezer:

Half batch All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, one 9" round layer, about 1.5" tall, but only used about 3/4 of the cake.

(Attempted tweaking the full recipe for the round cake, and all I got was over-leavened cake, which fell in the center, and was therefore only good for cake scraps. The other 9" round from the batch was used in Aimee's Birthday Trifle. Tweaking consisted of using 5 egg yolks and 1 egg instead of 6 egg yolks. As noted previously about this batch, I've learned my lesson.)

Syruped with 1/2+ cup vanilla liqueur, vanilla extract, and Buttershots.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones).

Used 1/2 batch of Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream I recipe, and added a lot of lingonberry jam, cranberry jelly, and raspberry jam. I had small amounts left of the last two, but I went through at least 3/4 cup of the lingonberry. Also added a few drops of red food coloring to compensate for the cake color. Still didn't taste at all like berries, but looked a bit like red velvet almost.

Neither first nor second lemon glaze attempts solidified. Switched back to semi-sweet chocolate.

Full cake batch made several weeks before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored on the counter.
Half cake batch made at least a month before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored in the freezer.
Final assembly with chocolate coating made about 1 week before serving.

Bottom line:

What a flippin' mess.

Good thing I hadn't planned to use the frozen yellow cake on its own. Texture was ok, but the taste had a weird sharpness, as if the vanilla extract had intensified, but in a bad way. I had wrapped the cake in Press & Seal, and then put it in a ziplock bag before freezing it. Still, there were bits of freezer burn on the top.When used int he cake truffles, the sharpness mellowed, or was masked by the jam, or something.

Since this freezing thing didn't go well, but a different batch did sit out on the counter for a couple of weeks without any problems, maybe I'll just go the latter route for the actual wedding cake.

Cake truffles stayed way too mushy, even with additional cake. Possibly due to it being a butter cake? Covering choices seem to be melted chocolate or those wretched candy melts. BJ's generic brand of semi-sweet chocolate chips worked surprisingly well, even though they're not useful in cookies or other recipes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Faux Book 2

And this is the book from which comes forth the great and wonderful Siren's Chocolate Cake recipe. All hail the magnificent Cakes book!

Tania needed the book back because she's making a wedding cake for her daughter. Mari and Jonathan are getting married on May 23, on George's Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands. How's that for a unique location? Scenic too. And you can run around in all the old army bunkers and underground tunnels all day, or get guided tours. Beware the Lady in Black, though! I highly recommend taking a ferry out there for a tour, if you're in the area and have an afternoon free.

Anyhoo, I wanted to thank Tania for letting me borrow her books and for giving me some of her trusty recipes. (Russian down the spine says "Thank you, Tanya!" Even though Tania is different from Tanya, but I wasn't sure how to spell Tania.)

Ok, so the cover isn't exactly the same. The angle of the cake slice is a bit off, I don't have the silver serving piece, and I don't have all the text at the top. Get over it. I also ran out of time for a few other things that you can't see because Paul photographed this from a bunch of different angles, which is always a fine plan.

I actually did leave myself enough time to assemble and decorate this cake because I planned to bring it over on Sunday, which happened to be Mother's Day, because Tania and Valeri were visiting their son's family on Saturday. But plans changed, the son's family came up on Saturday evening, so I intended to drop off the books (and book cake) Saturday afternoon before they arrived. So I compressed decorating into about 3 hours, when I originally had all day and all night (if need be) scheduled. Good practice. I'm sure something like that will happen for the wedding cake final exam, although I'd prefer it doesn't.

Note: Post not available until May 28 because I didn't get the pics until May 21. Thanks, Hon! Great angles, hide those flaws!

Details of the cake:

One batch Siren's Chocolate Cake, one 9" x 13" layer, about 1.6" tall.
Used 4.7 oz. of Lindt 70%, instead of the 4 oz in the recipe, my new standard.

Syruped with 1/4 cup Kahlua.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones) and rose nail.

Torted into 2 layers.

Total height: about 2.5".

Used 1 batch of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated, with 3.5 oz Lindt 70% and the other 6.5 oz Nestle Semi-sweet chips, instead of milk chocolate. Still odd, still true.

Fondant dyed with Wilton's gel colors.

Thin ABS plastic sheet under the entire cover to add stability. (ABS plastic between tiers is much thicker.)

Roses made from apricots, a recipe also in the Cakes book. Painted melted chocolate onto the cover, dusted with cocoa powder (for "inside" of the cake), and sprinkled with slightly crushed, sliced almonds. The actual recipe for the cake on the cover calls for crushed pecans, which I didn't have. Oh well. Not like I actually made the cake on the cover, just the roses.

Fondant made several days before decorating.
Cake made 4 days before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Wrapped and stored on the kitchen counter.
Cake layers torted and assembled day of serving.
Cake decorated day of serving.

Bottom line:
Remember to paint the pages onto the book!

ABS plastic sheet under the whole cover worked well. Only problem was the fondant tore on the corners a bit, so I bolstered them with more fondant. Infortunately, this made all four corners look weird and puffy. Gotta fix that somehow. Maybe cut down the sides slightly and sand the corners a bit?

Same deal as any other ABS sheet: use lots of filling under the plastic (ganache-ish frosting in this case). When the plastic is lifted off, make sure there's still some kind of filling or frosting on the cake.

Metal bench scraper for making the lines still worked well, but I was in such a rush that the lines look a little sad.

Painting fondant is my friend. Far less time consuming than kneading color into a block, and I don't waste extra fondant in a color I can only use once. (Orange, anyone... anyone?)

Still have to practice cakes that sit vertically: carving and fondant. And gold lustre dust for lettering and details. Crap. So much still to do...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just Like Bakerella

Except not really, because Bakerella's Cake Truffles look awesome and mine... well mine look edible anyway. I suppose it didn't help that I was lazy and didn't bother to pipe the darker chocolate. But Paul's mom, Carol, thinks they tasted fine, and that's what's important, right? Especially considering that these were part of her Mother's Day present. Don't worry, I gave her other stuff too. She's a fantastic mom-in-law, and certainly deserves a lot more goodies!

Also foisted them on the co-workers, who seemed pleased. Jeff T called them "cake dumplings," which I like better than cake truffles 'cause it's funnier and less hoity-toity.

The other useful point about these is that they are a great way to use up cake scraps and frosting, and don't require a lot of accessories like a trifle (whipped cream, maybe pudding, and usually something of the fruit persuasion). Now to experiment with yellow cake and a non-chocolate covering...

Note: Post not available until May 21 because that's when I got the photos of the truffles. Thanks, Hon! But posted later than that because I don't want to overload everyone with zillions of posts at once.

Details of the cake:
One batch Siren's Chocolate Cake, one 9" x 13" layer, about 1.6" tall. (Used half the batch to make the Dessert Crew sample portions.)
Used 4.7 oz. of Lindt 70%, instead of the 4 oz in the recipe, which worked exceedingly well.

Syruped with 1/4 cup Kahlua.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones) and rose nail.

Used 1 batch of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated, with 3.5 oz Lindt 70% and the other 6.5 oz Nestle Semi-sweet chips. Odd, but true.

Crumbled the cake and mushed it with the frosting. Used cookie scoop to form little cake balls.

Covered cake balls in melted chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. Drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate.
Also covered other cake balls in melted chocolate and caramel chips. (Not pictured because they really did look crappy.) Drizzled with caramel, mainly so I could tell the difference between the 2 types.

Cake made about 3 weeks before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored on counter at room temperature. (I was experimenting. It worked, I think.)
Cake truffles assembled 3 days before serving.

Bottom line:
Syrup level on cake was good. I followed my own advice about how to judge the correct amount to syrup. I'm definitely using less now that the weather is warmer and more humid.

The cake was so moist, that I decided to keep it at room temperature (sealed in plastic wrap) until I was ready to use it. This is actually the other half of the cake I made for the Dessert Crew to sample, as noted under "Details." The corners had dried out, but the rest was still almost ok to use on its own. Mixing in the frosting made it edible. Covered in melted whatever made it much better.

So maybe I can make cakes up to 2 weeks in advance, make sure they're moist enough, and then just leave them on the counter? Wow, that would simplify things tremendously. I won't have to worry about freezer or 'fridge space, which I can devote to the buttercream and ganache. Excellent. This might just work.

Don't try and melt the Lindt 70% for long periods in the microwave. Stick to increments of 15 or 20 seconds. Burnt chocolate smells just as badly as burnt anything else.

Don't add anything to try melting caramel squares more smoothly because the caramel has a much tougher time re-solidifying, so it remains sticky. This is bad for storing, transporting, and eating.