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.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Trifle: the Return. Again.

So that makes it the re-return? Or is that like a double negative, it cancels out itself, and I get just plain turn? Right. And now back to our regularly scheduled cake stuff...

Aimee's birthday required a trifle. She also got a nifty cake from her co-worker Jeanette, who somehow ended up organizing a small celebration in honor of Aimee being five months older than me. Um, I mean in honor of her not getting any younger. The point is that there was honoring, a couple of very large sushi platters (whoo-hoo!), cake (which I was happy not to make), and trifle.

Thanks to Sue for being my fine Sue-chef (ok, really, how could I pass up that opportunity?), or sous-chef. I had no idea anyone else would actually want to spend a Friday night preparing a trifle, cookies, and flan. (It was a busy weekend.)

Note: Post not available until May 19 because that's when I got the first photo of this cake. Thanks, Ben! Great pic!

Note 2: And a couple of hours after I got the pic from Ben, I got Aaron's pics. And then I had to decide which one to use...

Details of the trifle:
Half batch All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, one 9" round layer, about 1.5" tall.

Attempted tweaking the full recipe 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 is currently undergoing cryogenic experiments.) Tweaking consisted of using 5 egg yolks and 1 egg instead of 6 egg yolks. Well, 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).

For trifle, cut cake into manageable sections, torted, and inserted a blueberry jam layer. Cut cake into small wedges, about 1 1/2" from tip to back edge, and about 1" wide along back edge.

Used 2 batches Stabilized Whipped Cream from The Cake Bible. One batch mixed with a tablespoon or two of lemon curd, one batch mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.

One quart fresh strawberries, sliced and macerated with a tablespoon or two of sugar.

Garnishes: two sliced strawberries, crushed whole almonds, and pansies (edible, no worries).

Cake made about 2 weeks before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored in 'fridge.
Trifle assembled night before serving, including cake layers torted and assembled.
Trifle garnished immediately before serving.

Bottom line:
Crumbly, crumbly, crumbly! I am so tired of this cake being crumbly! I shall have to research this. Maybe I should switch to a different recipe, even though I like the taste and delicate texture of this one so much. But it just isn't easy to work with.

Cake was grainy in the trifle, but I'm not sure if that was from too much booze, refrigeration for 2 weeks, or my tweaking the recipe. I tend to think the last item. Don't tweak the recipe without thorough research and/or guidance.

Still too much booze. Next time: only syrup on the bottom of the cake, and check outer texture to figure out when the cake is properly saturated. The syrup should take a few more seconds to sink in, and the outer texture should be a little spongy, I think.

I love making trifles, and almost everyone loves eating them. Did I ever mention that when I was a little kid, I asked my mom to make this for me instead of a cake? Yup, for at least 2 or 3 years in a row too.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Long Live the Dessert Crew!

Pssst... hey you! Yeah, you, over there, wondering what the heck fondant is anyway... Want to know how you can score samples of all the fine dessert menu items that will be at Lee & Marsha's wedding? (I mean before the actual wedding, and without being one of my co-workers.) Well, it's simple: sign up for the Dessert Crew!

So that's what the dessert menu goodies all look like, waiting for the wonderful Dessert Crew volunteers to dig in during a meeting of the aforementioned Crew at Lee & Marsha's place.
L to R: Siren's Chocolate Cake with Creamy Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting (cut into little sample portions and decorated), Lemon Sorbet in Lemons, Heath Bar Cookies, and Brownie Cookies. I'll serve a Yellow Cake too, but I didn't make samples of that this time.

Long live the Dessert Crew! And there was much rejoicing.
Thanks to Carrie, Kathleen, Kimberly, Jill, and Vanessa for being reliable, detail-oriented, courageous people! Together, we're going to present a truly marvelous dessert spread. And there was even more rejoicing.

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, which worked exceedingly well.

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".

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.

Fondant dyed with Wilton's gel colors.

Fondant made a few weeks before decorating. (Used up a pre-mixed color.)
Cake made 4 days before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored in 'fridge.
Cake layers torted and assembled 2 days before serving.
Cake decorated earlier the day it was served.

Bottom line:
Good thing the Lindt outlet is having a sale on their 70% bars. I sure stocked up when I saw how lovely it made the cake and frosting. All chocolate cake people seemed pleased, especially the bride and dessert crew. The cake stayed so moist that it sort of melted the fondant in subsequent days.
Note about the purple fondant color: it bleeds out to blue within 24 hours! Be careful!
The Dessert Crew people are fantastic, and I'm so excited to work with all of them!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Spuss!

Yes, the loud, little, ball of black angst is 23 years old! Spuss doesn't give a rat's ass about cake (I am not that crazy... probably not anyway...), but I figured it would be a good idea to thank everyone at Metrowest Vets, especially Dr. Suzy, who goes well above and beyond the call of duty with the time she devotes to all my hypochondriac-ish questions on behalf of the Spussmonster.

Also, thank you to Dr. Grace for the years of cat care in Stoughton. Among other fine feats of veterinarianism, she performed a couple of tumor-removal surgeries, which went very well. The little Spuss would certainly not be here without Dr. Grace.

But this is a cake blog, not so much a cat blog...
Sadly, this cake was not so great, so I think I'll do the cookie thing as a better thank you.

Too much booze, fondant was too thick, etc. However, the timing thing works incredibly well if I assemble the cake the day before I decorate it. (Go figure.) Get the crumb coat all solidified, then everything's good to go for buttercream glue layer and fondant! And then if the fondant isn't so thick and heavy that it compresses the entire top layer, the cake has a fighting chance of being decent. Remains went to my hapless co-workers as usual.

Details of the cake:
One batch All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, two 9" round by about 1.5" tall layers.

Syruped both untorted layers with 3/4+ cup: mostly Vanilla Liqueur, with Buttershots, and clear vanilla extract.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones). But for an unknown reason, the cakes rose unevenly. Both had a slight slope off to one side that I didn't notice until after I took them out of the oven, so I didn't see their orientation in the oven.

Torted 2 layers into 4 layers.

Total height: about 4".

Used 1 1/2 batches of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated between the 1st and 2nd layers, and between the 3rd and 4th layers.

Used 1/2 batch of Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream I recipe, and added a few tablespoons of raspberry jam. Turned the thing yet another horrid shade of pink. Blech. But tasty. Placed the buttercream between the 2nd and 3rd layers, used for crumb coat, and used for fondant glue.

Fondant painted and dyed (yes, it's slightly purple-ish, but way too pale, as it turned out) with Wilton's gel colors.

Fondant made 3 days before decorating.
Yellow cake made 4 days before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored in 'fridge.
Cake layers torted and assembled 2 days before serving.
Cake decorated about 24 hours before serving.

Bottom line:
Syruping + thin torting (a few days later) = bad idea.
Better to under-syrup (booze) the cake, than over do it. The cake was still sort of crumbly, all the outside surfaces were gooey from the booze, but after they're torted, the layers just couldn't hold together. So I broke every single layer as I assembled the cake. Evening off the outside edges after I stacked the layers was a messy, difficult chore. And I wasted a lot of cake because it crumbled apart. Forgot to try bringing down flour or sugar amount in Yellow Cake by a tablespoon or two. Still have to balance the syruping thing. For the L5R cake, it was about 2/3 cup per 9x13" layer. For this cake it was 3/4 cup per 9" round, so it came out to about 1.5 cups for the whole cake. I think it was too much for structure and taste. No more than 1 cup per batch of this Yellow Cake.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cakeless in Seattle

It looks like a cake... it could be a cake... it's gelato! Yum.
I took a (mostly) vacation last week, and ate my way through Seattle. Oh yes, it was a fine time! If you're ever out that way, please do the Savor Seattle food tour. It ends at a gelato place called Gelatiamo, which I think was Paul's favorite part of the tour. That or Serious Pie, anyway.

Other good vacation stuff included the Glass Art Museum (actually in Tacoma), the Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, a ferry ride from Bremerton to Seattle, meeting up with friends (Hi Steve, Brian, and Maki!), and the most wonderful hospitality of Franz and Imelda. They actually put up with us for an entire week.

Also, a good job by Diana, Bryan, and Greg (and their other fine volunteers) for running their kotei quite smoothly. Paul (Prof) sure got a lot of love at the tournament!

So, back to cakes... new stuff in the oven already...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Passed the Mid-Term Exam

It's big, giant box o cake! Nifty. Weighed in at about 15 pounds and about 7.5" tall, before resting on the plywood for transport.

This was like my mid-term exam, and it went relatively well. A+ for effort and C+ or B- for decorating, so say I.

Reason for being of the cake: Paul played celebrity for a day at the semi-annual Northeast Kotei (a game tournament) in Agawam, MA. A fine opportunity to make a cake for over 100 very un-picky people. So if I muffed it up, which I magically didn't, at least it's a very forgiving crowd.

(The game is Legend of the Five Rings, or L5R. They've commissioned Paul for artwork over the last 12 or 13 years, so he goes to some of the tournaments, signs cards, sells prints, original paintings, sketches, mugs, t-shirts (of his own line), etc. I play the self-proclaimed Lovely Assistant. We've been a fixture at the NE Kotei for years. We're heading to the Tacoma, WA, kotei the first week in April. No cake for them, sorry. The narc dogs at the airport might eat it.)

Funny thing about the tournament... apparently, the tournament organizer (Eric) also had a baked goods competition with an L5R theme, unbeknownst to me. And I show up with a cake for the occasion anyway. Fantastic!

I didn't enter the contest, even though the judges tasted my cake too. They were pleased with the edible (even yummy) marshmallow fondant, and the lack of a cake mix.

I attempted so many techniques and stuff with this cake, and most of it went relatively well, yay!

Check out the fine tier separation (between yellow cake and chocolate cake) with the thin sheet of ABS plastic. Durable, lightweight, food-safe, almost easy to cut to size... what's not to like? Just don't get acetone on it, or it'll melt.

Both chcocolate cakes came out well! About flippin' time I caught a break with the choc cake deal. Yeah, yeah, they look the same in the photo. We'll they're different. The bottom one (Marcel's) is a little darker, didn't rise as high, domed (even though I used cake strips, stupid recipe!), and was a little too dense. The top one (Siren's) has the somewhat airy, moist consistency I've been looking for, but less chocolatey. That might be ok with the filling and fondant, though. Of the people I polled, the returns were split.

Tried tons, learned tons, didn't mess it up except for not enough fondant, and last minute, sloppy (but I meant it to look like that, yeah, that's the ticket...) painting.

Details of the cake:
Four layers (9 x 13" each layer) in two tiers, bottom is yellow cake, top is chocolate cake:
- Two batches All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, about 1.5" tall, each.
- One batch Marcel's First Birthday Chocolate Cake from Marcel Desaulnier's Death by Chocolate Cakes, about 1.25" tall, and domed, even with cake strips.
- One batch Siren's Chocolate Cake from Bon Appetit Cakes, about 1.65" tall.
- Syruped all layers with 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup. Yellow cake: Diluted Buttershots and clear vanilla extract. Chocolate cakes: Diluted coffee liquer and vanilla schnapps.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones), which worked great again! Forgot them on first batch of Yellow Cake, so had to cut off browned sides and slightly domed top. Didn't rise as tall as the second Yellow Cake.

Stacked all layers so that I had one 9 x 13 cake with 4 layers (two tiers), about 7.5" total height.

Used 1 batch of Mousseline BC between yellow cake layers and for crumb coat.
Used 1 1/2 batches of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated between the chocolate layers.

Used 3/8" thick sheet of ABS plastic between yellow and chocolate tiers.
Used 3 bubble tea drinking straws pushed into the yellow cake tier to support the chocolate cake tier.

Fondant painted and dyed with Wilton's gel colors.

Fondant made 1 week before decorating.
First yellow cake made 6 days in advance, and 2nd cake made 4 days before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored in 'fridge.
Both chocolate cakes made 3 days before serving.
Cake layers assembled the night before serving.
Cake decorated the night before serving, including ribbon. (Does 4 am still count as night before?)

Bottom line:
- Big ribbons cover a lot of flaws. Attach with BC that compliments cake colors.
- One batch of mm fondant wasn't really enough to cover this cake.
- Messy decorating that isn't trying to look neat and tidy is better than no decoration.
- Assemble and final crumb coat the cake the day before decorating, if possible.
- Layer of buttercream on top of the cake layer that will support the ABS sheet, otherwise the center pieces lose out on any type of frosting.
- Any liquid works for syruping, so long as it compliments the cake flavor.
- More syrup! Try at least 1 cup next time. Syrup several times before wrapping for storage, rather than just once per side.
- Siren's Chocolate Cake recipe is current favorite for chcocolate cakes. Marcel's was ok, but still not the texture I'm looking for. Next time, add another ounce of chocolate to Siren's recipe to try to boost choc flavor without mucking up the rest of the cake.- Bring down flour or sugar amount in Yellow Cake by a tablespoon or two? Still crumbly, but not as bad as without syruping.
- Transport: Wound plastic wrap around the entire cake, even under plywood. No movement, no shifting. Figure out how to wrap vertical book stack for transport.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Choco the Cake: The Return

Onwards, to find a usable, yummy chocolate cake!

I used a recipe that's made for a 9 x 13 inch pan, instead of continuing to doctor recipes that really belong in two 9 inch round pans. Unfortunately, I went a smidge too basic because this cake is supposed to be served right in the pan. It was quite soft and a little crumbly, so of course I broke part of it during assembly. Whatever. Just going to the co-workers anyway. (I can't believe some of them still haven't had enough chcocolate cake. I am totally done. Paul is way beyond done.) But the ganache frosting is a better glue than most others, and no one can tell that one whole layer cracked completely through. Can you see it? Nope. And it's even in the top layer.

Cake tasted pretty good, though. Maybe I'm on the right track, sort of. Edges weren't dry, so yay cake strips!

Skipped the fondant because I didn't try to make the cake smooth. Got in a little practice time with the cake comb, not that it helped.

The frosting came out very well and the ganache filling came out decently, but not quite as well. I could use either one as frosting or filling, they were very similar.

Details of the cake:
One batch of Chocolate Sheet Cake from Baking Illustrated (if you have a subscription to Cooks' Illustrated online, here's the recipe), baked in my still-fabulous, not-as-new Calphalon 9 x 13 pan.

Cut the cake in half to get two 9 x 6.5 cakes, about 1.5" tall, each, maybe a little taller.
Stacked the small cakes so that I had one 9 x 6.5 cake with 2 layers, about 3.5" total height.

One batch of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated, which is paired with the Chocolate Sheet Cake in the book. I used semi-sweet chocolate (about 55% cacao, Nestle's chips) instead of milk chocolate.

One batch of Chocolate Ganache Frosting from Cooks' Illustrated online recipes for the filling and crumb coat.

A few handfuls of Nestle's raspberry and chocolate swirled chips for decoration.

No fondant.

Cake made 2 days before serving.
Cake layers assembled and crumb coated 1 day before serving.
Cake decorated and assembled the night before serving.

Bottom line:
The Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting, made with semi-sweet chocolate, is a keeper. Must double it for this recipe to use it as the filling too. Try it under fondant sometime, hopefully it won't be too rich. Narrowing down the type of chocolate cake I need: light, but sturdy; chock-full of chocolate; but not overwhelming, rich, or super-sweet (like a mix). Maybe I'll try other sheet cake recipes. Maybe I'll try a pound cake recipe after all, even though they're not exactly light.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Guess What Flavor of Cake This Is...

No, really, I'll bet you'll never figure it out.

I decided to make a chocolate cake that was a cross with a brownie. I was super-excited because I found such a cake in Marcel Desaulnier's Death By Chocolate Cake book over the weekend. It actually didn't call for chocolate in the batter (except as chocolate chips added at the very end), so I melted down some Lindt 85% cacao with a little butter from the recipe, popped it in after the eggs, but before the flour mixture.

The brownie cake turned out ok. However, it was too rich and dense underneath the American Buttercream and the fondant. Foisted on the hapless co-workers as usual, hence the stupendously lame decorating job, which amuses the hell out of me.

So it was about 11pm on Monday night, and I was done trying to figure out how to dress up this cake. I attempted to cover it in frosting, like any normal person making a cake. But I couldn't get the thickness right, and it wasn't smooth, and I didn't like it. So I scraped it off, gathered together my elderly (but ok to eat, in fact still tasty) bits of fondant, and pressed on.

Plus I messed up the frosting on the side when I grabbed for the turntable and missed. Sad part is that this is still the best side of the cake, more or less. Good part is that it was a fine way to spend my snowday.

Details of the cake:
One batch of Anniversary Brownie Cake from Death By Chocolate Cake, baked in my still-fabulous, still-new-ish Calphalon 9 x 13 pan.

Cut the cake in half to get two 9 x 6.5 cakes, about 1" tall, each, maybe a little taller.
Stacked the small cakes so that I had one 9 x 6.5 cake with 2 layers, about 2+" total height.

Made a 1/4 batch of Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream I recipe, and added Tocani Raspberry syrup. Turned the thing a horrid shade of baby-pink. Blech.

Fondant dyed with Betty Crocker's gel colors.

Fondant made 3+ weeks before decorating.
Cake made 1 day before serving.
Cake layers assembled and crumb coated 1 day before serving.
Cake decorated and assembled the night before serving.

Bottom line: I forgot to use the Magi-cake strips! Aaaargh! The sides were a little too crusty, like a normal brownie. Well, whatever, no brownie cake for the wedding anyway. I think I might just make a very basic chocolate cake next time and see where that gets me.

Thank You, Tania!

A very special and sincere thank you to Tania K, Mari's mom!

After hearing about my (possibly ridiculous) cake mastering endeavor, Mari put me in contact with her mom. Then Tania very graciously invited me over to go through some of her successful cake recipes. As a bonus, I had a wonderful time meeting Tania, her husband Valeri, and their dog Giza. (Not sure about the spelling in English. Give me a Cyrillic alphabet for Russian, and I'll get it right.)

Tania gave me these recipes (I'm taking liberties with the titles):
- New Year's Cranberry Cake
- Three Cakes Cake
- Cream Frosting

And let me borrow these books:
- Death by Chocolate Cake by Marcel Desaulnier
- Bon Appetite Cakes
- 500 Fabulous Cakes and Bakes

I can't wait to try all the new, fantastic recipes! Thank you, Tania!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More Cake Scraps

...In another trifle. Oh, my lucky co-workers! They sure didn't waste any time demolishing my favorite use of dessert leftovers.

Trifle contents: Chocolate Butter Cake scraps, bananas soaked in a little bit of orange juice to prevent them turning brown, and banana pudding.

Bottom line: Mmmmm... more pudding...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Faux Book (Fourth Fondant Foray!)

Who knew the nerdiness of the game Magic: The Gathering would ever coincide with cake decorating?

Thanks to Paul (oh, he was so close to escaping this cake!) for carving out most of the letters from fondant to spell out "Magic" across the top of the book. Of course, it was for his Day o' Magic, but that's beside the point.

Although this is a decent start for my first book-shaped cake attempt, I can see the zillions of flaws in my decorating job. It's something positive to build on, for the most part, though. I'm pleased with how several of the colors came out, and the pages too.

For any Magic purists: yeah, ok, I didn't recreate the box precisely. No "The Gathering" lettering, no red bookmark on the side (even though I really wanted to do that, oh well), no "Revised Edition" lettering (yes, they're that old), etc. Deal with it.
So anyone want to learn to play so that Paul actually has someone to play against? I'd love to teach you, just let me know... Back to cake. (Way more important anyway.)

Cake was still a little too dry, but the taste was good. I really have to start messing with soaking syrup because I'm making them so far in advance.

Details of the cake:
One batch of All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, baked in my still-fabulous, still-new Calphalon 9 x 13 pan.
Used new Magi-Cake strips (but the Wilton knock-off ones), which worked great! Flat, evenly baked cake. No doming = less waste.
Cut the cake in half to get two 9 x 6.5 cakes, about 1 1/2" tall, each, maybe a little taller.
Stacked the small cakes so that I had one 9 x 6.5 cake with 2 layers, about 3.5" total height.

Used the really fantastic Mousseline BC, as noted in the previous post with the cupcakes.

Fondant dyed with Wilton's gel colors.

Fondant made 2+ weeks before decorating.
Cake made 3 days before serving.
Cake layers assembled and crumb coated 2 days before serving.
Cake decorated and tiers assembled the night before serving. (Does 2 am still count as night before?)

Developed several book-specific decorating techniques on the fly:
1) After rolling out fondant to correct size, placed it on the cake board (don't use BC next time, it'll adhere well enough), cake on fondant, and then brought fondant up and over cake, covering spine and cover of book.

2) Used small, old, rubber (not silicone) spatula to work fondant. Folded it under itself for the book covers. After adhering pages (sides), folded them under the front and back covers (top and bottom) the same way.

3) Dry brush technique for the pages.

4) Painted edge of metal bench scraper with diluted color mixture to apply outlines around rectangular section of fondant on cover.

5) Painted edges of letters and other raised fondant parts with toothpick dipped in diluted color mixture.

Bottom line:
Next time, carve the rounded side of the book spine. (Too straight on this cake.) Decorating cakes takes a lot less time if you don't mess it up, which I did several times. Must try syruping cakes soon!

O Buttercream, you are mine!

Finally, after many long weeks of waging war against the Mousseline Buttercream (aka Italian BC), I am VICTORIOUS! The MBC shall bow to my every wish and whim! It shall sit and look (almost) pretty on chocolate cupcakes!

I managed to get all the temperatures and timing correct enough to produce the finest specimen of BC available to me. Several people at Lee & Marsha's wedding site visit in Natick concurred. (And later on, a friend of Vitas's who I don't really know. Thanks, Jeff!)

It's a weird substance, this MBC (from The Cake Bible). If you eat it alone (say, maybe because your clean finger accidentally fell into the bowl after the BC was done mixing and you had to clean it off some how...), it has a bit of a greasy feel, and does taste like the smoothest butter in the world, even with the addition of a liquor. Its positives outweigh its negatives, by far: it holds up in and on cake wonderfully, it is easy to pipe, and makes an exceedingly excellent partner with cake. And so, cake continues to be a conveyor for frosting, but I would not eat this frosting without the cake.

As noted in a previous post, O Buttercream, WTF?!, I probably could have used the beater attachment for the Kitchenaid stand mixer, which is un-oxidized now. (Barkeeper's Friend, indeed!) Once again, I chickened out. Besides, I need the whisk attachment to make the meringue, so I'll stick with it for the whole recipe.

Cake was ok, a little too dry (of course), and still not what I'm looking for in a chocolate cake.

Details about the cupcakes:
Chocolate Butter Cake and Mousseline Buttercream from The Cake Bible.
Baked the cake in my fantasic new Calphalon mini-cupcake pan. (Did I mention I really cleaned up at a sale at the Calphalon outlet in Wrentham? Oh yes, it was a fine sight to behold!)
Flavored the MBC with 2/3 Kahlua and 1/3 vanilla extract.

MBC dyed with Wilton and Betty Crocker gel colors.

MBC made just before decorating, and night before serving.
Cupcakes made 3 days before serving.
Cupcakes decorated the night before serving.

Transported in egg carton.

Bottom line:
MBC is still darn picky! My kitchen is too cold in the winter. Get the simple syrup up to 250 degrees F, and add it in 3 portions to the meringue, mixing on high for a few seconds between each portion. If the BC starts to weep or separate, warm it a little (if not finished adding the butter, warm the butter for about 5 seconds in nuker), and beat the holy hell out of it. The liquor flavoring mellows really fast. After a few days, I could barely taste it at all. Be liberal with flavorful additions.

To use MBC if it's sitting for more than a few hours, ensure it is warm enough (about 68 to 70 degrees F) and re-beat with a mixer. Way too time and effort consuming to do it by hand.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cake scraps, yum!

'Tis but a trifle.
Ah, back in the comforting non-cake zone. I'm quite confident in my abilities to work with pudding, fruit, and already-made cake. Not the prettiest trifle ever created, but so easy. Darn tasty too! Nice, getting away from cakeyness for a week.

Paul and I visited my cousins Suzanne and Marty on Sunday, and of course I brought dessert. A fine finish to Marty's veggie and bean chili. Well, I think so anyway.

Leftovers were inflicted on my co-workers as usual.

Trifle contents: Chocolate Fudge Cake scraps (bottom of trifle, below peach layer), All-Occasion Yellow Cake scraps (below the berry layer), frozen peaches (fresh from The Big Apple in Wrentham, MA, last summer - so incredibly sweet and good, like a little slice of summery happiness), frozen mixed berries, and pudding.

Bottom line: Mmmmm... pudding...


Cake FAIL was so good in a decidedly bad way, there's more!
This chick has an entire blog of her own, sporting many fine cake-WTF moments: Cake Wrecks

One of my favorite sections: Literal LOLs. When you think you've communicated precisely what you want on the cake very very clearly... Or not.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Two Steps Forward, a Giant Hike Back (3rd Fondant Foray)

My charmed life of fondanty goodness couldn't last forever. This is definitely the most forgiving photo of the (lumpy! UG-ly!) Super Bowl cake.

Luckily, it wasn't all horrifyingly, spectacularly bad...
Yellow cake (the base) came out very very well, almost a confection, yum!

Cake supports (bubble tea straws) did their job. True, the football wasn't very heavy. But I'd like to think the supports saved the base cake from certain squashment, though.

Bonus! Fondant texture was really and truly correct, not just workable. It was a glob o' sweet beauty this time.

Paul was freakin' phenominal about coloring fondant and sculpting cake football. Now he's stuck for the duration of this project, poor guy.

But the bad and the ugly outweigh the good by a wide margin...
Both cakes became somewhat dry. They still tasted ok, maybe even good, especially the yellow cake.

Freakin' Mousseline Buttercream mess... again...

Because the fondant was so velvety easy to work with (relatively) this time, I accidentally rolled it too thin, but didn't notice until it was already on the cake, when I wondered why the base of the football kept tearing... Ack! Now I know why it must be a minimum of 1/8" thick. You can see every unforgiving buttercream lump and sub-optimal sculpting cut with thin fondant. I actually covered the base cake twice, which helped.

Then there was the piping job... I cringe... Yeah, I'm definitely blaming this on being mostly blind that day (and the previous day too).

Details about the cake:
Base cake was two batches of All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, each batch baked in my fabulous new Calphalon 9 x 13 pan. No torting, so I had two 1 1/2" layers, making the total cake (with fondant and everything) about 3 1/2" or so.

Football cake was one batch of Chocolate Fudge Cake from The Cake Bible, split into two pyrex bowls to bake. No torting, just two layers, sculpted into a football that was about 4 1/2 " high or so. Not fair to judge this batch because of odd baking vessels.

Attempted Mousseline Buttercream again from The Cake Bible, and it sort of worked between all layers, even though the stuff left in the bowl eventually separated. Used Kahlua and vanilla extract for flavoring. Had to resort to Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream I recipe for football crumb coat and fondant glue again.

Fondant dyed with Wilton and Betty Crocker gel colors: blue, green, brown, copper, black. (Not all at the same time, duh.)

Fondant made two days before decorating.
Cakes made two days before serving.
Cake layers assembled, sculpted, shaped, and crumb coated one day before serving.
Cakes decorated and tiers assembled a few hours before serving.

Bottom line: All-Occasion Yellow Cake is a big time winner. Must practice adding syrup to moisten it if I'm serving it 24 hours+ after baking it. Practice Chocolate Fudge Cake for a real baseline. For marshmallow fondant, start with 4 cups of confectioners' sugar, and then add 1/2 cup at a time until it's not too sticky. Cover fondant screw-ups completely with more fondant, it might help. Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream may end up being the go-to BC, if I can't get the Mousseline BC to work. Bubble tea straws are very easy to work with for cake supports, stable too.

A Synonym for "Disaster?" Super Bowl Cake

Here I am at Phil's Super Bowl party, constructing the monstrosity. I blamed the crappy decorating job on not being able to see.

Wonderful timing: I scratched my right eye on Friday somehow, so I was nearly blind for the weekend.

(I don't recommend eye scratches. They HURT, and essentially render you blind, even though it's only one eye because both eyes keep trying to close, but it hurts to close the scratched eye, so you fight to keep it open, but everything's all blurry and screwed up anyway. Plus your nose keeps running because you're basically crying, which means you get a headache from allt he pressure weirdness in your head. That was my weekend in a nutshell: "Hey, who is that running back for the Cardinals, that new guy Jones? He looks pretty good." "Uh, Alison, do you mean James? Edgerrin James?" Crap. I couldn't even see my last gasp at football for the season.)

O Buttercream, WTF?!

Seriously, Mousseline Buttercream (from The Cake Bible) is killing me. I gave it another shot for the Super Bowl cake after some research, and basically the same thing happened, but without the grey, nasty, dishwater-looking liquid.

Here's what I learned... according to a post on the Kitchenaid FAQs, the beater attachment for the Kitchenaid 6qt is burnished aluminum. If it comes in contact with chlorine for a while, it looks kind of tarnished or oxidized. It can pick up chlorine in dishwashing detergent or by sitting in water with a high chlorine content for a while. (Not that I would ever leave anything to soak in the sink while I'm doing something else, of course.)

Barkeeper's Friend (available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, of all places) and some elbow grease gets the oxidation off.

Armed with such knowledge, I decided to give MBC (Mousseline Buttercream) another shot. Except I sort of chickened out, and just used the wire whip, not the beater, even though the beater was sparkly clean.

As noted, I got the same weird f%@$!@# separation. I still don't think it curdled exactly, it was just very wet. However, this didn't happen until after I had filled between the base cake layers, filled between the football cake layers, and put a crumb coat on the base cake. Last time, it happened almost immediately. So I guess I could call this improvement, in a sad, lame, groping-for-any-light sort of way.

Now that I've ruled out the beater problem, I'm concerned about the temperature of the simple syrup going into the meringue, and maybe the stainless steel Kitchenaid bowl had something to do with it? More research, I guess...

Bottom line: Barkeeper's Friend is a non-chlorinated cleanser that spiffs up lots of metal utensils and surfaces. MBC is darn picky! But I want to give it one more shot (maybe a 1/2 batch next time) because I've heard it's the most stable BC, and the texture (as far as I can tell before it DIES on me) is far far superior to American BC.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fondant and Chocolate Cake (2nd Fondant Foray!)

And another success! Yay!

Practice cake originally made for Cake Practice Day, but ended up finishing it later and inflicting it on my co-workers. I mean, it was a gift, as you can see.

The goal of this cake was to practice making a dark chocolate cake, and putting fondant on a squarier cake.

Chocoholics seemed to like the cake. Non-chocoholics (such as myself) thought it was ok.

I noticed a bitter-chocolate finish if I just ate the cake alone. More chocolate flavor than most chocolate cakes. The fondant and both buttercreams (Neoclassic with Bailey's between the layers, and American buttercream for the fondant glue) mellowed out the chocolate flavor enough for me to like the cake and consider it a success.

Again, I can see a lot of flaws, but maybe I'm improving... sort of... perhaps...

Details about the cake:
Velvet Devil's Food Cake (1 batch) from a recipe in Cook's Illustrated's Baking Illustrated book. Used 2 - 8" x 8" pyrex dishes, one for each layer, no torting. Each layer was about 1.33 to 1.5" tall. Tapered sides cut off, cake was about 6" x 6" before decorating.

Neoclassic Buttercream from The Cake Bible, spiked with Bailey's Irish Cream between the layers. Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream I recipe for crumb coat and fondant glue.

Fondant dyed with Wilton gel colors: blue, touch of black, violet.

Fondant made about two weeks before decorating.
Cake made a week earlier, frozen, thawed, and assembled two days before serving.
Cake decorated the day before serving.

Bottom line: Velvet Devil's Food Cake could work, but I want to continue experimenting with other chocolate cake recipes. Freezing, thawing, and assembling the cake is ok to do.

O Buttercream, where art thou?

I'm expanding my buttercream horizons, as it is a standard cake filling and glue for fondant.

In the Snowflake Cake, (see First Fondant Foray) I played it safe and used American buttercream. Nothing magical: butter and confectioners' sugar, mostly. (Icing sugar, powdered sugar, etc - whatever you want to call it.) Tasted ok, no complaints.

So there are French buttercreams, Italian, Swiss, and just what is mousseline? Most call for cooking something: a simple syrup, egg yolks, etc. Guess I'll just start trying them and see what works out the best. Looks like my instant-read thermometer will be handy.

Cake 1, Buttercream 1: Frosted a White Spice Pound Cake with Neoclassic Buttercream. (Both recipes from Rose Levy Barenbaum's The Cake Bible. I made this buttercream with my hand mixer.) The taste and texture are far superior to American buttercream. However, I didn't actually get to taste the frosted cake: Cake Practice Day = chaos. After several hours of sitting out in a bowl, the Neoclassic Buttercream separated, became a much darker yellow and slimy. Yum! (Not really.)

Cake 2, Buttercream 1: Used the Neoclassic Buttercream between the layers of the Velvet Devil's Food Cake from Cook's Illustrated's Baking Illustrated. Attempted to make a crumb coat for the Devil's Food cake too, but watering down the Neoclassic Buttercream did not end well.

Cake 2, Buttercream 2: Day after Cake Practice Day, I made the Mousseline Buttercream (also from The Cake Bible) to cover the Devil's Food cake. A fine time to use the fabulous Kitchenaid stand mixer that my mom so thoughtfully and generously gave to me about six weeks ago. (Thanks, Mom!)

The Mousseline Buttercream seemed to turn out as described, maybe a little more dense than I expected. The texture and taste were far superior to the Neoclassic Buttercream, and really the American buttercream shouldn't even be allowed on the playground. But it is a finicky recipe, requiring a lot of temperature checking.

This batch o' buttercream ended up sitting in the bowl for about 20 minutes after I finished making it. Went to slather on a crumb coat for the Devil's Food cake, but it looked like the buttercream was sort of weeping... uh oh... another whirl in the Kitchenaid... EEK! DISASTER! A liquid substance (egg whites? Vanilla extract?) continued to leach from the buttercream, and it looked like grey, dirty dishwater. It was so gross! Crap. That's a lot of ingredients to chuck out.

I think this mishap was due to the Kitchenaid beater, but I plan to check with Kitchenaid. The beater attachment for the 6qt mixer isn't enameled like the 5qt beater used to be. I don't know what kind of coating it has, but it's not uniform, it almost looks tarnished. When I washed the beater after the buttercream debacle, I got the same grey-yuck color on the dish sponge. I am displeased. It is a bit of a set back.

Cake 2, Buttercream 3: Ended up using a 1/4 batch of Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream I recipe on the Devil's Food cake, which was somewhat smoother than the one I used previously. Still no contest with the Mousseline Buttercream, though.

Bottom line: Neoclassic Buttercream will probably separate in the summer heat. Don't water down frostings for crumb coats, just use a thin thin thin layer of the frosting and refrigerate the cake until the crumb coat hardens. My Kitchenaid beater sabotaged my buttercream! But I can make buttercream with my hand mixer, sort of. American buttercream is only good as a last resort.

Cake Practice Day

Turns out that Elissa wants to broaden her cake decorating horizons as do I. Specifically, to try to re-create this aquarium of amazingness here. So we had a cake practice day last Saturday.

Last year, she tried using Wilton's fondant crap-in-a-box, and hated it. I've heard it tastes terrible. So I brought over some marshmallow fondant, and a couple of cakes to play with.

One cake was a White Spice Pound Cake from a recipe in The Cake Bible. (I used elderly egg whites, so the cake was less than exciting. I tasted some scraps.) Made in a loaf pan, and cut down to an even block for easier decorating. We covered that in Neoclassic Buttercream (spiked with Bailey's Irish Cream, which I learned belatedly that Elissa is not fond of) also from The Cake Bible, to which Elissa attached painted fondant fish and similar adornments that she had made.

I planned to cover the second cake, a Velvet Devil's Food Cake from a recipe in Cook's Illustrated's Baking Illustrated book, but the fondant was a little dry and I proceeded to make it drier accidentally. Mental note: add a little water if it's cracking, not more Crisco. This is why I'm practicing now for the wedding in July.

Then I messed around with the Wilton gel colors I had just picked up, trying to get a leather-color into the fondant, like a book cover. It almost worked, sort of. The fondant was toast, though. The gel colors are mostly vibrant enough, fairly concentrated, and you apply them with a toothpick. Elissa mixed the gel colors with water and then painted the colors onto the fondant fish and stuff. She also used the gold luster (pearl) dust. I really like the subtle effect from the luster dust.

I never got around to covering the Velvet Devil's Food Cake, though. Well, that's what Sunday is for.

Bottom line: Luster dust is wonderful. Wilton's gel colors are probably ok for dying and painting. I have to make my fondant a lot less dry. Painted fondant looks good. Don't use elderly egg whites. Not everyone likes booze-spiked buttercream. Although sturdy, White Spice Pound Cake is not what I want in the wedding cake. Cake practice day is useful, but very hectic and tiring.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Nope, not mine. (Give me another week or so.)
Cake FAIL - Fantastic! In a horrific way. If only these people used their gifts for good and not stupidity...

And another disaster that makes me feel better about my endeavors: Bad bad cake

Monday, January 26, 2009

First Fondant Foray!

It meets with success, and there is much rejoicing! Whoo-hoo!

(Practice cake made for a game night at Josh and Kimberly's on 03 January 2009, hence the incongruous dice with the seasonal snowflake motif.)

Is it perfect? No. But it's a start.

Paul helped tremendously with coloring the fondant and rolling it out. He even seemed to have fun with cookie cutters to make the snowflakes. Quite a tactical error on his part to seem interested and helpful. Now he'll never get out of fun with fondant. Ha ha!

Details about the cake:
First time I made and used marshmallow fondant. I used Peggy Weaver's mm fondant recipe, but with about 6 cups of sugar instead of 8. It's just way too dry in the winter in Massachusetts to use all the sugar in the recipe. Guess how I figured that out... I'll give you a hint: I have a lot of dry fondant hanging around in my 'fridge right now. But it's good for modeling, just not rolling out to cover a whole cake.

If the kid in this video can make mm fondant, I figured I could too:
The Fondant Kid, part I
The Fondant Kid, part II

Cake is from a cake mix because I wanted to focus on the fondant. Used a 9.5" springform pan, torted into 2 layers, about 1.25" each.

Standard "American" buttercream in between layers and for fondant glue.

Fondant dyed blue with Betty Crocker gel food coloring. Best method: put on thin latex gloves; wash the gloves on your hands; blob some coloring on your gloved hands; knead into fondant.

Cake and fondant made the night before serving.

Cake assembled the day of serving.

Bottom line: I can do fondant! Whoo-hoo! My first milestone! I might actually be able to not embarrass myself or Marsha & Lee at their wedding!