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Practice cake originally made for Cake Practice Day, but ended up finishing it later and inflicting it on my co-workers.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!

Lee and Marsha's Wedding... Marsha and Lee's Wedding...

Literary theme. I'm immediately thinking stack o' books. And what can I find on my friend the internet about this sort of mad undertaking? Let's see...

Charm City Cakes: their website (go to Not-so-Traditional cakes and scroll down the list to Law Books), or see someone else's bloggy from which I borrowed the image.

More images I'm not posting here:
Bridal shower stack
Librarians' farewell
Why I'm using fondant and not buttercream frosting

If you see any really fantastic examples, let me know. I don't want my final cake to appear on someone else's "what not to do" list. (Or Cake Wrecks, which I found out about after I first posted this.)

Why should anyone read this blog?

I don't know why you'll read it, but I know why I'm doing this and what I plan to post here.

Primary reason for this blog: so I can keep track of all the cake practice stuff between January and July, 2009. A lot of what not to do, as I learn these things the hard way. I can already tell you I have some good what to do stuff too. Very exciting.

Secondary reason: keep track of links to related recipes that I stumble across in my Conquest.

Tertiary reason: entertain myself, and maybe you too. Maybe not. Whatever. My blog. Don't like it? Get your own, they're free. I gotta work on this template though, it's a little boring to look at.

Who is the Dessert Goddess?

Me! That's how Marsha refers to me on her wedding website anyway. (Scroll down to the bottom of the Wedding Party page. I have no idea who the guy at the top is.)

I like it, so I'll keep the name. Unfortunately, this might mean that I have an impossible standard of dessertness to achieve, but what the hell, I'll give it a shot.

The motivation.

My friends, Lee and Marsha, are getting married on July 18, 2009. Because I've had some success with making desserts (cookies, tarts, pies, puddings, etc), on Turkey Day in 2008 they asked me if I could make their wedding cake in lieu of a standard wedding gift (because they don't actually need those). They were a bit surprised when I asked to handle the desserts in general, but leave the enormous feat of wedding cakeness to someone who is capable of making edible cakes.

Oh yes, I have made inedible cakes. They are my Achilles' heel of baking. They are tricksy. Sure they look ok, but are inedible. (Except for pound cake. Check out my favorite Peach Pound Cake recipe.)

But you know, this could be the opportunity I'm looking for to immerse myself in learning to make cakes...

After a few practice sessions with making marshmallow fondant, using marshmallow fondant, making a few different cake recipes, and attempting some amazing buttercreams, I only screwed up some of it, and nothing was actually inedible. Now I've agreed to do it!

I will conquer the cake!