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.