Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chocolate-spotting in NYC

Happy Saturday! I love cute chocolate mice...spotted them at a patisserie in NYC and snuck a photo.

No new crafting pictures, unfortunately. There were several cast-ons for new projects, but I screwed them all up and had to rip them out. I'm doing another Ene's scarf and about 1/3 the way in, I realized I had totally messed up the border. But I'm still chugging along... I'm hemming some bonnets, still cutting out pieces for my quilt, and starting to think about more baby shower gifts for the many pregnant ladies I know.

This afternoon we're doggy sitting and also going to a garden center to check out the goods. Maybe we'll buy some seeds to start at home!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Spooky Wedding Cake

Last Friday the 13th we were invited to a 13th anniversary party in historic Allentown, and I was asked to make a special cake for the occasion....spooky themed, of course!

And it turned into an surprise wedding. Which means that really, I made a wedding cake! It was a hectic week considering I was traveling back and forth to NYC for my class every day and coming home to work on the cake, but I'm so happy I did it. It was a ton of fun to construct, and the couple who asked me are just super nice and I didn't want to say no. It helped that I had sketched a design to follow. I chose 10", 8" and 6" cake sizes, each with about 1.5" layers inside to get the most height possible. I ordered my first bucket of Satin Ice fondant, which is what my boss uses and actually tastes pretty good, along with a whole bunch of other nifty decorating supplies.

So, according to all the online guides I could find, this amount of cake was supposed to serve about 75 people. The hosts were expecting up to 100 guests, so I made another 2 dozen cupcakes, an idea which I have to credit to Cake Journal - too cute! The faces and eyes were cut from fondant, and the mouths were drawn on with food colour marker...also my first time using such a tool. It worked just like a regular marker, which made it feel a bit weird to be using..

Remember these little guys? I had a whole slew of little characters I wanted to add to the cake, which I started making early on in the can store them covered with plastic wrap and use them when you're ready. Who knew my gumpaste flower cutters would come in so handy...I made the spider legs with a daisy cutter and added two little black balls, and made the bat wings using an orchid cutter, slightly reshaped. My favourites though, are still the pumpkins.

If you want to hear all the details, keep reading and I'll give you the whole cake schedule.

How to Make Your Own Spooky Cake for 75 People on a Friday:
(...when you can't do any decorating on the Friday...if you can, you can push the schedule forward by a day)

1) Up to a week before, make all your decorations out of fondant so they have plenty of time to dry and you can see how they turn out. Make extras in case anything breaks. I made about 4 skulls, 4 pumpkins, 2 ghosts, 4 bats, and 2 tombstones.

Anything upright should be cut from a thicker layer of fondant. Attach fondant pieces by moistening slightly with water and a brush. You can use a toothpick for the details, like poking eyes, or making ridges in the pumpkins.

2) Three to four days before, you can bake all your cakes, remove them carefully from the pans, wait until completely cool, and wrap really well in plastic wrap before putting them in the freezer. Not fridge! You will have suspended them in animation and they will taste fantastic. , with a nice fine, dense texture that will be easy to work with. Choose a recipe that works for wedding cakes, such as a pound cake. I used the chocolate and vanilla recipes from the Confetti Cakes book, and turned the vanilla one into a lemon cake (yeah, I know. I never get tired of this's just so good). Oh and the cupcakes were Red Velvet.

3) Prepare your simple syrup to brush the cakes with. Equal parts sugar and water, bring to a boil and remove from heat.

4) Make lemon curd, and save the egg whites for use in tomorrow's buttercream.

5) Remove your cakes from the freezer; leave wrapped until ready to use.

6) Prepare your icing...I made the swiss meringue buttercream recipe I learned in class, which made about 2.5 quarts. Half was turned into chocolate buttercream by adding cooled, whipped chocolate ganache (chopped chocolate melted into heated heavy cream) and the rest was saved for the lemon cake and cupcakes.

7) Unwrap your cakes, trim them nice and even, brush on the syrup, and do the filling and crumb coating. I decided to pipe the entire filling, but didn't think I needed to spread it flat, and when the cake was cut you could still see all the tubes of icing...not a big deal. Also, when you're using a filling like lemon curd, pipe a dam around the perimeter of the cake to prevent it from leaking out:

Stick everything in the fridge overnight, covered in some plastic wrap:

8) Now, even though you're tired, you should really tint your fondant for the next day, because this is TIME-CONSUMING! It took D and I about 30 minutes to tint all the purple by hand. The mixer didn't seem like it could handle kneading the fondant, which is too bad. We tinted about 4 lbs of fondant total which was more than enough. Don't forget to make black, too. About 1/2 pound should be fine.

9) Cover your cake board. I bought a 1/4" masonite board which is pretty sturdy. For a bigger cake, you'd probably want to get a 1/2" thick one. Wrap it with cake-decorator's foil or florist's foil, or if you don't have either, just use wrapping paper like I did. With the cake cardboard under the bottom layer and all the fondant, it shouldn't get too greasy.

10)Pull out your cakes, and then knead the purple fondant to warm it up. Cover all the cakes with fondant. With a serrated knife, trim the cardboard base flush with the cake. To make the swirls, roll out small pieces of black fondant and taper the tips. Wet a small brush with water, and paint a swirl directly on the cake. Don't use too much water, or else the black will run everywhere! Carefully follow the water swirl with the black fondant and press gently to adhere.

I think I've written about stripes before in another tutorial:

11) Dowel your cake. I'm not going to explain it here because there are hundreds of tutorials on the internet. I like using a stake through the whole thing to give it more support. Assemble the tiers 2 and 3.

12) Make a small batch of royal icing. Pipe your spiderweb design on the second tier, and pipe some more webs onto some parchment to dry. They break easily, so pipe more than you actually need. Now, attach two skewers to the back of the moon and 13 sign with royal. It'll dry hard as rock by the next day. Next, tint the remaining royal icing purple and pipe the borders.

13) Oops, I forgot about the word plaque...that's just a circle of fondant and food colour pen. Make sure it's still pliable and adhere to the cake with a little water.

Friday Party Day:

14) Stick on the piped spiderwebs with a dot of royal icing, because they're not going to travel well in a box. Pack all the rest of your cute little decorations in a paper-towel padded tupperware, and bring a pastry bag of royal icing along with a small round tip and the tip you used for the borders.

15) Once you get to the party, insert the moon and 13 sign and glue on all the decos with royal. Pipe your last border, and you're done! Try your best not to drop the cake now :)

The cake dissected...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring and Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Spring is really here...the crocuses are poking out of the ground and brightening up the gardens.

A couple weekends ago, D and I enjoyed the warm weather and walked along the canal path...where we saw DEER!! Four of them! It was my first time seeing deer outside of the zoo. I did not grow up somewhere where deer roamed your backyard, so I think it's pretty cool.

You can see the old steel mill in behind the branches...

We are impatiently waiting for the weather to start being consistently warm...I took some gardening books out of the library and starting to think about what to plant this year, our first time having a backyard! D is excited about grilling sausages. Oh, spring.

Anyway, here's some baking from last week: a pain de mie variation, cinnamon swirl bread, from Baking Artisan Bread by Hitz. This was good stuff, and quite easy to make - the dough has milk and butter in it, and inside is just a 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. The house smelled sooo delicious while this was baking that we basically tore into the loaf and devoured most of it in one sitting. Amazing, there was a little bit left that got added to a bread pudding...

Hope you're all having a good Monday...after a such a busy week, it's strange not having anywhere to be first thing in the morning. I did do a number of housekeeping type things, along with booking an appointment to get our taxes done and getting the car serviced. Oh, and I signed up to make historical Moravian costumes...more on that some other time. I've got a stack of bonnets to sew.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cake Decorating I: the Rest of the Week

My course is done! The last class was on Friday, and my finished cake made it home on the bus with minimal bumps and bruises. So, I had meant to write up the course as 5 posts over 5 days, but sometimes things just don't work out that way. But, at least I remembered to take pictures, so here it is. I'm going to give it to you all at once - Cake Decorating Level I Day 2-5 with Toba Garrett.

Day Two:
We started off with making a decorator's buttercream icing, which contains a small portion of solid hi-ratio vegetable shortening to give the icing more structure and stability. A lot of people poopoo the idea of adding shortening to their icing, claiming all sorts of 'ew! that's disgusting, it's fake' and whatnot...but they have probably never had to produce a cake that must be stable enough to withstand very warm weather or make decorations that require more structure. Pure buttercream icing on a hot day? You'll get a melting, drooping cake in no time.

Tastewise, if you use only a small quantity, and if you can get a hi-ratio shortening (apparently Crisco leaves a greasy taste on your palate), your buttercream will still taste great. Remember, you're adding flavourings too. This type of icing is great for small cakes and cupcakes where your want the extra sweetness - children's birthday cakes, etc.

We spent the day practicing learning and practicing basic borders and decorations that should be in every decorator's repertoire: the reverse shell border, ropes, fleur de lys, rosebuds, half-open rose, and garlands.

I was the worst at these...they were surprisingly hard to do

Day 3:
Again, the day started with making another icing: Decorator's buttercream for roses, a stiff consistency icing used to make decorations that require more structure.

The teacher's roses...

We learned to pipe a full blown rose in traditional way, which is much harder than it looks...

Piped roses are certainly 'old school', but when done well, are actually really beautiful! Sadly, buttercream roses have been reduced to a lower status over the past decade - the poor workmanship and horrible colouring seen at supermarket bakeries have made them unpopular and a symbol of tackiness. I'm not sure how often I'll be piping these, but at least now I know how...

In the afternoon, we practice swags, ruffles, bows and basketweave. Truthfully, I'm not a big fan of the bows and basketweave, but I think you can probably find a way to give these decorations a more contemporary look. By now my hands are sore from all the squeezing.

Day 4:
We made marzipan (a mouldable almost paste with corn syrup and other flavourings) and modeling chocolate/chocolate plastic (just dark chocolate and corn syrup!). The chocolate plastic has to age for 24 hours, so we made it for the final day's class.

Tinting and working with marzipan was so much fun!! We made the cutest little fruits and vegetables...all afternoon there was endless gushing over how adorable these things were. Check them out:

Pre-petal dusting

We survived the bus ride home!

They were painted with petal dust to give a more realistic look to them, and the stems were fashioned out of clove studs and stems. Somehow I ended up showing a bunch of strangers at the bus station my marzipan fruit, which drew a little crowd of 'oohs' and 'ahhs'. I felt like a marzipan superstar. My banana was the only thing I didn't finish properly because it required water and gel food colour, which I thought would probably stain all my other little fruits on the way home, so I left it plain. You're actually supposed to paint the ends brown, and add the tiniest amount of green and draw it up the seams with a wet paintbrush. Too cute.

Day 5:
The entire morning was spent learning the chocolate rose, bows, and leaves using our modeling chocolate. Who knew you could knead and mould chocolate like playdoh? It was awesome. If you have any aptitude for making little figurines from clay or playdoh, you'd love making these - and they're edible!

We used this cool silicone mould to make the leaves - so lifelike! Mine are a little dull-looking because my chocolate was rolled too thick, but when done properly they are shiny and amazingly delicate. Toba pays attention to every possible detail - the thinness of the petals and the way they ruffle out, the direction the petals overlap...I felt like I'd never seen a rose after how she described it...something I've seen dozens of times but never really paid close attention to.

Finally, we each got to split, fill and decorate an 8" take to take home - yellow cake with amaretto mocha swiss buttercream. Soooo delicious! Smoothing the icing was so easy with her technique, which involved dipping the spatula in hot water and drying it off - somehow the heat helps to draw all the little bubbles closed and even everything out. It was nearing the end of class and I wanted to catch the early bus home, so I rushed and didn't ice my cake as carefully as everyone else. Still, I think it turned out just fine...and tasty...I'm bringing this to a dinner party tonight!

If you have any interest in cake decorating, this course is worth taking. Toba's enthusiasm and knowledge is just incredible and takes your appreciation for cake artistry to a new level. If there's anything that was really emphasized in the class, it was that your decorations should taste as amazing as they look, which means using the best quality ingrediants you can afford, and not taking short cuts - when you're putting in the time and effort of hand making a cake, you don't want it to be anything like something you could buy from the grocery store. You really do learn a lot, including some great industry tricks that make you feel like you're all that. I can't wait to take Level II and III!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Toba's Cake Decorating Class: Day 1

Guess what today was? Day One of Toba Garrett's Cake Decorating Level 1 at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE)!

Half asleep, I somehow dragged myself out of bed at 5am (along with poor D) and managed to get to the bus stop and throw myself into an empty seat on the 5:45 am run to NYC. A lengthy snooze later, I woke up to the sounds of New Jersey commuters piling into the bus and, forty-five minutes later, we pulled into Port Authority Bus Terminal in the middle of morning rush hour. Since I was there way too early, I had plenty of time to wander my way down to 23rd street and have a coffee.

Here's our classroom, with about 10 students total. I think this class is going to be really great! It's beginner/intermediate, and a good refresher for those who already have some decorating experience. We got our pastry kits, which included a piping bag and a small box of tips. We made swiss meringue buttercream, tinted some green icing, made parchment cones, and practiced piping lines, small and large shells, scroll borders and rosettes. Here is my friend Amy wielding her piping bag:

I really like Toba's teaching style - she is so articulate and well-organized. I am finally understanding proper pressure control with the icing bag, as well as dragging vs. lifting and pulling techniques. I don't think I've ever done a proper star-tip flower, or a shell! Check out our practice samples from today:

Zigzag with shell overlay

Large shells - I started on the left, got better by the time I reached the far right

Tomorrow we're making another type of buttercream icing, and I think we're piping more borders and also practicing writing. I can't wait!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fondant Pumpkins

I'm test driving these pumpkin babies for a big edible project I have coming up in a couple weeks!

Other cake decorating news: I'm registered for Toba Garrett's class in NYC, starting in just over a week! It's the first course of a three-part series. Post secondary education is important!

Lemon French Macarons

I think I made these a couple weeks after the first batch of macarons I made back in the summer. Why I am only getting around to posting these now, I have no idea, but late is better than never.

There were pros and cons to this batch. Appearance-wise they weren't nearly as pretty as the first ones, but they tasted better, and I took a few notes on what I did differently; what worked and didn't work.

For starters, the egg whites whipped up much stiffer than last time and had far more volume - I degreased the bowl carefully and added few drops lemon juice. But, this resulted in a far thicker batter, perhaps a bit too much. Maybe I didn't mix it enough to reach the 'molten' stage. Somehow, I ended up piping nearly 3 times as many macarons using the exact same recipe as last time!

I left them out to form a skin, but they didn't flatten out into pretty flat-topped discs, again probably because the batter was too thick. At least 2 dozen of them cracked during baking, so that meant lots of snacking...

All was not lost however. The taste and texture of the macarons were far better with more chewiness to crispiness than last time.

The macarons were filled with some raspberry buttercream and a dollop of lemon curd...

I forgot to mention that they also formed little feet, which is a sign that they are baking properly, but really they're supposed to be a lot taller...

The macaron baking has stopped for a while, since I'm the only one that seems to eat them, and they have such a short shelf life, and I tend to forget about them if I throw them in the freezer...right now there is more bread being made in Knitticrafty kitchen. I'll probably try them again some time in the spring, when I am craving for pretty pastel colours!