Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happy Birthday.... to me! :)

For my birthday cake, I decided to take on some new challenges.  I wanted to do a tiered cake, and I wanted to cover it in fondant.  Fortunately, I shared a birthday celebration with two of my classmates at Georgia Tech, so there was a nice party for this cake to make its debut... and a lot of friends armed with forks!  :)

This cake took a fair bit of planning.  If you read my previous post, you'll recall I made 2 6" funfetti cakes in conjunction with my cupcakes for last week's class.  I froze these until this past Thursday-- those made up my top tier.

Wednesday night, I baked the bottom tier.  I used Margaret Braun's Chocolate Blackout Cake recipe from her Cakewalk book.  Her recipe said that it made 2 10" cakes-- but didn't mention what height.  I knew there was a lot of batter, but wasn't sure how much it would rise.  I decided to just throw it into my 2 9" pans (mine are 2" high).

The recipe was fairly simple as scratch recipes go.  The only ingredients that I didn't have on hand already were buttermilk and cocoa powder.  It called for 1 1/2 c of cocoa powder, so I used one cup of Ghirardelli cocoa powder and 1/2 c of Hershey's special dark cocoa powder.


As my cakes baked, I watched them closely.  For a while, I thought we were going to be okay overflow wise, but a few minutes later, something bubbled and overflowed.  The cakes dripped onto the pizza stone in the bottom of my oven, and a little batter got on the element.  Therefore, instead of smelling chocolate cake for the last 30 mins, I smelled burning.  Oh well-- that's what I get for ignoring the whole 10" pan thing.

Regardless, the cakes came out beautiful. 

Margaret Braun claims that these cakes are moist, delicious, and 'a dream to work with.'  I don't know about the last part-- the cakes were very soft, so crumbs came off easily during the icing process.  Fortunately, I was covering them in fondant anyway, but I don't think these cakes would be carve-able, for example.  Maybe if I had cooked them an extra 5 mins, but the crumb was pretty fine.

Thursday night, I made the mocha buttercream.  I had already made a batch of regular white buttercream over the weekend for class, and I had made extra.  To make the mocha buttercream, I used about 2 c of regular white buttercream, a small batch of ganache (6 oz choc chips + 1/2 c cream), and a couple tablespoons of strong instant coffee, plus some kahlua.  It came out DELICIOUS.

Friday, my plan was to ice and cover the cakes.  I didn't think this would take nearly as long as it did...

I knew the cakes needed to be filled and dirty iced (a layer of buttercream that goes under the fondant to make it stick) before applying the fondant.  So I placed the small layer on a 6" round, iced and filled it with white buttercream, and stuck it in the fridge.  Then, I placed the chocolate cake on a 9" round and iced/ filled it with the mocha buttercream.  

For whatever reason, I decided to start by covering the larger cake first.  I left this one out (rather than putting it in the fridge) because I wanted the frosting to stay a little sticky.  

I don't have any pictures of the next part of this process, unfortunately, because I was hurrying a lot and was doing a fair bit of swearing.

I was using Satin Ice fondant (which tastes pretty good, by the way), so I went to their website to see some of their how-to videos.  I watched Ron Ben-Israel cover a cake in what seemed to be 2 minutes (rolling the fondant out by hand, not using a sheeter), so I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of my next task.

I knew I needed 17+" diameter of fondant to cover the 9" cake, since it was a full 4" tall.  I grabbed close to 2 lb of white fondant, painstakingly kneaded it (though maybe not enough), and started rolling it out on my pastry mat.  And I rolled.  And rolled. With my normal kitchen rolling pin, I rolled.  It must've been 10-20 mins and I noticed my wrists had cramped and I was in pain-- but I had to keep rolling.  I could sense the edges drying out, and I still had inches to go.  And I rolled and rolled and rolled.  About 30 mins later I had met my size constraint, but couldn't move my wrists.  I attempted to roll the fondant onto the rolling pin to transfer it to the cake, only to realize the cake wasn't where I wanted it, and I dropped it.  Perfect.  I marred it a little picking it back up and just threw it onto the cake.  I started smoothing it with my Wilton fondant smoother, but between the stiffness at the edges and my lack of a good process, there were some tears along the bottom edges as I attempted to get the wrinkles out.

And as I ran my smoother over the tears in the fondant, I conveniently smudged the chocolatey frosting on my lovely white fondant.  You can imagine I had some choice words.  

I finally got the cake covered and trimmed the fondant, and had to just leave a few holes.  Fortunately, the were near the bottom of the cake, and I knew I could cover most of them.  But I know for a fact I need a way to roll out fondant faster-- at least a bigger rolling pin.  Maybe I'll take a page out of Ron Ben-Israel's book and buy a sizable piece of PVC pipe to be my fondant rolling pin.

I covered the small cake later Friday night.  This one was much less dramatic, but since the frosting had crusted, it was a little harder to get it to stick.  This made it a little easier not to smudge the frosting all over the place, however.  I will have to find a happy medium.  

I finished the decorating Saturday morning.  I placed the white cake on a silver cake drum with some buttercream under it, and inserted 4 drinking straws cut to height in a diamond shape in the center of the cake to support the weight of the top tier.  I put some more buttercream in the middle of that cake, and put on the top tier.  

I rolled out smaller quantities of fondant and used the Wilton fondant ribbon cutter to cut different widths for the ribbon going around the cakes and the bows.  After the bows were done, I cut out the polka dots using a circular cutter.  I applied my decorations using water/ moisture, or buttercream, or royal icing, depending on how strong an adhesive I needed and what I had around in an appropriate color.

To give the cakes a nice shiny finish and to get rid of any remaining powdered sugar (which is used when you roll out the fondant to prevent sticking-- it's very obvious on the black fondant), I steamed the cakes with a little steamer I bought at Sears.  I had seen Buddy do this on Cake Boss, and it's very effective.  You can buy a small steamer for about $30-- a worthwhile investment if you plan to work with colored fondant.


Overall, I was really pleased with the outcome.

So how'd it taste?

The chocolate cake was moist and delicious.  And chocolatey.  I've found that some chocolate cakes are moist but leave me wanting more chocolate.  This one was really good, and went perfectly with the mocha buttercream.  And, only a few people left over the fondant (which means it must've tasted pretty good too.)

I thought this cake looked cute with the Funfetti.  

Anyway, the cake was a big success.  And now somehow I have to make yet another cake and more buttercream for my class on Tuesday :oP   Cake Overload.  Hope my co-workers are hungry for cake...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cake 1, Class 3-- Some cupcakes :)

I had my 3rd class in my Cake 1 series tonight.  We covered the first half of the rose, drop flowers, cupcake ideas, figure piping, and the shell border.

I brought 8 cupcakes to decorate tonight-- and had about 7 minutes to decorate.  :oP  Also bear in mind the mess of frosting in various consistencies and colors that I had going on by the end of class...  Parchment bags and tips everywhere!

The cupcake up top is just drop flowers with tip #21 and some stems and centers with tip #1.

To practice figure piping, I made a cupcake with a little portrait of Lola (my dog) on it:

The larger (almost) white sections were piped with round tip #12, and the details again with tip #1.  Ignore the purple.  It happens when you swap tips/bags/colors haphazardly. :)

Some more drop flowers...

A different icing style.. and a clown. :)

Not bad for 7 mins of decorating, but nothing nearly as exciting as what's to come this week.

My birthday is this Thursday, but I'm celebrating on Saturday.  For this momentous occasion, I am planning to make a tiered cake.  Since I only needed 8 cupcakes for class, I dedicated the rest of the batter to making the top tier for my birthday cake. 

For the cupcakes (and top tier) I used a good old-fashioned Funfetti cake mix.  For my top tier, I used 6" round pans.  Since cake mixes are particularly prone to crowning (rising in the middle and being more well-done on the edges), I decided to try Wilton's Bake Even Strips.  These strips are moistened, wrapped around your cake pan, and pinned in place before putting the pan in the oven.  Then you bake as usual (at a temperature no higher than 350).  Look at the difference:

That's the cake EXACTLY as it came out of the pan.  I was impressed.  You can see the bake-even strip rolled up next to it, and next to that, my new love, Pam Baking. 

This Pam spray somehow incorporates flour into the mix (in lieu of greasing and flouring) and smells AMAZING.  As I invariably got a little on the floor as I was spraying the pan, my dog was jubilantly licking it up.  And as you can see, the cakes came out very cleanly-- no sticking. 

Ahh... the beginnings of my birthday cake.

The bottom tier is going to be a from scratch chocolate cake from Margaret Braun's Cakewalk book.  And probably a mocha buttercream... I'm salivating already.

More cake to look forward to this week-- look for another post Saturday or Sunday at the latest.

And if you ever have any questions for me, please feel free to comment!  I can either reply to you or write a whole post dedicated to your comment. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A little fishy.... Cake!

Tonight was my 2nd class in the Wilton Cake 1 series.  We covered some pretty basic piping techniques, like stars and star fill-in.

I think he wants to swim away...

Anyway, this cake was a box mix baked in a Wilton character pan-- a pan shaped like a fish with stripe features, fin, eye, etc.  Pretty much ready to go!  One of the challenges was greasing the pan adequately, because of the features and because the pan isn't nonstick to begin with. I greased the pan using a pastry brush to apply shortening, then dusted on some flour.  I also sprayed some spots with Pam Baking spray if it looked like there was insufficient flour coverage.  A couple of spots stuck just a little, but generally the cake came out great!

I piped black outlines on the stripes, fin, and eye using a #3 tip, and then just did star fill-in (tip #16) for the rest of the cake!  The eye and mouth were piped with round tips, and smoothed out using a little cornstarch on my finger.   It took quite a while to complete the cake-- we started it in the last half hour of class, but it took a couple hours after I got home... It's a lot of stars.  I think I'm still seeing stars.

He looks happy. :)

He'll be making a guest appearance at the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Women's lunch tomorrow. 

 More cakes coming soon!  My birthday is next week....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Christmas Cookies!!

While Christmas may be over, cookies are always in season!

So even though this post comes a little late for the holidays, you can still make your own fabulously decorated cookies using any of the techniques I'll talk about in this post.

These cookies were about a 4 day process.

Day 1: Make Dough.

Sugar Cookie Lesson 1: Use salted butter!!!!  I'd been on an unsalted butter kick, and didn't even think about it when I set about to make my cookies.  But the first batch of dough tasted like cardboard, and it took me a minute to figure out why...

I simply used my favorite childhood sugar cookie recipe, and then wrapped it up and stored it in a tupperware in the fridge overnight.

Day 2: Roll, cut and bake!

I rolled out my dough on a Sil-pat on a cookie sheet, and cut right on there, removing the dough between the cutouts.  In this way, I didn't have to move the cookies once they'd been cut.  (This helps keep shape distortion to a minimum.)  While I had to cook them in smaller batches, I'd just rinse the sil-pat and alternate it to another cookie sheet between batches.

Day 3: Initial Frosting Operations

All the cookies received a base coat of smooth royal icing... how to do this? 
I used this recipe for the royal icing: Royal Icing Recipe, more or less.  I used a little more water than the recipe called for, so as not to give myself carpal tunnel while doing the piping.  Also, I made part of the batch stiff and part of the batch runny.  Even for the stiff batch, I used a little extra water.  When I was satisfied, I took some out and put it in a parchment cone (to be used right away), and put a little more in 3 different containers: one for white decorating, one for green, and one for blue.  (Note: keep the icing covered when not in use-- royal icing hardens quickly when in contact with air.)  The remaining icing I watered down significantly so that the features in the mixing bowl disappeared after about 10 seconds.  This is what gives the cookies their smooth finish.

To ice the cookies, I used the parchment cone that I filled with white icing to pipe a dam along the edge (this could also be done with a #2 tip).  After I piped all the dams, I filled in the cookies carefully with the thinner icing, which I think I did with a cut disposable pastry bag, though I don't actually remember anymore.

For trees like these:

I piped on a few stripes of green into the wet icing and swirled with a toothpick to make the patterns in the background.  I only did this on a few of the cookies.

The whole icing process took a couple of hours.  Then, I let the cookies dry overnight.

Day 4: Decorate!

Okay, so I had some pretty strict rules that I set for myself.  For one thing, no two snowflakes could be the same.  Even most of the other designs were unique (I only made snowflakes, trees, and stars).  I may have repeated one of my tree designs once or twice. :)

Most of these designs were piped on using parchment cones and the reserved icing (white, green, and blue). 
Some of the snowflakes were brushed with pearl dust or sprinkled with white sanding sugar (over a layer of brushed on piping gel) before I piped the design in white or blue.  Some featured silver dragees, which I applied using a tweezers or a bamboo skewer with a little bit of piping gel on the tip to hold the dragee.

Another tool I used was royal icing dots, which I made on the sil-pat (similar to the buzz cake, only smaller).  I used some of the leftover runny icing and made dots of various sizes and let them harden overnight as well.   You can see them on these snowflakes:

 The one on the left has sanding sugar, the one on the right is brushed with pearl dust.

These both have 1 or more royal icing dots and pearl dust.

These were 2 of my favorites-- just pearl dust, white piping, and silver dragees.

I thought these were cute too.  Green piping, and silver dragees.

Sometimes I used a paintbrush to blend the frosting a little.

I liked the sanding sugar applied selectively to the tree.  I brushed on some piping gel using a paintbrush and then sprinkled the sugar so it would only stay where I wanted it.

To do the holly tree, I used some store bought sprinkles that contained holly and berries, and selectively stuck on using small dots of royal icing and a bamboo skewer with a little piping gel on the tip to pick up the sprinkles.

I drew the design on this one using Wilton food color pens.  Neat, right?

They came out pretty tasty too!

I packed them all up in cling wrap and in baggies with some air inside of tupperwares and packed them all in my (checked) suitcase to take home for the holidays.  None broke, and they were a big success!

Cookies are definitely a fun, low-key way to practice your piping and challenge yourself to come up with new patterns.  Though I'll admit I was pretty attached to all these cookies-- sometimes it was hard to let people eat them. :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What's all the BUZZ about?

This is the cake I made for the Orange Bowl this year.  Apparently, I should have delivered it to our team for inspiration...

The great news about this cake is I took more pictures of the whole process  (which is something I'll also try to do in future posts), so you'll be able to see the construction from beginning to end!

For this cake, I knew I wanted to practice image transfer and putting Buzz, the Georgia Tech mascot, on the cake seemed like a great opportunity to do so. 

In thinking about the cake, I thought I'd make the inside color scheme match the outside.  I decided to do yellow cake with ganache filling-- very similar to the Yellow Jacket colors!

Let's start at the beginning.  I decided to try this yellow cake recipe: David's Yellow Cake
For the record, I used unsalted butter, and a low-protein all purpose flour rather than cake flour.  I probably should have made a proper substitution (you use a little less all purpose flour and a little corn starch) but we'll leave that for next time.

Look how LEVEL they are!!!  I was very excited.

So excited, in fact, that I forgot to wrap them up in a timely fashion because I was busy looking at them.  I think the cake got stale, but by the time I tried some it tasted pretty dry.  I remedied this by pouring on a capful of Kahlua when serving.  I will have to try this recipe again and see if it really is on the dry side or if I just used too much flour or let them sit out too long.

The next step was to create Buzz.  I found a picture of Buzz that I liked and re-sized it appropriately, then printed it.  I decided to try the image transfer by piping Buzz on parchment paper using royal icing, and then carefully removing him after the icing solidified.  I taped down the parchment paper over my printout, and got to it!  I did this using a damming and flooding approach: I piped the outline in a stiffer black icing, then filled in the colors with thinned out icing, using the outlines to contrain the flow.

Shiny.... :)

Now for the Cake Assembly Slide show!

Put your bottom layer on the cake board with a little buttercream to hold it in place.

Pipe a Dam in the color of the outside frosting.  Apply delicious filling-- this is ganache. 

Put on the top layer-- trim the edge if necessary.

Crumb coat!  Then put it in the fridge for a few so it crusts over.

While it's in the fridge, clean up the carnage.  I decided that in my blog, I'm gonna try to keep it real-- I make a MESS.  So if you do too... it's cool.  And if you don't, I'm jealous.  Tell me your secret!

Applying the second coat.  And smooth.  And smooth.  And smooth a little more.  Let crust a little.

Then, I took a Kleenex Viva paper towel (no texture) and gently smoothed out the remaining grooves.

Smooth....  I don't worry about the edge too much since I know I'll be piping a border.

Carefully remove Buzz from the parchment, and place on the cake using  a little buttercream.   It worked, but you can see his antennae broke.   No worries!  Just re-affix with a little leftover royal icing.

A parchment cone.  We have a love/hate relationship. 

More on this in the future, just wanted you to see one.  
You fill it with icing, and fold in the top.  Then you trim the tip to the appropriate size opening.

The finished product!

Top border:  Shells, Tip #18
Bottom border: Shells, Tip #32
Swags, Tip #18-- my first attempt at such!  In the future, I'll divide the cake more carefully, this time I just compensated with a little GT symbol.  

The polka dots are just thinned royal icing piped into a mound on a sil-pat.  Let them dry and just pop them off like little buttons!  Apply with some royal icing.

That's all folks!