Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wilton Course 2- Adventures in Royal Icing

Last night was my 3rd (out of 4) class in the Wilton Course 2 series.

In classes 2 and 3, you learn some royal icing flower varieties and make a few in class.  Because royal icing dries hard, you save up the flowers (and make some more at home) and then bring the flowers you've made to the last class where you actually decorate a cake.

In addition to the flowers, we learned to make cake decorations using color flow icing.  The technique is the same as I described in my Buzz Cake (What's all the BUZZ about?).  The only difference is that color flow icing is intended to be shinier and less airy.  This is what I used to make the birds:

I made the birds using yellow and white color flow.  Then, even though it's not really part of the course, I decided to paint the birds using a cranberry luster dust.  I used a food color pen to draw the eyes, and diluted orange gel color to paint the beaks.  Yes, I'm an overachiever. :o)

Last week in class we did the violet, apple blossom, and violet leaf.

Sorry the picture is a little dark-- here you can see the violets and violet leaves.

Here are the apple blossoms.

In last night's class, we covered victorian roses, daffodils, primroses, pansies, and dasies-- it was a little hectic.

In this picture, you can see the victorian rose and the pansy:

The victorian rose is made with tip 97, which has some curvature, rather than petal tip 104.  I think I prefer the classic roses...  Regardless, I painted a few of the better ones to give them some extra color/ dimension.

The pansies are made with tip 104 and tip 1 for the little central loop.  Then, being the overachiever that I am, I looked on the internet and painted some realistic patterns on them:

The cylindrical thing they are sitting in is a flower former-- the course two kit comes with a variety of flower formers in a few sizes.  Drying the flowers in or on these gives them some curvature so that they are not totally flat.

Here are the daffodils:
The daffodil petals are made by pinching their ends with your fingers dipped in corn starch.  

Here are some daisies and primroses:

I've since painted some of the primroses too-- those will be a surprise for next week.

So, if you're a fan of The Cake Engineer on Facebook, you might have noticed that I was up late piping flowers after class these past two weeks...

... That's a lot of flowers.

Next week we use the flowers (I won't be using ALL of them...) and the birds, and decorate a small oval basket-weave cake.  So that's what I've been up to!

I'm also taking a beginning fondant class a week from Saturday.  Hoping to pick up some good pointers. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Cake

What did I do with my snowy days down here in Atlanta?  Made a cake, of course!

The inspiration for this cake is definitely Margaret Braun.  I'm sure I've mentioned her before-- she's the 'daintier' of the two female judges on TLC's Ultimate Cake-Off and is a world renowned cake artist and author of Cakewalk.  In one of the older Ultimate Cake-Off episodes, they bring in a cake that Margaret piped and ask the competitors to pipe a similar cake in only 15 minutes.  My goal in making this cake was to create something similar (from what I could remember).  Of course, I took longer than 15 minutes. :)

Starting with the cake itself, I decided to try a red velvet cake.  I used a recipe from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible.  The first notable characteristic of this recipe was that it called for 1 BOTTLE of red food coloring...  There was no mistaking its color.

Another interesting characteristic of this recipe was that it was supposed to make either a 9" heart or a 9x2" round.  ONE 9x2" round.  However, when I was making this recipe I tried to weigh my dry ingredients.  However, all I own is a cheap, non-digital, grocery store brand scale, which I now realize tends to underestimate.  As a result, I think I ended up with a little more batter than the ever-so-meticulous Rose...

Have I mentioned that I am actually not nearly as big a fan of the actual baking as I am of decorating?  I like cooking-- it's much less precise and more forgiving.  In particular, I like to cook by feel-- no recipe.  Baking is so scientific.  I guess I should prefer that approach since I'm an engineer, but I guess I'm more interested in the artistry of decorating.  I do enough technical stuff...  That said, I want to make sure my cakes are delicious, so I do the whole baking thing. ;)

Anyway, I ran the numbers and decided that 1 9x2" round was roughly equivalent to 2 6x2" rounds.  Now that I'm actually paying attention to the numbers, I guess the 2 6" pans less volume than the 1 9" round...  Anyway, I chose to use 2 6" rounds and didn't bother to use any less batter than what I had prepared, since the pans only seemed to be a little less than 2/3 full.  However, the batter rose quite a bit.  Nothing overflowed, thankfully, but I think I need to err on the side of caution when filling my pans.

No mistaking what color this velvet is...

To stack the cakes, I trimmed off the tops that mushroomed over the pans, and then torted them with a cake leveler.

I filled the layers with chocolate ganache, using plain buttercream as a barrier.

Mmmmm.... Ganache...

After stacking all four layers, I iced the outside of the cake with another Rose recipe: Dreamy White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing.


This icing recipe is drastically different from what I've really worked with in the past (though it's very tasty).  Because it has a high concentration of chocolate, it dried VERY hard in the fridge.  It actually cracked in spots.  Before I covered this cake in fondant, I went over it and filled in the cracks and re-smoothed with a very very thin layer of buttercream.

Covering with fondant was again a challenge.  This time, as a new challenge, I colored the fondant that peachy-pink color.  I used the dough hook on my kitchen aid to knead the fondant and knead in the color.  This helped soften the fondant significantly, but did create some air bubbles.

I had an easier time rolling, but had a rough time with cracking and tearing.  It took me two attempts to get the cake covered, and because of the cake's aspect ratio, it was very hard to smooth.  Imagine a tablecloth: the wrinkles have to go somewhere.  I started smoothing sideways, and this was a mistake, because I ended up with wrinkles that had nowhere to go.  Ultimately, I made some compromises and got it covered, but it had obvious imperfections.  Fortunately, I'm taking a beginning fondant class in early march and can hopefully pick up some pointers.  I think I need to elevate the cake, but I was afraid of making this cake topple off of something that wasn't designed to support a small diameter cake.  

Then comes the fun part-- royal icing piping. 

I started with the only detail I really remembered from the Ultimate Cake Off cake-- the swags.  These swags are described in Margaret's book, too.

It's interesting to read the literature of different cake artists-- they all have their own signature repertoire and idiosyncrasies... and things they feel strongly about.  For example, Margaret Braun says in her book that airbrushes are for T-shirts and vans, and that cakes ought to be painted.  Sylvia Weinstock seems to think that fondant is the most vile stuff on the planet and she'd never serve it to her guests, so she won't use it on her cakes.

Anyway, back to Margaret's piping.  She is known for her piping skills, but as I look through the cakes in Cakewalk, it's clear that she has a reasonable sized repertoire of things she uses over and over again, and does very well.  But you don't see her doing a little bit of everything, like you see on more of the cake shows.  That said, I think what she does is very effective, so I want to learn to emulate some of those signature moves.

Margaret does these royal icing pearls.  Well, my royal icing was too stiff to make mine look like hers, so I settled for old-fashioned dots.  Since my icing was stiff, I had to push down the little points with my fingertip.

Here I'm piping the strings.  You see that you hold the tip away from the cake and let gravity form the string.  You control the pressure and duration to control the length of the string, and you attach it on the other side.   You can also see one of the marred areas of fondant in this picture.

Finishing the string.

The completed cake-- pre-painting.

Everything on the cake was piped with royal icing using various sizes of round tips.  The only exception is the bottom border, which was made from white fondant, twisted into a rope (also an idea from Braun's book).

To finish the cake, I took another page out of Braun's book (so to speak) and hand painted all the piping with a pearl paint, which is made from pearl dust and vodka.  

Fortunately, the pearl color on white is pretty forgiving if you miss a little spot.  A lot of the detailing in Braun's work is painted gold-- that's a lot more obvious.  I'll get there, but I need to find a good gold dust first.

The completed cake.

I think I succeeded in creating a cake with a Margaret Braun flavor, that still has my own personal interpretation.  Obviously with practice, all the techniques will get cleaner and more consistent.  And, ultimately, I'll get my fondant to behave.  I just bought a 2 ft length of PVC pipe that will serve as my new rolling pin....



It'd make a nice wedding cake top, don't you think?  :)

That's all for now, more royal icing and flowers after my class on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wilton Cake 2- Class 1 Recap

Since I'm sure your blood sugar is getting low from lack of cake blogging (I know mine is), I thought I'd write a little post to recap my class from last night, even though I won't really have any new pictures till next week.

This was my first class in a 4 class series for Wilton Cake 2.  In this class, we were given some medium consistency buttercream to practice the techniques on a practice board.  Since I wiped away all of my work, I don't have any evidence for you to see. 

We started off with the rosette, which I wasn't crazy about.  Then we reviewed the shell border, and practiced the reverse shell.  I found I was a little dyslexic when it came to the reverse shell; when looking at the pattern on my practice sheet I found I went the opposite direction.  I guess you have to go the 'wrong' way first to loop around, much like a question mark. 

Then we moved on to the rosebud.  This technique caused a lot of moaning and groaning in class.  After you pipe the first petal, you have to pipe the second such that it grabs the original petal and overlaps to create the twisting effect in the center. 

We finished the class with the chrysanthemum.  We did ours with buttercream, and we had flower nail templates that we could cut out help regulate the size of the petals, as you see in the picture on the Wilton website. 

Next week, we move into royal icing.  Royal icing is nice to work with because it dries hard-- harder than buttercream.  It is made with egg whites and powdered sugar or with meringue powder, water, and powdered sugar.  You can also add a little flavoring to it, if desired.  In the next two weeks, we'll be making royal icing flowers that we'll save to put on our cake that we'll make in the final class.  The final class cake will look a lot like the cake in my 2nd post:

As you may recall, all of those flowers were made with royal icing as well. : )

Anyway, I may make another cake for fun this weekend-- maybe a valentines themed cake... I have a lot of techniques in mind that I'd like to try.  I've been reading Margaret Braun's Cakewalk, and have been wanting to try some of her piping work.  Also, I managed to secure a copy of Joseph Lambeth's book-- The Lambeth Method of Cake Decoration and Practical Pastries.  His piping work is nothing short of museum quality.  His techniques involve a lot of layering of intricate piping to create borders and designs that you just don't see anymore, except maybe from competition cakes.  It is likely that it would be too time consuming to pipe some of this stuff that it would be impossible for the cakes to be profitable in any commercial cake shop.  However, I think his book will be a very valuable learning tool.  Note: both of these books are somewhat rare-- I had trouble finding copies.  So if you're interested, keep an eye open in a local used book store, or hope that they print new editions soon... 

Next week I'll be bringing home royal icing flowers from class, so I'll be sure to post pictures of those with my class recap.  :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wilton Cake 1- Final Class Cake!

Tonight was my final class in the Wilton Cake 1 series.  But don't fret!  I start Cake 2 next week. :)

For tonight we had to bring an iced cake to class, plus all of our buttercream in appropriate consistencies, colored as desired, and loaded into our parchment/ pastry bags.

At the beginning of class, we went over the Wilton rose.  We piped these onto wax paper squares on #7 flower nails, and let them dry till we were ready to decorate our cakes.

 In this class, we also went over the sweet pea, the bow, and leaves.

After going over the techniques, we had the last ~25 mins to work on our cakes.  For this cake, the roses were placed around a mound of buttercream to give them some height.  By this point, the roses had dried some and could be lifted (carefully) with a flower lifter or scissors, and placed onto the cake. 

After placing the cluster of roses, I filled in with some leaves and vines. 

This cake has already been spoken for by one of my friends, who was celebrating his one year anniversary with his girlfriend.  I piped the message with tip 3 after I finished the rose cluster and leaves.

I piped tip #21 shell borders on the bottom and top, and piped sweet peas all around the bottom border.

Finally I placed the fourth rose above the message, and finished the cake with a couple extra sweet peas on the top.

So I earned my official Wilton course completion certificate!  Hopefully my friend is happy with this cake... :)
Now on to Course 2!