Sunday, November 16, 2014

Frozen, but not

Frozen is such a hugely popular theme for kids' parties these days.  I don't really get it - to me the movie was ok, but not one of my favourites.  I didn't even really like the music all that much, which was a shame.   My friend who commissioned this cake is a mum with 2 little girls and said it was a movie with really great values.  I had to Google what those values were and I think if I had to Google it, then is a 6 yo really going to know?  

Maybe I lack the subtlety to appreciate this movie.  I got more out of the Lion King or Brave than I did from Frozen, but I guess it's just me.  The whole world seems to love it, and certainly hordes of little girls do! 

Big credit to Seb1079 on Cakecentral for the original design.  I was relieved when Michelle said she wanted something like that picture but without the Olaf (no figurines, yay!).  It was nice to do some ombre ruffles for a non-wedding cake, and a good excuse to have a play with Isomalt for the gems.  

I can't say the isomalt was a complete success (as you can tell from the bubbles in the gems), though I think I was getting more of the hang of it by the end.  I had started with a variety of blues/clear but by the end of all the heating and stirring it all got mixed in together.  I seemed to spend a lot of time running to and from my stove to reheat the sugar.  It would often set while I was pouring it into the molds, which was really annoying, until I realised I could just use a silicon cupcake case to pour from and throw that in the microwave every so often (duh, why didn't I think of that sooner!).

It also helped me to oil the mold lightly with coconut oil - once set, the gems popped out really easily.  Actually the hardest part was getting the gems to stick to the fondant.  The instructions in the Craftsy class Into to Isomalt say you can heat the backs of the gems to get them to adhere.   I found that heating the backs of my gems only caused my heatproof silicon mat to turn black, and by the time I picked up the gem and tried to stick it on the cake, the back of the gem had set again and was no longer tacky.  I ended up using my regular sugar glue to stick the gems on.  I tried glucose syrup as it is less watery, but all that ended up happening was that the gems would stick for a bit, then slowly work their way southwards, leaving a viscous sticky trail.  I glued the gems on the morning of the party to try and minimise the gems dissolving before the event.

As always, I had lots of fun making the fondant ruffles.  I can never quite get mine as delicate as Maggie Austin but they're still pretty I think!  Anyway the birthday girl was really delighted with the result, and despite having to go to hospital on her birthday, her mum told me that when she was feeling herself again, couldn't stop telling all the nurses about the jewels on her cake!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

More rump please

This next client was a work colleague of the mum-to-be of my previous baby bump cake, and was so impressed by it she immediately commissioned one for her expecting friend!  She even loved the carrot cake so much she wanted carrot cake again (cue inward groaning haha). 

The couple had chosen to wait to find out whether it was a boy or a girl, so I was only given colours a couple of days prior to pickup.  It was a little stressful, as I like to have at least some idea of what I'm going to be doing beforehand!

I was so glad it was pink - I love working in soft shades of pink for cakes, and I think it showed.  All my favourite things - ombre, pink, frills and soft flowers.  She asked for the most words I have ever had to put on cake, and this was complicated by the fact that it was only a small 7" round!  Thank goodness for the mini alphabet stamps I bought with a gift voucher way back when.  I also had the same issues as last time with working with soft cake and bulging between layers, but I was mostly able to successfully cover it up.  

When she saw the cake she gasped and said it was amazing.  Totally worth all the stress haha

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pumpkin puree: 4 ways

I've been a little overexcited about root vegies and pumpkins lately.  Don't ask me why - maybe it was the recent hail and rainy weather that we've had despite spring having sprung some almost 2 months ago. 

Anyway, in all my enthusiasm I roasted a whole tray of pumpkin (ironbark and jap), steamed another kilo (to add to our daily green smoothies), and roasted a mixed tray of swedes, parsnips and home grown sweet potato, intending that I would bring a few pieces to work every day for my 4pm afternoon snack. 

Fast forward 4 days and it became screamingly apparent that despite our best efforts, we were not going to get through all of it quickly enough, so I pureed the lot in a failed attempt to make soup (despite throwing tomatoes and carrots into the mix, it wasn't enough to overcome the strong smell of swede).  What's a girl to do with an icecream container full of (mostly) pumpkin puree?  What else - bake, of course! 

I sat the puree into a sieve to drain off some of the liquid and then I got to work.  First up, the naughty:  

Pumpkin, cheese and rosemary scones
Lorraine from NotQuiteNigella says in her blog that she had 3 of these, lathered in butter, before she remembered she had to photograph them.  Yes, they are that good - oh-so-fluffy, subtle pumpkin, salty savoury cheese richness and then you get that scent of rosemary.  Having had a mostly paleo diet for some time, it was very, VERY difficult to just stop at one of these.  How I've missed you, flour! 

And then the not-as-naughty: 

Chai pumpkin bread courtesy of 
A couple of years ago I was given a small box of T2 choc chip chai as a Kris Kringle present.  It smells amazing and I like the tea, I just don't happen to drink a lot of tea, so safe to say it's still about 90% full.  The recipe for this pumpkin bread intrigued me because it meant I could use up more leftovers!  I made a few modifications to the original recipe as follows: 
  • I had a couple of tbsp of leftover sun butter, so I used that first and then topped up the rest of the cup with the required almond butter 
  • As per the recommendation of one of the reviewers I added 3 tbsp of tapioca flour for added fluffiness and colour 
  • I increased the honey from 1/4 cup to just under a 1/2 cup, but in hindsight it really didn't need it
  • I had a real craving for prunes (and have some that are very close to their best before) so chopped about a half cup and tossed that in at the end 
  • I used about 2 tsp of my choc chip chai in lieu of the contents of 2 chai tea bags 

Most of the paleo recipes I've tried have been great, but one thing I haven't really liked so much is the banana breads - always overly wet and gooey on the inside, and with almost no structure (it's so wet and/or coconutty that it just all falls to bits and you have to eat it with cutlery instead of just being able to pick up a slice).  What I really loved about this recipe is that you honestly (and I'm not exaggerating here) cannot tell that it's paleo.  Aside from occasionally crunching into whole spices (whole cloves are sooo strong!), its absolutely delicious and I can definitely see myself making this one over and over. Best of all, I did the whole thing in my food processor.  Easy peasy! 

On an aside, I love her blog and am slowly working my way through her posts.  Such humour!  Such amazing recipes - I can't wait to try them all! 

Speaking of ooey and gooey: 

Ooey gooey chocolate chip pumpkin bars
I still had heaps of vegie mush left, and this recipe uses a good 3/4 cup, yay!  I didn't have any chocolate chips so I also took the opportunity to chop up some of the leftover chocolate that Steve and I haven't gotten excited about (they've been sitting around for so long they bloomed.  oops), like some dark Hershey mini-blocks and Lindt coconut.

Steve really loved these little bars, I didn't mind the gooiness this time because it wasn't trying to pretend to be a bread.  They're moist and chewy and very more-ish, but definitely a sometimes treat.  To me, coconut sugar is still sugar, and I have enough problems with that addiction thank you very much!

Now last but not least:

Pumpkin spice macarons
This recipe came to me from my friend Tina who is also interested in healthier eating (thanks Tina!) as a suggestion to use up the rest of my pumpkin puree. At work I've been calling them pumpkin coconut bites, so as not to be confused with the French macarons (made with egg whites, almond meal and icing sugar) or the coconut macaroons of my childhood.

I wanted to use up all of my puree, so I had closer to 1 full cup, and I omitted the honey because I discovered belatedly that my coconut flakes were sweetened (not happy, McKenzies! I bought the pack some months ago before reading the label - silly me for thinking that moist coconut flakes would be just that). Steve wasn't quite so keen on these, they've very moist, quite sweet and very pumpkin spice-y.  I had great reviews from my co-workers and I like them, but I'm reluctant to eat much from this batch because of how sweet they are.  I'll have to try them again sometime with unsweetened coconut and less puree!  

There's so much I didn't know you can do with pumpkin aside from roasts and soups.  I even saw a recipe for pumpkin (paleo) ice cream!  I think I'm coming close to exhausting my pumpkin obsession for now, but I'll be sure to give it a go in the future.

Friday, October 10, 2014

When Cinderella meets Optimus Prime

Ash proposed to Lizzie on her 'Dirty 30' costume party when she was dressed as Cinderella and he as Optimus Prime.  How romantic!  

She booked me for her wedding cake about a year in advance.  It always stuns me how early I get booked for weddings! 

I thought I had heaps of time but blink and suddenly the big day was looming!   

Due to the flooding of natural light coming in behind the cake, I'm hoping the professional pictures come out much better than what my little point and shoot managed to capture.  
She provided toppers for her wedding cake to reference their engagement, and wanted an elegant white cake with a cascade of red roses.  Originally she wanted sugar roses, but later went for the fresh route.  I was actually initially relieved, as that many roses, in that depth of colour, would've taken some time!  But closer to the day I started to fret: how do people attach real roses to cake?  Will the roses stay fresh in the 6 hours between delivery and the reception?  

It turned out to be really easy.. I had arranged to meet with the florist at the venue, and we were to attach the roses together, using wads of fondant.  When I arrived and finished stacking the cake, the florist basically took over and stuck all the roses straight into the cake herself!  I take no responsibility for any wilting or food poisoning, ok? haha

The top tier to keep was fruit cake, the middle tier gluten free orange butter cake, and the bottom layer chocolate with peanut butter filling.  I had loads of issues smoothing the middle tier - the 
gluten free flour made what is usually a solid butter cake very, very soft.  I had more grief from that middle tier alone than from the other together!   

Those scrolls were deceptively hard to put on in a straight line, and made harder for the fact that I didn't measure anything so ended up with some sections being a little squished and some very gape-y.  The wonderful thing with cake is that it doesn't matter how a small section looks up close, what matters is how the whole cake looks overall.

And overall, I don't think anyone noticed =P

Sunday, October 5, 2014

And the carving continues!

For this baby shower cake they asked for a replica of the "Me to you" bear cake by Bake-A-Boo cakes. 

I've never before had to cut away so much cake in such a short space of time!  I generally avoid anything that requires cake carving because I already have enough problems controlling myself with snacking on just the cake trimmings themselves, but when you're cutting up/cutting away big chunks of cake and it's late at night and there are no witnesses... well you get the picture!  

The part that was surprisingly difficult was trying to colour the buttercream grey! I just assumed I could add black to vanilla buttercream and it would turn grey.  Instead, it turned a really odd greenish colour.  I read somewhere that adding all primary colours together creates black, so I just kept throwing more and more colours at it.  It felt like an interminably long time before I eventually threw down my spatula and decided "no more!! close enough good enough!"  So the bear ended up a weird yellow-grey colour lol

Next time I think I'll ganache the cakes together instead of just using buttercream.  I feel like ganache can set as firm as concrete, whereas the buttercream couldn't really hold up the weight of the cake for parts like sticking the arms to the body.  I would also use a firmer cake.  Rose Levy's All-American Chocolate Butter Cake is deliciously moist, soft and dark and great to carve while frozen, but once it came to room temperature, any attempt at carving would leave you with a pile of crumbs.  Luckily I carved the head and body while it was still quite firm, then moved on to the feet and legs.  The arms were made with cake scraps mixed with enough frosting to turn it into a sort of dough, but by the time I went to cut out circles for the ears the cake was very much at room temperature and very soft and crumbly.  Cutting and covering the ears was far more trouble than  I could've imagined!

This cake needed to serve 30.  I baked 2 x 7" layers for the body, a tall-ish 5" layer for the head, and a couple of extra 7" layers for the other body parts.  I ended up with most of one layer left as spare (better to have too much!).  There was a cardboard round under the head, with tall bubble tea straws inside the body for support, and a long skewer through the head down the length of the body to hold it all together.

Starting the piping
I had real issues with the arms falling off and because the cake was so soft every time I tried to smear on more buttercream I just found myself pulling off more and more cake.  About 8 toothpicks went into holding up those arms, about 4 toothpicks went into holding up the nose.  When that didn't work (for the arms), I used a couple of small pieces of bubble tea straws.  That seemed to hold things for a bit... and then the morning after I thought I had finished everything, I came down the stairs to discover that the right arm had fallen away from the body.  One more toothpick and a big squirt of frosting later, it was somewhat reattached (more like I just filled in the gap!!).  I kept that cake in the coolest part of the house to keep it from expanding and cracking any more, and then counted the minutes until it was collected.  Pretty sure I say this every time, but I've never been so happy to see a cake go!

Can't paint to save my life, and it turns out that my handwriting skills are pretty lacking too - 3 footpads died in the making of this one (which I didn't have time to wait until it hardened, so the edible pen cut into the fondant some.  Oops).

And the finished product!

I had heaps of compliments for this cake - with many people saying that it looked too real to be cake!  My favourite pictures of the cake at the party were of them cutting it (though some said the decapitation was a brutal act of cruelty, nothing makes me happier than seeing people eat my cake!), and the biggest compliment was of the mother-to-be saying that her hubby was still enjoying the cake for breakfast the next day.

I'm really happy with how it worked out in the end, but have to give full credit and a huge thank you to Bake-A-Boo cakes for their original design and free online tutorial, which I found to be invaluable and took away a lot of the stress I would otherwise have had.   I'm so grateful to her for sharing her step-by-step. If more people were as generous, the world would be such a different place =)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Basic carving and a baby bum!

This baby bum cake was quite fun to put together.  I had been anxiously mulling over how to do the legs and feet but in the end it all somehow came together!  The most difficult part was covering the cake itself, actually.  

Cute little toesies!
While I love carrot cake, due to the lack of butter it's so soft that even though I piped a dam around every layer, bulging still took place once the layers were stacked and crumb coated.  And no matter how many times I went around and around and how much white chocolate ganache I added, I could not get the damn thing to not bulge!  So frustrating.   I actually had a different design in mind but had to scrap that to try and disguise the bulge using texture.

To that end, in a way it all ended up being a happy mistake.  I often suffer from over-decoratoritis (as Kerry Vincent likes to call it) and throw all sorts at a cake.  This time I wanted to keep it very simple and clean, just focussing on colour and texture, and I just love button themed cakes for baby showers.

Though the mum was having a little girl, she didn't want any pink or for the cake to be too girly (she's hoping her girl will be a tomboy!), so she chose purple and tiffany blue as her colour scheme.  What an amazing combo! 

The feet were all fondant, but the legs were made from scraps held together with leftover lemon buttercream, rolled into tubes and then covered with ganache.  The 'bum' was a 6 inch round that I roughly carved into a dome shape and crumb coated with ganache and then white fondant (quite untidily, because I knew it would all be covered with the blanket and ruffles anyway).  

This cake ended up being one of my most popular on FB for some reason, and another lady from the same workplace asked me to do another in a few weeks' time for a friend of hers, what a compliment!   

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A non-Peppa pig

I was a bit apprehensive when I got the brief for this cake - it seemed like there was so much to remember and I was sure something would slip through and I'd ruin it all:
  • 2 tiers 
  • colours to match the birthday girl's dress, but not too much yellow/green 
  • dancing pig on top
  • her name in building blocks 
  • no big bow (the picture she sent to me as a guide had a big bow)
  • not too much pink 
  • the pink to be a cool shade of pink, not a warm shade of pink
  • a no. 1 somewhere
When something seems overwhelming (not just cake requirements!) it always helps me to write it all down and just work your way down the list.  

The crooked vertical stripes are driving me nuttttssss aarrgghhh
I made the pig and the building blocks ahead, and then agonised for some time over where/how to put the no. 1.  I was tired when I decided to go with the frill oval plaque, and in hindsight now I wish I'd opted for something smaller (when I glued it on I actually yelled out to Steve "oh my freaking god it looks like there's something obscene on this 1st birthday cake!!"), but overall I think the cake still looks soft and pretty.

The pig pic she sent for me to use as a guide
Ultimately, I was just really happy that the pig she wanted wasn't a Peppa Pig and I still think my little piglet is quite cute, don't you? =)