Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hello 2015!

My first cake for 2015 was for my boss' birthday and I took the opportunity to hit another bird with the same stone and use it as a canvas to do some more practice!  

Inside it was another sort of a frankencake - my April bride asked to sample some flavours, so I baked all 4, set aside her sample portions and put the rest into this cake: chai spiced buttercake, mocha spiced buttercake, marble buttercake and white chocolate mudcake.

Later this year I will need to reproduce a brushstroke finish using a metallic colour. I was hoping I might be able to brush through some silver leaf to achieve it, but this cake taught me that that wouldn't be possible.  Those white-ish blocks are where I tried to semi-adhere the silver leaf, then brush through it with a wet brush to 'antique' it and hopefully get it to streak.  I didn't get the effect I was after with that, so I think with the actual cake I will have to paint with gold lustre instead.  The rest of the brush stroke painting worked really well and I'm feeling more confident with reproducing that effect later this year.

The last practice component was that I will have to speckle a couple of toppers with gold, 'like sunlight'.  I made a simple succulent for my boss and attempted to speckle that.  Not so successful there (IMO I ruined a perfectly good succulent lol).  I might simply use gold lustre and flick a brush next time, or get some of the gold flakes and try sticking those down instead of trying to tear up the sheets myself.

I'll admit, it's something quite different to my usual style but I really like it.  It made me step out of my comfort zone, producing something quite abstract and random, as opposed to my usual obsessively planned work.  My boss loved it and refused to cut it at work, preferring instead to take it home and show off at his family reunion some 3 days later!  If I had known he would do that, I would have made a bigger cake, and something that more reflected him! haha but nevermind, I'll still take the compliment, and plan a little better for next year!  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Practice makes perfect ... eventually

Later this year I will need to wrap a wedding cake in edible gold leaf and then stencilling over the top, something that I've never done before.  It turns out that gold is about 3x more expensive than silver!  I know what I'll be practising with haha

This 'cake' is another one of my frankencakes, made from a combination of white chocolate mudcake crumbs, dutch cocoa, rum, raisins and roughly chopped almonds.  It's Christmas, why not have something on a theme of choc rum balls, right?  I packed the mixes tightly into 3 x 10cm springform rounds and froze them to firm them up.  Once firm I stacked and ganached them as I would with a regular cake, then let them come to room temperature.  There was no small amount of sagging but I fixed that up and let it re-set over the course of a day or so.

Really I just wanted a 'canvas' to use to practice 2 techniques: panel wrapping the cake with modelling chocolate, then applying and stencilling over the top of the metallic leaf.

The first thing I learned was that, as with anything, the finish is only as good as the coat it's applied on.  So in this case, when I panelled the sides I didn't join the 'lid' properly, so you can see where there is a slight crease at the top edge.

The second thing I learned was to apply the transfer sheet from the top down (as opposed to aligning the edge of the sheets to the bottom of the cake.  You can see the seam a couple of cm from the top edge.

The third thing I learned was that if you don't brush or spray the sides of the with water or some other kind of moisture, the leaf will not stick.  Moisture made by the heat of your hands on the modelling chocolate isn't good enough.  Despite giving the appearance of sticking, when I pulled the stencil off, it took a better chunk of the leaf off with it.

What is sort of good is that you can pretty much fix anything.  I pulled off what came off easily by dry brushing over the top of it, then I lightly wet my brush with water and brushed over the blank spaces just to make it tacky.  I then reapplied the leaf, and let it sit for several hours, or until it was pretty much dry and didn't come off onto my fingers when touched.

Then I stencilled again.  This time I was a bit lazy, the royal icing mix was a bit too wet and I didn't bother scraping it smooth.  I wasn't looking for a perfect finish, I just wanted to see whether it would work.  And for the most part, it did!

I'm really glad I gave this a good shot.  I learned a lot by the exercise, feel more confident about being able to produce a better finish for an April wedding, and my work colleagues (what few of us worked through the Christmas/New Year week) didn't complain when I brought the 'cake' in for a treat =)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A woodland birthday.. on NYE!

My final cake for 2014 and what a high to end on!   Still one of my favourite cakes of all time (and there are some really lovely pics of my cake on this blog), Tenille asked if I could make her daughter's first birthday cake - for her party on NYE! 

She had chosen some really beautiful invites for me to theme the cake on and I had lots of fun putting them together!  (tho if I had my time over I would make the deer look less like an owl with horns lol)

One tip I would give to myself and to anyone else is to make sure you have enough of an allowance between tiers or (in my case) between the cake and the base cake board for the animals to sit on.  I didn't think about this before I went to put the animals on and I wasn't going to spend the hours making them over, so I was a little restricted as to how to place them.

Luckily it all came together in the end!  The trees I cut freehand from a combination of fondant and modelling chocolate (I used the same mix for the animals, hoping they will taste better than gumpaste).

The bottom tier was chocolate mudcake with chocolate ganache and the top tier vanilla butter cake with white chocolate ganache.  I heard that one of the guests commented that it was the best butter cake she had ever tasted, so thank you Rose Levy Beranbaum for your delicious recipe!

I'm really delighted with this cake and I feel like this and my previous one really showcase how much I've learned and improved this year with my cakes.  Onwards and upwards for 2015!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas bundle of joy

And just like that, gender reveals became all the rage.

This one was a bit interesting though - mum wanted to a combination Christmas theme and gender reveal cake so that she and her family could find out together on Christmas Day.  She wanted a stork cake with a Christmas bundle.  

I was glad that she was happy with a seated stork and not a standing one (given there was only 3 days between this cake and the previous there was no way I was going to attempt a standing stork!) but even so, I have to admit that I cake-crastinated for a looooong time on this one because in my  head it had all become bigger than Ben Hur! haha

As usual though, once I started the work, it ended up being less frightening than I thought and in fact, I had more difficulty with the sack (damn you red fondant that always wants to tear!) than with the rest of the stork.  In the end I rolled out some gumpaste very thinly and pressed that to the back of the red fondant and put them both together through the pasta roller.  This way I got the red colour on the outside, with the strength of the gumpaste on the inside.  

She had initially asked for Christmas toys on the oustide of the sack, but I said to her that I thought it would look better (and be easier) to have snowflakes on the sack and toys around the cake.  She then asked for little baby's legs/feet popping out of the sack instead, which was fine by me (such little toes!).

The part that caused me the biggest headache though was the baking of the cake itself!  I needed to colour it pink and usually I never have a problem with colouring butter cake, but this time with white chocolate mudcake I don't know if it was due to the length of time in the oven, but both times when I torted the cake the pink was saturated at the top of the cake and was a regular golden yellow at the bottom.  Accidental ombre!

I had originally intended to hang a blue and pink stocking with 'he' and 'she' written on them under the plaque, but it just didn't look right, so I had to hide the glue marks with snowflakes.   Nobody seemed to notice, teehee.

Santa's little helper did a boo boo!
She was really delighted with the cake and so was I.  I really hate sculpting cakes, and I prefer not to bake into this Christmas time because of all the other things I have to do, but I feel like this time it was really worth the effort.

Merry Christmas all!  Hope you have a safe, happy and feastful silly season!

Note to self to sprinkle on the 'snow' after affixing the trees so you don't have to go putting your fingerprints all over it! haha

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.