Saturday, March 15, 2014

No fondant for you!

On returning from my little overseas holiday I had to hit the ground running and get my little kitchen warmed up again.  It was quite possibly the oddest brief I had ever received: 
  • Chocolate cake with hazelnut buttercream filling 
  • 2 golden pineapples (top halves only) 
  • Happy 21st Birthday Emma written in gold 
  • After initially requesting an ocean blue coloured cake with gold details, later saying  - 
"The client does not like fondant, does she have to have fondant, she would much prefer just brown choc buttercream with gold writing, the gold can be in fondant"
Owwwwkay  - so I gather that you don't want fondant then?

I don't necessarily have a problem with the look of a pure buttercream finish, I guess what always confuses me is the fact that people seem to think that because the fondant is there, they MUST eat it, or that there's no buttercream at all underneath (not realising that between the fondant and the cake is a layer of buttercream or ganache).  It seems to be such an 'all-or-nothing' thing for many people.  Let it be known that I don't eat fondant myself - I peel it off every time.  I don't think it adds anything to the taste of the cake except a chewy sweetness (and unnecessary food colouring at times), but I like to use fondant on my cakes because I find it difficult to get as smooth a finish with  buttercream as I do with the fondant (this cake took just as long without the fondant as it would have with the fondant).  I also find it to be more forgiving if I need to play around with the placement of decorations, or if the cakes need to be stacked I don't have to be so precious about touching the sides.  In this case, if the client hadn't been so anti-fondant, she could still have had her (ocean blue) cake and eaten it too!

I asked the function coordinator twice whether the party themed (tropical/hawaiian etc) but I was told that there was no theme and that "however you do the pineapples will be fine"... so  I decided to put my efforts into making the best gold pineapples I could! 

Does anyone else think it looks like a giant cheesy grin with huge torpedo eyes??
To make the pineapples, I made up a batch of RKTs, formed them into hemispheres of a similar size, covered those hemispheres with white modelling chocolate, then a very thin layer of gold fondant (which I probably didn't need, in hindsight).  I bought a real pineapple, and made a mold of a section of about 7 or 8cm wide.  Into this mold I pressed a double layer of gold and green fondant (just because pineapples are usually a little bit greenish).  I froze the mold for a few minutes, pressed out the impression onto the domes and then pushed/squeezed them together to fit.

Once I put the pineapples together I oversprayed them with a Wilton gold spray, which was actually a lot paler a shade of gold than I expected.

This pic taken with flash so you can the gold shimmer
I used some old modelling (dark) chocolate to cover the cake board.  This modelling chocolate was so stiff I could barely get it through my pasta roller without it cracking and breaking but somehow I managed to make it work.  

Anyway, despite a lot of little imperfections (scrape marks etc), I'm still pretty pleased with how sharp I got my corners.

It's possibly the most simplest cake I've ever produced.  In hindsight I wish I had used smaller lettering, but even then I feel like it would still have looked odd (just 2 giant bazooka pineapples haha).  An upside to having no fondant, this cake smelled simply amazing in the car!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Have cake, will fly

Still reeling from the backlash of my last cake experience, I had already begun working on my next cake. One for my favourite client - me!  I was chafing from the restrictions that had been imposed on me with the previous cake order that it was such a relief to be able to do anything and everything that I wanted to do, so I got to be as lazy as I wanted (no smoothing of fondant for a change, woohoo!) and incorporated a few of my favourite elements - ombre, soft pink, vintage lace, pearls and a brooch.   

I wanted to take this cake overseas with me to see how well cake travels in a plane.  Have you ever seen a water bottle get all bent out of shape with cabin repressurising?  I was curious to see whether the air trapped in a cake would do the same.

The darkest shade of pink - at the base - is the same pink used in the vintage hat box cake
Another reason for throwing together this last minute cake was as a gift to my uncle for letting us stay with him for a few nights.  He doesn't really eat sweets, but I know he likes chocolate, so the cake was chocolate cake with hazelnut filling and dark chocolate ganache.

I love this lace!
I covered the cake with clingfilm, cut a cardboard box to fit securely around the cake board (top included), and taped the whole thing with packing tape.  The entire package fit into a small cooler bag which I hand carried onto the plane and which fit quite well under the seat in front of me (we were sitting at about row 44 or thereabouts, just when the seats at the sides of the plane go from 3 into 2, so I had a little more leg space - must remember this for next time I travel with cake!).

When we finally made it to my uncle's place (about an hour from the airport) I nervously cut the box open and much to my relief, the cake was just the same as I had packed it - no bubbling or melting to be seen, even the lace 'wings' were still standing upright.  Phew!

My elation was immediately dampened by my uncle's underwhelming response - 'oh well, it's the thought that counts'.  I would've been more offended if I wasn't already desensitised from years of receiving similar thoughtless comments from my dad!  It must run in the family haha

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's me ... and I can't get myself to go away

This post has been a long time in the making - at first I thought it was because I didn't have the words, but then I realised it was because there were too many words and I just couldn't work out how to set them out coherently.

I've been pretty blessed on my cake journey to have pretty lovely clients - even when their tastes don't align with mine, even when I've been frustrated by vague instructions or high expectations on low budgets, to this day I can't think of anyone who hasn't been thrilled with the end result.  

Well there's a first time for everything, right? 

I was really touched when a potential client asked if I could prepare ahead and freeze her engagement cake as I wouldn't be in Perth at the time of the party and she really wanted me to make it for her.  Because my previous experiment with freezing fully decorated cakes went so (relatively) well, I said that I was happy to go ahead with it, but that I would completely understand if she changed her mind and would prefer to go with someone who could make it fresh for her.   She stressed again that because she loved my work so much, she really want me to do it.  She initially said they wanted something relatively simple in shades of cream and white, then later wrote again and said they had changed their minds and wanted a vintage hat box theme and gave me a picture of a popular design by Cotton and Crumbs.

These days I prefer not to completely duplicate others' designs.  Aside from breaching copyright, it feels a little like.. cheating. 

Anyway, I used the design as a base, and tried to make it my own:

I used the corded lace molds I made late last year, cut out extra 'lacy' holes using a combination of small blossom cutters and piping tips, and stuck on some sugar pearls for extra texture.  To tie in a bit with the silver on the brooch, I placed tiny cachous between each of the pearls on the border at the base of the cake.

At that stage (prior to adding on the bow and flowers) I put the whole thing in the freezer overnight.  I wanted to make sure it would come to room temperature ok (though if it hadn't I have no idea what I thought I could do if it didn't work).  The good news is that the cake stayed in one piece.  The bad news is that water pooled everywhere. On the sides, on the top, in weird random ways, so there were droplets on one side but not the other.  

Also, while pieces of gumpaste/fondant lace will freeze and defrost perfectly fine on their own, when glued onto cake, the threadwork details dissolve into what I've termed (very technically) as indistinguishable 'goop'.  
I think the cutouts and sugar pearls were a nice touch - even if the corded lace part dissolves completely, from a distance something of interest should still be visible. Also note the tiny cachous between each pearl on the border! 
Because not all of the components can be frozen and she was going to be putting the cake back together, I broke my own rule of not sending pictures ahead of time (it opens up the possibility of people asking for 'revisions' when as far as I'm concerned, the work is complete) and sent her some pictures so she would have an idea of the placement of the parts.  

Her initial reaction was simply, "Is that pink?" 

After a pause, she went on to explain that  it looked like a hot/baby pink and that her fiance wouldn't have a pink cake, they had bought all their decorations and it just wouldn't go and that it wasn't the cake that she asked for.  She hastily corrected herself and said that aside from the pink, the cake was lovely.  I explained that in the picture that I printed out, the cake was a very soft pink, and that my version, while yes, it was a stronger pink than in the picture, it was still quite a soft pink in person.  I won't go into the details of the various exchanges we had (this isn't about blaming anyone), but I ended up agreeing to remove the decorations and covering over the pink with cream and white.

What a difference lighting makes - this is the same cake without the daylight lamp, just my regular kitchen lighting and taken with my iphone and not my camera (the shiny parts are from the lustre spray where I vainly attempted to lighten the pink - it only served to make the pink more shiny): 

In the process of getting a microderm abrasion lol
I didn't do this happily, but felt it was more important that she end up with something she was happy with.  It was about 1.30am Monday morning by the time I finished version 2:  

Still an elegant cake, I think
I had warned her that the finish wouldn't be as clean as the first (picking off the lace made dents in the pink fondant which in turn showed through onto the cream), the flowers couldn't be changed as they needed days to dry, and the lace had to be changed because I was now much shorter on time (and the larger piece covered all of the imperfections).  I had spent most of that weekend finishing the original cake and had actually begun work on my next cake which I was aiming to bring with me when I travelled overseas on the Thursday.

She came to collect the cake on the Monday evening.  She was friendly and our exchanges were pleasant.  I started to put the difficult experience behind me - thinking we'd come to a happy compromise - I knew the second version was much simpler than the first, but was still neat and elegant and, in truth, a better reflection of what I charged her in the first place.  The extra work I put into the pink version was given freely and with good feeling, but only because she was the best friend of a client who has given me almost all my wedding referrals for this year.

On the Wednesday afternoon (my flight was for 6.50am the following morning) I received a lengthy message from her saying that despite her best efforts, she hated the cream version, felt that she didn't get what she asked for and was now stuck with an expensive cake that she hated.  She asked me what could be done about this.

It's hard to think straight when your feelings are hurt (of course it's hurtful when someone says they 'hate' your work, and having the words 'quick fix' and 'substandard' bandied around doesn't quite lessen the sting, even when those words are used in the context of a backhanded compliment!) but some things were immediately obvious through the fog of hurt, offence and annoyance:

  • I wasn't sorry, ashamed or embarrassed about either of my cakes - I thought they were both lovely - I was proud of them and I wasn't going to let anyone take that away from me;
  • stemming from the above, I wasn't prepared to make any further revisions; 
  • even if I wanted to, there physically wasn't time; and 
  • I couldn't work with or for her again in the future. 

Was the last point a knee-jerk reaction?  I don't think so.  I don't know about other artists, but for me, any future orders I took from her would always have come tied in some unspoken feeling of debt - for me this would have been an almost oppressive obligation - to make up for this first bad impression.  For the rest of our working relationship I would be bowing and scraping always second-guessing my instincts and my own style ...  I don't want to live like that and certainly I don't want to choose to work like that.

I decided to cut my losses and apologetically offered to refund 50% of the cost of the engagement cake and the whole of her wedding cake deposit for next year, with the sincere wish that she find someone better suited to her needs.  It may have been a cowardly way out, but I just felt exiting this uncomfortable situation would be a relief not just for me, but also for her (she had said in one of her messages that she didn't want to have to go through this again with her wedding cake).

I truly wish the matter had ended there.  She was still messaging me while I was overseas and trying to enjoy the start of my holiday, the end result of which was a demand from her for a full refund immediately followed by her blocking me from Facebook (which I only realised after my holiday - by that stage I had decided to deal with work after my break was done - I don't even know if we were FB friends to begin with so no loss there! haha).  Oh and I stuck to my guns and only gave her back what I originally offered.

I'm not painfully rehashing all of this because I want to badmouth anyone, or because I'm trying to garner sympathy or reassurance that the cakes were fine - I truly believe (especially after how it all ended) that I did the right thing - I just want this ick PTSD feeling to go away (and am hoping that writing about this will be therapeutic in some way).  I don't want to flinch inside every time an email about cakes pops up in my inbox.  I now dread going home to work on cake.  Where once I would seek cake inspiration, seeing a cake flash past in my newsfeed now makes me nauseous.  I'm currently working on a wedding cake, and I have never  before been so paranoid about failure.  Rationally, it's ridiculous - one bad review out of so many positives shouldn't be enough to shake anyone's confidence, but it has.  I'm refusing orders I could take for next year with various excuses but the truth is I don't want to go through this all again either.  

I know it'll pass.  I think I just need to take it one cake at a time.  And keep breathing through this knot of anxiety and fear.

If I could only stop my mind...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mike the Knight x 2

My second cake for twin boys (a different pair though)! When their mum approached me saying she wanted a Mike the Knight cake for her boys, one in red and one in blue with their matching names on the cake, I had to Google what Mike the Knight was!  I'm so out of the loop with kids' cartoons these days (who remembers Thundercats, He-man, She-ra, Superted and Astroboy?  yes well that was more my era haha) 

Forgot their little badges, but this pic is less washed out than the next
It was only a little cake to serve 10, so I tried to put most of my effort into the figurines and a clean finish on the cake.  She wanted chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream.  The chocolate cake recipe I used was the same as the one in my previous lawnmowing cake and for the buttercream I simply pureed and strained a couple of handfuls of frozen raspberries and whipped that into some butter and icing sugar.  Such a great combination - the icing sugar offsets some of the tartness of the raspberries and marries nicely with the fudgey chocolate cake.  

I feel like I put the & symbol on back to front but I'm not sure.  Ever get that?  When you look at something you've seen a million times and second-guess yourself as to whether it's right?
Because I knew the cake itself wasn't going to be overly complicated, I wanted to do something different with the names, so I dug out my gumpaste blade for my Cameo Silhouette and got cutting with their names.  This literally felt like it took hours!! It might've been because I had to keep messing with the fondant mix to get it to the right consistency to cut.  Basically I find that coming out of the freezer it has to be pretty firm - the stiffness of cardboard - or else it'll just push the fondant around.  To this end, I added a LOT of tylose powder to the fondant/gumpaste mix I was already using.  

Speaking of fondant, I had run out of red, so I went to buy some more (I prefer to use a premixed red to get a deeper colour without the hassle and effort of kneading tubs of red gel colouring into white) and thought I'd give Mondo Cherry (described on the front of the tub as 'dark red') a go.  It smells like cherry, but in truth it's far more pink than red.  Very disappointing!! 

Anyway, it all seemed to come together in the end, though it seemed to take the better part of a whole day (seriously, where does the time go?!).  The figurines took a lot longer than I expected but I think they're 'close enough good enough', esp for 2 year olds!  The helms were a little stressful for me at first, but I ended up using various sizes of Wilton flat piping tips (eg No. 45) to cut the holes out, and I used this tutorial (which I love) for the number 2.   

The message I got from mum read: 
Thanks so much jacelyn its amazing u are so so clever how do u do it?? ... You should be very proud its brilliant cant wait 2 show everyone 2day!!
The little guy himself

Friday, February 7, 2014

Who loves lawnmowing? Not me!

Luckily it's not my birthday hahaha  One of the partners at my work asked if I could make a birthday cake for her brother in law who loves mowing his lawn (?? seriously, do such people exist cos if they do and it's contagious, can my Steve please go and stand near them for a while?? hahaha).  She said that usually her sister would bake him a cake, but she's short on time this year - she already knew what she had in mind - a man pushing a lawnmower and grass that looked mowed with 'happy birthday' written on it. 

I was trying to get the plaque to stick to the middle but it kept sliding down.  Sigh.
She initially wanted green coconut cake with green food colouring, which I baked and froze that weekend, then on the Monday said that they changed their minds and wanted chocolate.  I told her that I was happy to bake it all over in chocolate, but I thought it would look nice if the chocolate layers were interspersed with the green and she agreed to that.  

Love the 'mowed grass' effect!

I haven't given the Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake (what a mouthful, right) from the Cake Bible a go in a really long time, so I used this as a test bake opportunity.  I think from memory I wasn't crazy about the recipe the last time I baked it, but I have to say that I really enjoyed eating the cake scraps this time around!! I think the major difference was that I used Dutch processed cocoa (Nestle Plaistowe Premium) instead of regular baking cocoa - the result is a dark, fudgy, chocolatey, crumbly melt in the mouth cake with a fine crumb that's not too sweet (well, not to me anyway).

I used dark chocolate ganache over the whole cake, then crumbed the scraps of each of the cakes and pressed the chocolate crumbs to the sides and sprinkled the coconut crumbs over the top.  I then whipped up a batch (too much, as usual argh) of buttercream with a dash of Malibu.  I used my Cameo Silhouette to cut the text out of thin plastic sheets and placed them on the cake.  I piped the grass around it, and used a scribe tool to pick the letters off afterwards and smooth the 'grass' away to define the shapes a bit more.  The hardest parts were the smaller cetnres of the letters (eg the A, R, P etc) but I think it turned out quite well in the end.

The purple flowers were leftovers from the wedding cupcake tower I did late last year.  I kept the figurine and lawnmower really simplistic, but I received strong positive feedback both about the taste of the cake and the look of it (though many joked that the figurine had more hair than the real thing!), requests for business cards and a promise of more work to come.  I have a feeling the quiet year I was hoping for may not come to pass...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Boy cakes

What do you get someone who already has everything? Why, cake of course!  

My boss recently celebrated his 58th birthday and with all the cake-related gifts I've been lucky to receive from him over the past 6 years (Planet Cake books, blow torch, the Agbay etc) and because I would have no idea what to get him otherwise, I thought I'd bring in a small decorated cake for him. I have to say I find designing cakes for guys really challenging.  It was suggested to me (as he is a partner in a law firm) that I do something law-themed, like a gavel, for example.. but I didn't want to overcomplicate things.  I'm enjoying my cake down-time.  Why ruin it by stressing myself out? 

I wanted to do something geometric and just play with contrasting colours and half toyed in my mind with dusting off my Cameo/cake capabilities but was just too lazy (honestly, I'd spend just as many hours playing around with Studio Silhouette as I would playing with the cake itself!).    

Not really quilling, but I needed to hide a hole at the bottom of the 'N' and couldn't think what else to put there haha
I felt like eating carrot cake (gotta love how my boss' cake ends up being whatever I feel like eating!) and even though I knew from past experience that cream cheese under fondant was a huge 'no-no', I went ahead and gave it another shot.   I probably made things even more difficult for myself by using low-fat spreadable cream cheese (all we had in the fridge because I was too lazy to go to the shops) but I tried to mitigate this by adding white chocolate (I assumed - possibly wrongly - that this might help it to 'set').  The frosting was thick, but gloopy (if that's a word).  I basically roughly iced it, then fridged it for 30 minutes, then iced it some more and fridged it again and left it in the fridge while I cut out and painted the medallions.
I didn't dare flip this cake or apply too much, so rounded corners (as opposed to sharp) it is!
I put the fondant on it while it was still cold and firm and very quickly smoothed it down before it had too much of a chance to sweat.  Interestingly, much as it did last time, it didn't take long for it to begin ballooning out like a giant pimple on one side of the cake.  No matter how many times I popped the damn thing it just kept swelling back up again!! So strange!  So I made sure the medallions covered up the hole haha

I kept it in the fridge overnight, but by the time the cake got to the office and my boss was ready to cut it (about 4 hours later), the sides had started to sag and bulge between the layers.  Speaking of layers, if anyone has any doubts about the Agbay cutting through nuts and dried fruit, set those aside.  Once again, it cut like a dream.  Me so happy!

Anyway, it didn't matter in the end - I got rave reviews about the cake flavour itself, which was more important to me anyway.  The recipe was from the Crabapple Cupcake book, but I switched out walnuts for pepitas, added chopped apricots into the cake itself and used raisins instead of sultanas.  I was also short of carrot by about 0.5-0.75 of a cup and a full mix was able to make 4 layers of an 8 inch round (of which I only used in this cake, as I accidentally half dropped/crushed the side of one as I was flipping it over - never flip hot cake!).  Next time I will try switching out some of the vegetable oil for applesauce and reducing the sugar for a slightly healthier variation.

That evening I got started on my brother's belated birthday cake.

My baby bro turned 30 late last year, unbeknownst to his friends until after the day itself, so they decided to throw him a surprised belated birthday party to celebrate.  The organiser had heard through my bro that I was on a cake break so was too shy to ask me to bring something, but when I checked with her and heard that she was going to buy something from Coles.  Cheesecake shop, Miss Mauds, Michels Patisserie, all of these things would've been fine, but ... COLES!!!  I think we can do better than that!

I had been eyeing off Jessica Harris' gorgeous honeycomb/hexagon cake for some time.  She uses a set of nesting hexagon cutters, but in theory I couldn't see why, if you don't have those cutters, at a pinch the Cameo Silhouette wouldn't be able to produce the same result.

Yes, I did do some fondant recycling! 
I knew I wouldn't have time to cover the whole cake in hexagons, so I really just wanted to make a bit of a feature of it on one side.   After much time wasted fiddling and deciding on colour combinations I finally got started.

The Cameo successfully cut all the green hexagons and some of the yellow/gold ones. The rest I cut by hand as it was getting too frustrating trying to work out why the machine was cutting out the figure '6' instead of a hexagon, or why it was ripping this batch when it cut the previous batch cleanly, or why after cutting out 4 clean hexagons it would then start cutting figure 6's etc etc 

If I had simply decided to change the design, or cut them all by hand I think I would have finished much earlier than 3am!! 

I was initially going to use light blue small hexagons but didn't like how it looked against the green.  I also didn't really like the look of little gold ones, so I just threw all these spares (and the leftover round silver ones from my boss' cake) randomly onto the top so they weren't wasted.  

Top down
Once again, I chose cake that I felt like eating - almond paste cake with dark chocolate ganache (yay for getting to practice getting square corners! I love working with ganache).  Everyone loved it, and this 15cm cake managed to serve all 10 of us with about a third to spare (though one of the French guys was really scraping his plate and may have had another slice had he been offered one =P).

Birthday boy with his cake
The Cameo verdict:

  • I was using fondant, not gumpaste, so had to add tylose and freeze for about 5 minutes to get clean cuts (so don't do this in a rush). 
  • Have the machine ready to go before you take your fondant sheets out of the freezer - they defrost quite quickly. 
  • Don't put the hexagons too close together in the software. 
  • Rub the crisco/copha/shortening onto the fondant/gumpaste, not onto the mat - if you rub over too large a surface area, the rollers will slip and the machine won't push the mat into the correct position for the blade (which perhaps why I kept getting '6' instead of hexagon).
  • Clean the blade between each cut.  I got a lot of debris buildup for some reason. 
Overall I think it would've been much, much faster if I'd had hexagon cutters, especially if I had intended to cover the whole cake.  But still, it can be done with the Cameo.  Just don't ask me to do it again any time soon!!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

5 minutes with Peppa Pig

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was super lucky this Christmas to have received some amazing gifts. The first of these was my very own Agbay cake leveller.  I've been umming and ahhing about getting one for the looooongest time, but just couldn't muster up the budget for it.  Thank goodness for my lovely work colleagues who pooled their resources and made my wish come true!  To my neverending shame, I actually cried when I unwrapped the box, and didn't let go of it for about 20 minutes (seriously I found myself in a meeting still clutching it to my chest haha). 

Having minimal parts, it's a pretty quick learning curve.  As much as I enjoyed my cake break, I was really looking forward to making the first cut. 

Ready for the first cut!! scary! 
This white vanilla butter cake is from my trusty Cake Bible - after all my Christmas baking I found myself with about 18 egg whites, so it was good to get a chance to use up about 5!

Perfectly straight cuts - no tears ... or tears! haha
The cake was still partially frozen but this was perfect, as the cake is at room temperature quite soft, so the chill factor made for a perfectly clean cut:

So clean - it is a thing of beauty!
I have to admit, I was so delighted with the result I ran around the living room brandishing my perfectly levelled cakes in each hand like some kind of pizza chef hahaha

*Ahem*  anyway, embarrassing happy dances aside, the cakes did eventually find themselves a new costume:

Remember that baptism cake I was seriously not a fan of?  Well I blinked and now she's turning 2!!! Where on earth did all that time go?  I was so touched that her mum remembered me for her daughter's cake.  She had requested this Peppa Pig cake and gave it my own little twist.

I was especially happy with how the little trees and apples turned out.  I had forgotten to let Melodie's mum know that I was going to make a few changes but her message to me (after my explanation) was:
That's very fine Jacelyn, like my hubby said it shows that you are a professional :)
... once again you did not disappoint the cake was just gorgeous and delicious :)