Friday, April 11, 2014

1920's mobster in the house!

Before she had even booked her venue, my girlfriend asked if I was available to create a 1920's themed cake for her husband's 30th to be held at the Ellington Jazz Club (love that venue, btw!).

She sent me this link, and in time this invite arrived in the mail (she makes her own cards and invites - so creative!): 

I'm terrible with estimating how much in the way of RKTs I need for any given project, so given that the hat wasn't going to be huge, I was reluctant to whip up a whole batch of them.  What I ended up doing was digging out of my freezer the cake crumbs I had sitting in there for over a year, shaping them into the hat shape (the crumbs were so moist on defrosting that they didn't even need to be mixed with frosting as a binder first), I froze that for a little while, then covered it with white chocolate ganache, chilled that again and then smoothed fondant over the top. 

The hat is technically edible (the cake crumbs were from a wedding cake after all), but I advised them not to eat it, as I made the hat 5 days before the event and let it sit at room temperature all the while. 

I can't remember if I've ever covered a cake with black fondant before, but the adage of black hiding all manner of sins rings as true with cake as it does with clothes on our bodies! hahaha  The fondant on the round tier went on just fine and it sat overnight at room temperature without a problem.  However, after I came back from work that day, there was a giant blowout in the form of a large vertical crater on one of the sides of the cake.  The fondant had ballooned out, cracked, some sort of oil had oozed/dribbled out and then the fondant itself had set in that stretched position, so I couldn't simply push it back in and smooth it out again.  So strange that such a thing should happen - it wasn't even a very warm day!??

Anyway, it was just as well that I knew I would be putting a red tie down the front of the cake and that hid the vertical canyon perfectly.

Love using my Cameo Silhouette to make stencils!
I really need to practice covering square cakes.  The bottom tier went on terribly, I didn't roll out enough fondant and what I did roll I rolled too thinly, so there were holes at the bottom (the red banding was compulsory lol) and I had to come up with ideas to cover some of those creases and gaps.  I was wearing a feather boa myself, so decided to use my feather mold for the first time.  It was an interesting experience.. I'm not sure it was 100% effective, but from a distance it will do!  

If it had been any other colour, the finish on that bottom tier would've been terrible.  Luckily, though, the black is so black that most of those bumps, lumps and creases that would otherwise be glaring imperfections were camouflaged perfectly.  

My delivery boy!  That cake was deceptively heavy.
We had to park a little distance away and the cake was heavy, so I was so glad I had a helper with me who took the bulk of the weight while I had the hat!  There was a prize for the best dressed for the evening, so we both made a bit of an effort (though neither of us won, unfortunately).

Top tier: caramel mudcake with caramel buttercream
Bottom tier: red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting
I don't know why people are so scared to cut into my cakes - that's what the cakes are for, after all!! Anyway, once again I was asked to butcher my own work.  I don't know if maybe I was too stingy with my slices, but the picture of the bottom tier (8 inch square) was exactly how much was left of the cake - I don't know if maybe some people had left by the time of the cake cutting, or maybe not everyone had cake, but I was asked to provide a cake to serve 35 as dessert, and somehow I must've gotten at least 25 serves out of that top 7 inch tier alone.  *shrug* At least nobody ever balks at eating leftover cake!

Me cutting and serving!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Under the sea..

My second wedding cake of 2014 was to another lovely bride who said she wanted something beach themed, sent me this pic as an example of something she liked, asked for a specific cake topper to be used but also said she'd be happy with anything I otherwise came up with.  They wanted white chocolate mudcake with raspberry chambord buttercream to serve 110 people for dessert.  

I chose 13", 10" and 7" tiers (serving 120 according to this guide).  The bottom tier is the largest I've ever baked in my little home oven (and, it seems, nothing larger will fit in that oven - lucky!).  To keep the layers flatter and more evenly cooked, I DIY'd baking strips by soaking and wringing out long teatowels, folding them in foil and then wrapping those strips around the tin (tied on with silicone heat-proof elastic bands - similar to this principle, but wrapped in foil).  The cakes take slightly longer to cook, but I find I no longer have big domes of cake to level off, and especially with large cakes like the 13" round, I no longer have the problem of the outside cooking too quickly and overbrowning/drying out while the middle stays raw.

I know the Agbay Jnr is described as being able to tort cakes up to 12", mine managed the 13" tier but wouldn't be able to cut anything bigger.  I got my The Mat out for the first time in over a year (I think) to cover the bottom tier as I didn't want the fondant to dry out while I was rolling it out.  I had to wipe down the Mat so many times as it seemed to be dripping with oil between the two sheets, but once it was all tidied up it worked a lot better than I ever remember.

I wanted to keep the 'sand' in the pic that the bride sent to me, but also wanted to add some seashell clusters with pearl 'bubbles' and waves in subtle, very soft shades of blue.

I had purchased a couple of plastic chocolate seashell molds for a few dollars, but if you have the budget, the blue silicon mold (pictured) by First Impressions was a far, far superior product.  I dusted the molds with a little pearl and (very subtle) gold lustre and after a few minutes of freezing the seashells popped out very easily (as opposed to the stiff plastic where I had to gouge them out with a skewer, sometimes ruining them).

This time I brought the cake partially assembled - the bottom two tiers were fully decorated and ready to go, and I stacked the top tier at the venue.

The sand was made of a combination of ground Marie biscuits (whizzed in a food processor), white sugar, brown sugar and demerara sugar.  

The function room in the process of setting up
The bride wanted surfboards included with her toppers, so I made a couple of stencils (the orange surfboard has the husband's initials) and made those out of gumpaste a few days beforehand.

It was really hard to get good pictures at the venue because it was so bright outside that it messed around with the colours.  Such a shame, as the blue ocean against the cake was stunning.  This picture taken from the side is probably the truest to colour in real life - 

And here it is taken from the front (with bad colours!) - 

The bride's feedback was so lovely -

Thank you so much hun it was amazing and tasted even better! I have now got so so many ppl asking about it too now I think u better start your own separate Facebook page so I can send them all your way!
All in all, it was a relief to get this cake delivered (even though my car was slightly injured in the process!) and such a lovely day it was too.  I had to take one last happy snap just as I got back into the car.  It's days like these that make me feel so grateful and lucky to call Perth home.

Beautiful, beautiful blue

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pushing the comfort zone: piping

Piping isn't something I've ever really been comfortable with (previous disastrous attempt being case in point), but when this bride-to-be sent me a couple of traditional style wedding cake pictures as inspiration (both completely different, but both with piped detail) together with the magic words: 
'just love some kind of piped detail. Both photos here are completely different, but am happy to hand over the artistic license to you!'
I felt it was time to step out of my comfort zone and get started on honing some new skills.  

I've always admired piped cakes, and watched with envy those who can pipe freehand.  I'm unfortunately not one of those.  I have wobbly hands and terrible handwriting at the best of times with a pen - which is only magnified when using my whole arm to write.  I also have many bad memories of attempting to pipe pearls in the past, only to discover that pearls are a lot harder to achieve than at first glance (well, if my lovely rows of tiny nipples was anything to go by!).

With this cake, the first hurdle I had to overcome was transferring the pattern I had chosen onto the side of the cake.  I first tried the method outlined here (which I've successfully used on flat surfaces) but I couldn't get the lines to successfully transfer (it was a bit of a blurry mess) so I ended up taping the printed design to the cake, and pricking through the paper with a sewing pin through to the fondant underneath.  I then piped the design over the top of the holes that were left.  That second tier took me hours, and I had such a sore wrist afterwards, but I think it was worth it in the end.  The only thing I would change in hindsight is that I wish I'd used the smaller piping tip I had initially chosen.  My fear when I started piping with that smaller tip was that my hand was so wobbly I'd end up with squiggly lines instead of smooth curves.  I up-sized and while it still looks ok, I think a more delicate touch might've been even prettier.

The ribbon and topper were supplied by the bride.  I can't stress enough how lovely and accommodating she was (checking dimensions with me beforehand, paying early, giving me artistic licence, and even personally delivering the materials to my workplace a few weeks early) and how appreciative she was of the cake afterwards.  It was my first wedding cake after the engagement cake debacle and I was low on cake confidence.  A lovely client was just what the doctor ordered!

Because I was paranoid about the time taken to pipe the second tier, and uncertain as to how strong the icing would be if I needed to stack the cake afterwards, I stacked the cake prior to piping, and brought the  fully assembled cake to the venue.  IT WEIGHED A TON.  And the carpark was restricted, so I had to carry this baby elephant through the length of the carpark and all the way up a flight of stairs and around the function room twice (though they told me what time to come, they had not arranged the cake table yet).  SO HEAVY.

I wish I had thought to centre the cake prior to taking the pic!
Anyway, it was all worth it in the end when I got this message from the bride:
'Oh my god. You made us the most amazing cake ever!!!! It was sooooo delicious!!!! Thank you ever so much!'
It was one tier of dark chocolate mudcake, one tier of white chocolate mudcake, the top tier (to keep) was 2 layers each of white and dark, and all was sandwiched with raspberry meringue buttercream.  It was pretty yummy admittedly hahaha

But stupidly enough, the thing I was most proud of was actually the piped strings of beads!!  Yay to mostly smooth tops!  Now just to work out how to pipe in straighter lines hahaha

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