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Saturday, May 24, 2008

No, that's not Velveeta



*For cake decorating class.

The Teapot cake was my first foray into fondant. On the one hand, fondant is easy because you are just rolling it out with a rolling pin, placing it on top of the cake and then cutting away any excess. On the other hand, there are a lot of small "gotchas" such as:
- Fondant can be very sticky. When rolling out, be sure to have some extra powdered sugar on hand to keep both your surface and rolling pin dry. Note that some sites recommend using corn starch to keep the surface and pin dry but when making a decision, consider what is going to taste better to those eating the cake.
- Fondant can be very heavy. It is necessary to cover the cake with a "tacky" substance in order to get the rolled fondant to adhere to the cake surface. Our teacher had recommended a piping gel to use as an adhesive but it looked like vaseline which turned me off. I created an apricot glaze (few tablespoons of apricot jam and water boiled together to create a glaze) which was brushed over the cake prior to placing the fondant on top.
- Fondant is colored by placing a few drops of color gel onto a piece of rolled fondant and then kneading it in. This takes some time and some strong hands hence why this cake has only 2 colors. I predict my future fondant cakes will also be limited to one or two colors due to waning strength in my poor aging hands.

The morning after this picture was taken, the fondant had slid off the cake and was crumpled up like a cheap discarded suit.

The teapot's handle is a piece of a pretzel and the spout is a sugar cone (yes, that is a "Don't Mess with Texas" shot glass supporting the pretzel handle). All accents were done in royal icing. When it was all said and done, the fondant only remained on the sugar cone. So, clearly, I need a little more practice with medium. While ready made fondant can be purchased, I made my own because it has a better taste. The fondant recipe I used called for things like liquid glucose and glycerine, which are not exactly ingredients that one typically has in the cupboard. I am going to make marshmallow fondant for my next attempt (http://whatscookingamerica.net/PegW/Fondant.htm) and use buttercream as my adhesive. I'll keep you posted on my results.

To boldly go where no cake has gone before



This is a triple chocolate cake with a standard buttercream icing that was made for a friend's birthday. Obviously, the friend is Star Trek fan...otherwise this design would have been an odd choice, no? Victor and I found a picture of the Star Trek insignia from the upcoming J.J. Abrams movie (scheduled for release May 2009) as a guide. I used a star tip (16 and 18) to do the yellow and black inside the insignia and then tip 48 to line it. A shell border was done around the perimeter of the cake using tip 22 with some yellow star accents between each shell (also tip 22). Victor did the lettering as anyone familiar with my handwriting can attest, it leaves a lot to be desired whether done in ink or buttercream...which is fine if you are going for that "I wrote this while intoxicated look", but for reasons unknown to me, that is not popular on birthday cakes.

Victor had a really good idea about lining the sides of the cake to look like the sleeves of the Star Trek crews' shirts but, sadly we ran out of icing...

A tisket, a tasket, a chocolate buttercream basket...


*For cake decorating class.

The basket of flowers cake was a french vanilla cake with a chocolate buttercream icing. Although this was first time I had made chocolate buttercream, it turned out well (so unusual for a first attempt!). To make the basket weave easier to see, the chocolate is actually two-toned (some chocolate brown food gel was added to a portion of the chocolate buttercream). Tips 47 and 48 were used on the basket weave. The rope border was done with tip 22. All flowers were from royal icing a few days prior.

The most time consuming part of this cake was making the flowers. If short on time, the flowers could be simply be made from buttercream at the same time the basket weave is being done....but the royal icing flowers hold up a little better.

The green leaves on the top of the cake were added last and done with tip 352; the leaves are buttercream. I should mention, the leaves were the downfall of this particular cake. I ran out of fresh buttercream, so I used some old stuff I had in the fridge. What's the big deal? it's just a few leaves, right? Well....even while piping the leaves on, I was picking up on some peculiar scent. Turns out the milk in that buttercream was starting to turn. After taking some photos, we had to throw the cake away. Yes, it sounds wasteful, but I couldn't risk making anyone sick.

The leaning tower of wedding cake


*For cake decorating class.

Ahhh...the wedding cake; where to start? It's a German Chocolate cake with buttercream icing and royal icing accents (butterfly, swans and lace). A 10 inch pan was used for the bottom tier and 6 inch for the top. This cake was very moist and delicious but visually was not worthy of much of a public outing.

I had high hopes for the wedding cake. The royal icing accents made ahead of time turned out pretty well. Things started to go off kilter right from baking step for the second tier. While baking, the 6 inch tier rose with an extreme slant on top. The cake was "leveled" prior to icing it...but I use that term lightly since once the cake was assembled, the top tier still had a scary slope to it. Due to Victor's brilliant photography, the slope is not that apparent in this photo. The slope wasn't as visible when the 2 tiers were NOT assembled...so, we took the cake apart and served to 2 different audiences! Voila!

Anyway, the lesson learned here was, the act of "leveling" really means making the cakes level...not just trimming some cake off the top for snacking.

Welcome to the jungle, baby Blixa!



This cake was made for a friend's baby shower. It is a mango cake with buttercream icing. I was a little disappointed in the actual cake itself: the mango flavor was a little too subtle and it was a bit dry. As for the decorations, I stuck with a simple design as to not overwhelm folks with food coloring. The baby feet were done with a small star tip. The drop flowers were done with tip 224. The border is C-scroll done with tip 22.

I considered asking Victor do the writing as his handwriting is much better than mine, but as this was for a close friend, I wanted it to be 100% my creation. Truth be told, there was also a bit of little tension between Victor and I during both the decorating of this cake. The tension was the result of feedback being provided what "could have been done" after something had already been completed. Input is always welcome during the creative process but is more helpful during the design phase than actual implementation. I was already stressed as this was my first cake for an actual event, so the Monday morning quarterbacking was ill timed.

The cookie pops in front of the cake are oatmeal cookies with dark chocolate M&Ms (which are heavenly). The pops were given out as shower favors and are described in more detail in the post entitled, "Hey Baby, wanna cookie?".

Molasses and Macaroons



And for the letter C.....

These cookies were made for Victor's mom's birthday. They are Chocolate Chip Molasses and Coconut Macaroons.

At our last Christmas party, Victor's sister brought the most amazing ginger cookies with chocolate chips in them. After polishing them off, I thought about these cookies frequently; my goal was to make them myself. Of course, asking her for the recipe would have been one way to guarantee that I made the actual same cookie. Instead, I scoured the internet for something that seemed similar. I found a molasses chocolate chip recipe that I thought would yield the cookie sought. But ginger does not equal molasses and therefore the resulting cookies, while very tasty and also highly recommended, were no where near the cookie I set out to make.

In Europe, the macaroon cookie is made from powdered almonds. Per Wikipedia, the macaroon actually originated in Italy but then was later passed onto the Jewish community in France, hence why they are mainly associated with French bakeries . The North America macaroon is a bit different. It comprised of coconut, sugar and egg whites and is generally a Passover sweet treat since they are unleavened. I tend to make some North American macaroons in the spring as the markets typically put coconut on sale around this time. I used a new recipe this year which, while tasty, was a bit too wet which resulted in the cookies spreading out more than usual.


Here is the Wikipedia link for more interesting information about macaroons:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macaroon

Here is a link to Paulette, a French bakery in Los Angeles which specializes in macaroons made from powdered almonds:
http://www.paulettemacarons.com/go/welcome.htm

I'm the belle of the ball!


*For cake decorating class.

The doll cake was a strawberry cake with a buttercream icing. As this is a fairly girly cake, strawberry (and therefore pink) cake seemed appropriate. So it's pretty on the inside as well....

To achieve the whole upside down triangle necessary our lady's skirt, the Wilton Wonder Mold pan was used. The doll actually comes in the Wonder Mold cake pan box. While the directions with the Wonder mold only instruct on how to make the doll cake, at my local cake decorating store (i.e. Gloria's), I found some instructions on how to use the Wonder Mold pan to make a sombrero, beehive, football, Christmas tree, etc. If you are not lucky enough to have a cake decorating supply store near you, I am sure you could find additional Wonder Mold cake instructions on the old internet.

The ruffles on the skirt are the real magic on this particular cake. The twist is that the ruffles are so easy to do: the tips (060 and 070) do the work for you! The bodice and upper part of the skirt were with a star tip. Drop flower accents were done with tip 224.

Yoda under the baby blankey


*For cake decorating class.

The baby blanket cake was a vanilla cake with buttercream icing. The cake is decorated in such a way that it appears that the blanket has been pulled up over the sleeping baby just leaving his head sticking out. In reality, there is nothing "under" the blanket. The body under the blanket look is simply achieved by a shaping a mound of icing for the body and then placing a plastic baby head on top. I hope I did not destroy the magic with that reveal....

The hard part ended up being finding a plastic baby head. Victor and I went to a number of stores but to no avail...and having to go to more than one store for anything in LA traffic is a tall order! We finally decided to just make a head out of sugar paste. Making the head, however, brought forth it's own challenge: achieving a realistic skin tone. Ok, that last challenge was more theoretical as we didn't even try to make a human baby head. Instead, we made a Yoda head..or something that was supposed to be Yoda....although he really did have a Homer Simpson like mouth.

Oh, those Irish eyes are smiling!


*For cake decorating class.

The Shamrock cake was banana cake with buttercream icing. I baked a 9x13 inch cake and then cut out the shape of the shamrock using a paper stencil given to us in our class. A cool thing about this cake is that we added 3 borders:
- one around the bottom perimeter using tip 47
- one ruffle around the top (green and white) using tip 88
- one zigzag (dark green) on top inside the ruffle using tip 48

There were 2 main concepts we were trying to master with this lesson:
- cutting the cake into shapes (and icing it without an overabundance of crumbs!)
- "striping" the pastry bag so that the icing comes out two-toned.

The striping is evident in the wild Irish roses on top as well as the top ruffle border. One thing to be mindful of when adding the top ruffle border is to really secure it to the top of the cake. I piped mainly around the cake's edge and parts of my border ended up falling off (although I repaired it for the photo of course!).

MORE easter goodness: The panoramic egg




After making the Easter basket out of royal icing, I was inspired to make a more traditional panoramic egg...one that was sort of sparkly from the granulated sugar and looked like one that my Grandmom had when I was young. I found some directions on the internet (https//www.cakesbyjan.com/panoeggs2.htm).

This was much easier and less time consuming than the royal icing basket made previously. For the actual egg part, you just need an egg mold, granulated (table) sugar, a few drops of water and 15 minutes...that's it! All of the accent decorations and bunnies were done in royal icing. If you look closely you will see that the bunny's face is a bit off...hence why no close-ups of the egg interior.

The cross-eyed bunny cake



*For cake decorating class.

The bunny cake was really easy to make. It was a marble cake with vanilla buttercream icing. The cake is just one 8 inch cake cut in half. The two halves were then stood side by side (with a little icing in between to hold them together). The ears were a Twinkie cut in half. The whole thing was iced with a 22 tip done in swirls except for the pink on the ears and tongue. Basic stars were done with tip 18 . The final touches were pink jelly beans for eyes, some dry angel hair pasta dyed brown, and some black decorating gel (for the pupils). Easy to make but a great presentation!

Easter goodness



*For cake decorating class.

This was supposed to be a panoramic egg. Our teacher had recommended that we buy an egg mold to cover in royal icing. Victor picked up an egg mold pan (it's like a cupcake pan with 12 little egg molds) for me that we thought would work, but....I couldn't use it. I needed to be able to cover the outside of the egg mold with wax paper and then pipe the royal icing over that. When the icing is dry, the wax paper is carefully removed. With my egg mold pan, I wasn't able to secure the wax paper to the egg. One of the only other things I had with me at class was a breakfast bowl. So, I covered that with wax paper and started piping a zig-zag pattern using tip 22.

This was the first time I worked with royal icing. It is quite temperamental. No hint of plastic can touch the icing without making it breakdown. I always work with reusable pastry bags which seem to be a cross between canvas and plastic. For royal icing, it is better to use a parchment paper, however, it is pretty hard (for me anyway) to create a pastry bag from parchment. Also, the coupler is plastic, etc, etc. Our teacher had warned us about how easily royal icing breaks down, so I was well prepared for widespread failure. It was actually going pretty well during class; I just needed to get it home to dry. I covered it with my handy cake caddy (ah...plastic...whoops) and headed home. In the short 10 minute, drive, the evils of plastic had destroyed my sweet Easter basket/bowl!

Since this project was scheduled for both the current and the next week, I needed something to take back to class with me the following Monday...so I made a new batch of royal icing and started all over again. This time, since I didn't have to do any transport, I was able to let the basket dry completely. I think it turned out rather well. The bunnies chicks and roses are also made of royal icing. The following week at class we assembled the stuff (basket in my case, eggs for the others in the class), added the grass and put in the roses, bunnies and chicks. This was a lot of work, I was really proud of how it turned out.

The wreath of roses...



*For cake decorating class.

This week, we learned the magical and mythical icing rose...and then made a whole cake around it! This was a classic yellow cake with buttercream icing. Two different types of roses were made: nail roses and on the cake, laying down on the side roses.

My initial roses made on the rose nail looked like little cabbages, but I am slowly getting better. The lay down rose is much easier to make: 1 petal, a backwards S on top of it, and then 2 petals on top to "close it"...trust me, you get a rhythm going. The full nail roses are on the top of the cake with the lay down roses on the vines on the side. Besides learning the rose, the focus of this cake was to learn how to do decorate on the side of a cake. Mission accomplished, I say!

It's all about the pressure control



*For cake decorating class.

This was probably my least favorite cake we made in class. It is supposed to look like an open book. First off, the basics: it's a chocolate cake with buttercream icing.

The standard recipe for buttercream is 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup shortening, 4 cups of icing sugar, a little milk and teaspoon of vanilla. I made the icing for the Sunflower cake using the shortening but I was a little skittish about it. I prefer to use as little ingredients as possible that were made in a laboratory. I had read that there was an organic shortening by a company called Spectrum. I found their Organic Coconut Oil but not the shortening. The coconut oil was in solid form like shortening, so I substituted that in for the shortening while making the icing for this cake. The problem was that the coconut oil "shortening" did not blend smoothly enough and I felt like you were biting into a little chunk of solid coconut oil. The fact that it was organic didn't really make up for the fact that I was biting into solid fat. So there was an issue with the overall feel of this icing.....

Then there is the open book cake design itself. It just turned out a little lame in my opinion. I did not use a "book cake" pan. I just did a 9x13 cake and cut out part of the top to make it look like an open book. Also, I had nothing to write on the cake. "Happy Rainy Winter"??? It was raining that week...but seriously, a cake to memorialize the rain? I just couldn't think of any thing say. I guess I could have written a message to Victor like "Thanks for taking out the trash every day!" or "Please pick up hummus at the store"....but I just wasn't thinking. As evident by the title of this post, the focus of this cake was practicing pressure control while doing "string" work, so "Happy Rainy Winter" with a stick figure woman holding an umbrella fit the bill.

The cake journey begins with a simple sunflower



*For cake decorating class.

This was my first cake for the cake decorating class that I am taking. The class is 8 weeks long and is held at Gloria's Cake and Candy Supply shop in Culver City. Each week, the teacher presents us with a design and directions on technique...but she encourages creativity so we are allowed to venture off the path since after all, it's our cake, right? In this blog, I will differentiate which cakes were made for class so it is clear that while I decorated the cake, chose the colors, etc the overall design was provided to me by our instructor, Helen Rodriguez.

This cake was two 8 inch cakes layered with buttercream icing. Victor and I affectionately call these cakes "The Frisbees" or the "Discus Cakes". The cakes just didn't rise. I have no explanation. This was the first (and incidentally last so far) time I used cake flour rather than self rising flour in the cake. Was the cake flour past it's prime? Maybe. Or did I over beat the batter? Maybe. It's been known to happen. Regardless, this cake ended up being two flat hard-ish cakes with a lot of icing. But the focus is the decorating, right? I thought the sunflowers came out pretty good given it was my first cake decorating effort.

Hey baby, wanna cookie?



NOTE: These cookies are a deviation from the A through Z cookie effort.

These are oatmeal cookie pops with dark chocolate M&Ms. These were made as favors for my friend's baby shower. I think these turned out well for being an 11th hour creation. Let's start at the beginning....

We had planned on cookie pops from the start. I bought a few different cookie cutters to try: a stroller, baby bottle, baby foot and teddy bear. I decided to go for the teddy bears and then ice them the green and purple (the shower colors). Things went awry from the very first batch. The whole cookie pop idea wasn't working on the cutout cookies because the cookie simply was not thick enough. I had placed the stick between the bear's legs (seemed logical), so not only did it look like the bear had a stick up it's butt, there was a lump in the crotch area. So, I scratched the lollipop concept and just made the teddy bears. I iced some of them green and some purple with a simple icing glace that hardens. The colors matched in the invitation, but were less than enticing. Then there was the little issue of hardness. The recipe that I used makes the HARDEST cookies. Once you ice them, they soften up but it takes a few days. The night before the shower, they were still hard as rocks, so I had to go into Kitchen McGyver mode. What have I got? Butter, sugar, oatmeal, M&Ms....and there you have it: Oatmeal cookies with M&Ms. Now, since I was doing basically a drop cookie which is thicker, I could use the sticks I had gotten to make pops.

The teddy bears were finally soft enough to eat when I got home from the shower. They were quite tasty but I couldn't risk someone breaking a tooth.

Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?



NOTE: These cookies are a deviation from the A through Z cookie effort.

These are a standard sugar cutout cookie with a glace icing (see previous post) and some jimmies and decorettes. I made these for Easter to send to both my family and Victor's. The cookies were good. The recipe used made the cookies puff up more than the recipe used for the heart cookies, but these cookies were soft enough to eat immediately.

I wanted to make some evil looking bunnies as I had just been watching Donnie Darko.

Once more with feeling...



NOTE: Not part of the A through Z cookie effort.

These heart cutouts were a sugar cookie with some orange zest. Some were decorated with tempered semi-sweet chocolate and others with an icing glace. I really enjoyed the ones with the icing! When these cookies first cooled, they were super hard. So hard that you would be worried about breaking your teeth. Some people may have thrown them away right there for fear of hurting their loved ones...but I decided to icing them and see if they softened up. And soften they did! I have made these cookies a few times now and it's always the same: super hard the first 2 days and then they soften up and are quite tasty.

Recipe from The Cookie and Biscuit Bible by Catherine Atkinson.

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
grated rind of orange (or lemon)
pinch of salt
2 2/3 cups of flour

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter until soft. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Gradually stir in egg and egg yolk. Add vanilla, rind and salt. Stir to mix well.
Sift flour over the mixture and stir to blend. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in clear plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
On lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough until 1/8 in thick.
Stamp out shapes or rounds with floured cookie cutters and place on a non-stick baking sheet.
Bake for about 8 minutes or until lightly colored.

For the decorating glace (covers 24 cookies):
1 cup icing sugar
a few drops of vanilla
1 tbsp of hot water
food coloring

I typically end up adding another tablespoon of water to the glace as the recipe as is comes out a bit thick.

We're all bananas for bananas



For the letter B, I made banana cookies. These cookies were an oatmeal cookie with mashed bananas. They were a soft cake like cookie. No disasters with the banana cookies...they were tasty, "healthy" (ah, somewhat I suppose) and were eaten up quickly!

Banana Oatmeal Cookies
. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
. 1/2 cup white sugar
. 1/2 cup brown sugar
. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
. 1 teaspoon salt
. 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
. 3/4 cup butter
. 1 egg, beaten
. 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
. 1 3/4 cups rolled oats

DIRECTIONS
. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
. Cut in butter until almost no lumps remain.
. Stir in the egg and bananas; mix well (I used electric mixer here).
. Finally, stir in the oats. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for approximately 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are browned. Remove from pans immediately to cool on wire racks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Starting with A...



In January when I first came up with the idea of starting a blog, I decided to work through the alphabet making cookies. I was just coming out of a joyous holiday baking season was desperately looking for an excuse to continue making cookies. Also, I figured it would get me out of the rut of making the same old cookies every time.

The cookies selected for letter A are Austrian Jam cookies. This is basically a shortbread cookie rolled in chopped almonds. The center is pressed down and bit of jam is placed in the imprint.

Austrian Jam Cookies

1/2 cup butter 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar 2/3 cup chopped almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup strawberry or raspberry jam or preserves
1 egg yolk

*Cream together butter and sugar. Add in vanilla and egg yolk. Continue to mix until light and fluffy. Stir in flour until completely mixed. Roll in ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for approximately 2 hrs.

Pre heat oven to 300 degrees.

Measure out dough in about 1 inch balls. Roll the balls in the chopped almonds and place on cookie sheets. Using your thumb, create an indentation on each cookie. Fill each indentation with jam/preserves using either a teaspoon or pastry bag.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on rack.

*Note: It is important that the butter and sugar be creamed and the batter light and fluffy prior to adding the flour, otherwise, batter will be very crumbly. My batter was somewhat crumbly, so a bit of milk was added prior to the refrigeration step.