Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Christmas

I know I'm early, but since I haven't posted in months and I don't know if I will again in the next week, I thought I would just say it now. If I have free time I would like to update my other blog that is supposed to be about teaching math. It's been quite neglected. So here's a picture of something I made for my Secret Santa at school. It is brownies stacked on top of each other with candy melt colors. Enjoy everything the season brings to you!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Something's Gotta Give

I don't always feel like I give everything I can to my career and it upsets me. It's because I tend to work 2 to 3 jobs at a time and I just don't always have the time or energy to make every lesson amazing and grade everything the day it gets turned in. But I have to do what I have to do.

Anyway, sometimes something's gotta give. This past month it's been running and blogging. Both have to take a backseat to everything else. It just has to be done. I have so many posts to write and ideas to share though that I can't wait to have some free time to do it!

Until next time....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fondant Star Gazer Tutorial

These stargazers are so beautiful and I really enjoy making them. Note, if you plan to use them on a cake, start making them AT LEAST a week ahead of time. You will need time for them to dry completely and harden. Then you need time to dust them (or paint if that's you're thing) and assemble, which also takes some time.

 You'll want to mix your fondant with gum paste so it's about a 50/50 mix. It hardens a bit (which your fondant alone wouldn't) and it doesn't dry so quickly that you have to rush to work with it (which would be gum paste alone). Stargazers come in so many different colors so feel free to be creative!

*Doing this project is a lot like doing math. It's long, it's involved, it's even tedious, but it's not hard*

In addition to your fondant/gum paste mix, you'll need a dusting pouch filled with a 50/50 mix of cornstarch and powdered sugar. You will need some gum glue, made by breaking up a pea size of gum paste into about a tablespoon of water and letting it dissolve. You will need a rolling pin and yes, I really do suggest Wilton's plastic rolling pins for ease of use. There's no problem not using one, just make sure it stays covered with your "dust". You will need wave former cups (or, heck, find anything round you can shape them over), the wide and narrow lily petal cutters, a petal impression mat, a round ball tool and veining tool, thin foam, floral wire and florist tape (6 pieces of white 26-gauge wire for the petals and one piece of green 20-gauge wire for the stem - you'll need 3 more pieces of green 26-gauge wire for leaves), Color Dust in deep pink, lime green and dark green as well as brushes with which to apply them.

Dust the BACK of your impression mat with your dusting pouch.
Roll out a small ball of gum paste / fondant.

 Shape that ball into a log and position it over the slit in the back. Make sure about 1/2" of the log is not on the crack.

Use your rolling pin to roll out the fondant. It should be less than 1/16 of an inch thick which means thinner than your pink rings if you're using the Wilton small fondant roller or just really thin if you're not using a rolling pin with guide rings.

Peel this off of the mat and use your narrow lily cutter to cut the shape of the petal. Position it so the tip of the petal does not have that extra stem piece.

Dip your white 26 gauge wire into gum glue and place it next to this flap. Fold the fondant over the wire to secure them together. This is the back-side of the petal.

Dust the front side of your impression mat. Place the petal front-side down onto the leaf impressions. Use your thin foam to press (with this mat from the student kit it will take quite a bit of pressure. They do make better mats that don't come in the student kit.) the petal into the impression mat. You should be able to see the impressions, but they will really stand out once we use the color dust after they have dried.

Transfer your petal onto the thin foam. Dust your ball tool and use this to ruffle the edges. There are many techniques for ruffeling. You can put most of the ball tool on the foam and a little on the petal and slide it (not roll it) around the petal with some pressure. You could scratch back and forth as if you were coloring. You could also put most of the ball tool inside the petal's edge and and roll it around. Practice, practice practice and you will find the way that works for you.

After you have it nice and ruffled, put it over the wave former cup to dry completely. This will take at least a full day. When you put your petals on there, put them at different angles. Remember the petals on flowers aren't all the same!

For each lily, you will need 3 narrow petals and 3 wide petals. I don't have pictures of making the leaves, but the process is exactly the same. You use green fondant and need 3 narrow lily cuts for each flower.

After everything is very, very and completely dry, you get to start decorating and putting them together!

Put a line of of deep pink Color Dust down the center of the petal.

You don't need much. Spread it out. Go out and look at some Stargazers: some have a lot of color and some have a little color. Tiger Lillies are really bright. Be creative!

Put some lime gream down near the stem of the petal.

Color all of your petals. I wanted to try the painting technique as well, so I mixed a little bit of color dust with a little bit of vodka. Using alcohol is better because - of how tacky it gets? I don't remember the exact reason, but the alcohol dries off so don't worry about that part. Plus, who is really going to eat these anyway?

Prepare your stamens. They come taped in groups but you'll want to remove the white tape and then use florist tape to attach them to a piece of 20 gauge green wire.

Wrap all the way down, pulling tightly to release the stickiness of the florist tape.

Then use the same process of wrapping over and over to attach each petal, one at a time.

Start with the three wide leaves.

Then add the the narrow leaves between them.

Each time, you are wrapping all the way down the stem. A thick stem will be helpful when you go to put the flower into the stem holders to put them in the cake.

Finally, brush the three green leaves with a mixture of lime and dark green. Add the three green leaves, one at a time, to the stem about halfway down.

There you have a finished stargazer lily! You can see some stargazers in action in this cake from the final class in Wilton Course 4: Advanced Fondant and Gum Paste

I linked up!
Days of Chalk and ChocolateThe Mandatory Mooch

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Full Circle

Aaaand I've come full circle! I told my boss at Food Lion that I was quitting (jokingly) because I just made a 90th birthday cake, half sheet, with roses.

Well as it just so happened, this was the first cake I ever made at the store. I had to do it the day after I learned how to do roses, after just a few hours of cake decorating lessons. I was pretty happy with how it turned out:

I figured since I had come full circle, I should probably just quit.

If you didn't know, I've also started teaching cake decorating classes for Wilton. Here is the cake I made with the Course 1: Basics class. I taught them to level cakes, fill, ice, and transfer a picture. I did this cake so I could bring it in to school. IN TO SCHOOL! Can you believe I've already started back? My first day was Aug 6 and the kids come the 16th. We've been in meetings all day, working in my classroom all evening, and lesson planning all night. It's been exhausting!

 But, at least there was cake :) A lemon cake with strawberry filling. Yum.

I linked up!
 The Mandatory Mooch

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Novice Baking Rules

I think I am about to change my title from novice baker to intermediate baker. I am nowhere near experienced and can only hope to one day become a master, but for now, I think I have moved on to the next level.

I would like to share some "baking rules" for all the other novice bakers out there. Things that maybe you didn't know you were supposed to do because I definitely didn't when I first started.

(Interested in the red velvet cake pictured? Read about it here)

First: Learn the jargon. I watched tons of YouTube videos to learn the proper way to cream butter and sugar (mix your butter by itself until nice and fluffy and then add in the sugar. Believe me it is easier this way.), how to beat egg whites until stiff, how to fold in said egg whites (L helped me with this one), and alternate your ingredients. I always way over complicated that last one - it just means 1/3 of your dry ingredients, 1/2 the wet, 1/3 dry, 1/2 the wet, 1/3 dry. See? Easy.

Second: All of your ingredients should be room temperature. Yes, this sometimes means letting your milk and eggs sit out for HOURS but that's fine. They won't spoil, believe me. I've left them out over night or all day while I'm working, which usually means up to 10 hours of warming up. If you don't have that much time, get them as close as possible but don't use your microwave. Break eggs and put them in a cup or at least take them out of the carton. Measure out your milk - a half-cup warms up much quicker than a half-gallon. Slice up your butter - the more surface area exposed the quicker it will come to temperature. Do this even for box mixes.

Third: Sift. Sift! SIFT! Whether scratch baking or using a mix, you'll want to sift all of your dry ingredients together. Even if you're using pre-sifted flour, sift it. I usually sift my flour into a bowl first, then measure out the amount that I need. Then I sift all my other ingredients, whisk them around, and sift them at least one more time. You'll want to sift them after they've been combined. It makes everything much lighter and fluffier. Do this even for box mixes.

Fourth: Try to avoid over/under baking, but also avoid opening your oven much during baking, especially during the first half of your bake time. Of course this just comes with much practice but it will help keep your cakes from sinking. To help with this, preheat your oven after measuring all of your ingredients. If it beeps while you are mixing, turn it off! Then wait until you are filling your pans to re-preheat. Doing this ensures that you are putting your cake in the oven when it is at 350 degrees, not 350 or 360.

Fifth: Once your cake comes out of the oven, give them 10 minutes to cool before flipping. If I end up with a cake with a dome on top, I flip mine face down on a plate and then reinvert them face up, on parchment paper, on my cooling rack. If they have a dome, resting on it can cause your otherwise would be flat bottom to sink or crack. Using parchment paper on your cooling rack will prevent your cake from having lines across it: this is a cake and not a steak, after all.

Speaking of domes,  I HIGHLY reccommend spending money (although it's not much) on baking strips. You can read here why I think this.

After you have flipped them, you can freeze them directly if that is your plan, or leave them out to cool, but you don't have to cool them completely before freezing. And yes, freezing is fine for cakes and does not hurt them. Of course if you leave them in there for days they will not be day one fresh, but they will still be good.

Sixth: Before you stack and decorate, you will need to level your cake. You can do this with a bread knife or, my favorite, a cake leveler from the store. These are inexpensive, easy to use and work really well. This gives you a blank canvas on which to begin your art.

Alright newbies, I hope these tips help you! I'll post some more tips later on the basics of filling a cake/cupcakes, how to get smooth icing, and some other decorating basics (read decorating cheats).

 Bake on, cakers.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My To-Do List

This is my new To-Do List system: Post-It Notes

This makes it easy when you need to prioritize, re-prioritize, and re-do your priorities. It's nice to not have to draw arrows to rearrange lists, which I do often. It's also more rewarding to rip off and THROW AWAY the tasks as they are accomplished. Try it out!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Red Velvet Wedding Cake

About a month ago I was asked to make a wedding cake under very unusual circumstances. This couple was having a very low-key, non-traditional wedding. They weren't going to have a cake or decorations or family, just a grandparent as a witness and not much else. I work with the groom, and he asked me how much it would cost to get an 8" round red velvet cake for that day. I was excited because, as I mentioned in this post, I had been looking for an excuse to learn to make RVC. (You can get the recipe there as well, which uses beets as dye instead of food coloring.) I was also excited because it was my first wedding cake that I was hired to do. The problem was, I was heading home to New Jersey a week before the wedding.

Well, we happen to work in a grocery store bakery and we know that you can freeze a cake and it's still pretty good.  Like I said, they weren't going to have a cake anyway so this was better than nothing. Then came the next kicker - RVC is his bride's favorite cake. She absolutely loves it - with rainbow chip icing??? Yep, not cream cheese or even regular buttercream but rainbow chip. This was quickly becoming the strangest first-wedding-cake experience ever.

Being the person I am, I wanted to give them a gift as well - so instead of a just an 8" I also made a 6" tier for the top. The day I was leaving for NJ, I delivered this cake to the store where we work. Of course I kept the tiers separate and gave instructions on how to stack it. Unfortunately, it was one of those 100 degree days and the buttercream started to melt. I was hoping someone at the store would be able to fix the border before he took it, but I guess that never panned out. He had to attempt to fix it himself. So here is the picture of the first wedding cake I've made, with an obvious boo-boo. I didn't take the picture. In fact, this is a picture of the picture that the groom brought in afterwards.

It is unfortunate that I wasn't there to stack it properly, fix the icing, etc. You can see the spot with no border, but those two "shells" to the right of it were his attempt and I guess he gave up haha. Like I said, anything was better than no cake. I do wish they had gotten a picture from the good side and I feel bad but he knew that I wasn't going to be there to put it together and the top tier was a gift, not something he was paying for. If you ignore that bit, though, I was really happy with the way it turned out.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Yellow Cake with Whipped Nutella Icing

We love some Nutella in our house.
My Little Brother invented his own Nutella stuffed croissant rolls.
We LOVE coffee in my house, and coffee liquors.
My family is insane but we are really, really close.
Little Brother just came back from spending a month and a half in Venezuela on a missions trip.
His birthday was during this trip.
I call him Little Brother even though he now towers over me and is in his twenties.

Okay, that last one doesn't really tie in to the story, but the first five do. When Little Brother came back from his trip, we only had a few days together. I knew I wanted to make him a birthday cake and have everyone celebrate. Clearly, I should make him a Nutella cake.

My time at home is so precious because I have almost a billion (yes, I'm not even exaggerating. Except a little. It's hyperbole.) people to see and have to drive all over the tri-state area to see them. So the day he was coming home, making a scratch cake was out. Too many people in the house, too much going on. So I bought a box mix - not something I really like to do. I bought a yellow box mix and jazzed it up with some pudding mix. You know, though, that the pudding makes it too thick. I thinned it with Kahlua. Delish.

I stacked the cakes with a layer of straight Nutella between them. Actually, to be honest, I used store brand. It's just as good for this cake with all the surrounding flavors. I'm not sure how it would be as a normal spread but I'm sure the difference is minimal.

Then I had to make the icing. I found this simple recipe from Yummly.com: 13oz of Nutella, 12oz whipping cream, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. I whipped the cream for a bit so it was fluffy but not stiff or anything. Then I emptied the container of Nutella into the whipped cream and blended it together. Add the vanilla mix until completely incorporated.

Also, it was really hot when I made this so even though everything was cold, the whipped icing strange to work with. I pretty much poured it on the cake. Surprisingly, it was a good enough consistency that it did not drip off the cake like I thought it would. In fact, it was perfect. How could it not be when I'm behind the mixer? Okay, that's a stretch.

So because it was liquidy, it was hard to put a "design" on the cake. I decided to go for a cute swirled top that all met in the middle like a peppermint and used the technique often seen on ombre cakes to decorate the sides.* Unfortunately, I apparently didn't get pictures of the cake. These I'm sharing are more focused on Little Brother, which I know he would prefer anyway. You can see the cake on the bottom, though. And one of the inside where you can see that our family of 7 almost demolished this cake. It was delicious and you definitely need to do this.

Update: found the picture of the cake I KNEW I had taken....enjoy the other pictures as well :)

*First, I didn't use the technique, per se. Really after it was iced I used my spatula to create a similar texture. Second, does anyone know what that technique is called? I've been looking around and most people online are calling it ombre, but the word ombre refers to the actual shading and not the technique.

I've linked up!

Days of Chalk and ChocolateThe Mandatory Mooch
Crazy Sweet Tuesday

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My New Airbrush!

I have been wanting to buy an airbrush for cake decorating. I've been wanting this for about 16 months. It takes me that long to decide to actually make purchases. Anyway, this is not the one I wanted, but it seemed more "all-inclusive" for the same price so I went with it. It is a duel action, gravity-fed, elephant compressor airbrush. I can't tell you what company actually makes them ( I got mine from ebay from the Eastwood Company) but it's not American - there's no real instructions and the paper it comes with has poor grammar and sentence structure. I'm not judging or complaining, just stating the fact.

You can look on the Cake Page and see that I'm pretty handy with an airbrush. I thought this would be easy peasy airbrush squeezy. Eh, not so much. First, I wasn't 100% sure on how to put the thing together. I had to look it up online since the instructions were incomplete. Then, attaching the small cup (it comes with an open 5cc metal cup and a closed 22cc glass jar) didn't seem very secure. It never fell off, though, so I guess it's pretty tight. I've only used it once, though, so there's still plenty of time I suppose.

Then, as I began my airbrushing, I spilled some of the blue airbrush color out of the small cup. I wasn't really thinking about how this airbrush differs from the one at work, so I wasn't being as careful as I should have. What was going to be a Philadelphia themed cake just stopped as a post 4th of July cake.

It is also difficult to clean. I was trying to get rid of the blue to switch to the red, and it seemed like I couldn't quite get it all out. Even after I put the red in, it took a while for it come through. Also, the location of the hole from which the airbrush pulls the color from the cup is up sort of high. That means I have to put more color in the cup than I would ever need. This is slightly annoying to a penny pincher like myself, but I was able to pour some of the unused color back into the bottle.

 It is going to take some getting used to as it's a little different than my work airbrush, but I really like it. It's releatively quiet because it's so small, it's cuite to look at, and the spray control seems to really do it's job - I can get really thin lines or larger streaks. I think it is going to do it's job nicely. As I use it more, I will let you know if it lives up to expectations.

**Note, this is not a sponsered review. I am just updating you with the latest addition to my cake decorating hobby.**