Sunday, March 25, 2012

Greetings, Diminutive Feline!

So, for those of you not "in the know", this is Hello Kitty:

She's quite cute.  I was asked to convert her into cake form for a birthday party, a task that my research on the internet has lead me to believe is deceptively difficult.

Due to the presence of a Hello Kitty molded cake pan of just her head, the majority of designs were only her disembodied head.  I love her little body, so a decapitated kitty mine would not be.  I also knew I wanted a dynamic pose, because there is something unappealing about eating a cake of a character laid out like a corpse.

Already I had significantly narrowed down the number of available options to use as inspiration. There were still a few very good Hello Kitty cakes out there, but most were far too much work for the rate I quoted.  Of all of the research I did, only this one => struck my cake-baking fancy.  The clean lines and bright colors are such a perfect representation of Hello Kitty in all of her adorableness, I knew this was the design I wanted to emulate.

However, I hate star-tipped frosting like this design had.  It makes my hand hurt from individually piping each little star, and since this was going to be no small cake I dreaded the idea. Plus, it makes everything fuzzy looking...which can be a good thing, depending on the design, but Hello Kitty isn't fuzzy.  Nope, I had to change the frosting technique.

So, first I had to bake two 9x13 vanilla cakes, which was an endeavor all on its own since I only have one straight-sided 9x13 pan and to fill it properly takes the equivalent of 1.5 normal batches of cake batter (7 cups).   I made a triple batch of batter (which filled my new mixer bowl to the top, I might add), and weighed it to make sure I divided it evenly.  Baked half, depanned and then baked the second half.  I had some anxiety about the texture of the cakes being off after letting half the batter rest for 45 minutes before baking, but it doesn't seem to have made a difference, thankfully.

I then let both cakes cool overnight wrapped in plastic.  The next day I leveled, split and filled them with a strawberries and cream filling.  Next came the carving.  Carving will always make me nervous, no matter how long I do it, I think.  And this one wasn't even that hard because it was only 2-dimensional!  So, to alleviate some of that anxiety I came up with a plan to ensure I get all of her proportions right.  The cake I was using was made up of two 9x13 cakes pushed together to make one 13x18 cake.  I printed out a picture of Hello Kitty spanning 2 pages of paper equaling 11x17, taped some wax paper to the back and cut around her to use as a template.  The result:

The bowl on the left hold scraps of filled cake I carved away to make her body.  The bowl on the right consists of scraps from the leveling process.  By the end of it, though, I had a pretty good outline of Hello Kitty to use as a basis for the rest of my decorating.  You can see the seam of the two cakes by her chin.

Now I had to crumb coat the newly-exposed edges I had cut away and then frost all over.  The frosting I used was a little bit too thick to work with easily, and I wish I had thinned it down before working with it.  That, and the juices from the strawberries I had cut through when carving were making it kind of melty and hard to work with around the sides.  Still not sure how to get around that issue, really.

After preliminary frosting, Kitty looked like this:

Kitty, you're naked!

I didn't take any pictures of the decorating past this point (I tend to get "in the zone" and "covered with frosting" which makes taking photos difficult to remember and difficult to execute).

I had thought that I didn't want to use a round tip to do her outline because getting a sufficiently thick line would necessitate huge pipes of frosting, but looking back on it I wish I had.  Getting all of the curves smooth and precise was very difficult with the tip I chose, and would have been much easier with a round tip.

Here is the end result:


So, not a bad job in the end.  Lessons learned: Use thinner icing, and use a round tip when outlining.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Adventures in Candy Clay and Cheesecake

So it's been awhile.  I've never been very good at keeping these things up, so I apologize for that.

Part 1:

Not a lot of baking going on over here lately.  Interning at Rosebud Cakes on Saturdays has been taking care of my baking cravings, I guess!

Recently, however, I was asked to make a birthday cake for the daughter of a coworker of mine.  In a stroke of luck, Rosebud happened to have a spare cake of the exact size and type I needed, which they were not going to I managed to save myself some work in that regard and was thus able to concentrate on the fun part: Decorating!

The technique of using candy clay, aka "Chocolate Dough" (a combination of chocolate and corn syrup) is one that I had toyed with on my own, and they use it all the time at Rosebud because it is so easy to use, versatile and tasty.  My time there inspired me to make the topper for this cake out of the stuff.

I didn't take any photos of how I actually constructed it, but I used this video for reference.  For the lily-pad, all it took was rolling out the clay, cutting out the shape and thinning the edges.  The Frog's birthday cake was candy clay covered in melted chocolate.

The cake itself, I should mention, was chocolate with chocolate Bavarian cream filling, and the frosting was essentially a white chocolate mousse.

All done!  One of these days I need to sit down and practice my piping.  There is always so much anxiety when it comes to that part.


Part 2:

Two-Bite Cheesecakes!

These little guys might not be very pretty, but I think they're rather cute for a first attempt.  Cheesecake covered in white chocolate and topped with a white chocolate mousse drizzle.

These guys were difficult to dip, because they kept losing tiny pieces in the chocolate which made it kind of lumpy for later dippings.  Next time perhaps freezing them briefly would help keep them whole...although that would make the chocolate solidify even sooner, so it'll be important to get the timing right.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Something New and Different

I think I may have actually come up with an idea that does not already exist on the internet!  That is, I did a quick search for examples on which to base this idea of mine, and didn't really find anything, so it is at least somewhat original!  So, let this, then, serve as inspiration for the huddled baking masses!

This idea of mine is:  Mickey (and Minnie!) Mouse Whoopie Pies.

Seriously, Disneyland take note-- you could totally sell these for $2.50 apiece, I think.  I, of course, could not get away with nearly that much.  But enough with the details...

For those of you that are unaware, Whoopie Pies (or "Gobs" in some places) are sandwiches of cakey cookies with fluffy filling.  Typically, they are about the size of an adult palm, but I make them smaller so they are less messy and make me feel less guilty for eating them!

Tradition dictates they ought to be chocolate cake and marshmallow creme filling, but many variations are popping up nowadays.  Below is an example of regular Whoopie Pies. (I got my recipe from here, for those of you that are interested.)

It does not take much ingenuity or skill to add ears onto them, which gives you this:

After making the cookies, make the filling.  Opinions on what the filling should be run the gamut from a simple American Buttercream to a strange Marshmallow Fluff concoction.  I opted for the Vanilla Creme that came with the recipe I found.

It was a little thinner than I would ultimately have liked.  The filling, while delicious, was a little oozy at times.  This could have been my fault for not whipping the eggs whites enough.  Anyway, the filling needs to go into some kind of dispensing device.  Piping bags are fantastic for this.

Pair up your cookies so that you don't have mismatched sandwiches (I also took the liberty of adding red bows to these ones...that is completely optional.)

 Deposit your filling onto the cookies.

Awww, how cute:

For Mickey, dip the bottom half of each cookie into red chocolate and pipe yellow buttons.  (Like so:)  I had some trouble getting the cookies to stand on-end while the chocolate was hardening, and a couple fell over which is why they are not as smooth as I would have liked.  I may need to devise a support system if I ever do these again in the future.

And that, dear readers, is how to make Mickey (and Minnie!) Mouse Whoopie Pies!  With more practice I think they could really be something sweet.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shoe = Cake

So a few months ago I received an inquiry from my supervisor (the same woman who requested the 10 Giant Cupcakes) about whether or not I would be willing/able to do a 3-D cake for her granddaughter's birthday.  Apparently, she loves her pink Converse hi-tops and so they wanted the cake to be in the shape of one of her shoes.  I had never done a carved cake before, so I told her I would need to think about it and do some research as to what it all entails.
I did some reading, researching how people decide what to charge, techniques for carving, ways to fix carved boo-boos and the like, but was still having trouble with it.  Having never attempted anything like this, it was somewhat overwhelming to think about.

Weeks go by, and I have mostly forgotten about the cake, figuring they had changed their plans or decided to go with someone else.  I head off on my summer vacation, thinking nothing of cake.  Upon my return, she prompts me again if I would be up to it.  I decide to take it on (shoe cakes are fairly popular, and I had seen enough pictures to know that I was capable of at least falling in the middle of the pack).  I still did not know what to charge, though, so I left that part up in the air for the time being, hoping that once I figured out more of what I was doing I would have a better idea of an appropriate price.

The first part I learned about carving cakes is that dense cakes are best (Pound Cake, Mud Cake, Butter Cake, etc...), because they don't smush as easily.  I knew that this cake was primarily for show-- they said they might eat it, but the main cake was going to be provided by cupcakes -- so I wasn't terribly concerned about flavor.  I chose a simple pound cake to serve as my sculpting material.  My goal was to make the cake look almost life-sized, so I shot for about 10 inches from heel to toe.

Some shoe cakes are started with cake baked in loaf pans, but I didn't want to deal with more seams than I needed to so I opted for a basic 9 x 13 cake as my starting point.  I found a picture of a Converse sole online and enlarged it to meet my size specifications.  Once the cake was cool, I stuck it in the freezer for a few hours to firm up even more.  Then it was simply a matter of placing the printed template on top of the cake and starting to cut.

Since I was going for a hi-top, I also needed an extra half-sole piece for the ankle.  A little frosting (just simple buttercream) to hold them together, and tada!

Looks just like a shoe, right?!?  Well, it's a starting point, at least.

Next comes the really nerve-racking part-- carving.  As they say, it is much easier to cut away than it is to reattach, so this part made me especially nervous.  I was terrified about cutting off too much and not being able to fix it-- and my air conditioning is currently kaput so I was dreading the idea of having to bake any more cake.

After much agonizing cutting, I finally had what I felt amounted close enough to a shoe to be able to apply the base layer of frosting (called a "crumb coat" in the biz).  This is what the fondant sticks to, and it seals the cake so it doesn't lose too much moisture. 

It was trickier than I expected to be able to frost all of those funny angles.  It took me a little while to ensure that I had a thin, even coat over the whole thing.

This then went back into the fridge while I contemplated how I was going to decorate.  I knew I wanted to use fondant, because my buttercream skills are not even close to being at the level where I could manage that.  Plus, in the current heat wave, fondant holds up much better.  I then had to decide whether or not to use Marshmallow Fondant.  Normally this is my go-to fondant, because it is cheap and tasty.  But flavor was not really the object here, and I was concerned about the consistency.  Sometimes the marshmallow fondant I make is too thin, and then it tears easily when applied to the cake, which would be a nightmare to deal with.  Other times, it is too thick and then I have trouble getting it rolled out thinly enough for the fine details. 

No, this time I was going to break down and *gasp* buy fondant.  24 ounces for $7 is still crazy, but I just couldn't risk screwing it up.  Plus, I had enough on my mind to worry about, and not having to think about making the stuff did help alleviate some of the stress.

So now that I had fondant, I had to figure out how to cut it.  Normally, to cover a cake you just roll out and drape it over, but this was different.  Converse are made with layers of overlapping canvas.  I decided the easiest way to replicate that look was to treat the fondant like fabric.  For that to work, I would need a template.  Unfortunately, the only one I could find was for baby Converse, which don't work so well when blown up to adult sizes (unless this were for a girl with club foot).

They were a good place to start, but required quite a bit of altering in order to match the dimensions of the shoe.  The three main pieces were the tongue and the two sides, and those required the most tweaking.

After cutting out the first pieces, I began assembling them on the cake.  This was also nerve racking, because removing the fondant once it was placed ruined the underlying buttercream and made subsequent applications more difficult.  This meant sometimes I had to do some trimming after the fondant was attached to the cake.

From there on, it was just a lot of guesswork and experimentation in order to get the details right.  One of the hardest things to remember was that order matters!  First the tongue, then the sides, then the toe cap, followed by the rubber around the sole (notice below that I did not remember the toe cap...had to go back and fix that one!).

One of the improvised techniques I used on this that I am quite happy with was how I made the eyelets for the laces to go through.  First I tried making rings out of a thin piece of gumpaste rope I rolled out, but they ended up looking like cheerios and not even close to professional.  This was one of the details I really wanted to perfect, since I knew they would look so terrible if they were done poorly.  Eventually, I realized I could use my large circular piping tips like cutters to cut out small circles, and then punch out their middles with an even smaller tip.  Then, a little painting with silver luster dust mixed with clear vanilla, and they looked almost like the real thing!

The other difficult thing was figuring out how to do the seal that is on the inside ankle of all Converse hi-tops.  Scouring the internet revealed the many uses of Rice Paper (aka Wafer Paper) as a clear edible canvas.  Using my edible markers, I traced the seal onto the rice paper and then mounted the rice paper onto a circle of fondant with clear piping gel.  The same technique was used for the "All Star" text on the heel.

I made the stitches by just indenting the fondant with a toothpick, rolled out fondant laces and attached them to the shoe with more piping gel.

After applying the rice paper decals, they wanted to curl away from the fondant, so a little plastic wrap encouraged them to stay in place.

All done!  How purdy!  Even though this was still clearly a first-try, and I am not totally happy with it (the black fondant stripe around the top of the sole isn't completely straight, and that bothers me), it is a very good representation of the thing I was told to make, and it is completely edible!  How about that!

From this angle it looks like it could be a real shoe, even.  That is quite cool.  I am very pleased with the seal.  I think the rice paper was by far the easiest way to achieve good results, and the clarity is impressive.

The cake was delivered today, and everyone was very happy with it.  I never did quote a price for it, though (oops!), so there was a slight awkward moment when it came time to accept payment.  The amount was perfect (even a little bit above what I would have quoted), and I think she really believed it was worth the price.

Overall, I am very pleased with how it all came together, and with my efforts.  All with no air conditioning, mind you!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring has sprung

Happy Easter!

In the rush of preparing Easter dinner, I forgot to take any pictures of the process I went through making these cute little guys, but because I tried a new technique (and because I think they are pretty), I figured I would talk about them anyway.

I used a basic sugar cookie recipe for the cookies.  Nothing fancy.  The original recipe is supposed to make 5 dozen cookies (which was way more than I wanted to make), so I thought I would be all clever and use the website's recipe conversion to scale it down a bit.  Unfortunately I did not save those changes so when I went to print the recipe later, it was a full batch (which of course I didn't notice until the butter and sugar were already creamed).  But when is more cookie dough really that much of a problem??  I baked half of the recipe, and froze the rest for later.  Problem solved!  And, now I have homemade cut-and-bake cookies whenever I want them-- even better!

Making these cookies was somewhat of a last-minute task, so I had to pick and choose the "Springiest" (let's just pretend that's a word, shall we?) of the cookie cutters I already had.  Hence the rather odd combination of sizes.

Now that I had a bunch of cookies, I needed to decide on a kind of icing.  Again, sort of a last-minute thing, so I didn't have the cream cheese for my usual go-to frosting recipe.  This gave me an excuse to try Royal Icing, which I had only done once before--for the halloween faux cupcakes and cakes.  In particular, I was interested to try flooding, which is a technique that involves outlining the cookie in icing to create a dam, and then filling it in with thinned icing to create a smooth finish.  

Although mine did not have the satiny-smooth finish some decorators can achieve, I am happy with the results for a first try.  To do more details would require long set-up times, but I think I will give that a shot sometime relatively soon.  The possibilities are practically limitless!  (Also an advantage of Royal Icing:  It is completely shelf-stable, so no worries about refrigeration or spoilage!)

I haven't made cookies in awhile...I like cookies.  I'm happy I have more awaiting me in the freezer.  : )

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Can't Wait for Spring - Part II


 I couldn't figure out a good way to give them hands or feet, so they're just heads.  This is what I did with my Saturday afternoon. Some guy I know helped.

What I can't believe is that I STILL have a dozen or so that have yet to be dipped.  This has been quite the undertaking!

I Can't Wait for Spring!

It's been awhile.  Between the holidays and school starting up, there just hasn't been much time for baking endeavors.  But, thanks to a little prodding from my friends, I've realized that being busy is hardly an excuse-- especially when there are things as adorable as these out there!

So, in honor of my friends' pestering and my love of Springtime, I present:


They are so cute I can hardly stand it.  Of course, they are no match to the sweet simplicity of Bakerella, but I think their expressions are just precious.  We had some friends over to help decorate them so I can't take credit for all of their adorable little faces.  I am so pleased with how they turned out.  A positive way to spend my Friday night.

They start off like any other cake balls/pops/truffles (still no consensus on what to call these things):

*  Bake a cake (I used a white cake mix with lemon oil, lemon juice, and buttermilk substitutions).
*  Get some frosting (I used leftover Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Butter Roux frosting that I had frozen).
*  Crumble up the cake.
*  Mush in the frosting until the mix is the consistency of cookie dough and holds together when shaped.
*  Portion out the dough using a melon baller or similar "relatively diminutive spherical portioning device" (to quote Alton Brown).
*  Roll into balls and chill.

As far as the coating for these little guys,  I recommend using candy specifically designed for coating, such as confectionery wafers, almond bark, etc...  The only colors of coating wafers I had on hand this particular night  were pink, green, and white (leftovers from my giant cupcake project).  Thankfully, I had thought ahead enough to purchase Candy Colors, which I was able to use to color my white chocolate yellow.

Candy Colors are like food coloring, but oil based instead of water-- don't use regular food coloring to color chocolate!  It will cause the coating to seize up into an icky mess.

After the coating was colored appropriately, I retrieved the balls from the fridge and inserted the sticks.  To make sure the balls don't slip off when you dip them, dip the tip of the stick into the chocolate before inserting into the ball.  When the chocolate hardens it will provide a better bond for the ball to stick to.

Dip them in a container that is tall and narrow, so they can be completely covered in one dip-- this will minimize the risk of dislodging the ball from its stick, which can get crumbs in your chocolate and make your remaining dips lumpy.

Allow each ball to drip thoroughly before tipping it right-side-up to dry.  I used a styrofoam block for this, but you could use anything tall enough to not touch the base of the candy and narrow enough to hold the pop upright (a highball glass would work well for this, depending on the length of the sticks you used).

While the chocolate was still slightly soft I inserted the sprinkles that would become the Chickies' beaks.  These were just round orange confetti-type sprinkles, but if you wanted to let the coating dry completely you could use a technique like Bakerella did and add orange candy to the outside later. 

I then used a dab of chocolate coating to adhere the feet (star-shaped sprinkles), big dabs of coating on the sides made little wings, and the eyes were made with more confetti sprinkles and edible markers.

The two in front here are my absolute favorites.  I love the slightly...special look about the one on the left, and the shocked surprise on the face of his friend.

Rock star chickie with his groupies (notice the sugar mohawk and soul patch)


All packaged up pretty!

There are still at least 50 balls in my refrigerator waiting to be dipped, but I can't decide how to go about it.  I might do more chickies, might do some many options!