Saturday, December 25, 2010

Baklava

I always thought that Baklava was very difficult to make and was rather wary of trying it. When Dan's family was having Middle Eastern food for a holiday get-together, he suggested I make a baklava for the dessert. After reading Alton Brown's recipe from Food Network I decided to try it. For easy reference below is his recipe along with some of the changes I made and tips on how to make this complicated dessert a little less daunting.















How to Clarify Butter

A few months ago, my parents asked if we could make a dessert for a Greek/Middle Eastern-themed meal for a get-together at their house. I absolutely love baklava and half-seriously suggested that Laurie make one, figuring it was probably something that would be so difficult that she'd just laugh me off. But she did some reading and watched some videos and decided to make a baklava from scratch!

One thing that was called for in many baklava recipes is clarified butter. As Laurie starts to work on her baklava, she asks if I can clarify some butter. My first response is, of course, to point at the butter and say, "that's the butter." But apparently, it turns out that clarifying butter is actually a real thing you do in the kitchen. (This is why she's the chef, and I'm the webmaster)

Not having any clue what I was doing, but having Laurie actually expecting me to produce said clarified butter for her since she was busy preparing other parts of the baklava, I did some quick Googling and found some guides. This was a particularly handy one, since it comes with lots of pictures for someone like me to try and replicate during the process. Those pictures are very indicative of what I saw, so rather than posting any of my own, go look at those.

Anyways, we've made baklava twice now, so I guess I would now consider myself a butter clarifying expert. If there was a professional league for butter clarifying...well, I'd probably still not be in that. But I do feel like I know what I'm doing enough to describe it for other novices.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Individual Key Lime Pies/Tarts - AKA Dan's Pucker Pies

So many of my friends may not believe this, Laurie isn't the only one in our family who likes to bake. I mean, I actually chose to take Home Economics instead of Wood Shop one year in middle school because I really liked the 1/3 of the year we spent doing cooking and baking. But obviously, given Laurie's culinary talents, I leave most of the heavy lifting to her and just handle Sous Chef duties when she needs me to.

However, she just had her birthday, and I usually try to bake her something for that occasion. Last year I tried an Apple Cobbler that I'm glad will never end up on this blog. This year, I decided to try and make her a Key Lime pie, which is one of her absolute favorites. I found this easy-sounding recipe over at Our Best Bites  for Individual Key Lime Tarts (mini-pies) and decided to give it a shot.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Caramel Apple Pie

One of the main desserts my family always requests that I make over the holidays is my caramel apple pie. It is fairly easy to make and is a big crowd pleaser. I usually make about a half dozen over the year. It's always requested for our Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.

This is absolutely one of the most amazing desserts that Laurie makes. You get a great variety of texture in every bite from the light, flaky pastry crust to the syrup-soaked apples to the perfect crunch of the baked topping, all covered with sweet caramel sauce and some chopped pecans. It really doesn't get much better than this, unless maybe you add a scoop of vanilla ice cream too.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Some minor layout changes and a new Contact Us feature

We made a few minor changes yesterday to the layout of the blog. We've relocated that big old chunk of text from the right column to a new About Us page which you can access from the new navigation bar, located just below the logo. We just wanted to make it a little easier to read the blog and also to see our handy Find us on Facebook box where you can see that we already have well over 100 fans--thanks everyone for stopping by! Like us and you'll be notified whenever we have up a new post.

We've also added a Contact Us page, also accessed from the new navigation bar. This is a simple email form to get in touch with Laurie and Dan. If you've got a question about something we posted, an idea or a suggestion for a future post, or want to get in touch with us, please feel free to submit your request via the form.

Lastly, I know we've been a bit quiet the last few weeks, but with Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching, Laurie is going to be baking up a storm over the next few weeks and we'll be sure to share with all of you!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake

I got an email about doing a cake for a first birthday party. The client and I sent some emails back and forth trying to come up with a cake that would fit her little girl. She sent me a link of a cake she really liked and wanted to replicate. From the link and talking to her we came up with my take on the Very Hungry Caterpillar cake.
Very Hungry Caterpillar First Birthday Cake

I started this by making two 6 inch cakes. I cut both in half and used 3 of the halves to make the head and the last one to carve the butterfly. I filled and stacked the head with Italian buttercream and covered it with red fondant. I bought a tub of the Duff Goldman red fondant and found it to be horrible to use. It was very streaky and did not cover the cake well. I had to recover the head because of this. I used oval cutters for the eyes and inlayed the green into the yellow. I used a circle cutter for the mouth. Since the board was so long, I had to make all the pieces of the cake ahead of time and then assemble on the day it was delivered.
Very Hungry Caterpillar cake head closeup

Next I used a piece of wax paper and cut out the shape I wanted for the butterfly. Using the template I made, I cut out the butterfly and covered it with a layer of buttercream. I originally covered the butterfly in white fondant and placed pieces of colored fondant on top. I didn't really liked the look of the finished butterfly. So I started over and covered it with lavender fondant. Then using the story book as a reference, I added different colored fondant to the wings.
Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake-butterfly closeup

I made the cupcakes the day before delivery so they would stay fresh. I made the same buttercream I used for the cake and divided it in half. I colored one half with leaf green and the other with leaf green and golden yellow. I then put a little of each in the piping bag with a star tip. By doing this I was able to get a very neat swirl pattern on the cupcakes.
Cupcake with swirled green buttercream

Next came assembly! I took the head off the cake round and placed it on the cake board. Then I placed all the cupcakes where I wanted them to make the cupcake train. Once I had everything where I wanted it, I used royal icing to secure it all to the board. Dan and I then placed chocolate jimmies around the edge to represent the hair on the back of the caterpillar. I then placed the butterfly on the board and used the jimmies as the antennae. I didn't like the way the fondant edge looked on the head of the caterpillar, so I added a thin red ribbon around the cake so the bottom looked clean. I made the feet of the caterpillar out of black fondant and secured them with royal icing. I printed out an apple pattern and used it to cut out the apple out of fondant. I free handed the leaf and used a knife to make the veins. I used a round tip to take out a hole in the fondant in both and then filled in with black holes. I colored the remaining royal icing pink to do the writing and eyes on the butterfly. Finally I added the antennae on the butterfly using a wooden dowel and black fondant, and my take on the Very Hungry Caterpillar cake was complete!
Very Hungry Caterpillar First Birthday Cake-left side with appleVery Hungry Caterpillar First Birthday Cake-right side with leaf

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Add ribbons onto cakes before you secure the cupcakes down. It will be a lot easier
2) Try to picture what the final look will be when you are decorating a cake. I didn't with the butterfly and ended up having to start over because I didn't like the final look the first time.
3) Give yourself extra time when you are using a new product. When I tried the Duff fondant and didn't like it at all, I was glad I gave myself plenty of time to recover the cake with something better.
4) Using cutters and tips to inlay the fondant gives a nice clean look and prevents the fondant from getting too thick.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Final Wedding Cake with Sugar Chrysanthemums

One of the last things we had to do in culinary school was design and create a final wedding cake. Our sketch had to match our final cakes. They could be any shape and three tiers. The "cake" part was styrofoam since the class was more about decorating. Here's the final cake.
final wedding cake with sugar chrysanthemums

And for comparison sake, here's the sketch I started with.

I decided to go with a simple white wedding cake with lots of sugar chrysanthemums. I made the same flower in multiple different sizes for the middle tier and for on top. I made most of the flowers ahead of time and just made the larger ones for the top of the cake in class. I did this for a number of reasons. First, I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get them on the cake during our class time. Next I wanted to make sure they were dried. Finally, I felt that if I made them ahead of time I wouldn't be too stressed out and could concentrate on the details.

sugar chrysanthemum closeup

The top tier and bottom tiers had a quilt pattern with yellow dots at the crosses. To do this, I really thought about how to get the pattern on the cake easily and evenly. I came up with an idea that worked really well. I took a folder that was thin plastic and cut out a 45 degree triangle. By doing this I had something I could bend around the circle and gave me an exact angle for the lines. To start, I covered the styrofoam with some royal icing and rolled out the white fondant. I rolled the fondant thicker so I could put the lines in and not go all the way through the fondant. Also with thicker fondant, I gave myself a little more time before it dried out. I used the triangle and a bench scraper to put the lines in the fondant lightly (flipping over the triangle to do the lines the other way). I put the lines in lightly so if I messed up or the pattern didn't match up correctly I could rub it out of the fondant. I used the bench scraper to make the lines deeper once I was happy with the pattern.

I covered the middle tier with plain white fondant because I knew I was going to cover it in white flowers. The white fondant behind the white flowers helped to make the gaps between the flowers less apparent. I stacked the tiers using a little royal icing to hold them together.

After I stacked the cake, I put all the flowers on the middle tier. Once I started putting the flowers on, I saw that having the flowers all the same size looked a little flat. So I added petals onto some of the flowers to alter the sizes. I liked the look a lot better that way.

Once all the flowers were in, I took a step back and realized that the cake was a little too white. I decided to add a yellow ribbon around the top and bottom tiers. I colored the fondant the same color as the middles of the flowers. I then rolled it as thin as I wanted the ribbons to be. There are a few ways to cut the ribbons. You can use a roller and a knife or pizza cutter. Wilton also makes a tool to cut multiple ribbons at once. To put the ribbon on the cake, I rolled up each ribbon like a cinnamon bun (using confectioner's sugar to prevent sticking). Brush water on the area you want to apply the ribbon and unroll it onto the cake. Use a knife to cut the excess (Make sure the ends meet in the back of the cake).

I made the flowers for the top of the cake partly at home and finished them when I put them on the cake. I did this so I could position the petals where I wanted them on the cake while they were still soft. This was also good because the top of the cake was damaged while it was being stored at the school. I was able to position the flowers so they covered the damage. If I was unable to do this I would have had to re-cover everything.

The final step was to put the dots on the cross sections of the top and bottom tiers. I made royal icing and colored it yellow. I took my time piping the dots on so they were uniform.

I mentioned this beautiful cake way back in our very first post and I'm glad Laurie was able to post more details on it. She worked incredibly hard on those flowers, pulling a few near all-nighters. You can't see it on the scan of the sketch, but there's a little math scrawled on the left side of the page as we tried to compute the surface area of the outside of a 8" round, 2" tall cylinder to help guess how many chrysanthemums to make, and I think even then Laurie still needed to make a bunch more to fill in the holes over what we estimated. So apparently there was a reason to pay attention in math class after all!

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Make the flowers on wire that is thick enough. I didn't and had a very hard time pushing them on the cake.
2) Think about how you will accomplish your different ideas before you jump into it
3) Plan out everything and add more time
4) Nothing will ever be perfect! Know when to stop or you could make it worse.
5) Don't be afraid to change your design

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baking a Cake

My last post was a recipe for the two most common cakes I have made. In it I discussed how to make a batter and scale it out for what you need. What I didn't touch upon was baking that cake and knowing when it is done. You may think (like I once did) just pour it in the pan and use a toothpick. But in truth there are a few simple steps to baking a cake that will come out correctly.

One of the most important things is to prep the pan properly. These steps work for most cakes (except angel food cake). First and I think one of the most important steps is to grease and flour the pan. I use butter to grease the pan. All you need to do is just put a pad of butter in the pan and push it around with your hand. Make sure all areas are covered. Next put a little bit of flour in the pan and shake it around till it is completely covered. I feel this is the most important step because it ensures the cake will come out of the pan. If it doesn't come out of the pan correctly then you don't have a cake--you have some wasted batter! I know some people use the canned spray to cover their pans and that is fine, but I just feel that I would rather not put chemicals into my food.

There are three ways to know a cake is done without using a toothpick. They are easy to remember and help you to know where your cake is at without putting holes everywhere.
1) Color - your cake should be a light brown color, darker than it started
2) Bounce back - you should be able to lightly press on the top of your cake and it should spring or bounce back. If it stays indented then the cake is not done yet.
3) Pulls away from pan - if you greased the pan correctly you should see the cake start to shrink away or pull away from the sides of the pan.

After the cake comes out of the oven, leave it sit for a minute then remove them from the pan onto a cooling rack. This is important so that the steam can be released from the inside of the cake into the air and not recirculated back by the walls of the pan.

Basic yellow butter cake before baking.

The same yellow butter cake after baking. Note how it is now light brown and has pulled away from the pan.

Yellow and Chocolate Butter Cake

Most of the cakes I have done so far have been yellow butter cake, chocolate butter cake or a combination of the two. These two recipes can also be used to make marble cakes. The recipes for these are really simple. Below I will list the recipes and then I will talk you through the making of them. Since they are both made with the creaming method of cake mixing, I will not have to describe the mixing process twice. And since these recipes are done by weight, it is really easy to increase or decrease them depending on the size of cake you want to make.


Yellow Butter Cake*
Butter, room temperature 12 oz 360 g
Sugar 13 oz 390 g
Salt 0.12 oz 4 g
Eggs 7.5 oz 225g
Cake Flour 15 oz 450g
Baking Powder 0.62oz 18g
Milk 15oz 450g
Vanilla Extract 0.25oz 8g
TOTAL WEIGHT 3lb 15oz 1905g

Chocolate Butter Cake*

Butter, room temperature 9 oz 280 g
Sugar 15 oz 470 g
Salt 0.2 oz 6 g
Unsweetened chocolate, melted 6 oz 188 g
Eggs 8 oz 250g
Cake Flour 12 oz 250g
Baking Powder 0.5oz 15g
Milk 14oz 439g
Vanilla Extract 0.25oz 8g
TOTAL WEIGHT 4lb 2202 g

Mixing
1) Weigh out all your ingredients

  • Butter, Sugar & Salt in mixing bowl
  • Eggs in a bowl
  • Cake Flour, Baking Powder sifted onto parchment
  • Milk and Vanilla Extract in a measuring cup or something that you can use to pour

2) Cream the butter with the sugar and salt
  • To do this use the paddle attachment on your mixer and mix the butter, sugar and salt together. Start at a slow speed till everything starts to combine (this will prevent the separate ingredients from leaving the bowl). Once they start to combine turn up the mixer to medium speed. Continue to mix until the butter goes from the usual yellow color to white. Make sure you scrape down the bowl during this so everything get mixed evenly. You are adding air to the mix during this process so it should be light and fluffy. If you are making a chocolate cake you can add the melted chocolate at this time before the eggs. Scrape down the bowl after the addition.
Here's the buttercream when its still got the normal yellow color.


Once its properly combined, it'll turn nice and white like this.


3) Add the eggs a little at a time.

  • You want to add the eggs one at a time. You want to make sure that the first is combined into the butter mixture before you add the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition in order make sure everything is evenly combined.

4) Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture with the mixer off (if you add it with the mixer on it will make a mess). Turn on the mixer on low to combine the flour.

5) Add about 1/3 of the milk mixture. You can do this while the flour is mixing in.



6) Continue to add the flour and milk mixtures alternating until you have added it all. Make sure you periodically scrape down the bowl for even mixing.

7) Once everything is added scrape the bowl down one last time and turn on the mixer for one last short time to ensure an even batter.


Scaling and Baking*
Use the chart below to scale out your batter and bake the cakes. For example, the chocolate butter cake recipe above makes 4 lbs of batter. That would be enough for a 18x13 inch sheet pan. If you cut the recipe in half, you would have 32 oz of batter, enough for a 12 inch round pan. So figure out what you're going to make, calculate how much batter you need, and scale the batter recipe accordingly.

Pan Type Scaling/Baking Guidelines


Round Size
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
6 in. 8-10 oz 230-285 g375F 18 min
8 in. 14-18 oz 400-510 g375F 25 min
10 in. 24-28 oz 680-800 g360F 35 min
12 in. 32-40 oz 900-1100 g360F 35 min


Sheets/Square Pans
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
18x26 in. 7-8 lb 3.2-3.6 kg360 35 min
18x13 in. 3.5-4 lb 1.6-1.8 kg360F 35 min
9x9 in. 24 oz 680 g360F 30-35 min


Loaf (pound cake)
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
2 ¼ x 3 ½ x 8 in. 16-18 oz 450-500 g350F 50-60 min
2 ¾ x 4 ½ x 8 ½ in. 24-27 oz 680-765 g350F 55-65 min


Cupcakes
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
Per dozen 18 oz 510 g385F 18-20 min

* Recipe and Chart were taken from Professional Baking 5th Edition by: Wayne Gisslen

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our new Facebook Page and a special thanks!

For our Facebooking friends, we've set up a Facebook page for the blog. Click here to check that out. Anytime Laurie or I update the blog, if you've liked that Facebook page you'll automatically see a note on your news feed and you can easily stay up to date with our latest posts. You can also like us by clicking the link in the Facebook toolbox in the right column.

I also wanted to give a really special thanks to our great longtime friend Lisa Toff. Lisa is a really talented artist and designer who helped us turn a paper sketch Laurie had made for the Confectionary Bliss logo into something we could actually put on the website. She runs prismPOP and does all sorts of clever, unique pop art. She also has a design, arts, and Coney Island blog at myconey.wordpress.com. So a big thanks to Lisa for helping us out with that. Go check her stuff out and be amazed by her creative talents.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Measuring Ingredients for Baking

Before I post details on recipes I have made or recipes I try out, I thought I should talk about how I measure ingredients. I grew up baking using measuring cups and spoons. Then I went to culinary school where we were only allowed to use balance or digital scales. Since I have used both methods, I will tell you that I prefer weighing everything out. Below are the reasons why:
  1. You can keep your recipes consistent that way
    • when using cups and spoons they can differ from day to day depending on how much you pack the ingredients down or whether or not you sift it. By weighing it stays the same no matter what.
  2. You can increase or decrease the size your recipes much easier
  3. You will use less dishes which means less clean-up later
    • you can weigh ingredients that go in at the same time into the same bowls
    • you don't have to wash the extra cups and spoons.
I also prefer to use the metric system. It means less conversions from pounds to ounces in order to divide or increase a recipe. I try to convert recipes that are in cups into grams as I am working so that I will have the recipe consistent for later use.

You will see in future posts that most of my recipes will be in grams. Scales are pretty cheap and can be purchased at most houseware stores. If you prefer to convert them back to cups, at the bottom of this post is a chart of some common, quick baking measurement conversions. There are also plenty of online sites that will do the math for you, such as http://www.onlineconversion.com/cooking.htm.

Next thing that is very important in baking is measuring everything out before you start to combine your ingredients--it's called mis en place, meaning things in place. There are a few reasons for this:
  1. It allows you to make sure you have everything you need. This way you are not in the middle of mixing and realize you don't have enough of an ingredient.
  2. It helps you work cleaner and more organized.
  3. Batters are put together much quicker
Weight
1 lb = 16 oz
1 oz = 28.35 grams
8 oz = 1 cup

Volume
1 gal = 4 qt
1 qt = 2 pt or 4 cups or 32 (fl)oz or 907.2 grams
1 pt = 2 cups or 16 (fl) oz
1 cup = 8 (fl) oz
1 (fl)oz = 2 tbsp
1 tbsp = 3 tsp

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wedding Cookies

Our two year wedding anniversary is coming up next month, so I thought why not post about the wedding cake cookies I made for all of our guests' hotel goodie bags. The plan was to make homemade cookies for every guest who stayed overnight for our wedding. Well, our kitchen is kind of small and it wasn't not feasible to make a cookie for each person. So I made one or two per bag (I based how many cookies went into the bag on how many people were staying in the room, about 1 cookie for every 2 people).

First, I searched online for a wedding cake cookie cutter. It took a bit but I found a good one that was reasonably priced. The cookie cutter came with a really good sugar cookie recipe, so I decided to test it out on Dan. Next, I figured out how many cookies I would need. Since the cookie cutter was rather large, I counted every one wedding cake cookie equalled two cookies per the recipe. I made the dough and baked off the cookies a few days before the wedding, so I would have time to let them cool before I had to decorate them.

Decorations were done with royal icing. I made a huge batch and filled in all the cookies with the white colored icing. Next, I made flowers to look like the sunflowers we were using throughout the wedding. I piped them on parchment paper and let them dry overnight. This allowed me to attach the flowers directly to the cookies as I wanted them. I also accented the white color with burgundy lines and dots (our wedding colors were burgundy and gold). On the bottom "layer" of the wedding cake cookie I piped our names in the burgundy royal icing. The cookies were intentionally designed to look like our wedding cake, which was a 4-tier with burgundy ribbon and sugar sunflowers.

Once the cookies were all dried, I placed them in clear plastic bags and tied them with burgundy ribbon. I placed a homemade sticker on the back of each.

Everyone loved them and appreciated the personal touches we added to make them feel special.


wedding cake cookie
Just some perspective from Dan--I absolutely loved this personal touch Laurie added to our wedding hotel goodie bags. We used them as hotel bag favors, but with enough time and effort these wedding cake cookies could make for a great wedding favor to give out at the reception, or you could even make really clever wedding cake cookie seating cards. They took Laurie a lot of time and effort (and I helped a little bit here and there) but it was really worth it!

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Give yourself plenty of time to complete a large project
2) Know your limits! ( I am glad I decided to make 1 or 2 cookies per bag)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Personal Apple Pie Tarts

These personal apple pies were a great treat that Laurie whipped up for my family's Rosh Hashanah dinner with some friends. Laurie used a mini-pie mold from Williams-Sonoma. The pie dough recipe was pretty standard but with a few custom touches from Laurie (I add cinnamon and nutmeg to my crust). The filling was Granny Smith Apples (cut into small cubes), sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt--she made them both with and without nuts, using both walnuts and pecans. And she had a clever idea to help tell the with and without nuts pies apart. She used the leaf cutout, putting it on the top of the ones with nuts and leaving it off the others. So that worked out great to keep people happy since so many people have nut allergies today.

They cooked up great and made for a great personal-sized apple pie, or pocket pie. We served them up with vanilla ice cream and they were a smash hit. Another great idea to top this off would be adding some caramel sauce. They'd also make for a great Thanksgiving pie for someone looking to give a different take on a traditional Thanksgiving apple pie.

A Plate of Apple-Shaped Personal Apple Pies
Two Apple-Shaped Personal Apple Pies

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Don't over fill the pockets or the steam pocket will rip the dough.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Grandmother Tribute Cake

This cake was a very special one that Laurie made as a tribute to my wonderful Grammy, who passed away last November. Our family was getting together and my Mom asked if Laurie could make a special cake as a tribute to Grammy and all of the things she loved best.



I found this cake very challenging. The main issue was how to make a cake that honors such a wonderful, loved woman. The other problem was transporting the cake to Pittsburgh (about 5 hours away). To solve the transportation problem, I covered the cake in fondant and made sure the cake was done a day before so it had time to get really cold in the refrigerator.

The cake was alternating layers of yellow butter cake and chocolate butter cake. It is filled and covered with Italian Buttercream.

The decorations pay tribute to my wonderful grandmother. She was from Pittsburgh and a big Steeler's fan, so Laurie made a Steelers' jersey and laid it across a football field for part of the cake. That was all made out of simple fondant, rolled out and colored, with the field lines piped in royal icing. She put on a cruise ship in an ocean since my Grammy and Poppy always went on cruises. The ship is sculpted fondant, detailed with royal icing. The ocean was done with colored piping gel, which came out great. The beach scene recognized how much my Grammy loved going down to Atlantic city and reading books. The sand was light brown sugar, the book and towel were sculpted out of fondant, and the umbrella was, well, a little drink umbrella--sorry, not edible! The last part on the top was a grass yard (royal icing piped with a grass tip) with a family photo album (fondant), and finally my grandparent's beloved chocolate poodle Ollie, sculpted out of modeling chocolate and detailed with royal icing.

Around the side of the cake were the names of my grandfather, my Mom and Dad, my Aunt and Uncle, and all of the grandkids. My grandmother always wore a charm necklace with the little "stick figure" versions of each of her grandkids, so Laurie used some gingerbread man and woman cookie cutouts to look like the necklace, piped on the names, and then piped the chain to connect the cutouts. She added the hearts in between to recognize Grammy's other most important people--her husband, her daughters, and her sons-in-law.

This was a really wonderful tribute cake that blew away our whole family. It quickly became the centerpiece at our dinner table and people had a hard time cutting it when it came to eat dessert because it was just so special to all of us. But it was also REALLY delicious. Once we finally did cut it, everyone enjoyed it not just for its beautiful look and loving tribute to our Grammy, but also because it was a great dessert!

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Fondant really helps keep a cake together for long rides.
2) Sweeter butter (such as Land O'Lakes) really helped boost the flavor of the buttercream.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Just Because Flipflop Cake

One of our good friends asked me to make this cake for her mother. She said that her mother's birthday just passed and her mother didn't get the cake she wanted. Her mother loves pound cake with buttercream. She said her mother loves to wear flip flops and her favorite color is blue. When asked what she wanted the cake to say, she replied "Just Because". The flip flops were made out of fondant. I used a computer print out with saran wrap over it to cut out the design. I used royal icing for the writing and accents. I used a cake comb to give the sides some texture.


LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Use a print out or pattern when ever you can. It makes shape easier to make in fondant and gum paste.
2) Test recipes you haven't used before on family (My mom and Dan got to taste my pound cake recipe before I made this cake).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Twins Baby Shower Cake



We got a call from a friend in a panic because she forgot to order a cake for the baby shower she was throwing. We spent some time tossing back and forth some idea and even hunted online while on the phone together. The twist here was that the shower was for twins and the twins were one of each sex. So the cake had to be both handsome and beautiful. We decided to go with a clothesline cake with both boy and girl onesies.

The cake was a layer of chocolate butter cake and a layer of yellow butter cake. I used Italian Buttercream to fill and coat the cake. The onesies are made out of fondant that was rolled thin and cut with a cookie cutter. I used food coloring pens to decorate the fondant. I piped the message in a gender neutral green and added blue and pink touches. Dan's favorite touch is the little blue and pink dots around the base of the cake.

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Food Coloring Pens were the best invention ever! They make writing on fondant and gum paste so easy.
2) When doing a cake for someone spend as much time as needed to understand exactly what they want. It will make it easier in the long run.
3) Make sure that you are clear with your timeline. This will make changes easier to make.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Birthday Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

I'm a sucker for anything chocolate peanut butter, and every year on my birthday, Laurie makes me a different chocolate and peanut butter themed dessert. This was from this year's birthday--unbelievable chocolate peanut butter cupcakes. They were chocolate cupcakes with a peanut butter cream filling, chocolate buttercream frosting, and a Reese's peanut butter cup on top. They were terrific and very filling with a perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

This was a simple chocolate cake batter scooped into the cupcake cups with an ice cream scoop. The filling was whipped peanut butter folded into whipped cream, which was piped into each cupcake. The frosting was very light and more mousse-like then thick. I liked to top a cake or cupcake with something which reflects what is inside, so these are toped with peanut butter cups.


LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Make sure you use a cake that will hold a filling (These cakes were very moist and fell apart from the weight of the peanut butter filling)
2) Don't overfill the cupcakes or they will fall apart (Dan got lots of samples of the cupcake that exploded)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day, Graduation, and Birthday Cake in One!

This was a tricky cake. We were getting together with some of Dan's family for dinner. We were celebrating multiple events that happened or were happening soon. His cousin just graduated High School, it was Father's Day, and 2 birthdays were coming up. I thought very hard on how to combine all that together. First, I thought, well they all begin with the word "Happy." Next I thought of some symbols that represent each of those events. A tassel for the graduation, a candle for the birthdays and a tie for Father's Day. I wrote around the sides between the different symbols Grad, Father and Birthday for each of the holidays. The cake was chocolate and yellow butter cake and it was covered in Italian Buttercream.

father's day, graduation, and birthday cake

Here's another angle where you can see how Laurie draped the tassel down the other side.
father's day, graduation, and birthday cake

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Spacing is very difficult when writing along the side of a cake and should be thought of BEFORE you start piping.
2) Execution should be thought about carefully BEFORE you start decorating the cake.

Animal Cupcakes

This was a cute idea I had to deal with the leftover batter and buttercream. We were going to a family party which I made a cake for, and they have a 2 year old. I thought what would a 2 year old want, the answer was cupcakes of course! Then I had to figure out how to decorate them. When I am trying to get ideas for decorating, I usually pull out books and hunt around on the Internet. I found some cute animals made out of buttercream in one of my books. I decided to try it out. I knew I didn't have all the tips I needed but thought I would try it out anyway. The details were done with royal icing.

animal cupcakes


Here's some close-ups.

Chicken cupcake - Dan's personal favorite!
chicken cupcake

Pink Elephant cupcake
pink elephant cupcake

Pig cupcake
pig cupcake

Turtle cupcake
turtle cupcake

These were pretty easy to make and with Laurie's amazing buttercream and cupcakes, they were not only adorable but also tasted great. My god-daughter thoroughly enjoyed hers (well, the parts that weren't smashed into her face), and all the adults enjoyed them too. I think they'd be great for any young kid's birthday party as a nice addition or alternative to a traditional cake.

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Never throw out extra batter. You can always make something out of it and get practice decorating.
2) Ideas for decorating can be found in many different places.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Banana Chocolate Birthday Cake with Daffodils

I made this cake for my younger sister's 25th birthday. She loves banana cake, so I made a banana cake with a fudge icing. My sister's favorite flower is a daffodil. So I tried to make them for the top of the cake. It was the first time making this flower out of gum paste.

Unfortunately you can't enjoy the best part of this cake online--the taste! Man, this was so good. It was just an amazingly moist banana cake with this decadent chocolate fudge frosting. It was one of those cakes where everyone asked for a glass of milk when they were done!
banana chocolate birthday cake with daffodils

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) The fudge frosting sets quickly. I had to use warm water on the spatula to spread the frosting on the cake.
2) Practice, Practice, Practice. That is the only way to get beautiful, life-like flowers.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Three-tiered Irish-themed 50th Birthday Cake

This is the most elaborate cake I have done since finishing culinary school--my first three-tiered cake. It was an Irish-themed birthday cake for my cousin's wife's surprise 50th birthday party. This was for a huge party with 100+ people.

Since my cousin was not exactly sure what he wanted. We talked about doing 2 sheet cakes or a tiered cake. We decided on a tiered cake and he wanted it to be elegant. His wife is irish and colors of the party were green and white. From this direction, I drew up my ideas and OK'd it with my cousin who was throwing the party. You can see on the sketch (below) that I labeled what each tier was going to be, what the various decorations were, etc. The idea was to top the cake with white roses in a bed of clover, then do some irish patterns and vine-style piping along the lower tiers with little happy birthday logo in a Celtic font. The cake was yellow and chocolate butter cake.


irish birthday cake sketch

I made all of the flowers and clovers out of gum paste using flower cutters and floral wire.

irish birthday cake flowers and clovers

The celtic writing was tricky because the happy birthday "circle" was fairly small. I piped most of the letters with royal icing onto parchment with a print out underneath and then attached them to the gumpaste circle in order to really nail the font style. I free-handed the ivy pattern on the tier as well using colored buttercream. The clovers were free piped onto the cake with green royal icing.

irish birthday cake celtic writing

Here's a look at the final product, on display at the birthday party. There were tiers of vanilla and chocolate. The cake was cut and handed out as a party favor for everyone and everyone gave it rave reviews.
irish birthday cake

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Plan out everything you are going to do and don't bite off more than you can handle.
2) Make sure you have to space to refrigerate the cake. (We had a lot of take out that week, since I had to take out shelves in the refrigerator to fit the cake once it was stacked.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Communion Strawberry Shortcake

This was a last minute order for a communion cake. She wanted a strawberry shortcake and didn't care what it said on it. It was for her son's communion. The cake is a yellow butter cake baked in 1/2 sheet pan. I cut it in half to stack it. The filling is fresh strawberries mixed with sugar and some corn syrup. I piped sweetened whipped cream around the edge of the cake to hold the filling in. The cake is coated with the same whipped cream. I used a cross cookie cutter to leave a pattern on the whipped cream so I could use a star tip to make the blue cross.



LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Whipped cream is much softer than buttercream and takes a gentler hand to pipe.
2) When able use cookie cutters to leave your pattern lines.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

High School Soccer Team Cake

I got a call from my cousin's wife wanting a cake for her daughter's soccer team's pasta dinner. She was having about 50 people over. The team's colors are white and blue. The coach was from England and always told the girls that they were "Brilliant."



She wanted 1/2 the cake chocolate and 1/2 vanilla. So I made a yellow butter cake in a 1/2 sheet pan and a chocolate butter cake baked in the same pan. I cut each in half and stacked them next to each other. I used the rest of the chocolate batter and poured it into the soccer ball pan. The cake is covered and filled with Italian buttercream. The piping is done with a star tip and a grass tip. I used alphabet cookie cutters to do the lettering.

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Make sure you only fill pans 1/2-2/3 of the way full. (I had a soccer ball overflow in the oven the first time I made it).
2) Make sure you have a sturdy cake board when making two cakes stacked next to each other. (when I dropped the cake off the cardboard bent a bit and there was a crack in the buttercream where I pushed the two cakes together).
3) Make sure to practice with new tips to see what they will do BEFORE using it on the cake.