Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cake Decorating/Baking Tips and Tricks

Why hello there, lovely readers!

Today I wanted to take some time out of telling you about my decorating encounters to share a few of my favourite tips and tricks, as well as a few that I just believe to be truly important. In the past 9 months or so that I've been (sporadically) learning the fine art of cake decorating, I've encountered many a problem, as well as many solutions and decided that some were worth sharing. These may be things I've learned on my own, or through reading (I got "Baking With The Cake Boss" for Christmas - so many useful tips! Maybe I should start watching that show...). I'm going to start predominantly with baking tips today, and share more decorating tips in the coming weeks.

First things first, your ingredients are essential when baking, so I've chosen a few things I believe you should be doing each time you bake:

  • Read the entire recipe. Familiarize yourself with the time it's going to take you to prep, as well as the bake time. Identify the necessary ingredients - do you have everything you need? Does anything need to chill or warm up to room temperature? Also, check what temperature your oven needs to be, and preheat it! 
  • Let your ingredients come to room temperature. Unless a recipe calls for different, its best to let ingredients that are normally kept in the fridge (butter, eggs, milk) warm up to room temperature before baking. For instance, many recipes call for softened butter.
    • An important note about butter: There is a reason for the butter drawer in your fridge - butter absorbs other scents and flavours. Be sure to keep your butter sealed away from other food items or your baking could end up tasting like last week's leftovers. 
  • Older, but not expired eggs, work better than fresh eggs - the yolks are firmer, allowing you to separate them from the whites easier. The whites will also be frothier when you whip older eggs. 
  • A stand mixer can be your best friend (I love the Kitchenaid stand mixer). Keep children away from these though. (When I was 4, I got my ponytail stuck in one. Little bald girls don't feel cute!)
  • Convection ovens will bake your items quicker than traditional ovens. For this reason, many ovens will automatically reduce the temperature (my oven reduces the temperature by 25 degrees). I don't like baking at the wrong temperature, however, so I always add an extra 25 degrees to the temperature so it is reduced to the correct heat, and I reduce the time before I check the items. HOWEVER I do find that convection baking also dries the items out a little more than the traditional method, so I rarely use convection. Typically I only use this when baking with a deep pan, such as the Wonder Mold pan used for the Barbie Doll Cake
  • Cream cheese icing is not ideal for decorating, although it tastes delicious, stick with a butter cream for best results
  • A crumb coat is an essential base to get smooth, crumb-free icing - check out this video, which has a great part about crumb coating 
    I hope you found some of this useful, and I'll have more helpful tips and tricks in the coming weeks! Feel free to share your own personal tips and tricks in the comments section below!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Barbie Doll Birthday Cake

One of my best friends and I have known each other since grade 9, and have been through boyfriends, drama, high school, and even university together. In fact, we were roommates for two years. I'd do anything for this gal, and this year for her 22nd birthday, which just passed, what she wanted was a cake. There is a bakery in our home town called Hank's Pastries that makes a dutch cake, which is a sponge cake with vanilla custard filling and butter cream icing. This is the cake that Alisha wanted, and who am I to deny my bestie?
This was the perfect chance for me to use a cake pan I'd been itching to try - the Wonder Mold pan. I had wanted to try it but had no reason to buy it - until now. I knew she'd like it, even if it was a cake more geared towards a 6 year old. Once I bought the pan, and had figured out what the cake would look like, the next, and far more pressing issue, was figuring out a recipe to use. I searched the internet to find recipes that sounded similar to the Dutch cake the Alisha had requested, and even made a practice sponge cake for her to try to make sure I was on the right track.
This has to have been one of the smoothest projects I've done to date. The cake cooked nicely, my custard filling turned out, and the cake decorating even worked out pretty well.
Something to note - the deeper pans require longer cooking times, however you need to keep an eye on the cake and make sure that the top doesn't burn! With it being exposed to the heat so much longer, pay attention that it doesn't get darker than its supposed to.
Once the cake was made, I formed cylinders out of fondant to form the ripples under the skirt of the dress, before laying the pink fondant over the top. There were a few problem areas around the base of the cake because of the ruffles, but they were easily concealed with darker pink fondant ribbon. I also used a star tip to embellish the dress.
The trickiest part of this whole thing may have been attaching the bodice of the dress to the doll. It took me a few tries, but it stayed in place eventually. I love when these things work out!
When the time came to give her the cake, we spent the day cozied under blankets having a Harry Potter marathon and eating cake. Doesn't get much better.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Birthday-Bow Cake

My mom's 50th birthday cake is the reason I started teaching myself cake decorating. I had only used fondant once previously,  and this cake was quite different, and  it was a problem from start to finish.

The cake had to feed 30+ people. It had two 9" square layers (one chocolate, one vanilla), and then two 6" square layers. The layers were separated with butter cream icing, and the cake as a whole was covered with chocolate buttercream. Baking went smoothly but problems came with the icing. First, the chocolate butter cream was too thin to go on properly and just ran everywhere. Not cool. I added icing sugar to the butter cream to thicken it up and things went alright after that.

Next was the fondant. The 9" cake needed a lot of fondant rolled out to cover it.  I used a pink fondant for this portion of the cake. It took several tries to get it rolled out to a size that would cover the whole cake. I'll be buying a roll-and-cut mat before my next venture of this size, that's for sure. Once I finally had the cake covered, trimming the fondant became pretty difficult. The corners were awful to trim and to get the fondant to lay properly.  I managed to muddle my way through the bottom cake without too much issue.
The smaller 6" cake was more complicated. I used a basic white fondant for this portion and again had a hard time with the corners. I wasn't as lucky as I was with the pink fondant, and ended up with a crack near one corner of the cake. Not paying attention, I later positioned the bow so that this would be on the front of the cake. Oops.

Finally, I had intended to make a bow that would have looked something like this. However, it was too humid and the fondant wouldn't harden enough, and the bows collapsed. The ribbons that were around the cake were already in place and attached to the cake, leaving me in quite a pickle because I didn't have much pink fondant left and I needed something quick.

I used some of the scraps that I had left over from the ribbons I'd made to go around the cake (made in no-time with a ribbon cutter and embosser). I hastily formed one piece of the ribbon into a large ball, and created loops that could lay on either side to resemble a more traditional bow.

Once we brought the cake out to my mom, the candles dripped wax all over the place, which took away from the appearance but helped to draw attention away from all the problems in terms of the bow and the cracked fondant. People liked the cake, but it went down in my books as a failure. I'll master that bow one day though, if it's the last thing I do.

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