So my son has turned eight. He had his actual birthday, and then, over the weekend, he had his birthday party, which included a bunch of his friends, ribs (smoked for 6 hours - oh, they were so good), other food, decent enough weather that they could play outside in the pool, and, of course, a cake.
Last year's theme was Star Wars - specifically, a battle between Yoda and the Emperor in the Senate Rotunda, from Revenge of the Sith. You can see it (and Julia's cake from last year) here.
This year we continued with the Star Wars theme, but skipped forward a generation to my favorite of the movies, The Empire Strikes Back.
Before I begin, here's a link to Julia's cake last year. Alex's cake is in that post as well, but I haven't done this year's cake yet - that'll be next month's production.
Anyway, up until a week or two ago, Julia wanted a cake very similar to last year's, only instead of the elephants wearing ballerina garb, she requested that they be gymnasts. So I played with that idea in my mind for a while...what color costumes the elephants would wear, and which pieces of equipment they'd be performing on...Julia is partial to the uneven bars herself (or "unbeeven bars" as she used to say it), so I'd have to include those...maybe the balance beam and trampolene as well. And the costumes kept appearing in red, white and blue in my mind, so that's where I was headed in that regard....
I spent a good deal of time yesterday (probably more than a sane person should) revamping my old "Gallery of Cakes" stuff. It's all been stagnating in a list over on the right side of this blog, but if you look now (go ahead, I'll wait) - it's gone!
Bit by bit I've been trying to tidy up the look of things, creating pages instead of having these on and on forever lists cluttering up the place.
Maybe it'll be a good thing, maybe not. We'll see.
We finally had the kids' birthday parties. Yeah, I know. They both have spring birthdays, and here it is, the end of August.
We didn't have parties at the times of their actual birthdays, because that was when we were in the midst of drywall dust and joint compound and transforming what had been our bedroom into two smaller rooms for the kids. We wanted the rooms to be finished before we invited a bunch of kids over to trash the place.
So we waited. And then the summer kind of took off running, and suddenly we were looking at the new school year looming on the horizon. So we finally got a date set where everyone could come, and that date was yesterday.
For this year's birthday cake, Dad requested angel food cake, and, to be honest, I cringed. I don't really like it. I'm not head over heels in love with cake to begin with, except as a creative medium (haha), and there's just something...well, icky - to me...about angel food cake. But - that's what he wanted, so that's what he would get. I asked if there were any other flavors he'd like incorporated in the overall dessert, and he said chocolate and orange. Okay, well that's a great combination, so I had something to work with.
For the recipe I consulted the Cake Bible. As in Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible. THE Cake Bible. I remember wanting this book SO MUCH a long time ago. I'd go to the book store and just look at the pages, in awe. (I don't know why I didn't just buy the book...it's not like I was broke at the time of my awestruck page staring. Maybe I felt unworthy.) Anyway, at some point I decided to be a grown-up, and I bought it. I also have, by this point in time, added The Pie and Pastry Bible and The Bread Bible to the shelf. Ooh. I'm really a grown-up now.
Anyway, I looked up angel food cake and lo and behold, Ms. Berenbaum had a recipe for Chocolate Lover's Angel Food Cake right there on pages 160-162.
"I find white angel food overpoweringly sweet but cocoa does wonders to temper the sweetness in this version."
Perfect! Two out of the three criteria for the birthday cake were out of the way. Now for something orange.
I thought an orange curd would go nicely with the cake. Lucky for me, there's a curd recipe in The Cake Bible with instructions for lemon, lime OR orange curd variations. Bingo!
I was all set.
Now, if you look past my whining, angel food cake is actually kind of interesting to make. There's not a smidge of fat in the recipe, for one thing, and this recipe uses a whopping 16 egg whites. (Ten of the yolks ended up in the curd, too. Curd + angel food = Meant To Be. (Sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me today.) Another interesting thing about angel food cakes is that you don't grease the pan, and to cool the cake, you prop it upside-down on a bottle or something and let it cool that way. It's a bit nerve-wracking if you've never done it before - you keep waiting for the cake to fall out onto the counter in big airy blobs. But it doesn't.
An angel food cake is basically a souffle - the whipped whites provide structure, and as they heat up, the air in all the little bubbles expands, resulting in a glorious puffed up golden-brown creation. As souffles do, this will collapse in on itself after it comes out of the oven, and part of the purpose of cooling it upside-down is to prevent too much collapse from taking place.
Shall we get to the cake now? Good idea.
You'll need the following:
1/4 cup plus 1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup of sifted cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
16 large egg whites
2 tsp cream of tartar
* When you're separating eggs, you need to be absolutely scrupulous about making sure none of the yolk gets into the whites. The best way to do this is to crack the eggs and separate them in one cup or bowl, and if the yolk breaks while still in contact with the white, DON'T USE THAT WHITE. Cook it up and make a sandwich out of it or something, but don't put it with the other yolk-free whites. The "good" whites can go in a second bowl, once you've determined that they are clean.ee
Why this obsessiveness? The fat in the yolk will prevent the whites from whipping properly, and if you're going to go to all the trouble of cracking 16 eggs to make a cake, you certainly don't want to risk yolky sabotage. You'll also, in the same spirit, want to be sure your bowl and whip are fat-free, too.
Okay. Once you've got everything assembled, including a 10 " two-piece tube pan - UNgreased, remember - you can get going on the cake.
Per Ms. Beranbaum:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium bowl combine the cocoa and boiling water and whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla.
In another medium bowl combine 3/4 cup sugar, the flour, and salt and whisk to blend.
In a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar, and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised.
Gradually beat in the remaining 1 cup sugar, beating until very stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Remove 1 heaping cup of egg whites and place it onto the cocoa mixture.
Dust the flour mixture over the remaining whites, 1/4 cup at a time, and fold in quickly but gently. It is not necessary to incorporate every speck until the last addition. The ideal implement was designed in England especially for this type of cake, but a large balloon wire whisk or slotted skimmer also works well.
Whisk together the egg white and cocoa mixture and fold into the batter until uniform.
Pour into the tube pan (the batter will come to 3/4" from the top), run a small metal spatula or knife through the batter to prevent air pockets, and bake for 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed. (The center will rise above the pan while baking and sink slightly when done. The surface will have deep cracks like a souffle.)
Invert the pan, placing the tube opening over the neck of a soda or wine bottle to suspend it well above the counter, and cool the cake completely in the pan (this takes about 1 1/2 hours.)
(It's also a good idea to test your bottle and angel food pan compatability BEFORE you need to do this. Otherwise you'll be looking around frantically for something that FITS, not like the wine bottle you THOUGHT would fit, and finally your husband will run downstairs and find an empty liter-size beer bottle for you which, thank goodness, will fit great.)
Loosen the sides with a long metal spatula and remove the center core of the pan. Dislodge the bottom and center core with a metal spatula or thin, sharp knife. (A wire cake tester works well around the core. To keep the sides attractive, press the spatula against the sides of the pan and avoid any up-and-down motion.)
(As you can see, it's also possible to opt NOT to keep the sides attractive. That's the route I chose. Kind of looks like my son's hair when he gets out of bed in the morning. Except his is lighter.)
Invert onto a serving plate. Wrap airtight.
To decorate, all I did (besides trim - and eat - the shaggy bits around the edges) was melt some bittersweet chocolate and drizzle it over the cake. If I'd thought about it smarter, I'd have made a ganache, which would have been softer than the hardened drizzle.
I also made an orange curd to serve alongside the cake. That recipe will be posted separately.
The cake was a hit, even with me, the non-lover of Angel Food Cake. The cocoa powder does wonders for the icky sweetness, in my book. And in Rose Levy Beranbaum's book, too, obviously.
Long overdue, here is the post about the birthday cake I made for my sister at the end of October.
So here we go.
Usually the only rules for my sister's birthday cake are these:
2. No little bits of things in the cake (i.e. chocolate chips, nuts, etc.)
4. And more chocolate
So I was working on that idea, and then I thought...hey, what about cheesecake? She likes cheesecake. Chocolate + Cheesecake should = Fabulous. A quick check with the birthday-girl-to-be, and I was off and mixing.
First, I made the crumb crust. Now, I don't really like a graham cracker crust. In fact, with my cheesecake, the less crust, the better. But still, since some people do like crust, one had to be made.
I had a bag of plain ol' undecorated cookies in the freezer (butterflies, from some time over the summer). I crushed them in the food processor and mixed in some cocoa powder and some sugar and then some melted butter.
And then I pressed the mixture in the bottoms of two buttered springform pans - one was 6" and the other was 10". And I wrapped foil around the bottoms of the pans so there won't be any leaking while they bake.
I baked the crusts for about ten minutes at 350.
Now, onto the fun part. The cheesecake itself.
I used Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy cheesecake as a guideline, but made some changes to suit what I wanted to do.
Here's a list of the ingredients:
2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 12 oz package of frozen raspberries, thawed, pureed, and strained
The cheesecake base is easy to make. First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Next, beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, until it is very soft and creamy. Add in the sugar and salt, and beat until the mixture is light. Then add in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down after each egg is fully incorporated. And finally, on low speed, blend in the sour cream.
Now, divide the batter into two bowls - about 2/3 in one bowl, 1/3 in the other.
Pour the melted chocolate into the larger portion of cheesecake base, and combine.
Now pour about half of the raspberry puree into the smaller portion of cheesecake batter and combine.
And now you're ready to assemble the cakes.
Pour the chocolate cheesecake batter into the two springforms, filling them about half-way.
Pour some of the raspberry cheesecake batter onto the chocolate cheesecake batter, and drizzle some of the remaining raspberry puree on top of that.
And then run a knife blade through the batter a few times to create some swirls. Don't overdo it - you don't want to mix it all into one homogenous batter.
Okay, now place the springform pans in larger pans (cake pans work nicely) and set them on a center rack in the preheated oven. Pour water into the larger pans about an inch high.
Bake for about an hour and check the smaller cake - the top should be slightly brown and maybe cracked a bit. Remove it from the oven. Check the larger cake about twenty minutes later, and remove when it, too, is slightly browned on top.
Allow the cheesecakes to cool completely in the pans and then refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
To remove the springform sides, run a thin knife blade around the edge of the cheesecake to loosen. Pop open the spring and remove the sides. Serve the two cheesecakes on separate plates, or set one on top of the other. Garnish with fresh raspberries or a drizzle of chocolate ganache.
Or write "Happy Birthday" or something equally celebratory on top and throw a party!
I...I...I just didn't know what to do for this one.
I didn't know the girl all that well (coworker again) - she was either fairly recently hired or a temp or a college student who'd come on as summer help. I don't remember. But I didn't know enough about her to come up with anything cute, and...sigh. Maybe I was burnt out or sick of cake at that moment in time.
I have no explanation and no excuse.
The cake was all chocolate - the bottom layer was 13 x 9, topped by two hearts - 8" and 6" - and covered in chocolate frosting.
The decorations...they were white chocolate chips and white "candy melts" and pink royal icing flowers piped onto the candy melts. My little index card says, in parentheses "no theme available" so I guess I figured I'd some day wonder what the hell I'd been thinking.
(Right now, it's actually reminding me of the "Pearlies" - first brought into my awareness in the movie Mary Poppins - they're the ones singing "Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious" (I don't know if I spelled that right) with Mary after she wins the carousel horse race in the whole cartoon section in the middle of the movie.)
I'm kind of happy with this one.
First time making daffodils.
I used royal icing for the flowers and stalks and the tall leaves that stand all around the sides of the cake. I let all these components dry for a day or so before attaching them to the cake with more royal icing.
As for the cake itself? I have no idea, though I suspect it was made up of alternating layers of chocolate and lemon. The layers were covered with tinted fondant, and then all the daffodil pieces were "glued" on.
I like the whole 3-D effect, with the leaves sticking up much higher than the top of the cake.
I don't think I've got "Happy Birthday" on there anywhere.
Not that anyone cared about that part of it.
This one was for the daughter of a coworker. She played piano, so that's what gave me this theme.
The cake was chocolate, the filling between the layers was raspberry, and it looks like I didn't use fondant on this one at all. I piped the white "paper" on with royal icing and then piped the rest of it with black and brown royal icing.
I don't even think I knew Bill yet, so who knows where I got sheet music to copy. Hmmm.
Later in the year, I was asked to do a cake for this girl's brother. I don't know what else was going on with me but I was kind of a mess, mentally, and I actually backed out at the last minute. I'm not proud of it, and I think of it even now, eleven years later, with regret.
This is a square, two-layer carrot cake with a double amount of cream cheese frosting for my nephew's birthday. He will be 16. He isn't YET, as of this writing. But he will be. Too, too soon for my sister.
Anyway, Calvin loves carrot cake, so that's what he got this year. My hands (carpal tunnel) have been bothering me a bit lately, so my decorating leaves something to be desired.
But trust me. The cake? The frosting? Not a thing wrong there.
I used the recipes for "Bill's Big Carrot Cake" from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home to Yours, but I doubled the frosting ingredients because there didn't seem to be enough the first time I made it. After all, one can never have too much cream cheese frosting.
I'm pretty sure Calvin liked the cake.
Okay, it's not a Halloween-themed cake, but it was for my sister's birthday, which is on Halloween, so I'm including it. Because I can.
Not much to say about the cake - it was chocolate, of course, and I cut that white piece out of fondant and then painted the Power Puff Girls on there (and the writing and little dots of color) with some gel food coloring mixed with a little water.
Mere was a big fan of the Power Puff Girls. Probably still is.
Anyway, it was a fun one to work on. Cartoons are, at least to me. And painting on white fondant with food coloring is fun, too. The colors are vivid and basically make your edible cartoon look pretty much like the one on paper (or on your computer screen) that you're copying.
I remember I painted the girls on the fondant and let it dry overnight or something. Then all I had do after I frosted the cake was to (gently and carefully) lay the fondant piece on top of the cake. Ta-da!
Sorry about the poor picture quality - long story about problems with our main computer and blahbiddy blah blah blah. Who cares.
Anyway - this cake - disguised as a huge everything bagal - is kind of part 2 of the previous year's cake theme, which was the giant coffee mug. As I'd mentioned in the coffee mug post, after Natalie was born in the summer of '95, I used to drive down early on the weekends and pick up coffee and bagels and bring them to Mere, who, especially that first summer, was very sleep deprived and in desperate need of caffeine on an hourly basis.
She, Meredith, also was fond of everything bagels, so I'd get a few of them and whatever other bagels appealed to me that morning.
Natalie, who, by this time ('97) was quite talkative, used to call the seeds and things on the bagels "beads." Hee hee hee. Little kids are fabulous.
Anyway, so that was how I came up with the idea for this cake. I'd already done coffee, so now it was time for the bagel.
I am pretty sure, since it was for my sister, that the cake was chocolate. With chocolate or raspberry frosting/filling inside. The outside of the bagel is fondant, and I've found that if you brush fondant with a damp brush, it will remain shiny, which was perfect for the shiny crust. And those little bits and pieces - the "beads" on top - more fondant, in a few different colors, to represent the various seeds (poppy, sesame and caraway) and the bits of onion and garlic, and the salt.
In the picture you can see that Natalie is reaching for one of the "beads." Calvin, who is almost five here, is just waiting for the cake to be cut so he can have some.
Beads. Hee hee hee.
Love them spiders. They're so cute.
This was a miniature cake for Calvin. I also made a separate cake for Meredith - the family was celebrating their birthdays on the same day, but I wanted to make them each their own cake.
Anyway, I made Calvin's chocolate cake with my 4" springform pans. I think it's frosted in white or lemon frosting and then had chocolate chips pressed all over it. On top of that, with royal icing, I made the spider web, and then perched my cute little spider guy on top.
This spider was so small I just made him entirely out of fondant, rather than the cupcake-wrapped-in-fondant-with-pipe-cleaner-legs technique I'd used in the previous two spider cakes. And this way he was completely edible! Which, after all, is a rather desirable trait in a birthday cake spider.
I'll start with the hat.
Actually, I'll back up - I think I was avoiding doing a lot of piping during these few years. I am pretty sure my carpal tunnel stuff was bothering me a lot back then, and painting with food coloring or just coloring fondant and rolling it out were easier things to do, wrist-wise, than squeezing a piping bag of royal icing for a long time.
Anyway. The witch's hat was a lot of fun to make. (I say that about a lot of these, especially the ones for my sister.) It was chocolate cake, layered with chocolate frosting, and then carved into the hat shape.
I remember that when I cut out the black fondant for the hat and wrapped it around the cone-shaped cake, I had problems. Gravity was one of them. There was a lot of fondant slouching going on, and I think it ended up as a sort of patchwork of pieces that I pinched together, using a bit of water as glue. So the lovely seamless black hat I'd envisioned was dumpy and worn-looking. Ah well. So now what? How to fix it? Or maybe not fix it, but work with it and make it into the hat it seemed to want to be. (Oh really, Jayne. That's a bit much.)
So I thought, okay, apparently it is a dumpy, worn-looking patchwork hat. Maybe the witch has had it for years and it has meaning for her and she can't just get rid of it. So she fixes it up here and there when a seam bursts or the fabric wears thin, and she keeps wearing it, because it is precious to her.
Anyway. I colored some royal icing and piped on large, brightly-colored stitches where the seams were visible, and used a similar stitched look for the lettering. The bright orange band around the hat and the pink button were fondant, too. Overally, not really a difficult cake to build. And I think Meredith was happy with it.
The other cake was similar to the Power Puff Girls in technique - I had a circle of white fondant and then I painted that character on most of it and wrote the Happy Birthday Calvin part on the rest. Then I covered the rest of the cake with swirls of white icing. I'm pleased with it. So was Calvin.
I know. Kind of dilapidated looking, isn't it. But then, who knows how long that castle has stood, empty, except for the ghosts of knights and maidens long departed from this life....
This was for a coworker (she was one of the two recipients of that original double spider cake I keep bringing up.) - this year I made them each their own cake, and hers was the one with a Halloween theme. The other one wasn't, and I'll get to that eventually on this blog. But not today.
The cake - who knows what flavor, but it was probably chocolate - made up all of the castle - the main "body" of it and the square, falling-every-which-way towers. The outer part was all fondant and royal icing. I think that's a layer of green fondant for the grass...although now that I'm thinking about it, why would the grass be that green at the end of October somewhere in the world where there would be old stone castles like this? Wouldn't it be kind of dead by now? Just a thought.
There are little ghosties peeking out of various windows and doorways all around the cake, by the way, so the little castle must have been pretty darn haunted.
This was made for the son of a coworker. His birthday, if I remember correctly, was actually on October 30th, but his mom wanted something creepy and Halloweenish that year. So I basically did a repeat of the original spider cake, only with one spider instead of two. I also added a bunch of little plastic bugs to make the whole thing more realistic. For a cake.
Unfortunately at some point in my cake-making "career" back then, I stopped taking notes on how I made the cakes or what flavors I used, so I have no idea what's on the inside of this one. Not that it really matters - the outside was the important thing back then.
Cute spider, isn't he?
I've noticed a lot of searches for things like "spider cakes" and "witch cakes" and "coffin cake" and so forth that lead people to my site. So, for them and for everyone else's amusement - especially, let's face it, my own - I figured I'd post the rest of the Halloween cakes in my cake book throughout this week. Actually, two of them won't be Halloween themed, really, but since they were for my sister's October 31st birthday, they are included.
So earlier today I posted the cake that I would ordinarily have posted tomorrow, and then starting tomorrow I'll have a different Halloween-themed cake each day through Friday.
That's all. Just wanted to explain the change in procedures.
For those of you interested in viewing the Halloween-themed cakes I've posted in the past, here's a list of links:
Hm. I thought there were more. Oh well. There will be, soon.
I'm saving the pictures for last in this post...
The girl I worked with who had the oil-flooded house was an identical twin, and she'd asked me to make a cake for her sister.
She gave me a page from a wall calendar that she was hoping I could copy in some fashion, and I have to say this is one of my favorites from that whole time period.
The cake itself was white, with white frosting.
I used one 12" round cake as the background, and trimmed the other cake to the shape of the figures on the calendar page.
Here's the calendar page:
And here's the cake:
I'll even put them side by side so it's easier to compare them...
I covered each layer with fondant.
The bottom layer's fondant had been colored blue, and I piped stars and "Happy Birthday, Twin!" across the top.
The upper layer is also covered in fondant that I'd tinted lightly with peach and ivory food coloring. I painted all the lines and shadows and facial details with food coloring paste thinned with a bit of water.
All the flowers and the wings were made ahead of time out of royal icing, and when they were dry I glued them in place with more royal icing. I think I did the hair with fresh (not dried) royal icing. Just a guess.
Anyway, this one seemed to go over pretty well.
Well THIS one has a story.
It's a birthday cake (the happy birthday part is on the other side) for a coworker, and the "theme" of "be it ever so oily" refers to the oil tank in her home's basement. It burst. Or leaked. And I believe she and her husband were away at the time. So oil throughout the basement, lots of damage, and I think there was even more to it than that, but I didn't write it down.
Anyway, she and her husband had to live in a hotel while their home was cleaned up and cleaned out and repairs were made and all that. Quite the nightmare.
The cake was chocolate, and the frosting was peanutbutter. It was covered with fondant and decorated with royal icing.
This was for a coworker's husband. They owned property in northern New England for a while and made and sold maple sugar.
The cake is a simple chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.
The maple leaves were outlined with royal icing (I'd traced two maple leaf cookie cutters onto parchment) and then filled with more royal icing thinned with water. Colors were green and copper. Looks like one of the leaves broke on the way to their house.
Before I say anything else, I want to apologize for the yucky lighting.
Above is the finished product - a birthday cake for a little boy who loves Thomas and all the other engines and cars and so forth. I'd asked his mom what other trains were some of his favorites, and she told me Percy and either Arthur or Duke. I knew who Percy was, but couldn't recall either of the other two. So I had a little research to do.
The first Thomas cake I ever made (and actually the only other Thomas cake I've done) was for my nephew, Calvin, when he turned 3. Oh, so very long ago. If you've read the post for that cake you may recall that I was less than satisfied with the end result. Especially the eyes. They just didn't look like Thomas's eyes to me. But Calvin, looking at it through his little toddler eyes, loved the cake. "That's the best Thomas I ever saw!" And all my anguish and frustration about the Thomas eyes was for nothing.
I learned a little lesson from that. One that I don't always remember, but from time to time it pops into my head, especially when I'm becoming insanely unhappy with my cake work, and my inability to exactly duplicate something.
So when I was working on this cake, I was, as usual, constantly criticizing my trains in my head. Those voices, you know. They were sniping away at me. Yuck, yuck, yuck - what an ugly cake this is looking like. But then yesterday morning, when I was finishing up all the detail work, Julia came into the kitchen (she really wanted to EAT the cake, but finally accepted that no meant no) and said it looked "beautiful!" Alex thought it looked great, too. And the "lesson-learned" voice piped up "look at it through their eyes!" and I relaxed a bit. This cake was for a little boy who was turning 4. I was not involved in a Food Network Challenge or anything. It was a birthday cake made by me, a non-professional cake-making regular ol' person. Chill. So I did, finally. Once it was done.
Here are a few process pictures - I didn't take many - I just got too engrossed in what I was doing. Plus there's always the panic that sets in. "I'm never going to get this done in time!" I don't need a competition. I create my own stress, thank you very much.
Above you see not one, but two bases for this cake. As you could see in the first photo at the beginning of this post, the little train scene was spread out over the two bases. Initially I had figured on just one base, but it would have been too crowded and orderly, and, well, boring. And once I figured out how much better it would look if it was more sprawling, the whole design fell into place.
The base, by the way, consists of two sets of 2 rectangular cardboard cake bases taped together and then wrapped in foil. The "L" shape was more interesting, visually, than the two rectangles would have been if I'd just lined them up side by side. I made the brown/tan "dirt" out of fondant colored with brown and copper gel coloring. I don't know how much I used - I just colored it until it looked right to me. I like coloring fondant and leaving it with faint streaks and swirls. Again - more interesting for some applications. I think I used about a 1.5 lb piece of fondant to cover the two pieces of cardboard. And actually, they didn't cover things completely. I left bits of foil showing. I covered some later with royal icing grass, but left other areas exposed.
I made two kinds of cake. One was a vanilla pound cake, the other was a chocolate cake. And for the filling, I made a simple ganache of semi-sweet chocolate, heavy cream and a little butter, and then, once that had cooled to room temperature, I whipped it in the stand mixer to change the texture to a more spreadable consistency. There's a little left over. I gave some to my sister. The rest is for me.
Each train is chocolate cake, and the two extra sections of Arthur and Duke are vanilla. The roundhouse (which is not round, I realize) is a layer of chocolate and a layer of vanilla. I baked the roundhouse cakes in a square 8" pan and the train sections were done in little mini-loaf pans but could just as easily have been baked as one square cake and cut into the little train rectangles.
Each train is layered - I sliced the loaf in half, lengthwise, and spread some whipped ganache in the middle. I also carved a bit of the train shape - the roundness of the engines, for instance - but not too much detail, since they were pretty small and would crumble apart if I tried to get too precise. I covered every component - trains, roundhouse - with more whipped ganache, and then covered them with the appropriately colored fondant.
I piped the tracks with black royal icing. And then I set up the scene.
I realize that proportions are way off. Arthur (the red one) could never have come out of that round house. Much too tall at the back end. And Duke is iffy as well.
Anyway, once all that fondant work was done, it was dime to work on the details. I had images of each train saved on my laptop, and I worked with the laptop open nearby so I could make sure I got the correct number of stripes or the right number of wheels, and so forth.
Here, for your entertainment, is a side-by-sidI e comparison of each train - the image I was looking at and the final product. I know - they're not perfect. Trust me - I know.
(Above, you can see my laptop with the images of all the trains. That's my niece, Natalie, in the background. She kept me company while I made the cake. I have no idea what she's doing in this photo. Perhaps stretching out her tired back muscles from all the prolonged standing and sitting she was forced to endure.)
Hmmm, what else. Oh - yes, I decided to do all four trains (Thomas, Percy, and then both Arthur AND Duke, rather than one or the other) because Liam, the little boy, was turning four, and so, hey, four years old, four trains!
Julia kept wanting DESPERATELY to either touch the trains ("I just want to LOOK!" she'd say, while, totally on its own, her index finger would rise up and hover half a millimeter above Arthur). And she wanted to help, which was out of the question. If it had been a cake for family, then fine, but since it wasn't, then I couldn't have her poking and prodding all the engines.
I delivered the cake on Sunday morning - a cold, drizzly morning, by the way. The cake went from the back of my Subaru into Liam's mom's SUV, and would eventually go to where his birthday party was to be held. But Liam got to see his cake - and he (and his mom and dad) seemed pretty happy about the cake. So - mission accomplished!
Another coworker cake. This is an example of the sort of cake I'd make when I didn't know the person very well. In this instance, it was a temp...or maybe she was a real hire...either way, she wasn't there for very long. Just long enough for me to make a cake.
The cake itself was chocolate - one ten inch round and one twelve inch round.
The frosting was a mix of chocolate icing and raspberry preserves (strained, to get rid of the seeds).
According to my notes, the smaller layer is actually supported by drinking straws, and does not just sit on the larger layer.
The covering is fondant that I'd colored yellow, and the pattern was copied (loosely) from a roll of wrapping paper. It's a bit hard to decipher, but the pink sections say "Happy Birthday Jody."
I'm working on a birthday cake for a son of a friend of mine. He's turning four and loves Thomas the Tank Engine.
The plan is to make 4 of the little trains - Thomas, Percy, Arthur and Duke (these are some of his favorites) and I'm planning to have them on little railroad tracks. I baked all the cake yesterday. This morning I'm making the whipped chocolate ganache filling and then this afternoon/evening I'll put it all together and decorate it and all that.
I didn't take photos of the cake-making part, but I do plan to photograph the whole assembly process as I go along.
Should be fun.
I've got the finished product pictured in my head - hopefully I can get the actual cake to look the way I want it to.
I deliver the cake tomorrow morning.
It's funny - whenever I have these cakes to do - which is a lot less frequently than I used to years ago - I fall into this procrastination/reluctance mode and somehow dread working on the cake. Then finally I get to a point where I just HAVE to get it started, and then suddenly it's fun again. Maybe I need to feel the pressure or the time constraint or something. So what does that mean? I'm a passive thrill-seeker or something? I don't know. It's not that important. I'm just babbling anyway.
I also baked some bread last night - my same 0l' basic sourdough, except I substituted 3 cups of whole wheat flour for the all-purpose. I made two sandwich loaves and two baguettes. I'll make garlic bread with the baguettes tonight to have along with dinner, which will be some sort of pasta and meat dish - not sure yet if it'll be meatballs or a meat sauce. Depends on what kind of time I have later.
I haven't made cheese in a while. I'm thinking I need to do that again soon.
And that's about it here. I know - it's got you right on the edge of your seat, this wild ride I call my life.
Have a great weekend!
I'm not at all sure why I photographed it still covered in plastic wrap. Another mystery for the ages, I suppose.
This was another cake for a coworker. Her favorite kind of cake was angel food cake, so that's what I used for part of it. The center was a 12" round angel food, and the sun's points were made of a lemon flavored cake. I flavored some plain icing with lemon zest and a dash of yellow food coloring. The cake was served with sliced, sugared strawberries.
In the center you can see it says "Happy Birthday Cris" with "arol" crossed out above. It was some sort of inside joke at work - there was also a "Carol" in the department - but I don't really remember the details.
This was a birthday cake for the son of a friend of mine.
The cake was chocolate, 2 layers baked in 13 x 9 inch pans and then "1 cut in 2 unequal pieces to make 'beach' sections."
Godzilla was made out of gum paste (I was going through a gum paste phase back then) and painted with food coloring and water. I used one of my friend's son's toys as the model.
The houses were all made of very small flat panels of royal icing - in different colors - piped onto parchment paper, allowed to dry, built, and then crushed.
So much fun!
The rest of the cake was decorated with royal icing.
If I remember correctly, it was a hit.
Funny where you get work from sometimes.
Back around this time in my life, I had gotten myself into some credit card debt, and after struggling to take care of it myself, I gave up and asked for help from Consumer Credit Counseling Services. One of the things I did when I went in for my meeting was to bring in proof of any and all income, and any and all debt and other monthly expenses. I was working full time, and I was also doing cakes, so I brought in my photo album with what I'd done up to that point. The gentleman who handled my case either really liked my cakes or he was a big ol' softy and wanted to help me out.
Whichever it was, he asked if I could make a birthday cake for his mother. He told me what he wanted and I figured it out from there.
The cake itself was a simple vanilla cake, 2 layers of 9" hearts, each cake sliced into 2 layers. The entire cake was layered like this (going top to bottom):
middle layer - concentric hearts - orange frosting inside of chocolate
And then the constructed cake was given a crumb coat of white icing and then covered with stabilized whipped cream and decorated with more of the whipped cream tinted in pastel shades of yellow, pink, and purple. I know it looks blue in the picture, but I think that's the purple.
But wait! There's more!
I also made two sets of white royal icing wings, which were to be inserted in the sides of the cake at the time of serving.
It was rather difficult to decorate with the whipped cream - it has a different texture and doesn't behave as other frostings do. I was also concerned with keeping it as cold as possible.
As far as I know, it tasted good.
The cake itself - the base - was a lemon cake, 2 layers, 13 x 9 inches each, with a mixture of white frosting and strawberry jam between the layers.
The foamcore base and the cake were "painted" with varying thicknesses of white and cornflower blue royal icing to look like the sky and clouds.
The plane, a 747, was made out of white gum paste, and then painted with royal icing and water and food coloring.
I'd never made an airplane before...not a bad first one.
The plane is supported, as it hovers above the clouds, by plastic drinking straws, cut to half an inch above the surface of the cake.
I'd been posting all these old photos of cakes I've baked and decorated in years past, but then I got sidetracked by other things and didn't scan in any more to write about (or laugh about). The other day I was feeling lousy and not inclined to write anything, but I felt like I should do SOMETHING useful for my little website, so I hung out on my chair in the music/computer room and scanned a bunch more photos in and uploaded them to my flickr site. You can see all the photos over there on the right - just scroll down...a bit more...a bit more...til you see the "Gallery of Cakes" category. Below that is the list of posts I've done so far about this other time in my life...and underneath THAT is a flickr badge with all sorts of cute or funny or bizarre photos of cakes zooming in and out at you. Enter if you dare. Comment if you wish. But please - be kind.
Okay. The cake above. My poor little boy's second birthday. Poor? Was he ill? No - but his mother, stubborn fool that she is - felt that as the designated cake-maker for the family - was determined to make his cake herself and decorate it herself - even though Alex's baby sister, Julia, was born just 3 weeks TO THE DAY before Alex's birthday. Well, I made the cake - it was chocolate. And my decorations consisted of some piped-on leaves and grassy areas, and - in a stunning display of artistic ability - several pairs of Fisher-Price animals from the "Noah's Ark" we gave him as a present that same day. AFTER the cake. We didn't give it to him and then snatch away some animals to decorate with later. No, I opened the package, pulled them out first and THEN we gave him the Ark.
Actually, neither way sounds all that classy. But hey - if you've had a kid, you know how little sleep you get those first bunch of weeks. And if you've got two, well, then you don't nap too much, either, do you.
But I was the only one (as usual) dissatisfied with the cake. Alex was thrilled - he loved the little animals - and the fact that they were all HIS. We still have them around here, too, somewhere. Sans frosting, of course.
The days of cute character cakes are over. My niece is no longer a little girl. She is (gulp) 13 now, and her tastes have clearly matured.
For this birthday, she wanted cheesecake and chocolate cake together. I suggested Boca Negra instead of a chocolate cake, because the texture is similar to cheesecake. Suggestion accepted.
I made a 10" cheesecake and 9" and 8" batches of Boca Negra. I also made some extra cheesecake to use for the piping. (I just made a plain cheesecake - she didn't want anything fancy.)
(I also baked 4 4" springform pans of cheesecake and 4 of the Boca Negra to use as a birthday cake (or tower) for Bill's uncle, but I didn't take any pictures of that one, so I'm not officially including it here. But it was yummy. And I made a raspberry coulis to go along with it. No coulis necessary for Natalie and her friends.)
Anyway, I kept the layers of this cake in their pans in the fridge until the morning of her party. I packed some bath towels onto the lower parts of the back seat (where it angles, so you can sit comforably) and cranked the air conditioning for a few minutes so the car would be like a refrigerator truck. Then I packed up the other bowl of spare cheesecake and my piping bags and tips and couplers, and some parchment paper...a couple of large spatulas...dental floss (for slicing) and my camera, and headed to my sister's house. Oh, yeah, and I brought an apron. I can't seem to cook or bake seriously any more if I'm not wearing one.
I brought the cake unassembled like this because I was worried that the layers might slip in the car on the half hour ride to my sister's house. Most of the time, my cakes are encased in fondant, which holds everything in place.
Assembly went very well - the chilled cheesecake and Boca Negra are pretty firm (especially the Boca Negra - all that butter hardens up nicely in the cold) so it was just a question of unmolding them quickly onto the supporting layer, and I managed that without mishap. (I find that reciting "No guts, no glory" right before I flip a cake layer over helps me psych myself up for the task.)
When the layers were assembled, I scooped the extra cheesecake into a piping bag and piped the words onto the top layer first. Cheesecake is kind of funny to pipe with - the texture is soft and the piped letters look a little fuzzy as a result. There were also a couple of thicker bits (from around the edges of the baking dish) that clogged the piping tip a bit. The squiggly "N" in "Natalie" was the result of one such clogging episode.
I used a star tip, a leaf tip, and a flower tip to do all the little decorative things around the edges.
The party was yesterday. I spoke to my sister this morning and she said the kids all liked the cake.
The dinosaurs themselves are plastic, but everything else is edible. And I apologize for the bizarre light quality in these pictures.
But enough of that stuff.
To make this one, I made very orange flavored pound cake with an orange-flavored simple syrup, which I painted on each layer as I built this little scene. I used two 13 x 9 inch pans, a small bundt pan, and another high-sided cake pan (used to be Bill's mom's) about 6" in diameter. The bundt pan was for the upper portion of the volcano.
As you can see, the volcano is currently at rest. Inside, however, the lava is red and, interestingly enough, looks a lot like 3 pints of mashed up strawberries macerated in a little bit of sugar. The "lava" is layered between the two rectangle portions and the mountain/volcano sections, with the remaining strawberry mixture in the hole of the bundt cake. There's also some chocolate icing here and there, because hey - chocolate and strawberries, right?
I dug a little depression out of the cake for the little pond. Then I painted the whole thing with strawberry jam, colored and rolled out the fondant (that tan color was supposed to be brown - I should have added more color. Oh well.) and draped it over the cake and patted it into place. I trimmed it along the bottom in a free-form pattern.
To make the water, I used clear piping gel and blue food coloring.
BUT - that didn't work - the blue looked black against the green fondant. So I scraped most of it back out and then just put stirred-up CLEAR piping gel in there - the traces of blue beneath gave the rest of the gel just enough color without becoming too dark.
I added a bit of black to the blue piping gel and figured I could use it as some of the lava.
I used green royal icing and the little grass or fur tip (Wilton #233) to edge the fondant with tufts of grass, and also added it around the pond and here and there on the rest of the green.
I used black royal icing and a #9 (I think) tip to do some of the lava, and the black piping gel for the rest of the lava and the "Happy Birthday Alex" part.
Why two kinds of lava? Funny you ask. Because there ARE two kinds. Or, rather in Hawaii they have two names for the two above-ground forms of lava flow. There's a'a (prounced ah-aah, if I remember right), which is kind of rocky and chunky...and pahoehoe (I think that's prounouced pa-hoy-hoy, but it's been a while since I've heard it spoken so my memory could be faulty), which is smooth and kind of pillowy to look at. From a safe distance.
Anyway, I used the two forms of "lava" and then used the piping gel version to write the "Happy Birthday" message.
When it came time to bring the cake out and sing, I put the candles (appropriately) at the top of the volcano.
Alex loved it. And everyone else seemed to like it also. And it tasted pretty good, too. Nice and moist and orangy. Oh - why orange? That's what the birthday boy requested.
And for your entertainment, here are a few more photos of the cake, from other angles.
And that's about it.
Well, except for the most important part...
I can't believe he's six.
(Cue orchestra: "Sunrise, Sunset")
This is his third dinosaur cake.
I think he may be asking for the same theme when he's twenty.
My little guy.
This week's Tuesdays With Dorie challenge was to make the Traditional Madeleines found on pages 166-168 of "Baking, From My Home to Yours," and was chosen by Tara of Smells Like Home. We were also given the option of choosing one of the past TWD recipes if we didn't have the correct pan to make the madeleines.
And so for two reasons, I didn't make the madeleines. First off, I don't have the right pan, and though I could pretty easily get one, there was reason number two - my daughter's birthday party and the requisite cake for that. So, in my merry two-birds-with-one-stone killer way, I picked the Perfection Pound Cake, which was chosen back in January, long before I was a member.
Pound Cake, as Dorie mentions in the "Playing Around" section of the recipe, "lends itself to variations minor and major." And that's exactly what happened with mine. I had asked the soon-to-be Birthday Girl what kind of cake she wanted. Asked her several times, in fact, because I know how often her mind can change. Ultimately it boiled down to these three requests: Strawberry cake, Purple on the outside, with Pink flowers on it.
Purple on the outside was simple enough - just color some fondant and that would be that.
Pink flowers - nothing I couldn't accomplish with some pink royal icing.
And the strawberry cake?
I used Dorie's Perfection Pound Cake recipe - tripled, because there would be at least 14 people, if not more, and I generally make about twice what I realistically need because I'm insecure that way.
To the cake, I added some orange zest, because, well, I've been using lemon (and lime) a lot lately, and I needed a change in citrus.
And I sliced about 3 pounds of strawberries or so and macerated them briefly in some sugar.
And so here's how it all went down....
2 cups all-purpose flour or 2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan or an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes.
(Add in the orange zest.) Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the mixer speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you're working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speeed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it is incorporated--don't overmix. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all fo it, by hand with a rubber spatula.
Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top.
(And scatter the strawberries on top and press lightly into the batter
Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after about 45 minutes. If it's browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. If you're using a 9x5 pan, you'll need to bake the cake for 70-75 minutes; the smaller pan needs about 90 minutes. The cake is properly baked when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean.
(The heart-shaped pans ranged in bake time from about an hour to an hour and a half.)
Remove the cake from the oven, transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 30 minutes.
Run a blunt knjife betwene the cake and the sides of the pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.
So those are my Perfection Pound Cakes - with strawberries pressed into the tops. They smelled phenomenal, and I had to fight my family off in order to keep the cakes safe for Julia's party.
Once the cakes were cool, it was time for the construction. I couldn't exactly level the surfaces of the cakes, because I'd end up slicing away a lot of the all-important strawberries. And I could have put the strawberries in the bottom of the pan...and I had thought about it...but I forgot until I'd filled the first pan, so I just pressed them on top.
I also didn't want to cover the whole thing with fondant because - again - the strawberries. They looked so yummy...I couldn't hide them.
First, I sliced each cake in half, so I'd have two layers per cake...and I slathered seedless strawberry jam in between the layers.
I also wanted to enhance the appearance of the strawberries, so I melted down some apricot preserves and glazed them with that. Nice and moist and shiny.
Then I wrapped ribbons of fondant I'd colored with "aster mauve" and "delphinium blue" around the edges of each layer.
And to all that, I added some fondant ribbons and royal icing leaves and flowers, and this was how it looked:
Later on, after we'd sung "Happy Birthday" and Julia had blown out the candles, I started to cut the cake.
And in that momentary silence, my little Birthday Princess said,
"I don't want any cake. I just want ice cream...I don't really like cake."
Everyone else seemed to like it. And of course I'd made way too much, but I gave everyone a chunk of it to bring home, and this was all that was left:
So Happy 4th Birthday, Julia!
Next year you get pie.
I made this cake last week for a surprise (I think) party for the husband of a friend of a friend. Inside, the cake was lemon, and the frosting in between the layers was just a plain frosting blended with seedless raspberry jam. Over the whole thing was chocolate frosting, and then the fondant covered all of that.
This has become my "Over the Hill" cake. A hill with little mile-markers representing the person's age, meandering up the cake, until the marker for the person's milestone birthday- that one points down to the rocks. I made one a while ago for my friend (same friend as above) for her boyfriend's 40th birthday, and that one led to this one.
I don't know what my problem is, but I stress out about these cakes until I'm in the process of decorating them (in this particular case, rolling the "rocks" out of colored fondant and building the stone side of the mountain. Or hill, I guess.) Then - once I'm doing the fun stuff...the grown-up version of playing with Play-Doh, THEN it's fun and I remember why I still do these from time to time.
A friend of the wife picked the cake up at my house on Friday - and a very rainy Friday it was. She held the umbrella while I carried the cake out to her SUV, and I told her that the raindrops would leave little shiny spots on the fondant. Couldn't do anything about that.
Then she got in her vehicle, and I went in my house, and woo-hoo! Stress-B-Gone! Until the next time.
Yeah. It's not that pretty. To be fair to myself, that red wrapping I used on the base is what throws off the color balance in the photo. But still. It's a rather ugly display.
It's chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, a 6" heart sitting on a 15" heart...decorated with rambling greenery and frightful flowers in "aster mauve" and light blue.
It was for my bosses's wife's birthday. I know, really. It's amazing I lasted another day.
I've got a few cakes like this - ones that I just cringed the whole time I was making them because I didn't really have any sort of theme or story to work with. I think I was just asked to do something chocolate. Maybe the heart shape too. I don't know.
Anyway. Let us close the door on this frightful chapter. Thank you.
Another person where I worked, but I never even met her. She worked in another dept, possibly a different building. Someone was throwing a baby shower for her and I was asked to make the cake. She knew the baby was a girl, so that gave me a color scheme. I also went shopping and got a set of cute little baby-themed cookie cutters - a duck, a rocking horse, a teddy bear, and something else that I apparently didn't use in this cake. But I know there were 4 cutters.
Under all that pink and white, it's a spice cake with cream cheese frosting. The little white lacy thing it's on is fondant, and the cake itself is covered with fondant. The little cutouts are fondant as well, and my horrendous ribbony things are piped with royal icing and cause me to cringe whenever I look at them.
The baby blocks on top of the cake that spell out "BABY GIRL" are the only cool thing (my opinion) from this cake, because they are made entirely of royal icing panels that I piped onto parchment, allowed to dry, and then glued together into 4 blocks with more royal icing. I think they came out pretty well.
And that's about all I have to say about that one.
Another golf-themed cake. More of that fun little Wilton #233 multi-opening piping tip (to make the grass). I used that tip at every opportunity for a while back then.
I used a sphere cake pan set to make the golf ball - I think I bought the pan set specifically for this cake, and ended up only needing one of the two pans. The little dimples on the golf ball were made by poking a plastic drinking straw into the royal icing.
The golf ball was white cake, and the little patch of golf course was chocolate.
My original idea was much more dramatic - and less kind. I wanted to have the golf ball somehow teetering on the edge of the hole without going in. Ultimate golfing nightmare. But I just couldn't rig it properly with my limited experience in cake architecture, and I also rationalized that it would be nicer to let the ball drop in on the golfer's birthday.
I remember he was tickled with the cake, and I ended up making a couple of birthday cakes for his son over the next few years. Funny how things work. The son is in college now. I think he was turning ten when I made the first cake for him. I'll get to those cakes eventually.
I like this cake. It's simple, but effective.
These were the first royal icing flowers I'd ever made. Pansies and roses and violets and little white generic flowers. And the leaves, too. I wanted to make something pretty.
This was for another coworker (gee, really?), and I didn't know her all that well, but she was an older woman who was very polished in appearance and flowers seemed like a good idea.
The guy I made the Alligator on a Golf Course cake for looked at this cake and told me it looked like a squashed hat. People were quick to leap to my defense. I just dismissed it because he was like that - he'd just say whatever popped into his head - there was no quarantine period between thought and word with him. But he was harmless. And, looking at it from a vantage point of eleven years later, I have to admit - he had a point.
Still, I'm proud of the flowers. I remember making them, following instructions in a book or magazine on how to pipe royal icing flowers. Piping each one on a flower nail and then carefully removing it from the nail and setting it on parchment paper to dry and harden.
The cake itself was lemon, and the layers were 10", 8" and 6".
I'm jumping out of order a bit with the cakes. I'd been going through the ones I did about ten years ago, but I came across this picture of the cake I made for Alex's first birthday, and I thought I'd post it.
I remember working on this cake. I remember being in this kitchen, coloring fondant for the various fish and crustaceans...my niece, Lisa, was here and she helped make all the little gray rocks you see along the front base of the cake. I remember piping the bubbles that spell out the salutation in royal icing...and the curling wave over on the top right, also with royal icing. I remember painting blue food coloring and water onto the fondant for the surface of the cake. I remember this one really well. The cake inside was chocolate.
I'm still rather proud of the lobster and crab...although, yeah, I know they're only that red once they've been cooked. But hey, it was for a year-old child. Bright colors were more appropriate for that, I think. Right?
Another birthday cake for a coworker. She and her husband had either just purchased or just moved into a new home, and this took place right around her birthday. So the cake theme was pretty easy to decide on.
According to my notes, the cake is alternating layers of chocolate and lemon, with alternating lemon and chocolate frosting between layers. The decorating is all done with royal icing, and off to the side of the little index card I'm looking at it says "forgot chimney!" - oops.
Whenever I made these cakes for people at work, I would come into work earlier than usual the next day so I could place the cake on the person's desk, try to fix anything that suffered on the drive in (I brought a piping bag of royal icing with me), and take a couple of pictures of the cake. I'm so glad I took these pictures, and glad that I wrote up a few notes about each cake.
I admit it, I loved the positive feedback. Loved the fact that people from other departments would show up just to see the cake. I had fun (for the most part) creating the cakes - first in my head and then in my kitchen. I also was extremely critical of each one, aware of every flaw, every thing I would do differently the next time. I was far more picky than I needed to be. But my most critical moments were around midnight when I finally tossed the last piping bag of royal icing in the sink and headed to bed.
I tended to like the cakes better in the morning. And under the fluorescent office lights.
Not a whole lot to tell about this one. The person I made the cake for worked for Nestle. I don't have any other notes with this cake, but I was rather pleased with how it looked.
I started to write "I don't even remember what flavor the cake was" - and then I thought - this is eleven years ago! Why should I remember?? I set odd standards for myself. Fortunately I have come to accept my mommyhood-and-sleep-deprivation-induced-senility and I no longer get upset when I can't remember some trivial thing from over a decade ago. I shrug now, and say "oh well" and go on with what I was doing. While distressing at first, I've found it to be rather liberating. If I don't remember something, doesn't that free up other space in my head? And also, if I can't remember something, I also can't remember if it was something upsetting, like a rude person from another country openly criticizing an Easter dessert I'd spent a great deal of imagination, time and effort on and she was a guest in my family's home and she just blurted out her rude observation with no regard for how it might come across or how I would feel or what manners were or how to behave politely when you are a guest, and interestingly enough it was like everyone else disappeared and tumbleweeds blew by while the townspeople hid in the saloon and I hissed something sharp and sarcastic and bitter in reply and then let the matter drop because for one thing the sarcasm thing just went right over her head, and because there were other guests - nice ones - and I didn't want to cause a scene, although the general consensus later was that it would have been understood if I had.
I'm sorry, what? What were we talking about? I don't remember.
Anyway, that's the cake this week.
Wow. I'm looking at the delivery dates for this cake and the previous two (the snowmen cake and the wedding cake), and all three were delivered within a two week period. I realize this is nothing for a bakery, but this was just little ol' me, working at night after my real job, in my tiny kitchen. I was a busy little bee.
Okay - of course there's a story behind this one. The recipient had gone on vacation for a week in (I think) South Carolina, and he spent most of his waking hours playing golf. And yes, an alligator showed up on one of the golf courses while he was playing. He showed me a picture. So I used that for the cake.
If you look closely, you can see that the alligator has just chomped on the pole of the flag that had been marking the hole.
The cake itself is chocolate, with chocolate icing between layers. The grass is green royal icing piped with a #233 Wilton multi-opening tip (the same one I used for this Spider cake). And I sprinkled light brown sugar on top of a thin layer of wet royal icing to create the sand.
The gentleman I made the cake for kept the little alligator in a little case with his other golfing stuff. At least that's what he told me. I have no reason to doubt it, especially since he would mention from time to time that he still had it.
This one was a project and a half.
Someone I worked with asked me to make her wedding cake. I'd never done one before, and frankly, I was scared I'd mess it up somehow. It's one thing to do funny cakes for peoples' birthdays; quite another to do something serious like a wedding cake. (Unless it's a funny wedding cake, in which case I'd probably still have been scared of messing up. Because it's a WEDDING cake.)
Anyway. The wedding (as you probably have guessed) took place around Christmas time, hence the holly berries and leaves. The two round white things on top, spewing forth bits of tulle and thin ribbon tongues are actually two bells made of sugar (same process as the snowmen in last week's cake). If you look at it from the top, they are angled toward each other, with that red bow perched where they meet. If I were to do it now, I'd figure out a way to have the bells stand up - just so passersby would know that they were, in fact, bells.
Now, those holly leaves - they were made of gum paste. Gum paste is a mixture of confectioners sugar, glycerin and gum tragacanth. It's similar to fondant, but stronger, so you can roll it out very thin and make delicate things like flowers. It dries hard, like porcelain. It's edible, if you're starving and on a deserted island and all you have are gum paste flowers that never made it onto a cake before your ship sank...but it's not really meant to be eaten.
Anyway, I had read about this stuff, and I'd been waiting for an opportunity to work with it. And what better opportunity than the first wedding cake I'd ever made? I can't think of one.
I have a whole batch of little flower petal and leaf cutters that I'd bought back then, for the sole purpose of making something with gum paste some day. One of the cutters was a holly leaf shape, fortunately, so I didn't have to do every single one with a knife. The little red holly berries are gum paste, too.
The cake itself was white, and (deja vu all over again) white frosting mixed with strawberry jam lies between the layers and beneath the fondant. The top part is a two-layer 6" heart, and the bottom is a two-layer 12" heart. I used royal icing to do all the white decorative work. And the base is a piece of foam core with (I think) a red foil wrapping paper.
I can remember standing in my tiny kitchen, making those holly leaves. I did a lot in that little space.
Another birthday cake for a coworker, way back when. It was a winter birthday, which is why the snowmen made an appearance. They also represented the above named coworker and the guy who he was kind of partnered with in the office. Long story, doesn't matter anyway.
I think this is one of my favorites. It was fun to create and it's fun to look at (in my humble opinion). The snowmen are actually made of sugar and water - granulated sugar mixed with just enough water to make it feel like wet sand - pressed into a round mold of some kind (I used the lower halves of some plastic easter eggs - 3 different sizes) and allowed to partially dry. Then the inside part, which is still wet, is scooped out, so they aren't as thick and heavy. Then I sort of spackled royal icing onto them to give them a snowy appearance, and stacked the "snow balls" to make the two snowmen.
The scarves, coal eyes, and carrot noses were all made from fondant, and I used broken cinnamon sticks for the arms. The cake is covered with fondant snow, obviously, and I rolled fondant into little snowballs as well. The cake (under the snowmen and inside each fort/barricade) is a white cake (in keeping with the snow theme), and there is a layer of strawberry jam mixed with white canned frosting beneath the fondant. I pressed the rounded edges of a half teaspoon into the fondant on the two barricades to make it look like it had been made of snowballs.
I wrote with royal icing, and then gave it a dusting of confectioners sugar to make it look like new snow was (or had just been) falling.
As I remember, it was kind of a hit.
You can't tell from this picture, but the green scarved snowman is frowning. I believe he got hit, but I don't know if I made any kind of snowball splatter on the front of him. Ah well.
As you can imagine, I loved PlayDoh when I was a kid. Still do.
Let's see, where to begin...well, I'll start with the platform - that's my painted-with-thinned-royal-icing version of the Anderson tartan, our clan tartan on my mother's side, on her father's side, and on up the line. Here's a picture for comparison, though this picture is, I believe, the Modern tartan, and I think I was copying a blanket or scarf that was either Ancient or Weathered. I didn't make notes on it.
Anyway. I painted the colors on a piece of foam core, which you can get craft supply stores.
The actual cake was lemon, and I used lemon frosting for the grass, and for what I believe is supposed to be a perfectly round rocky island down in the bottom front. The written part is more royal icing.
The castle itself, and the little "stones" or whatever they are leading from the drawbridge across the tartan water to the perfectly round rocky island, are made of Swiss meringue that I piped onto parchment paper and allowed to dry. I piped each little stone individually and then used royal icing as the mortar when I built the castle. I think the drawbridge was the only thing I piped directly onto the parchment whole. My notes also say that I formed the towers of the castle around paper towel rolls, which explains how I managed to get them all a uniform size and round, rather than amoeba-shaped.
Swiss meringue is a cooked meringue, which means it is heated while you're making it and therefore you don't need to bake it like you would meringue cookies. The whites are safe to eat, and can remain perfectly white.
Why the little rocky island? I needed a place to write "Happy Birthday" to my mother. Plus it made the whole thing more interesting than just the castle sitting dead center all by its lonesome.
My notes also say that I got the idea (in some form) from Martha Stewart's magazine, but I don't remember what she made out of meringue. Hmmm.
Anyway, that's the cake for this week.
Bill's birthday was earlier this week, and I ended up making not one, but two cakes for his birthday. Why? Because Alex doesn't like cheesecake. Simple as that. Plus, I was feeling creative and two cakes just seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do. I also made a rather yummy dinner. More on that in a later post.
Why is this cake "Super-Easy?" Because a) I used a boxed cake mix in the pantry, and b) I had a bag of frozen mango on hand and didn't have to go shopping for anything special.
Here's what you need:
A 12-oz package of frozen mango chunks, thawed (or you can cut up some fresh mangos if you feel like it)
2 T unsalted butter
2 T white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
a box of golden cake mix
2/3 cup of water, 1 stick of softened butter and 3 eggs (for the cake mix, per the package instructions)
zest of 1 lime
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 T vanilla
Tablespoon or two of sweetened shredded coconut (optional)
an 8" square cake pan with 3" sides (or, if you want to, you could use 2 8" or 9" round cake pans and have one layer be the "upside-down" part and the other just a plain layer)
Got all that?
Okay, first, you put the 2 T of butter, 2 T white sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a pan and melt everything together. When it starts to bubble, add your mango chunks to the pan.
Stir together and let it simmer a bit.
While the mangos simmer, grease the sides of your cake pan.
After a few minutes of simmering, pour the mangos and caramel mixture into the cake pan
and, if necessary, rearrange the pieces of mango so they are distributed relatively evenly across the pan.
You can let that sit while you mix up the cake batter per the instructions. Also - preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Pour your cake batter on top of the mangos and smooth it out with a spatula so the batter completely covers the mango layer. Be gentle - you want the mangos to stay on the bottom of the pan.
Now pop that in the oven and bake until - you know - a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. This will take a while, as you're cooking more cake batter in the pan than if you were baking two layers. Figure on 45 minutes to an hour. But make sure you check with the knife.
(you can see a couple of my stab marks in the picture above)
Let the cake cool on a rack for 20 minutes at least. Pick out a serving plate. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to make sure it's all separated from the sides of the pan.
Now the fun part: Place the serving plate upside down on the pan.
Hold the plate and cake pan together and after saying to yourself "nogutsnoglory," flip them over and set them back down on the counter. The cake pan should now be upside down and on top of the serving plate, and more importantly, you should have felt the cake release from the pan and land on the plate.
Carefully lift the pan straight up...
and there you go. You can see a few stray cake crumbs up in the middle of the top of this cake (in the picture above) - a few pieces of mango stuck to the pan and I had to put them back on top, but you know what? They'll still taste the same. And it's not all that obvious unless you're self-critical like I am and you actually point it out to people.
Let the cake finish cooling.
Now, my son wanted to decorate this cake, but it's not really something you want to cover up with frosting. Not when it looks like this on top:
So I figured we could make a glaze and Alex could drizzle that over the top and that would constitute the decorating.
So I grated the zest from a lime. Why? I was thinking mango...tropical...lime... and so that's why.
I put about 2 cups of confectioners sugar in a bowl and gradually added hot water while Alex stirred it together. I wanted a relatively thick glaze, and I added a bit too much water at first and had to add a bit more confectioners sugar to thicken it up. Then I added in the lime zest, vanilla and the shredded coconut and had Alex give it a final whisk.
At that point Alex decided he didn't feel like decorating the cake after all. He said I could handle it, and hopped down from his chair and left the kitchen.
I just drizzled the glaze back and forth across the top of the cake on a diagonal, and decided that was enough.
Here's how it looked from the side:
A few candles...a round of Happy Birthday (which we sang the way Alex's kindergarten class sings it - "Happy birthday to you, cha-cha-cha, Happy Birthday to you, cha-cha-cha...and so on...with accompanying hip-wiggling. It was kind of fun.)...and dessert was served.
Alex didn't like the mango part. Julia wasn't really feeling well so she just had a little taste and said she was full. But Bill liked it, and so did I. Some of the caramel part baked up into the cake, and the whole thing had a slightly dark, cooked sugary taste. Pretty yummy.
And, like I said, super easy.
My nephew was a huge Thomas the Tank Engine fan when he was little. I remember him saying it like this - "Thomas the Tank-gen" - for a while. He knew all the names of the engines, and had a bunch of the books...and for his birthday, he wanted a Thomas cake.
Now, even back then, I had become a bit of a creative snob and didn't want to use a character cake pan, but my I guess I realized Wilton had done a better job of creating the pan than I might do freehand, so when my sister handed it to me, I used it.
And then - horror of horrors, when it came time to decorate the cake, I was suddenly reliving a 6th grade oil painting class I took...
I had taken painting lessons and art classes since I was nine or ten, I think. But all the painting I had done was in acrylic. So this class in oils was a huge culture shock. Acrylics dry fast, oils don't. Acrylics are thin, oils are thick. Acrylics liked me, oils most certainly did not.
One of the assignments in that class was to find a picture of either an old person (lots of wrinkles) or an "ethnic" person. I swear, that's how I remember it being phrased. So in some magazine with pictures of the old west (I think), I found a portrait of a Native American gentleman. His skin was aged by the sun, and he wore these fur wraps around his two braids. He had a somber and interesting face, so that's what I chose. He seemed "ethnic" enough for the assignment.
I had no problems with him, for the most part. Until I had to do the eyes.
Now, in my acrylic experience, I actually did a pretty fair job with eyes. I have (somewhere) a head shot of a leopard or jaguar, and the eyes look really good. Or they did when I was eleven. Glassy and real.
So it came as quite a horrible surprise to me to discover that I wasn't so good at it with the oils. With acrylic paint, if I screwed up, I could just paint over it. With oils, more paint meant more layers, and oil layers are thick layers. Now that I think about it, I also hadn't done a lot of human eyes, either, and that could have contributed to the problem. But mostly I blame the oils.
My somber and dignified Native American gentleman had Marty Feldman eyes when I finally gave up and flung my brushes at the wall. Really. Three-dimensional eyeballs bulging from this otherwise not awful - and flat - portrait.
It haunts me still.
And so, when I was doing Thomas, I did fine with all the little train details - I just copied the picture that came with the pan. Got his little bulbous nose and his innocent smile okay.
But the eyes. The eyes...
I just could not get them to look, well, Thomasy. I hated the eyes. Hated them. Insipid, popping, Thomas eyes.
I finally had to give up and put the icing down. My sister was probably pulling it away from me while I was still trying to make the eyes look correct. I cursed my lack of skill. I cursed Thomas. And I cursed oil paint, too, just because.
Well, the birthday party took place - the cake itself, by the way, was strawberry, per Calvin's request, with chocolate frosting underneath all the decorative stuff - at my sister's house. Kids and balloons and parents and cameras. Calvin sitting in the birthday boy seat at the head of the table in my sister's dining room. I brought the cake in while everyone sang Happy Birthday, and I swear those horrible eyes were looking right at me, mocking my lack of talent and skill, laughing at me...
I set the cake down in front of Calvin, and he said these magic words:
"That's the best Thomas I ever saw!"
Did I tell you he's my very favorite human on the planet?
And here's that cake:
Stop looking at me, Thomas. Just stop it.
And of course there's a stoy behind this one, too.
Actually, this (now that I'm thinking about it) was my original idea for a Halloween birthday cake for some coworkers, but then after I came up with the idea, someone affiliated with our company drowned while attending our company's annual convention, which, that year, was maybe in Mexico or somewhere - some place on a beach, anyway. It was awful. Horrible. And making a cake in the shape of a coffin was suddenly not a very tasteful idea. So that was when I came up with the Spider Cake idea.
I'd already made the coffin lid out of gingerbread, though, and I'd bought the other decorations for it, so I made it up and gave it to the son of a friend of mine, whose birthday was right around Halloween somewhere. He was turning 10, if I remember correctly, so something creepy and gross was perfect for him.
The cake was a 13 x 9 cake. The cake mix was for a white cake - I'd mixed in a lot of food coloring to make it red. Bwa ha ha ha.
Anyway. I covered the cake (cut in the same shape as the coffin lid) in chocolate frosting.
I had painted the coffin lid with brown royal icing and my cake notes (yes, I have index cards with the cake pictures) say "woodgrain w/royal icing." I am not sure if that means I used some kind of comb or something to create a woodgrain directly in the icing, or if I'd painted the woodgrain pattern on with another shade of brown. And when I look at the picture, either or both of those ideas could have been used. I don't remember.
To assemble it, I placed the cake in a shallow, disposable aluminum foil pan. I had a few gummy worms crawling out of the coffin - they helped prop up the coffin lid nicely. I surrounded the cake with crumbled chocolate cake "dirt," and added more gummy worms and some little black plastic house flies here and there.
The worms go in...the worms go out...
Another birthday cake for a coworker. I did a lot of them during this period of a year or two. And actually I did three versions of this cake - another one for a friend of mine, and the third was for a bake sale raffle at work.
Anyway - basically with this one I was still learning how to play with fondant and food coloring, and also how to make decorations with royal icing.
So for this cake, I colored some lumps of fondant ("lumps" - yeah, all these technical terms...) in different colors - autumn leaf colors, basically. green, yellow, orange and red. And then I smushed them together into one lump and rolled them out into one big patchwork piece of colors.
Looking at it now, it strikes me as kind of garish. I'd do something different. But it was fun.
Anyway, so that was the background for the other stuff - the royal icing leaves. I had bought a little set of cookie cutters that included 4 or 5 different leaf shapes and a pumpkin. I traced the leaf shapes to use as templates. Then I placed the templates under parchment paper (which is translucent) and piped the outline of the leaves with royal icing directly onto the parchment. (Royal icing won't stick to parchment when it dries.) And then, I filled the leaves with thinned royal icing in a different color. (I was using the same colors I'd used for the fondant, with the addition of brown. I also cut out leaves from the scraps of fondant.
When the royal icing leaves were dry, I glued them all over the cake with dots of royal icing. (Royal icing is so handy!) And I surrounded the cake with the fondant leaves, probably to hide my less-than-perfect trimming of the fondant that covered the cake.
And this is what it looked like:
Oh, yeah, and inside, the cake consisted of two layers of lemon cake alternating with two layers of yellow & chocolate marble cake. The frosting between the layers was chocolate.