Thursday, December 17, 2009

cakes, cakes, cakes...

Um, I haven't posted in over a month. Whoops. I really haven't forgotten about all of you out there in blogland; but all of my thoughts seem to fit into 140 characters or less, so they get tweeted. Also, and I've said this before, it's a lot easier to tweet from my iPhone than it is to blog. And now that Brandon knows how to use my computer, most of the time my phone is the only way I'm going to get on the internet.

I've been thinking that I should merge my blog posts and tweets into one feed, and I figured out how to do it, but I'm not so sure that Blogger would let me post that feed instead of the direct one. If that makes sense. Until then, though, keep checking that sidebar if you want to know what I'm thinking/feeling/doing.

I do have some things to share with you, though. I am way, way, way behind on posting about cakes. Most of them were tweeted, but I'd like to go a little more in-depth about them.

Since we're playing catch-up, we might as well start with the baby shower cake I did in September. It's a cookies & cream cake with from-scratch white chocolate fondant and marshmallow fondant decorations. Little fondant candies, doughnuts, gingerbread men, chili peppers, flowers and butterflies are pouring out of jars labeled "sugar" "spice" and "everything nice", swirling around the cake on a rainbow ribbon, and culminating in a baby girl sleeping inside of a flower. Because "that's what little girls are made of", right?

Next came the brownie "burgers". (Actually I think they were a day or two before the baby shower cake? They're after it in iPhoto for some reason. Whatever.) Emily sent me a link and told me that if I were ever going to cater a birthday party for her, she'd want these cupcakes. So I brought them to the Hail & Farewell for her husband (and her!) when they transferred out in September

Everyone lost their minds over these things. I don't really understand what the big deal was; they were so easy, and I've seen them done a lot better. The only thing I added of my own was the "cheese" and the "lettuce". They're both fondant. The lettuce was done a few days in advance so that they'd dry in the ruffled shape, and the cheese was done at the time of assembly so that it would still be soft. The ketchup and mustard are all-butter buttercream. The Commissary was out of white sesame seeds so the "buns" don't look as real as they could have, but then again I think sesame seeds on yellow cupcakes is kind of weird anyway. I have no idea what these tasted like because I didn't have any - I'd had food poisoning the week before and the thought of eating cupcakes, brownies, or a brownie inside of a cupcake was just NOT appealing to me in the slightest.

Here's a cake that Brandon decorated by himself. He loves to work with "icing that's like play-doh" (aka fondant), probably because it's play dough that he's allowed to eat.

Here are the cupcakes I made for the cakewalk at the Harvest Festival that Brandon's preschool had. They're applesauce spice cake (recipe on the side of the box of Duncan Hine's spice cake mix) with maple-cinnamon buttercream. They smelled sooooooo good.

The one in the front left was supposed to be a ginkgo leaf. I'm really disappointed in how those ones came out, but I like the rest of them. I finally mastered the 1M swirl! Yaaaaay.

This is an apple piecake that I made for the Harvest (day-before-Thanksgiving) Potluck at Brandon's school. I had a ton of maple-cinnamon buttercream left over, so that's what I used for this. Marshmallow fondant leaves and apples.

Best use of fondant leaves to cover up a sloppy, not-properly-lined-up basketweave "seam":

For Brandon's actual birthday (on Thanksgiving), a 6" cake was added to the Thanksgiving dessert spread. This was my first attempt at a frozen buttercream transfer, and I LOVED it. I loved doing it, and I love how it came out!

The Gravedigger Cake. Oh, man. The work that went into this thing! Here's the chocolate panels from one side:

Chocolate was definitely the best way to get that detail - for me, at least. I've been working with chocolate a heck of a lot longer than I've been working with icing. None of this was piped, btw. It was all done with paintbrushes. (Traced onto wax paper taped over a reversed photograph. So the side touching the wax paper became the front; nice and smooth. The frozen buttercream transfer for the AT-AT cake was done the same way, only piped and then frozen.)

Here's the cake before I added the flag/candle and gumaste Brandon.

I'm not happy with how the flames turned out. I should have probably done them out of fondant so that they'd have been smoother.

Here it is with Brandon falling off the back. The gumpaste flag was molded onto an extra-long skinny candle.

It was an enormous amount of cake for such a small party. Some of it got taken home by guests, but some of it went right into the trash. :(

Here's another Brandon cake, his entry for this year's Interfaith Baking Contest.

And here's my entry:

A lot of baking goes into a topsy-turvy. Each tier has three layers, each a different size. Here they are, stacked up and thawing after coming out of the freezer.

I think the best way to tell the story of this cake is to post the description I submitted to John Mayer:

"The other cake is the topsy-turvy Christmas tree that I made. I've been waiting for an excuse to try one for quite some time now. I knew, however, that even if I made it as small as physically possible (which I did), it would still be way too much cake for my family of four. So I decided to bring it to my husband's Command Holiday Party. We're relatively new to this command (transferred here in May), and every command Holiday party we've ever been to has been a potluck, so we had no idea that this one was CATERED. So I walked into a *catered event* carrying, not only a cake, not only a tiered cake, but a bright green, ostentatiously conspicuous, topsy-turvy cake. I almost died of embarrassment, but as it turns out, the catered desserts were fairly unappetizing, and everybody was glad that I'd brought something better. Made with love!!!"

The bottom tier was Chocolate Candy Cane (devil's food cake with mint buttercream & crushed candy cane filling; glazed with mint-chocolate ganache and then iced in vanilla butercream.) The middle and top tiers were Almond Sugarplum cake. (Almond butter cake with a "sugarplum" filling of my own invention, inspired in a general way by Alton Brown's sugarplum recipe.) I don't really know how the Sugarplum cake turned out in the end because I never ate any of it. I don't think anybody did. It was too much cake even for a big party. I actually don't know what happened to the leftovers, I was told that it fell over after a certain amount of pieces had been cut off of the base. Which, to be honest, I expected.

I was actually fairly unhappy with those last two cakes, to be honest. (By which I mean, MY last two cakes. I think Brandon's tree was adorable.) They were ambitious, and impressive in their own way, and they went over VERY well. But the icing wasn't smooth and the piping, simple though it was, was really sloppy. I wanted - needed - a chance to practice the basics.

Ask, and you shall receive. This cake was requested by the "room mother" of Brandon's class. (Well, she asked if I could make a cake. I came up with the design myself.) The Teaching Assistant for his class is transferring next month, and today was her last day with the 2-day class. Each of the kids gave her a flower, and then we gave her this cake.

I'm finally starting to get the hang of the reverse-shell border. Kind of.

The roses had me in tears. The icing I'd made myself wasn't stiff enough and they were just flopping all over the place as I was trying to pipe them. So I had to go with the backup can of Wilton decorator frosting. I don't like having to use it, because it has trans-fats in it...but guess what? You need the trans-fats. Ever since they started making Crisco with no trans-fats, you can't use all-Crisco buttercream to make roses. The petals end up feathery and cracked. 50/50 butter/Crisco works for some people, but not for me, because my hands are too hot and it melts in the bag and gets too soft for roses. (It's fine for everything else, though.) So I went with my usual compromise of pre-made, kill-you-slowly icing for the roses, and icing-that's-ever-so-slightly-less-unhealthy for the rest of it.

So, that's what I've been working on for the past season, at least as far as decorating. I hope you've enjoyed this journey through the last 4 months worth of cakes. I'm planning something special for Christmas Eve, so stay tuned!