Thursday, September 29, 2011

Birthday Cake: Gabriella!

Gabriella is 4 years old and wanted a My Little Pony cake. Because I'm paranoid about legal matters, I'm always a little weary of making cakes with copyrighted characters, so I opted for (I know... shoot me...) a couple of mini-plastic ponies, and made the rest of the decorations in gumpaste. Gabriella doesn't like fondant, so the cake is covered in buttercream.

The little rainbow is made from rice krispie treats, covered in fondant, painted with food coloring and brushed with edible gold glitter. The camera doesn't pick up the sparkle from the glitter, but just imagine that the rainbow is all sparkly, and you get the picture.

The kids really loved the inside of the cake, which was rainbow colored as well. You can get step by step instructions on how to do that here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How-To: Rainbow tiedye cake

The last birthday cake I made, warranted a lot of "oohs" and "aahs" from the kids as they cut into it and saw the rainbow of colors inside. I thought I'd share the step-by-step, since it's really painfully simple!

Start with your favorite cake batter, and some food coloring. I prefer gel, but liquid is fine, too. In these pictures I used strawberry cake batter, which isn't really the best choice, since it's already pink.. but it worked in the end.

Divide the batter into little bowls, and add a different color to each.

Pour one color batter into your prepared pan, covering the bottom of the pan if possible.

Continue with your next color, pour it in the center of the first color, like so:

And do that again...

And again...

You get the picture...
Honestly, that's all there is to it. Pour slowly so the colors don't mix, tap your pan on the counter a couple of times to help it settle, and all you need to do is bake the cake as you normally would.

Hopefully, it will come out something like this, and your kids will be thrilled:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Secrets revealed: Understanding gluten.

Yea, I'm gonna spill some secrets on my blog. Not all of them, of course, but some. Like the secrets to moist, yet firm-enough-to-stack cakes. It's all about understanding gluten. Sounds really boring, kind of like a chemistry class. But I promise - if you "get" gluten, you "get" baking. Seriously. So it's worth learning.
I also promise that the word "gluten" will be repeated in this blog post more times than you care to count. There, you have been warned.

Essentially, gluten is the sticky stuff that happens when wheat flour meets water. The proteins in the wheat flour, glutenin and gliadin will combine, and create, you got it, glue. So by adding more (or less) water, you'll control the texture of your dough or batter.  So far, so good, right? So, when you add some kind of leavening ingredient, whether it's baking soda, baking powder or yeast, it will rise. The cake heats, and the baking soda turns in to carbon dioxide, and pretty much creates little air bubbles. Think of the air bubbles like they're inflating a balloon, and your gluten is  the exterior, the rubber part. That's why it's crucial that the balloon is made of the right material for the occasion, so that it won't pop or deflate.

So, when baking, the first thing to do is to make sure we have the right kind of flour, as different flour types have different protein content. When baking cakes, we want cake flour, which has a relatively low protein content, usually around 8%. All purpose flour is ok, too, with a protein content at around 10%. Stay away from bread flour which can have as much protein as 15% and would make for a  really dough-y, tough and gross cake. Why is this? Because less protein means weaker gluten, and more tender cakes.

Then comes the more complicated part- understanding how other ingredients and circumstances affect the gluten. Basically, fats, egg yolks and sugar break down gluten. Salt helps it. Water creates it, but after drenching the flour the first time, it will in turn start to break it down. (Yikes! Am I making it complicated enough yet?)
Which means that if you add the fat to your recipe before the water, very little gluten will form at all, since the fat will coat the flour and make it water resistant, like when you make a pie crust. In a cake you'll want to create gluten in order to make your cake fluffy, but not so much that it turns tough and rubbery. Which is why you'll want to add your water first, then your fat, then your sugar. In a really sweet cake, you'll want to add the tiniest pinch of salt.
I'm gonna make this even more complicated now: Working the dough affects your batter a whole lot too. Mixing and stirring will strengthen your gluten, so overmixing may ruin your cake and make it chewy and rubbery. If you were making a yeast dough, you'd want to handle your dough as much as you could - because you'd need a sturdy dough. Not in this case.

So, by now you've gotten the right flour, measured your ingredients correctly, added them in the right order and mixed it just right. Are we safe yet?
Not quite. Another crucial part still remains: Cooling.
When your cake is hot, the gluten is still fragile. This is why, if you take your cake out of the pan too soon, or try to cut it too soon, it will fall apart or just get flat. The cake needs to cool for a few minutes in the pan so it will get a little bit stronger, then hang out on a wire rack until it's completely cool. Completely. I'm not kidding. Have lots of patience even if it smells awesome.

Even when the cake is completely cool, there's still physics and chemistry going on inside your cake. That's why I never cover a cake in fondant until 24 hours after I bake it, because the next day it may have settled a little bit. Not so much you could see it, but enough that the fondant could have become uneven and ugly. And nobody likes ugly. We like "homemade" and "charming", but not ugly.

And thats, pretty much, that.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How-To: Li'l horsie!

Seems the world loves little horsies, so here's how I made the cute little one from Samantha's birthday cake!

First, here's what we need:

2 football-ish shaped balls for the body and face, 2 small and 2 large cones for the legs, a different colored fondant for the accents and a 3rd color for mane and tail.

I stamped out little circles for the hooves and the nose, and wrapped them around the legs and the head, like so:
Then I added 2 tiny balls and pricked them in the middle with a toothpick to make nostrils, and made a little crooked, smiling mouth just for the cuteness factor.

Put it all together with fondant glue (a little pinch of tylose powder in a couple of teaspoons of water) or water. The larger cones are the hind legs, the smaller in the front.

Add some details, like mane and tail (I like to use a garlic press for perfect hair) and soon we have this cute little guy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Birthday Cake: Samantha!

This is Samantha's 2nd birthday cake. Samantha is the cutest little girl who loves farm animals and books, so that's what her cake is - animals and books.
The cake is a 2-tier double layer cake, with 2 layers of orange cake and 2 layers of raspberry-pomegranate with raspberry/ Bavarian creme filling.

The little piggie ended up looking so sad, I felt bad for him, but it was so cute I decided to keep him that way.

My new obsession is flavored fondant, but I found out the hard way that once the flavoring is added it gets a lot harder to work with. After a lot of trying (and failing!) I found that mixing a little Wilton pre-made fondant in there, the texture will be 100% better to work with.

The little birthday girl with her cake. She loved it!

A couple of seconds after this picture was taken, she leaned in and took a big chomp off "her own" feet.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How-To: 3D flowers

I have gotten some questions on how I make the little 3D flowers for my cakes, like the ones on this cake:

And on this one:

So I figured I'd make a little step-by-step tutorial.

First an overview of the things you'll need:

Fondant, tylose powder, a flower-shaped cookie cutter, and a spoon. The pearl nonpareils are just for fun!

First, we add tylose powder to the fondant. This will essentially turn your fondant into gumpaste. What is the difference between gumpaste and fondant you say? Well, here's a clumsy explaination:
Fondant is a sugar paste. Gumpaste is a sugar paste with gum ingredient added, such as gum tragacanth or in this case, tylose. Because of the gum ingredient, it is a lot more stable, more elastic, can be rolled much thinner, and will dry much harder than fondant. The downside is, it won't taste as good. That's why you'll want to make little decorations out of gumpaste, but use fondant as your cake covering.

Just a little sprinkle of tylose is enough in these small pieces. On average you'll need about 3 teaspoons of tylose powder per lb of fondant, so that will give you a perspective of how little we need. If it turns too gummy on you, add some more fondant. If it gets too dry while you're working, add some glycerine, or if you're really in a pinch, some vegetable oil.

After we reach the right consistency, we roll out a thick (about 3 mm) sheet of the gumpaste, and easy-piecy use the cookie cutter to make some flowers. Don't be sad if the flowers look skinny and puny, we'll blow some life into them later.

Lift the flower gently with a butter knife or small spatula, and onto the surface of your choice. I like to use this foam from Wilton, but you can use a (clean!) sponge, a soft pile of (clean!) paper towels, a rubber place mat dusted with powdered sugar... whatever you have and feel comfortable with.

Now it's time to add some life to the flower. I like to use this tool from Wilton. There is a plethora of these tools out there, from different manufacturers, available at cake supply stores and hobby stores everywhere. If you don't want to dish out any extra cash, you can use whatever you can find around the house: the (clean!) backsode of a ballpoint pen, a tiny measuring spoon, even your little finger.
 Lightly press the ball down on each leaf of the flower, and it will spring back up and make the flower come to life. Also, press down on the middle of the flower to make an indentation where the center will be.

Next, we'll get our 2nd color fondant ready. All we need is a tiny round-ish ball to fit the center of the flower.

I like to add a pinch of tylose to a few drops of water and use as a glue for the gumpaste. Just brush on a little right where we want the pieces to adhere, like this:

Then add the little center ball:
And give it a little poke with a gumpaste tool or a toothpick.

Next, to the trick that makes the flowers 3D : Drying them in a spoon. You can use a measuring spoon, a kitchen spoon, a shot class, an egg cup, anything you can find that is hollow and round. I usually scramble up anything I can find in the kitchen. My favorites are measuring spoons, but it's fun to use different things, as they will take on different shapes and angles.
You can leave them like this, or you can ad a little nonpareil just for cuteness' sake. Or dust it with a little edible glitter or disco dust.

In the end, you should have a gumpaste flower garden in your kitchen, which is sure to drive your significant other absolutely insane. ("I can't cook lunch with all these stupid little sugar things every-freakin-where!")

But that's ok, because when you can place a baby in the middle and make a scene like this, it's pretty satisfying.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baby Shower cake: Ani

This is a simple little lemon -strawberry cake with strawberry buttercream filling and vanilla fondant. It's relatively small, feeds approximately 15 people.