Monday, February 20, 2017

Another Fondant To Test - Dream by Choco-Pan

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My quest for the perfect fondant continues....

I thought I had found the perfect fondant with Via Roma Bakery Fondant, but my last 5lb tub of the stuff was less than perfect (it formed the dreaded elephant skin).  So I'm back on the hunt, searching for the "Perfect Fondant" that is consistently perfect.    Next to be tested is...

Dream Fondant by Choco-Pan

(If you want to read about other fondants I've tested you can checkout the 7 fondant comparison, the Via Roma comparison, the Cake Craft comparison, or the Carma Massa comparison.)

In my non-expert analysis of the fondants I use nine different criteria: Taste, Texture, Rolling, Coverage, Draping/Smoothing, Cutting/Trimming, Drying Time, Tinting, and The Final Look.

Taste - I have to say I was impressed with the taste of this Dream Fondant.  It has a hint of White Chocolate and a touch of vanilla.  The fondant feels creamy in the mouth and dissolves easily on the tongue.  It doesn't feel tough and is not chewy at all.  Dream is more like firm buttercream instead of icky, chew, fondant.  I have to say that Dream is one of the best tasting fondants I have sampled.  (But in my book, Pettinice is still the best tasting.)

Texture -  Out of the pail this Dream Fondant was as hard as a rock, but a few seconds in the microwave had it soft and malleable.  It is very easy to knead and condition, and very easy to fold and stretch.

The photo below show exactly how soft the fondant is.  I had the fondant sitting on a paper towel, and in just a few short minutes the fondant pick up the pattern from the paper.  I didn't press the fondant into the paper, honest I didn't.

The fondant also had this strange paradox of textures.  On the one hand it felt dry and cool to the touch, but it also left a greasy film on my hands. 

And even more contradictions: the Dream Fondant comes out of the pail as hard as a rock, but after warming the fondant is soft to the touch and will stay that way for days.   The fondant feels soft, but strangely, if you don't work quickly it can tear.   And while the fondant is soft and malleable, it is not floppy.  It will hold its shape without bending.  A good analogy for this fondant is modeling clay.   It is soft and workable, but it will hold its shape after it is formed.  So this his Dream Fondant is full of contradiction, but contradictions that (for the most part) all work in the cake maker's favor. 

Rolling - After softening  and working the fondant for a few minutes, I found that it rolled very easily.  I didn't have to use a lot of effort or muscle to flatten it to 1/8".  I did find the bottom of the fondant stuck a little to The Mat, but nothing too bad.  The rolled, outer edges of the fondant also stayed soft and supple and didn't crack.  

Coverage - In all of my fondant comparison I used the same amount of fondant (5 ounces) rolled to the same thickness (1/8") to see how far each brand would spread. At 11-1/2 inches round, this Dream Fondant was one of the best performers (tied with Fondarific and Via Roma). The worst performers, at 9" round, were Duff & Satin Ice

Draping/Smoothing - When compared to other fondants, I found the Dream Fondant a little stiffer and more difficult to work with.  When placed over my "dummy" cake it acted more like a piece of aluminum foil rather than a piece of Saran Wrap.  The fondant just didn't want to drape and flow down the sides of the cake.  It was also a little difficult to fluffy out the folds.

And below is something that really surprised me given how the fondant is so soft...  I was in the middle of smoothing the fondant over the dummy cake.  I was taking my time, slowly moving back and forth trying to fluff out the folds, when the fondant start to rip.  Gasp!!  This is a cake maker's worst nightmare.  

I yanked the fondant off, squished it a bit, re-rolled, and started over.  The second attempt was much better.  I worked faster this time, although it still took a lot of time to smooth, fluff, and work out the folds.  I also trimmed off the excess skirt fondant away from the base before I started smoothing.  In the end I finished without creating any tears.  And best of all there was none of that dreamed Elephant Skin, and NO bubbles.  I hate bubbles in my fondant (see the Carma Massa drama).

Cutting/Trimming - The Dream Fondant performed very well at the cutting/trimming stage.  No ragged edges are unsightly pulls.  I have started using these Sugar Smoothers to cut/trim the bottom of the cakes...

But a wheel cutter works just as well.

Drying Time - The Dream Fondant has a slow drying time. I had a small ball of the fondant sitting on the counter for over 30 hours and after all that time it was still soft and moist.  I was able to rework the ball, and roll it out like it had just come out of the pail.

Tinting - After all the problems I had coloring the Carma Massa fondant a pretty mauve color, I started testing the fondants to see how they handle  U.S. Certified Red #3 dye.  The Dream Fondant had no trouble with the Red #3 dye.  The mauve looked pinkish just like it was supposed to look.

Final Look - Well in the end, this Dream covered cake dummy looked pretty damn good.  Not perfect, but pretty close.  The fondant finish was smooth and velvety, and seemed to float above the nooks and crannies of the dummy cake underneath. It really looked good.  About the only negative I could mention is that I found the surface of the fondant to be a little delicate.  Even hours after the fondant is applied, it is very easy to gouge the surface of the fondant with finger tips or other tools.  But on the positive side, the same character that makes the fondant surface easy to gouge also make it easy to buff out the imperfections.

So this Dream Fondant is a real contender for the crown of Perfect Fondant.  Until I find something better, this will probably be my go to fondant. 

Happy Baking (and Decorating),



Saturday, February 11, 2017

First Ombre Cake

My first attempt at an Ombre Cake.  Not too bad, but I think the line between the colors should have been a bit more blurred.  Oh well, I'll do better next time.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Harry Potter Lesson Books Cake

My first Groom’s Cake!!!

Both the bride and groom (close friends of my niece) are big Harry Potter fans, so they requested a Golden Snitch Cake. I didn’t want to do just the snitch, so I decided to build a tower of Harry Potter lesson books with a wand and the golden snitch sitting on top.

(Hey, free cake so I kind-of get to do what I want.)

Not surprising, the snitch was the hardest piece to make. I started with a fondant covered foam ball, and then used various sized fondant ropes (used a clay extruder to form the ropes) to decorate the outer shell.

Next came the wings for the snitch. I rolled out gumpaste very thin, and then sandwiched a curved metal wire between the upper and lower layer.

I cut out the shape of the wing, and then cut parallel lines through the gumpaste to make the individual feathers of the wing.

As a final step I sprayed (using Wilton's color mist) the wings sliver and the body gold.

The wand came next, and unlike the snitch I was able to whip it out in just with a few minutes of work. I made the wand in three stages, allowing the gumpaste to dry at each stage. First I rolled out a thin log of gumpaste and then inserted a wooden skewer down the center. After the first section dried I built up a second layer near the end of the wand and gave it a little texture to make it look like wood. The third stage was a lumpy wad of gumpaste that I stuck on the end of the wand. I cut deep grooves into the gumpaste, and stuck some wart-like little knobs to make it look like a stick from a tree. As a final step I painted it with some gel food color: chocolate brown and black.

I finished the snitch and wand a few days before the event so on the day before the wedding I only had to worry about the stack of books.  I didn't need a whole lot of actual cake, so I made the top two books out of foam.  There are lots of detailed instructions on the web on how to construct the closed book cakes so I won't repeat all the steps.  But essentially you cover three sides of the foam with white fondant.  All the instructions I read said to carefully measuring the cake/foam to get a piece of white fondant exactly the right size, but I just got "close" and smeared the extra fondant over the top of the foam.  I used a bit of shortening to stick the fondant to the foam.  To make the "pages" of the book I just ran a scoring tool into the fondant to make parallel lines.  The lines don't have to be exact.  You just want to give the impression of pages.

The books "cover" was the next step. You need to be a more precise when you cut this piece, and I learned the hard way that you also need fondant that is a little stiff.  If your fondant is too soft, it will get pulled out of shape when you try and place it on the cake/foam.  I used Carma Messa fondant on the first dummy cake and didn't have any trouble with the fondant pulling out of shape. On the second foam book I used Fondarific, and almost yanked my hair out in frustration.  The fondant just wouldn't stay square when I tried to place it on the cake.  In the end I used some tylose gum tex power to stiffen the fondant.  I could get away with this because this fondant was going to cover the foam/dummy cake. 

The final step in the construction was to cut thin strips that are position around the bottom of the cake to form what looks like the bottom cover of the book.

The foam cakes went together pretty easily, but I did have some trouble constructing the book that was actually made out of cake.  I'm not real good at getting my cakes level, so after I putting on the ganache I had to build up the top outer edges with pieces of fondant to get the top somewhat flat and even.  I also couldn't roll out a strip of white fondant that was long enough to cover all three sides, so I just cut three pieces and patched them together.  If you look closely at the edge along the front left side you can see where I overlapped the two pieces. 

And once again I had trouble placing the "cover" on the book.  I was using the Fondarific again and it was just way too soft to hold its shape (and I couldn't add any tylose to this one because people might actually eat the fondant).  It took me three tries to get the top cover on without stretching it out of shape.  I used the SweetWise Mat to help position the cover on top of the cake, and then pull the mat away from the cut edges of the fondant very gently.  I also had the prop the corners up with tooth picks so they wouldn't droop.  In the end the book made out of cake looked a lot more rustic than the books made out of the foam. The foam "cakes" had sharp edges and smooth sides, and the real cake looked a little lumpy.  But remember - free cake.

Final step on the book construction was to add some embellishments to make it look more realistic.  You can't really see in the picture, but I used an impression mat on the dark colored bands to get some texture on the fondant.  I also dusted it with edible gold dust to make it sparkle.  

The three books were then stacked, and the titles added to the book.  On the top book I cut out the letters using my Cricut, but I wasn't too happy with the look.  The letters were too perfect and precise looking so they didn't match the rest of the book.  But I didn't have time to re-cut them by hand so I had to use the Cricut letters.

I hand lettered the titles along the spine using edible markers, and the final step was dusting the books with cocoa power to give everything an aged look.

And the most painful part of the process -- seeing it all torn apart.

Happy Decorating,


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Mummy Trick-or-Treat Bag - In Cake Form

While trawling the internet for all things cake, I found two interesting techniques I wanted to try, and since I would be experimenting right before Halloween I decided to dress up my “experiments” to look like a Halloween Trick-or-Treat bag...

I think the bag came out cute despite the fact that my two experiments were a flop.<< sad face >>

The first experiment was the Slutty Brownie Cake. What's Cooking Gabby’s Slutty Brownie Cake is amazing – a truly drool worthy cake. The cake is three layers of goodness: one layer is Oreo Cookie Cake, one Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake, and the third is a Brownie. Gabby uses a white cake as the base, and then adds an ingredient to customize each layer.

In the end my Oreo layer was pretty good, but the brownie layer was dense, dry, and not sweet enough. The cookie layer was the worst of the trio – the chocolate chips all settled to the bottom (I should have dusted them with flour first), and it sort-of collapsed on me. Sad looking isn’t it?

The second experiment was building/stacking the cake layers and filling inside a 4” high pan, and then freezing. Once firm you can heat the sides of the pan, and in theory the cake should slide out of the pan with perfectly straight sides and top.

 Umm, No. Didn’t work for me. First off the cake would NOT come out of the pan!! I beat on the top and sides, and warmed the aluminum pan but the cake wouldn't slide out. In desperation I ran a butter knife between the cake and the side of the pan, and the cake finally slid out. And after all that angst I found that the top of the cake was very slanted.

I really don’t know how that happened??? It looked perfectly flat when it was inside the pan, but once it came out it looked like a ski slope. I had some trouble with the center, chocolate chip cookie layer compressing, so maybe that is what caused the slant.

At this point I was shooting 0 for 2. I really didn’t have a good feeling about the taste of my Slutty Brownie Cake, but I decided to decorate it anyway because I needed a centerpiece for the Halloween Party treat table. I didn’t have much time to decorate, so I needed something quick and easy. The day before I had gotten an email from Cake Central showing how to decorate a cutesy Frankenstein Trick-or-Treat bag. I liked the concept but didn’t want to do Frankenstein so I searched the web for other Trick-or-Treat bags and found a cute Mummy bag.

Yes! It was cute and decorating would be quick and easy. To make the bag I needed more height than my 3-layer Slutty Cake gave me, so I added a 4" cake dummy to the bottom of the stack. I rolled out 1 inch strips of fondant, scored the edge of the strips to give it a stitched look, dusted the edges with cocoa power to give it a dirty look, and finally started wrapping the cake. it was so easy. There were no worries about straight sides, flat tops, or bulging middles. Note: I tried dusting with different things (cinnamon, powdered ginger, etc) but the cocoa worked the best.

When I got to the top of the cake I extended the last strips about 1/2 inch above the cake. This accomplished two things 1) it kept the candy from sliding off the top of the cake, and 2) it made it look like the candy was sitting inside the bag.

Next I slapped on some eyes. I just cut out fondant circles and them stretched them into a more oval shape.

Then I added a few shorter strips of fondant to cover the tops of the eyes and make it look like they were peaking out from beneath the strips. I also added some strips to suggest a mouth, and I darkened the inside of the mouth with cocoa to make it stand out even more.  I should have added a nose too, but I didn't think of it till I was at the party.

Last step was the handle for the bag. I used some wire to give the fondant handle some support, and I just kept adding strips on top of the wire till the wire was deeply embedded inside the fondant. Dusted it with cocoa and stuck it through the cake and into the foam cake dummy at the bottom. I know you are not supposed to stick wire in cake (the wire is not food safe), but I figured the cake was not going to get eaten.

The final touch was adding the candy to the top of the Mummy Cake to make it actually look like a Trick-or-Treat Candy Bag, and Voila I had a decorated cake in less than two hours. Boom.

Best part is, a lot of people at the party didn't even realize it was a cake! They just thought it was a Trick-or-Treat bag full of candy. How cool it that!

Happy Decorating,


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gold Engagement Cake with Peonies – Edible Gold Paint, Gunging and Easy Ruffled Cake Drum

I’m just a hobby baker, so this 3-tiered cake was one of my most adventurous so far. It doesn’t look very complicated, but I had a few miss-steps and learned some interesting new techniques along the way.

First off the painting of the tiers…

At first I was going to use gold leaf, but after being told that gold leaf wasn't edible I decided to paint on the gold color.  Next obstacle was deciding on what type of color to use. Who knew there were so many options: pearl, luster and disco dust, gels, and airbrush paint. Then the whole edible vs non-toxic issue came up yet again. I didn’t realize that a lot of the accent stuff that is sold for cake decorating is actually not edible. Some dusts are labeled as non-toxic which essentially means it won’t kill you if you eat it, but it is not designed to be consumed.

So after some searching I finally settled on Edible Hybrid Luster Dust by Chef Alan Tetrault. The Chef Tetrault line has lots of gold colors to choose from, and after much thought I finally settled on Soft Gold.  In the end it turned out a little lighter than I was wanted, but I think it still looked okay.

So  to paint on the gold color I mixed the luster dust with vodka to form a thick paste and just started brushing it on.

I wanted the cake to have broad, uneven brush-strokes (like the example the bride-to-be game me), but it didn’t quite come out that way. The paint ended up looking more uniform than I wanted, but it didn’t look too terrible. (Hey the “customer” was getting it for free so she couldn’t complain.) But it still vexes me why I couldn’t get the look I wanted…maybe my paint wasn’t thick enough??? I may try it again on a dummy cake just to see where I went wrong.

The next next new thing I tried was the gumpaste peonies. This was the first time I tried to make realistic looking gumpaste flowers, and they were actually pretty easy to construct. I used a center Styrofoam ball and just glued a bunch of individual peony petals to it. Not hard, but very time consuming. Sorry, I forgot to take pictures as I was making the flowers, but this is the end product.  I also dusted a little of the dry gold luster on the petals to give them some shine.

Next issue was this horrible, yawning gap that showed up after I stacked the cakes.  The example design the  didn’t have a border to hide this kind of flaw, so I was freaking out.  How was I going to hide the huge gap???!!!

But then I remembered a video I saw on the “gunging” technique. In this technique you beat your fondant with milk and vodka until it forms a paste that has the consistency of beaten egg whites. It takes a lot of beating (10-15 minutes), but in the end you get a soft, putty-like mixture that acts like that silicone filler the construction guys use.

You can pipe the gunge into to gaps and then scrape the access off with a straight edge tool. You can also use the gunge to fix nicks and gouges in your fondant. The gunge saved the cake!!

 And after:

My next dilemma was the unattractive drum at the base of the cake.  My bottom tier was 12 inches and I planned on using a 12 inch drum that would blend into the bottom tier and make it look taller.  Sadly it didn't turn out that way.  In hindsight I realize that I didn't take into account the added thickenss from the ganache on the cake, so the cake drum ended up being a 1/2 inch smaller than the tier above it.  Stupid, stupid, me.

You can also see a bit of a bulge on the bottom tier,  Sigh... Nothing I could do about that at this point. The bulge showed up even before I stacked the cakes, so I guess the white cake recipe I used was too fluffy and delicate to handle the weight of three layers plus all the buttercream, ganache, and fondant.

But back to the ugly cake drum problem.  I couldn't fix the bulge, but I could try and fix the base.  I tried a few things: painting it gold, wrapping a gold ribbon around it, adding a ribbon of white fondant, but nothing looked good.  Then I cut out some 1x1 inch squares of fondant and started filling the gap.  I just keep overlapping the squares and working my way around the cake.  And surprise, surprise, it really looked good. They kind-of resembled fancy pleats!  In fact it looked like I had actually planed it!!  I guess necessity really is the mother of invention.

So in the end it, even with my missteps, the cake didn't turn out too bad.   But I really do apologize for the ugly wooden board under the cake.  It was all I had the the house that was large enough to hold the cake.  I was hoping they would have some decorations at the party that I could use to hide the board, but no such luck.  My cake decorating attempts are always filled with misadventures.

Happy Decorating,