Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One Direction (In Concert) Cake

My niece said she wanted a Niall Horan cake for her birthday.

“Who?” I asked in confusion.

“You know, Niall Horan.  One Direction,” she replied.

“Who?” I asked again still not understanding.

She gave me a look of comic disbelief and proceeded to give me all the details of the most recent boy-band, teenage heart-throbs: Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry, & Louis. She dragged me to her room and in the week since my last visit she had redecorated her walls. Gone was poor Justin and in his place was Niall.

Ooookayyyyy. That was a fast. But who am I to question tween love.

So I got busy searching the internet for “One Direction” themed cakes and found a few with a concert stage theme that I liked. A lot of the cakes had hand molded band members, but due to limited time and mediocre talent I decided to just buy some One Direction plastic figures to go on top of my cake.

They figures I found are actually very cute. They are only about 3 inches tall and they look like bobble heads, but the heads do not move. But even without the bobble they are still adorable.

To go with the concert stage theme, I decided to include a backdrop that would look like a large silhouette of the band members. I printed out the silhouette and then used the paper copy to make a duplicate version out of Satin Ice Gum Paste.

I later used edible spray paint to color it black. I guess I could have just tinted the gum paste black, but I already had the paint so I figure I would give that method a try. The paint worked okay, but it was delicate and easily smudged. The silhouette was also very fragile so I glued it (with white chocolate) to a piece of square, white gum paste.

I also cut out gum paste British phone booths to be part of the backdrop.  Who remembers Dr. Who and the Tardis (although his' was blue).  The white gum paste phone booths (and a "1D" logo) were sprayed with red edible paint.

The white, cream cheese icing look a little stark, so I painted that silver. Guess I went a little crazy with the spray paint.

Here is the half-finished cake chilling in the refrigerator. The cake is Red Velvet and the frosting is Cream Cheese. I had to keep the cake chilled because of the frosting kept melting.  Gotta love New Orleans in August where temps top 95 and the humidity is 110%.

The multicolored “crowd” in front of the stage is just a paper cutout. I was going to make it out of gum paste, but as usual I ran out of time. Even after all these years decorating cakes I still can’t predicate how long it is going to take to prepare and assemble the decorations. I always seem to run short of time.

Here is the finished product.  I wish I would have put  Niall on the cake with the rest of the guys and tilted the 1D logo up so you could see it better.  But c'est la vie.  That's life.

And sadly this is what happened to all that time and effort. It is frightening that it only takes a few seconds to destroy what took hours to create.

But at least the birthday girl got to keep the little 1D figurines. She added them to the 1D shrine that she calls her bedroom.

Happy Birthday, Amanda.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Mat - Fondant Rolling System - A Review

Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

I'd been eying “The Mat” by SweetWise for some time now, but I make so few fondant cakes that I couldn’t really justify the expense. What to do? What to do? But then my Wilton mat tore after years of use and abuse, so I took the plunge and bought the Professional Mat.

Oops… should have paid more attention to the size. That thing is huge!!  30 inches doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is almost too big to fit on my round kitchen table. Due to its size it is also a little difficult to handle (especially if you are just rolling out a small amount of fondant). Suggestion #1: If you are a hobby baker, think about the Home version instead of the Professional. The Professional is only a few dollars more than the Home version but sometimes bigger is not always better.

I didn’t have a fondant cake to make so I decided to just do some dummy testing, training and seasoning of my new Mat. But first I watched the video on the Sweet Wise web page (or on YouTube). The Mat itself does not come packaged with instructions, so you MUST watch the video to figure out how to use the dang thing.

The video has lots of tips and tricks, but one of the most important is to get the two vinyl sheets oriented correctly before you start rolling the fondant. Each sheet has a “good” side and a “bad” side. Use the printed instructions on each sheet to get them positioned properly.

The top sheet should point right...

And the bottom sheet should point left...

Next comes the rolling. Easy peasy. The video suggests rolling from the center out instead of all the way across.

Next peel off the top vinyl layer and position the bottom vinyl layer (and rolled out fondant) over the cake.

Release one edged of the fondant from the vinyl and then let the weight of the fondant and gravity pull the rest free.

My first test was with Wilton fondant, and the process worked like a charm. The Wilton fondant released from The Mat and gently rolled onto the “cake”.  Next I tried Satin Ice fondant and it work equally as well.

BUT then I tired the same process with Fondarific fondant. What a disaster.

I had trouble with the Fondarific from step one. While rolling the fondant between the vinyl sheets I noticed lots of pockmarks forming. Next when trying to remove the top sheet, pieces of the Fondarific stuck and formed even bigger pockmarks. Then, like the top sheet, the fondant would not release from the bottom sheet.

I had to pull it loose and I ended up with a huge mess.

But I gave it another try. This time I dusted The Mat with cornstarch and then re-rolled the Fondarific fondant.

It worked a little better, but it still took some effort and consequently the fondant was a little stretched. The pockmarks were also still visible even using the corn strach.

I went online and found that other people were having the same problems. It seems like the “stickier” fondants don’t work as well with The Mat. They seem to, well… stick.

Other reviewer suggested using a little Crisco on The Mat, but I rejected that idea because I didn’t want to have to clean (with soap and water) that monster again. When I first got The Mat I tried to wash it in the sink. What a mess. Water went everywhere, including down the front of my pants. That thing was just too big to wrestle into my kitchen sink.

So what is my final opinion of The Mat?

Well it is GREAT as long as you use the right fondant.

With the right fondant The Mat makes the rolling, positioning, and final placement of the fondant super easy. It keeps the fondant from drying out during the rolling process, and the size guide printed on the vinyl makes rolling out the correct size a snap.

BUT the key to The Mat’s success is using the correct fondant. The dryer fondant like Wilton, Satin Ice, Fondx, etc will work well, but the stickier fondants like Fondarific, Duff, and MMF might give you some problems.

So keep your preferred fondant in mind when considering a purchase of The SweetWise Mat.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fondant Comparison - 7 contenders, no clear winner

I'm just a hobby baker, but a friend wanted me, ME- Queen of the Cake Wrecks, to make an elaborate fondant cake for her daughter's engagement party. Yikes. Talk about pressure. I wanted everything to be perfect, but as usual things did not turn out quite as I dreamed. I had lots of technical difficulties, lots of structural issues, lots of tears and gnashing of teeth, but all that drama is for another post.

This post is about FONDANT.  Which fondant tastes the best and which is the easiest to work with (in my inexperienced opinion).

Before this adventure the only fondant I had worked with was Wilton's (which tastes really bad, but is easy to work with) so I decided to get samples of six other popular fondants and do a comparison. My goal was to find a fondant that was easy to work with, and also had a great taste.

Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

The fondants selected for the test were: 

Elite (Fondx) – Silk White 
Pettinice - White Fondant, Ready-To-Roll
Wilton – White (tested version no longer available)

(( Update 6/2/15: I've added a new fondant to the comparison:Via Roma Bakery.  You can find the blog post here.
Update 2/3/16: I've added another new fondant to the comparison: Cake Craft Fondant.  You can find the blog post here.
Update 9/8/2016: Yet another fondant: Carma Massa Ticcino.  You can find the blog post here.
Update 2/20/2017: Another fondant: Dream by Choco Pan.  You can find the blog post here.
Update 4/9/2017 : Post for the Fat Daddio's Pro Series fondant can be found here.
Update 5/7/2017: Post for the Renshaw fondant can be found here.
Update 7/31/2017: Post for the Fantasia fondant can be found here.
Update 11/19/2017: Post for the Mona Lisa fondant can be found here. ))

Here are strips of each fondant atop a simple white cake with American Buttercream icing. All of the fondant colors had “white” in their name, but as excepted the shades vary greatly.  I had ten people taste all the fondants to get their unbiased opinions.

So how was my comparison conducted?   What was the ranking criteria?

First was the taste test, then the kneading test, the rolling test (did it stick, was it easy to roll, how much did it spread, the draping/smoothing/trimming test. Finally the fondant covering the pan was inspected for imperfections. 

The goal was to find the best coverage with the least effort. Would one fondant brand be better at covering mistakes than others? 

Note #1: I draped all the fondant onto the same Mini Angel Food Pan. No icing covered the pan. It was just fondant atop metal. I wanted to see how many of the pan's nooks and crannies would show through the fondant.

Note #2: For each contender I used 5 ounces of fondant and rolled each to 1/8 inch. I was surprised at the difference in the amount of spread or coverage between the brands. In one case the fondant only rolled to 7-1/2 inches round, and in another the fondant rolled to almost 11 inches round. I guess it is a density issue. The heavier/denser the fondant is the less volume it has to spread. The lighter fondants had more volume per ounce, so there was more fondant to roll into a larger circle. Any mathematicians out there willing to explain this for us? 

Note #3: Because prices of fondant varies greatly from day to day and from vendor to vendor I don't quote any prices.  I only give a general ranking. This ranking does not include taxes or shipping. 

Now onto the testing results (in no particular order): 

Pettinice – White Rolled Fondant Icing 

  • Cost: Middle of the pack as far as pricing.
  • Packaging: This fondant is packaged in a thin, flimsy wrapper. The wrapper was ripped during shipping, and the fondant near the rip was already dried out. 
  • Taste: How does it taste? In a word: WOW. This stuff taste really, really good. Like traditional buttercream icing, only firm. Honest. I usually remove the fondant before eating the cake underneath, but I would be happy to munch on this stuff all day. 
  • Texture: Pettinice is soft and kneads easily. Working the fondant does not strain your arms or cramp your fingers and hands. The fondant has a cool, dry feel and it is not greasy at all. 
  • Rolling: Very easy to roll. The Pettinice did not stick to the rolling mat so I didn’t have to use any cornstarch. Rolled the 5oz to 1/8” which formed an 8" circle.  But at this thickness the rolled fondant seemed a little thin and fragile. It would probably perform better if rolled to 3/16 or 1/4 inch. 
  • Draping: Even as thin as it was, I found it easy to cover the pan with the fondant. The softness of the fondant allowed it to settle with more folds and drapes, but because it wasn’t sticky it was easy to smooth. But all that smoothing took more time and effort. Experience would make this step easier and quicker, but for me the process was a little time consuming. 
  • Cutting: Using a pizza cutter the Pettinice fondant cut cleanly. No hairs or pulls or gooey mess along the trimmed edge; just a nice clean line. 
  • Final Look: Because the Pettinice fondant was so soft it settled into the nooks and crannies of the tube pan. These “imperfections” in the pan were very noticeable in the smoothed fondant. If the fondant had been rolled a little thicker the imperfections may not have shown through as much, but rolling thicker would add to the cake covering costs. 
  • Other Observations: Fondant dries very quickly!!! You must work fast. Re-rolling the same fondant again and again (trying to get the size correct) is risky. You need to have the skill to get it right the first or second time. 
Pettinice  - One of the top two in TASTE.

Duff Goldman – White Buttercream

  • Cost: One of the most expensive, but Duff’s brand can be purchased at big box craft stores with a 40% off coupon. With this coupon it would be one of the least expensive. 
  • Packaging: Nice sturdy tub. 
  • Color: Labeled as “white” but has a very yellow cast. 
  • Taste: Taste good but has a stretchy, gummy feel in your mouth. Kind of feels like taffy. 
  • Texture: You need to microwave the Duff fondant to soften it. It is rock hard before microwaving, but very soft after. Feels and looks a little greaser than the Pettinice. 
  • Rolling: The Duff fondant was a little sticky but still easy to roll. It had a tendency to shrink and snap back after the rolling pin was removed. Took a little more effort to roll it out. 5 ounces rolled to 9 inches round.
  • Draping: The Duff fondant felt more elastic and solid so fewer "folds" form when draping it over the cake. Since there were not as many folds, it is easier to smooth. 
  • Cutting: Because the fondant had an elastic-like pull it didn’t cut very easily with the pizza cutter. The cut edges were a little ragged. After the fondant dried a bit I had to go back and re-trim. 
  • Final Look: The Duff fondant showed a lot of imperfections, and it also had a somewhat greasy look.   

    Choco-Pan – Wedding White 

      • Cost: Middle of the pack as far as pricing.
      • Packaging: Nice sturdy tub.
      • Taste: Very good taste. Actually tastes like white chocolate. One of the best tasting fondants in the group.
      • Texture: I have to admit that I was huffing and puffing trying to get the Choco-Pan out of the container. I had to use a knife to hack off chunks. What landed on to my counter was hard and crumbly. I envisioned spending hours kneading this stuff, but amazingly it was very easy to knead and very quick to soften. I guess body heat does the trick. And I have cold hands!! If you are hot blooded this fondant might actually get too soft.
      • Rolling: The Choco-Pan stuck a little bit to the mat. Choco-Pan fondant had a good spread at  9+ inches. 
      • Draping: Lots of folds formed when draping the cake with the fondant, but it was easy to smooth them away. 
      • Cutting: Cuts clean. No pulls. 
      • Final Look: The Choco-Pan was middle of the road as far as looks. Some brands showed more imperfections than the Choco-Pan and other showed less. 
       Choco-Pan - One of the top two in TASTE.

      Elite (Fondx) – Silk White

      • Cost: One of the most expensive. 
      • Packaging: Nice sturdy tub.
      • Taste: Strange chemical-like raspberry taste. It was also a little tougher to chew. None of my taste-testers cared for the taste of this fondant. 
      • Texture: Easy to knead. Feels very squishy and cool. 
      • Rolling: Rolls very smooth and uniform. No sticking at all. You can smell the raspberry while rolling the fondant. When rolling out the fondant, the 5 ounce block spread to 10+ inches. This was the second largest spread out of all the fondant. 
      • Draping: Easy to smooth out the drapes. 
      • Cutting: Easy to trim, very clean cut edges. 
      • Final Look: The covered cake looks great, hardly ANY imperfections from the underlying cake are visible. If it weren’t for the strange taste this fondant would be a top pick. I will try another flavor/color to see if they all have the odd taste. 
        Elite (Fondx) - Produced the BEST LOOKING FINISHED cake.  Looked oh-so smooth and perfect.

      Fondarific – Buttercream Antique White

      • Cost: Middle of the pack as far as pricing.
      • Packaging: Nice sturdy tub. 
      • Taste: Okay taste, but didn't like the taste of the Fondarific as much as the other brands (Choco-Pan, Pettinice). Would give it third place in taste.
      • Texture: Hard and unyielding when removed from pail, but a few seconds in the microwave makes it very soft and squishy. Feels like stretchy play dough. Also feels somewhat greasy. 
      • Rolling: My first attempt at rolling the Fondarific had it sticking to the mat (Wilton Roll And Cut Mat). I had to peel and scrape to get it loose. On the second attempt I use corn starch and this worked like a charm. No more sticking after that. In the end it rolled out to almost 11 inches.
      • Draping: The Fondarific formed nice broad drapes when covering the cake. The drapes did not stick to each other or collapse (all that cornstarch I guess). Smoothing was very quick and easy. Took no time at all to smooth it out. 
      • Cutting: The Fondarific cut very cleanly. No pulls or fondant hairs. 
      • Final Look: The Fondarific was the easiest to smooth and gave one of the best, blemished-free finishes. If it tasted a little better this would be the perfect fondant. 
      • Other Observations: 
        • Fondarific never seems to harden. Neither air nor time will cause it to firm up. If it gets a little stiff just microwave again and it will get soft again.
        • You can re-roll over and over again without the fondant drying out. 
        • Has a very long shelf life (1 year).  Because it doesn't harden you must add gumpaste or gumtex if you want to make stiff decorations out of it. 
      Fondarific - Stays soft, produced a smooth looking finished cake.  Has a long shelf life, won't dry out.

      (Sorry about all the spots of corn starch on the Fondarific cake.  I should have brushed them off.)

      Satin Ice – White Buttercream 

      • Cost: One of the most expensive.
      • Packaging: Nice sturdy tub. 
      • Taste: The Satin Ice – White Buttercream tasted okay but I found it a a little bland and nondescript. 
      • Texture: While you knead the fondant, it feels cool, soft and dry in your hands. But after draping and smoothing the fondant over the cake, it forms an unattractive “elephant skin” texture as it dries. 
      • Rolling: The Satin Ice rolls nicely and spreads to about 9 inches. But it tends to crack and tear around the edges. 
      • Draping: Hardly any drapes formed when placed atop the cake. Feels a little stiff and it is not very easy to smooth out the folds. 
      • Cutting: Cuts cleanly. Had no problems in this area. 
      • Final Look: The “elephant skin” texture that this fondant formed was a no-go for me. I don’t know if I had an old or dry batch of fondant, but I would think twice before trying this fondant again.

      Wilton – White
      Note: the Wilton version tested is no longer sold. Wilton now sells the Decorator Preferred Fondant.

      • Cost: The least expensive of the bunch, and with a 40% off coupon it makes it even cheaper.
      • Packaging: Enclosed in cellophane wrap and then boxed. 
      • Taste: All my taste testers just said, "YUCK!".
      • Texture: Dry and a little stiff at first, but softens with some effort.  This excessive dryness was probably my fault.  The box I tested was old.  I had purchased it may be 9-12 months ago, and never used it.  Probably a fresh pack would have been moister.
      • Rolling: The Wilton fondant rolls nicely and spreads to about 10+ inches. Did not stick at all.  Was super easy to lift off the rolling mat.
      • Draping: Hardly any drapes formed when placed atop the cake, and the fondant cracked along the top edge.  Again this is my fault for not getting a fresh box to test.  To compensate I added a touch of Crisco to soften it up.  After that the fondant draped and smoothed without effort.

      • Cutting: Cuts cleanly. Had no problems in this area. 
      • Final Look: Great, wonderful.  As far as final looks go the Wilton fondant was amazing.  No nooks and crannies from the pan showed through the fondant.  Looked perfect even in my inexperienced hands.  Now if they could just do something to improve the taste.
       Wilton - Next to Elite, the Wilton brand produced ONE OF THE BEST looking FINISHED cake.

      So after all my testing I had no clear winner  :-(

      Some brands I rejected outright, but out of the other brands the “winner” would depend on skill level and which is more important: the way the fondant looks or how it tastes.

      Pettinice had the best taste (in my opinion), but working with the fondant and getting a perfect finish would take more experience and training on my end. The fact that it dried so quickly also scared me off. When I gain more experience and confidence in my ability to roll and cover a cake quickly, this will be a contender.

      Duff Goldman's brand had a good taste, but it did not cut very cleanly and it was also on the expensive side (unless you have a 40% off coupon).

      Choco-Pan had a great taste, was easy to work with, and was middle of the pack as far as price. If I had to assign the #1 trophy to any ONE fondant it would have to be Choco-Pan (given my current level of experience).

      Elite (Fondx) had a strange chemical taste that didn’t appeal to me, but it was very easy to work with and it produced the best-looking finish. Even in my inexperienced hands the fondant came out very smooth, with hardly an imperfection to be seen. If it weren't for the strange taste this would be the undisputed winner in my "Fondant Games". I will have to try other flavors to see if they all have that strange taste.

      Fondarific had just an okay taste, but it was extremely easy to work with and it was also one of the least expensive. But what I really loved about the Fondarific was the LONG shelf life. I don’t make many fondant cakes so it is nice (and cost effective) to buy a big tub of this stuff and not have to worry about it drying out in a few months.

      Satin Ice had a bland taste (in my opinion), and it formed a weird elephant-skin texture that was off-putting to me. I also found that as the fondant dried it cracked around the edges of the cake. I may have had a bad batch, or I may have handled it wrong. Does anyone have any words of advice?

      Wilton has a horrible taste, and I would never cover a commissioned cake with it, but because it is inexpensive, easy to work with, and produces a smooth finished cake, it is a great option if you are just practicing or making fondant decorations for your masterpiece.  (Note: the Wilton fondant tested is no longer sold.)

      As you can tell from the above summary my comparison yielded no clear winner.  In the end I decided to use the Choco-Pan as the fondant to cover my commissioned engagement cake. At this point in time I would probably buy Choco-Pan for any large commissioned cake, but I like keeping the Fondarific on hand to use for any spur-of-the-minute jobs.  And I also like using the Wilton brand to make fondant decorations and flowers.

      So many fondants, each with its own Pros and Cons.  

      The one you pick will depend on your skill, your budget, and what is more important to you – taste or looks.

      If you have made it this far in the post I want to wish you Happy Cake Decorating, and I hope my very unscientific review helps you in some small way.


      Saturday, August 3, 2013

      Pineapple Upside Down Cake – Small Batch Baking

      My Mom has been pestering me to bake her favorite dessert: Pineapple Upside Down Cake. 

      But I’m on a low-carb diet (curses) and can’t help her devour a whole cake, so what is a girl to do?

      HA! She pulls out her handy, dandy, Small-Batch Baking book. This book is neat because the recipes are scaled back so they make only enough for 1 or 2 servings. But don’t mistakenly think that these recipes are easy just because they make a small quantity. This Upside Down Cake was involved, and packed with a shopping list of ingredients. 

      Here is the upside-down pineapple portion. You have to brown 1-1/2 teaspoons of butter in two jumbo muffin cups, mix the pineapple and brown sugar and then spread the pineapple mixture on top of the browned butter. 

      The batter called for 3 tablespoons of buttermilk. Buttermilk! Who keeps that in their frig? 

      I sure don’t, but I do keep powered buttermilk on hand. In baked goods this stuff tastes as good as the real thing, and there is no waste! The only head scratcher is trying to figure out how much powder to put the small batch recipe. I have to admit I needed a calculator for this one.

      So here is the batter going into the oven… 

      And the cakes coming out… 

      I had some trouble with the center of the cakes cooking so the edges got a little brown. I finally had to turn down the oven temperature and covering the cakes with aluminum foil. The bottom and sides came out a little crispy, but the inside was nice a moist. 

      And tasted delicious, according to my Mom.  I was a good girl and stuck to my diet. Not even a crumb of those evil carbs touched my lips. 

      So if you ever want to make an elaborate cake for just 1 or 2, try the Small-Batch Baking book, but be prepared to get a lot of bowls dirty and dig out those teeny, tiny 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoons.