Saturday, November 12, 2016

Harry Potter Lesson Books Cake

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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 Wilton ready-to-use 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 Wilton Black food color and Americolor chocolate brown food color gel.

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 my last bit of 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 had so much trouble I almost yanked my hair out in frustration.  The Fondarific was so soft it just wouldn't stay square when I tried to place it on the cake, and the edges that extended beyond the "page" section of the book kept flopping down.  The Fondarific was just too soft to use in this fashion.  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, and no one was going to eat it. 

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.

Other than the Fondaric issue, the foam cakes went together pretty easily.  But I did have some real 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 because that was all I hand, and again 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 my SweetWise Pro 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 Chef Alan  Tetreault 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 paper cutting machine, 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 Wilton edible markers, and the final step to complete the books was dusting them with cocoa power to give everything an aged look.  I added a few extra things here and there like the "HP" logo and the "parchment letter" with the names of the bride and groom and the date.  Funny story but I had a white owl perched on the edge of the book delivering the letter, but the owl look so bad I decided not to use it.

So all-in-all the cake turned out well, and the bride and groom were happy.  But I have come to realize that the hardest part about making an elaborate cake is watching as hours and hours of painstaking work is destroyed in a matter of seconds. 

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

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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 Tetreault. The Chef Tetreault 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.  I also used this nifty little measuring tool by Wilton to make sure my painted area stayed the same thickness as I went around the cake.  And my Cake Boss Cake Stand/Turntable is so wide and spacious thanks to a gadget by Innovative Sugarworks that expands my turntable to 20".  Don't you just love cake decorating gadgets??!!

The next next new thing I tried was the gumpaste peonies. This was the first time I tried to make realistic looking gumpaste peonies, 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 thickness 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,


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Freezing Cakes: Hot, Warm or Room Temperature ???

It seems like an accepted fact that freezing a cake will not harm it; both professional and home bakers agree. In fact some say that the act of freezing (if done properly) may actually improve the taste, texture, and moisture level of said cake.

But controversy swirls around WHEN to freeze the cakes. Should they be frozen when the cakes are piping hot straight out of the oven? Should they be frozen when they are warm to the touch? Or should you wait till they are completely cool before freezing?

There are three divided camps on this issue…

Some people (the NEVER HOT camp) say to NEVER put hot cakes in the freezer. Some of the reasons include:

1) Placing hot foods in the freeze will cause the temperature inside the freeze to rise and cause previously frozen foods to partially thaw. But other people counter and say that modern freezers with their sensors and more efficient motors can handle the temperature fluctuations and adjust the air temperature accordingly.

2) The Never Hot Camp says that freezing hot cakes will trap steam/water inside the cake.  The steam/water will turn into ice crystals which will accelerate freezer burn and cause the cake to have an "off" taste. But other people counter and say that freezer burn does not start to creep into food until they are frozen for 2-3 months.

3) Freezing hot cakes will trap steam in the cake which will change the texture of the cake; causing it to become dense, rubbery, and sometimes even soggy. Other people say that trapping the steam and moisture inside the cake will actually make it moister.

4) By wrapping the hot cakes prior to freezing you are trapping heat inside the cake and allowing the cooking process to continue. Even after it is placed in the freezer it will continue “cooking” until the freeze can lower the core temperature below 140 degrees.

Some people (the WARMER camp) say to let the cakes cool 10-15 minutes and then wrap and freeze.

The WARMER camp is a little wishy-washy and don't really have a list of reasons.

The third and largest camp (the ALWAYS COOL camp) says to freeze the cakes once they are completely cool. The biggest reason why is:

1) Steam should be allowed to escape the cake prior to wrapping and freezing. Cake recipes are tested and tweaked under the assumption that a cake will be cooled to room temperature. The amount of liquid/moisture that goes into the cake/recipe also depends on that assumption. If you wrap a hot cake and freeze it immediately you are therefore trapping moisture/steam into the cake that wasn’t designed to be there. This added moisture might make the cake too moist and in some cases downright soggy.

So who is right? When should cakes be frozen? Hot, Warm, or Room Temperature?

To answer the question for myself I did a little test...

I baked my standard 3-layer white cake (shortening based with no butter) and I wrapped and froze one layer immediately after it came out of the oven. The second layer I de-panned and allowed to cool for 15 minutes before I wrapped and placed it in the freezer. The third layer I allowed to cool for 1-1/2 hours before it was wrapped and placed in the freezer.

The cakes stayed frozen for a week, then I placed them on the counter, and stilled wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil I allowed them to defrost.

First thing I noticed on unwrapping was that the surface of the HOT frozen and WARM frozen cakes were a little sticky. Nothing really bad, but noticeable.

Next I staked the cake, but I didn’t add frosting because I didn’t want the frosting to influence the texture or taste of the cake. I wanted to test them in their naked, unadorned state. The bottom layer is the HOT layer, the center is the WARM layer, and the top is the COOL/Room Temperature layer.

Next I sliced. ( Notice I stuck a toothpick in the bottom/HOT layer?  I had to do this so I could tell which was which! )

Then I tasted.


Surprisingly they looked and tasted EXACTLY the same. The HOT cake might have been a smidgen denser, with a slightly tighter crumb, but nothing too noticeable. And again – they all tasted exactly the same. I had four people sample the individual cake layers and no one noticed a difference.

I was really surprised at the findings, I thought for sure that the HOT frozen cake would taste moister – but not so.

So I guess for this particular cake at least – the timing of when it is frozen does not matter. The bottom line is freeze the cake when it is most convenient to you.

Happy Baking,


Monday, September 5, 2016

The Never Ending Fondant Comparison - Carma Massa Ticino

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Okay you guys…. Here is yet another fondant for my never ending fondant comparison.

This time it is Carma Massa Ticcino

I have read so many good things about Carma Massa Ticcino that I’m a little hesitant to say that I wasn’t that impressed with the fondant. It was easy to work with and tasted wonderful, but it had a few “issues” that made it less than perfect for me.

The biggest problem I had with the Carma was the way it reacted to any food dye that contained U.S. Certified Red #3 dye. I tried to color some Carma with AmeriColor Mauve #116, and I got a sickly brownish-green color instead of pink.

Next I tried Burgundy on the Carma and got purple instead of red wine.  At first I thought it might be a problem with the AmeriColor gels, but I also tried Wilton’s Burgundy and got the same purple result when mixed with the Carma fondant.

I contacted AmeriColor to find out what was going on and I was told that the very low pH of the Carma Massa was destroying the U.S. Certified Red #3 dye and leaving behind the other colors. The AmeriColor representative told be to add baking soda to the fondant which would raise the pH of the fondant and allow the reds in the dye to come through.

And you know what???    It worked!!

Below is a bit of Carma dyed with just AmeriColor Mauve #116 and another ball of Carma with #116 and a bunch of added baking soda. See how the one with the added baking soda actually looks pink. Weird the way chemistry works…

So enough about food dye and onto the rest of the review. In my original 7 fondant comparison I used 8 different criteria to judge and rank the various fondants.   After the first comparison of 7 I have also done other comparisons:  Via Roma Bakery fondant, Cake Craft fondant, Dream fondant, and Fat Daddio's Pro Series fondant.

So here are the criteria for judging:

Cost ---- This Carma is expensive stuff.  At the time of writing I paid $95 (with free shipping) for a 15.4 lb tub.  Well actually it is not that expensive if you break it down to a cost per pound, what makes it so expensive is that you need to buy it 15lbs at a time.  Sadly I couldn't find it sold in smaller quantities.  Another problem with having to buy such a large amount is that the fondant only has a 1 year shelf life.  When my tub arrived it was already 6 months into its shelf life so I have to use 15 lbs in 6 months.  Thankfully I have 3 more large cakes to do by November so I should be able to use it all before it goes bad.

Packaging --- The Carma comes in a nice sturdy tub.  The top of the tub is sealed in a blue film, and the fondant is wrap in a heavy plastic bag.

Taste ----The Carma Massa Ticcino was actually very tasty. The only other fondant I had on hand was the Via Roma, and the Carma tasted much, much better than the Via Roma. So high marks for taste.

Texture ---- When you knead the Carma Massa it feels just slightly moist but not sticky. It is very, very soft and does not need to be microwaved or heated to loosen it up. It is amazingly easy to work with, but it does start to get tacky if you work with it too much.  

Rolling ---- The Carma rolled very easily, and it doesn't have much elasticity so it doesn't snap back on you.  But oh my the bubbles.  I found the Carma produced a lot of large air bubbles when rolling. I don't remember any other fondant doing this to the same degree.  And the bubbles were large – too large to pop. I had to crumple up the fondant and roll it out again. I also had a little bit of trouble pulling the rolled fondant off of The Mat without stretching it, but once I got an edge released it fell off The Mat without any problems.

Coverage ---- In my fondant comparisons I use the same amount of fondant (5 ounces) rolled to the same thickness (1/8") to see how far each brand would spread. At a little less than 10 inches this fondant was in the middle of the pack. At 11+ inches round the Via Roma and Fondarific fondant were the best performers. The worst performers, at 9" round, were Duff & Satin Ice.

Draping/Smoothing --- Because the Carma fondant is so soft it created a lot of folds and drapes, but they were very easy to lift and smooth out. There was also no tearing as gravity pulled the fondant downward, so 1/8” is not too thin for this fondant.

Cutting/Trimming --- The fondant did create some pulls and ragged edges when I trimmed the fondant, but I did cut the fondant when it was freshly rolled.  If I had let it dry a bit before cutting it may not have created as many ragged edges.

Drying Time ---- The Carma fondant has a slow drying time. I was able to re-roll the fondant several times without noticing any stiffness or cracking in the fondant.

Final Look --- Well, honestly, I was not very impressed with the final appearance of the Carma Massa Ticino. Because the Carma fondant is so soft it tended to sink into the nooks and crannies of the test pan thus showing a lot of imperfections.

So all-in-all this Carma Massa Ticcino was a bit of a disappointment.

It was easy to knead, roll, drape, smooth and it tasted great, but it also had a lot of negatives. The biggest issue was the problem with the fondant’s low pH killing off the Red #3 dye. There was also the issue with air bubbles, the way it showed imperfections, and the high cost due to large size of the tub.

So Carma Massa Ticino has not ended my search for the perfect fondant. Sigh.

And sadly even once you find the perfect fondant something always happens to ruin the love affair.  A few months back I thought the Via Roma Bakery fondant was going to be my go-to fondant, but the last pail I bought was a little dry and the dreaded elephant skin formed on the finished cakes.  See the comparison below.  The Carma on the right half of the cake is smooth, but the Via Roma on the left has a pitted look.  I was so disappointed in my last purchase of Via Roma.

Another observation about the Carma ---  The Carma is a pure white color out of the pail and it is actually very similar in color to the Via Roma, but look at the picture above.  Both are rolled to 1/8.  Does the Carma on the right look slightly darker than the Via Roma on the left?    The cake underneath is chocolate and the Carma seems to be picking up a tint from the dark color underneath.  This is not a big deal if a multi-tiered cake is iced in all the same icing, but if one tier is chocolate ganache and the other is white chocolate then the two tiers will look slightly different.  If you look closely at my Flattened Carnation Cake you will see that the white Carma fondant on the two tiers are not exactly the same color.  

So my search for the perfect fondant continues...  any other suggestions on brands to try?

Happy Decorating,