Saturday, December 23, 2017

Melting Ice Cream Cone Cake

Another family birthday cake request.  This time it was for one of those upside-down, melting ice cream cone cakes.

Fun, Fun, Fun... And easy to boot.  I love it when someone wants a cake that takes NO prep before the decorating begins.  No detailed gum paste figures, no intricate flowers.  Just an ice cream cone melting on top of the cake, and lots of candy stuck to the sides.  How easy is that??!!!

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I started with the "mock" truffles in their "paper" cups.  I wanted everything on the cake to be edible, so I made the paper cups out of pink candy melts.  I just melted the chocolate and spread it inside a mini cupcake liner.  I had to use a bunch of cupcake liners to hold the chocolate in place.

After the chocolate hardened, I carefully pulled away the paper and I was left with a realistic looking chocolate cup.

For the "truffle" inside the cup I just used a piece of fondant rolled in melted dark chocolate and then sprinkled with jimmies.  I was going to use some real truffles, but the ones I had in the house were a little too small for my cups.

Next came the border around the base of the tiers.  I wanted the base trimmed in candy sixlets, but  placing all those individual balls would have been too time consuming.  So instead I used a mold.  Quick and easy.  I just pressed some fondant into the mold, popped it out, and placed it on the cake.  The mold I used is actually sold as a pie crust impression mat, but it works great for fondant too.

I had both tiers trimmed in just a few minutes.

Next I placed some jumbo gumballs around the base, and then I made some lollipops out of fondant and stuck them to the side of the cake.

I made lots and lots of lollipops in all different colors.  

I also added store bought candies: M&Ms, Skittles, Hershey Drops, and Hershey Miniature Bars.  And my Mock Truffles in their pink chocolate cups.

Next came the topper - the melting ice cream cone.  I started with glob of melted pink candy melts.

Then I placed the scoop of "ice cream".  It is actually Rice Crispy Treats that I formed into a half ball and covered in melted pink candy melts.  I also hollowed out the center of the ball because I didn't want to waste my Rice Crispy Treats.

I used a real cone for the "cone" of my topper, and threw on some jimmies.  Here is...

But I wasn't happy with the look of the melting ice cream.   You couldn't really see the bend where the pink chocolate changed from the round scoop of ice cream to the melting pool.  So I used some powder food color in dark pink to accentuate the boundary.  It may just be me, but I think it looks better.

So here is the final cake.  Everyone screams for ice cream.

Happy Decorating,


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Slutty Brownie Threesome - Twix, Mounds Bar, and Milky Way Simply Caramel

Slutty Brownies have been the rage for months now, and I have made them a few times to rave reviews.  But the last time I tried to whip up a batch of "Slutty B's" someone cruel, vengeful person had eaten all of my Oreos.  Oh No, what is  Slutty Brownie Baker supposed to do?  Well I had to improvise...

Instead of Oreo Cookies, I added mini versions of Twix, Mounds Bars, and Milky Way Simply Caramel bars that I had leftover from Halloween.  I also threw in some caramel bits too.  I ended up with what I call a

Slutty Brownie Threesome!    

And can I say WOW!  The original Slutty Brownies were good, but the version with the Twix bar is just amazing.  The Twix cookie stays very crunchy and it is surrounded by a layer of melted chocolate and caramel that makes the the brownie and chocolate chip layer extra moist and gooey.  It was so, so good.

The Mounds Bar version was good too.  When you sink your teeth into a piece of the "Mounds Slutty B" you get a mouthful of soft, luscious coconut.

And if caramel is your thing, the Milky Way version is the bomb.

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So from now on when I make my Slutty Brownies I'm going to make it a Threesome!  I'm going to skip the Oreo Cookies and use Twix, Mounds, and Milky Way bars instead.

To make them I start with the 10.25 oz size Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Mix,  mix according to directions and pour into 8x8 pan.  Next I layer the mini candy bars on top of the brownie mix, and sprinkle on some Kraft Caramel Bits and chocolate chips.

Mix up some Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix and spoon on top of the candy bars.  As a final step sprinkle with more Caramel Bits and Chocolate Chips.

Bake for about 25 minutes until the cookie layer is golden brownie.

And don't worry if it is not completely cooked.  The gooey the better in my book.


Happy Baking,


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Volleyball Court Cake

2017 was my niece's last year on her high school volleyball team.  Go Lady Panthers!  She was the Libero all four years, and was awarded Defensive Player of the Year in her final year!  Go, Amanda!!

For her last Volleyball Banquet I decided to make her a special cake.

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The most involved part of the cake was the volleyball itself.  I used the Wilton 3D Cake Pan and the included pattern to make the volleyball markings.  I first covered the cake with black Fondarific fondant. (The Fondarific is very pliable and it stays soft for a long time so it worked well on this 3D shape).  Then I cut out the blue sections and placed them on the round cake.

Then I placed the white strips.  The flat pattern didn't exactly fit the 3D shape, so I had to do some trimming of the white pieces.  I also wanted gaps between the white and blue pieces so the black fondant underneath would show.

Next came the main cake.  I used the Wilton 1/2 sheet cake pan, and made one side yellow and the other side chocolate.

Turning a slab of cake into a volleyball court was the fun (and easy) part.  I started with yellow Mona Lisa fondant, added some dabs of brown, and then twisted it in one direction to give the fondant a streaked look.

Here is the streaked fondant all rolled out.  At this point it is really starting to look like wood.  I guess I could have used it just like this, but I wanted to try out my new wood grain impression mat.

Just press the silicone mat into the fondant...

And lift off the mat to get that wood grain pattern.  Pretty cool, huh?!

Next I cut the fondant into strips.  I decided to use strips instead of one big piece of fondant because it was easier.  I didn't want to struggle with a huge 22 x 28" piece of fondant so I just made small 1-1/2 x 9" strips.  Easy, easy, easy.

The strips of fondant were just positioned on the cake.  I was finished in just 30 minutes, and no stress, panic, or hair pulling from trying to place and smooth a monster piece of fondant.

I made markings to represent the lines of the volleyball court...

And then came the net.  This was the most frustrating part of the cake.  My fondant extruder broke, so I had to roll all the string by hand.  What a PITB.

For the lettering on the volleyball I used some FMM Funky Cutters in Uppercase and Lowercase.   I wanted to put the word "volleyball" on the ball itself, but it won't fit, so I put it on the top of the net.

For the final assembly I simply placed the volleyball on the main cake (secured with some wooden skewers), added two Lineman Flags for a pop of color, and Ta-Da, I was finished.

All-in-all it was a pretty easy cake to make. 

Happy Decorating,


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mona Lisa Fondant Review - High Humidity Wonder

A question that all cake decorators asks is, "What is the Best fondant?"

To answer this you must first define "Best".  Do you want a fondant that tastes great?  One that produces a superior looking finish?  Do you want one that is easy to use?  Cuts like a dream?  Stands up to heat and humidity?  All of the above?

Ideally you want a fondant to check off all the boxes, but sadly after all my testing of various fondants (15 so far) I have found that no single fondant does it all.

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The latest fondant to show up on my radar is Mona Lisa from Barry Callebaut. This fondant was released in 2016, and I finally found a retail vendor a few weeks ago.  Yea!!  I couldn't wait to give it a try!! 

Packaging - The Mona Lisa only comes in a big, honking, 20 pound tub, so it isn't for the faint of heart.  The price tag is ~$100 plus shipping, but on a per pound cost it is on par with other high quality fondants.  Inside the tub are two 10 pound vacuum sealed coverings.  I don't call them "bags" because the plastic is not resealable.  Once the cover is torn open, the most you can do is fold the loose end over and secure with tape or a rubber band.  Or you can put the unused portion in zip-lock - I put everything in zip-lock bags. But the non-sealing bags really aren't a problem because this fondant is very, very, very slow to dry out.  I'm talking MONTHS to dry out.

Taste - Given that this fondant is from Barry Callebaut I was expecting more of a chocolate taste, but not so.  The fondant has a pleasant sugary flavor with a slight hint of vanilla. Nothing about the flavor is strong or distinctive.  It is a nice, munchable fondant, that (some) party-goers actually enjoy.  I have had people eat the cake and not even realize there was fondant on it!! 

The mouth-feel of the Mona Lisa is soft and delicate.  It melts in the mouth without chewing or effort, and it doesn't leave any chemical aftertaste.  This fondant gets high marks in the "Taste" category.

Texture – Straight out of the vacuum sealed wrapper, this fondant is as hard as a rock.  I actually had to use a knife to hack off pieces from the mother block.  The fondant was dry to the touch, and almost has a crumbly texture.

But once exposed to the gentle heat of your hands it quickly softens and becomes very pliable.  After working it a few seconds the fondant gets slightly tacky, but it quickly loses the stickiness when it leaves your hands. (I have very hot hands.)

And with just a few minutes of conditioning, it gets stretchy.

The Mona Lisa isn't as soft as the Renshaw, Fat Daddio's,  Dream, or Fantasia fondant I reviewed a few months ago.  The other brands will pick up the texture from a paper towel with no effort.  The Mona Lisa will pick up the impression too, but you just need to press a little harder.

Rolling – I find the Mona Lisa fondant a little more difficult to roll than other brands.  It takes some elbow grease to get this stuff to flatten to 1/8".  I really wish I had one of the mechanical fondant rollers << Christmas wish list item >>.   Bubbles are somewhat of an issue with this fondant, but not as bad as the Carma Massa, and if you are careful not to trap air into the fondant as you knead it, the bubbles are almost non existent.

This fondant is the pliable type, so the edges stayed smooth - no splits, cracks, or ragged edges with this fondant.  Everything stays smooth and even.

The fondant released easily from the non-stick rolling mat.  No problems what-so-ever with sticking.

Coverage – In all the fondant tests I've conducted, I use 5 ounces of fondant and roll to 1/8” thick.  For the Mona Lisa I was able to roll the 5 oz to a to 10 inches round.  That is about average compared to the other fondants I've tested.  Not the best, but not the worst.  Like I said earlier, this fondant is a little tough to roll out, so it doesn't have the spreading ability of other fondants, and at 1/8" the fondant was still opaque.  Some fondant can look almost translucent when you roll it out to 1/8".

But after covering a few cakes with the Mona Lisa I've decided that 1/8" is just too thin.  At 1/8" the finished cakes look a little lumpy, especially when the underlying cover of buttercream or ganache starts to soften a bit.  At 1/4" the finished fondant covered cake looks much smoother and uniform. But you also can't roll the Mona Lisa fondant too thick because it has a tendency to stretch under its own weight.

Draping/Smoothing - The Mona Lisa performs well in the draping category.  It is a little stiffer than other fondants, so it doesn't form a lot of drapes and folds when it is placed over the cake (or the cake dummy in this case), and because the fondant is dry to the touch, the folds don't stick together. 

The Mona Lisa is also a breeze to smooth.  It was easy to fluff out and fit to the cake, and it stays dry to the touch even on hot and humid days.  I could use fondant smoothing tools without having them stick to the cake.

Cutting/Trimming – The fondant cuts very, very clean. This is one of the best fondants in this category.

Drying Time – One of the best (and most problematic) things about this fondant is its slow drying time.  Even though it is dry to the touch, it doesn't dry out.  If you are not pleased with the look of your rolled out fondant, you can knead it a little and re-roll over and over again.  And if you have fondant left over from one cake you can just wrap it up and save it till you need that color again.  I've saved all of my excess tinted Mona Lisa fondant, and they were all soft and usable even months later.  Note: For the most part I don't use the old fondant on cakes, instead I save it for cake boards and decorations.

Tinting – No major problems with tinting.  The Mona Lisa took most of  the AmeriColor and  Wilton food color gels without any problems.   Blues and greens looks good.

As well as  red, rose, peach, yellow and orange.

There was some trouble with the AmeriColor Burgundy, but the Wilton Burgundy looked fine, and while the AmeriColor Electric Purple looked good, the Wilton Violet looked a little blueish.

Another plus is that the gel colors also didn't overly effect the texture of the fondant.  There was no noticeable  stickiness after adding the gel.

Final Look – Sadly, the overall finished look of the Mona Lisa fondant was just okay.  At 1/8" thick it looked a little lumpy and dented.  In all of my fondant tests I cover a mini angel food pan that is not coated with anything.  I just place fondant against smooth metal, so all of the imperfections seen are strictly from me handling the fondant.

At the beginning of my fondant comparison odyssey I decided that this "fondant on metal" method of testing would give a controlled comparison.  If I had covered a real cake coated in buttercream and/or ganache, I wouldn't know if the "problems" noticed were from the fondant or if the "problems" in the fondant were being caused by imperfections in the buttercream below the fondant.

So after covering the metal pan with the 1/8" rolled Mona Lisa fondant I was disappointed in the results.  The Mona Lisa finish just didn't look as good as other fondants I've tested.  With the Mona Lisa you need watch how you touch the fondant because it easily dents with the press of your fingers.  The Mona Lisa shows depressions, dips and imperfections in your cake much more than other fondants.  Some fondants have a stretchy, elastic-like texture that lets it float above cake imperfections and makes the flaws less visible.  Sadly the Mona Lisa isn't like that.  The Mona Lisa tends to sink into imperfections which makes the flaws more obvious.    The Mona Lisa isn't going to hide any problems with the underlying cake, so when using this fondant you need to make sure you get a smooth, perfect surface on which to place the fondant. 

I also tested the Mona Lisa at 1/4" thickness and this did give a much smoother finished.  BUT because the fondant is heavy and never really hardens, you have to watch for slumping.  If the cake is tall, the weight of the 1/4"+ thick fondant on the sides will cause the fondant to stretch and pull out of shape.  You will end up with a slight puddling of fondant at the base of the cake.  The stretching will also distort any decorations on the cake.

For example, below is a cake that I covered and decorated with Mona Lisa.  The "waves" are made from curled tubes of fondant.  Notice how the curls are very round looking when I first placed them on the cake.

But notice those same wave curls the next day when I removed it from the refrigerator.  See how the curls are no longer perfectly round?  Overnight both the fondant on the side of the cake and the decorations slumped and compressed which caused the curls to flattened into a more oval shape.

No one but me noticed the flattening, but next time I will use a sturdier fondant (one that dries out faster) when making thick-ish decorations.  

Humidity/Refrigeration/Moisture Test – Humidity and Heat is a big problem in my neck of the woods so I have also started testing how the fondant react to refrigeration and humidity.  The moisture test is actually to test how the fondant reacts to the underlying frosting be it buttercream or ganache.

Below is a test cake where half the cake is covered in ganache and half is covered in a crusting buttercream (100% shortening).    The cake was allow to sit for 3 hours before I started slicing.

And how did the Mona Lisa do?

Well it cut like a DREAM!!  I was amazed.  Even after exposure to soft buttercream, the fondant cut cleanly.  The fondant stayed dry to the touch and didn't absorb any moisture from the buttercream underneath.

As for the Refrigerator test -  Again the Mona Lisa performed like a dream.   Some fondants start to glisten and get dewy after an overnight stay in the refrigerator while other fondants get downright wet, but the Mona Lisa reacts very little to the cool air and moisture in the refrigerator.  The surface of the fondant got a little tacky, but there was no sweating or streaking of colors.  And once the cake reached room temperate the fondant was completely dry to the touch.  The Mona Lisa also sliced without any pulling or gumminess to the fondant.  This fondant cuts like a dream.   


So what is the finally verdict?  Well there are some things about the Mona Lisa fondant that I love, and somethings I don't like as much.

On the plus side the Mona Lisa gets high marks in the taste category.  It is easy enough to roll out and doesn't form many air pocket.   It is pliable, but not sticky, so it is easy to cover and smooth the fondant over the cake.  Mona Lisa can be tinted almost any color, and leftover fondant will stay soft and fresh for months if you wrap it in plastic wrap.  The Mona Lisa performs like a champ under high humidity conditions, and can be refrigerated without getting gummy.  And best of all this fondant slices cleanly and easily even when it covers high-moisture frostings.

On the minus side the Mona Lisa fondant shows flaws and imperfection more than other fondants I've tried.  If the Mona Lisa would float above dimples and depressions in the cake instead of sinking into them this would be the perfect fondant. 

The Mona Lisa fondant is also not the best fondant for making decorations on your cake (unless the decorations are very thin).  Because the fondant takes so long to dry, the sides of the cake and thicker decorations tend to droop and slump over time.

In the end I considered all the pros and cons and I decided that I would continue using Mona Lisa as my goto fondant.  For me the humidity resistant aspect of the Mona Lisa was more important than using a fondant that would give a flawless finish. 

So this concludes the Mona Lisa fondant review.  If you have issues with humidity in your neck of the woods give this fondant a try. 

Happy Decorating,