Monday, November 2, 2009

"Say it. Outloud." "Twilight Cake!"

Twilight Cake

Before you say it (you know who you are!), I realize this is yet another non-cupcake post in a cupcake blog. However, I was proud of this cake (before it suffered a caketastrophe at least), so I'm going to show it off.

This, my dear readers, is the Twilight cake. It was made for my lovely friend Wendy's birthday, and was the first - and so far only - stacked cake I have ever attempted. It was made from two (6" and 8"-two layers each) round vanilla cakes filled with chocolate fudge frosting, covered in black homemade buttercream fondant. I found the recipe for the buttercream fondant on, but I'm not going to bother to link to it because it was such a mess to work with that I do not recommend using it. Normally I would have made some yummy marshmallow fondant, however, the birthday girl is a vegetarian and marshmallows are not. More on the fondant mess later.

Unless you have been living without power or access to the outside world for the past couple of years, you probably know about Twilight. Both Wendy and myself are fans, so this design only made sense. The cake's theme was based around all four book covers, featuring the apple, ruffled tulip, torn ribbon, and chess piece. Every decoration was handmade by me out of gumpaste, fondant, or a combination of the two. I have not had much experience (really none) modeling gumpaste into figures, so it was trial and error. I am happy to report that it was not much different than playing with clay, so making the various pieces was not that difficult.

Twilght cake

My favorite pieces to sculpt were the petals of the ruffled tulip. Those were made from gumpaste rolled thin and then hand-cut into large leafy-petal shapes. I placed them on a piece of shaping foam and "ruffled" the edges with one of the gumpaste shaping tools I have in my kit. They were placed in one of the holes in a cupcake pan so they would dry in a curve overnight. Gumpaste becomes almost like porcelain when it drys, so they became very hard, yet fragile. I made more than I thought I would use because, of course, I broke a couple. Once dried, I used a mixture of clear vanilla extract and red gel food coloring to paint the red streaks onto the petals using a little paint brush. This was the first time I had used the painting techniques, and it actually works really well! The petals and the other decorative elements were attached to the cake using toothpicks, clear vanilla extract, or in the case of the petals, just wedging them in between the layers of the cake.

Twilight cake

Now for the difficulties. As you can see, this cake took a bit of a spill and I neglected to take a photo of it before I boxed it up and left the house with it. I had about an hour drive to get it to the party, and I figured I would drive gently and it would be fine. For the most part, it was. I took the turns slowly and watched it as best I could while driving. Unfortunately, when I arrived in the city something shifted and the bottom cake separated in between it's layers. It probably had something to do with the fact that I did not put any kind of support dowels in the cake because I decided it couldn't possibly be necessary on such a small cake. Looks like I was wrong!

The other issue with this cake was the fondant. It was the greasiest mess I have ever had my hands in. Consisting mostly of corn syrup, shortening, and powdered sugar, it was easy to make, but so, so hard to work with. It tore, stretched, and glopped all over the place, and frankly I'm amazed it looked as decent as it did on the cake. I'm by no means an expert on placing fondant on cakes, but I know it should not have been that difficult. On the bright side, it did taste good, which is not something that fondant is known for.

So, there you have it! My first stacked, decorated cake! I really wish I had pictures of it intact to show you all, but just picture it without the stack of napkins holding up the bottom layer (and without the large, chocolate-oozing crack on the side). And I apologize for the picture quality, they were taken in a dark karaoke club. I have learned my lesson and I now take photos before the cake leaves the house.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cupcake Ronald Reagan, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

So yeah, I was that blogger. Just disappeared for 5 months! Well, to catch you up, my husband and I sold two condos and bought and moved to a house, we went on a vacation to the East Coast, and celebrated our son's first birthday. Also, I did some baking! I had a few special projects that I worked on during the blog hiatus, so I'll be posting those soon (promise!).

Anyway, onto the Cupcake Reagan. This was an ambitious undertaking that I pulled off in one muggy June afternoon. Looking back, I'm not sure how I accomplished that, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that my son was eight months at the time and much less mobile than he is now. This was baked for a fundraiser/party that had a Ronald Reagan theme, and was inspired by the cupcake mosaics of Barack Obama that appeared around election time last year. The portrait was made out of 100 cupcakes, all vanilla if I remember right, and was created by placing a grid over the Reagan logo that had been designed for the party T-shirts. Here is the original design (I did not design it, but the a lovely and talented friend did):


I took the top portion of the photo and cropped it until it was square, then placed a grid over the photo that divided it into 100 equal-sized squares. Once the cupcakes were baked and cooled, I simply followed the grid and piped star-dots on the cupcake that corresponded to the appropriate square on the picture grid. I used three colors of frosting: white vanilla, blue vanilla, and chocolate. Honestly, I had no idea if thistechnique was going to turn out, but it seemed to work! I only have the one picture of it and I didn't even take it. My whole place was covered in frosting and I was pretty frantic trying to get the whole thing finished in time for the party, so getting artistic shots wasn't high on my list. Luckily the decoration went smoothly and quickly, and the cupcakes were a hit, and a friend took a photo at the party:

Reagan Cupcake

This picture was taken from the loft overlooking the cupcake table, I believe. The cupcakes were placed in a 30x30 box that I built from foam core boards and white masking tape. Two layers on the bottom for extra support, because 100 cupcakes are not light. My husband and a friend had the lucky job of getting to transport it from our condo to the party, but they did good and everything made it there intact. Overall, this was a fun project, and I may attempt it again with someone else's face in the future.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Flavors of Spring

When the weather turns warm, my cravings start to gravitate toward those of the fruit variety. Behold, I give you the Strawberry Cupcake!

These cupcakes were made for some dear friends of mine that I had lunch with last week (yes, I'm late posting these but better late than never!). The cake is vanilla with pieces of strawberry mixed in the batter. I used my usual vanilla cake recipe and added about 2 cups of quartered strawberries, mixing them in right before dividing them into the cupcake pan. The frosting is strawberry butter cream based on this recipe. I loosely follow it and adjust it based on how it's tasting as I add the sugar, and also on the consistency I need. Using strawberries in the frosting can make it a little runny, so it needs to be played with a bit to get it just right. Also, that particular recipe makes a LOT of frosting, so you may need to adjust it unless you are making more than 2 dozen cupcakes. The really great thing about this frosting (aside from it's scrumptiousness) is the color. That pink is all-natural, no artificial coloring needed!
These cupcakes are not only delicious, but also showcase my new-found frosting abilities! Don't you just love the little rosettes? So sweet! Just like a strawberry cupcake :).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coupon Magic

So once upon a time, I heard an internet rumor that once a year or so Hobby Lobby has a big sale on all of their Wilton products. As in, any possible cake decorating tool I could ever need would be discounted. Now I know, I know, Hobby Lobby and Michael's have weekly 40% off coupons, but they're only good on one item at a time. Who wants to go to a store over and over, buying one gadget at a time? I don't know about you, but I have a 7-month-old baby and I'm lazy. So no thanks.

Anyway, so I was browsing the internets on Monday and I decide to check out the deals for the week at the HobLob, and low and behold, this is what I find. Notice how it says "no limit." Jackpot! So, I printed out the coupon, saddled up the baby boy and we headed over to the Lobby. Now, I have to say that I felt Hobby Lobby's selection of Wilton products was a little lacking. I'm used to buying my supplies at Michael's, as that is where I took my class (and they have quiet a large Wilton section).

"Hmmm....," I thought. "Didn't I once hear that Michael's matches their competition's sales?"

Yes kids, yes I did.

That's right, after buying a basket-worth of tools and fun at the Lob, the munchkin and I headed over to our local Michael's, where we promptly got in line to confirm with the bored cashier that they would, in fact, honor my coupon.

They did! Squee!!

So, the point is, I bought a lot of cake decorating crap for 40% off. That means today's project was finding a home for all of it, which of course means I forgot to take a picture of my haul for this post before I put it all away. But, for the curious, here is my list:

Set of 3 Wilton cookie sheets
Fondant rolling/cutting mat
Offset spatula
Set of Star fondant cutters
Set of Flower fondant cutters
2 packages of patterned cupcake wrappers
Container of Piping Gel
1 6" Round cake pan
1 8" Round cake pan (3" deep)
Wilton Course books 2 through 4
2 decorating tips
Bag of 150 Lollipop sticks
Stand-mixer spatula
4 mini decorating squeeze bottles
50 disposable pastry bags
Reusable 12" pastry bag
4 pack fondant cut out shapes
Container of Gum Paste mix
Fondant smoother
3 color pack of shimmer dust
3 bags of Candy Melts (cocoa, pink, and white)

All for the Grand Total of.....$77.36! I know, it still sounds like a lot of money. But, if you consider that it would have been about $130.00 regular price, or approximately 43 trips to the store with individual coupons, I consider it a bargain. Plus, it was fun. The moral of the story is, I hope someone else can benefit from the awesomeness of this deal, so tell your friends. And expect some amazing decorated cakes and cupcakes on this blog soon!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Adventures in Cake Decorating

During the month of March, I participated in a Wilton cake decorating class at my local Michael's. It was a basic intro to cake decorating course, so of course I had to amass an obscene amount of tools and gadgets. Right up my alley! Anyway, we made 2 cakes and one batch of cupcakes over 4 classes. These are the cakes I made, the cupcakes were nothing special as we were basically just messing around trying out new techniques (read: not cute or pretty). The first cake (made for class 2) is a rainbow cake. It's 2 vanilla cake layers filled and frosted with vanilla buttercream and decorated with a star-tip rainbow. Pretty easy to make and overall a good, fast effect. Not bad for my first decorated cake!

Oh, the rainbow isn't just off-center, I was supposed to put some Happy Birthday writing underneath it, but, well, I didn't feel like it.

This next cake is also all vanilla. It was made for the forth class, which I didn't actually attend as it was a very stormy and tornado-y night. I had all the cake and frosting ready to go, however, so I just followed the directions in my class book and winged it. We had been working on the beginning of the rose in class, so I had to teach myself the rest of it. It was actually pretty fun! My roses are a little ragged, but not bad for a first time. I'll work on it. I like the shell border and I will definately use that on future cakes.

I had a good time taking the class, but I'm not sure that I will take any of the other three that are offered. All the tools get expensive and the instructors want you to use the Wilton frosting recipe, which uses Crisco instead of butter (in buttercream (!)). It was not tasty. I think I may just purchase the other course books off of Amazon ($3-4/book) and teach myself the other techniques I want to learn. I am glad I learned a bit about decorating though, my future baking projects will be that much more glam!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Never fear...

I know, I know. I start this blog, share some luscious cupcake pictures with you, and then just abandon it. Well fear not, gentle readers! Posts will be returning soon, including pictures from my achievements in cake decorating, aka the cakes I made for my Wilton cake decorating class. I am currently away from home, but will be returning after Easter, and there will be updates! I refuse to be that blogger, so I'll try not to let this happen again. Personally, I blame the Twilight books. Posts soon!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fun with Fondant (today's post brought to you by the letter "F")

Over the weekend I decided to try my hand at making fondant. I have never used it before, but I really did NOT want to use a store-bought, nasty-tasting mix. Imagine my great delight when I discovered that it can be made from marshmallows! That's right, melted marshmallows and powdered sugar can combine to create a nice, smooth sugar dough that can be rolled out and cut into shapes to top a cupcake, and it's yummy! Since I just looked at several recipes online and then just sort of winged it, my advice if you want to try this is to just google "marshmallow fondant" and see what comes up. There is a good tutorial on that might be helpful, but I didn't follow that to a T. If I can give you any advice on making this stuff, it would be to rub everything the melted marshmallows will touch with crisco, including the bowl, spoon, and your hands! Also, knead your "dough" on a surface covered in powdered sugar. That will save you from having to scrape marshmallow bits off your coutertops. I let my fondant "rest" for about a day and a half before I used it, but I know you can use it right away if you like. I had some issues with the pink fondant, and I'm not sure if it's because of the added color or what, but it was more rubbery than the white and had some air-bubbling issues. I'm not quite sure how to resolve that yet, but I'll research it. If you have any questions about making it, just ask me and I'll try to let you know what worked/didn't work.

As for the cupcakes, they are chocolate with chocolate fudge frosting. It's a recipe I've had forever, and I'm not exactly sure where it came from anymore. Someday I may get around to typing it out on here for you though, because it's delish! I used the large star tip to pipe a layer of the frosting on top of the cake, and then topped it with the first piece of fondant. Then I dabbed a small amount of the frosting on the back of the second piece as a "glue" and attached it to the first piece. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been so lazy and should have made some white buttercream to do the attaching, because some of the chocolate frosting leaked out between pieces. Not so classy. Next time!

I think these cupcakes and the fondant toppers would be great for a wedding, showers, etc. There are just so many possibilities with the cut-out shapes and the colors! I really like the way they turned out, so I will probably be using this fondant quite a bit (well, for special occasions at least) in the future. I'd also like to cover a full cake with it at some point, so watch for that!