"Hey, I can do that!"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Little bit of history

What prompted this little adventure of mine? I volunteered to throw my co-worker's wife a baby shower (they're due in late August). A proper baby shower has to have a cake! But I had zero experience decorating cakes :(

We had just recently celebrated my nephew's 1st birthday and my sister-in-law ordered a personalized cake for him. It was so cute! This was done by their local professional cake lady:


The cake was adorable and delicious. When I studied it further, you can see that it's got some simple elements with great execution. I thought, "Hey, I can do that!"

So I started researching on how to decorate a cake. I checked out cake decorating books from the library. I made my own buttercream icing and also some fondant. For practice, I made cakes for Mother's Day and Father's Day.

Some failures include:
  • funky tasting fondant (the recipe had way too much shortening ... I refused to eat it on the Mother's Day cake slices)
  • greasy looking fondant (again, too much shortening in that recipe ... but that's what I get for not wanting to buy glycerine and gelatin)
  • short cake (without baking strips, your cakes bakes up with a high center and low sides ... if you have any desire to level it, you'll be left with an inch high cake!)
  • crooked cake (I did my best leveling it with a serrated knife, but you just can't beat an actually cake leveling tool)
  • stiff buttercream icing (I'm not sure what went wrong, but my icing was so stiff, I broke my reusable icing bag!)
  • runny buttercream icing (opposite from the too stiff icing, this stuff made my designs appear melted)
But I did have my share of triumphs:
  • I learned to make a decorating bag out of a parchment triangle (so I don't have to use up one of those more expensive disposable bags for quick jobs)
  • I practiced some basic decorating tricks (e.g. stars, shells, zig-zags, basketweave, etc.)
  • home-made buttercream tastes and works great!
  • box cake saves a bunch of time and is consistent to work with

My first purchases towards my cake decorating arsenal included:
  • 9" spring form pan (which I later learned 8" was more of the norm)
  • parchment paper (wax paper can't hold its own against icing)
  • baking strips (so the majority of your cake doesn't go to waste)
  • couplers (which I use with parchment paper triangles)
  • a few metal tips (2 circular and 2 open stars)
I already had a lazy Susan, which is an absolute must. With all of that, I designed the baby shower cake after one I saw on the internet. Here's what I made:

Failures include:
  • not knowing how to cover a cake without getting the fondant ruffled on the sides (I covered up all the overlapping with a solid green strip around the entire cake)
  • not knowing how to hide a seam (you can see where the ends of the green strip meet)
  • not knowing how to hide a pinhole (the books said to release any air bubbles by inserting a pin at an angle, then rubbing the opening with your finger ... the rubbing did not close the hole)
  • dropping the fondant onesie in the wrong place (I had wet the back of it with water so it would stick to the white fondant, but it slipped out of my fingers while I was holding it. I was able to lift it up and place it properly, but it left a wet, green residue on the otherwise beautiful white cover!)
  • getting too small of a cake board (I thought a board for an 8" cake would be ok for my 9", but it left very little room ... room that is needed to protect the cake edges when in a carrier)
  • box cake and tub icing always tastes great (I use tub icing for the filling and the first coat instead of buttercream)
  • the baking strips made a more level and moist cake
  • several people at the shower thought the cake was ordered
  • the green was a lovely shade and matched all the baby shower decor
So I think I have a lot to learn, but I'm on the right track! It's a fun hobby, and there's always a holiday or birthday or anniversary just around the corner that you can celebrate with cake (unlike Halloween where I'm just itching all year to make a single costume for one night).

More to come!

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