"Hey, I can do that!"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

That Takes the Cake 2010

That Takes the Cake 2010
1st place in Adult Beginner - Sculpted Cakes
2nd place in Adult Beginner - Special Techniques

 from left to right: 
"Something Blue" (Adult Beginner - Wedding Tiered)
"Maneki Neko" (Adult Beginner - Sculpted Cakes)
"Ramen" (Adult Beginner - Special Techniques)

I am sooooo tired.  My first cake show is officially over, and I couldn't be happier.  I walked away with 2 medals in the Adult Beginner division!  My "Ramen" bowl got 2nd in "Special Techniques" and my "Maneki Neko" got 1st in "Sculpted Cakes".  I'm too exhausted to blog in detail about those cakes just yet, but I can talk for a little while about the show.

First thing's first.  I finished my cakes on Friday around 4 pm.  Drop-off started at 5 until 8.  I was so relieved that I finished 3 out of 4 cakes.  I was supposed to enter "Novelty - Tiered" but ran out of time ... I didn't have any design for it anyway :b  My husband was on his way home from work and picking up the baby from day-care, so I was going to wait for him and then we'd all go together to deliver my cakes to the show.  He calls me to tell me he's on his way.  I tell him "ok, I'll be here .... OH SHIT!!!!"   Pardon my French, but disaster had struck.  My "Ramen" bowl had cracked and was threatening to spill its contents.  It was a pre-existing crack (that I had thought I patched up) that had split wide open.  I performed emergency surgery.  Melted fondant helped glue together a make-shift patch.  It wasn't working and I grew desperate.  I'll post more detail later, but what I ended up with was what I called a "load-bearing ribbon" ... a black ribbon wrapped around the edge of the bowl to stabilize the structure while the fondant dried.  We left that entry at home and delivered my cat and wedding cake.

Not many competitors were there on Friday night, but the volunteer staff were very friendly.   I brought my wedding cake in and my jaw dropped when I saw the 4 entries already there on the table.  I said "Can't it go next to an ugly one??"  The volunteer that was showing me where to put my cake was so nice; she complimented my cake and reassured me that I was being too hard on myself and that judges can see negative things I might not see in those other cakes.

My cat cake was the 2nd cake to arrive in the Adult Beginner - Sculpted Cakes section.  It sat next to an Alice in Wonderland cake.  He looked small compared to it :(  While setting him down I passed an amazing sugar sculpture cake that had a spaceship and astronauts and other super awesome things.

The next morning I woke up early to assess my "Ramen" bowl.  The patch seemed to be holding tight, so I deemed it ready for competition.  Again, not many people at the event center so early, so I was shown where to put my entry.  Where?  Ya, next to that freaggin' amazing sugar sculpture.  I said "I do NOT want to be next to THAT!"  I mean, I'm holding this silly bowl of soup, and it was supposed to sit next to this artwork that looked like a master had done?  The staff was so nice again!  She let me put it way to the side :)  I hope I didn't come off snotty ... I was already disheartened at how good the wedding cakes were and felt so stupid entering this competition.  I went home downcast but still proud that I managed to enter 3 out of 4 promised entries.

My brother came in to town to see the show and have a nice date-weekend with his wife (her mom was watching their young son for the night).  After we all had lunch out, my husband took the baby home (we'd meet up later after his mother could come over and watch our kiddo).  My brother, sister-in-law, and I drove to the cake show and managed to walk in RIGHT when the judges were looking at my cat cake.

We hovered behind them and heard Lauren Kitchens (the one in the white) say to the judge next to her, "It's cute!"  That was super awesome.  We spent the next few hours looking at all the cakes.  I took over 600 photos this weekend.  It was such a wonderful experience to see so many fantastic cakes.  Every time we hit a "Buttercream Only" category, it smelt soooo good.  After we saw all the cakes, we took a break and ate some cupcakes that were for sale.

My husband and I met up with a couple friends for the special dinner event at the cake show.  We ate a lovely buffet dinner while watching some of the big names in the cake industry work together to make a huge space-themed cake.  That wasn't what I had expected, but it was still fun.  Mike McCarey MC'd.  We watched their antics until about 9 pm.

The next morning I got up and over there early to attend extra demos.  There was a lot to be learned about the wonders of modeling chocolate from Lauren Kitchens and Mike McCarey.  Kathy Scott is a lovely lady from South Carolina that shared with us how she makes duck cakes.

After the demos I went to check on my cakes.  To my GREAT surprise, I saw that my cat had been tagged with winning 1st and my ramen had won 2nd in their respective categories.  I immediately called my husband, brother, and parents to tell them the good news with happy tears.

After the initial shock and excitement, the rest of the day sort of wore on.  There was a couple of hours for me to kill before the awards ceremony.  I got some shopping in, but unfortunately they were all sold out of their commemorative t-shirts.  Next year I'll pre-order mine, dammit.  I finally bought some Funky Letter tappits as well as some cute cat cut-outs.  There were so many things to buy, but I restrained myself.  Actually, I really should have bought some Americolor gels while I was there :(

The culinary arts school in Chicago had a booth, and I got to see some sugar art being demonstrated.  He assembled this abstract sugar sculpture in techniques that look similar to glass artists' processes.  It's an awesome medium, but I don't think I'm really "into" blow torches ... I actually have a heat phobia.  Weird for a baker, huh? 

The awards ceremony was at 3:00 pm.  I called my husband at 2:45 pm to ask where he was.  He thought it was at 3:30!  Luckily they started with the tasting competition awards first, then went to the child and culinary student divisions.  He and my 9 mo old waited with me as they called out the awards.  There was another guy in the Adult Beginner division that also won 2 medals.  I believe he won 1st in the Wedding Tiered category.  Afterward we couldn't really hear what to do next.  My daughter was very fussy.  Something about a photographer and "stand next to your cake".  We exited the room and went back to the floor.  My daughter didn't want to stay put, so my husband did laps with her while guarded my cat.  I carefully took him over to the photographer's stand.  Not sure if I'll be contacted about the photos, but I did sign a release form.  I've been checking the events' website every day to see if they posted pictures.  After wandering around, trying to figure out what we're supposed to be doing, I asked a staff person if I was going to receive a critique sheet for my cakes.  She directed me to a couple people and I finally got in line to receive my critique sheet.  I got a paper with a quick blurb for each entry.  Funny, though, the only one with negative remarks was my 1st place cat.  If only I could see what everyone else's sheet said, I bet I could learn a lot.

I'm going to wrap this up here for now... too tired to go on ... see more later.  Long story short:

UPDATE (03/25/2010):  The following is a message posted on the thattakesthecake.org website.  I wanted to copy it here so I don't lose it when they update their page.

A Note from our Show Director, Jennifer Bartos:
The weekend of the That Takes the Cake Sugar Art Show and Competition went by so quickly and now it is all a blur. There was so much going on all weekend; here are some of the numbers. More than 350 cakes and showpieces were entered into the competition and the winners split almost $10,000 in cash and prizes; more than 2500 people attended the show over the weekend; 30 vendors from all over the country sold specialty tools and supplies; 25 sponsors and donors donated thousands of dollars in cash and products; 6 great demonstrations were conducted by some of our special guests; 3 separate onsite competitions challenged competitors and delighted the audience; 210 people attended hands-on mini-classes and celebrity instructor classes before, during and after the Show and 1 very special showcake was the culmination of collaborative efforts of the competition judges – all of this in just the 18.5 hours that the Show was open!

A big thank you and pat on the back to all the competitors. The judges were very complimentary of the high quality of workmanship in the entries. It was exciting to see attendees of all ages walking through the competition display area marveling at the edible works of sugar art. I know it is a challenge to compete – a challenge to find the time to work on your piece and a challenge to transport it, etc. – but competition is truly the way to bring your work to the next level. It is through competition that you push yourself to try, practice and master new techniques. I hope all of the competitors had fun – I know I and many others enjoyed looking at your work!

Another big thank you goes out to our special guests who served as judges, demonstrators and instructors. The list reads like a veritable who’s who in the cake decorating world – Mike McCarey, Nicholas Lodge, Geraldine Randlesome, Kathy Scott, John Kraus, Lauren Kitchens, Amy Eilert, Carolyn Mangold, Steven Stellingwerf, Earlene Moore, Mark Seaman, Elizabeth Dickson, Janette Pfertner, Ruth Rickey and Janet Rosebeary. We were honored to have them as our guests at the Show and appreciate their expertise that they shared with the competitors, students and attendees.

The volunteers also deserve a huge thank you! We had a great group of about 100 volunteers who donated thousands of hours of their time planning, putting together prizes and signs, setting up tables and chairs, handling onsite registrations, manning the raffle prize booth and everything in-between. It takes a lot of planning, time and effort to put on a show of this magnitude and believe me, it would not happen without the efforts of all of the volunteers and in particular Ellen Cromwell, volunteer coordinator, Kim Sanchez, Capital Confectioner’s treasurer, and Kyla Myers, Capital Confectioner’s president and web mistress extraordinaire!

We have already started planning the 2011 Show! Mark your calendars now – February 26 and 27, 2011. The theme for 2011 is Comic Books – Super Heroes and Super Villains. Can you imagine the showcakes that we will see next year? Start thinking about your entry now and practicing your techniques. There will be even more cakes, more vendors, more classes and of course more opportunities to volunteer! Check back to this website (ThatTakesTheCake.org) regularly to find out the plans for the Show and think about joining the Capital Confectioners Cake Club (CapitalConfectioners.com) if you are interested in helping out with planning the Show. We look forward to an even bigger and better Show in 2011 – I know you will not want to miss it!

Thanks for your participation in the past and looking forward to the future –
Jennifer Bartos
Show Director
That Takes the Cake

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cake Calculator!

I've noticed a lot of people on the cakecentral.com forums asking about cake sizes and serving amounts.  I've been using the Wilton charts:


Earlene has another popular chart:


But wouldn't it be nice if there was a chart that could do the work for us?  It's been too long since I've dabbled in web page programming.  Here's what I got so far.  It's ugly, but functional.  It's using the Wilton chart data for 2" pans.


It's a work in progress, but I have high hopes that I can incorporate some more functionality in my spare time.  And maybe make it pretty.  Don't expect too much ... I'm a programmer, not a graphic artist.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gift Wrapping a Cake Board

Gift Wrapping a Cake Drum

This weekend I'll be delivering my cousin's daughter's 1st birthday cake.  I wanted to decorate the cake drum with something special.  After the tidal wave of babies in my family last year, I had some baby-themed gift wrap paper left over.  Hopefully I can get the cake colors to match this!

  • 14" round cake drum
  • gift wrap paper
  • clear contact paper
  • paper cement

Using the drum as a guide, I roughly cut out a circle (probably 18" in diameter) out from the wrapping paper.  I smeared paper cement to one side of the cake drum.  Paper cement is just like rubber cement but a little thinner.  The gift wrap was firmly adhered to the surface.


Putting aside the drum, I made another rough cut circle out of clear contact paper.  This is my first time using contact paper, and it went well.  I do realize that this is not necessarily food safe (I know some brands are).  My cake will have a cake board in between it and the drum, so I'm not worried about it.  It was tricky to peel off all the paper.


The gift wrap and drum were flipped on to the sticky side of the contact paper.


At regular intervals, I made cuts into the over-hanging contact paper with some scissors.  The slits were folded over to the other side of the drum and smoothed out.


I need to find something to hide the 1 mm (~1/2") ugliness on the side now.  At some point I'll go to a craft store and try to find some matching ribbon.  I guess I can glue the ribbon down on to the side.  Ya ... I'll update this when it's finished.


UPDATE (02/18/2010):
I researched covering a cake drum with wrapping and contact paper on cakecentral.com.  Here is an interesting post about the food safety-ness of contact paper:


To summarize, clear contact paper contains no lead, but the chemicals used to make it flexible can leach out to greasy or acidic food.  They do not recommend exposing food directly to the surface, but you're not gonna die if it happens.  So I've got the right idea of planning on putting a food safe barrier between that and the cake.

Another post explained that you can stick the wrapping paper to the contact paper first, then adhere them on to the board.  It's easier to get all the bubbles out that way.  I did have some bubbles in mine, but I eventually forced them down.  Their way seems easier ... next time I'll do that.

Filling a Decorator's Bag: Plug or Plastic Wrap Method

"Plug" or "Plastic Wrap" Method
for filling a decorator's (i.e. icing) bag

This is a fantastic way to cut down on the mess that can happen when filling a decorator's bag with icing.  My co-worker learned this while he was taking Wilton Course 1, and we looked it up on cakecentral.com.  Here is the post we found with photos:

While I made my BMW cake, I took a few photos of my own.

First, tear off a square of plastic wrap on to a flat surface.

Spoon out your icing on to the middle of the square.

Fold 2 opposite sides in, making a little burrito.

Twist one end until it is sealed shut.
I twist the end with the most plastic sticking out.
Leave the other end open.

Take your decorator's bag and put your coupler and tip on.  
I like to fold down the back end so it can stay wide open.

Insert your icing burrito with the open end down.  
The twisted end should be nearest the open end of the bag.

With the bag upright, give it a little shake so the icing burrito can shimmy down all the way to the tip.
Try to get rid of as much air and slack as you can.
Close up the end of your bag (either twist or tie it). 
Give the back end a squeeze.
You can now see the icing escape out of the plastic wrap and into the bag.

Now pipe away!  I've been told these plastic disposable bags can be reused a few times ... up until now I've been too lazy to clean them out.  With this method, clean up is much easier.  

Hope you enjoyed!

UPDATE (4/19/10)
What I like most about this tip is that you won't get any big air pockets in your decorating bag.  Sometimes when I just load icing directly into the bag, it traps air in between the globs that I'm putting in one at a time with my rubber spatula.  When piping, I can hit one of those air pockets and icing will blow out the tip ... making for one ugly cupcake topping!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BMW Oreo Cake: Completed

BMW Oreo Cake
Congratulations, Christoper!
(+5 skill points => 255/400)

My brother-in-law graduated from Universal Technical Institute last Friday.  He received a ton of awards and has been accepted into the school's BMW course.  In celebration, I made an Oreo chocolate cake with the BMW logo on it.

  • 8" round
  • Duncan Hines' Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix
  • filled with Oreo Mousse
  • iced with chocolate IMBC
  • borders with Oreo chocolate IMBC
  • MMF topper
 This cake was such a learning experience.  I even had a mini disaster, but it came out ok.  Here's what happened.

A week ago I started work on the fondant BMW topper (previously posted here).  In addition, I gently painted the entire thing with a mixture of half corn syrup and half gin.  Several users of cakecentral.com claimed that it gives fondant a nice, glassy coat.  It worked ok in my case.  Unfortunately I couldn't do broad strokes on the black, so it's a little uneven.

After defrosting, my choco cake was torted with a serrated bread knife.  It took a bit of trimming before the top was nice and level.

The scraps went into the food processor and was ground up into fine crumbs.

The food processor also had the responsibility for grinding up a dozen or so Oreo cookies.  I was surprised how dry and fine it was ... almost like fresh ground coffee.

I got the idea for an Oreo cake from another foodie blog that featured Oreo cupcakes: http://heatherdrive.blogspot.com/2009/01/oreo-cupcakes.html.  Instead of regular buttercream, I used some of my chocolate IMBC.

My IMBC hasn't really pushed the envelope in terms of chocolate until now.  My regular batch of IMBC got a double dose after mixing in a couple tablespoons of cocoa into 4 oz. of melted semi-sweet baking chocolate.

Unfortunately this made the IMBC a little more on the runny side, which led to my mini disaster.  More on that later.

A few weeks ago I had purchased some Oreo instant pudding to try out the Costco Mousse recipe.  It was highly recommended to me by my co-worker.  Basically, mix a package of instant pudding with 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of heavy whipping cream.  Give that a whirl and in a few minutes you'll have smooth, creamy filling that people go ga-ga over.  My husband said it tasted like a milkshake.

This stuff is firm, but you can't trust it to stay inside a layered cake all by itself.  A filling dam was made by mixing in the cake and Oreo crumbs with some IMBC.  A stiff barrier was piped along the perimeter of the cake to hold the tide of mousse.

I used Toba's concepts for cake spackle to help support the cake in conjunction with Susan Zambito's techniques for damming.  The end result was very straight, stable, and had no bulges or blowouts.  After smoothing everything out, the cake firmed up in the fridge.  It was then stiff enough for me to place the fondant topper in the middle.  Some more spots required smoothing.

Icing the cake went well, despite how runny the IMBC felt.  It was strange for me to feel how thin it was, but still see it hold some sort of form.  With patience, I was able to build up some thickness on the sides.  There was no way I could pipe with it though.  Instead I mixed some more IMBC with the stuff that had the cake and cookie crumbs so it could be stiff enough to hold a detailed shape.  A shell border went on the bottom and a rope border on top.

Disaster strikes!  The IMBC is so thin, it couldn't fully support the rope border on top.  I had piped it right on the edge at some parts, so it starts sinking and falling off completely, sliding down the side.  With my spatula I was able to catch it before it hit and ruined the shell border on the bottom.  I removed about 1/4 of the border that had slipped off.  After re-adding some IMBC and smoothing it out, the border was re-piped farther away from the edge.  Below you can see to some sinking on the left that I decided not to risk re-doing.

Since the mousse had cream, I made sure the cake remain refrigerated.  I forgot, however, to take it out early enough to let it come to room temperature.  The cake was cold but people seemed to still like it.  There were several compliments on the taste.  I foresee more Oreo cakes in the future!

What did NOT taste good was the fondant ... I think I could taste the gin!  I wasn't upside-down crazy about the mousse, but that could be because I'm not a big pudding or Cool Whip fan (that's what the taste and texture ended up being a mash-up of).  I will do this again for the next cake this coming weekend but with Cheesecake pudding mix.

  • IMBC was too runny; gotta figure out a good ratio for adding chocolate
  • fondant still had slight gin taste ... I wonder if that edible varnish recipe tastes ok
  • Costco Mousse badge earned
  • Damming a cake badge earned
  • people loved the taste

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cake Talk

I'm trying to be an active and contributing member on www.cakecentral.com.  That website is one of the best places to learn about cake decorating.  I love to participate in the forums so I can learn and share with others.  If you want to see what I've been talking about, go here:


Monday, February 8, 2010

Practicing on a Dummy

Practicing on a Dummy

I practiced decorating a 10"x4" styrofoam round dummy cake.  It was iced with IndyDebi's buttercream with royal icing piped on to it.  I tried out several different designs ... now my arm and wrist are dying.  I've never really piped all that much besides simple borders.  I definitely need more practice.  A dollop of corn syrup was added to the royal icing which seemed to help with the consistency.  All this was done with Wilton tip #3.  Which do you like best?

curly C's

cornelli lace

curly S's and drop strings

um ... cage thingie and basket weave

dots and swirly border

hearts and other swirly border


I like the cornelli lace because it's mostly continuous.  
You don't see many points where the tip was picked up.
This would look better with a smaller tip.

I like these swirls because they're a little more interesting.
It wasn't until later that I realized I could avoid the ugly peaks if I drew the swirls in reverse (inner to outer).

BMW Logo in Fondant

BMW Logo in Fondant

This will be the topper for my brother-in-law's graduation cake.  He's been accepted into BMW's training program.

  • Satin Ice black fondant circle (about 6" in diameter)
  • MMF blue, white, and gray accents
  • Gray ring is extruded MMF painted with silver luster dust
  • the rest of the MMF was brushed with canola oil for shine
This was actually a good learning experience.  I finally used the extruder for a finished product.  I finally used luster dust.  I finally used canola oil to make fondant shiny.

First I rolled out my black fondant.  Using my 6" round pan, I cut out a circle.  Next I mixed black with white fondant to get a nice light gray.  After kneading it with some shortening, I stuffed it into my extruder.  It wasn't as smooth as I would have liked.  I'm inclined to think that a different type of fondant would work better.  I should run pure Satin Ice through it to verify that theory.

The gray tub was attached to the black circle with a little water.  The water picked up some of the black coloring so I was careful not to roll the gray around in it.

I rolled out some blue and white MMF.  Using a tumbler drinking glass, I cut out a circle from each, about 4" in diameter.  The circles were quartered.  After matching up the blue and the white sections, I could see my quartering wasn't very good.  I had to smoosh and trim the sections together to make a better whole circle.  The circle was then glued to the black with some more water.



I sprayed some PAM into a bowl.  Using a small paintbrush, I gently brushed some of the canola oil on to the fondant.  This eliminated the lingering cornstarch and made the fondant smooth and shiny.  The bulk of the shine wore off after a while, but it still looks nice.

WARNING.  Luster dust containers are hard to open.  My luster dust jar now has teeth, knife, and nail marks along the edges.  It's an extremely tight fitting cap that has an inner as well as an outer rim to it.  It took about 5 minutes to open without me stabbing myself.  I jammed a butter knife into it and eventually pried it open.

I gingerly poured a bit of dust into a disposable souffle cup.  After adding some confectioner's glaze, I was convinced this was what pixies drink at weddings.  It was sparkle magic.  It looked just like metallic paint.  The gray fondant tube got a couple coats of this stuff ... it shimmered as I painted it on, dust settling into place ... it was a thing of beauty.

After some consideration, I decided to cut the BMW letters and instead pipe "Congrats, Chris!"  I'll do that once I assemble the entire cake.  Right now my circle is drying on the kitchen table.  Hopefully I won't screw it up in the end.

UPDATE (02/09/2010)

The shine has worn off the fondant, but it still looks fine.  I rolled out some more of the gray MMF and used my alphabet cutters to spell "Congrats Chris!".  I actually cut out "Congratulations Christopher!", but that was impossible to fit it on the logo.  Luckily I saved the left over luster dust paint, so I was able to put a nice coat on the letters too.  I'm very pleased on how this came out.  Tomorrow I'll level, torte, fill, and ice the cake.

As Seen On

As Seen On Capital Confectioners