"Hey, I can do that!"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chocolate Clay Basket: Schooled

"Chocolate Clay Basket"
taught by Sallia
All In One Bake Shop

(+5 skill points => 300/400)

My local cake supply store offers a variety of different classes in addition to the regular Wilton courses.  Check out the All In One Bake Shop's class information here.  This evening I attended the "Chocolate Clay Basket" class taught by Sallia.  This class was from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm and all supplies were included in the $45 course fee.  Tonight there were 6 students (including myself) learning how to make and work with modeling chocolate (a.k.a. "chocolate clay").  Together we learned how to weave a festive Easter basket and filled our very own with goodies.

I was technically the last to finish my basket.  One lady didn't get to complete hers all the way.  I don't even understand why it took me so long.  Unfortunately I had to rush it to even make it to the end.  It's not pretty, but it was a good learning experience.

Honestly, I'm exhausted.  I've been working a lot lately and now my arms are tired from rolling chocolate "snakes" for 2 hours.  In the end, this was a nice opportunity to get to know modeling chocolate and receive more education on cake decorating.  I look forward to signing up for more classes in the future.

We received a recipe and worked with modeling chocolate made from A'Peels Chocolate (by Guittard Chocolate Company) and corn syrup.  It tastes like chocolate with the consistency of a tootsie roll.  It doesn't taste bad at all, but I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to eat much of this basket.

The base of the basket is solid chocolate.  The ribs are lollipop sticks covered in chocolate.  The modeling chocolate "snakes" were weaved over and under the ribs.

Modeling chocolate is strange to work with, a medium unlike any other.  You can easily under-kneed or over-kneed it.  Our work area got very messy and greasy.  For a few minutes I thought I had the hang of it, but the next moment it started to all come apart again.

At some point I'll try making my own modeling chocolate.  For now, I'm going to go to bed!  I'll eat these goodies later.

Bonus:  I tried making a rose while we were waiting for our bases to set.  This technique I learned from Toba Garrett's book A Well Decorated Cake.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Little Re-vamp

Sorry my blog hasn't been very pretty lately.  Dammit, Jim, I'm a programmer, not a graphic artist.  Hope you like this new look!  I think it's nice ... for now ...

Monday, March 22, 2010

IMBC + math

IMBC + math

So far I've experimented with 3 different IMBC recipes:
  1. from Cooking by James Peterson
  2. from Warren Brown of Cake Love
  3. "Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream" from cakecentral.com
I liked the taste of #1.  I liked the stability of #2.  #3 was in between for both characteristics, but had a very yellow color to it.  I was curious to see how all 3 could be so different when they use the same ingredients.

Here's a breakdown of egg whites, sugar, water, and butter for each recipe:

Ingredient#1: Cooking#2: Cake Love#3: Cakecentral
egg whites658
sugar (cups)1.751.251.583
water (cups)
butter (sticks)346

If you determine the ratios on a per egg white basis, here's the run-down:

Ingredient#1: Cooking#2: Cake Love#3: Cakecentral
egg whites111
sugar (cups)0.2916666670.250.197875
water (cups)0.0833333330.050.0625
butter (sticks)

So no wonder I like #1, it's the most sugar and least butter.  #2 is the most stable, probably because of all the butter.  #3 is a lot more butter than anything else, and maybe that explains the color.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Snickerdoodle Cuppies: Review

Snickerdoodle Cake (in cuppie form)

My dear husband and brother-in-law bought me The Cake Mix Doctor and Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor books for Christmas.  This is my first recipe attempt from these thoughtful presents.

  • Snickerdoodle cuppies
  • IMBC (Cake Love's recipe), flavored with vanilla and white chocolate
The ingredients were simple, but I did have to specifically buy a pint of whole milk (we only drink 2%).

I don't have much experience with doctored cakes.  The first doctored cake recipe I made was WASC cake.  This batter really surprised me.  It was very thick, almost the tensity of whipped cream.  After everything was mixed in, it was disappointing to realize I couldn't use my new batter dispenser.  Instead, I tried my disher (similar to a small ice cream scoop).  That didn't go well either.  It took several squeezes to dump the batter out and I still had to do at least two passes for every cuppie.  What would have been a better idea was to put the batter into a decorator's bag and "pipe" them in.

Unfortunately I overbaked the cuppies.  I'm unfamiliar to the recipe and how they should look when done.  The bottoms and tops were slightly crispy and hard, but luckily not burnt.  Here they are with a 1M swirl top.

The cinnamon in the batter smelled soooo good while baking; it was heavenly.  I was so excited to taste them.

Inside it was very fluffy, balancing nicely between dry and moist.  My husband said the taste reminded him of a cinnamon muffin.  He also liked that I overbaked them because the harder portions were a nice contrast to the fluffy innards.

I'm glad I tried this recipe.  It's important that I branch out of my safe shell of "cakes I know".  Honestly, I wasn't a big fan of the fluffiness, but the cinnamon was a nice change of pace.  I'm looking forward to more doctored cakes!

Good Cook 24 Cupcake Pan and Carrier: Review

Good Cook's Bake-N-Take
24 Cupcake Pan and Carrier

UPDATE:  I've thrown the plastic portions of this carrier away.  A tiny piece broke off one of the locking hinges, rendering this carrier useless.  Oh well.  At least I have the cupcake pan still.

I've been wanting a cupcake carrier for some time, and my baking hobby usually ends up with me packing my goodies and taking them to work for coworkers to enjoy.  Carrying and balancing 2 Pyrex baking dishes full of cuppies just isn't doing it for me.  I picked this up at my local HEB for $14.99, but Amazon.com has them for $19.99.  This is from Good Cook's line of Bake-N-Take products.  It features a carrying handle on the cover that locks on to both sides of the cupcake pan.  The pan holds 12 cuppies as well as a red insert that stands above the pan.

The baking pan itself did fine, nothing good or bad to even remark on.  It's sturdy and even with elongated ends for you to grab.

I baked snickerdoodle cuppies and iced them with Cake Love's IMBC.  With a 1M tip, you can get a pretty tall topping with the double swirl technique.  Unfortunately this means the tippy tops get squished when the whole thing is assembled.

When I put the top on, I noticed the area directly beneath the carrying handle was sunken in.  I removed it quickly before the two cuppies underneath were ruined.

The handle is soft and the whole thing is easy to carry.  I'm pretty confident my goodies will make it to the break room at my studio without any trouble.

All in all, it's not so bad.  I just have to know not to make the icing tall. And if I do, well, I still have those Pyrex baking dishes...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Handy Gourmet Batter Dispenser: Review

Handy Gourmet Batter Dispenser
Product Review

Making cupcakes are difficult for me.  I have bad wrists, so it's slightly painful for me to hold up my KitchenAid bowl and pour cake batter into 24 cupcake liners.  I've tried other methods for getting batter into cupcake pans, but have had rather messy results.  After thinking about it one night, it struck me that there must be some tool for pouring pancake batter at restaurants.  The internet told me that they are called "batter dispensers".  On amazon.com, I grabbed one for less than 10 bucks.

This particular product is called the Handy Gourmet Pancake Batter Dispenser.  It's very shiny.  That pleases me.  There is a small hole at the bottom of the container that's blocked by a piece of plastic.  When you squeeze the handle, the plastic slides away and the batter is free to flow out.  The bottom of the dispenser has a built in holder so you can set the whole thing down on any flat surface.

 The dispenser holds approximately 4 cups of batter (regular box cake mixes are ~5 cups).  

After at batch of cuppies, I've concluded it has some pros and cons.  

  • The container can't hold an entire batch of cake mix.  This requires a refill part-way through filling the cupcake pans.
  • Leakage is inevitable.  I had several drops of batter escape through the supposedly closed hole soon after I poured the batter into the container.  After several squeezes, batter starts to get inside the bottom of the handle.
  • The last bit of batter takes a long time to flow out of the dispenser.
  • Pouring batter into the dispenser was easy.  It has a wide mouth with slanted sides at the top.
  • The handle was easy to squeeze.
  • Batter poured very quickly at first.  The first dozen cuppy liners were filled so fast, it was amazing.
  • It was easy to pour a little batter at a time.  When I had filled most of my cuppies to about 2/3rds full, I went back and added some drops to those that could have used more batter.  
  • I didn't drip while filling the cuppies!  No random batter drops on the tops of the pans that would get all burnt and I'd have to scrub off!!!
  • The whole thing is easy to clean.  The batter rinsed off easily, and I just did some gentle wipes with a soapy sponge to clean the whole thing.

Well, for me, this is a great tool.  It's probably much easier for other people to utilize some other way (e.g. using an ice cream scope).  But at $10, really, it's pretty cool.  And some day I'm sure I'll have to make pancakes for a mess of people and will be thanking my lucky stars that I bought this.

Now that business is over, wanna see something funny?  The instructions had a few Engrish moments that made me laugh.

UPDATE (03/27/2010)
I still love this dispenser.  Last night I was able to fill cups with batter WHILE holding my 10 month old baby.  She got a little clingy and patiently watched me as I evenly filled my pans while sitting on my hip.  It may be a single-task tool, but I love it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Better than Medals

Better than Medals

It's been a week since the cake show and I must say it feels pretty weird to not be baking or making fondant or something.  I wanted to share what lovely gifts I received from friends and family last weekend that are more special than my medals.

My dear husband got me some beautiful roses that were waiting for me when I got home after the show and running by Sonic to pick up dinner because we were starving.  

They still look lovely even today.

My friends Hang and Sandi got us some fancy chocolates.

My friend Pam got me a customized apron.

Best of all, my husband and his family banded together and got me a commemorative collage, showing many of the cakes I've made so far.

We bought a shadow box for me to put the medals in.  I'm going to hang the collage and the medals somewhere in the kitchen!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.  I threw away my Ramen bowl.  My Maneki Neko was sliced open and trashed.  I'm keeping my wedding cake, though, I just need to find somewhere to put it.



Friday, March 5, 2010

That Takes the Cake 2010: Gallery

I finally organized my photos from last weekend's event!


That's 522 pictures of cake awesomeness!  Enjoy!

Costco Mousse: Recipe

Costco Mousse

My co-worker turned me on to this recipe.  When you go to the link, you'll see it's called "Costco Mousse" because it was written by a former Costco employee.  I don't have a better name for it, so I will refer to it as "Costco Mousse" as well.  It's your basic instant pudding recipe except substitute half your milk with heavy whipping cream.  When I first tried this on my BMW cake, I wasn't sure what to expect.  In the beginning, it was all liquidy and unappealing.  Whip this sucker like you would to make whipped cream and it will start to thicken up.  It's smooth and creamy and delicious.  I'm not a big pudding fan, but I can definitely appreciate this stuff.  Unfortunately because of the cream this requires refrigeration, so make some room in your fridge.

I love this recipe because these ingredients are usually on hand.  I've stockpiled several boxes of pudding, and my fridge typically has heavy whipping cream for one reason or another.

If you want to play it safe, make a dam before you fill your cake.

But I have filled a small cake w/o the dam.  I think the cold will buy you some time before the cake starts to bulge.  When cold, this stuff is pretty thick.

I've frozen the left-overs before and thawed it later for another cake.  I didn't even need to re-whip it.  It was still smooth and creamy after it thawed.

What's great is that pudding comes in so many flavors.  I've tried Jello's Cheesecake Pudding inside red velvet cake and let me tell you ... cake and cheesecake???  Hello?  Why are you waiting around?  Go try this stuff now.  And give me some.

If you would like to learn more, baking911.com has a wonderful page that has lots of information on pudding and mousse.

MOUSSE: is the modern day version of pudding, with a smooth and creamy texture and is not cooked. Originally, the word mousse came from the French term meaning "foam" or "froth".

Monday, March 1, 2010

That Takes the Cake 2010: "Maneki Neko"

That Takes the Cake 2010
1st place
Adult Beginner - Scuplted Cakes
"Maneki Neko"
(+5 skill points => 295 / 400)

I've had this idea for months.  I did 2 prototypes.  The prototypes looked like bizarre aliens, but this guy ... oh this guy just stole my heart!  I can't help but smile when I see him.
Maneki Neko.  a.k.a. "Beckoning Cat", "Lucky Cat", or "Money Cat".  This is typically a ceramic sculpture of a cat (usually a Japanese Bobtail) with an upraised paw beckoning to people passing by.  In Asian cultures, this sculpture is believed to bring its owner good luck and prosperity.  You may see these near the entrance of an Asian restaurant or market.
  • 2 8", 1 7", and 1 6" rounds of doctored white cake (WASC w/o the A)
  • tub icing between the layers
  • shaped with cake spackle
  • covered in Toba Garrett's fondant
  • decorated with extruded fondant
  • fondant coin
  • fondant ears
Here are a couple of the source photos I used to design my cat.

The cake needed to be re-designed so it could support the head and arm without needing additional support or materials.  Besides the ears and coin, my cat is 100% cake.  Here, I'll show you.

The carving was done with a serrated bread knife.  I tried an electric cutter, but it's too weak to really do anything.  My scraps were collected and run through the food processor to make crumbs.

Buttercream was added to the crumbs until it was thick but sticky enough for me to build up on the areas that needed to be festively plump.  Those areas were mainly his limbs.


After building up his muscles, the cat received a final coat of thin spackle.  My cardboard round underneath him was trimmed to fit him just right.  He's about 9" tall and 8" wide.  That's a lot smaller than my prototypes.  Ok, fine, I'll show you a picture of one of the prototypes.

Like I said, it needed a re-design.  It looked like a creature from a Miyazaki film.  The cat now is shorter with a smaller head.  He's squat and I tried to position his weight so it could stand for several days without tipping to any side.  The cakes were also a little over-cooked, which helped with stability.  There are zero cake boards inside this cat.  I did insert 3 plain wooden skewers for some strength, but I'm not sure how much they helped.

My trusty extruder made some red fondant into a twisted rope to serve as a nice collar.  You can see toothpicks supporting it as it dried.  Also notice the folds of fondant on his belly.  It's practically impossible for me to cover him in fondant without taking in a lot of slack.  During my prototypes I learned it was best to gather the excess in the front and trim it off.  His scars would be covered by his gold coin.

His features were initially painted with black gel mixed with Everclear.  Unfortunately the coloring bled into cracks in the fondant.  I re-painted him with melted watered-down fondant.  That made the black parts nice and glossy.  Instead of re-painting his face, I covered with markings with a thin snake of extruded fondant.  It made it more prominent and cartoony.  His ears were shaped lumps of black fondant with white triangles in front.  Inside were toothpicks to help support them as they dried when stuck on to his head.  I tried to fill in some cracks and imperfections with more melted fondant.  There just wasn't enough time to correct all of the bleeding mistakes.

His coin was a slab of yellow fondant that I free-hand cut and trimmed with scissors.  After it dried, I applied gold luster dust mixed with confectioner's glaze.  It had a nice golden shimmer.  The characters on the coin were extruded black fondant.  You might not be able to see it, but after glueing the coin to his body I inserted a toothpick through it and into his belly for support.  Kitteh not gonna drop his munneh.

The white parts were painted with a 50/50 mixture of corn syrup and Everclear (another trick from the cakecentral.com forums).  It was difficult to get the 2 to mix ... and don't take a big whiff of this stuff.  Everclear is hard-core ... the proof I got is even illegal in some states ... but not in Texas :)  This gloss will be sticky for a while, so let it dry thoroughly.  I doubt it tastes good.

The cake board was covered with a lovely print that I had from a package of Asian-themed cardstock pack.  The cardstock was covered with clear contact paper.


Several people I knew went to the cake show.  They told me how cute and awesome my cat was.  He certainly did have something special, don't ya think?  The judges must have thought so.  I won 1st in that category!  I knew he had a good chance in placing, but I didn't think he'd get first.  He really is my lucky cat.

The judges' comments:
We love this cake!  Very little flaws.  The black color is bleeding a bit in small places and the ears are not completely flush to the top of the head.  Gorgeous cake.  Looks like porcelain.  Incredible job!  Congratulations!



UPDATE (03/03/2010)
I've had a few days to relax and reflect on my entries.  Here's what I concluded.

  • I can't be sloppy when it comes to painting.  There's very little room for error, especially when painting black on to white.  My colors immediately bled in to the tiny crevices and cracks of the fondant.  I did come up with a better solution later (see FTWs).
  • The judges were right.  His ears were not flush with his head, and that might have been something I could have fixed.  I was running out of time and settled, but that is not something anyone can really afford to do in competition.
  • In fact, his ears were a complete after thought.  I had no idea how I was going to do this until "the day of".  They look too high up on his head ... I should have put them down more to the sides.
  • Covered facial markings with fondant.  Originally his facial markings were only painted, but it just didn't "pop".  It looked a little bland and boring.  After extruding the fondant for the markings on the coin, I figured why stop there.  This helped cover up some of those bleeding imperfections too.  This really gave him personality.  This was probably the best call I made for him.  Otherwise, I definitely would not have gotten 1st.
  • Painting with melted, watered-down fondant was neat.  All of his markings were originally painted with gel and Everclear.  His spots really just weren't dark or solid enough for my liking.  Black ended up being watery-looking navy.  I put a wad of fondant in a bowl with some drops of water and nuked it for 10-15 seconds.  I was able to paint over his markings with this thicker solution.  The new markings were more solid and even glossy.  I didn't have to paint over these sections with the 50/50 corn syrup Everclear.  That wouldn't have been a good idea anyway because the colors would run.
  • My extruder performed very well with my home-made gelatin-based fondant as well as Satin Ice Black.  There weren't any jaggies and it wasn't terribly hard to twist the handle.  I'm of the the mind that I would never have gotten these results with MMF.
  • I'm in love with the cardstock I bought.
  • Cake spackle is excellent for building up in areas.  I really didn't feel like making rice krispie treats for molding the cat's limbs ... I've never done it before and, well, that's just not cake.  A lot of the sculpted cakes in the show had rice krispie treat parts.  I figured having my guy being mostly cake would be more impressive.  Cake spackle is difficult to stick to a freshly cut cake, so you might have to gather some patience.  I couldn't get small pieces to stick to his head at all, so I ended up smooshing out pads of it and laying it on.
  • Bigger is not necessarily better.  My prototypes taught me that.  It was a good call to go small and focus on detail instead.  He was a breeze to carry in and out of the show.  I didn't worry about him falling during transportation at all.
  • In the end, you have to make something that reflects you.  I've read some competition tips that warned against making a cake that you think will please judges.  You have to please yourself.  I've been wanting to make this cat for months, and I'm so glad he came into existence.  I have no idea if the judges even knew what a Maneki Neko was (I didn't know his Japanese name until researching it last year), but he was mine and you can tell that I loved him.  Several of my friends told me that he really stood out at the event.  I wish I could freeze him and keep him forever!  Oh well, his pictures will have to do.
If you see a cat beckon to you, follow him!

    As Seen On

    As Seen On Capital Confectioners