"Hey, I can do that!"

Friday, June 24, 2011

Critter Crunch

Critter Crunch

A Critter Crunch birthday cake was requested of me from a friend of my hubby.  Critter Crunch is a puzzle game available on the PlayStation Network.  Hubby and I played the demo and really liked the adorable creatures and beautiful artwork in the game.  I was not thrilled to discover that I wasn't very good at the game, though!  

  • carved 8"x3" chocolate cake (I can't remember which cake mix box)
  • iced with vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream 
  • filled with vanilla whipped pudding
  • covered in marshmallow fondant
  • "Happy Birthday" in blue Royal Icing
  • eye glossed with 50/50 corn syrup/Everclear
In the last cake class I volunteered at, the instructor mentioned that she no longer uses any cake release spray or mixture to prepare her pans.  Instead she lines the bottom with parchment paper and then, when done baking and cooling, she runs a knife down along the sides of the pan.  She believes letting the cake stick to the sides while baking will help prevent shrinking.  I lined the bottom of my pans with parchment paper and wrapped baking strips on the sides.

They baked up pretty well and came out of the pan nicely.  I think I'll do this from now on! 

Over time I've learned that having a base board (cardboard or foam core) in the final shape of the cake is extremely helpful.  Here is the rough shape, a slight teardrop cut out of a cake board.  I used a steak knife to carve the cake into shape.  The cake had been in the freezer overnight so it was easy to carve without mutilating it.

My cake wasn't originally as high as I wanted the final product to be.  That meant I needed to build up some with icing.  I also trimmed the sides to be within 1/4" of the cake board.  I wanted the icing to be flush with the board when I covered it with fondant. 

Luckily I've watched enough cake TV shows to know that I should carve first, then torte and fill.  Otherwise, there'd be a huge mess of filling squishing out the sides and cake tearing and crumbling.

As always, my dam made from cake spackle.

Crumb coat.

First layer.

My critter has some facial features and expressions.  This was achieved by putting fondant on top of the buttercream but under the final fondant coat.  I made some fondant snakes for the mouth and eyebrows.  With icing I built up one side of the mouth snake so it would have a gradual rise.  The other side was to be indented to give the illusion of his 2-tone body.

As suggested by Mike McCarey's Cakenology video (demonstrating how to carve a cake into the shape of a car), I used my hands and soft buttercream to smooth out the final layers of icing.  After giving my critter a good belly rub, he was the smoothest cake I've ever made!  I did about 3 passes, putting the cake in the freezer for a few minutes so the buttercream would firm up, then applying more room temperature buttercream on top.

Before belly rubs.


Marshmallow fondant colored with Wilton Golden Yellow and Lemon Yellow gel.

I actually think this is the best fondant job I've done on a cake!  The fondant went on even and smooth; only 2 air bubbles to pop.  It stuck to the buttercream without me having to wet it.  Hurray!  His feet are 2 chunks of extra fondant roughly shaped into triangles.  I glued him down to the gold rectangular board with some piping gel.

This cake reminded me that I seriously need to purchase some clay tools.  Gumpaste tools are nice (I have Wilton's set), but really, a good set of cheap wooden clay tools can go a long way.  I only have a few clay tools left over from my high school days, but they were invaluable for bringing out the fondant ridges and lines. 

Free-hand cut out some white fondant as his belly with a craft knife.  Notice the shaggy cuts to emulate fur!

Do you know what's a complete waste of time and money?  The Wilton Alphabet Cutters!  I tried and tried to get a decent P.  After a few attempt, I settled for what I got.  Then came a B.  There is NO FREAKING WAY anyone can get fondant out of the B shape.  I don't even have a tool narrow enough to force the fondant out from the other end.  Perhaps a bamboo skewer would have worked, but at that point I practically threw the fondant across the room.

I piped "Happy Birthday" with Royal Icing instead.  Tip is Wilton #4.

I made some eyes with white and blue fondant, cut with a small round Christmas ornament cookie cutter.  The gloss was 50/50 corn syrup/Everclear brushed on to it.

I am very pleased with how this little guy came out.  I do wish I could have figured out how to give him little ears, but oh well.  Also couldn't get a decent photo of him.  Most of my caking is done at night with little ambient light.

Photo Gallery

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Homemade Gummy Candy

Homemade Gummy Candy

Ready for another "Hey, I can do that!" adventure?  I've jumped on to the homemade gummy candy band wagon!  Kim from http://www.eat-the-evidence.com reassured me that it's super easy.  She'll be demonstrating how to use gelatine in many ways at the Capital Confectioners cake club's Day of Sharing next month.  She will also be teaching some of those techniques for the club's monthly class.  I've used gelatine several times (e.g. fondant, pastillage, gelatine sheets, and of course JELL-O), so I wasn't too intimidated after researching some recipes.  The proportions and ingredients varied, but I eventually settled on the simplest recipe I could find, especially since I actually had all the ingredients on hand.

  • 1/3 c cold water
    • try juice instead for an extra fruit kick
    • try sweetened condensed milk for opaque white
  • 1 small box (3 oz) of JELL-O (featuring strawberry flavored)
  • 2 packets of unflavored gelatine (featuring Knox brand)

Pour the JELL-O and gelatine into the water.  Recipes I found online say "sprinkle" the gelatine into the water, but I don't get how you sprinkle it when the ratio of solid to liquid is practically 1:1.  I guess you want it evenly dispersed.  Otherwise, the gelatine can lump together later on and you'll have to work that out.

Let the gelatine "bloom" ... which means let it sit there and do its thing.  I think I let it sit for 5 minutes while I cleaned up and prepared my tools.

The gelatine will congeal ... it's practically gummy at this point.  Wiggly and very little liquid pouring out.

Now you need to heat it up so all the sugar and gelatine will dissolve and the result will be clear (or at least not cloudy).  Recipes online had it on low heat in a pot on the stove.  I kinda forgot about that and just popped it in the microwave like I usually do when I make fondant.  I did 30 second intervals and stirring in between.  It took about 2 1/2 minutes total to get the consistency I wanted.  30 seconds was apparently too long in the end and the liquid bubbled up and overflowed in the microwave.

YUCK!  When's the last time I cleaned the microwave plate anyway???

Once all the solids have dissolved, you can start pouring into your molds.  I tried pouring directly from my Pyrex measuring glass and also using a baster.  The baster isn't a precise instrument ... it would be neat if I had a smaller version of it.  Hmm ... maybe I should have dug out some of my daughter's medicine droppers.  Dang ... why didn't I think of that earlier?  I set out my new Wilton Fondant & Gumpaste molds as well as some candy molds (hearts and seashells).

UPDATE (2011-07-07)
I recently tried making gummies again and used the Wilton Squeeze Bottles (for chocolate candy making) to pour into molds.  It worked great!  My gummy mixture was about 175 degrees.  I didn't damage the bottle, but I did have to hold it wrapped with a towel.

LFMF (Learn From My Fail)!  If you get bright red liquid on your kitchen table, clean it up immediately!  It might not exactly stain, but it'll be a nice reminder for next time.

This is a messy adventure.  You might have to re-warm up the liquid as it starts to gum up on you.  Here is the chopstick I used to stir with.

The seashells turned out the worst.  The liquid was very bubbly at this point, so there was a little foam on the top.  I recall some recipes using gelatine suggest to filter off the foam.  I can see why.

Let these puppies set in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.  The candy mold gummies took the longest to set because they were so deep.

The Wilton mold gummies turned out the best.  The candy caught all the details of the mold beautifully!  The silicone gave it a matte finish too, where as the plastic candy mold trays made the gummies look glossy.

Here's a big bubble that had formed on the back that I didn't reconcile.
 LFMF!  Don't put the gummies on a ceramic plate!  It stuck immediately.  Afterward, the gummies went straight to my silicone mat.  It's pretty hot and humid right now, so the gummies are spending the night in the fridge.  Otherwise, I'd bet there'd be a puddle of red goo on the counter in the morning.

The gummies released from the silicone molds nicely, but not so much from the candy molds.  Recipes said you didn't have to prepare the molds in any way.  It was tough to pull out the hearts, but you can be pretty firm with the candy without damaging it.

 Cute as a button!  Really!

Matte vs. Glossy

Not sure what I'm going to do with all these!  I've already got a bit of a tummy ache from sampling them (for quality assurance, mind you).  They taste just like firm JELL-O (big surprise).  Hope my co-workers are peckish.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Trying a New Look

Trying a New Look

It's frustrating as a cake blogger to look at other cake decorating sites or similar blogs on the net ... either they make me want to stab my eyes out in text flashing horror or make me cower in envy from their pure awesomeness.  There's a huge gap in the range of awful and spectacular.  So here's me trying to move my site from one side of the spectrum to the other.  I'm taking a more aggressive role as web designer / photographer / graphic artist.  Note that I'm purely an amateur in all 3 fields, but I'm lucky enough to work with some professionals ... but it's still frustrating.  I'm familiar enough to know what I want, but not experienced enough to know how to achieve it.  Know what I mean? Here's what I did.


Background Image: Wilton Jumbo Confetti Sprinkles

I took this picture in my kitchen with my Canon EOS Rebel XSi EF-S 18-55IS SLR digital camera with Canon Speedlite 430EX II flash.  I placed a white poster board sheet on to my small, metal supply shelf, attaching one end at the bottom of one level and letting it curve down and rest on the lower level.  This gave me a background with a graduated blend (i.e. you can't see a crease as the back "wall" transitions to be the "floor").  I covered the back of the shelf with a white bed sheet to somehow increase the ambient light within the shelf.  A small desk lamp helped shine some light on my subjects.  This was a pretty ghetto light booth.

Here's the original picture and the camera data:

Pretty bad, huh?  Really dingy yellow background ... the sprinkles still look ok, though.  Here's the Adobe Photoshop magic steps I used to make the final product:
  • Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen
  • Image > Adjust > Brightness/Contrast
    • turned up Brightness
    • this makes the bottle and sprinkles a little more lively
  • Image > Adjust > Replace Color
    • selected the background dingy color with the eyedropper
    • turned the Lightness way up
    • this takes that dingy background and replaces most of it with pure white
  • Paintbrush tool
    • selected 300 px brush with soft edges
    • painted around the edges of the picture
    • this helps the photo borders blend into a pure white background on a web page or document
Photoshop is pretty darn expensive ... at home I'm still using a very old version that I got in my college days with a student discount.  I bet other photo editing software can do all this, but I'm not familiar with anything else but Photoshop (I use it at work too).


Header Image: "Adventures in Cake Decorating"

More Photoshop magic:
  • made 3 text layers for "Adventures", "in", and "Cake Decorating" 
    • font is "Ballpark" ... like the hotdogs ...
    • picked a nice purple color
  • right-click each layer and set these Blending Properties
  • under Styles, select Stroke checkbox
    • then click on Stroke
    • select Size as 2 px
    • select Position as Inside
    • select Color as a slightly darker purple
  • save this file as a PSD in case you need to edit it later
  • save your web use file as a PNG if you want to maintain the alpha channel (i.e. transparency)

I'm finding editing the template for Blogger MUCH easier than WordPress because it's so much simpler.  You can't really do too much in Blogger, but it makes hunting for code so much less excrutiating.  I'm using Mozilla Firefox as my internet browser and use the Web Developer add-on to help me identify CSS information on pages.  I use the ColorZilla add-on to help me identify colors on pages by using their eye dropper tool.
  • I set my sprinkles picture as the page background image
    • no repeating
    • positioned in the top left
  • I made my header-wrapper background color transparent, which lets you see my background image
  • I made the main post background color white
  • I made the side bar background color an extremely faint purple
  • I changed the colors of my links and visited links to purple
All that was made by modifying my Blogger template code.  I always refer to http://www.w3schools.com/css/ to help me remember how to code CSS.  I do some HTML every once in a while, but again, I refer to w3schools as my cheat sheet.

Well ... that's about all I'm going to do for another ... oh ... let's say 6 months!  Hope you like it!

As Seen On

As Seen On Capital Confectioners