Baking, Baking - Desserts, Decorating

Hoops, Anyone?

We celebrated my sisters’ birthdays over the weekend. They’re both part of an intramural basketball team and were spending the weekend following the NCAA’s March Madness. I immediately knew I wanted to make them a basketball cake!

This was my first attempt at a sphere shaped cake. I suppose I could have just decorated a flat round cake, but where’s the fun in that?! It went pretty well, but the fondant around a sphere was quite challenging.

I baked four 8″ round cakes, two chocolate, two vanilla, and layered them with ermine frosting. Then I froze them in the stack. Once they were well frozen I started trimming and shaping with a knife. It became clear pretty quickly that it was going to be very hard to shape a round top and have enough cake left to make a good sized basketball. So I mixed the trimmings with some frosting and molded it onto the top to get the round shape (T-Rex style, see here). Once the sphere was shaped I did a crumb coat all over and put it in the fridge to chill.

I took it out shortly before putting on the fondant, so it would still be cool enough to hold its shape, but not so cold that it would sweat and make the fondant droopy. This batch of fondant was a little dryer than usual, and as a result it made the difficult sphere shape even harder because it all started cracking as I rounded it down to the bottom. It looked great until I got about halfway down the sides. I tried to smooth the cracks, but I couldn’t get it smooth enough without squishing dents into the cake. So, because it was for family, I opted to leave the cracks knowing that they would probably be okay with it. Once the lines of the ball were marked, I rolled out the black fondant and attached thin strips with meringue powder glue.

Overall I was quite happy with how it turned out. It was a fun challenge to do a sphere, and now I just need to practice keeping it smooth around the bottom!


Cheese Cake, Pt. 3: Putting it all Together

Here we are, the tests have been done, the embellishments are planned, and now we have to get it all together for the main event. Timewise it would be nearly impossible to get all the cakes baked, assembled and decorated the day of the event, so it takes some planning to get it all ready in a logical order.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I made the marzipan crackers about a week in advance, so they would have time to dry and harden. I made all the cakes in the week leading up to the wedding and froze them until the night before. I first made the blue cheese cake, which was a sour cream cake. I baked it in a 10-inch pan, then cut it into wedges. I sliced the wedges in two, so I could put a layer of buttercream in the middle. then put a thin coat of frosting over each wedge of cake to help keep in moisture. I wrapped each in wax paper, then in plastic wrap, and froze them in a plastic container. They were well protected!

The brie cake was also a sour cream cake, and also baked in the 10-inch pan. I actually made two of these, as I wanted to make sure there would be enough cake for all the guests, but only one was part of the display. I spread a layer of ermine frosting (which you may remember from this post from last year) in the middle of these cakes, and again spread a thin crumb coat over the cakes and wrapped them up well to freeze. The gouda cake was an olive oil cake, with orange zest flavouring. This was made in a 14-inch pan, and I had to make two of these to get it to the right height, then frosted the same as the others.

The day before the wedding all the cakes came out of the freezer and I spread each with another layer of frosting. This helped to smooth the surface of the cakes, which is important because otherwise every little bubble and bump would show through the marzipan. I also made all of the frosted grapes the night before, as I mentioned in last week’s post.

On the big day I was up at 6:00am to get started. We needed to leave around 10:00am to get to the venue on time to set up the cake, so I allotted an hour per cake, with an extra hour to get myself ready since we were also attending the wedding. I started from the bottom and rolled out the marzipan, which I had coloured the day before, for the gouda cake first. It was a good thing I had lots of counter space, because it needed to be rolled out quite large to fit over a 14-inch diameter by 4-inch high cake! It went pretty well, with not too much folding at the bottom, so it was relatively easy to trim and smooth. I then measured where the dowels would need to go to hold up the next layer, inserted them, and trimmed them to the right height.

The brie cake was also pretty straightforward. I rolled out the marzipan, which was still its natural colour, laid it on, trimmed, smoothed, and then rubbed icing sugar all over. The blue cheese wedges took a little more time. I had to roll out and trim a couple different pieces of marzipan to fit, the marbled piece for the flat sides, and plain for the rind. Once trimmed I rubbed icing sugar on the rind. The extra blue part of the cheese I would put on during assembly at the venue.

We got to the venue around 12:00 noon and I went right to work setting it all up. I transferred the gouda to the cutting board first, then carefully transferred the brie on top of that. Then I decorated the blue cheese wedge before setting it on top. I filled the mini wine glasses with the coloured piping gel, then used clear gel to secure them in place next to the blue cheese. Placing all the grapes was pretty time consuming since they had to be placed one by one. Once they were all in, I brushed off any excess icing sugar that dropped during assembly, and set out the crackers and cheese knife. Sounds easy, right? It took about two hours from when I got there to finish the final display.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was so grateful for the opportunity to make this cake. I learned a lot, and it has really inspired me to test out some new recipes, ideas and techniques, and I look forward to whatever the next challenge might be!

Baking - Desserts, Decorating

Over the Hill Cake

This is a busy time of year in my family for birthdays; my Dad’s was two weeks ago, and my mom and her sister this week. We celebrated my mom and my aunt a few days early, who are turning a big 65 this year (or 130 if you put them together).

Gum paste ladies making their way up the hill.

My brothers and I decided we wanted an ‘Over the Hill’ themed cake, so I set to work brainstorming. I said I would make the cake; one of my brothers requested that the figures on the cake be wearing red hats and purple clothes; and the other suggested the figures be heading up the hill, which would drop off as a cliff at the end.

I originally thought of using my book shaped cake pan, as it looks like rolling hills, but when thinking about a cliff face my Christmas tree pan seemed like a better choice. I made a batch of Ermine frosting, and made some chocolate for a path, and the rest green for the grassy hill.

I decided to use gum paste instead of marzipan for the figures on the cake, because I thought they would dry more firmly and be able to stand up on the cake better. This was my first time working with gum paste, and I think I made the figures a bit too large, and ended up having to use a wooden skewer in each figure to help hold them up-right. I also used gum paste to make little conversation bubbles all the way up the hill, to illustrate what kind of things people going over the hill would talk about 🙂

It was a fun and tasty celebration with family. My gum paste skills need a bit of work, but at least I can now say I’ve tried it, and it will hopefully only get better with practice.

Baking - Desserts, Decorating

All Natural Garden Cake

Last week I was testing buttercreams, and this week I got to put them to use. The base was a chocolate beer cake, made with a local micro-brew porter, which gave the cake a subtle coffee flavour.

Finished cake from the top.

I was making a garden cake and wanted to use only natural colourings in the decoration. I needed green for the grass, so used spinach juice to colour the icing (using the Ermine frosting recipe). The recipe called for one cup of whole milk, so I used 3/4 cup of milk and 1/4 cup spinach juice. It was a fairly pale shade of green, but looked much better, in my mind, than most chemical colours.

I made little vegetables out of marzipan to plant on top of the cake, and for those I used blackberry and blueberry juice (beets), carrot juice (carrots), turmeric (yellow zucchini) and spinach juice (lettuce and leaves). I also added a sprig of fresh parsley to the top of the carrots and a sprig of fresh oregano to the beets for the greens of each.

Colouring the marzipan was a bit of a challenge, because you need a thick consistency in order to blend it in well, and juices are not thick! I added a bit of tapioca starch to each and heated them to thicken, and then was able to blend them in quite easily.

I did use a couple of candies (pumpkins and strawberries) which would not qualify as natural, but the majority of the cake was. It was a fun project to work on. I was glad to be able to experiment more with the natural colourings, and to have had such success with them.

Baking - Desserts, Decorating, Recipe

Testing Buttercreams

I am making a cake for a co-worker’s wedding and he requested a family recipe for the icing. As with many family recipes, it is not one that is really written down. I was told it was made with equal parts milk, sugar and butter, with a drop of almond extract. Bring the milk and sugar to a boil, then as it cools whisk in the butter and extract. With no more direction than that I knew I would have to experiment a bit before I could make the icing for the actual cake.

Ermine frosting

I decided to seek help from my friend Yvonne over at Ms. Adventures in Baking to see if she had any insights about this mysterious recipe. She suggested it may be an Ermine frosting, which has the same proportion of ingredients but has a small amount of flour as a thickener. Basically you mix the flour and milk and heat them to thicken. Then you cream the butter and sugar, and as the thickened milk cools you gradually whisk it into the creamed butter and sugar. I was skepitcal that an icing with flour would be good, but it did indeed make a very creamy and delicious icing.

Fudge method frosting

Having made the Ermine frosting, I was still curious about the challenge of the original recipe. As I thought about it, the description sounded a lot like a fudge recipe. So I decided to try it out. I heated the milk and sugar to soft ball, about 235F, then let it cool to 110F and beat in the butter. It came out as a super creamy frosting, absolutely melt in your mouth.

In the interest of time and ease, I will probably make the Ermine recipe for this cake. But I am glad I didn’t give up on the challenge of the original recipe. It’s definitely one to keep in mind for other special desserts.