Decorating, Ingredient Insights

Fun with Fondant

Now this is something I never thought I would say, ‘fun with fondant.’ Not because I don’t like working with it for design purposes, but because generally rolled fondant tastes terrible. And I’m big on not putting terrible tasting things on my tasty baking. For the most part I have been using marzipan for any decorative figures and cake coverings. It’s delicious, has minimal ingredients (if you get a good brand), and I have found it works just as well for modeling. But it is expensive, so not necessarily the economical choice for larger cake and decorating projects.

Cue my friend Yvonne at Ms. Adventures in Baking. She shared a recipe with me for a homemade fondant that uses marshmallows as the base, and it is amazing! Moment of confession, I have an addiction to those marshmallow peanut candies, and this tasted just like them. It was a bit of an issue with the leftover fondant, but I digress. This fondant was easy to make, easy to work with, cheaper than marzipan, not to mention cheaper than pre-made store-bought fondant and it was delicious. Win, win, win!

There is a bit of an issue with it in that marshmallows are not vegetarian, since they contain gelatin, so if you plan to try this fondant make sure your consumers are not vegetarian. I’ll have to keep looking into a homemade vegetarian option for fondant. Until then, I will stick with the marzipan for them.

I do need to practice with it a bit more, I ended up with some cracks, likely from it being dry, and there was a lot of bunching at the base of the cake, which made for a very thick layer of sugary sweet fondant on the outside edge of each cake slice. But practice makes perfect, and any leftovers will be given a good home 🙂

You can find the instructions for making marshmallow fondant here.

Decorating

Multi-Generation Birthday Cake

My husband, father-in-law and son have birthdays within the first two weeks of October. It wasn’t so bad when there were two weeks between my husband and father-in-law, but now my son has squeezed right in the middle, making for a lot of birthdays to celebrate in a short amount of time. We decided to celebrate them all together, but I thought it would be fun to make them each their own cake anyway, especially since this was my son’s first birthday.

I made a big chocolate cake for the base and covered it with vanilla bean frosting, banana cake for the middle layer covered with blue marbled marzipan, and banana cake for the top with vanilla bean frosting and celebratory sprinkles!

It was a simple but fun idea; probably more cake than we actually needed, but really, who’s going to complain about having too much cake?!

Decorating

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!

Decorating

Cheese Cake, Pt. 2: Embellishments

I had looked online for decorating ideas while brainstorming the cheese cake. Most of them used grape bunches, which makes sense. I didn’t know how well a bunch of grapes would sit on the marzipan covered in icing sugar, it seemed a bit risky. I saw several, though, with frosted grapes. I thought that might be a better option. I also thought the candied appearance of the grapes would make it more obvious that it was a cake as opposed to real cheese. I looked up the instructions and made a test batch. Each grape had to be brushed with egg white, but for food safety purposes I opted to mix up some meringue powder instead, then sprinkled with superfine sugar and left to dry. They came out very nice, a juicy grape with a crisp sweet coating on it. They couldn’t be refrigerated, because when you take them out of the fridge the condensation would dissolve the meringue and sugar and leave the grapes soggy. For the final cake I made them the night before the wedding, and had each grape on a toothpick. This made it easier for them to dry without touching each other, and then I could just stick the toothpicks into the cake to keep them in place.

I had some marzipan leftover from various test cakes, so I used the odds and ends to make some ‘crackers.’ I rolled out the marzipan and used a rectangle cookie cutter to cut some of them. In order to get the rounded sides of the crackers I placed a piece of plastic bag over the marzipan and cut them through the plastic. This rounds down the edges. Then I used a toothpick to poke little holes, again through the plastic, and finally used a fork to go around the outside edges. For the round crackers I just used a fluted round cookie cutter, and again used plastic to cut it and poke the holes. As they dried I sprinkled some sugar on to look like they had salted tops. I made the crackers about a week in advance so they would have time to harden and hopefully not bend over each other in the final presentation.

I wanted a cake topper and thought that a couple wine glasses with wine would be appropriate. Full sized wine glasses would be too big, so I looked for a couple mini wine glasses, which were easily found at Value Village. I didn’t want to put actual wine in, just in case anything spilled, but I wanted something in the glasses. My friend, Ms. Adventures in Baking, suggested colouring some clear piping gel, so that’s what I did. It was tricky to keep small bubbles from getting in as I mixed, but it came out fairly well.

And lastly, instead of using a regular cake board I asked my Father-in-law if he could make a large round cutting board at his pattern making business on which the cake could sit. It was absolutely beautiful, the perfect base for the cheese. The final embellishment was a cheese knife that could be used to cut the cake; decorative and functional, just the right touch.

Decorating

Cheese Cake, Pt. 1: Prototypes

First gouda cheese test.
First gouda cheese test.

When I first thought of the cheese cake idea I had three in mind, and they are the ones I stuck with all along: a big wheel of gouda, a wheel of brie, and a wedge of blue.

The design for the gouda was pretty easy. I knew I wanted to use marzipan, not only because I think marzipan tastes better than rolled fondant, but I also thought it would offer a more natural look than rolled fondant, especially when adding colour for the rind, thereby making the ‘cheese’ look more realistic. I actually didn’t do many tests of the gouda early on because I thought it would be easy enough. I did, however, test the brie and blue several times.

The brie I was able to figure out fairly quick. Again I chose marzipan, but left it uncoloured. I rolled it out, covered the cake with it, then sprinkled icing sugar all over. I was worried that the icing sugar might get absorbed, but it actually sat quite well, especially on the top. It was harder to get the icing sugar on the sides, I wasn’t able to get as thick of a layer of it to stay, but it was enough to make it look pretty realistic.

The blue took several tries. I started out using a plain frosting, mixing a greenish-blue colour frosting on the side and dotting it all over. I thought this would give it a pock-mark look, but it didn’t work out as well as it did in my head. For another attempt, I rolled out marzipan, made some greenish-blue colour, then used mini-star cookie cutters to dab the colour onto the marzipan all over. I then folded the splotchy marzipan and rolled it out again and put it on the cake. It was definitely better than the first, but still not where I wanted it to be.

After looking more closely at photos of blue cheese, I thought a coloured paste might work better. So I mixed up the greenish-blue colour, I added some flour to make it a bit thicker and less translucent, and then mixed that with some clear piping gel. It looked pretty good. I did the same process of rolling out the marzipan, but this time just used a toothpick to dab splotches of colour. I folded it and rolled it out, then repeated this several times instead of just the once. This gave it a more marbled look with colours spread throughout the thickness of the marzipan. Once the marbled marzipan was on the cake I used a star piping tip to gouge out little craters on the surface, then used a paintbrush to splotch more coloured gel into the craters and over the surface. And that was the winning method.

When I have an idea and think it will be easy to do, I don’t often test designs beforehand. However, with this cake design I was very glad I did; there would have been a lot of panic and scrambling if I hadn’t!