Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My camping birthday cake

It's been ages since I've taken the time to decorate a cake for fun--working full time, writing, preparing for the conference this weekend (Yay! Can't wait!) and my various other responsibilities have meant fun stuff like this has had to take a back seat. But this month was my Dad's birthday--and it was a benchmark birthday (I'll save his pride by not saying *which* benchmark birthday) so I took the time to play with something fun for his cake.

My dad loves to camp--notice the RV in the background, so yeah, he's not a tent camper (he actually has a trailer, but an RV was easier for me to make! I'm lazy, I know). He owns his own business and frequently works twelve-hour days, five and six days a week (and Mom's hours are nearly as long) so if they want to get away from work for a few days, they can't just take time off and stay home, (because he's a workaholic, and besides, someone might call wanting them to open the store for that decorating tip they need for Junior's birthday cake) so he has to leave town.

Camping is a great way to get away from everything, listen to the air rustle in the trees, make some yummy Dutch oven dinners, and toss pebbles in the stream. We frequently camped when I was a kid, and it rarely mattered if it rained or not, because we always found card games to play inside the trailer when the weather was bad (care for a round of Flinch or Phase 10?) or a rousing game of Becca (kinda like hide-and-go-seek, but much more fun) or jungle croquet when the weather was more cooperative.

But I digress... So I really wished I had more time to decorate this but I pretty much always work weekends, and his birthday was on Easter, so I decided to be happy with what I could do--and he was pleased, so what else matters?. Oh, and I made the most amazing strawberry mousse filling to go between the layers of this baby--the recipe will be at the bottom of the post.

The rocks around the bottom and water are a chocolate candy I bought in bulk at Winco, but I've made rocks out of fondant before and would have if these hadn't been so simple (and yummy!). From the top view you can see the A/C unit on top of the RV, and the generator on the back (because I've camped with a latrine before, and I'd take my cramped, ancient hand-me-down-from-Grandpa camper over that any day of the week.) In case you haven't guessed, the camper is a Twinkie covered in fondant, and the trees are just sugar cones with fondant.

Strawberry mousse filling recipe:
8 oz softened cream cheese
8 oz thawed Cool Whip (or other brand frozen whipped topping)
3-4 oz strawberry jam (pureed would have been better, but mine had chunks in it. The recipe I used off of Cake Central called for 1.5 oz raspberry puree, but I didn't have any, and I like strawberries better).

Whip until completely combined and chill for thirty minutes before using. My husband doesn't usually like cake much. He'll have a piece if I give it to him, but he never comes back for seconds. With this filling, he came back for thirds. This made enough to fill a 10" cake and a 6" cake about 1/4" thick. It would do two 8" layers easily. I'd probably half it again and cross-cut my layers so I could put three layers of mouse in the cake.

Can it get any easier?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pear Raspberry Cobbler recipe

On Sunday evenings we have dinner at my parents' house. My mom makes a fabulous dinner (usually involving real mashed potatoes, she makes the best!) and I bring dessert. Though the tried and true cookies or brownies are always winners, I like to try new things, and yesterday I found myself casting about for ideas. Since I bottled pears this past week and had a few quarts that didn't seal properly, I decided to do something with them. I settled on a pear cobbler, and created my own recipe, which my husband rated a 9 out of 10, and my parents both raved over and came back for seconds.

Pears are great fruits, but they don't have a whole lot of flavor to them, so when I started looking at creating a cobbler recipe, I knew I would want to combine mine with a second fruit for color and an extra kick. Since I had frozen, unsweetened raspberries in the freezer, I decided they would be a good match.

1 quart bottle pears in light syrup (could use a large can--around 30 oz--of pears instead)
1 to 1 1/2 cups frozen, unsweetened raspberries **
1 vanilla cake mix--white or yellow would work just as well
5 Tbspn butter or margarine
12 oz gingerale (a lemon-lime soda is my usual choice, but this is what I had on hand)

Empty jar or can of pears into a 9x13 pan, syrup and all. I cut mine up into smaller pieces so they covered the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on the raspberries--I did this while they were still frozen, but defrosted or fresh would work just as well. Pour the cake mix as evenly across the top as reasonably possible, then slice your butter into thin pats and lay them out across the top of the cake. You could use a little more or less, this is just what it took this time. Pour the soda across everything else so it's fairly even.

I covered my pan with tin foil for the first half an hour so it wouldn't burn on top, but that may not have been necessary. Bake approximately 1 hour at 350 degrees. Can be served either hot or cold, and with whipped topping or vanilla ice cream if you'd like.

**You could also substitute other fruits like cherries, strawberries or blackberries if you'd prefer or have them on hand.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A patriotic cake

I know I've been AWOL for most of the summer in regards to blogging, but I have some really fun project to share with you. July is always busy for me with lots of family parties and reunions, and I took advantage of every opportunity to bake when I could.

I knew I wanted to do a 4th of July cake, but that there wouldn't be a ton of people home this year to help eat it so I started looking at ideas for smaller cakes that don't feed an army. It was my niece who came up with the eventual design ideas, including the fun surprise inside.
We decided to make the cake three layers tall and six inches deep, which I figured should make the cake about eight inches tall. Em wanted to color the batter, so we did vanilla cake and mixed each pan in a shade or red, white or blue.

After they baked and chilled, I stacked them with vanilla butter cream between the layers. Next I marked lines around the cake with a tooth pick so I would have nice, even layers. I Just touched my toothpick to it and turned the turntable.

My niece baked star-shaped sugar cookies, and I melted some white chocolate chips and dipped them in it to make them really white. I have some craft wire I purchased for cakes, but couldn't find it, so I ended up using toothpicks to stick them out of the cake. If we'd thought far enough ahead, I could have done the stars out of fondant or gum paste instead, but I didn't want to take the time.

The red and white stripes were made with a medium star tip. Unfortunately for us, everyone saw this and thought Cat in the Hat instead of firecracker. =) It would be easy enough to put the cake on a foil-wrapped and frosting-coated cake circle to make it look like Cat in the Hat, if that was your intention.
And here it is with a big slice out of it so you can see all the layers. It turned out really yummy!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Making cakes to fit the theme

A few weeks ago my critique group decided to have a dinner celebration in conjunction with our weekly meeting and I offered to make something cakish (as I almost always do when the opportunity arises). Since my friend Tristi had recently released her book Secret Sisters, and I hadn't been able to make anything for the actual launch party, I themed my cake around her book.

This was the first time I had made a ganache instead of using buttercream frosting, so it was a learning process for me on how it handles. I was really pleased with my ability to smooth and adjust the ganache to get straight edges. I was also thrilled because this is the first cake I've ever covered with fondant and had no troubels at all with the fondant buckling at the bottom instead of creating a smooth surface. I didn't have to do a border because the bottom looked perfect (and now I'm sure I'll never be so lucky again!)

Okay, so an explanation of the cake: I couldn't find a single theme in the book that I dared attempt on my tight schedule (for a carved or shaped cake), so I just picked the most obvious ones for decoration instead. In the above picture you see the can of baby formula, and a hand-knit sock in garish colors.

The top of the cake has the card the visiting teachers hand out with their names and addresses, along with the cute little flower magnet it was attached to (the flower in the book hid a camera--because these sisters are sneaky!) Oh, and a black sports car played a significant role in the book. I know, it probably should have been a two-door. I realized that after it was all finished and on the cake.

And this is the front of the cake with the name of her book piped in the font they used on her book cover-or a pretty close facsimile (she recognized it was supposed to be the font, so that's a good thing, right?). I had never used food writing markers before--they're totally food safe but I didn't have time to experiment writing on fondant with them for the baby formula can and card on the top.

Next time I'll practice a bit before trying it on the cake decorations. It was a fun cake to make, and the ganache made it absolutely fabulous tasting (as if a chocolate cake needed any help!).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peach cobbler for the Dutch oven

Every summer when we go camping with my parents my dad breaks out his Dutch oven for some cobbler--which has to be my favorite summer treat. It all starts with a cake mix, so it belongs here, right? We usually do peach, but cherry is also a favorite in our clan (especially with chocolate cake), and a can of cherry pie filling plus a can of chunk pineapple is supper yummy. Here's the basic recipe:

1 large can of peaches (or other fruit if you prefer).
1 white or yellow cake mix
1 stick of butter
1/4-1/3 cup of cinnamon sugar
1-12 oz can of lemon-lime soda

My dad has a gas stove made for camping that he cooks his Dutch oven dishes on, which is way simpler than using coals, but if you want to use coals, here's a recipe with cooking directions, which I imagine would be about the same, though my recipe is way simpler!)

First, line the dutch oven with tin foil for easy cleanup later. Dump the fruit in the bottom of the Dutch oven and spread it evenly across the bottom Sprinkle on the cake mix as evenly as you can, then sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar until it looks like there's enough for your taste. Chop the stick of butter into pats and scatter them across the top of everything so it covers the top reasonably well. Finally, pour the can of soda on the dish and cover. Bake for 1 hour.

I imagine you could get similar results in a Dutch oven put in your oven at 350 degrees for an hour (along with getting the awesome flavor that comes from Dutch ovening.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How to make a teapot cake

One of the fun things about cake decorating is that there is no limit to the kinds of things you can do. Case in point, this teapot cake my sister and I made for my mom's birthday last fall. I had done spherical cakes before--okay, one spherical cake--but nothing quite like this, and I was excited to tackle the project. My sister has more experience with cake decorating in general, but had never done a cake like this before, so it was a new and fun experience for both of us.

First we baked the cakes. My sister has the soccer ball pan, which is a half sphere so she baked the top and bottom pieces. Then as she packed them to bring to my house the day before we decorated, she realized they didn't make a full circle when you put them together. I baked a nine-inch circle for the middle the next morning before she arrived.

While my cake finished cooling, we cut out the fondant flowers for the decorations, and she formed the handle and spout around some wire. It would have been better if we'd made the handle and spout a few days earlier out of gum paste, but I was insanely busy that week, so I didn't get it done like I'd planned. Remember if you make colored decorations out of gum paste or fondant with the plan to dry them that you need to put in quite a bit more color than you expect because they fade as they dry. We used the daisy cut outs for these flowers, and just put a ball of yellow fondant in the centers.

Then we filled the layers and frosted the ball. Before we started the crumb coating, I trimmed a bit off of one of the circles so it would sit flat on the plate and not roll too easily. We also trimmed the sides to they would seams between the layers would be smoother.

We added a 9" round of cardboard between the second and third layers and put dowels inside the cake to support it so the top layers wouldn't be too heavy and squish the bottom one. As always, you have to try to make the frosting as smooth as you can before adding the fondant because it shows ripples under the surface, but don't kill yourself over it, since tiny differences in height will smooth out as you play with the fondant.

We rolled the fondant just a bit thinner on the edges, then carefully lifted the layer of fondant and worked it in the middle to stretch it. This might take a little practice to get it to work right without leaving thin spots where your knuckles pressed against the fondant. Make sure it looks as good as possible before putting it on the cake--once you get the buttercream on the fondant it becomes a mess to start over.

We pressed an indentation into the cake at the level where the lid should go. In retrospect, we should have carved a lid into the cake before we frosted it--something to remember for the future. Then we used buttercream to decorate the teapot. We used tip 804 for the dots with the large pastry coupler and just put the dots on randomly. We used them to cover up some of the minor irregularities in the cake, an added advantage.

We touched our impeccable clean fingertips to powdered sugar and pressed it onto the dots to flatten them out.

Then we used a clean paint brush (like the type you buy for kids to water color with. I have a set that is used ONLY for cake decorating) to spread a bit of water on the back of the flowers so they would stick to the cake. Fondant sticks to fondant really well with just a touch of dampness. The bigger flowers didn't stick to the bottom half of the cake very well because of gravity, but the smaller ones did all right.

Here's the finished product with the handle and spout installed. We used multiple pieces of wire to stick them into the cake, but they were still quite heavy, so in the future I'd use a thinner spout--and again, I'd do it ahead and let it dry so I wouldn't have to worry about the wire cutting through the fondant or gum paste as I put it together.

We just used a basic dot to finish off the bottom. If I had it to do again, I would use a lot more flowers and various kinds along the base to hide the places where the fondant didn't smooth together perfectly at the base. It's hard enough getting a smooth finish on a round cake without adding the fact that a spherical one actually gets smaller at the bottom. Still, we were pretty happy with the end result.

Monday, May 24, 2010

How to make fondant flowers

Last summer I made this cake for a friend's bridal shower and took pictures to show how I did it. I used my marshmallow fondant recipe, but you can use prepackaged fondant if you prefer and simply tint it whatever color you like.

Since I was working on a deadline and didn't have the usual petal and leaf cutout set made especially for these types of projects (because it wasn't handy in my town), I had to improvise and used the flower cut-outs.

Always remember that fondant dries out, so only work with a small bit at a time, and keep the rest wrapped up tight in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out too quickly. I rolled out enough to cut six to eight pieces at a time. Also, since I don't have a fondant rolling mat (they can be nice, but really aren't necessary) I used corn starch on the counter and rolling pin to keep the fondant from sticking. This was before I started using shortening on the counter instead--which is really better for me since the corn starch dried out the fondant too much.

I used the large cutout from the set and for the first row of petals cut out every-other petal.

This picture is really bad, but you can see I ran the toothpick through the cut piece, then wrapped it around the tip. Once I had the shape I wanted on the top petals, I pinched off the base part so the second set of petals would be even or nearly even with the inner row.

This is the second row of petals. I cut out one petal from the shape and added cut lines between the petals so they could overlap each other. When I slid it onto the toothpick, I also used a clean paintbrush from a kids' watercolor set that I bought just for fondant. I brushed a thin layer of water over the petals where they would overlap. Fondant will stick to itself easily with a touch of water. Be careful, though, not to let water drip on any parts that are going to be seen on the outside as water will leave marks behind on the surface.

For the third row I didn't cut any petals out, but still split the space between the petals. Then I took a toothpick and separated the petals and curved them back slightly to give them a little more realistic look. This really works best if you use thin pieces of fondant. These were rolled to 1/8 inch or thinner, but there may be some times when slightly thicker pieces will work fine.
I also made over 150 little flowers with the tiniest cutout in the set. Then I used the end of a chopstick (the fondant shaping foam and confectionery tools would have been much easier) and my finger to create a curve in the middle of the flowers.

If you're going to have roses, you obviously need leaves! Again, there were no cutters for leaves in stock, so I used the edge of a glass to cut each edge. If I had to do it again, I would have used a round cookie cutter because the glass didn't leave a crisp edge and they had to be trimmed with a knife to clean them up.

Next I used a toothpick to draw lines on the leaves.

Then I set everything out to dry since I made them several days in advance of the cake. Be aware that some colors fade a lot when the fondant dries. The pink faded to way less than half the original brilliancy as it dried, while the leaves only lightened a little bit.

A few days later I baked the cake, frosted it (crumb layer, then an outer layer), and rolled the purple fondant. Once that was ready, I used the toothpicks on the roses to stick the roses in the cake where I wanted them. If needed, they could have been cut off or trimmed back, but they were handy to create the design I was looking for.

The first of the small flowers were attached to the bottom of the cake with buttercream icing.

Then I used yellow buttercream to put dots in the flowers and the roses.

With a little extra playing, I finished up with the little flowers, tacking them and the leaves onto the cake with more buttercream. The green stems on the roses are also buttercream piped on with a small round tip, probably a #7. A slightly smaller circle tip, like a #4 made the dots in the flowers.

This cake was made using 2-8" round pans and it fit perfectly in one of these boxes. It was a hit!