Monday, September 27, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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!
Monday, May 17, 2010
3 lbs finely chopped, semi-sweet chocolate
3-1/2 C heavy whipping cream
Slowly bring the whipping cream to a boil, then pour into a bowl containing your chocolate and stir until smooth. The cake needs to chill for a couple of hours after you put the ganache on it so it can set up nice and hard before you start putting on fondant. A warm spatula will help smooth out the rough edges. If you like a thicker ganache, use more chocolate, if you like yours thinner, use less. This makes enough for 2-8" round double-layer cakes, but it keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge, so if you have another cake coming up, put it in an air-tight container and refrigerate. It will stay good on the counter in an air-tight container for 3 days.
I used semi-sweet chips, which worked beautifully on my chocolate cake but chips don't melt as well as finely chopped blocks of chocolate (because of size, not melt-ability), so be aware of that. I know my sister says she uses blocks of chocolate and usually uses at least half unsweetened. The beauty of this recipe is that you could use just about any flavor of chips you'd like, or use white chocolate and candy flavoring to complement the cake flavor.
When I used this ganache for the first time, I actually torted both of my 8" circles, so there was ganache between each 1" layer of cake--which is a lot, so you could easily skip the torting all together. Also, I had frozen my cakes before putting the ganache on them, which helped the ganache to solidify much quicker so I could layer a little extra where the sides weren't exactly straight. You'll want to get the surface as perfect as possible before refrigerating because fondant shows every little bump beneath the surface, and only so much fixing can be done with the warm spatula later.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Peanut Butter Bars
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
1-10.5 oz bag of marshmallows (mini is easiest because they melt faster, but you can use large if that's all you have),
2 lbs of powdered sugar,
1 Tbsp of water
1 tsp vanilla (clear is best if you have it unless you're going to color the fondant dark)
I've tried greasing the bowl with a bit of shortening, but that only seems to help for a few minutes, so I've stopped doing it. Make sure you use a microwave-safe bowl, big enough to mix in--a couple of quarts is minimum in my book. You can also do this on a stove top, if you don't have anything microwave safe, but it's easiest in the microwave.
Dump the bag of marshmallows in the bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir the marshmallows with a large spoon. Microwave an additional twenty seconds at a time if you need to until everything is melted. Add the vanilla and water and give it a little stir so it's somewhat incorporated, then add a few cups of the powdered sugar. This is not rocket science--my sister adds all of the two lbs except a cup or so. I prefer mine a little less stiff, so I use less sugar. The important thing is to get it to a consistency that you can work with--not quite as stiff as playdough. You may want to sift your powdered sugar before you add it since it can have little clumps in it right out of the bag, which you then have to knead smooth or pick out.
Before all of the powdered sugar is mixed in, I usually scrub my hands well, grease them up with some shortening, and hand knead in the sugar until it comes to a consistency that I like--still just a little sticky (it is a sugar product, after all), but it forms a smooth ball. I generally knead the fondant a little longer on the counter--which has been scrubbed and greased down with shortening as well. Some people prefer to use more powdered sugar on the counter or corn starch instead of shortening, but I find that makes the fondant even stiffer and if I'm going to be cutting designs for the cake it can become too stiff to work with after a while. Below is my finished ball of fondant.
*Just a note: if the fondant is too sticky, you can always add more powdered sugar. If it gets too stiff and starts to crack along the curves as you knead it, you can melt and knead in extra marshmallows to soften it up.
Next, if you're going to color the fondant it's best to use gel colors. The liquid kind will thin your fondant out and make it sticky again. If all you have is the liquid kind, AND you plan to color the whole batch the same color, add it before you add the powdered sugar, but be aware that it'll take more than you think! I've found I use a lot more color gel with fondant than I do with frosting, so consider that when you're choosing colors. I did black once and I added a TON of the coloring, and it never did get fully black, but I decided dark charcoal was close enough and went with it. Below is a picture with the gel coloring streaked on it. Sorry about the fuzzy picture.
And the next picture is with the green nearly worked into the lump of fondant. Sometimes it's fun to just roll it out streaky like this and use it, but I did continue to work the fondant until I got the color to go through evenly and it made great leaves.
A couple more notes: If you're looking for really bright, vivid colors you may want to consider buying fondant pre-made, especially if it's just going to be a decoration. Black, red, and hot pink, and hot green, and other truly vivid colors are hard to achieve at home, and I know Wilton makes some fondant prepackaged with different colors. I've never needed anything that vivid, so I've been really happy with homemade. You do need to plan a little extra time if you're going to color much of the fondant because kneading in the color can take a while depending on the shade you're trying for and how big the lump is.
I recommend making and coloring the fondant a few days before you do the cake since it stays good for a couple of months if wrapped tightly and refrigerated. I wrap mine in plastic wrap, then put it in a ziplock with the other individually wrapped colors.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Then after I colored my fondant, I rolled it out and covered the cake. I had to do a bit of trimming--I rolled it large enough to have it hang down all the way around so I could trim as needed. I love this cake design because the fondant naturally wants to hang in waves, just like a tablecloth would, so it was super easy!
Next, I set this aside and rolled out a chunk of white fondant. I used a dinner plate to cut a perfect circle big enough for fondant that size to hang down the sides of the cake an inch or two. then I used a toothpick to mark the edges of the circle so the circumfrence was divided into fourths, then I added two more lines between the quarters so I'd have a dozen semi-even sections. This wasn't perfect--If I had it to do again I would have found some kind of pattern to help me get each of the twelve sections even.
Next I used a paring knife and started making scallops from each of the twelve sections. I didn't get them perfect, and given a chance to do this again, (assuming the sections were all the same size), I'd find a round cookie cutter or edge of glass to leave a light imprint so I could trace it better. The details I piped on later hid most of the ragged edges, though, so it was okay.
Next I used my #8 round tip and poked holes in the fondant to make it look like eyelet lace. You can see the full directions on how to do this here. I put the holes in first because I needed something firm behind the fondant, but I waited until I had the white overlay on the cake before I started piping on the detailing. Oh, I forgot to get pictures of me making the flowers, but I followed the tutorial you'll find here. They were super easy!
Here I'm piping on the details according to the directions on the website above. I used a #2 tip, which is a very small circle. I think next time I'd use the #1 and thin my icing just a bit more to make the lines just a little thinner. I'd also make my scallops a little wider to allow for more space to do the detailing.
And here was the finished product! From beginning to end it took less than three hours and turned out completely cute! My mom said it was too cute to eat--but we sure did enjoy it!
Friday, May 7, 2010
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Preheat over to 350 degrees
1 boxed cake mix, suitable for a 9x13 pan OR 3-1/3 C Basic Cake Mix
3/4 C flour
1/2 C (1 stick) of butter, melted
2 beaten eggs
1 C butter milk (or 1 cup regular milk plus 1 Tbsp vinegar, allowed to sit 5 min. before adding)
1 tsp vanilla
4 tsp lemon flavoring
3 Tbsp poppyseeds
Add all dry ingredients (except poppy seeds) to the bowl and mix, then add butter and mix, then eggs and milk and flavorings a little at a time and mix. Last add the poppy seeds. I baked mine in 2-6" x3" round cake pans and it took about 40 minutes. If you cook it in a 9x13 or 2-8" rounds it'll take a little less time, probably 30-35 minutes. Next time I'm going to add an extra teaspoon of clear butter flavoring to get more of that rich, butter flavor.
Basic Cake Mix (from the Make-a-Mix Cookbook)
This recipe makes about 16 cups, or close to 5 mixes worth. I keep the extra in an old ice cream tub so it's air tight. I've tried using boxed cake mixes in many of my recipes instead of my homemade mix, but I just don't like them as well. I use 3 1/3 cups in any recipe to replace 1 box of cake mix.
8 C flour (not sifted, just scoop it into a large bowl)
6 C white sugar
1/4 C baking powder
1-1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 C shortening (If you use margarine or butter the mix will have to be refrigerated, so shortening is best. If you used butter flavored you won't be able to make a really white cake with this mix, so go with the standard white.).
In a large bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients. Use a pastry blender to cut the shortening into the mix until well mixed. Store in any air-tight container in a cool, dry place. The mix is good for about three months. If you want to just whip up a cake using this basic mix add 1 C milk, 2 eggs and 2-1/2 Tbspn of butter and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. For chocolate cake, add 9 Tbsp of cocoa--this makes an incredibly fudgey, delicious cake.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
On this blog I hope to share all kinds of fun treats (and maybe even some non-sugar-filled fun). While I was blog hopping today, I followed a link to Seven Spoons blog where she gave a recipe for her scrumptious Strawberry Icebox Cake--which isn't actually a cake at all, but a graham cracker, cream and strawberry sauce confection. Doesn't it look yummy?
Her blog page is totally going to go on my links list because she's got lots of great pictures and recipes.
Monday, April 26, 2010
As soon as I find my cake notebook again I'll post my full scratch recipe for you (but if you can find a Make A Mix Cookbook, you should totally pick it up, because the other recipes in there are really great too.)
Honestly, most of my cake recipes are variations of the WASC recipe, or my buttermilk cake recipe that I use for my red velvet cake. You can used boxed mixes for most cakes if you just aren't into scratch cooking, but the WASC cake is firmer than a boxed cake, so it lends itself better to carving. It also fills my two 8" round pans and my 9x13 perfectly instead of leaving me with thinner layers.
I started this with baking the full WASC recipe in my 12x18 pan (I usually half this recipe for an 8" round or 9x13 cake since it is meant for larger cakes, but it fills my sheet cake pan perfectly.) Before I pour batter into a cake pan I always grease and flour it--and if I'm doing one with a smooth bottom (which most of mine are), I put down parchment paper before I flour it, grease the parchment and then flour the whole thing. Theoretically just greasing and flouring should make the cake release just fine, but the parchment just makes it all pop out so cleanly I always use it now.
When the cake had cooled for five minutes I turned it over onto a cookie rack to finish cooling. I removed the parchment and sliced the cake into thirds so I had three pieces that were approximately 6x12. If you're going to cut a cake like this, it's best to chill it for a while. I like to cool the cakes most of the way, cover them, then slide them into the fridge for an hour or more to thoroughly chill before decorating. Generally I bake the cake one day, then decorate the next. If I'm going to do heavy carving, I even like to wrap the cakes tightly with plastic wrap before they fully cool and freeze them for a few hours to overnight. If you wrap them well this actually seals the moisture into the cake, and they carve more cleanly if frozen, or nearly frozen. I know some people have a problem with frozen cakes, but no one whose tasted one of mine would guess it had been frozen, and I never freeze them for more than a few days at a time.
I use the standard butter cream frosting recipe similar to the one listed on the Wilton website:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp of milk
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using. You can get more details and variations from the Wilton website here.
I tend follow the recipe pretty well, but then wing it a bit. If I need a nice white frosting, I use straight shortening and add a teaspoon of butter flavoring and the clear vanilla. if I'm making a colored frosting or chocolate I like to use real butter instead of shortening. Keep in mind that if you use butter it will be softer if you're decorating with the icing and doesn't hold its shape as well. If you're going to be decorating with it, straight shortening can be easier to work with and holds its shape better if it's left out on the warm counter for long periods of time.
I like to use an angled spatula like this one when I fill or cover cakes. For filling cakes you can actually use a butter knife if that's what you have, but the spatulas can be picked up all over the place from anywhere from five dollars on up, and make a nice smooth surface when you're icing the outside of a cake, so it's one of the few tools I recommend everyone have on hand. These spatulas come in several sizes, some with angled blades and some that are strait, all will do the job, but if I had to settle for buying just one, I'd go for the larger size with the angle in the blade.
I started with the bottom layer set on the cake board and then spread on butter cream, then added the second layer. At this point I should have put in some dowels and put a board between the layers because the bottom layer tends to get a little squished if there is too much weight on top, but I forgot, so I added more butter cream, then added the top layer (I promise I'll do a tutorial on filling a cake soon, and I'll be better at photographing the entire process).
After I got all three layers on I trimmed the sides so they were straight because no matter how carefully I try, I'll never cut the layers exactly the same. Then I tipped my bread knife and trimmed the top layer on an angle along the long edges so my lid would look like it had three sides. This is where it's handy to have the cake chilled well since it trims better if it's good and cold. if I'd decided to go with a rounded top I would definitely have frozen it first so I could do more detailed carving, but having the lid angles at about 120 degrees each suited my needs.
Then I finished icing the outside of the cake. Again, having the large spatula here is a big advantage as it allowed me to get the icing flat on each of the sides. Since I was going to cover it all in fondant anyway, I didn't worry about a few crumbs in the frosting, I just focused on getting the sides reasonably smooth. The thing to remember when you're working with fondant is that it will conform to any bumps beneath it, so you need to make sure it's pretty smooth so your final surface will be flat.
I like to make my own marshmallow fondant, but if you're short on time, or don't have time to practice with getting it nice and smooth, you can buy it pre-made from most cake decorating stores--but it won't taste as good! I'll post a basic fondant recipe and information soon.
I covered the cake with the fondant and trimmed it back. Because I knew I was going to cover the corners on the bottom with the silver edging I went ahead and cut the extra away to form a crisp corner, which is far easier than smoothing as one piece and keeping it wrinkle-free.
I used a plain white fondant as the base for this cake. I use gel food coloring for my cakes and frosting, and this was easiest for decorating the cake as well. Last year I bought an inexpensive kids paintbrush set in a rainbow of colors with tips ranging from tiny to half an inch in diameter. Some of the brushes are round and some are flat, but I think I only ponied up a couple of bucks for the set--which I keep with my cake supplies so there's no chance of them being used to other projects.
I used the widest flat brush to wipe some brown food coloring off the lid of the container, and rubbed it into the bottom of a little tea cup. Then I added a few tablespoons of water. I swished at the gel color with the brush until the water was a good color and then just brushed it onto the cake in long strokes that went along the wood grain. I wanted all of the lines to be long so it would look like variations in the grain. When I had covered the whole cake, I took out a smaller rounded brush and just striped the fondant lengthwise some more, creating streaks of different darknesses and widths. I swirled a couple of spots to make knots in the wood.
Then I rolled out the rest of the fondant and cut it into strips for the silver details. Adding a fondant detail onto a fondant cake is really easy. All it takes is a touch of water. I just brushed a bit of water onto the strips and they stuck great to the cake (because sugar tends to get sticky when wet!) When I had added all of the strips I used my #804 decorating tip to cut circles from the remaining fondant on the counter. I applied these with a tiny bit of water as well. You can use a really small cookie cutter, or anything else that makes the right sized circles for this.
I added a bit of black coloring to the brown water and used my wide brush again to cover the stripes and rivets on the cake. Then I pulled out my silver pearl dust, which is totally edible and comes in lots of other fun colors as well. I considered the gold and bronze colors, but thought silver suited my purpose best (and I already had some on hand which is an added bonus).
I used a small flat paint brush to 'paint' the silver on. This takes a little practice to get the hang of how it applies and how to minimize spilling the pearl dust (which comes in a tiny tube and costs about $4 each). Again, it needs to be applied to a damp cake if you want it to stick. Many people will 'paint' the coverage area with vanilla or vodka rather than using water since the water takes a lot longer to dry out (and in more humid areas that can be a real problem). Because I had just painted the strips with the black/brown color, they were still a bit sticky, so I didn't bother re-wetting the areas where I was adding the pearl dust. When I am concerned about the area staying sticky I use vanilla.
With a little ingenuity you can use the same techniques on lots of other projects as well.
**When you make a fondant-covered cake you want to avoid refrigerating it since when it comes back to room temperature water will condense on the surface (just like it does on your soda glass) and leave behind marks on the surface. This means I never fill my fondant cakes with anything that needs refrigeration.
After mulling this over for some time, and considerable encouragement from my friends, I decided to take the plunge and start blogging my cakes. I'll post recipes and directions, and then link to other cake blogs with similar content when I see something fabulous that simply has to be shared. While I may highlight a standard cake now and then that is similar to what you can order at your grocery store bakery, most of the cakes I make tend to be out of the ordinary. I'm going to be honest and show cakes that don't always turn out quite the way I hoped, as well, including what I would have done differently given a chance to do it all again.
The fact is, while much of this takes some practice, if you have a steady hand, a pinch of creativity, and some patience, most of the fun cakes I've made can be duplicated by someone of moderate skill who has the right tools. Often the 'right tools' may be mostly things you have on hand already, so don't start thinking you're going to have to spend huge amounts of money to make your kid's birthday cake.
Where possible, I'll suggest inexpensive tools or things you might have around the house already to make it fit your pocketbook better. Don't get me wrong, cake decorating can be an expensive hobby if you let it, and you'll be thrilled and amazed at the cool things out there that can make your decorating easier, but there are ways to minimize the costs and where possible, I'll mention those. I'll be blogging about my previous projects over the next few weeks, mixed in with whatever new designs I work on, but in the mean time, you can check out my cakes over at my regular blog.