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.