The only caterpillar I like

I can’t believe it’s March 2012. Where does time go? I had disappeared for a while, but am sneakily trying to weasel my way back on to your web browsers and readers somehow.

In January, Bri and I baked a cake for Grant, who was to turn 1! What else is cuter than the very hungry caterpillar to celebrate such a milestone?

Remember this guy? Such a classic 🙂

We did a combination of cupcakes and a round 6″ cake for the head. Flavor? Chocolate, of course, with buttercream frosting. Classic combination for a classic character. Like that alliteration? It’s late, pardon the ramblings.

You know the drill! Pouring batter…

Skip a few steps and here we have the head laid out and the body, made of cupcakes and green buttercream, piped on with a large star tip.

Here I learned that red food gel is very potent, and to be patient as it will definitely get “redder” over time. Mr. Caterpillar’s head became a very rich red as I impatiently kept adding more gel!

The eyes were starburst gummy chews (medallion shaped), with black pupils expertly hand painted on by Miss Bri and an edible paint marker.

Alas! Final product. The antlers were cut up chocolate bars, and the nose was a brown Reese’s pieces. Simple yet effective? On a bed of aluminum foil in a gift box for easy transport 🙂

Perhaps someday I will tackle the butterfly… oops hope I didn’t ruin the story for anyone!! Happy Birthday Grant!!!

Advertisements

Umm. I hate to tell you this but…

“…your cake is off-center.”

That would have been a dagger to my cake-centered heart of hearts, had it not been for the fact that it was an intentionally topsy turvy cake.  You know what I’m talking about.

But for those unfamiliar with the variety within the cake-world, yeah, it could be a little weird. Like, seeing the leaning tower of Pisa for the first time and wondering why everyone’s all gung-ho about some structure that’s obviously got some architectural flaws in it.

Anyways, this was a birthday cake for Miss Megan, who has always wanted a topsy turvy, “mad hatter” cake. The team brainstormed and decided to play on her girliest traits- pink, glitter, pretty shiny things, etc. The more over the top, the better 🙂 Megan isn’t a girly girl on the outside, but it’s surprising how much little ballerina tutus, my little pony, and the current issue of the American Girl catalog can brighten her day.

Grab your tiara, jump on the fairy train and buckle up, we’re off to pretty pretty princess land!

First things first… the color of the cake! This is the melted marshmallow base that I’ll knead into fondant. I tinted it PINK!

Next, determining the flavors. Strawberry shortcake for the biggest layer- fresh and sweet! White cake, swiss buttercream, and fresh berries.

Add layer 2, and fill in with buttercream. To be honest, the topsy turvy wasn’t as hard to achieve as I thought, thanks to my uneven oven!

The next two tiers were made from a round 6″ and 4″ pan. Not strawberry, but chocolate fudge cake with a nice chocolate ganache.

This is how I contoured the 2nd tier to have a very uneven top.

Apply the buttercream and toss it in the freezer- a trick that helps me ensure the layers are smooth and firm prior to fondant.

I skipped a few steps (i.e. covering each tier with fondant) but that’s tedious. Here’s the exciting part: building! I cheated, that’s not a dowel, just a really long lollipop stick.


All Stacked up! Topsy turvy indeed!

Time to decorate. Little white fondant spheres lined the transition point between the layers, along with some silver dragee’s for a little bling. Here we started on some daisy cutouts.

Skip ahead an hour- yep, only an hour, as we had 5 pairs of hands working diligently on cutting out shapes, “gluing” with piping gel, applying glitter, and assembling the details.

The bottom layer has polka dots of various sizes, some adorned with tiny hearts, other with blue or purple glittery princess gel frosting. The middle of course is all daisies of various sizes and colors, each with a silver dragee center. The top, however, was personalized to appeal to Meg’s love for sports. Yes, she’s a girly girl through and through, but don’t you dare get in between her and her sports teams, events, or games. As unique as the cake, Meg can pull off both :). This is the girl who’s favorite color is pink, but will keep cable just for ESPN.

Another view- the giant glittery “M” with silver rockstar dragees along the edges. (That’s edible glitter too!) At the top, there’s a hand-drawn Penn State logo (edible markers on white fondant) and a Penn State jersey. Guess who she roots for?

After dinner, we disassembled the cake for some eating. We joked that she should keep this top layer for next year- freeze it like they do the top layer of wedding cakes. Here’s my shameless plot to get you to check back on this blog next year to see if she’s really done it. 🙂 Oh, the suspense!

Nomnom, here’s to another year, some rich chocolate cake, and a terrific birthday Megs!

Curious George and the Man in the Cheddar Hat

This, ladies and gents, is going to be a lonnng post. After being shown up with Lauren’s fabulous photos, and some feedback that process photos are just as good as the final product, I’m making a grandiose attempt to document this cake.

Bri’s birthday was this Monday, so of course, she being my partner in cake crime for quite a few endeavors, I couldn’t let her down! I wracked my brains for quite a while before deciding on a design, as the title of this post suggests. Besides her great love of home appliances (and I wasn’t about to mold a giant Kitchenaid stand mixer out of cake, that’s just too much irony for me), I settled on the cute, loveable Curious George. Watching this perky little monkey movie was quite possibly the only time I had ever heard her gush about anything- she’s not a gusher- and by “gush,” I mean, “Oh, he’s so cute.”

Okay, enough, let’s get on with the show or this will be like reading War n’ Peace.

The “vision” was to do a Curious George hiding under the Yellow (Cheddar, will explain later) hat on a mini-cake, surrounded by a few accent cupcakes.

I started with the hat, made of two cupcakes- a regular size and a Texas size:

I then flipped them both upside down……Frosted and assembled them like a mini cake….. and covered it in the Cheddar fondant. 

  See the ominous cheddar dot advancing….

    

Boom! Engulfed like macrophage annihilates microbial particles… uhhh nevermind.

Break for the “cheddar” explanation: I was worried about the fondant not being “yellow” enough, and asked Meg for her opinion, as she was my designated taste tester and motivator. She’s pretty easy-going on the details, so she first said, “I’m sure it’s fine.” But when I held it out to her, she goes, “Oh… my…. it is looking a bit cheddar.” That cracked me up, and I decided to keep it. I got lots of cheese comments later at the dinner!

Next up, the 6″ round base:

Did I mention that the flavor was chocolate with Nutella buttercream? Bri loves the nutella, I was just hoping no one was allergic to nuts! nom nom nom….

Here is the making of the brim of the yellow hat. I knew that I’d be happy that I saved the plastic lid to that cheese tub! Perfect diameter and sharp edge resembling a cookie cutter.

Holding the place for Mr. George to tuck his mischievous face!                       

Why Hello George, where has your face gone? (Modeled with fondant, brown and tan)

 

Found it! I cheated at this part, it’s actually permanent marker, but who’s barbaric enough to want to nosh on the monkey head?!

Set atop the cake, he looks pretty content and chillin’.

Ah, but we are not done yet! The fun has just begun…

What are these? What is a monkey who doesn’t like bananas! (Modeled with cheddar fondant and a little brown food coloring streaked and gently kneaded into them)….

And…. cupcakes with some piped nutella buttercream:

Voila! Banana on cupcake?

Let’s not forget the reason for the cake! A little extra fondant, flattened into a banana banner, and pegged with some inedible permanent marker (sorry, laziness began to settle in at this point).

         

Phew! Put it all together and….. Ta Da!

Happy Birthday Bri!!!!!!

 

Nom nom nom nom….

55 cupcakes and counting…

I started this post in July… when I had baked 55 cupcakes in one night for a few events the next day (two job anniversaries at work, a birthday, a going-away)… but realized that I bake cupcakes pretty often and never blog about them because they aren’t cool enough or cute enough. So this has turned into my tribute to all those prosaic cupcakes that are lost to the depths of the stomachs of the people around me.

Another commemorative event is that I used up 250 cupcake wrappers as of last Friday. May not seem like a lot to those who watch “Cupcake Wars” on the Food Network, where they have to make 1000 in 2 hours, but for me? That’s a ton.

Let’s begin!

These are part of the 55 made for my dept at work. “30” for a 30 year anniversary at the company. “See you down the hall” for someone who was transitioning to another job, but right down the hall. . . Green and white, just because. They were all chocolate cupcakes and vanilla buttercream frosting.

Same goes for this photo below. 2 year anniversary and a “good luck!” for “see ya buddy, you’ll be missed,” job promotion. Thanks to Lala for helping with her impeccable piping skillz!

Next up? Decadent chocolate cupcakes with a rich chocolate ganache, dusted with a little cocoa powder and finished with a side of fresh strawberries. This was for a girl’s night, complete with puzzles and movies.

Below are some lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting. I tried to jazz up such a simple cake/frosting combo by piping different designs on them. I really like the flowery look, very wedding-esque. These were for a potluck though.

To continue with the lemon theme, I helped Bri bake her friend some Lemon cupcakes with strawberry puree filling and cream cheese frosting. See below for 1. the full cupcake and 2. the innards.

The cupcakes below are chocolate cupcakes, filled with a chocolate-raspberry ganache, and topped with vanilla buttercream and berries. Although I liked the fudginess of these chocolate cupcakes, I still prefer the ones above, as they are moist and lighter.

Ah, these little green guys are from way way way way back in the day. I just never posted them. They are green tea cupcakes, made for a “desert dessert” party. I basically took a white cake recipe and added tons of green tea powder (matcha) into the batter and the vanilla frosting. I like the color, though I’d have to say the flavor was a bit underwhelming. Texture too. Meh, maybe better luck next time.

Oh dears, I am expiring. Enough cupcakery for tonight.

Let it snow, let it snow, let’s go Cubs….?

Operation Wedding has come to a close (at least for now)… The original wedding cake that I had known about since the creation of this blog is now complete. It was one crazy, jam-packed, freezing weekend in Chicago, but amazing and completely worth it, and an experience I’ll never forget!

Being entirely too ambitious and optimistic, I had thought we’d finish baking and decorating on Thursday. However….

Here was the actual oh-so-meticulous cake schedule:

  • Thursday: Bake Cakes at Bride’s House
  • Friday: Decorate
  • Saturday: Finishing touches (before the ceremony!)

Of course, I hadn’t taken into account transporting, actual appliances available, and the Hyatt kitchen staff hours, more to come on that in a bit.

So, Thursday morning, we woke up to a fresh layer of snow and treacherous roads. Our champion and groom, Chris, drove out to the Hyatt where we were staying (and also where the reception was planned for) to pick us up and bring us to Karen’s Mum’s house to bake. Once there, we set to work. “We” being myself, Amy and Caroline, two amazing cake ladies who know how to gitt’er done!

Anyways, the plan was for the bottom tier of a three tier wedding cake (14″ diameter and two layers plus buttercream filling), and a Cubs baseball and some sort of base. Amy was a mastermind at this, because she brought this nifty sphere pan for the baseball, and we were literally improvising with whatever we could find at Karen’s. The original plan for the giant Cubs cupcake didn’t come to fruition.

Here goes!

The two hemispheres (chocolate) and the 14″ layer with baking core.

Blurb on the “baking core”- the hole in the middle of the 14″ circle: When a pan is 10″ or larger in diameter, a baking core is recommended to help even baking, so you don’t have burnt edges and an undercooked middle. It’s basically a piece of cone shaped metal that sits in the middle of the pan, drawing heat towards the middle so it radiates evenly along the pan. You fill it with some batter, so whatever hole it leaves, you just pop out the piece and fill it in! No one can tell in a frosted cake.

Back to the kitchen… I tripled my normal buttercream recipe below: 9 egg whites, 1.5 c. sugar, 0.75 c. corn syrup, and… dun dun dunnnn… 7.5 sticks of butter :), unsalted. I think I gave Caroline a heart attack when she saw me cuttin’ those puppies up. But realistically, it feeds 75+ people. Do the math, it’s not that bad for you!

Next… a packing job my dad would be proud of! To transport these guys back to the hotel where we’d be doing the decorating, we used tons of saran wrap, just like on Food Network :). And also how my dad packs his products to be shipped. We had an elaborate discussion on packaging before I left home for Chicago. . . so here’s my tribute to it!

2 Square cakes for the groom’s cake base:

The 14″ tier (only one layer):

Now, the coolest experience ever- being in a commercial sized kitchen with enough decorating space for everything! Loved it, it was awesome, thank you Hyatt at McDonald’s campus!

Next: Prepping the cake- buttercream frosting, etc.

Two new things learned: how to cover squares and spheres with fondant. I’m excited as this will greatly expand the cake possibility spectrum! All parts covered:

The green square in the back was by far my favorite 🙂

I’m now skipping to the final product… I lacked some in-between detail photos. . .These were the two cake toppers I had made before arriving… I originally made the one on the right first, but revised to match the winter snowman theme preferred. So the one on the left was the winner!

Finally, the Cakes! Grooms on the left, Bride’s on the right.

Details:

Chris wanted a Cubs logo, that was pretty much his only criteria. So, we tweaked it and piped “Chris” to personalize it. The girls did a wonderful job coloring the fondant to reach “Cubs” blue. My contribution was the red “C” and the letter piping. We made a great team with all of our skill sets!

Amy’s meticulous piping on the top of the cake made for a great baseball diamond 🙂 And Caroline’s arms contributed to coloring the fondant that bright and cheery “Wicked” green.It took all 3 of us to cover that sphere in fondant though.

The Bride’s cake was definitely a bit easier. I used white royal icing to pipe the triple dot pattern on the top layer and the single dot pattern on the bottom layer. The middle was just the quilted pattern with silver dragees.

Lastly, the hotel cut and plated it, so it looked like a real dessert!

Phew. I’m so happy how it turned out, and Chris and Karen were just absolutely the most gracious couple ever. What I love about them is that the entire time they were so thankful , encouraging, and supportive as if this was more about me and my cake endeavor than about their wedding. They are just so sweet, and I know they’ll have a wonderful life together! Congratulations to Chris and Karen, I love you both! 🙂

Back to basics…

Chugging along on this cake project… and making the most of motivation while it lasts! Today I returned to the cake itself, minus the fancy decorations- the vanilla base, simple syrup, and buttercream, while working on a little side experiment (groom’s cake stuff). So here was my to-do list:

  • Taste test the from-scratch wedding cake
  • Make a batch of buttercream
  • Make simple syrup
  • Dye white chocolate chips blue (for Groom’s cake)
  • Outline plan for the Groom’s cake

I completed the first four, still working on the last one. I made a small two-layer 6″ diameter test cake from a recipe found in a wedding book, and was disappointed by the lack of aroma while baking, plus the dry-look of it as it came out. So I left it wrapped in the fridge… but was pushed to shed my defeatist attitude and just taste test it. To my surprise, it was pretty tasty, although a bit on the dry-crumbly side.

PB111185

Anyways, I followed the next steps in prepping to get some practice in, knowing that this may very well have to be done to a cake more than twice the diameter of this one!

Next- Leveling and trimming the cake:

PB111189

Since it was relatively dry, I added the moistening syrup as recommended in the cake book… then brought on the buttercream. Here are some photos that I took during the process, since I’m always referring to this buttercream-meringue process all the time.

Interlude: the buttercream…

PB111198

Part 1: 3 egg whites, 2.5 sticks softened butter, and a stand mixer

PB111194

Part 2: 1/4 c. Light Corn Syrup, 1/2 C. white sugar, and a pot on the stove

PB111197

Combine corn syrup and sugar in pot…

PB111203

Heat until you see bubbles break the surface…

Meanwhile…. Beat your egg whites until white and frothy… and slowly add the hot sugar mixture a little at a time into egg whites while the mixer is on… it should start looking opaque….

PB111204

Run your mixer until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Then cube up the 2.5 sticks of butter and add a tablespoon at a time. Voila! Buttercream to die for.

…Sad, I’ve memorized the recipe.

Back to cake…

PB111209

Layer one… crumb layer and then filling to follow…

PB111213

Second layer added…

PB111214

And done… back to the fridge to chill. Tomorrow we shall fondant… take 2. Whew. Enough for a Wed. night!

A big bite!

More birthdays! After the September lull, we are back in business. Two weeks ago we celebrated Ryen’s birthday with a ginormous burger cake. Having basically 2-3 hours to bake the entire thing, we quickly threw together the buns (cake), burger patty (giant soft double chocolate chip cookie), and lettuce, ketchup, and sesame seeds (butter cream frosting).

burger_complete

I learned that buttercream doesn’t really dye well with normal water-based foodcoloring, hence the light tints. Oh well 🙂

A baking success? The cookie was evenly cooked through. For a 9″ diameter, this was a feat. I was afraid the sides would cook faster than the middle, so shaped the raw cookie dough as such:

big cookie bake

Don’t know if you can really tell in the photo, but basically I built up the sides and made the middle into an indentation, so that the entire thing would cook evenly. Simple solutions, I like!

Here’s after we dug in- quite the layerage:

cut_cake

Next time I’ll plan ahead for fries!