My First Fondant Covered Cake

Before I started molding the houses for the cupcakes I have due, my friend who asked me to make the cupcakes asked if I would have the time to also make a cake for her father. His birthday was the day of her daughters first birthday party, and wanted to make sure he had something for himself. She sent me a few pictures of fondant covered “tooth” cakes. Against my better judgment, I agreed to do the cake.

Constructing the houses took longer than I thought they would, so the day before the party (when everything was due), so I had to put that aside and work on the cake. I didn’t have to leave for the party until 2PM the next day, so technically I could finish the cupcakes in the morning. Right? Sure, why not!

I decided to make a chocolate cake for the tooth cake since it has proven to be the easier cake to work with. So of course, this would mean something would go wrong.

ImageAnd it did! I made two cakes at once, and only one leveled. As you can see, the cake to the left just didn’t rise, and didn’t bake. Each toothpick I took out had batter on it, and it was just so heavy, and dry, I couldn’t even use it. This lead to some panic since I didn’t have enough coco powder or oil to make another cake. I decided to make a vanilla cake and cross my fingers.

ImageEverything looked good with the vanilla cake. The only issue I had was trying to level both the cakes. For some reason that I need to figure out, my stove just doesn’t bake things evenly and I end up with one side lower on my makes. Even leveling it doesn’t solve this problem since I can’t cut it that low without ruining the cake. I used the buttercream frosting (my french vanilla one that I’ve been iffy about for some time now) to even out the cake. It wasn’t perfectly level, but it worked. Plus, I had to carve off the edges anyway.

I was concerned about how to shape the cake, so I painted a tooth shape on the cake with buttercream and cut off the edges with a serrated knife. I think it came out pretty good! Subtle shape, but still a tooth.

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Now for the part I was very worried about… Fondant covering time! I took a large ball of it, probably more than I needed, but I wasn’t quite sure how this all worked.

ImageAnd bam! I got it covered. I had to move quickly, but I got it covered. The edges weren’t as clean as they should be, but it was on! There were some imperfections in the fondant, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. In the future, I need to figure out a way to keep everything dust free. It is amazing how much dust just appears. I washed my hands, even took off my shirt at one point, scrubbed everything around the surface, and still there was dust. I got it all off eventually, but man that was a pain.

ImageAfter cleaning up all the sides, I spent about a half an hour trying to make a bow tie for the tooth. I thought just eyes and a smile would be too simple, and he needed a bit more pizzazz. I never made a bow before, I kept working at it until I had something I could work with. I couldn’t find any of my circle cookie cutters so I had to make due. I used cups, and a knife to make all the eyebrows, eyes, and the mouth to the tooth. I am very happy with how it looked in the end. Simple, but cute!

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Sugar Cookies vs. My Sanity

People like my sugar cookies. Which is awesome. I even tried one once, and I liked it. You can do so much with the icing and cookie cutters. You make make favors, or just have a dessert tray. But holy bananas. They can be such a pain in the neck, I want to throw them out the window constantly. My sister asked me if I could make cookies for a friend of hers that was due to give birth. Since birth dates are a tricky thing, I waited to make these when I heard she went into the hospital. This happened to coincide with a three-day span of downpours and damp weather. I didn’t think anything of it, but it became a problem later.

My sister asked for onesies, baby carriages, and butterfly cookies. The butterflies were to represent a family member of the new mom. I decided to make letters as well, since the babies initials were going to be A.B.C, which was too cute. I cut the cookies before the baby was born, so I also made “S” cookies since the babies name could have began with S. But look at how horrible that S cookie cutter is! Looks more like a snake. I adjusted it after the cookie was cut.

ImageI was concerned with only making this small amount of cookies. You never know what can go wrong!

ImageAfter the cookies were done (and sat for a few hours), I outlined the butterflies in black royal icing. I let these sit overnight. I was concerned if I put light colored icing next to the black too soon, the colors would bleed into one another.

ImageAfter the butterflies were outlined, I made purple, hot pink, and peach colored icing, and got to work on the other cookies. I’ve seen in many pictures, people using a wet/wet technique on royal icing to give a flat polka dot look. I went a little overboard with my dots.

ImageSince the babies name ended up staying A.B.C., I wanted to try and make the letters stick together. It was slightly problematic (and one C broke in the end), but eventually it worked. I had to use a ton of royal icing and patience to get them to stick together. But I think it was worth it for the overall design. For the set that the C broke off of, I just decorated the side, and wrote the babies name on the cookie. The name didn’t come out awesome, but I was having such problems with the icing at this point, I just rolled with it. I used a small dot of purple on some letters to make them more legible.

ImageI had high hopes for the baby carriages. I found this amazing picture I wanted to copy, with a pleated cover to the carriage. I figured it looked easy enough, and according to the instructions, I just had to wait 20 minutes between each piping. What could go wrong?

ImageYeah. A lot. Look how sloppy that is. Sheesh. The icing wasn’t working out well, and everything was just… a slop fest. the picture below shows what my original intention was (I drew on the cookie with edible markers). I ended up trying to color in the top of the cookies which made it even more sloppy.

ImageThey looked really sloppy here, but I hoped they would even out by the morning. Would they? Of course not!

ImageLook how horrible! It looked like I took a leather mat and imprinted the cookies. These were at least almost dry, but looked horrible. So what could I do to fix it? Hide it as best as possible! I bought sanding sugar the other day, so I figured I could cover up the parts that looked sloppy. I used piping gel to paint the wheels and the top of the cookie to hold on the sparkles. After I did that, I added some small sugar pearls around the bottom of the carriage. Even though I wasn’t super happy with how they came out, they looked much less sloppy.

ImageBut here is the big thing. I let the cookies sit out for about 12 hours. When I checked them, they were all still wet/sticky. This has never happened to me before when making cookies with royal icing. I guess it’s hard to tell in the picture below, but they were just not drying. I had to add some extra dots to the purple cookie because when I tested it, it was so tacky it made a mark. You can see the leathery appearance starting on these cookies too. Damn!

ImageI tried to put this in the back of my mind. I figured maybe I made some mistake somewhere along the line, so I decided to go ahead with the butterfly cookies. I used the wet/wet technique again on the butterflies. I would make three lines, then drag a toothpick through the lines to make the design on the butterflies. The butterflies had to be done right. This was the important part of the cookie platter,

ImageI let the cookies sit for another two days, but they still didn’t dry completely. I started frantically looking online to figure out why this happened. Turns out, when the climate is damp (and it rained for three days straight while I iced these cookies), it can make the icing not set, or take on a leathery appearance. Because I had a ton of work to do for the week, and the cookies had to be done in a couple of days, I couldn’t do anything to fix them. The more they dried, the more of a leathery appearance they took on. Below, if you look closely at the purple icing in particular you can see the issues. Apparently they still tasted fine, but I was/am not happy about it. I’m going to have to figure out what to do in case this happens again. Maybe try a glaze icing instead? Who knows!

ImageThey look cute from a distance at least!

Finished and Delivered Cake!

The day before the cake was due to be delivered, I had to go out and buy a new cake pan.  I thought three layers of a 9in square would be sufficient for 25-30 people, but I was told I was wrong. So, a 10in cake pan it was! After getting the pan, I made three layers using the same chocolate cake recipe I practiced with. It is a very firm, and dense cake so it easy to get out of the pans and move it around (I also used a non-stick pan for the first time, lined the pan with parchment paper, and used a Crisco non-stick spray – I wanted to gaurantee nothing stuck in that pan!).

I used the leveler again, and I really think that has been my best purchase so far. The cakes came out mostly level, but after adding icing, I was able to tell which sides had too much, or too little and adjust until it was perfect. I did a basic crumb coat. This really wasn’t necessary since the cake was so intact, no crumbs really formed. I also didn’t really have to do it since this was not s crusting buttercream. I ended up sticking with the frosting recipe I test the day before since I heard rave reviews about it (I would end up regretting this). The icing went on smooth.

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So the cake baking, leveling, and icing went smooth. Too smooth. Things don’t go this well for me. I had that annoying little voice in the back of my head reminding me of this, but I tried to stay positive. This cake was due in 14 hours!

I broke out the fondant squares I made the day before. They were firm, but not too stiff. Most of them still had corn starch on them. I brushed it off with a wet cloth. The cloth was more effective than a brush or my fingers. I also tried steaming the squares over a teapot. I heard this could give a nice shine to the fondant (which is what I wanted). The shine wasn’t permanent, and it faded. Also, if I steamed the square just a second too long, the square would break. So I just stuck to using the wet cloth.

Now. This is when the bad things happened. I don’t have any pictures for this part because my kitchen when into defcon 3 mode. Sheer panic. But it did wake me up! Anyway, if you look at the picture on the left, it started out okay. The squares went on and attached. So I kept at it! I was feeling good! But as I kept going it started to look super sloppy. As you can see in the picture on the right? Slop city.

cakesale6So after looking at the cake for about 5 minutes and debating all my options, after panicking, after wondering how I was going to find a bakery to make this cake for me in the morning… I went into damage control mode.

I took all the squares off. Most of them broke doing this since the icing wasn’t crusted. For a moment, I tried something crazy. I thought if I covered the entire cake in a sheet of fondant, and then put the squares on the cake, it would look awesome! Right? No more white buttercream showing? So I started coloring and rolling a huge amount of fondant. It looked like it would work, but the fondant kept sticking to the counter. No amount of Crisco or corn starch was helping. I really need a non-stick mat for things like this. So that wasted a good half an hour. I settled back down and figured out a new plan.

I took off all the buttercream. I dyed the buttercream a light green, and put a very thin layer back on the cake. I think the white was really problematic because you can see the icing between each square, so if I make it green, it would be better… right? Well this was what I thought. Additionally, the thick icing was a pain because the icing would bunch up between the squares when I pushed he squares into place. So thin, green icing.

After the cake was iced, I did something that I should have done the first time around. I took the square cookie cutters that I used to make the fondant squares, and actually measured out how they would fit on the cake. The sides of the cake would only hold a square and a half, so I had to make sure I cut squares out. Now the biggest problem (if you look at the first completed picture of the cake above) was the very thin line on the edges of the cake that just seemed too small for a square piece. So I had an idea. This is a Minecraft cake, right? Minecraft has grass! Why not make some green grass along all the edges of the cake? That should work! So now I felt more motivated. Maybe it wouldn’t look horrible.

I measured it out, put on all the squares, piped the grass, put on the black “monster” face, brushed off some dried fondant in places…. and it was done (see picture below, left).

After it was finished, I glued some brown ribbon along the cake board edges, then covered it in brown squares. I had to go with a very sturdy cake board since the cake ended up being very heavy. Then I put the “Happy Birthday” right on the cake board. The picture below, right, is the final cake. Some parts look a bit shiny still since I kept making corrections with water.

cakesale7The box for the cake was just a tad short. If would have just messed up the icing. I debated letting it, and just fixing it when I got to the house, but decided against that. I took a wooden dowel, broke it in half, and glued each half on either side of the cake so the top wouldn’t close on it. Then I taped the top of the cake box down as best as I could.

The cake was ready for delivery. I had originally planned on making a small thank you gift with matching rice krispies, but ran out of time. I’m just happy it’s done. The cake did look super sad sitting in my trunk.

cakesale8I heard everyone liked the cake, so I’m hoping it all worked out. I’m such a nosy person, I want to ask 100 questions about how it came out, and what people liked/didn’t like. I have to get used to not be able to do that!

Final thoughts: I’m glad that I was able to deliver a cake I was happy with. I think that I recovered when I thought all was downhill. But, I wasn’t happy with the fondant. It just didn’t shine. In the original picture I based this off of, the squares were shining. I really need to practice with that, and see what I can do about that.

Cake Preparation

For a little bit of background, the person who ordered a cake from me needed it for her twins birthday party. She asked if I could do a Mincecraft cake. Now I have a vague idea about what Minecraft is. I play some video games, but never Minecraft. I know it has to do with building things with boxes. Some people take the game very seriously. I know there is a Mincecraft convention. So I quickly googled “Minecraft Cakes,” and sent her the first easy thing I found. I have no idea who the origional source is. Google images led me to a Pinterest page, and that link just let to a picture of the image. The woman ordering the cake liked this one, so this is what I decided to try and copy. Image

Originally, I considered using royal icing to make all the squares. To date, I have not made decorations with royal icing in advance to decorate a cake with and I was concerned how it would turn out. I also didn’t know how the icing would hold up when it was cut. So I decided to cover the cake in fondant squares. I’ve had some minor practice with fondant. I made a cake for my nieces birthday last year, and had to work with fondant. I went to Restaurant Depot and bought a 15lb tub of it. My only issue is getting the fondant out of it. I literally stabbed it with a knife and ripped it out of tub with my claws. If anyone would have passed by and looked into my kitchen window, they would have been concerned for my mental health.

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Now one of my biggest issues with fondant is rolling it out evenly. I didn’t want to use the paint strips for this one so I started looking for pasta rollers. The attachment for the KitchenAid is $200, so that was completely out of the question. I like that it is motorized, but $200? Nope. So I checked out a few online stores, but the most I found for decent reviews cost about $70. While running some errends, I went into Williams-Sonoma and found one for $60! And then, when I checked out, it was only $30! My indecisiveness paid off! The machine was simple, but looked like it would do the job. It attaches to the side of the counter easily, and the fettuccine/spaghetti attachment could be removed and kept in the box.

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When I was reading up on the pasta makers, many people complained of “dirt” coming out of the machine and onto the pasta, so I grabbed some old fondant I had sitting around and ran it through the machine a dozen times to make sure it was clean. I thought it would be difficult turning the hand crank and pulling the fondant/pasta out of the machine at the same time, but it was very easy.

cakesale3The next step was making all the squares for the cake. I estimated I would need about 40, so I figured making 65 would be safe. I knew I would break some. The best part about making this cake is the squares can be all different colors. I didn’t have to make a huge batch of fondant, or worry about running out and trying to replicate a color. I bought all the Wilton green gel colors, and just went to work. I use brown in some of the colors to get it a deeper shade of green. This was monotonous work. It took about 4 hours to get the fondant out of the box, color it, roll it and cut it. The good part? Because it is so brainless, I could zone out to some TV and not worry about messing it up. The bottom right picture was the letters I needed for the cake board. I bought the small letter cutters that I found at Michaels, but after using them I was not happy with them at all. They are not all the same thickness, and some letters just looked awkward. At this point, it was too late to worry about it, so I just had to swallow my panic and move on.

cakesale4I originally planned on baking the cakes the same night, but I didn’t expect the fondant to take me as long as it did. I put all the fondant covered in a tubberware and decided to let it firm up overnight.

First Cookie Sale!

As as it turns out, my first official sale was a batch of cookies! A teacher at my nieces pre-school tried some of my peep bunny cookies and ordered 20 of them. She asked for 10 of them to be bagged similar to how I made them for the pre-school, and 10 not bagged just to eat or possibly mail.

So I finally used the attachment for the mixer that allows you to add things to the batter as it is mixing. I have no idea what it is called, but you can see it in the picture below. Previously, I would have to unlock and lift the mixer out of the batter, add what I needed, and start back over. With this, it makes adding flour much easier. Some flour does still splatter out, but it’s easy clean up. Even draping a towel over the machine helps prevent that.

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I used the paint sticks again to roll out the cookies, but this time I kept them at the thickness the paint sticks were. The last time I made these, I rolled them out a bit thinner. Turns out, I think the cookies are more successful on the thicker side.

practice6I picked up some mixing bowls to use just for royal icing. Usually I’m using any bowls I can grab to mix it, but that really isn’t the best idea since royal icing really should have its own bowls to make sure absolutely no oil has been in the bowls that could potentially ruin the royal icing. It made things much easier to do it this way. I made the same colors as last time (pastel green, yellow, pink and purple).

practice9Last time I used Wilton’s Black Decorating Icing in a tube to make the dots I needed for the eyes/noses. The icing didn’t set well, and smeared on some of the bags when I put the cookies in. This time, I made some black royal icing and let it dry overnight on the cookie. This seemed much more effective. I think the sprinkles helped the black icing not bleed.

After letting the cookies completely dry, I bagged and boxed them up. Right after I took this picture, I dropped my phone right onto the box of cookies. Breaking three of them. Well, just the icing on the ears. I bought some return address labels that I put my e-mail address on. I think they came out pretty cute!

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My Favorite Peeps!

About a month ago, my sister asked me if I could make something for my niece’s preschool Easter party. I agreed. I didn’t think it would be until, you know, closer to Easter? Unfortunately no. I had a bomb dropped on me that they were due April 9th instead. Fantastic! I had already agreed to make more cupcakes this weekend, so I planned ahead and tried to not have too much to do at the last second.

First thing I did was make the sugar cookie dough on Sunday afternoon. I went with a different cookie recipe and I had more success with it (http://tinyurl.com/pkbsm2g). The picture below shows my impatience. I need to learn to take the butter out and let it get to room temperature. Right now, I just zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds and then stab it with a knife while it mixes. As you can see, butter is wrapped around the mixer. It will not budge from here unless I attack it.

ImageAt first, I didn’t think these cookies were going in a positive direction. As you can see in the picture below, the dough formed into dry, mini balls at the bottom of the bowl.

ImageBut alas! The dough did exactly as the recipe said it would. The dough would “pull away from the sides of the bowl,” and indeed it did! As you can see, the bowl was almost clean. This put me in a better mood.

ImageLast time I made sugar cookies, I was searching for ideas on how to refrigerate the dough better. I remember reading that someone rolled out the dough a bit before hand, individually wrapped the sheets, and refrigerate it like that. I honestly don’t remember where I saw it, but figured I would give it a try. Below, you can see I rolled the dough out in 4 sections, and wrapped them in press-seal wrap. Then I stacked them, and put them all in the fridge.

ImageSo I just realized I somehow deleted the other pictures I took about rolling out the dough. I’m not sure how I even managed this, but guess I did! So, I used two paint sticks (glued together, so four total), and placed them on either side of the dough with parchment paper on top, and some flour on the counter under the dough (the link posted above is where I got the paint stick/parchment idea). I waited until the dough warmed up to almost room temperature. It still broke when I rolled it out, but nothing near as bad as the last time. The scraps also mixed back together very well. Hopefully the cookies go this well in the future!

So the next step was to make royal icing… But then I remembered! I saved royal icing from my tulip flowers. Holy bananas. I was too excited. I didn’t have to fight with the royal icing again. Additionally, I actually used something I saved, verses keeping it for a month than throwing it out. The best part, the colors are the same that I needed to make for the peeps. Fantastico! Below, you can see how I took it out of the fridge. The cling wrap worked amazing. I hand kneaded the icing in the bag to make sure it was well mixed, and the cling wrap didn’t even budge. You can see in the second picture, I could hang the bag in the air and still, nothing moved. In the third picture, you can see that I just cut the bottom of the cling wrap open, and was able to squeeze it directly into the new piping bag. It was super easy, and super clean. I’m considering doing this in the future to make the bags easier to fill.

ImageImageImageSince the icing was on the thin side, I couldn’t just outline and immediately flood the cookies. The icing would start to fall over the sides. So i did a rough outline first, then waited about two minutes then filled them.

ImageAfter filling in the cookies, I waited about 5 minutes, then poured sanding sugar from Wilton generously over each cookie. I waited another five minutes, then dumped off the excess sugar and put them on the rack to dry overnight.

ImageAfter all the cookies were done, I waited a few hours. I then used Wilton’s black decorating icing in a tube with a a #3 tip, and put on the eyes/mouth dots that match the peeps.

ImageImageThe next day, I bagged all the cookies and attached a sign that I found from (http://tinyurl.com/l9rtq66). This is also where I got the cookie idea from. I folded the paper in half (since my sister didn’t want any staples on the cookie bag), punched two holes it in, then weaved ribbon through it and tied the bag shut.

You can see in the picture below, the peep in the front row smeared a little on the bag. This was due to my impatience. I really should have let them dry for a few more hours before I put them in the bag. But overall, I think they came out great!

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Harry Potter Butterbeer Cupcakes

On Friday, I volunteered to donate cookies and cupcakes to a local school Chinese Auction. I figured if I was going, might as well offer to bring something! I found this recipe a few months ago (http://www.amybites.com/?p=623) for Butterbeer Cupcakes. If you’ve read/watched Harry Potter, the name of these cupcakes should sound familiar to you. If you’ve been to Universal Studios in Florida, and found your way over to the Harry Potter section of the park, you may have tried their amazingly awesome Butterbeer. So this recipe was something I’ve been meaning to try. Why not try it at a school function where most people would know what this was?

Everything for the recipe was pretty easy to find. My local supermarket had almost everything I never used before (like the dark brown sugar and butterscotch chips). The only thing I didn’t find was the butter flavoring (which according to the woman who made the recipe, the flavoring was extremely important). I went to Michales and they thankfully had what I was looking for. I should also note that I used real vanilla extract instead of my clear imitation one to make sure all my flavors were spot on.

ImageI (so far) have not tasted a final product of mine. But, I can’t help myself when I’m in the process of baking. I try it all! The mix with just the first few ingredients was just fantastic. I’m pretty sure I could have stopped right here, sat on the couch with a giant spoon and devour it.

ImageThe recipe said it was enough for 18 cupcakes. And wow! I filled exactly 18 cupcakes. I think I would add a little bit less batter in the future and stretch it to 19. This is the first time the result from the recipe I used was spot on. See look below! 18 cupcakes!

ImageI found these great cupcake liners at my supermarket that were foil on the inside, with a paper design on the outside to prevent the color from fading, or any oil leaking from the cupcakes. The only weird thing that happened was two of the cupcakes didn’t finish cooking after the rest were done. I put the two cupcakes below back in for about 4 more minutes.

ImageNext step was the butterscotch ganache. Now, I’m not a big butterscotch person. But this stuff was delicious, and smelled amazing. I took a bag of butterscotch chips with a cup of heavy cream, whisked it together until fully melted. Now it’s hard to tell in the first picture, but when the ganache was still hot/warm, it was pure liquid. Not something I could stuff into a cupcake. I waited until it reached room temperate (by keeping it in a water bath), and it reached a good consistency (second picture). Actually, it was too perfect at a cooler temperature. I couldn’t get the picture into the squeeze bottle! I considered using a piping bag, but the bottle was much easier to control. So I zapped the ganache in the microwave for 20 seconds, and it was more liquidy and easy for me to pour into a bottle. I took the tip of the squeeze bottle, stuffed it into each cupcake and filled them.

ImageAfter stuffing the cupcakes, I made the buttercream (which used some of the ganache), topped the cupcakes, and then used the rest of the ganache in the squeeze bottle as a drizzle.

ImageNow, I can’t keep things simple. After looking at them, I decided no one was going to know what kind of cupcakes these were. I needed to make them stand out. So I decided to make some wands. I saw something on Pinterest a long while back, which said if you used chopsticks, a hot glue gun, beads, and paint, you can make a wand. So I rushed to the store about bought wooden cake dowels since I couldn’t find chopsticks, and a box of different size beads. As you can see in the fist picture, I made different glue marks on the sticks, and attached some beads. It was very easy to do this, and the hot glue dried fast. I used brown acrylic paint on them and let them dry overnight (I stuck them in an egg carton so they would stand up straight as they dried. The entire glue/paint process took about an hour. Very easy to do!

ImageI also printed out two small pictures of the first Harry Potter book, and mini sign that said they were Butterbeer cupcakes. I think presentation is half the battle. These were going on a refershment table, so I wanted to make sure everyone looked at mine first! I also made a little tray up of those tulip cookies from the other day. I used green shredded paper as “grass,” with some plastic Easter eggs to give it a Spring feel.

ImageImageI did actually see anyone eat anything I made. They were all gone by the time I went back to check. I should take this as a good thing, but I didn’t inspect the garbage. Who knows? They could have tossed them out! Someone told me people seemed to like them… But apparently people wanted to eat the wands. I thought it was pretty clear they were wood, but I guess not? If I ever need to make a presentation of them again, I’ll see if I can figure something out with pretzel rods, M&Ms, and melted chocolate.