Sunday, July 28, 2013

Happy Sunday and Congrats to the Happy Wedding Couple who got married Friday night! This cake has a few surprises so I'm really happy to share this one with all of you.

First of all, the colors are "blush" and "dove grey". When I heard the combination I thought "Grey? On a cake!?" and was suddenly reminded of the movie Steel Magnolias where one of the characters says "Grey icing? I wouldn't even know how to make grey icing!". So immediately my mind went to try to find a way to make grey look appetizing. Silver!! It gets the grey idea across with adding a bit of "bling" and glamour to the cake at the same time. So I pitched an idea to the Bride where we use silver instead of flat grey and the blush would go on the top tier as well as in blush pearl candies. Thus steering away from the grey icing and steering towards the simple glamour she was looking to achieve in her cake.

Here is the other secret. The bottom two tiers are not cake. Only the top tier is triple chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream filling. You see her venue, while completely affordable and gorgeous, has an outside vendor rule. If you bring in a cake from another vendor then you need to pay a $3 per slice cutting fee. Yup...$3 PER SLICE! Now do the math really quickly. If you have 100 guests you will end up paying an extra $300 just to cut the cake. Now they know no one will do this. They know that the couple would have to, basically, pay double to have a cake brought in and will choose the venue's dessert over bringing in a cake. So after a whole lot of searching for a solution that allowed the venue not to have to charge the fee and yet allowed the couple their custom cake they figured out this was the best way to go. So the guests get a dessert like a "kitchen cake" which is a sheet cake baked in a pan that only has the top frosted and then is cut into 2x2 inch squares and served, or another confection from the venue, and the couple gets to cut the top tier for their ceremony and has the left overs for a "Honeymoon Cake" to take with them. They still wanted the look of their custom cake but not all the cake of a 3 tier wedding cake. So we went with the bottom two tiers made from food grade Styrofoam that are decorated just like they would be if they were real cake. 

Quickly a word about price. Yes, this version helps save a lot of wasted cake but it doesn't save a LOT of money. Other than the cost for the making of the actual cake there is still the cost of the form as well as all the work that goes into decorating it just like it was real cake. So while the cost of supplies is cut down, the labor is the same. If your goal is to have a bigger cake in order to make a more stunning centerpiece to your wedding but don't actually need that much cake then this is the way to go. If your goal is to get a bigger cake look while not spending the money for a bigger cake then this isn't going to save you much. 

The Bride had seen a similar cake which had similar patterns but wasn't in her colors so I grabbed my sketch pad and set out to create her own unique cake. In order for the silver to stand out on the bottom tier I knew that the "quilting" would have to be raised. So those are tiny "snakes" of rolled fondant that are applied individually, then hand painted with the silver edible "paint" and then topped with a candy pearl at each junction. Another, larger, rope of fondant surrounds the cake and then another row of candy pearls trim that as well. This way we were able to have the grey and pink really be featured in the cake. In answer to the inevitable question...yes, each pearl was placed by hand onto the cake using cake tweezers. By the time I finished all three tiers I knew I'd been crazy to suggest the pink pearls but they look SO pretty!

A wedding cake is constructed over a few days. I start from the bottom up and just stack the tiers as I go. So this bottom tier was finished on Tuesday, the middle tier on Wednesday and the final tier on Thursday for a Friday delivery. A lot of people wonder how the cake stays fresh. They know when they get one from the store that it's barely fresh when they bring it home and once it has a few slices cut from it you might have one day before it hits the trash. But here's a few tips for you. A grocery store cake has been stored in refrigeration for at least one day. That sucks part of the moisture out right there. After baking you can freeze the unfrosted tiers or just chill them before covering with icing but once it's been covered it is only recommended that you keep it in a refrigerator if the filling is perishable. Since most fillings are what we call "shelf stable" or can sit out on the counter without going bad, this is rarely actually needed. Then, once you cut into a cake, you are breaking the seal the icing has created on the cake and are letting in lots of air which will steal what moisture is left inside. With one of my wedding cakes I do freeze it for 12 hours after baking and cooling and then fill it and "crumb coat" it with icing to seal in the moisture as it thaws. I let that settle for 3-12 hours and then I cover it with the final coat of either frosting or fondant. Once the crumb coat goes on, the cake will be fresh for 5 days without cutting into the cake. In my own personal experience it is actually 6 or 7 days but I say 5 to be safe. So a wedding cake that is made 3-4 days ahead will still be completely fresh and yummy on the wedding day.

Of course, in this case, the cake was only 2 days old when it was cut at the wedding. A very very fresh cake! The second tier was the hardest when it came to the pearls because of the band. Now the band is just fondant that was adhered to the cake with a bit of water and then hand painted silver. The pearls attached to the top of the band where just attached to the still wet silver paint creating a sugar to sugar bond that held them in place. Also, the band was thick enough to act like a shelf for the pearls while that bond took place. But there was no shelf for the pearls that are fighting gravity on the bottom of the band. Those went on with some royal icing acting like glue. Royal icing dries hard really, really fast so I was able to pipe a thin line, attach a few pearls and they would stick perfectly. It just takes more time since you have to pipe and then place and pipe and place all the way around the band. Then all I had to do was the trim. I know, I know, but they are so Pretty!

The top tier was the smallest and easiest. I covered the cake with the fondant and then rolled out the fondant for the trim and measured it around the cake. I didn't attach it to the cake at this point. I then colored the pink fondant to match the pearls and cut out 3.25 inch by .5 inch strips of that to put onto the cake. Now, when you are adding stripes to a cake you want them to be very even. So what you do is place one strip on and then figure out what looks like to be the exact opposite side of the cake from the strip. This is where you place the next strip. Then turn the cake so that each strip is now on each side of the cake with blank fondant in the center. Pick the spot that looks like it is center of that blank area and that is where your next strip goes. Now turn the cake around and find center of the other blank side. You should now have four strips that are almost perfectly spaced from each other on your cake. Now your empty spaces should be small enough to eyeball center of each one. You just keep doing this until you have the number and spacing of strips that you want on the cake. I used the rolled fondant trim as a guide so that the strips would be placed right at the roll and not under it where they would make the roll wavy when it was adhered. But it had to be loose while placing the strips so if I needed to move it out of the way I still could before stacking this tier onto the rest of the cake. 

After stacking I did adhere the roll and painted it. Then it was time for the pearls. The four on the top and bottom of each strip were added with royal icing as were the ones I used for the trim. I spent more time doing this step in the process than the covering, the strips and the painting combined. I know, I know, but it's so Pretty!

The final step had to wait until we delivered the cake...the placing of the real roses on top! Now here is a very important tip. Real flowers can not go directly into a cake. I don't care if they are grown organically with no pesticides, they can not be placed right into the cake. When you cut the stem of a flower there is a liquid that will leak out...into your cake. Not only does this make your cake taste weird but not all flowers are safe for humans so you could actually be poisoning your cake! The best way to add fresh flowers to your cake is to either use a cake form, which holds the flowers and thus they don't ever touch your cake, or flower "spikes" which hold your flowers individually. The problem with the spikes is that they are quite large and make a big hole in the cake. There is a third option which is the one I pick over the spikes. Cling wrap. Actually I use Press and Seal which sticks to itself better and is a bit thicker so I know the stem won't break the wrap when I stick it into the cake. Before arrival I contact the florist and set up a meeting time so I can get flowers from her to place in the cake. So all I had to do when we arrived was get the roses, snip them, wrap them and place them into the top of the cake. Beautiful!

The Groom was in the building when we delivered the cake and he loved it! We don't get to see the Bride or Groom usually unless we are also attending the wedding so it was great to get the response to the cake as well as be able to tell him Congratulations in person. So mission accomplished! 

Tomorrow I will feature the actual event site so you can see how a Pink and Grey color palette can make a very beautiful wedding day on our Cherry Party Blog! And, as always, you can get daily tips and tricks on our Facebook Fan Site. Hope to see you there!

Next week brings another wedding I get to share with you all! See you then!


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Happy Sunday! This week brings a little Indian themed Birthday Cake. While not complicated to decorate it was anything but easy to do. A lot of people think that this type of cake requires a huge event and budget in order to warrant the effort. For me this is a bit of the "save the China for special occasions" type thinking. I don't do that either! LOL! I believe that if someone you love is having a special occasion then they deserve a really special cake. Even if the person having the special occasion is you!

This little 6 inch marble cake with chocolate brownie buttercream filling was easy to bake, easy to fill and easy to cover with the first layer of red fondant. That is where the easy stopped. I added the little trim triangles all the way around the top and bottom edges of the cake using a cutter for accuracy and a little water as glue. And this is where I caught the first hitch. 

Cakes tend to have a definite front and back. The front is the part of the cake that looks the most perfect and the back is where you hide the imperfections! The hitch in trimming this cake is that there was about a half triangle left of empty space left other words, not enough space to fit in another triangle. So automatically THAT became the back part of the cake! I trimmed off the upper corners of a triangle and inserted it into the space. I did the same with the other trim line so that the imperfect spot would be lined up in the back. Finally I cut out and placed the flower shapes onto the cake.

Then came the hard part. I made the Royal Icing for this cake in a big batch (it saves nicely in mason jars for a couple of weeks) and then took about a cup of that and tinted it orange. Then I started the piping onto the cake. Piping like this is very hard on your hands. I got about a third of the way around when I had to rest, stretch my hands, and then begin again. If you have ever piped a lot of stars on a cake then you know the feeling I'm talking about. You can take a lot of breaks with this style of cake so bank enough time. 

I started with long lines along the triangles almost meeting at the tip of each triangle. When I finished all of the lines I then started again with the loops. When those were finished I piped the details on to the flowers. And then let it all dry for about 30 minutes. It needed to be very hard for the hand painting step to come.

Once all of the royal icing was dry I was able to mix up the gold edible paint. I mix the luster dust with vodka but you can use clear vanilla if you wanted to do so. The alcohol evaporates off of the paint so it doesn't really matter which one you use. I add in just enough to get a thin paint consistency. Then, using a fine tip brush, I began painting all of the royal icing. With most metallic's it takes more than one coat of paint to get  solid coverage. It took me three coats to get everything gold. 

The last touch was the little gold balls. I just used a dab of the royal as glue and hit each point and the centers of each flower. Once those were in place the cake was finally done.

One of the most often asked questions I get about cake decorating is how long it takes. It varies from cake to cake and how much preparation there needs to be done before the actual decorating begins but a small cake like this one would normally take about an hour, maybe two. But due to the piping and then the painting this cake took me 4 hours and I charged $90 or $6 per slice. My starting cake per slice is $4 but due to the extra labor and time this one cost a bit more.  

So whether it's your birthday, your sister's graduation, celebrating a new job or promotion, I hope you will consider celebrating it up big with a beautiful but little cake!

This week brings an unusual wedding cake! See you next Sunday! In the meantime stop by our Facebook Fan Site for daily tips and tricks!


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rosie's Retirement Party Cake

Happy Sunday! This week brought us a party that we not only had the pleasure of working but also the honor of doing the cake. Working a party for a family member or a friend is definitely an honor but it's also a whole lot of fun too. Rosie just retired and two of her friends wanted to celebrate it up right. That is where I come in since one of those friends is also my friend. I, myself, have known Rosie in a "stop and chat for a moment" level for several years and have come to know her as a truly wonderful woman so I was SO happy to have the opportunity to help plan and execute this party with her friends.

They decided upon a Hawaii themed party so, as they were talking about it this cake design came into my head. I sketched it out with a palm tree for them (more on the palm tree later) and they loved the idea of the chair on the sand at the edge of the water. 
 The chair ended up being the hardest part of this whole cake. The rest of it went together in 2 hours...the chair took four days. In Northern California we are experiencing a heatwave. That isn't too unexpected in this area but the extremely high levels of humidity is totally unusual! Humidity is a killer for fondant. It makes it very soft...makes it very hard to dry to a solid state and makes it very hard to glue together...well, without using a hot glue gun. Believe me, I was very tempted by the 4th day to do just that! 

For the chair I just looked at a photo of a Adirondack beach chair and cut out pieces I thought would work. Yup, totally winging it. Then I let them dry...and dry....and dry. Finally, after 3 days (what would normally be 3 hours) they were dry enough to try to glue together. After several hours I got it to the point where I could prop the pieces all together and pray they were dry by day 5. And, yes, I was tempted to go to the toy store and buy a plastic one! By the way...this is what happened to the planned palm tree. After days of waiting for leaves to dry, fighting with them to stand up on the cookie tree base because they were not fully dry even after 5 days, even resorting to hot gluing them into place...the umbrella just looked better. So I went with the umbrella.
So here is how the cake actually came together. It was a vanilla chiffon cake filled with lemon curd butter cream and then frosted with more butter cream. It was just a very light layer of butter cream since I knew more was going on top and fondant was going on the sides. I ground up cookies for the sand (I prefer vanilla wafers even if you have to grind them up more than you do graham crackers) and sprinkled them on one half of the cake. Then I mixed up some blue butter cream for the water and then piped it onto the cake using a large star tip. I smoothed it out into an uneven pattern for the choppy water. 

To make the grass skirt I rolled out the teal colored fondant into an 8x4 inch rectangle. I scored a half inch line horizontally across the fondant and then cut down from the line vertically in thin strips all along the rectangle. After cutting the strips it is pretty hard to pick up the whole piece so I cut each rectangle into three sections and adhered them onto the cake. As a caker we are use to fighting with pieces to go on straight...the grass skirts needed to NOT go on straight to give an illusion of movement and the three section idea worked really well for this. Finally 8x1 inch strips of yellow fondant, cut out with the wavy side of the cutting tool, were put on as the top of the skirt. I placed it a teeny bit higher than the top edge of the cake so it stood up a bit. Little orange "hibiscus" flowers were added to hide those seams. As a finishing touch I went back to the top of the cake, used a small spoon to help me get the cookies all the way to the edge of the trim and then smoothed out the "water" to the edges as well. This sealed the top of the cake for a cleaner presentation.
 At this point I placed the chair onto the sand and the umbrella behind it. The umbrella is actually an umbrella straw that I cut the top off of and taped the umbrella into an open state. I made the little shells that go next to the chair and the umbrella stand and then decided it just wasn't enough. Rosie needed fun little creatures who were happy she was retiring too! So I made the little crab and octopus to go with it. The crab is all one piece but the octopus is actually 9 different pieces placed into the butter cream.
Whenever I make this type of themed cake I try to put in a few details made just for that person. Rosie is a deeply religious person so on one arm of the chair I put a Bible. But she's a fun person too so I put a fru-fru drink, including pineapple slice and straw, on the other arm! Everything she needed to relax on the beach. It was these details that brought her to tears when she saw it. It's always nice to get the paycheck but it's reactions like hers that are the real payday. 

After allowing her friends and family to get photos of the cake Rosie then removed the chair, shells and crab so she could keep them. Fondant will just keep on drying out till it is rock hard as long as you keep it away from humidity. My mom has a tea set I made for one of her birthday cakes about 5 years ago! You can store it in a protective case but make sure that it's not air tight. It needs to be able to breathe or the humidity will build up as it dries out.

I will post all of the party photos tomorrow morning on the Cherry Party Blog! Check out this entire theme and how it came together! As always you can get daily tips and tricks on our Facebook Fan Page! See you there!


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chinese Themed 15th Anniversary Cake

Happy Sunday! This past week I was lucky enough to create a big occasion cake for a regular client and her husband. They were celebrating 15 years of happy married life!

The past two cakes I have done for this family have had Chinese characters on them. Now, while I'm not going to even pretend that I am learning the language, I am learning how to write it a bit easier on cakes! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The cake is a rich vanilla cake with passionfruit filling. The cake is the easy part, the filling takes time...lots of time. First you have to get the passionfruit puree (I get mine at BevMo) and then you boil it down until starts to look like a thick syrup. The great part of this is that it makes the entire kitchen smell amazing! Once it reaches the syrup stage you need to turn off the burner and let it completely cool down. And I do mean "completely"! This needs to be totally cold when you mix it with the buttercream or it will cause the buttercream to separate. Sadly, I know this from experience. I boil down a half cup of puree and what is left over is about 1/4 cup of syrup. I use half of this in the 1 cup of buttercream and the rest I brush onto the cake layers before smoothing the buttercream mix for the filling.

After crumbcoating the cake I let it settle and thaw out overnight. This is usually where the decorating begins. However there was a small hitch. I work in a very cold kitchen. Heat and humidity are awful for fondant. It makes it very stretchy and hard to work with so I keep the A/C on and keep it down to about 68 degrees. This works for me as well as the fondant because kneading and rolling the fondant is hard and hot work. However, in this case, the A/C went out the morning of the decorating....during a heatwave! Fortunately I start work early in the morning before it got terribly hot and there was a huge fan that helped as well. Unfortunately it meant that it was harder to cover with the white fondant and it didn't go on quite smoothly. But...fortunately there were these cute little cherry blossoms that hid almost all of the not-so-perfect areas! 

As soon as I had the cake covered I started on the tree branches right away. Now here is where the fun begins! The tree is actually chocolate fondant. It is SO yummy! The heat didn't have any effect on it at all so it was easy to work with and apply to the cake. As I made the branches I textured them by using a scalloped fondant tool to make the "bark" look more real. 

The next step was to make the character. I have piped Chinese characters, painted them and now I have sculpted them out of fondant! One little piece of chocolate fondant at a time until I had the whole character on the mat. Then I adhered them to the cake and made gold "paint" by mixing gold luster dust and vodka. Painting it onto the character bits on the cake takes time and a very very fine tip brush and several coats until it gleamed. 

Last step was the cherry blossom flowers! To make these I tinted some of the white a light pink and then rolled it out thinly before cutting out about 100 flower shapes. Those I then used a ball tool to flare out the edges. Then I mixed up some pink "paint" and, with a spiky brush, painted from the centers out. What is funny about these flowers is that, as you are making them, they don't look much like flowers...until you place the little pearl in the center! Then, all of a sudden, WHAM, they are flowers! 

That is part of the fun of cake decorating. With each cake there comes a moment when it comes together. If you are lucky, those moments are more than one per cake. This one had three! The first one was when the flowers became flowers, the second was when they went onto the cake and made the tree come alive and the last one was when I placed the little kissing figures on top. At that moment, even with all of the flaws I knew were there, the cake was perfect. Fortunately the client and her whole family agreed!

It is wonderful, as a cake artist, to have all of my creations be part of happy events. Birthdays, showers, weddings and anniversaries. You get to do something that makes a happy day even happier. And, as always, I deeply appreciate the honor of being able to have the chance to celebrate, in my own small way, with them.

Next week bring a fun retirement cake to share! See you then!

In the meantime head on over to our Facebook Fan Site and tomorrow we will be presenting a beautiful wedding party plan on the Party Blog!