Thursday, 20 December 2012

My attempt at an engagement cake :)

Rating: Easy
Time: nearly 2 hrs to cook the mudcake, about an hour tops to decorate.

Finally a pretty cake that I did myself! This one was to celebrate my (and my partner's!) engagement as well as my birthday.

You will need:
- a chocolate cake of your choice (I used a rich mudcake) baked in a round tin
- Roll-out fondant / Marshmallow fondant (your choice - usually I'd use mmf as it tastes better, in this case I had no time so used packet roll-out stuff)
- Marzipan
- 3mm ribbon - I picked up a 6m roll for 99 cents, otherwise get about 2-3 meters depending on the circumference of your cake. (you can also get a couple of colours if you'd like - I match the ribbon to the flowers which is why it's pink for this cake. I don't like pink much, but they were the roses we had out at the time)
- new (or sterilized in boiling water) dress-making pins (I used a new box of 60mm pins, without pin-heads, unless you want to get pearlescent ones to look like it has pearls attached, otherwise plastic pin-heads look really tacky)
- Fresh flowers and leaves from the garden :)
- A piping bag with shell and normal nozzles (I only had a shell nozzle, which  is why the lettering looks crappy on the top - it'd have been better with plain piping, but I ran out of time to fix it)

To start off, I baked a round rich chocolate mudcake the night before I needed it and wrapped it in clingwrap and kept it in the fridge.
Come the morning, I leveled it out (cut off the top), and flipped it upside-down to have a nice flat top. I then plugged up any gaps with marzipan, and covered it (as much as possible before I ran out) with the remaining marzipan. If you're going to be doing this a few days before eating it, sealing it up properly with the marzipan is a must. I was doing this a few hours before it was to be eaten (indeed guests began arriving before I'd finished the cake) so it wasn't so much of a problem for me.

Next it was working the fondant until it was soft enough to roll out. But it should have been to cover the cake in a sugar syrup. Forgetting the sugar syrup is why I had problems getting the fondant to stick to the cake, and why it wasn't as smooth as I'd intended... At this point you can smooth it out as much as possible as well by rubbing your hand gently in sweeping arcs across the cake - the warmth from your hand should help smooth everything. At this point I also piped on a shell border around the cake, and the lettering on the top. The lettering would be much better if I'd had a plain nozzle as well, but I didn't have time to fiddle with zip-lock bags to make one (guests were arriving!). Unfortunately the royal icing was a little runnier than I'd like, so it flopped a bit. *sigh* piping fail... it looked ok, not perfect but... pictures:

Once the piped icing had set, it was a case of securing ribbons. To do this, I cut 2 lengths that were just greater than the circumference of the cake. I pinned these to the cake, with the ends just overlapping, about a centimeter apart (see left-hand photo below). I then took 2 5cm(ish) lengths, doubled them over into short bows, and pinned them over the joins. This is why pin-heads are not pretty on these cakes! I'm not clever enough to join them up without showing the pinheads, although I'm sure I could work it out if I'd had more time (perhaps if I do a similar cake again...). Once I'd done the ribbon, I went and raided the garden for flowers (just make sure the ones you pick are non-toxic!!!!! if you're unsure, use something else!). I ended up with white star-jasmine and tiny pink roses, so used a couple of rose leaves as well.
To do the flower arrangements, I took a couple of large loops of ribbon and pinned them to the cake (over the spot where the icing was crappiest). I then arranged the flowers in and around the ribbon loops. I left the ends of the ribbon trailing as I thought it looked nice.

In hindsight I'd have made the arrangement longer and would have swept it further around to the left (it looks a bit short for the cake from these photos, I didn't really notice it at the time but it's bothering me now!). I also do regret not at least trying the zip-lock bag (nick the corner to make a small hole then use it as a disposable piping bag) to do the lettering, I really do think it would've looked so much better than the chunkier outcome. At least the flowers looked nice though :)

Overall I was surprised at how easy this was to do. I'm told it tasted good (I didn't take a piece when it was cut, and then when I went to get some later it was all gone, so I'm assuming it was good!)

In a word? Imperfect*

*Due to lack of time. But certainly not impossible!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

My younger sister's wedding cake...

So now I present the second of three cakes that will appear in this blog that I didn't make (all 3 are made by my Mum. Well, one (my own wedding cake) is yet to be ;) ).

This one is my younger sister's wedding cake, and was again decorated with fondant flowers.

This one was a more simple design than my other sisters'. Lilies, Bouvardia and purple Lisianthus make up the floral pretties. The theme was royal purple, hence the ribbon.

Difficulty: Very Difficult
Time: Several months (for the flowers), a week or so to put it together

Anyway, now pics! (apologies for the crappy quality, the lighting wasn't good and my camera was on the blink too)

In a word? Purple!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Sarah's cute cuttlefish cake

Rating: Easy
Time: 3-4 hrs (includes 40mins baking time)

So I've decided to include a time thing at the beginning as well as a difficulty, as how long it takes to do these things is something I'm often asked.
Anyway, the latest cake was a striped pajama squid (although it's technically a cuttlefish, hence the title) that I made for my cephalopod obsessed marine biologist friend, Sarah ;)

striped pajama squid cake

You will need:
- 1 or 2 chocolate cake(s) baked in a loaf tin (and/or a round tin - the number of cakes will be dependent on how big you want this and how clever you are in using off-cuts from the loaf cake to make the head)
- Marshmallow fondant (mmf)
- Marzipan
- White and Dark chocolate (about 1/2 block of white, and a very small quantity of dark)
- A new (and cheap) paintbrush or two
- Yellow food-colouring
- Butter-cream (optional - also it can be coloured with blue food-colouring if you so wish)
- Toasted coconut, or untoasted and shaken with a spoon of cocoa and turmeric.

So I started out by making two chocolate cakes, but in hindsight I really only needed the one. I baked one in a loaf tin, and another in a round tin (recipe was a basic chocolate cake, but you could use any you liked). As I said with the dragon cake, it's much easier if you bake them a day or two in advance and keep them wrapped in gladwrap in the fridge. They're much easier to handle and don't crumble when you try to cut/sculpt them.

cut and positionedlook at all the bits! Didn't use the snakes in the end though

So first I cut the cakes to shape, and positioned them on the board how I'd like them. Then I filled them with a butter-cream that was supposed to be blue that turned green, damnit. Because cephalopods have blue blood. Anyway, the next step was to cover the whole thing in marzipan, to protect the cake from leeching moisture into the marshmallow fondant.

covered in marzipan. Sorry 'bout the terrible photo, I was busy at the time!and covered now in fondant. With the siphon, eyes and tentacles on now too:)

Then I covered the whole thing in rolled-out marshmallow fondant (I'd made it a couple of days beforehand, but you could easily do it while the cakes were in the oven) and modeled some into tentacles, eyes and the siphons between the head and mantle. To make the little fringey bits they have, I pressed the mmf on the mantle out flat and snipped it with scissors before rolling it up slightly with a chopstick. I did originally try making the tentacles out of lolly snakes covered with mmf, but they were too chunky and it looked weird so I modeled them out of fondant instead. Siphons were made by rolling a small rectangle out of mmf and wrapping it around my pinkie finger to make a short tube.

A fin under constructionA fin is on andthe eyes are painted...

Next I made the fins/wings, by shaping them from melted white chocolate on gladwrap, and sticking some bamboo skewers in them so I could secure them in the cake. I did them one at a time, and while the second one was setting I painted on the eyes with yellow food colouring, and began painting on dark chocolate stripes on the head. You could pipe the chocolate onto the body, but for the head with all the weird angles a brush is much easier.

the stripes are going on, thick and fast...The head is done :)

The head was the trickiest bit, but I finally finished it and then stuck on the second fin.

The squid is done, now for some sand...Finished!

Once all the stripes were on, it finally looked like a PJ squid! But then I wanted to add some sand, so I used a fine dessicated coconut shaken in a bag with a spoon of cocoa and a small amount turmeric (to make it yellow). It worked ok - it certainly had a sand-like texture, and I think the colour turned out well :)

A happy marine biologist :)

Sarah liked her cake! (I think :P)

alas poor Yorick

...And all that was left was the head :( Poor squid. Tasty though :)

Overall it was actually a surprisingly easy cake to make. Covering it with marzipan definately worked better than not doing that (as for the dragon cake). I probably wouldn't bother with the butter-cream again though - it was done more as a thing to make it bleed when cut than anything else. Yes, we biologists are a weird lot ;)

In a word: Squiddy!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Mel's Mousse Madness

Rating: Easy, but time-consuming

This one was made for a netball friend, so I'm glad it set well!
It's a chocolate and raspberry mousse cake, recipe below. From bottom to top the layers are a flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, raspberry and white chocolate mousse and raspberry jelly all wrapped in a white chocolate collar.

Flourless chocolate cake:
200g dark chocolate
85g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1/3 cup brown sugar

Grease a 23cm spring-form tin and pre-heat the oven to about 180 degrees celcius. Melt chocolate and butter in a large bowl, leave to stand until it's no warmer than blood temperature then stir in egg yolks and vanilla.
Whisk egg whites with salt and brown sugar until soft-peak, and gently fold 1/3 into the chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining egg whites (doing it in 2 lots helps prevent knocking the air out, keeping the cake lighter), and pour batter into tin. Bake for 20 minutes or so, until the cake has risen, the edges are cooked and the top is springy when touched (if you're not sure a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean).
This cake WILL and should sink as it cools - you've not done anything wrong! Once it's cooled, you can do the next layer...

Chocolate mousse layer
1 1/2 cups thickened cream
350g dark chocolate
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
3 egg yolks

Put water and sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar is dissolved (it may boil but that's ok). Whisk egg yolks in a small bowl, then drizzle in the syrup slowly (you'll need to continually whisk this as it will cook the egg yolks and if you don't whisk it you'll get lumps). Whip cream to soft peak, set aside. Melt chocolate and then whisk it into the egg mixture. You may need to heat the mixture in the microwave for 20 seconds, before adding 1/3 of the cream and stirring until fully combined. Add in the rest of the cream, and fold in gently. Pour layer on top of the cake (you'll need to have kept the cake in the spring-form tin of course - I should probably mention it's a good idea to use greaseproof paper to line the tin all the way up the sides, it helps get the mousse out of the tin without making a huge mess and it'll just peel off when the mousse is set) and put in the fridge to firm up for at least half an hour. Then you can do the next layer...

Raspberry and white chocolate mousse layer, plus raspberry jelly
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1kg frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon sugar
170g white chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup thickened cream

Thaw and squish the raspberries through a strainer to remove pulp and seeds and make a smooth syrup. Try to get as much juice out of them as you can. Put the liquid into a saucepan and add sugar. Heat until boiling, and reduce to about half, stirring occasionally. Add gelatin to water, and stir into the raspberry syrup. Place white chocolate in a bowl, and add about 1/2-3/4 of a cup of raspberry syrup. Set the rest aside for use later as the jelly layer. Stir in the white chocolate, until all is melted and it is smooth. You shouldn't need to heat it any more to melt the chocolate - it should melt with the residual heat of the syrup. Whip cream to soft peak, and stir 1/3 into the raspberry/white chocolate mixture, then fold the remaining cream in gently. Pour over chocolate mousse layer, and put back in the fridge to set.

When the raspberry mousse layer is firm (but it doesn't have to be completely set), pour over the remaining raspberry syrup* and put back in the fridge.

Once mousse is completely set, you can make the white chocolate collar. Take a piece of grease-proof kitchen paper, and cut/tear it to a length slightly more than the circumference of the cake. Fold over sides and ends to make a rectangle of the desired length/width, keeping the folded pieces facing upwards (sorry, wish I'd got a photo of this to make it clearer). Melt chocolate in a small bowl, pour onto paper and spread evenly with a palate knife.
Once chocolate ribbon is set but still soft, remove spring-form tin and wrap it around the cake. Refrigerate until you're just about ready to eat it, then remove the paper (it should just peel off). By folding over the sides of the paper, you should get a nice straight edge. And hooray! A delicious mousse-y cake :)

*You may need to add more gelatin to this syrup - just dissolve a bit more in some more water and stir it in. I tested this by putting a small amount in the fridge and seeing if it set before I put it on the top of the cake :) I did indeed need more gelatin, so testing it was a good idea!

In a word? Moussey :)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Making marshmallow fondant

I just remembered that I meant to put up a post on how to make marshmallow fondant (mmf).

Difficulty rating: Easy

Take equal parts icing sugar and marshmallows. Use the best quality you can get, as the cheaper ones tend to result in a grainy textured fondant. Also beware of icing mixture - for this you want pure icing sugar if you can get it.
Heat the marshmallows in the microwave until they bubble up, remove the bowl and stir with a spatula until the mixture is smooth. Add any food colouring you like*, a tablespoon of water for every 250g of marshmallows and half the sifted icing sugar. Sifting is something I often don't bother with, but for this it prevents lumps and makes your life a lot easier. You will need more icing sugar later too, so sift more than you need at this stage.
Stir in the sugar, it should take all of it and not become too lumpy. Then add in the other half, and stir until the mixture is a weird crumbly but sticky texture (you could have added it all in one go, but it's easier if you do it in 2 lots). Don't panic, this is what it should look like ;)

Oil your hands and dust them with more icing sugar. Do the same to your work surface (use quite liberal amounts of the icing sugar or your fondant will stick to the surface) and turn out your mixture. Knead it like you would bread dough, incorporating more icing sugar until it becomes firm, is no longer sticky and resembles something like playdough (albeit with a tougher texture). If you eat a bit, it should have a firm but slightly springy texture. This might take quite a while, so be prepared to work those muscles kneading!
If you run out of icing sugar on your work surface before it loses it's stickiness, add more and keep working it.
The trouble I had was maintaining sticky-free hands - you may have to keep washing your hands, re-oiling and re-dusting them.

Once you've made the stuff, it is fine kept in a sealed container in the fridge for a couple of weeks (although I used mine within a couple of days). I'd also wrap it in gladwrap before putting it into the container, but perhaps I'm just paranoid that it'll dry out if I don't. When you want to use it, just give it a quick knead to loosen it up and return it to a more workable state.
Be prepared to get sticky everywhere, but hot water cleans up the mess relatively easily.
This stuff is great for giving a nice even covering for cakes, and can be moulded into shapes or cut like biscuit dough. If you need to stick mmf decorations to other parts of your cake, just brush one piece with a little water and you'll have no problems there ;) This also tastes so much better than the packet fondant you can get - it for some reason isn't quite as sweet and has a light texture (due to the marshmallows). You'll probably still want to seal your cake with marzipan or something similar before you cover it in mmf (otherwise you'll get moisture buildup between the fondant and the cake, making it sticky), although for the dragon cake I didn't bother as it was going to be eaten the following day anyway.
It's fun to make and you can do cool things with it! What more could you want? ;)

In a word? Sticky.

*If you use liquid food colouring, be prepared to use a lot to make a strong colour, and beware that it may give it a slightly odd taste. I've never seen anything absorb liquid colour to no effect like this stuff does. I'd suggest using a powder if you can get it though, and mix it through the melted marshmallow before you add the sugar (to give a more easily smooth colour - otherwise it'll take a very long time to knead it smooth!). If you use a liquid, also be prepared to add a lot more sugar, and don't add the water. It will make it so much more sticky than not using the colouring at all! Other options to colour it can be melted chocolate, cocoa powder and basically anything you can get your hands on ;)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Playing with cakes runs in the family

So this is a bit of a cheaty post. This cake is not one I made (although I did help out with bits), rather my mother made it.
It is my elder sister's wedding cake, a traditional fruitcake with fondant flowers and piped lacework.
Flowers are white roses, Australian alpine bluebells (Wahlenbergia) and Bouvardia. The theme was navy blue and silver (hence the navy blue ribbon under the piped lace and also the use of the Whalenbergia), and the piece of lace in the arrangement on the top tier is the same as that on my sister's dress :)

Difficulty: Ridiculously hard

Anyway, pics now. Enjoy!

In a word? Astounding

Monday, 9 April 2012

In the beginning there was one cake...

Rating: Medium (some bits are easy, others hard)

So for the very first post in this shiny new blog, I've decided to make the subject that which kind of prompted its creation.

For my partner's 25th birthday, he decided to have a 5-squared party. ie a kiddie party, for which there would be a need for an awesome cake. I decided a dragon would be awesome, so decided to create the beast shown below, and will now take you through it's creation, step by step:

First, I took 2 round standard chocolate cakes (made in an approx. 23cm cake tin. I didn't measure it, so assume that's about the right size). I made them 2 days before I wanted to decorate them, wrapped them in a double-layer of clingwrap and kept them in the fridge. This makes them easier to handle, less crumbly and helps the fondant stick.
So I cut one cake in half, and set the two halves on end, back to back (see photo). This was going to be the body, so I made sure I'd used the higher cake to make it a nice fat dragon. My cake wasn't perfect, and had an uneven rise. So I used the wider part near the tail, to give it a fatter belly than chest (it worked out okay in the end). The other cake I cut into pieces to use for the head, neck, tail and legs. The wings I would worry about later.

body of dragon!head, top left; neck, bottom left; tail, top right, legs, center and bottom right

I then carved the head into a slightly better shape. I've never done this before, so it was rather an experiment. I went for a shape similar to a cow I guess, but with a more indented forehead. I planned to finish off the shaping with the fondant anyway (sorry, don't have an individual photo of that bit). The next photos are all the bits in place:

head, neck, body, tailadded legs, filled in any obvious big gaps with excess cake

Next I covered the whole thing in a red marshmallow fondant. I'd never used (let alone made) this stuff before, so really the whole cake was an experiment. I'll put up a recipe/directions for making mmf later perhaps. Regardless, be prepared to use a lot of food-dye if you choose to do this! It took almost half a bottle to turn it from pink to red (and even then it was a pinky-red). Another option would be to make a green dragon I guess, but I only had mixed packs of white and pink marshmallows with which to make the fondant, so rather than buy twice as many and waste the pink ones, I simply used them to make red fondant.
Also be prepared to spend a lot of time playing with fondant to create nice shapes and smooth lines on your dragon. I used lumps to fill out the legs and details on the head (such as nostrils). It turned out like this:

I filled in eyes and the yellow belly of the dragon with yellow fondant (had set aside some white for use on other parts of the dragon), and for the nostrils and spikes on the head I used black and red liquorice. It turned out really well - I was happiest with the head in the end! I also started filling in the trickier bits of the background (earth and gold coins).

you cas see the yellow bellyclose-up of the face

Next I started on the wings, making their 'bones' out of bbq skewers, stuck together with blobs of white chocolate. This worked ok, but was more fragile than I'd intended. So next time I'd recommend covering the whole 'bone' in white choc, not just the joints. At this point you also have to decide on the position of the wings, so you can set them in the chocolate to make them rigid. I then covered the skewers in fondant, complete with liquorice claws at the joints and toes, and filled in the membranes with coloured chocolate. It doesn't take too long in the fridge to set.

bbq skewer bones, with fondant and claws! Shows white choc glueone of the finished wings in place

Sticking the wings into the cake was tricky, but I got there in the end. Any gaps I covered with a thin piece of fondant. They weren't rigid enough for my purposes, and collapsed a bit. This was okay though, it just made it look like a resting dragon :) I also used more liquorice to stick spines the whole way along its back, and finished filling in around the dragon with earth (dessicated coconut shaken in a bag with a spoon of cocoa) and gold coins (because it's a dragon, and all dragons need to have some sort of treasure to guard!).

The last bit I did was to make some dice. As the birthday boy is a bit of a role-player, dice and dragons go together like a horse and carriage. I did indeed struggle to make D10s, I should have stuck with 6-sided dice. So the finished product!

 Top-view, finished dragonSide-view, finished dragon
Perhaps next time if I was better prepared the end result would have been a bit better. Slightly disappointed in the dice, as the rest of the cake worked really well... but seeing as the whole thing was an experiment in using mmf, and making dragons, I was happy with how it turned out!
A simpler cake to make than I thought, but some bits were tricky. I wouldn't mind making another now, as I know better what to do and perhaps more importantly what not to do.

In a word? Awesome!