Monday, August 27, 2012

A whale of a cake!

A little over a month ago, I received yet another referral -  Nekia, a friend of a friend who had heard about my cakes. She needed a cake for her son Kenneth's first birthday and at first, she sent a picture of a 3D whale cake. After looking at the cake itself, which was surrounded by fondant waves on a huge cake board, I told her that I could do it, but there would be a lot of waste from the fondant waves, which would comprise most of the cost. I then suggested a two-tiered cake with a smaller 3D whale on top that would be made out of rice krispies treats. Everything would be edible - less waste! She loved that idea, and after agreeing on the cake flavor and size needed, I set to work.

First I made a batch of rice krispies treats - my kids got to help with this one too! I pressed most of them into a pan for them to eat later, and took a couple handfuls to mold into the shape of a whale. I had only one problem with it - the tail. I took a piece of spaghetti and stuck it in the tail to hold it up, but it kept falling down. Then I put it in the fridge and that helped, but when I started frosting it and then covering it with fondant, the tail began to sag again. So this time I stuck a toothpick inside, and that did the trick. Then I added a few wires to the top with drops of gumpaste for the whale's spray. I had to explain to Nekia when she picked it up that there were a couple of reinforcements in there and to be careful when slicing it up!

The cake itself was lots of fun - I figured with the ocean design of the cake, what better cake than a blue and white marble! I filled and frosted it with blue buttercream, so when cut into, it looked like the ocean. The cake itself was a two-tiered cake with two smash cakes. One was for the party itself, and one was for a photography session before the party started.

For the decorations, I have my friend Ann to thank yet again. When I met her to pick up the cake pans she was lending me for the wedding, I mentioned this cake to her and she told me about a new product from Wilton - a silcone fondant mold for under-the-sea shapes. It included molds for waves, seaweed and starfish, so the only things I had to free-hand were the fish and the turtles. It was perfect!

I love the way the cake turned out, and I hope Kenneth did too! Thanks Nekia for thinking of me for your son's special day!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue...

Not so long ago, in a kitchen not so far away, began the epic adventure that I will forever refer to as my first, and last, wedding cake.
Yes, you heard right. I am no longer doing wedding cakes. Well, at least not of this magnitude. If you are having a nice little backyard wedding and want a two-tiered cake, or maybe some cupcakes or a modestly decorated sheet cake, I'm up for it. I'm just not doing BIG cakes anymore.

And now you will get the chance to learn why.

Back in March, I was feeling rather ambitious one day. Of course, I hadn't made a cake in a while, so that may have factored in to my decision as well. Anyway, I sent a message to my nephew saying that if he and his fiancee hadn't gotten their wedding cake yet, not only was I available, but I would offer them a family discount. He replied, "sounds great!". So I planned a cake tasting and made some cupcakes for them to taste - two of each in chocolate (filled with raspberry buttercream) and yellow (filled with chocolate buttercream). All of the cupcakes had a white buttercream swirl and a few royal icing flowers that I had left over from another cake, to make them look pretty. Well, the bride got sick, so just my nephew came over and we talked for a while. He took the cupcakes home and they both came back a couple of weeks later, once his fiance was feeling better, to talk about the specifics. At this time, all I knew was that they wanted a square cake, the colors of the wedding were royal blue, white and silver, and that the invitations had whispy silver lines with hearts on them. So I drew up a design and presented it to them - they liked it and we got to work drawing up the contract.
Now, when I first drew up the contract, I had a 16" base tier, a 12" middle tier, and an 8" top tier. The top and bottom tiers would be chocolate with raspberry filling, and the middle tier would be yellow cake with lemon filling (because not everyone likes chocolate). Perfect for the number of servings they would need. Only problem is... after they left and I measured my oven - 16 inches exactly from front to back. No way I could bake a cake that large in there without the edges burning. So on to plan B - a 14" base tier, 10" middle tier, and 6" top. That only produced 150 servings, which would not be enough for the 175-200 people that they were expecting, so I gave them two options. I could make a grooms cake for the extra 50 servings, or I could make an extra 10" cake to go straight to the kitchen. No decorations, just cake. And being the wonderful, laid-back couple that they are, they chose the second option.
Next came the design. When I initially drew it up (with the help of my kids' crayons) it had blue ribbon around the base of each tier, with a silver bead border along the bottom of the ribbon, then royal blue wispy lines with either blue or silver fondant hearts. After seeing the actual invitations, I decided to do silver hearts instead. For the topper, I was going to make a blue letter R out of gum paste, brush it with luster dust to make it look pretty, and stick that in the top. Here is a picture of the invitation - simple but very lovely.

Then came the changes. And before I get into that, I do want to thank the bride and groom for bearing with me with all of these changes. It helped that they are family, and even more so that they are so laid-back and willing to roll with all of these changes to the design.
Change #1 - I found a monogram cake topper online that someone was selling in a resale group for $5. A beautiful silver letter R with rhinestones that would be perfect for their cake. And then I wouldn't have to make one out of gum paste and worry about it breaking. And - bonus! - after the wedding they got to keep it and have the option to pass it on to any future Rebros who would be getting married, to use as their cake topper.
Change #2 - After thinking about the design some more, I changed the blue lines to silver, to look more like the invitations. Instead of fondant hearts, I piped them with icing. This caused me a lot of headaches - trying to figure out the best way to make silver frosting. I could brush buttercream with silver luster dust, but that would get all over the place. I could cut thin little lines out of fondant or gum paste, but given the size of the cake, they could break. Then I found a recipe online for silver frosting that used a combo of luster dust, vodka and powdered sugar. I tried it out, but couldn't get the consistency right. Then one day I was making a new recipe for buttercream, and noticed how much it shimmered when it was done. So I tinted it with a little bit of blue and a little bit of black and - voila! - silver icing was born! Not as sparkly as I wanted, but close enough.

Now I was set. I borrowed some cake pans from my friend Ann, made up a grocery list based on calculations I had made to ensure I'd have enough of every single ingredient, down to the last spoonful. Then the Monday before the wedding, I started baking. First up, chocolate cake. I baked a 14" and a 6" together, since a triple-batch filled both pans perfectly. The only problem is, I forgot to line the 6" pan with parchment paper, so when I flipped the pan, the bottom half of the cake was all stuck inside. I just about had a nervous breakdown, and then I remembered - when life hands you lemons, you make, lemonade. When live hands you a cake wreck, you make...
Cake balls!
I called up the bride, told her I had a special offer just for her, explained the situation, first of all that it was no big deal, I could easily make another cake, but I was wondering if she had a dessert planned for the rehearsal dinner. She said no, and cake balls would be great! I decorated half of them with white decorating sugar, and for the other half, I put some of the remaining candy melts in a ziploc bag, piped little hearts, and dusted them with the luster dust that I would no longer be using for the actual cake. I attached the hearts to the cake balls with more candy melts.

On Tuesday, I baked the remaining chocolate cakes - all with parchment paper this time - and they all turned out great. I wrapped them all in plastic wrap and put them in my freezer downstairs. I even had time to take my kids to the park while the cakes cooled.
Wednesday I took a little break from baking and went to a baking supply store to get the cake boards, boxes, etc, that I would need for the big day.
Then came Thursday. Or as I will refer to it, "the day I almost quit". I baked five.. count them, FIVE CAKES on Thursday. I felt like a prisoner in my own kitchen. I was so stressed, I barely ate anything all day. I was up until 11:00 that night baking, and then I woke up at 7:00 the next morning to bake one last cake.
And then I was done baking! Whew! Here are all of the cakes, wrapped up and sitting on my kitchen table waiting to be assembled into the final wedding cake tiers. 
First came the bottom tier. I had to call a neighbor over for an extra set of hands to help me put one cake on top of the other. I would have asked my hubby but he was cutting the lawn and smelled like grass - figured it wouldn't be a good idea to have him near my cakes in that state. The top layer cracked a little, but nothing that some frosting couldn't fix. I frosted it, then assembled the top tier and frosted that as well. By then it was dinnertime. I took a break to make dinner, and after that my parents came to pick up the kids for the weekend. Then I set to work assembling the middle tier and the kitchen cake. The first tier I put together quickly turned into a possible cake wreck and I ended up calling my friend Ann in a panic - the wedding was tomorrow and my cake was falling apart. After talking me down, we agreed that the best option would be for me to "put that bad boy in the freezer". So I carefully carried it downstairs to where I had propped the freezer door open and slid the box containing the cake inside. The next day it was solid enough that it wouldn't be shifting or wiggling anywhere! Whew! I learned from my mistakes on that one (first one being that the cakes weren't straight on the sides, and the second one being that I over-filled them), and the second one turned out much better. Definitely more worthy of being placed on the wedding cake. And then I rested... or tried to.
Saturday morning, I woke up, slightly groggy, but ready to put everything together. It was the big day - in a matter of hours, my job would be complete! First, I took out the iced tiers. I had smoothed them the day before. Here is the top tier, ready to decorate.
I decorated that and the batteries in my camera went dead. While hubby was getting new ones, I finished it and got started on the second tier. Here it is with just the ribbon, and lines scored on the sides with a toothpick so I'd know where to pipe the silver icing. I put waxed paper behind the ribbon (attached with double-stick tape) to prevent the fat in the icing from bleeding through.
And here is the middle tier with the silver icing lines and hearts piped on.
I did the same with the bottom tier, then piped a white bead border around the bottom edge since it was already on the cake board. I couldn't do that with the other two layers yet because it would have fallen off when the tiers were stacked at the reception. So in the boxes they all went, then in the car, packed in nice and tight so they wouldn't move or shift. A few prayers to St. Christopher and we were on our way. We had a close call with a traffic jam, but everything worked out and the cakes made it safely to the destination. After bringing them inside, I got to work.
First came the middle tier. This is the one I was the most worried about. It was so big... and so heavy.

 I used a wide spatula to lift the cake off the board in the box (it was already on a board the same size as the cake), and we both carefully lifted it and placed it on the bottom tier. I used the spatula to move it until it was centered - it wasn't perfect, but I thought it was good enough, and no smudges! Then I used my trusty hammer to tap a sharpened dowel into the middle of the two bottom tiers to keep them from shifting when the cake was moved.
Finally, I put the top tier on (much easier - I did this one myself!)
Then I piped the border on the top two tiers (which in addition to completing the look of the cake, also hid the cake boards very well!).
After piping the border, I put the cake topper on, added some silk flowers, cleaned up my mess changed into something more appropriate for a wedding reception, and viola!
Here are close-ups of the entire cake and the top tier.
 Now, normally when I make a cake, I deliver it and then I leave. There have been a few occasions for which I have made a cake for an event that I have attended. But then, every time I've brought a cake to an event that I have been invited to, I've ended up cutting the cake, or seeing it get cut. This time was different. After the bride and groom cut their pieces to feed each other, I sat and watched (holding my breath) while the cake was lifted off the table, placed on a cart and then quickly wheeled into the kitchen. I tried to get a picture of it being wheeled away but it was too late.
My cake... my magnum opus... was gone. Off to the kitchen to be cut into 150 thin little pieces.
I almost cried.
Then, 2 hours later, when dinner was done, I was reminded of why I bake cakes. Not just so people can look at them and ooh and ahh about how gorgeous they are. Cake is meant to be eaten. And there, laid out on the buffet table, was my cake.
After all was said and done, there were only a little over a dozen pieces of cake left. And from what I hear, it tasted pretty good the next day too :)
So there you have it, the story of my greatest confectionery work to date. Was it stressful? Yes. But in the end, seeing how happy it made everyone, it was all worth it.
To close, I want to thank a bunch of people, without whom none of this would have been possible. My grandmother - for giving me her cake decorating me supplies and sending me on this journey of cake decorating.
My mom - for encouraging me when I started to doubt myself, and also to her and my dad for picking up the kids so I could finish the cake in peace on Friday night and Saturday morning. No way I could have finished it otherwise.
To my nephew and his new wife - for trusting me with this task, knowing that I had never made a wedding cake before. It means a lot that you had that much faith in me.
And lastly, but not leastly, to my friend Ann - without her none of this would have been possible. She was the one who told me the day I took the Wilton Tiered Cakes class that I should do wedding cakes, thus planting the seed for what was to come. And through all of the stressful times she was right there with helpful advice and a ready ear.
And of course much praise to God for giving me this talent and watching over me every step of the way. :)

Friday, August 10, 2012


First, some backstory. I got this order from my friend Sara. She is the one who gave me my first ever cake order a little over a year ago so when she asked for another cake, this time for her hubby, I was happy to say yes. Then came the design. She mentioned a game called Diablo 3 and a special level called Whimsyshire with unicorns and teddy bears and rainbows and pretty pink flowers. She even sent me a picture.
Now hearing the name "Diablo 3", the first thing I thought of wasn't exactly happy unicorns and smiling clouds. Then she told me that no.. it is not a happy game. These characters are from Whimsyshire, a secret level of this game. The game itself is very dark. In fact, she sent me a link with a video of game footage. Feel free to google it yourself if you want. The gist of this game is that once in this happy place, the object is to kill as many unicorns and teddy bears as possible. Yeah... pretty gruesome.
Well, good thing she wanted me to make this a bright happy cake. I did make a few changes though - I omitted the purple unicorn and replaced it with a teddy bear. A pink, decapitated teddy bear. I giggled a bit as I was putting it together, and in doing so I was able to add another talent to my cake decorating repertoire - painting! Basically used gel colors with almond extract to give the picture the shading it needed. The colors aren't exactly the same, but it's pretty close
And here is a full view of the cake - I had meant to do rainbows on the sides of the cake between the flowers, but by the time I got the flowers on, it was almost midnight and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I figured that wasn't exactly a good time to be using an exacto knife.
The cake itself is dark chocolate with chocolate ganache filling. Had to get the dark theme in there somewhere :)