Monday, November 8, 2010

The Force is Strong with This One


  It is a period of grand birthday cakes. Ambitious bakers, creating from hidden kitchens, have learned skills to master the Fondant Empire. During the battle, baker spies managed to steal secret techniques that give them access to 3D cake sculptures and power to destroy the hold of Costco cakes forever. Pursued by production cake decorators armed with sprinkles and ‘whipped topping’, Sugar Alchemist Lorie races to deliver a very happy birthday treat for the young Jedi, Kevin, and to restore unique sugar creations to the galaxy….   

I can not say how thrilled and intimidated I was to make R2D2 in cake, when my friend posed making this cake a few months ago. Thankfully, there are some truly excellent R2D2 cakes on the internet and I was able to put together a plan from their progress pictures. But of course that is as open-ended as trying to cut your own hair by following the steps online--so it was a leap of faith in my skill level that I could pull it off. 

But it all came together and the birthday boy was thrilled with his 18" R2D2 cake. I didn't get to stay for the cutting, but I hear that they ate his silver dome first, then worked their way down the body.  

This is how he came together

His body consisted of three 8" x 3" cakes split and filled with marshmallow-almond flavored All American Buttercream. Cakes were Triple Chocolate Sour Cream and White Almond Sour Cream--both very moist and dense like a pound cake to hold up to 3D construction. After the bottom four layers, the cake was doweled and a cake circle placed onto to help support the top half of the cake. After stacking the cake was crumb coated and well chilled. 

I now did a layer of dark chocolate ganache on the cake. Not only does it give a lovely layer of rich flavor to both the white and the chocolate cakes, it provides a supremely smooth and firm surface onto which the fondant can adhere. 

 The fondant was half homemade marshmallow fondant and half Satin Ice (all homemade can be too soft for vertical uses, so the Satin Ice helps to keep sagging to a minimum). Because R2 has arms and a paneled body, I was able to apply the fondant in two pieces. 

Once his body was covered, a dome top was applied and the cake was placed on a 6" x 3" foam riser covered in grey fondant. A sharpened stake was driven through the entire cake and into the base to provide support.  Then I went from numerous reference photos to create his paneled and be-buttoned body. The legs were made from sculpted rice krispie treats covered in fondant. 

Silver luster dust and shine was then applied to give him sparkle and depth. I made the body panels free hand by pressing into the fondant with a wooden skewer then painting the edges of the panels with luster dust. The camera eye is the only non-edible part of the cake and is a milk carton lid covered with fondant and painted with silver luster. 

Left side, some details are out of scale and/or missing because I'm a cake maker, not a model maker! 

Right side 

The back side, not at all accurate, but the best I could do without a detailed model. 

And it wouldn't be a special occasion cake, if the birthday boy didn't have a call out on the board. 
Happy 5th birthday Kevin! May the Force be with you.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This "Best Ever" Chocolate Cupcake has a Dirty Secret

I'll admit it. When it comes to baked goods, I'm a classist. If it isn't made with butter, eggs, and sugar--it just doesn't qualify as a decedent treat. I have even openly laughed in coffee shops that feature "vegan" baked goods. Isn't vegan supposed to equal some lofty dietary goal?  And when chocolate calls me to be indulge, I'll go with the devil and brush that angel right off my shoulder. 

So in that sense, this cupcake changed my life. 

Moist but not sticky. Dense but still tender. Dark as the new moon in a deep chocolate dream. And {gulp} it is completely vegan.  This cupcake rockets to the front of my recipe box as the 'go to' for chocolate cupcakes (maybe even layer cake, once I test it out in regular pans) even when I don't have dietary restrictions to work with. The recipe is also the perfect size for one, 12-spot pan of cupcakes--which is really all you need.  The frosting recipe I chose is not vegan, though I suppose vegan substitutes could be made (not believing lightening strikes twice in the same place, I went traditional). 

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1tsp white vinegar
1 cup water

In a mixer bowl combine all dry ingredients with whisk to throughly blend. Add oil, vanilla, vinegar, and water and mix to combine. Blend on medium speed apprx. 2 minutes. Fill 12 cupcake liners in pan and bake for apprx 15 minutes. 

Not Vegan Chocolate Pan Frosting 

1 cup white sugar 
5 Tbs butter
1/3 cup milk
2 Tbs corn syrup
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium saucepan combine sugar, butter, milk and corn syrup and bring to rolling boil. Boil for one minute then remove from heat and add chocolate and vanilla. Stir to melt and combine. Frosting will set quickly, so have cooled cupcakes and any deco sugars at the ready. As frosting cools it will begin to set and get a glossy finish, so you will have to work quickly.  Scoop warm frosting by the heaping tablespoon onto cupcake then swirl to evenly distribute. Finish with sanding sugar or dragées. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Kitchen Cupcake Love

First cupcakes in my new kitchen (yes, I could say 'our' new kitchen, but who am I kidding?).  This quick two dozen were for the cake walk at my son's preschool Fall Festival.

White Almond Sour Cream marbled with chocolate topped off with a hearty swirl of All American buttercream frosting.  A fondant mod flower with pearl dragée finished the simple decor. I bagged each cupcake in a cellophane bag with a sheer chocolate brown bow.

Yes, I am loving my new kitchen and the bountiful counter space on the new island. Can't wait to tackle a big cake project once I settle in a little more. 

 (And I'm also working on finding my best natural light window photo to shoot near. These were taken at 11:30 p.m., which studies show is the most common hour in which school-required cupcakes are completed. )

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Oh Baby!

Little pink sneakers almost--and just almost-- make me want to try adding  a sweet little baby girl to the family.  But for now, I'm content bringing some sweetness to friends' baby showers. (but those shoes! the shoes!)

This cake is a six inch atop an eight inch Princess Sour Cream cake with raspberry filling.  Each cake is torted into four layers. The Princess flavor is courtesy of a special baking emulsion that imparts a light citrus and vanilla flavor--more oomph than a plain vanilla but not so strong as a full-pucker lemon.  The cakes are frosted in All American buttercream with fondant accents. 

The shoes are made from a sugar dough of fondant and gumpaste.  Working from a patter, dough is rolled out and then cut into each of the shoe pieces. After a bit of drying time to firm up, the pieces are placed together and held with a 'glue' of vodka (yes, a little for the shoes, a little for me was the rule).  Being sugar, they are  fragile and susceptible to humidity, so they are placed on the cake right before display. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rocking the Bake Sale

Two cakes destined not only to bring sweet smiles, but also raise some money for a local youth football club. 
Luscious Raspberry Lemonade Cake
Lemon Sour Cream Cake with Raspberry Filling finished with 
All American Lemon Almond Buttercream and fresh raspberries.

 Marana Broncos Chocolate Cake
Dark Chocolate Cake with whipped Chocolate Buttercream filling. 
Covered with dark chocolate ganache and “Tootsie Roll” Fondant.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Congratulation in Four Tiers, to Hootie and Nicholas

I had the honor of helping friends Hootie and Nicholas Povio, celebrate their wedding vows this past weekend by making their wedding cake.  It was such a joy to create this time honored symbol of matrimony...and a creative jackpot as the (ultra-cool) bride gave me her color palette and a few pictures of cakes she liked and told me to surprise her and her husband! 

The cake was a 12", 10", 8", and 6" covered in fondant. I used a combination of Satin Ice and Fondarific (I originally wanted to use all Fondarific because of how well it performs in dry climates, but the color was too light for my design).  

Two tiers of the cake were Mexican Hot Chocolate with a New Mexico Red Chile Whipped Chocolate Ganache filling. The remaining two tiers were Dark Chocolate Cake with a layer of Salted Caramel and Whipped Chocolate Caramel Ganache. 

Hootie choose to use this delicate cake topper which was a family heirloom.  The top tier was covered in small blossoms that I hand cut, formed, then dusted with edible pearl dust. They are adhered to the cake with a dot of melted chocolate. 

Making the flowers was a multi-day process as they required drying time before being dusted with pearl.

The second tier was created with irregular strips of fondant and the third was an organic, waving rope of fondant thanks to the Makin Clay Extruder. Such a fabulous tool for working with fondant and getting uniform results. These two layers represented the masculine, grounded nature of Nicholas and the free flowing energy of Hootie. The bottom layer came to be with a little help from Hooties' friends as I asked them about what some of her favorite song and lyrics were.  Because music is such a big part of Hootie's passion for life, it was hard to choose from so many songs that have played in the soundtrack of their romance. 

Because the world can not live on chocolate alone, the bride also requested some cupcakes for those who prefer lighter flavors. I did three dozen White Almond Sour Cream cupcakes with All American Almond Buttercream frosting. They were baked in the most elegant parchment cups. I LOVE these cupcake wrappers! With just one pull of the corners the wrapper is fully opened and the little cake can be enjoyed with a fork, or fingers. 

Of course transporting a wedding cake four hours through Southern Arizona was something to give any caker a nervous breakdown. After a lot of research, I decided upon using Bakery Craft's Single Plate Separator system for staking. It consists of a plate with four 4" legs pushed into the top of each cake layer that will be supporting a layer on top of it. There is a small peg that fits into the cardboard cake round on stacked layer. 

The only real trick to this is that your cakes really need to be 4" to 4 1/8" maximum so that the legs can fully support the weight. With the fondant, my layers were closer to 4.25" and therefore there was a little bit of a tilt when the cakes were stacked. They say that you can drive with a fully stacked cake, but I'm glad I played it safe and took them separate. Cutting was a breeze, though I'm glad I was there because I was able to show the cake cutter how to just pull out the plates (plus I got to take the plates home!) 

Thank you so much Hootie and Nicholas for giving me a chance to share my love of baking with your guests on this special day.  The wedding was just amazing--set upon a magnificent swath of green grass with the red rocks of Sedona blazing in the background. It was a beautiful night full of love and laughter. A perfect way to start your married journey together. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Manly Cake for a Man's Man. Man.

Tall, dark, and handsome--this cake helped celebrate a friend's birthday over the weekend. And as the gentleman of honor is so known for his subtly and sophistication, it is only fitting that his cake exude a certain level of elegance as well. (if you are buying any of this, I have some beachfront property in Yuma to show you...)

The cake is a dark chocolate with American buttercream and red raspberry filling. It is finished with whipped chocolate ganache buttercream on the sides, and the top is finished with the same vanilla almond buttercream as in the filling. The scrolls are done freehand with a smooth dark chocolate ganache and the monogram is chocolate fondant.  

This cake is the first quarter-sheet I have done in a while. Now that I have been introduced to the quality of professional bakeware, there was no way I could bake this cake in my standard 9 x 13 cake pan. Problem number one: the sides are slanted. This makes sense for the home baker; the sloped sides makes it easy for pans to nest inside each other when stored. But that slope on my pan was a half inch on each side. So the bottom measurements were 8 x 12! And with only a 2" side, I would have to bake and cut down two cakes to make the sides straight. I ended up buying a gorgeous Fat Daddio's 9" x 13" x 3" heavy aluminum pan. The sides are perfectly straight, but the inside edge has just enough of a radius to allow for a smooth release. And with the 3" height, I can bake to a dome, then shave off the top for a level cake that can split into two 1.5" layers. With filling and frosting, the cake topped out nearly at 4" high--a great proportion for a filled, quarter-sheet. 

Of course with any new cake there is bound to be a learning curve. With the deeper 3" pan, I wasn't sure how much cake batter to fill up the pan to get a nice dome (and if my rich chocolate batter would be able to maintain it's integrity to do so).  I ended up with a nicely baked cake, but upon cooling the center sank in a bit. I had used two flower nails and heating cores, but I don't think it was enough (going to research that one on  

A spackle of cake and chocolate ganache fills a sink in the center of cake. 

To solve this problem and to not loose any height, I broke out a some saved cake scraps (you know, what gets leveled off cakes) and made a spackle of it with some chocolate ganache. Just enough to fill in the center before I flipped the cake onto it's board and got it ready to torte and fill. I have found that lightly 'buttering' your cake layers with a thin layer of buttercream keeps the filings from soaking too far into the cake. 

Bottom layer with a buttercream dam on the edge to enclose the raspberry filling.  

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Bun in the Oven, a Cake on the Plate

In keeping with my promise never to make a Baby Cake , this flower cake was a sweet way to celebrate the pending arrival of a friend's baby girl. Her shower was this weekend, and I hope that all the guests took a small slice and left the rest (and a fork) for the mama-to-be, suffering these last months through our Arizona summer.

The 10" by 4.5" high cake is a moist white almond sour cream with  almond American buttercream and raspberry filling. It was frosted with white chocolate ganache before being covered with homemade marshmallow fondant (though some of the flowers were done in Satin Ice fondant). There are 120+ cut flowers laid in a patchwork-quilt design.  A buttercream border finished the cake. 

This was the first time I tried the new Wilton silver cake platters. Strong, thin and pretty (though they do reflect up on the cake, highlighting an imperfection on a smooth, fondant surface.) 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with a Red Hot on Top

Dark chocolate sour cream cake with a hint of cinnamon--reminiscent of Abuelita hot chocolate. Topped with an oversized (is there such a thing?) swirl of almond scented American buttercream frosting. Some then got a sprinkle of sanding sugar, some a drizzle of 60% dark chocolate ganache. A few took a full on dip in the ganache. But everyone got a cinnamon red hot on top.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Apple Pie a la Lorie, well not exactly

The Independence Day holiday got me in an All-American mood, and that means Apple Pie!  This one was different in that I followed the recipe to. the. letter. Except for the two-hour wait to freeze the bottom crust before adding the hot apples. I rushed it. Which could be the equivalent of pastry suicide. Thankfully, it worked out just fine. And except for not using an egg wash on the top crust for that shiny, toasty finish. My littlest is allergic to eggs and he was doing an actual pie dance in the kitchen he was so excited to eat a dessert with the rest of the family. And except for the upgrade to 1 tsp of Dalwhinnie single malt scotch instead of the generic 1 tsp whisky listed. (note to self: baking with a bottle of Dalwhinnie on the counter can be dangerous) But for me, this is pretty damn close. And once again, thanks to Baked: New Frontiers in Baking for the recipe that made me not want to stray.
End result is a pie that's delicious and a perfect interpretation of the classic apple pie.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Key Lime Pound Cake for Father's Day

Naturally, the big Daddy in my house had his pick of fresh baked gratitude this Father's Day. He chose a Key Lime Pound Cake.  Ever since a little bakery in Florida got their Key Lime Cake anointed as one of Oprah's favorite things a few years ago, there has been an explosion of recipes--each labeling themselves as list-worthy, too. So I set out to create one worth to thank our Daddy today.

I went with a traditional butter pound cake, replacing half of the milk with fresh squeezed key lime juice (they are perfect this time of year!). I did a soak of fresh key lime syrup while it was hot in the pan, then brushed it with the syrup once it was out of the pan.  A cream cheese and butter glaze with minced zest of key lime and lemon finished it off just as it went from warm to cool. With so many applications of key lime juice, every bite is undeniably filled with limey zing.  Mike got his key lime cake, and he's eating it too. Happy Father's Day.

Inside the Sweet and Salty Chocolate Caramel Cake

I had the opportunity to work on perfecting the Sweet and Salty Chocolate Caramel Cake, when a friend requested one to surprise her husband for Father's Day. Learning from the 'test' cake earlier in the week, I did three layers instead of four, and chilled the frosting further before whipping it up. And after a covert facebook conversation, learned that the intended thought bacon would be a bit too much on the already complex cake. I think he was right. This first photo is two of the three stacked layers showing the layer of salted caramel with a few flakes of fleur de sel, and the whipped chocolate caramel ganache.

I couldn't believe how TALL this cake ended up. It was truly a grand spectacle of chocolate decadence.  Thank you again to baked for sharing such an amazing recipe. I said a little prayer as it loaded up for the trip back to Chandler, nestled in a well-iced cooler.  Happy Father's Day, Eric!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Caramel Cake

You read that right. And if you have already tried the flavor explosion of mixing your salty with your sweet, then I bet you want to know more.  Words can't do it justice, so I'll give the blueprint: layers of  deep chocolate cake layered with a hearty smear of homemade fleur de sel salty caramel sauce then topped with chocolate-caramel, whipped ganache frosting. A sprinkle of fleur de sel on top gives a little hint at what surprise is inside. The recipe is straight from Brooklyn, NY and the Red Hook bakery, baked. ( I have yet to visit, but am enjoying my out-of-kitchen experiences via their book, Baked, New Frontiers In Baking.) 

The recipe wasn't exactly easy, but the fundamentals of it make the difference. This was the first time I ventured into the world of super premium cocoas, using Van Houtte (though I have my sights set on trying Valrhona cocoa and some of the premium Dove). Making the caramel resulted in a couple batches of burnt salted caramel (yuck!), but the danger of 350 degree sugar furiously boiling with the addition of heavy cream made the successful caramel all the sweeter. 

The icing is like none other. When I first tasted it, I immediately thought of  the little chocolate candy mini-bars, Ice Cubes (anyone else remember those? are they still sold anywhere?)  It calls for another batch of fresh caramel with extra cream that is used to melt the pound of dark chocolate for the ganache. Once cooled, a pound of butter is added, then whipped to a fluffy, cloud like finish.  I'd say that our warm Arizona 'room temperature'  is a bit more than this frosting can tolerate for long, so good thing it tastes great from the refrigerator. 

The pictures show the cake not quite thawed out, so the moist crumb looks a little dry. It is far from dry, and the caramel soaked tops add completely different texture. Next time I make this cake I will be using three 8" pans instead of the two 8" x 3" with those tall layers cut in half for four layers. I think this one was out of balance in the frosting to cake ratio, and the un-split layers will keep the layers firmer and less likely to blow out on the sides (as evident in the uneven sides under the frosting).  And I also think to bump up the WOW factor of this already decadent cake, I might add maple candied bacon crumbles to the top. Just because I can.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Six Roses and Some Pearls

Taking a walk on the elegant side, these little vanilla cupcakes would be perfect for a wedding or shower.  By starting in the center and doing a slight twist of the wrist, the large star tip imparts the look of a rose. Tinted fondant leaves complete the look. The pearl cupcake is simply finished with delicately sprinkled pearl dragées. What I appreciate most about this frosting technique is the moderate amount used: the cake isn't overwhelmed by a softball of sugar-coma inducing icing (not that that is all bad all the time, but for an elegant occasion sometimes moderation is key.) And I love, love, love the ruffle top cupcake wrappers encasing each cake like a sweet little tutu.

The cake is a simple vanilla cake (adapted from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook), and the frosting is a boiled French buttercream from  Baked: New Frontiers In Baking .

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cherrybrook Kitchen Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix Review

It's a sad thing to be a baker and not be able to share your goodies with the ones you love most. First, there is the husband who doesn't like chocolate (what?!?!? I KNOW!). But sadly, my littlest one has allergies to tree nuts, cow's milk, eggs, and sunflower seeds and oil (there are a few more odd ball foods in there as well).

For the longest time his smart little body immediately rejected anything that had the food memory of having egg or an offending ingredient; it has only been recently that he has trusted in 'allergy friendly' foods just for him. Slowly I've been experimenting with egg replacers and other tricks to bake Vegan yummies for him, with moderate success that anyone else would want to eat it as well.

I thought I would give a try to the Cherrybrook Kitchen line of allergy-friendly mixes. These had a coupon, so I was only partially hesitant to still lay down the $4+ for a Chocolate Chip Cookie and a Brownie mix. Especially since the ingredients were just so, simple. But I know more than anyone that baking is a science and there is a lot of trial and error to get the right balance to make the magic happen.

Mixing was super easy: one stick of softened butter (or margarine if dairy free is needed), a little water and the mix stirred together then scooped onto a cookie sheet. The recipe was so simple, the boys both helped freely; I just felt like I needed to footnote the experience to them that opening a box isn't what mommy normally considers 'baking from scratch.'

As the pictures show, the cookies baked up beautifully just as a 'normal' chocolate chip cookie should. The inside is moist and a bit chewy and there is a nice crispness to the bottom of the cookie. The flavor is spot on and delicious; only a slight cakey taste hinted at the missing egg. I did notice that once I put them in an airtight container, some of that crispness softened. Half of this modest 20 cookie batch went into the freezer for future cookie fixes, or when I want to make sure that my little one has a safe treat to eat when we're visiting friends.  I still am going to work on my own allergy friendly recipes, but in the meantime, Cherrybrook Kitchen is a great addition to my kitchen.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nostalgia Baking, the 'Hostess' Cupcake

Recreating childhood favorites is a fun little subset in the baking world right now, and what better place to start than the classic Hostess Cupcake.  Though these are that classic cupcake in appearance only--a scratch chocolate cake with American vanilla almond buttercream, dipped in Ghirardelli dark chocolate ganache and finished with a loop-de-loop white buttercream trim. The cakes being made with butter and not a hi-ratio, trans-fat laden shortening aren't as moist as the original, and the butter based frosting isn't as marshmallowly and airy either. But there is something just lovely about the design: looping and looping, like spinning circles on the lawn.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Plain Jane Carrot Cake

Let's start with apologies to Jane for the modest moniker, but those in the know, know that a simple carrot cake is nothing less than complex.  Well, make that a good carrot cake: extremely moist, spicy notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a crumb just dense enough to hold together the tender carrots, raisins, and coconut. Top it all off with a fluffy cream cheese American buttercream.

Sunday night's carrot cake was frosted 'homestyle'-- on a plate and with a butter knife. And this one is just as lovely. Plain and simple.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Whoa... It's a Happy Birthday for Hannah

My best friend, Hannah gave herself a fabulous present for her 30th birthday: a 3 year old APHA filly.  Hannah I met at the barn where we were showing horses together nearly 10 years ago, but when she sold her last horse she also sold most all of her fancy tack. What I really would have loved to do was to give her a pretty new show saddle, but I settled on a tooled-saddle leather cake instead.

This cake is an 8" and a 10" sour cream coconut cake finished with buttercream and coconut filling.  A layer of white chocolate ganache gave a smooth base to the light-oil leather tinted marshmallow fondant. The "tooling" is royal icing applied with a stencil. Buttercream rope border and fresh flowers in posy picks complete the cake. (I had plans to make conchos and a trophy belt buckle of royal icing and paint in silver luster dust with "Happy Birthday 30th Hannah" on it, but being Mother's Day weekend a present of spending the morning at the spa won out and I ran out of caking time.)

I really love this cake and think this idea could be expanded into a stunning western wedding cake. Maybe add some gum paste red roses or yellow sunflowers...and silver conchos for sure. Next time.