Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sugar Flower Class with Ron Ben-Israel

So last month I got to check a freaking huge thing off my cake decorating bucket list and took a three day sugar flower class with Ron Ben-Israel via Minette Rushing Custom Cakes in Savannah, Georgia.  I have loved his cakes, especially his sugar flower work, for as long as I have been decorating cakes.  I remember first seeing him on an episode of "Sugar Rush" with Warren Brown on the Food Network, and it was the first time I had ever seen anyone make flowers out of sugar and thought it was amazing.  So it was sort of beyond surreal to find myself actually taking a class from him, but a couple of weeks ago, I found myself flying to Savannah to do that very thing.  Three full days where we were to learn the french tulip, peony, rose, stephanotis, calla lily, and the gloriosa lily. 

Pardon my super crappy iPhone pics

While many people make beautiful sugar flowers, I have always favored his style of flowers. Lifelike and detailed, but not necessarily botanically correct, his flowers retain a fantasy quality that comes from being made from sugar that I personally think looks stunning on cakes.  His use of color and the movement and flow to his floral arrangements on cakes are impeccable in my opinion.

Examples of his work for the class.
The first day of class was a little overwhelming, but super fun.  Hyped-up just from being there, with a lot to accomplish in three days, I felt rushed most of the day and completely exhausted by the end of it, but in that good way that comes from focusing and working hard on something you love. We finished many of the centers, leaves, and petals for the flowers, and by the second day I felt more comfortable and in my sugar flower making groove. We spent part of the second day learning how to make Ron's signature rose, and I think, for many of this, this was the highlight of the class.

My finished roses!

On the last day, we worked on Stephanotis, wiring flowers together, and dusting them.  Finally seeing all our hard work come to life.

I really enjoyed my time in Savannah, and I am so happy I got the opportunity to take this class. While I felt comfortable with the basic techniques of flower-making, I feel like I was able to refine and improve my skills over the three days. Making sugar flowers can be such a finicky task where details placement of the sugar glue or simple tweak or added curve to the flower petal can make a huge difference in how it looks.

My finished flowers. Packed and ready for the flights home! 
As for the overall class itself, Ron was generous with his knowledge and spent the last hour of each day answering questions from the class.  When showing his techniques for making flowers, I appreciated that he didn't just show us how to do things, but explained why he made certain stylistic and technical choices in his flowers and encouraged us to experiment so that we would develop our own style.

And just to hop up on my soap box here at the end…With the proliferation of Facebook and Youtube tutorials, subscription cake schools, and online classes you can purchase, I know many people probably wonder about paying for in-person classes, so here is my opinion. If you have the opportunity, I would recommend it. Yes, they are much more expensive and more time consuming, but it is worth the investment if you really want to improve your skills on certain techniques. Absolutely nothing is better for the knowledge gain and the improvement in your skills then when you participate in live classes with a talented, experienced instructor.  You can ask questions, get immediate feedback on what you are doing wrong, and you have someone right there who can demonstrate the exact right way to do it.   In my experience, the knowledge I gain in classes far outpaces anything I pick up in my own study.  Also, it is just plain fun to spend 3 days surrounded by like-minded cake people.

I graduated! 
I did a little photo shoot with my flowers from class. So if you would like to see them in greater detail, hop on over to my Facebook page (see the side tab).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Trick-or-Treat Pumpkin Kitty Cake

I realize I missed the cutoff for Halloween by a couple of days, but too damn bad, this cake is super cute so I am sharing it anyway.   I made it for a friend’s birthday last weekend. I have had a chance to make several birthday cakes for her, and as people go, she is pretty much the dream person to make cakes for. She always requests interesting, fun flavors and pretty much lets me do any design I want.  This year she wanted a pumpkin-themed cake that tasted like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.   Done and done.
This cake was based off this cat in the pumpkin tutorial by the Cakegirls.  I thought the idea was super cute (and it reminded me of the trick or treat buckets I used as a kid), but I ended up changing most of the details in the end to make it unique to the birthday girl. 
It cake itself was an amazing chocolate orange cake and was filled with alternating layers of orange ganache and brown sugar Swiss meringue buttercream.   As requested, it tasted just like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and it was delicious.

I would like to think this kitty is suffering from a candy hangover. 

Technical Details:
1. I veered from the Cakegirls instructions for the cake which used piped buttercream to give the pumpkin its shape and face.  I carved this cake from 6 7-inch rounds.  I placed the cake rounds on a 6- inch board since I knew I would be carving it down and then split and filled the rounds like I normally do.   Then I flipped the tall tier of cakes over and used the 6 inch round on the bottom as a guide to carve the curve into the pumpkin.  Flipped it back over and did the same thing on the top then carved the indentations in the side of the pumpkin.
2. After crumbcoating, I covered the pumpkin with fondant I colored orange. Dusted the whole pumpkin with some darker orange petal dust and the dusted the indentations with a reddish-orange dust to bring out the pumpkin‘s shape.
3. The kitty’s head was made with fondant that I stiffened up with a little tylose.  The kitten’s tail was just a thread of sausage on a 26 gauge wire that I shaped and dried ahead of time.
4. The candy was all modeled out of fondant and I gave the pieces a thin coat of confectioners glaze to give them a bit of shine.
5. The handle of the pumpkin bucket was just floral wire with the ends dipped in candy coating Normally, I try to make everything edible, but in this case I knew the wire would only be in cake for a short amount of time. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ignored, but not forgotten

Ah, poor little neglected blog.  No excuses really for my absence. I have been doing cakes. I have had things to blog about.  I just didn't.  Lately I have been way more active on my Facebook page than anywhere else. I am guessing that is probably the norm for a lot of people. But anyway, enough excuses, more cake.  I was lucky enough to have a couple of cool cakey related things happen lately.

Cake Central was kind enough to feature the one and only tutorial I have made to date on making gum paste peacock feathers, which is by far, the most popular thing I have ever put on this blog  They even made a cool little header photo to go with it.

Photo credit: Cake
So everyone is on the Craftsy bandwagon now, right?  If you aren't, you should be. Reasonably priced online cake decorating classes from well-known, qualified sugar artists. There is an interactive platform where you can ask questions of the instructors and other students.  You can watch the classes as often as you want and can pause or skip around the various lessons as needed.  Plus, they are always having sales on their classes so you pretty much never have to pay full price for classes.

I took Maggie Austin's Fondant Frills class earlier this year and used some of the techniques to make my pink and gold ruffled birthday cake which I uploaded as a class project.  Craftsy also maintains a great little blog, and I was pretty shocked and excited to see it pop up on the Craftsy blog recently. 

Right now, I am the in the middle of Craftsy's "Intro to Isomalt" class, and I totally love it.  I took an Intro to Sugar Work class at the Wilton school a couple of years ago and have been wanting to explore sugar work more since then.  Luckily, I have a project coming up that I hoping to incorporate some isomalt work!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gold and Pink Ruffled Cake

One funny thing as a cake decorator, I almost never make cakes for my own birthday. In the last 7 years that I have been decorating cakes, I think have only made a cake for myself twice.  This year, for some reason, I got the itch to go all out for my birthday and try some new things. Everyone and their brother has done a ruffled cake, but I had yet to do one, so I took the opportunity to purchase the Maggie Austin Craftsy course on fondant frills (mini-review forthcoming) as she was pretty much at the forefront of the ruffled cake trend.   There are tons of different ways to do ruffles on cakes, but stylistically, I have always preferred Maggie Austin's paper thin, organic looking ruffles to the thicker, more symmetrical ruffles I see on most cakes.  On top of the ruffles, I have been dying to do a pink and gold cake, a combination that I think is so feminine and elegant.

The ruffles were done with straight fondant and edged with antique gold luster dust mixed with vodka. The middle tier was covered in pink fondant and the painted with more antique gold luster and vodka.  I purposely went for visible brush marks with the pink peeking through a little bit. The whole concept was for the cake to be purposefully imperfect which is harder to do than you would think.

I originally planned for more sugar flowers on the cake but in the end, I decided on one lovely, white gum paste rose edged in gold.  Just enough, I think.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again: 60th Birthday Go-Kart/Hockey Cake

There has been a severe lack of cake on this blog lately because this little hobby and I had to take a bit of break from one another.  Side note to anyone who wonders why I keep cake decorating strictly a hobby, being able to ditch it for a little while when I get frustrated with it is one very good reason.  Any way, the last cake I made back in the fall was a horrendous mess.  Nothing I did went right, and I pretty much hated it.  I never even took pictures of it.  After that cake, I just kind of got fed up with cake decorating and felt like I  sucked and was never going to do it again.  An exaggeration of course, but sometimes you just need a break.

I finally came out of semi-retirement to make a 60th birthday cake.  The birthday boy plays hockey and races go-karts, so the challenge was designing a cake that combined the two.  We decided to devote the top of cake to go-karting and the sides to hockey.

The side pieces were all hand cut out of fondant which was time-consuming, but the biggest challenge for me was modeling the go-kart.   The base was rice crispy treats shaped and covered with fondant.  While I would do a few things differently next time, I think the end result was not too bad.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  I had a glorious two weeks off thanks to my job.  I spent some quality time with family and friends, relaxing, and happily working on some home improvement projects which I hope to blog about soon.

This next week I hope to spend some time thinking about what I want to get accomplished for the new year, but in terms of cake decorating, I have only one major goal.

The last couple of years, I have become increasingly drawn to beautiful, elaborate royal icing work and piping, and working with royal icing is something I really want to add to my skill set. This book was a Christmas present to myself. 

It is absolutely gorgeous and so inspiring. 

Seriously, how beautiful is that work.  Inspiring, but intimidating.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holy Buckets! My Cake in Cake Central Magazine!

Apologies if you follow me on Facebook and have already seen this, I have been on a self-imposed sugar art break so I am bit behind in posting cakes here on the blog.

This summer, I received an email from Cake Central Magazine asking if I would be interested in submitting a cake I designed for possible submission into one of their upcoming issues. I was, of course, shocked and totally thrilled to have received the opportunity. The cake had to be an original design inspired by a picture Cake Central Magazine provided,  and I would need to submit professional quality pictures of my cake to the magazine to even be considered for publication.  The turnaround time on designing, creating, and photographing the cake was very short, just two weeks I think, and submission was not guaranteed. 

Inspiration picture provided by Cake Central Magazine

I can't lie. I squealed a bit when I got the email saying my cake was accepted for submission into Volume 3, Issue 6 of their magazine.

To fit the magazine’s blue and purple theme,  sugar flowers were a given as they are my favorite thing to make.  I wanted most of the color in the cake to come from the flowers, and like the inspiration picture, envisioned flowers in various shades in blue and purple popping against a neutral background,  a creamy white fondant from Fondarific.  I worked my little fingers off to make roses, hydrangea, pulled blossoms, sweet peas, white berries, and various greenery for interest.   I wanted to highlight a couple of very full, dense arrangements that look like they draped naturally off the cake. 

Seeing the bird motif in the necklace, I went with slightly abstract hand modeled lovebirds. The lovebirds were sculpted with a 50/50 fondant and gum paste mixture.  I also echoed the bird motif on the second tier with branches that wrapped around the middle tier.

Finally, I loved the textural, architectural aspect of the picture frames in the inspiration picture, but didn't want to go too literal in the design.  I added moldings to the corners and centers of the bottom tier to add textural interest to the cake.  I painted all the accents, molding, branches, and birds, with a silver hi-liter to unify the accents and again, to allow the flowers to take center stage.

The final step was taking the pictures and getting them submitted by the deadline.  I am super lucky to have a talented friend in Kristen at Low Fat Dressing who was able to take some lovely pictures and detailed shots of the cake.  Once the pictures were sent off, there was nothing to do but wait.  Getting the email on a Monday morning saying the my cake had been feature in their magazine was one of the coolest things I have experienced and certainly one of the most unexpected since I started decorating.