Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blast from the Past: Gum Paste Penguin Family Birthday Cake

Cutest cake ever! Maybe not, but probably the cutest cake I have ever made.  This cake was for my best friend's birthday, and it was my first attempt at hand modeling figures.

My little penguin family turned out better than expected.

The details:
  • The igloo is a cake baked in the Wilton sports ball pan.
  • All figures and details are are made of fondant. 
  • The water is piping gel colored with Americolor gel paste color. 
  • To make the penguins, I used this tutorial I found at Cake Central.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gum Paste Poinsettia Class

I hope everyone's holidays have been wonderful so far.  I have been MIA lately due to the craziness of the season and a 5 day training at my job right before Christmas.  I am lucky now to have two weeks off during which I hope to catch up on blogging and baking. 

I received my Christmas gift a little early this year.  A couple of weeks ago, I took an excellent one day gum paste poinsettia class with Nicholas Lodge and Mark Seaman.  I own a couple of Nicholas Lodge's sugar art books and one of his gum-paste flower DVDs, but I was really looking forward to taking a class with him as I had heard nothing but good things about his instruction.  Most of the gum paste flower work that I have done previously is a result of fiddling around in my kitchen with YouTube videos and books; however, in my mind, nothing beats having some hands-instruction.

As expected, the class exceeded my expectations. Both instructors were excellent and hands-on in teaching.  Everything was super organized and efficient. The poinsettia looked a bit intimidating at first because there are so many leaves, bracts, and flowers to make out of sugar, but broken down step by step, it is actually a fairly simple flower to make.  Here is the results from the class:

A mold was used to make the yellow flower centers which simplified the process though you could also make them by hand. One of the most helpful things I learned from the class was how to wire all the pieces together.  Once all of your leaves, bracts, and flowers are dusted and ready to be assembled, you split your pieces into three fairly equal groups and the wire each group separately the wire the three groups together.  This helps give the poinsettia is symmetrical, spread out shape.
And since, I was a major fail at taking pictures during class, I thought I would go ahead and link to some of the supplies that were used in the class.  All the items are sold through Nicholas Lodges website. 
Lacquer Spray (spray glaze to make the leaves shiny)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Toffee Brittle with Chocolate and Sea Salt

Toffee Brittle with Chocolate and Sea Salt.  Do I really need to say anything else to convince you to go try this recipe? This is seriously one of my favorite holiday treats   It is so freaking delicious and addicting that I can only make it for the holidays otherwise I would weigh 300 pounds.

This recipe takes very few ingredients and almost no time to make. Plus, you get a good size batch that you can portion out and tie up in cellophane bags with a pretty ribbon. Boom! Edible holiday gifts done! The original recipe can be found here

A couple of notes:

1. The recipe states to use 1/8 to 1/4 cup of sea salt.  I use almost the full 1/4 cup because I really love the contrast of the initial bite of salt followed by the sweetness of the chocolate and toffee.

2.  I always use slivered almonds because almonds are my favorite.  Use your favorite nut, but don't skip toasting them as it brings out their flavor. 350 in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes stirring occasionally until they smell delicious and are lightly browned.  Keep a close eye on them though because they will go from toasted to burnt in flash.  Ask me how I know?

3.  I use bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet. But again, it is just a preference thing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blast From the Past: Air Force Flag Cake

From the archives, this is probably one of my favorite cakes ever!  Typically, after I finish a cake, I am never completely happy with the end result and have a list of a dozen things I would change. This bad boy, however, I pretty much love completely.

I made this cake for a friend's mother who was retiring from the Air Force.  We looked at several flag cakes my friend found on the Internet, but decided on this popular design.

Close-up of the Air Force Seal:

The details:

9x13 cake with a 4-inch square cake dummy on top to boost up the flag.

The Air Force seal was an edible image that I mounted on a fondant plaque and surrounded with a fondant rope border that I hand painted gold.  I used the same border on the cake.

The flag was all fondant.  It was made in two sections: the stripe section and then the star section.  I draped each section separately over the cake and added the stars after the blue section was already placed on the cake

An edible image was also used for the date plaque on the front of the cake. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Perfect Looking Cupcake

I admit I don't make cupcakes very often, but I always admire these pretty, bite-sized treats when I see them on other blogs. I have a folder full of delicious cupcake recipes bookmarked to bake someday, and I recently ran across a couple of great, simple decorating tutorials for creating the perfect looking cupcake which have got me inspired to get in the kitchen and practice my piping.

Both of these tutorials do a great job of demonstrating the various designs different piping tips can make and include videos as well.  It only takes a piping bag and a couple of piping tips to create beautiful, professional-looking cupcakes.  Definitely go check them out!

Bakers Royal: Cupcake Decorating Basics Part 1

Glorious Treats: How to Frost Cupcakes

Monday, November 21, 2011

Marathon Number Two!

It took me one month and two days to do it, but I  finally pulled the trigger and signed up for my second marathon.

It is official. On May 5th, 2012, I will be tackling 26.2 miles again.  I didn't recap my Chicago Marathon experience here because frankly, I didn't have the race I wanted.  Stomach pains necessitating two pit stops in the second half, as well as some hip pain, made for a very slow time. It was my first marathon and I was happy just to have finished; however, I am still a little upset because I know I am a much better runner than my marathon time indicates. 

So training for the marathon will commence in January, which means that I have a bit of time to get myself mentally prepared and committed to train again.  I have never been a winter runner, and the bulk of the training will be taking place during Chicago's crappiest, coldest months.  That said, I am looking forward to the challenge and the chance to buy new winter running gear! God knows, I never turn down the chance to shop even if it is athletic gear. 

Two years ago, I couldn't imagine running one marathon, and now, in the near future, I will have two under my belt!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Roaring Twenties Birthday Cake

Finally, the completed cake for my friend's 30th birthday.  This was a collaboration between me and the birthday girl, who went with a fabulous Roaring Twenties theme for her party. After looking at a lot of cake pictures, the birthday girl decided on off-set tiers, peacock feathers, beads, and a gold and black color scheme.

I was super excited about the theme and pushed myself to come up with an original design for her cake. Originality is not my strongest skill at this point, and normally, I just find pictures of cakes that I like and try to recreate them with some changes.

And while I am never 100% satisfied with any of my cakes and would have done a few things differently, I was pretty happy with my attempt at capturing the party theme.  I, personally, really loved the gilded gum paste gardenias.

The gum paste peacock feathers looked pretty darn cool too!

The gum paste peacock feathers were actually pretty easy to make and I will post a short little tutorial later this week.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Five for Friday

TGIF! Except not really because it will most likely be a crazy busy weekend for me.  So what has been going on this week?

1.  I am making a cake for a friend's 30th birthday next weekend. It is a roaring 20s/flapper theme, and I started plugging away on some of the cake details this week.  I anticipate a few late nights over the next week and possibly a 3 a.m. mental breakdown as well.  I am excited because I am trying out a lot of new things on this cake, but  a  bit nervous because you never quite know how things are going to go the first time you try a technique out.   I guess that is part of the fun of it all.

2.  I am running the Hot Chocolate 15K this weekend. I think the race is a little over-rated and too expensive, but everyone seems to love it because they give you hot chocolate and chocolate fondue after you finish.  I have run the Hot Chocolate the last two years and was planning on swearing it off this year due to the organizational dumpster fire it was last year, but it is slim pickings for races over 5K from now until the end of the year.  Plus, I have received about a million emails from them swearing they have fixed their mistakes from last year.  We shall see.  Thanks to my conditioning from marathon training, I should PR pretty easily though.  Yay!

3.  I finally got a Facebook page set up for the blog and have added the "Like" button to the sidebar.  I am still in the process of getting everything going, adding pictures and what not, but it would be great if you would go follow me on Facebook.  I would like for the blog to continue to be sort of my personal landing space for my running adventures, cake decorating/baking projects, and anything else that strikes my fancy, but I am planning to devote the Facebook page entirely to cake decorating and baking. 

4.   On the baking front, I made brownies earlier this week.  Like the best brownies in the world!  I know I am about 5 billion years behind everyone else who have already made the famous "Baked" brownies, but hey, eventually I get there.  In the battle of cakey versus fudgy brownies, I fall firmly on the side of fudgy.  And these brownies are fabulously fudgy and dense.  I used regular old Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa and Ghirardelli chocolate, and they were awesome.  I imagine if you sprung for some higher quality ingredients, they would be out of this world.  Anyway, enough talking, go here and make these brownies ASAP.

5.  Finally, let's conclude Friday with gratuitous dog pictures because it's my blog, and I can do what I want. 

Aren't my babies cute? This pic is from our engagement shoot that we did with the awesomely talented Jeremy Lawson.  He also took our wedding pictures, and I can't recommend him highly enough if you are looking for a photographer in the Chicago area.

And with that, happy friday! 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blast from the Past: Spooky Halloween Birthday Cake

Now that Fall is here, and the holidays are soon approaching, I have gotten a major cleaning/organizing bug.  Part of the process has been slowly sifting through all my billion cake pictures, deleting and organizing to get them in some semblance of order.   Looking through everything, I thought it would be fun to highlight some of my past cakes that I have loved making. With tomorrow being Halloween, this cake seemed most appropriate.

This is a spooky Halloween cake that I made for a friend's birthday last year.  I took my inspiration from a similar design that I had seen floating around the Internet.  My apologies because I am not sure who to credit for the original design.

The was my first time working with modeling chocolate, which I used to make the spooky tree topper, and I have to say I loved working with that medium.  I made the tree using an internal skeleton consisting of a cake dowel and heavy duty floral wire and then covered it with modeling chocolate.

Making all the tiny bits and pieces was my favorite part. There were fondant pumpkins, skulls, bones,  and gravestones.   I drew templates on card stock to make the fondant trees for the sides of the cake and used an clay extruder and fondant to make the gate.  

The cobblestone walkway was a time-consuming PITA to make, but I loved the effect.  I used multiple colors of fondant to roll out individual cobblestones which I placed one by one on the cake board.

The "keep out" sign was one of my favorite details. 

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

Man, it feels like it has been forever since I baked something that wasn't a cake.  Now that my marathon training is over, I am shaking the dust off my measuring spoons and am getting back my baking mojo.

Guilty pleasure confession, I am not immune to the thrall of store bought baked goods.   I especially love those pastel iced sugar cookies you get in the grocery store bakery section, so when I saw a recipe for homemade frosted sugar cookies making rounds across the Internet, I made sure to put it in my "to make" file.   

Mike has been bugging me to make something for him to take to work, and I thought it would finally be a good time to try out the recipe.  The verdict: totally delicious. Soft and buttery without all the nasty chemicals that are in store bought cookies.  This recipe is definitely a keeper. 

I used this recipe from Annie Eats and decorated them with a fall theme.  The recipe yield says 24 large cookies,  but I got about 40 medium size cookies out of the batch, and I can't imagine making them any bigger.  The key is to keep an eye on them and not over bake them to ensure they stay nice and soft.   

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My New Cake Toy

I have been lusting after a new camera for a while now.  My current point and shoot was serviceable, but not great for taking pictures of my completed cakes, and it was pretty awful at capturing detail work.  I knew I wasn't ready for a big gun, DSLR camera that are so popular with bloggers, so I settled on a higher quality point and shoot.  After a little bit of research, I purchased a Canon PowerShot S95.

I haven't had a chance to play with it too much yet, but I brought it with me to the Wilton class I took a couple of weekends ago and was able to get a couple of decent pictures of some of the many cakes they had on display around the classroom. 

Colette Peters teaches classes at the school regularly so they had several of her cakes displayed in the classroom. One of qualities that I admire most about her decorating is that she has a very distinct style and point of view that sets her cakes apart from anyone else.  

So far my favorite aspect of my new camera is the ability to zoom in on details. I definitely couldn't get these shots with my old camera.

Example of brushed embroidery work on one of the display cakes.  I haven't attempted this technique yet, but I would like to soon.

Pretty royal icing flowers.  I love the colors and the way they shaded the roses.

This was one of my favorite display cakes.

Not surprising because I love gum paste flower work.

Obviously, I still need to mess around with my camera a little bit more and learn about the different settings, but I am super happy to have this new little bad boy to take pictures with.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Introduction to Sugar Artistry

This weekend I spent my Sunday playing with hot sugar at The Wilton School’s Introduction to Sugar Artistry class.  Since I started decorating, I have always found sugar work fascinating, but intimidating.  When I saw that Wilton was offering a 1-day course, I figured it would be a good way to dip my toe in a new decorating medium.
At the start of the day, the instructor demonstrated how to make poured sugar, color it, and work with the heat box. Everything we made started with a hunk of amber colored sugar that was softened, broken into smaller pieces, and colored for the different projects.  Below is the box with a heating lamp that keeps the sugar soft and malleable so you can pull it and shape it. 
The rest of the day was spent learning about how pull and mold a few different flowers, leaves, ribbons, and lollipops by hand.   

A definite benefit to pulled sugar flowers compared to gum paste flowers is that you don’t have to wait for flowers to dry in stages. You can complete flowers as quickly as you can pull the petals.
We also made pulled ribbons for a sugar bow. 

I used kelly green and sky blue to color two sections of my sugar and combined them with a section of uncolored sugar, and this beautiful color was the result.

The students concluded the day by putting our individual pieces together in a small sugar centerpiece.  We had free reign on the design, and it was neat to see how different each of the eight students’ pieces looked.  Since my bow was flattening quickly due to the heat of the room, I used it as the base of my piece and then added few of my flowers, leaves, and vines around it.   

Being a hobby decorator, I don’t have the equipment or the demand to do sugar work at this time; however, it was quite fun to take a class and learn some new skills. I am looking forward to taking possibly taking some of Wilton’s advanced sugar art courses sometime next year.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Baby Shower Cake

Even though most people at work know that I bake and have been known to bring in goodies occasionally, I have never done a decorated cake for work until recently.  A few of the ladies threw one of our interns a baby shower, and they asked me to do a little cake for her. This was just a little last minute number.  I really didn't know how I was going to decorate it until I did it.  Sadly, the only pictures I got were with my cell phone which is why they are so terrible.

I just love the color combo and gum paste baby booties are always a hit.  You can't really tell from the picture, but I dusted the whole cake lightly in super pearl dust which made it look lovely.  I wish I could have added a little more detail to the baby blanket on top but I ran out of time.  I had also tried to add a welcome message on the cake board using those funky letter tappits, but that was a tragedy.  I haven't figured out how to make those darn things work for me yet.  But overall,  I thought it was a cute simple little cake.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chicago Half-Marathon

The Chicago-Half Marathon was yesterday, and it ended up being a beautiful morning to run.  A little bit warm, but otherwise, lovely.  Due to my nagging hip and knee pains the last couple of weeks, I had scaled back my goal for an under 2 hour finish and was hoping to finish in a little over 2 hours, but once I crossed the start line, I felt pretty good and decided to hold a comfortable pace and see where I ended up.   Due to horrific traffic yesterday and an urgent prerace bathroom break, I actually ended up hopping into the start corrals after the race had started so I was unable to hook up with the 2 hour pace group which was my original plan. Also, my Garmin was dead, so other than a rough estimation from the clocks at the mile markers I wasn’t sure of my pace.    
Because I hopped in near the end of the corrals, I spent most of the first 5 miles weaving around and passing slower runners which expended a lot of energy and probably led to some too fast miles.  By mile 9, I was definitely slowing down, but I also realized that I might able to finish under 2 hours after all.   I kept it steady until the end and still had some juice left to pass people on the last mile and sprint to the finish. 
Final verdict: 1:58:47 Woo hoo!
A new PR by 16 minutes and a much needed motivational boost.   This week is the Ready to Run 20 Miler and then it is taper time until the marathon.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Time Flies

Yikes! My last post was in March!  I have been neglecting my wee little blog so badly.  I have good excuses though.  Really!

Since my last post I did this:

Then after a short respite, we flew off to Mexico for our honeymoon.

And since then, I have spent a lot of my time training for this:

I run my first marathon in October and to be honest that has been my biggest priority. But I miss baking and cake decorating, and I have a few fun things lined up on the horizon.  Plus, new camera! So fingers crossed for some better pictures and more frequent blogging action on my part.

Finally, I decided to change the blog focus a little bit and make things a little less specific and more open to me writing about what is capturing my attention that hour of the day. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Adorable Cupcake Cookies

People who have the patience and the talent to decorate sugar cookies amaze me.  I have seen works of art created on just a tiny canvas of cookie.  These adorable cupcake cookies have popped up on the blogosphere several times over the last week and I had to share them. 

So freaking cute, right?  Just imagine how great these would be as favors at a little girl's birthday party!  You can find the tutorial and pictures on how to make these at The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Let's Eat Cake

After posting about the inspiration for my wedding cake, I wanted to follow-up with a more in-depth post about the process of deciding on a cake designer.  Wedding planning can be a drag sometimes, but you know what makes planning a wedding awesome? Cake tastings. You get to go look at pretty pictures, sample yummy cake, and it is one of the few tasks that both you and your groom will be excited about.

During the planning process, I thoroughly researched all my wedding vendors online before narrowing it down to just a couple of vendors to meet with.  To be honest, it was pretty easy to hone in on potential cake vendors that would be good matches for us.  My priorities when looking for our cake vendor were as follows:

1.  Must bake scratch cakes utilizing real ingredients and have real buttercream and fillings in their cakes.  In addition, they must taste delicious. 

This was the number one priority for me.  I scratch bake all my own cakes and use Swiss meringue buttercream and scratch fillings, so why would I settle for something that wouldn't taste as good as what I could make myself.   Unfortunately, you would be surprised how many bakeries make their cakes from box mixes and use confectioner's sugar/shortening buttercream. Sorry, you can call me a cake snob, but that isn't for me.

2. Must have a portfolio that demonstrates clean, sophisticated looking cakes. Their cakes needed to demonstrate the skill level that could handle the details I wanted for my own cake, such as gum paste flowers and lace detailing.

Getting a super clean, well-designed cake is an amazing skill in and of itself.  It means the smooth application of fondant with sharp edges, even tiers, clean work, and balanced details and color.  All these things can be learned, but you can look at a decorator's portfolio and tell whether they have the skills or they don't.

3. Good online presence

I read the reviews of many businesses online and looked at each decorator's website.   People with numerous poor or "meh" reviews, and cake decorators that didn't have a good, updated website didn't get a second look.  Maybe that is picky of me, but in this day and age and working in a major metropolitan area, I don't think there is any excuse to not have a well-put together, updated website for your business.

After setting up a couple of tastings with potential vendors, we decided the best fit was Amy Beck Cake Designs. Amy was friendly and energetic during our tasting and during follow-up, the cakes were delicious, and she listened to my ideas and put together a beautiful sketch of my potential cake. 

Below is a sample of some of the beautiful cakes that Amy Beck Cake Designs has created.

Her website has a much larger portfolio of her beautiful cakes so you should check it out.  And for those who were wondering, our cake will have a layer of chocolate bourbon cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry filling and two layers of mango cake with strawberry filling.  Totally delicious!