Monthly Archives: November 2013

More Pull-Apart Cakes

For our Thanksgiving meal, I was to make a couple pies and a side casserole. What I did there will have to wait for another article. In this article, I want to show a couple pull-apart cakes I also took to Thanksgiving.

As I was doing the pies, it dawned on me that the young children really like cupcakes. They can hold them in their hands and when decorated, they are fun. So I started planning to do a pull-apart set of cupcakes with an overall frosting. I remembered how the young ones almost fought over who got the eyeballs from the turtle I had made with the birthday cake.

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I decided I wanted to do a “crazy looking” turkey as the overall design. The other day I saw a yard in the neighborhood that was decorated with large balloon turkeys and that became my starting point. But try as a would, it took 13 cupcakes; I would need to make two batches! and then I would have 11 left over!

So while I was planning the turkey, I decided I could make the little one-eyed green guy from Monsters, Inc. And that is what I planned.

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This big monster only took 7 cupcakes, and so I decided to transform the last four cupcakes into individual green guys.

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I ran into a couple problems that I need to mention. First, while at birthday time I used a half recipe of Kentucky Chocolate cake to make 12 cupcakes, this time I made a full recipe expecting to get all 24 cupcakes from it; it didn’t happen. For some reason- I filled them too full?- I got only about 12 from a recipe, and I had to make a second recipe to get my needed 24 cupcakes. Second, I tried to glaze the first batch of cupcakes just as the recipe says. What a mess, because there are no sides of the pan to hold the glaze on! And then, the glaze gets in the way. I was not able to push the cupcakes together close enough, and there were big gaps at spots. Finally, since we are frosting the cupcakes, the glaze gets in the way of the frosting. I noticed as the people were eating the cupcakes from the big monster, the frosting was staying as a tent and the cupcakes they were taking were sliding out from under the frosting. So, don’t glaze the cupcakes if you are going to frost them!

The frosting on the turkey is all the Basic Cream Cheese Frosting which I found spreads so nicely. I did cheat on the band of the hat; I had blue Royal Icing that I decided to use rather than creating another color of the frosting. For the monsters, I used both frosting and icing. The arms and ears are icing and the face, eyes and mouth are all Basic Frosting thinned down enough to pipe.

Oh yes, and I noticed at our Thanksgiving meal that the women were eating cupcakes instead of the pies. I am certainly glad I decided to make the pull-aparts.

Decorating Cookies Class

Recently, I took a Cookie Decorating Class at the Decorette Shop. I thought it would be interesting to talk about what I learned. The idea of the class was to prepare us to decorate Holiday Season cutout cookies. The Shop provided everything.

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On the table when we sat down were several piping bags with different color Royal Icing in them. And with each color, there was a squeeze-bottle of the same color Royal Icing. Notice the twist-em on the piping bag; a neat trick to keep the content from coming back up to the top and out onto your hand.

I asked about the formula for Royal Icing; it was listed on a paper each student received. Since I learned to ice cookies using a mixture of powder sugar and water, I was curious as to why people add egg white or meringue powder. The recipe also had some cream of tartar listed. The answer I got didn’t satisfy me- I was told the meringue or egg white was necessary for drying. I knew that couldn’t be completely correct since the icing I have used dried. I wondered if it defined the amount of time it took for the icing to dry. Later, at home, I decided I had to experiment. (Searching the internet, I found at least one other cookie decorator that used just moist powder sugar as the icing, but almost everyone uses meringue powder).

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My experiment was to use three recipes for the icing; the Royal Icing recipe I received in the class using meringue powder, the same recipe but substituting egg white for the meringue powder, and then my old recipe of just powder sugar and water. They all dried, and the time it took seemed to be as much a function of the depth of the icing on the cookie as anything else.

On another trip to the Decorette Shop, I was able to talk about Royal Icing with another customer who seemed quite knowledgeable. I had come to believe that the meringue powder was used to give body to the icing, and that was confirmed. In addition, the lady volunteered that the cream of tartar does help the drying and makes the dry icing stronger.

When I mentioned to daughter Mindy that I was looking to suggest that you could avoid buying meringue powder and just use egg white which you probably already have, she got upset and said that there are too many problems with raw egg, and at least she would go out of her way to find meringue powder rather than take any chance on using egg white. There is another problem in substituting egg white for the meringue powder; the egg white is moisture, and so the recipe is wrong for trying to do a straight substitution of a couple egg whites for 4-5 Tablespoons of meringue powder. You end up needing to increase the amount of powder sugar. To keep things simple, I will always use the recipe with meringue powder.

The recipe makes the Royal Icing stiff enough to be piped; the squeeze bottles have the same color thinned to the point that it just flows. We were told that you add water a little at a time until when you drop a spoonful into the dish, it settles and self-levels in about 5 seconds.

Decorating cookies starts with making the cookies. We were also given the recipe for Ethel’s Sugar Cookies. This was interesting since the cookies that were passed out to us for practice were well shaped. I had trouble using Sugar Cookies as the basis for cutouts, and finally went to a Shortbread cookie since it spread less while cooking. So again, when I went home, I started an experiment. With Ethel’s recipe, I found 3 more Sugar Cookie recipes in Marlys’s Recipe Book and two Shortbread Cookie recipes for a total of 6 recipes that I wanted to try and compare. I convinced myself that a crisp Sugar Cookie, when cooked right, is the best cutout cookie.

So what is the cooking trick. First, the dough has to be refrigerated and cooled completely through before rolling it out and die-cutting it. This works best if you divide the dough into two packets so that you are only working with half at a time, and the other half is cooling. It can take up to 45 minutes to cool, and it is best if the packet is wrapped as a thin disk so as much surface area receives the cooling as possible. Second, after rolling out the dough (to 1/4 inch thick) and die-cutting the shapes, the shapes need to be frozen for 10 minutes before being cooked. Place the pan right in the freezer for 10 minutes. (I had trouble with this- my air-bake pans are 15 inches wide and my freezer is 12 inches wide. I was lucky that I use silicon mats on the air-bake pans so I was able to slide the whole mat into the freezer for the 10 minutes. Finally, the temperature of the oven needs to be higher than for normal baking, and the time reduce so the cookies don’t burn. I found the temperature needed to be at least 400 degrees and the cooking time was less than 10 minutes- more like 8 minutes for some recipes.

The final comparison came down to two recipes to be considered; Ethel’s and one of Marlys’s that was labelled Crisp Sugar Cookies and talks about cutouts. Marlys’s recipe tasted sweeter, but was also more complex than Ethel’s; but since we are talking about coating the cookie with sugar, the sweet taste doesn’t seem important, and so I will stick with Ethel’s Sugar Cookie recipe for my cutouts.

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The first thing we learned about decorating was to flood a color. To do this, you pipe a dam around the area to be flooded, then you squeeze out icing into the area. The icing self-levels and you have nice looking color on the cookie. Now we started using some of the other items on the tray on our table. First, we had the circular cookie to be transformed into a snow globe. Here, as soon as we had finished the white flooding, we sprinkled it with very small non-pariels to give it texture. (Almost all the decorating is a combination of color and texture.) The blue was added later after the white had dried for several minutes and we had worked on several other cookies. And even later, we added the snowman and trees; these are bought as pre-made figures.

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For the mitten, after doing the white flooding, we textured the white with a product known as “sanding sugar”. It, like the non-pariels, comes in a multitude of colors.

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Other items on our trays include products known as disco dust and luster dust. We had a stencil that we used on the ornament cookie, and painted through the stencil with a dry water-color brush and the disco dust. The luster dust I used on the snowflake.

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The snowflake shows piping on top of the flooded color. And in the center of the snowflake is a small snowflake that we die-cut from rolled fondant. Then I sprinkled it all with luster dust.

We also used different tips on the piping bags to get other effects. For example, the top of the acorn was given texture using a “leaf”tip on the piping bag.

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We used the “star” tip both to give raised points like on the snowman hat, and to give flowing ridges like on the mustache.

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The green leaf on the hat is another piece of die-cut rolled fondant.

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While there were several other techniques and product about which we learned. I think they will need to wait for another day. Most importantly, from the class, I took away that decorating is using a few techniques with products that combine to develop color and texture. An artist (I’m not) can have real fun starting from these few basics.

Icings, Glazes and Frostings

When I was making the birthday cakes, I was also experimenting with various recipes for icings and frosting. So I thought I should bring all that experimentation together into a single article.
I honestly don’t know how to differentiate the three coatings. The definitions and uses seem to not do that job, so I will try to explain the differences somewhat with examples.

Icings

One definition of icings is “a mixture made from very fine light sugar and liquid, used to cover cakes”. But that could also be a frosting, and indeed, many articles use the term “icing frosting”. I have played with only one icing recipe- I was told it was Royal Icing. I used it to put design on cutout cookies. This is the version I learned from Marlys and Penny DeLancey one evening when we were decorating cutout cookies.

Royal Icing:


• 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 1 Tablespoon water
Play with the ratio a little to keep the consistency correct for spreading, but not too wet. If it is too stiff, add more water but not more than a teaspoon at a time. If it is too wet, add more sugar a spoonful at a time. Remember that adding food coloring also adds some moisture so be ready to add more sugar as you are tinting the icing.

I have seen recipes that use milk, orange juice and even rum as the moisture, but remember that the moisture might add color to the resulting icing. Milk and water are best for getting a nice white icing.

I found that the colors of this icing seem to fade and bleed after a couple weeks, so it is not a long term solution.

Since initially publishing this set of recipes, I attended the Decorette Shop’s Cookie Decorating class and learned to use their Royal Icing. I mention the class in a separate article and discuss the use of both the meringue powder and cream of tartar there.

Decorette Shop Royal Icing

  • 1/4 cup meringue powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 5 1/2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar

Place in grease-free bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.

Glazes

A glaze in cooking is a coating of a glossy, often sweet, sometimes savory, substance applied to food. It is a liquid which is put onto food to give it an attractive shiny surface. Glazes are created to make food items more aesthetically pleasing such as adding an egg wash to some baked goods to produce a shiny, golden brown glaze.

I have already published several glaze recipes as part of other recipes. There is a Chocolate Glaze recipe with the Kentucky Chocolate Cake recipe, and there is a Strawberry Glaze recipe with the Strawberry Devonshire Tart recipe.

Here is an Apricot Glaze and a Chocolate Glaze recipe that I use when I make Napoleans.

Apricot Glaze

The straining of the jam takes some effort, so the glaze can be made ahead of time, and then reheated for use.

• 1 bottle Smucker’s Apricot Jam/Preserves (~15 oz.)
• 2 Tablespoons sugar
Force the Jam through a sieve into a sauce pan. Bring the strained jam and the sugar to the boil, for several minutes until last drops of jam to fall from spoon are sticky. Reheat to liquefy again before using.

Chocolate Glaze

The amounts in this recipe are just about right for a small cake – 6.5 x 9 inches or about 60 square inches. It can easily be doubled for a 9 x 13 cake. I have also substituted heavy cream for the ½ & ½ at times when I have used this glaze.

Below, the directions say to microwave until the mixture just begins to steam; this is very important. Otherwise the mixture will burn; 20 seconds can make the difference. So keep checking the plastic wrap; as soon as it shows any moisture and isn’t perfectly clear- stop! You have heated it enough.

• 3 Tablespoons 1/2 & 1/2
• 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (this can be chocolate chips)
• 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

To make the glaze, place the 1/2 & 1/2 and semi-sweet chocolate in a medium, microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 20 seconds at a time, until the mixture just begins to steam. Whisk together thoroughly and add the sugar and whisk until completely smooth.

Frostings:

Generally, frosting is a sweet substance put on cakes and made from powdery sugar and butter. I was going to challenge the idea that it had to have powdered sugar and butter, but then I couldn’t find the exception I needed. So I will let the definition stand.

Marlys had three recipes that had the word “frosting” in their title, and that is what I am giving you here.

Basic Frosting


• 1 lb. powdered sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ½ cup butter, very soft
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
Combine all ingredients and beat 1 minute with electric mixer. Makes enough for an 8 inch layer cake.

This is the recipe I first used; it would be classified as a butter cream frosting. It was so stiff I immediately added 1 Tablespoon milk to get it to come together. It was still very stiff at that point; so stiff I could mold it, and roll it out and die-cut it into shapes. And that is too stiff to pipe. So I added more milk until I got a consistency that I could pipe. Again, there is a balance between the liquid and the powder sugar that you can play with by adding milk or more sugar.

Butter Cream Frosting

(no cooking)

• 6 Tablespoons butter, softened
• 2 2/3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1/3 cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter in small mixer bowl. Add sugar alternately with milk. Beat to spreading consistency – adding additional milk if needed. Blend in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups frosting.

As it says, this is another Butter Cream frosting recipe, and probably is a better starting point than the Basic Frosting recipe if you need a spreadable frosting. It won’t be as stiff as the first recipe, and so you will not be able to mold or roll it out.

Basic Cream Cheese Frosting


• 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
• 8 oz. butter, room temperature
• 1 lb. powdered sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla
• Milk as needed

I went to this frosting for the turtle cake I made for the birthday. I thought the cream cheese would give the frosting more body that a butter cream frosting, and would help bridge the spaces between cupcakes. It worked as I needed it to work, but I do not think it was stiffer than a butter cream frosting. In fact, I was delighted at how nicely it spread and could be smoothed.

I used Hershey’s cocoa to get the brown color. I used about half the recipe colored brown, and that was about ½ cup of the cocoa powder. Adding the cocoa powder, because it is dry, stiffened the frosting and I had to add milk in order to pipe it. Likewise the half of the recipe I colored green with food coloring got too soft from the moisture in the food coloring by the time I got the deep green I wanted, and I had to add more powder sugar for consistency.

If you need a perfect white frosting, then you might want to buy some “clear vanilla extract”; it is made specifically for the purpose of getting the slight brown of regular vanilla out of the frosting. To eliminate the yellow of the butter, you can use white shortening with two Tablespoons of water.

More recently, I wanted a frosting that would crust, had chocolate in it, and was basically light in color, like white. I found this recipe:

Crusting White Chocolate Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup Hi Ratio Shortening
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. white baking chocolate (not chips)
  • 3 1/2 cups (1 lb.) powder sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  • Cream the shortening, cream cheese and butter in the mixer
  • In a double boiler, melt the white chocolate and set aside to cool
  • With the mixer on low, slowly pour the white chocolate into the creamed mixture
  • add the vanilla
  • Incorporate the powdered sugar and meringue powder to form a smooth buttercream

Fondant

When I started working on the birthday cakes, I knew fondant as something that would fall into one of the above categories – either an icing or a glaze. I used it as an icing on napoleons when I make them. But what I make is Sugar Fondant. It is fun to make, and easy to use. It does not do a good job in decorations as I learned. For that, there is something called Rolled Fondant; I bought it at the Decorette Shop in a 2 pound container. I do not know how to make it from scratch.

The fondant requires kneading and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or even frozen. I put mine in 3 separate containers of about 1 cup each and then freeze it; when I need some, I can defrost in the refrigerator for a day a single cup at a time.

Sugar Fondant


• A marble surface, jellyroll pan or cookie sheet
• A heavy bottomed 2 quart sauce pan
• A cover for the pan
• 3 Tablespoons white corn syrup
• 1 cup water
• 3 cups pure cane sugar
• A candy thermometer (238 degrees) or quart of cold water and metal spoon
• Painter’s spatula, pastry scraper, or stout, short metal pancake turner
The syrup is to be poured onto the marble/pan/cookie sheet which should be ready before you begin. Dissolve the corn syrup in a small amount of water in the sauce pan; pour in the rest of the water and the sugar. Set over moderately high heat. Swirl the pan slowly by its handle, but DO NOT stir sugar with a spoon while liquid is coming to the boil. Continue swirling for a moment when liquid boils and changes from cloudy to perfectly clear. Cover pan, raise heat to high, and boil for several minutes until bubbles have thickened slightly. Uncover, insert candy thermometer if you have one, and continue boiling for a few minutes to the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees: drops of syrup hold their shape softly when formed into a ball in cold water. (Note: if you do not boil to the soft-ball stage, the fondant will be too soft; if you boil to the hard-ball stage, it will be hard to knead and difficult to melt when you want to use it).

Immediately pour the syrup onto the marble or pan or sheet. Let cool about 10 minutes, until barely tepid but not quite cold to the touch; when you press it lightly, you can see the surface wrinkle.

As soon as fondant is ready, start kneading it vigorously with the scraper, spatula, or turner: push it up into a mass, spread it out again, and repeat the movement for 5 minutes or more. After several minutes of kneading, the syrup will begin to whiten; as you continue to knead, it will gradually turn into a crumbly snow-white mass, and finally stiffen so that you can no longer knead it. It is now officially and actually, fondant. Do not be discouraged, however, it it takes longer than 5 to 8 minutes or even 10 minutes to turn to fondant; go off and leave it for 5 minutes; come back and knead it again- eventually it will turn. (you might have started to knead it before it was quite ready for you).

Although you can use the fondant immediately, it will have a better texture and sheen if you let it rest at least 12 hours. Pack it into an air-tight container, topped with a dampened cheesecloth, cover, and refrigerate. As long as the top is damp, fondant will keep for months and months.

When you are ready to use your fondant, you will want to combine it with a flavoring. Flavoring may be 1 or 2 Tablespoons of kirsch, rum, orange liqueur or strong coffee, or just a teaspoon of vanilla with a tablespoon of water. There is enough liquid in the liqueurs and coffee that more water isn’t needed; only with the lesser amount of vanilla is extra water needed.

Combine the fondant with your flavoring in a bowl that is in a pan of simmering water. Stir thoroughly, reaching all over the bowl as the fondant slowly softens and turns into a perfectly smooth, glossy cream that coats the spoon fairly heavily. Use immediately.

Because the sugar fondant keeps so well in the freezer, it really is a good icing for use on harder surfaced items like the napoleons (pate a choux) and cookies. For softer items like cakes, and you need a fondant, you should probably learn to use a Rolled Fondant.

Rolled Fondant

As I mentioned, I bought some rolled fondant at the Decorette shop and used it to form some decorations. I did not try to roll it out and cover a cake. They did tell me, though, that when you use it to cover a cake, you first frost the cake with a butter cream frosting under the fondant. I also know that the fondant dries very hard; Jenn and James said that their wedding cake had a smooth fondant covering and after the first day, the covering was so hard they could barely get through it.

Gum Paste

The final category I want to mention is Gum Paste. This is a product that is used to make decorations; the very realistic flowers that you find on cakes are probably gum paste. It is very moldable, and dries very hard; it will keep for years. So I find it non-eatable, and would not use it for decorations on a cake that will be shared with young children. They like to eat the decorations. But if you find the need for extremely realistic decorations, you might want to consider gum paste. You can buy many decorations already made at places like the Decorette Shop; because they do not go bad, the shop can afford to have them available for purchase.

Most ganaches are a combination of chocolate and heavy cream in equal parts. Sometimes you need to change the ratio, or add additional fat in order to get the ganache to set- be less liquidy. If you run into trouble because the ganache won’t set up, you can always reheat it and then add more chocolate pieces.

Ganaches


White Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
16 oz. white chocolate
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp chocolate extract.

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies

For the last few days, I have been wanting a chocolate chip cookie. I even looked at them when I went to the store. But, for me, I have not seen an improvement over the original Toll House Chocolate Chip cookie. Marlys has recipes for versions of chocolate chip cookies with oatmeal, and others like Mrs. Fields, but they don’t seem to add anything for me. Then, I noticed this recipe in her book- Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I decided I had to investigate it. So, here it is.

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Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make sure oven rack is in the middle.

Cream shortening, butter and both sugars together in large bowl. Add egg and vanilla.

In small bowl mix together flour, salt and baking soda. Beat into large bowl in two batches. Stir in chocolate pieces and nuts.

Divide dough into 4 pieces to make 4 cookies. Form 2 cookies 1/2″ deep (center slightly lower) on upside down cookie sheet. Bake one pan at a time for about 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes and remove gently. Centers will be soft but will firm as they cool.

So the recipe makes just four cookies! I think the “upside down cookie sheet” means that you do not want edges on the pan you are using to bake the cookies. I use the sideless air bake cookie sheets, and then the silicon mats, and didn’t have any problem. I did leave the cookies alone for the 5 minute initial cooling; I didn’t try to take them off the pans. At the end of the 5 minutes, I slid the silicon mats onto the cooling racks being very careful to not bend them. I don’t know how to remove them from the silicon mats before they have completely cooled; that would require a very big pancake turner.

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Before they were baked, the cookies were about 6 inches in diameter. The sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper gives you a scale for their size. They spread while cooking, and added about an inch to their diameter. The finished cookies are a good 7 inches in diameter.

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When I ate one of the cookies, it was crusty, and not a soft cookie. I think the cooking time could be a minute or two less. The cookies continue to cook on the cookie sheet while they are out of the oven and cooling for that 5 minutes.

While the recipe in general is a smaller quantity than the Toll House recipe, it is different in that it uses some shortening. That should make the dough stiffer, and with less spread then a recipe that uses all butter. I guess with these big cookies, one doesn’t want too much spread or they could be running off the edge of the pan. This is a recipe that you make for a child to be a surprise when they want a cookie.

My Pudding Pail

A while ago, I published a recipe for Steamed Bread Pudding. We made it in a metal can and if the can didn’t have a tight fitting lid, we tie a couple layers of foil on the top to seal the can. The other day, my sister Ann sent me a genuine pudding pail! It is metal with a tight fitting lid; the lid has hold-downs welded onto the sides of the pail. The pail also has a tube up the center so the pudding can get heat in its center as it cooks.
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I thought that I was visiting a time of the past with the idea of Steamed Bread Pudding. I have an old Good Housekeeping Cook Book that was Marlys’s Mother’s, and has a copyright date of 1944. In it, I found several recipes for Steamed Puddings. (None for our Bread Pudding). So, I wondered if there was a recipe for Steamed Figgy Pudding for the holidays, and indeed, the Internet came up with several, and with pudding pails! You can buy new pudding pails and make these old recipes! (Look for “pudding mold”).

Today, I made a recipe of Steamed Bread Pudding. The pail is rated as 5 cup, but I measured it and it was a good 2 quart so I figure that the rating is such as to allow the pudding’s expansion. And, if this works, I am going to be looking at some of the other pudding recipes in the cook book- there is one for “Steamed Chocolate Pudding” that especially interests me.

I guess the past is never completely past; the internet is alive with recipes that I thought were passe after the late 1940s. And you can even buy the special hardware that was used back then if you don’t want to use a substitute such as a tin can. But then again, big tin cans are becoming hard to find.

Making of a Birthday Cake

In late September, I was asked to make a cake for Alli’s ninth birthday, which we would celebrate on the second of November. The request was for “a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and some fun decoration on it. “

It all came out fairly nicely as the picture shows, but this is the story of getting there.

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I knew immediately that the cake and frosting were the Kentucky Chocolate cake; it is very moist and chocolaty since it contains a whole can of Hershey’s Chocolate syrup. The trick was to decide on, and make the fun decorations. At that time, I felt I had two tools that I knew and could use- Royal Icing and Sugar Fondant. I use Royal Icing on the cutout cookies for decorations, and I use the Sugar Fondant on the napoleons I bake. Little did I know how much I needed to learn.

I felt a little girl would like flowers, birds and butterflies on her cake; probably roses as the base of a center display. And of course, there would need to be lettering for “Happy Birthday Allison”. Normally in store-bought cakes, the lettering is piped on using a pastry bag of frosting; I didn’t think I would do a good job of piping the letters, and decided to try to use preformed letters. Of course, most stores have candy letters in a set with candles, and maybe I should have gone that way; but I didn’t. I decided that I would make my own larger letters.

I spent the next couple weeks experimenting and learning how naïve I was when it came to icings, frosting and decorating a cake. I learned fairly quickly that what I make as Royal Icing wouldn’t set into candy-like letters; I quit trying to use my Royal Icing within a couple days when it wouldn’t dry like I wanted it to into brittle candy forms. And I quickly learned that my Sugar Fondant was also too brittle; I was able to mold a few figures, but my success ratio was way too small.

In Marlys’s cook book were several recipes for frosting- how to pick the right one? So I started with the one that was called Basic Frosting. When I had it mixed up, I felt something was wrong. It was very dry and would never be able to be spread. I added a very small amount of milk – 1 Tablespoon- and it at least came together into a solid. To my surprise, the result was malleable; I was able to knead it, to roll it out, and generally shape it. This became the basis for a good number of the decorations that were mostly two dimensional- things that could be cut out with miniature cookie cutters like leaves, butterflies and some flowers. I was also able to use this stiff butter cream frosting in molds for flowers and birds. And, I found directions for making a rose that worked with this stiff dough. The directions were designed for using gum paste, but I was staying away from that since I wanted good tasting decorations.

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I still didn’t have letters, so I decided to get help. I went to Blake’s Decorette Shop in Tigard, and found the most helpful company of women. I especially need to recognize Michelle who gave me a quick education in fondant. And I went home with a couple pounds of Rolled Fondant and some suggestions for using the letter molds I had bought. I started having some success with the letters although I still need to learn more about the techniques for molding in plastic molds.

First molded letters

I had found on the internet, instructions for making a “Ribbon Rose” with rolled fondant, and tried that; it makes a nice looking flower, but not the delicate roses that I wanted. And as I mentioned, I found directions for constructing a rose from gum paste; I used my stiff butter cream frosting and I liked the results. I call this a play-doh rose because the construction is like using play-doh. I also knew that you were suppose to be able to pipe the roses. I found the directions on the Wilton web site, and started practicing. When I finally got what could loosely be called a flower, I was dismayed at how small it was. I went back to the Decorette Shop, and found a piping tip that was larger, and should make larger roses. And, it was obvious that this tip would not fit on the piping bag couplers that Marlys had; I had to buy a new honking big coupler.

It took a few more practice sessions, and reading some of the many hints on the website to finally get some roses that I felt I could put on the cake. One of those hints was to freeze the core of the rose so that it is firm enough to hold up when making the petals attach to it. Oh yes, the dough I was using for piping was the stiff butter cream frosting thinned out with more milk and the liquid in the food color dye.

PicMonkey Collage
In this photo, the yellow flowers are rolled fondant ribbon roses, the white flowers are what I call play-doh roses- hand crafted, and the pink flowers are the piped “Wilton” roses.

turtle pullapart 001

Somewhere along here, I got thinking about cupcakes, and pull-apart cakes. I had already committed myself mentally to making a traditional(?) cake- or at least a quarter sheet cake in a pan. But I got thinking about a Betty Crocker design I found for a pull-apart turtle cake. The recipe made two turtles from a single cake recipe, but I had already experimented with making a small Kentucky Chocolate cake by dividing the recipe ingredients by half. So I made a half recipe of the cake and formed it into 12 cupcakes. The only trick is to reduce the cooking time from 35 minutes to about 20 minutes, and to not overfill the cupcake papers; the half recipe is just right for 12 cupcakes.

pullapart placement 002
This picture shows how the 12 cupcakes are arranged to form the turtle. The head is the cupcake on the right, and the hind feet are the two cupcakes that stick out on the left.

I thought the frosting for the pull-apart cake should be firmer than a basic butter cream (what was I thinking- remember I had it so stiff I could mold it.) I chose to use Marlys’s recipe for Basic Cream Cheese Frosting which I felt would be stiff. I turned out to be a perfect spreading frosting- not overly stiff and easy to spread. I took half of the frosting and tinted it with green food coloring, and in the mixer I added Hershey’s cocoa to the other half to get the brown color I wanted. After adding the green food coloring, that half of the frosting was too loose to pipe well, and I had to add more powder sugar to stiffen it back up. For the details, I had leftover some of the original uncolored stiff butter cream frosting and I formed the two balls for the eyes, and deepened the leftover pink I had for the roses to be more red and piped it for the mouth. Perhaps the only thing I would do different in the frosting would be to make more separation between the head and the two front feet; my execution makes them run together.

I will publish Marlys’s frosting recipes in a few days, but I didn’t want to mix the recipes with the experience of making the birthday cakes. If I can learn to make these decorations, then I am certain you can too. So, make someone a birthday cake and decorate it; they will never even see the mistakes and goofs you make, and they will be excited that you remembered them and went to the effort. And the nice thing about practicing with the butter cream frosting is that when you practice on wax paper, you can scrape the mistakes off into your frosting bowl and use the frosting again until you like the results.