Monthly Archives: February 2014

Murphy was with me every step!

The requirement for week 7 of the level 1 Cake Decorating class was to bring two frosted cakes to class; one was to be a 10 inch two layer (tier) cake and the other was to be a 6 inch two tier cake. At home, we were to bake the cakes, level them, fill them, crumb coat them, and ice them smooth. We could split and fill the layers if we wanted, and I generally want to do that so there is less dry cake.

My plan was to make the 10 inch cake with yellow cake mix; I figured that I needed 1 ½ boxes, and I had the ½ box left over from week 2. I wanted to use fillings that reflect the filling and toppings that are on the napoleons I make, so I would split the layers and use dark chocolate ganache between the halves of one layer and apricot glaze between the halves of the second layer. Then between the layers I would use pastry cream. I would ice the yellow cake with purple butter cream, and take yellow buttercream for decorating the cake at class.

For the 6 inch cake, I wanted to experiment with German’s chocolate, so the cake would be a German Chocolate mix. I would use a ganache made from German’s chocolate between the split layers, and I would use a white Whip Kreme Buttercream frosting with coconut and chopped pecans mixed in as the filling between tiers. I would ice the chocolate cake with gold buttercream, and take dark brown buttercream for decorating the cake at class.

The first day went all right; I was able to make both flavors of ganache, and the apricot glaze. I already had colored buttercream for purple and gold, but needed to add about a cup to each so I would have enough. I also had the Whip Kreme Buttercream frosting and only needed to add some chopped pecans and coconut to it. And I made new batches of buttercream and colored them the yellow and dark brown colors that I wanted. Perhaps the only trouble that first day was all the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder that went flying around. I had to give the counters and floor a good scrubbing when I finished.

Day two was baking the cakes, and Murphy was sitting right on my shoulder. I got too much in a hurry and thought I was being efficient. I took the supplies for both cakes out and had them on the counter. So first I was going to make the 10 inch cakes. Into the mixer bowl, I placed 1 ½ times the amount of water, oil and eggs that the recipe on the box said because I was going to add the ½ package of leftover cake mix. I tore open the box and the plastic bag and dumped it into the mixer bowl, and it was brown, not yellow! I had picked up the wrong box! Luckily, I had not put the ½ package in so I suddenly changed my plans; the 10 inch cake would be the German’s chocolate and the 6 inch cake would be the yellow cake. I put the ½ package of yellow cake mix bake into the pantry; I wouldn’t be using it. And I got out a second box of the German chocolate cake mix since I was certain that the 10 inch cakes would need more than a single box of cake mix. (Did I remember to add more water, oil and egg when I changed from adding just ½ a box to a full box? I don’t recall).

I was glad to see that my effort to cook the cake slow and somewhat protected around the sides did keep the layers quite level. They were not has high as I had hoped, so perhaps I forgot to increase the water, oil and egg amounts. But the results were very usable.

Now I started on the yellow 6 inch cake. Everything was going according to plan and the toothpick was coming out nice and clean. The cakes were almost 2 inches above the edge of the pans, so I would have nice level layers. When I turned them out of the pans, they didn’t want to come out. That was bad news. I finally felt them come loose and drop out of the pans, but the bottom inch didn’t come out; it was stuck in the pan because it was not cooked! My toothpick was three inches long- probably only going in about 2 ¾ inches since I had to hold onto part of it. And that length did not get down to the bottom inch of the cakes which was not finished baking!

There was only one answer; I had to go to the store and get another box of cake mix. I grabbed a box of white cake mix and rushed home. In some ways, that choice saved me from another error. I am starting over at the mixer and reading the directions and it says 3 egg whites and I hadn’t even thought about needing more eggs. I only had two eggs in the refrigerator. But meringue powder is basically egg white, so I quickly decided to add some meringue powder for the third egg. I probably added 2 tablespoons of meringue powder. (Luckily I have plenty of meringue powder around- the recipes for Buttercream and Royal Icing all use it).

So, with the cake mixed, I put them in the oven to bake. But I forgot to turn the oven down 25 degrees to slow the cooking down, so the cakes came out with quite large domes. But I did use a longer tester that went all the way to the bottom of the pan to test that the cakes were done. I let all the cakes cool overnight and thought about what had to happen on day three.

Day three was when I needed to level the cakes, split them and fill the split, fill between the layers, and crumb coat the stacked layers. The excitement this day had mostly to do with handling the cakes. I made a big mistake in leveling the cake by trying to save an extra 1/8 of an inch in height of each layer. The low spot on the 10 inch layer was about 1 inch, and my choices on the cake leveler knife were 7/8 or 1 1/8 inches. I chose the latter and left a slight hump in the center of each layer. Then I split the layer at 5/8 inches and as I was moving the top of the split, it broke. I filled the split and rearranged the pieces of the top onto the bottom as best as I could.

Leveling the 6 inch cake was the same issue with choosing the point to make the cut; again I chose to go up the 1/8 inch from where I should have- it is probably an amateurish thing to keep as much cake as you can rather than going down to where the layer will really be level. With the smaller size layers, I had no trouble with the cake splitting of the 6 inch cakes and got them filled and stacked.

Because I had left the 1/8 inch at the edge of each layer of the cakes, I had to use a lot of Buttercream to fill that gap. And then I was ready to crumb coat the cakes. I think this part went fairly well, and I was happy that the crumb coat would be able to dry overnight.

Day four is to put the smooth icing on the cakes. I started with the 10 inch cake and the gold buttercream. As I tried to put the icing on the top of the cake in gobs, it was pulling the crumb coating off! Either I hadn’t had the buttercream out of the refrigerator long enough, or it was too thick. So I worked the frosting and added a bit of water to get it to the consistency I needed. After getting the icing fairly smooth, I was planning to use the parchment paper technique for the final smoothing. This would be my first attempt at using that method, and I couldn’t seem to get it to work. So I ended up using the hot knife method. Looking at the cake now, it has problems; it is not really flat on top but instead has a slight dome so I probably didn’t take enough frosting off the center of the top. And one edge of the cake is really bad; it looks like the side frosting slipped and pulled the top edge down with it. The 6 inch cake is somewhat better. Again, it is not as smooth as I would like but the top is flatter.

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Twenty-four hours later, I am looking at the cakes and as you can see, they are not very professional. They don’t really look very good. The supposedly smooth icing is not, and the supposedly nice flat top and straight sides are not. It is obvious that I should be making a lot of cakes to practice the techniques and get better at making a “smooth iced” cake. I hope the decorations to be added in class will hide a lot of the issues I have with these cakes.

So day five is off to class to learn how to put these two cakes together.

Valentine’s Day Cupcakes

For Valentine’s Day, I distributed cupcakes. Not just ordinary cupcakes, but filled cupcakes. I made two different recipes of cupcakes; a chocolate recipe and a white cake recipe. Each recipe gave me 24 cupcakes for a total of 48. Then, because some people think cupcakes are a dry cake, and not very tasty after you eat the frosting off, I decided to fill the cupcakes to make the dough tastier. I ended up filling the white cake ones with chocolate ganache, and the chocolate cupcakes with creme patissiere. (There are a bunch of those marks over the vowels in creme patissiere, but they are difficult to put there; think of it as pastry cream which is a custard filling). This photo shows my test cupcakes before I used the chocolate ganache or creme patissiere and used some existing buttercream frosting both as the filling and as the pink frosting. I mixed some red frosting for the final assembly.

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There is really no trick about the filling of the cupcakes. You use a knife to cut a lid off the cupcake. Insert the knife at a 45 degree angle and rotate around the cupcake. When you lift the lid off, cut the point of the cone away as scraps. I also did a little digging of the center of the cupcake with the lid off to make the space bigger. Then you put the filling in that open space and put the remaining lid back on; the filling will help keep the lid in place.

I piped the frosting with a #2D tip; this is a very large star tip that requires the special large coupler on the bag. The design is created by starting with a star in the center, and then creating a spiral around the center until the top of the cake is filled. You can see the difference the large #2D tip made compared with the pink frosting on my test cupcakes which used a smaller #21 piping tip.

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I thought that the frosting might cover the cupcakes to the point that one would not be able to tell whether the cupcake was a white cake or a chocolate cupcake. So I planned ahead and created the purple drop flowers with brown and white centers. Then at the end of each spiral of frosting I placed one of the dried drop flowers to indicate the cake type. These big drop flowers were also made with the #2d piping tip. I wanted them big and bold.

I hope this gives you some ideas for moving forward with cupcakes that you might make. I note on the internet that lots of people are now doing filled cupcakes, and even the top frosting design is starting to be common; I saw it referred to as a rose on one site.

Alice’s Salmon Salad

This recipe was sent to me by my sister Ann. I made it a couple times; the first time I felt was a disaster, but the second time I really thought it was excellent, and very tasty. So, please read all my hints and suggestions before trying to do this recipe; I will guarantee it will make the recipe clearer, and you will like the results.

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Ann says “Sorry but the recipe is a zillion years old and I have no recollection of who Alice might be. Probably I picked up the recipe from some friend and Alice is a friend of a friend or such”.

Ann likes to buy a salmon filet, check it for pin bones and then either steam or poach it and after it cools, flake it for the salad. I found that Grotons now has grilled salmon in the freezer aisle which you can microwave, and then I flaked it with a couple forks. The Grotons grilled salmon comes in 6.3 ounce packages, so I bought two for 3/4 of a pound. This turned out to be plenty of salmon even though the recipe says 1 pound of salmon. I suspect that the 1 pound shrinks to more like the 12 ounces when the skin and bones are removed. Whatever you do, skip the canned salmon; it is a disaster! In fact, I eliminated the mention of canned salmon from the recipe.

Update June 2015

I have made this salad several times now, and think I should update my experiences with making it. This last time, I put the shredded cabbage in the ice bath, and I feel that is more work than necessary. I was cleaning up cabbage all over the place after getting it back into the bowl. There were several problems; I had to find the ice cubes that hadn’t melted and remove them, I had a towel that had cabbage flakes all over it, and of course, I had cabbage flakes on the counter and floor from all the extra manipulation. So, just refrigerate the shredded cabbage for a couple hours before spicing it and adding the salmon mixture.

I am also certain now that the salad does not need a full pound of salmon- especially if you are using a fillet of salmon. Remove any pin bones, and cook it, and then flake it. While Ann says she steams or poaches the fillet, I found that it is quite easy to pan-fry. I put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the fry pan, place the fillet skin-side down in the pan and turn the heat to medium high. Then cover the pan and cook on the skin-side for about 5 minutes. Turn the fillet over and cook on the meat side, covered, for 3 minutes. Take it out of the pan to stop the cooking and let it cool on a plate. Once you can touch it, you can flake it into a bowl where you will combine it with the other ingredients as per the recipe.

Alice’s Salmon Salad


  • 3 cups finely shredded cabbage
  • Ice water and ice cubes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound red salmon, minced
  • 3 small sweet gherkins, minced
  • 2 hard cooked eggs, diced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise or enough to hold mixture together
  • 1 Tablespoon catsup
  • 1 teaspoon worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 small shallots or green onions, minced
  • Dash cayenne or hot sauce
  • Lettuce
  • Whole sweet gherkins


Twenty (20) minutes before serving, soak the cabbage in ice water and ice cubes to crispen. Drain and pat dry on a towel. Dump into a bowl, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sugar; add vinegar and oil. Mix and drain excess juice from bowl.

To prepare the salmon, flake salmon with forefingers or forks. Add the next 8 ingredients (salmon thru cayenne) and combine with seasoned slaw, then mix with 2 forks. Pile it into a bowl and garnish with lettuce and whole gherkins.

I think the directions can be simplified. I found I could slaw the cabbage and it was plenty crisp if I just put it in the refrigerator. I am assuming that the cabbage was kept in the refrigerator before it was sliced. so that eliminates the need for the ice water and ice cube bath, and the draining and patting dry. Just mix the dressing into the cabbage when you put it back into the refrigerator- salt, pepper, sugar, oil and vinegar. I didn’t have enough excess liquid that there was anything to drain when I took the cabbage back out of the refrigerator; I suspect the ice water doesn’t all get drained the first time if you use the water bath method.

The first time I tried to make the salad, I ran the cabbage through a shredding blade on the food processor; I ended up with cabbage pulp- not cabbage slaw. So while the recipe says shredded cabbage, don’t shred it. Slice it into pieces that are very narrow (3/16 inch) and about 1 1/2 inches long.

I also think the 1/2 cup of mayonnaise is overkill; I used only about a Tablespoon and felt it was plenty. An advantage with using less mayo is that if you have leftover salad, you can refrigerate it and have it a second day and there is not a lot of extra “juice” that you need to drain off. Mayo separates when it is in a salad that then gets refrigerated.

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I served my salad on the lettuce leaf on a dinner plate with three gerkins on the side. I got three very healthy servings from the salad. Healthy in both size, and nutritional value- Salmon is a great source of omega 3 fat.