A Floral Explosion!

Well, hello, strangers! I realize it has been ages since I’ve posted anything here. I want to let you all know that I have been working quite a bit behind the scenes and will be doing a website update at some point in the near future. In the meantime, I figured I may as well post photos of a cake I made recently. Enjoy!

For a more in-depth explanation of gum paste flowers, click here. And forgive the cake- it was one of the very first ones I ever made! 🙂

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Pretty in Pink

paris eiffel tower bridal showerWhen my sister asked for treats for a Parisian-themed bridal shower, I just knew what would happen. And, exactly like usual, it happened.

My sister threw the most beautiful, coordinated shower ever. She has such an eye for design, color, and beauty, and so as with all her events, it was perfect.

She asked for a ruffle cake so I gave it a go- I’ve never tried one before- and I’ve decided that I can’t get enough of these ruffles! It’s a fairly easy process, as well. I used the method demonstrated here. black white pink ruffle cake

Look at this gorgeous table setting!!

black white pink bridal shower

black white stripe cake shower

A Parisian party wouldn’t be complete without some Eiffel Tower cookies, right? I purchased this stencil on Etsy, only to realize my airbrush machine wasn’t working properly. I had to go to plan C (plan B didn’t work, either) which was to brush luster dust over the stencil and onto the hardened pink icing. Much less labor-intensive than drawing each Eiffel Tower, but not as clean a result as an airbrush would have made. Next on my list, fix the airbrush…eiffel tower party favor cookies

pink fondant ruffle cake

Here are some other photos of the shower, in case you need some inspiration from the next generation’s Martha Stewart!

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Cake decorating in the parking lot… But of course.

Well, it’s been just about 4 months, and the pain and humiliation have dulled enough for me to tell you all this horrible story.

One day, a friend from work asked me to make a cupcake cake for her granddaughter’s first birthday. It seemed like an easy enough request. So I baked, I frosted, and I photographed:

pink cupcake cakeThe next day, I got up and loaded everything in the car. It promised to be a long day; after the 45 minute drive to drop off the cupcake cake, I was headed up north to Wisconsin for my college roomie’s bridal shower. Along with the cake for my coworker, I had 75 individually bagged cookies to bring to the shower. (It was a busy night of baking the evening before and I now realize I never even took a photo of the flower cookies for the shower. Some of them are pictured here in this photo I took to remind myself “Goodness I’ve baked a lot of things today:”)

IMG_5313I drove away from the house with a spring in my step and a song in my voice. The cake sat securely next to me while the cookies were spread out across the backseat.

As I drove, I noticed that the cake was wobbling to and fro a bit. Nothing abnormal, and to be honest, I was secure in the cake’s internal structure. Three layers of cake made up the green base. Three other layers of cake were then set on a cake board, which was then placed on top of the green layers. With five thick straws holding up the pink section, and a wooden dowel rod going through both layers, I thought it had more than enough support.

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About 20 minutes into the drive, a small crack appeared in the side of the green frosting. I momentarily freaked out, but, remembering the cake was for a friend, I knew she wouldn’t mind if I popped into her kitchen and used a spatula to fix that little crack.

Ten minutes later, and the crack had grown. Hugely. I began to drive with one hand holding onto the base, trying to keep it as perfectly horizontal as possible and trying to minimize bumps.

Suddenly, I felt something on my hand, Something heavy. Something that felt like frosting. Glancing quickly at the cake, I let out a high-pitched shriek as I fumbled between driving, catching the cake, and righting my newly arrhythmic heartbeat. The top half of the cake, the pink half, was literally sliding forward. I managed to pull the car over with my left hand just as I caught the top of the cake with my right hand, stopping it just before it fell clear off the bottom part. I sat there in stunned silence, my hand halfway shoved between the two sections of cake. Slowly, I lifted up the pink half of the cake, and the disaster beneath cannot adequately be described in words:

IMG_5343I wish I could say that I scrunched up that cake to make it look worse for the picture, but unfortunately, I did not. It literally fell apart.

I got out of the car, still holding the (intact) pink half of the cupcake, and had no idea what to do. So naturally, I called my mom. And though she is excellent at providing emotional support, she was unable to provide assistance to her daughter who was standing sobbing in the Mariano’s parking lot on a drizzly Sunday morning with half a cake in one hand and the other half spread across her front seat.

I tried to collect myself. I removed the cake base with the messy green bits and put it on the floor of my car, and then set the pink half into the large circular pan. I stood there in the parking lot, using approximately ninety thousand Starbucks napkins that I have amassed over the years (I KNEW they’d come in handy some day!) to wipe off the buttercream that coated my entire arm. Between sniffles, I devised a plan.

I took my tear-stained face into Mariano’s. “Can I help you?” said a concerned worker. “I just need, um, plastic cutlery, and some paper towels. And water. And a plastic bag,” I answered with a hiccup. The gentleman showed me to the aisle and then, I assumed, went back to call the authorities.

I took the supplies back to my parking space and squatted next to the car. Handful by handful, I tossed chunks of cake and green buttercream into the plastic bag. I dampened some paper towels and then attempted to wipe off the frosting around the edge of the cake base. Wetting fondant is not a good idea because it causes it to get sticky and it also leaves a sheen, but it was better than leaving the green everywhere, I thought.

Once the base was sort of presentable, I put the top of the cake on the base. I stood up then and placed the cake onto the trunk of the car. (I can’t frost in a squat.) Initially embarrassed with the glances of Sunday morning shoppers, I now stared at them haughtily, my chin up and my hand tightly gripping my plastic spoon-spatula, eyes just daring them to make a comment: “What? You looking at ME? Haven’t you ever seen someone decorate a cake on the trunk of a car with a crappy plastic spoon before? Geez. Keep shopping, folks, nothing to see here.”

IMG_5345Adding to the overall stress was the fact that, of course, I had promised to bring this cake over by a certain time, and not only would I now be late for that, but I was risking being late for the bridal shower. Which I had the party favors for.

When I eventually arrived at my friend’s house, she oohed and ahhed and graciously reminded me that it was “a smash cake for a one year old. Don’t even worry a bit.” And after showing her the pic of how I had helpfully pre-smashed the green layer for the kid, I went on my way.

“Technically,” the moral of the story is:
Do not taper the edge of a cake in so much. Especially if you’re using regular fluffy cake instead of firm pound cake.

However, the MUCH MORE IMPORTANT moral of the story is:
Only make cakes for kind people who are nice to you if you mess up.

Have you ever had a cake disaster? Or any disaster in the kitchen? Tell me about it in the comments below. It’ll help my self-esteem.

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How to Paint on a Cake: A Short Timelapse Video

Have you ever wanted to see how a cake can be painted to resemble a beautiful Van Gogh?

Well, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This shaky video, filmed with my iPhone hanging with rope off a light fixture, accompanied by a sample of YouTube’s free music that, though inexplicably labeled “If I Had a Chicken,” brings to mind a black-and-white 1910s flick featuring a Vaudevillian duo comically arguing in a dusty saloon…. well, let’s just say this is my first try, and in the future, I shall be purchasing an actual camera and a tripod. Or something.

If you’re interested in seeing some still-photos from the last time I tried this cake, please click here. I promise, it looks nicer and you won’t feel quite the same need to break out your Flapper beads and bust out the Charleston!

I recommend you watch this video, though- you can count the amount of times I hit my head on the light by the amount of times you see the screen shake. 🙂

Introducing: Vegetarian Ribs

carving a ribs cake step by stepAs a 99% vegetarian person, these are some ribs I can really get behind! It’s not that I have any moral problems with meat- I just don’t like it- but these “ribs,” I have no problems with. Vanilla cake, buttercream, fondant, royal icing, and sprinkles. Yummy!

STEP 1: Carve and cover the cake.
This is SO MUCH EASIER if the cake is frozen. I used a 16″ circle and then cut off the top and bottom parts of the circle. Then I cut some divots for the ribs.

After the cake is carved, cover it with buttercream.

Lay fondant across the cake and carefully press it into the divots and around the base. I used a really light color of fondant, but remember, you can’t put a light color of food coloring on top of a darker color. So if I wanted any “highlights” of this light color, it needed to be the base color.

STEP 2: Make rib bones.
I actually made these a few nights in advance so they were quite hard. Using a mixture of gum paste and fondant, I shaped the bones and put them on a long stick. Lay them out to dry. Flip them over every few hours so both sides dry.

STEP 3: Paint away!!!
This was the super fun part!! Mix up a batch of royal icing, and then color it a few different shades. As you can see here on the left, I began with a reddish brown. Of course, don’t cover it completely- let a little of that light brown show through. I then added some black, and then some grill marks. Finish it off with black sprinkles, and then pour on some red royal icing to simulate barbeque sauce! A feast for all- vegetarians included!

 

bbq ribs cake close upcookie french friesI also made some cookie fries. Very simple- regular cookie dough just cut into strips, with a little brown dust added to the tips. With a little cup of royal icing barbeque sauce, you could just dip your cookie into the icing!  bbq rib bones made out of fondant  bbq ribs cake cut open  bbq ribs cake fondant icing cookie french fries  grill cookies hamburger kabobs royal icingI also brought these cookies to the party. They were designed by SweetAmbs- check it out on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/SweetAmbsCookies/videos/1072039919490079/?pnref=story

Easter Egg Cake Pops

easter egg cake pops headerburned cupcakes for cake popsEver wonder what to do with your leftover cake pieces? Cake pops are the answer! Last night, I made a wedding dress cake for a friend’s bridal shower. Not only did I have tons of leftover cake once I had carved the dress, but I also had an entire tray of cupcakes that had burned bottoms. Solution? Cake pops!! 🙂 I’ve only made them once before (click here to see the life-like roses for a “Bachelor” viewing party!) but everyone knows that cake pops are just so darned cute. (For the real Queen of cake pops, check out Bakerella!)

Step 1: Mix your leftover cake pieces with a can of ready-made frosting from the store. Add the frosting little by little so that it doesn’t get too wet and heavy. (I think one box of cake mix mixes into around 1/2 or 3/4 whole can of frosting.)

Step 2: Form the cake balls into whatever shape you like. Put into refrigerator for a while.

Step 3: Melt candy melts in a dish. Dip the tip of a stick into the melts, and then insert into the bottom of your cake pops. Place back into the fridge until these harden. (It only takes a few minutes!)

Step 4: Once hardened, dip your entire cake pop into the candy melts. Twirl to get rid of excess (I haven’t mastered this yet!), and then place upright in a cake pop holder or a piece of styrofoam. Let harden completely.

Step 5: Finally, the fun part! Decorate away! 🙂 I attached the larger sprinkles one by one, using a toothpick dipped in a teeny bit of the melted candy. For the smaller sprinkles and sugars, I used a paintbrush dipped in piping gel and coated the area I wanted covered, and then dumped on the sprinkles. They will adhere exactly where your piping gel was!

cake pops how to in progressOnce everything was dry, I set about taking my photographs. A brightly-colored container, a few sheets of paper, a piece of styrofoam, and some plastic grass from a craft store and viola! All you’ll need is the camera! 🙂

Easter egg cake pops 1 Easter egg cake pops 2 Easter egg cake pops

Painting on Fondant

materials for da vinci painted cakeQuestion: How on earth can I recreate a Renaissance art piece using cake materials? I’ve been putting it off for months. Impressionism, post-impressionism, surrealism, cubism… those are so much more forgiving. But the precision of those Italian masters would be impossible to recreate, and I resigned myself to skipping that period.

But then I thought, really, Kath?! You’re going to do an art series and skip one of the most well-known periods? So I devised a compromise. How about I do a famous drawing instead of a painting? That would be easier because I wouldn’t have color troubles. A sketch would be even better than a drawing- a nice, rough, one-tone sketch that maybe looked like it was scribbled in five minutes, as opposed to, say, the Mona Lisa.

After looking around a bit, I found a print of a Leonardo da Vinci drawing that is suspected by some to be a self-portrait. Pretty simple- brownish background with brownish chalk. (Well, simple for Leo, I mean, haha!) I set to work with the fewest materials ever: brownish fondant, one fine paintbrush (that would be a paintbrush that has a thin tip, not a paintbrush that you look at and say, Dang, that paintbrush is fiiiiiine!), brown gel coloring, and lemon extract. That is literally it.

The process is simple enough- cover a rectangular cake with brownish fondant, put a little food gel coloring on a plate, add a splash of lemon extract (or you can use vodka, just sayin’), and paint away. The more extract you add, the lighter your color will be. The less you add, the bolder the color will be. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly, because:

CHALLENGE #1:
Brown food coloring is apparently not brown, it is green at heart. And black is actually blue.

This is a weird phenomenon to me, and I do not understand the chemistry behind the process. But here is what happens, according to my simple observation: If you use brown coloring in fondant, royal icing, buttercream, gum paste, or any other medium I’ve ever used, it makes it brown. (Duh.) However, when you add lemon extract, it separates into individual colors, with the predominant one being green. ??? Why? I don’t know! I don’t get it! And the black coloring turned blue! Check out the evidence below!

difference between black and brown food coloring

In a way, this is a sort of beautiful plate. But in another way, it’s extremely annoying when your Leonardo da Vinci comes out greenish and seasick. And as I could find neither a cause nor a solution, I present to you: Leo: His Life on the High Seas.

CHALLENGE # 2:
It is hard to paint for hours while leaning over and not being able to support your hand.

Sounds like I’m being lazy, which is something I usually specialize in- but this is a serious problem here. Pick up a pen for a sec and try to write something without placing your arm on the table. I bet your handwriting isn’t very nice, huh? This is the way cake decorators always have to work, because obviously, one cannot rest her arm on the rest of the cake. Now, I’ve been taught a few different ways to anchor my piping hand (you get SUCH a better, cleaner result if you anchor your hand!)- but this was impossible to anchor for so many hours. Normally, the longest thing I would need to anchor for would be “Happy Birthday!” It would have been super nice to set this cake up on an easel, but again, that’s not something you can do with a cake. (Think: “cake-sliding-down-broom-handle” from Sleeping Beauty!)

CHALLENGE #3:
As always with food coloring, you cannot add light color on top of a darker one.

Therefore, if you paint over an area that should be lighter, you are in trouble! You must be careful! Working with paint is quite different because yellow paint can be painted atop black, but since food coloring is clear-ish, that doesn’t work. For example, using the third photo below- with regular paints, I would paint the pupil the desired color and add a dot of white in the center of the pupil to make it look like it was glinting. But in this case, a little area for the “dot of white” must always be preserved and not painted on. It’s a backwards sort of way of thinking.

Here is the in-progress photo compilation, featuring the cake as well as the speck of dust that is inside my phone’s camera lens (anyone know what to do about that?):

in process painted da vinci cake 1in process painted da vinci cake 2leonardo da vinci cake painted with food gel coloring self portrait

leonardo da vinci cake painting with food coloring self portraitClick below for other art-inspired cakes:
Van Gogh (painting with buttercream), Monet (painting with royal icing), Monet (Nerds candy), Cezanne (apple peels), Michelangelo (modeling chocolate sculpture), and Ansel Adams (chocolate shavings)

Do you have an idea for an art-inspired cake? Leave me a suggestion in the comments below!

A Special Puppy Cake for a Very Special Person

Perhaps you’ve heard about Haley. Maybe you’ve heard about her on the news, seen her with the Chicago Bears or read about her in a magazine. Maybe you follow her facebook page. I, myself, have never met Haley or her family. But what I have witnessed is an entire community coming together to support and encourage Haley in her battle with brain cancer. Diagnosed in the summer of 2013, the community has since rallied to envelop Haley, her family, and her caregivers with prayers and well-wishes.

This past weekend, Haley was the guest of honor at an event and I was lucky enough to be able to create a cake for her. A “French bulldog puppy” was requested so I set to work!

dog cake in processThe body of the puppy was four sheet cakes covered in modeling chocolate. Once the basic shape was created, I stood up and stepped out of the kitchen for a moment. Walking back in a minute later, I suddenly stopped in my tracks and the air was knocked out of my lungs. “Oh. My. Goodness. That’s no dog- that’s a TURKEY!” My heart sank as I stared. It literally looked exactly like a turkey. From every angle. I can just picture the conversation now: “Um… wow! We had requested a French Bulldog, but, um, a turkey is good too!”

It was at this moment that my nerves began. I usually have a pretty accurate overall vision for cakes, and while I always worry about finishing on time or running out of materials, I never worry about the design.

But this turkey/dog? Oh my!

I took a deep breath and tried to tell myself it would be okay. “It doesn’t even have a head yet, silly!” the small, rational part of my brain countered, as the rest of my being screamed “OMGIT’SATURKEYDOG!!!”

And so, with great trepidation, I quelled the swirling nerves and put my game face on. Since the bird- err, dog- was already covered in modeling chocolate, it was time to add a layer of fur. I took a little at a time, warmed it in my hands a bit, stuck it on the side, and used the burnishing tool to create little ridges that (hopefully) looked like fur.

dog cake burnishing fur

Once the modeling chocolate fur was added, I added the head. I had taken a styrofoam ball and covered it in modeling chocolate, inserting the whole thing through the cake and into a pre-made hole in the cake board. I would like to say that the head was inserted at a jaunty angle to give the dog a spunky personality… but the truth is, I didn’t trust it to sit up straight. It was covered in so much chocolate and was so extremely heavy that I needed to have the stability of an angled base, as well as the ability to rest it on the side of the body.

dog cake in progress add headAbout ten hours of Netflix and one depressing Blackhawks loss later, the turkey dog was not looking like anything fit to serve. I did a cursory glance throughout the kitchen as I imagined myself re-baking the cakes at 3am. With the bundle of nerves rising closer and closer to the surface, I continued to add fur and textures and shading, as I sent up a prayer and hoped for the best.

It wasn’t until I added the snout that I suddenly believed in the dog. (Try it- cover up the snout in the photo below. It looks like something out of Star Wars, right?) But that cute lil’ fondant nose, painted with black food coloring so it glistened? Nooooow we have a dog, instead of a gremlin. Whew!

french bulldog dog puppy cake modeling chocolatefrench bulldog puppy cake close up of faceFor some more in-depth modeling chocolate examples, check out my attempts at Bucky the Badger, Yoda, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and the Wizard of Oz characters!

To learn more about Haley and donate to her cause, check out her website here. If you’re in the Cary area, come to her event at CGHS this Saturday for a festive afternoon of cookies, hot chocolate, live music, and a silent auction chock full of great items!

A Mountain of Chocolate to Make a Mountain of Chocolate

chocolate shavings for cake“All you need is love. But a little chocolate every now and then doesn’t hurt.” (Charles M. Schulz)

I’m getting to the end of my art series (“Finally,” you sigh with relief, for perhaps you do not like art at all and are sick of these types of posts!) and I’m running out of both art styles as well as viable cake decorating techniques. I’ve been putting off the photography recreation, because it seemed impossible. But after I baked a delicious chocolate cake last week (so yummy!), I had chocolate on my mind! A little idea took root in a dusty corner of my brain (it’s next to the little-used math section) and I thought, what if I cut up pieces of chocolate? Really, really small? And place them, one by one, in the form of something?

I’d love to report that this was easy as pie, but I cannot lie. I sat for hours and hours, hunched over the table, clutching tweezers in my hand, and glancing up at the real photograph for guidance. I mean, honestly. What kind of crazy person places these teeny tiny dots of chocolate individually? And to what end?

Unfortunately, I still have no answer to that question! But I finished the task, because it is my unfortunate allotment in life to be an obsessive perfectionist.

  close up chocolate photograph cake 2
(Close up view of the bottom right corner of the photograph)

Rather than post lots of photographs showing the progress, they are compiled here. Click to watch the cake come together in less than one minute!

As you can see, the process was simple but time consuming:
1. Choose an appropriate photograph as your muse. I used Ansel Adams’ “Moon and Half Dome.”
2. Cover a cake with fondant in the appropriate background colors
3. Cut up chocolate pieces (I used a cheese grater and, for once, didn’t scrape my knuckles to death!)
4. Using tweezers (because, despite what we learned from M&Ms, chocolate does melt in your hand), carefully place each piece of chocolate.
5. Be prepared to dedicate a significant portion of your life to this, for no really good reason.
6. Use vanilla extract to create a darker background for certain parts of the photograph.
7. Take a photograph of the finished product using a black and white filter (I don’t usually use filters to alter the colors, but in this case, the chocolate was WAY too brown, so it needed to be done!)
8. Rejoice and be glad, for you are finished!

ansel adams cake made of chocolate shavings 2

blocking light for cakeHere’s an inside look at my high-tech photography studio! I made this cake at my parents’ house and used my mom as a human shadow-blocker. Thanks, Mom! 🙂

Check out the other art styles I’ve attempted:
* Renaissance using modeling chocolate (Michelangelo)
* Impressionism using royal icing (Monet)
* Impressionism using Nerds (Monet)
* Post-impressionism using buttercream (Van Gogh)
* Post-impressionism using apples (Cezanne)

Impressionism with Royal Icing

supplies to paint with royal icing cakeNext up in my attempt at recreating famous works of art with various cake supplies: Monet’s “Sunset in Venice.” Which reminds me- who’s with me for a trip to Venice? The only place I’ve ever had an attempted pickpocketing take place- and it was by an American. I mean, come on. Luckily the bag was twisted around my wrist so the grab only succeeded in nearly dislocating my shoulder. Apparently the thief did not know of my special shoulders that can dislocate at a moment’s notice. If he’d asked, I would have demonstrated how I can play the piano backwards.

In this series so far, I have used buttercream, modeling chocolate, fruit, and candy. In an effort to use as many different types of cake decorating techniques as possible, I now turn to royal icing. (Royal icing is that type of icing that is usually on cut-out cookies. It dries hard and shiny.) Since royal icing dries incredibly fast, I knew that blending was out of the question, so I needed an art technique that was more… dabby. And so it happened that I fell again to Monet, again to Impressionism- but what can I say! It’s a nice era and lends itself to sugar! 🙂

Once the cake was covered in fondant, I separated the royal icing into several small bowls and tinted them various colors. Once a dab of color was painted on, it was dry within 15 seconds, which caused a bit of a conundrum. Not only was the cake itself drying rapidly and with little time for blending, but the icing in the bowls themselves was hardening. One way to help stop this is to keep a wet paper towel across the rim of the bowl- it slows down the drying. But you’ll need to keep moistening the paper towel. 🙂

After that, it’s time to paint! Here are the “in progress” photos:

in progress sunset royal icing painting cake 1in progress sunset royal icing painting cake 2in progress sunset royal icing painting cake 3  And here is the final product, with a nice lovely frame to make it look like a real painting!

painted sunset cake royal icingI am running out of ideas for techniques! I have a plan for a fondant cake, and that is it. Please leave a note in the comments below if you can think of a different decorating idea. And a different artist. 🙂 I’m missing the 1600s-1700s completely, and can’t even fathom a decorating technique that would allow me to create such realistic figures. HELP!!!