On to the plate

Experimenting with flavours, colours and style of food served at our place


Braided Pesto Bread

I’ve had a recipe pinned for a pesto bread for ages. You can see the original recipe here.

Basil Pesto Bread

In the end I didn’t use the recipe at all, rather just the method to achieve the braid.

Instead I used the bread dough recipe from the Craftsy class I purchased, as well as using the Pesto recipe from the Perfect Pizza at Home class. The Perfect Pizza at Home class is free! If you like pizza then I thoroughly recommend enrolling. It wont cost a cent, and you get to see some of the different techniques used to knead the dough. That’s the Stretch and Fold technique I’ve previously mentioned and shared a YouTube video of Peter Reinhart demonstrating it.

Basil Pesto Ingredients

The pesto recipe is in the class materials and it was my first time making pesto. I only made half the recipe because I didn’t have enough basil, but then the half recipe was more than ample and I ended up dividing the left over into two small freezer bags. One of which I used for the braided pesto bread.

Basil Pesto

I wasn’t 100% sure about the bread recipe I chose. It was to make baguettes not a filled bread, but I felt that most bread doughs can be adapted easily enough and when compared to the dough recipe in the original Braided Pesto Bread, I didn’t think there was a huge difference that it would matter.

I love the simplicity of the bread doughs in the Artisan Bread Craftsy class. I used the Marbled Rye bread recipe before, a type of bread I’ve never made but it tuned out great. Other than the fact I learnt I don’t like caraway seeds and it put me off eating the bread.

But this braided pesto bread? Fabulous. Loved it. Will make it again. So simple but full of great flavours, and the bread itself was lovely and soft in the centre with a crunchy outer shell.

Basil Pesto (full recipe)


  • 8 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped and tossed in 2 tablespoons (30 g) of olive oil
  • 2 cups (437 g) fresh basil leaves, washed and stemmed, and tightly packed into a measuring cup
  • 3⁄4 cup (177 g) grated Parmesan or other dry aged cheese
  • 1 cup (237 g) pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toast- ed
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup (237 g) extra virgin olive oil


  • Heat a frypan or skillet over medium heat.
  • When the frypan is hot, add the chopped garlic/olive oil mixture. Stir for 15 seconds and then remove the pan from the heat. (You only want to heat and “sweat” the garlic, not brown it.)
  • Place the remaining ingredients into a food processor and add the heated garlic/oil mixture.
  • Pulse the mixture until all the basil is broken down and the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  • Run the food processor for an additional 5 to 10 seconds to make a bright green, pebbly-textured sauce, thin enough to spread easily but not so thin as to be runny.
  • Add more olive oil if it’s too thick, or more grated cheese if it’s too thin.
  • Transfer the pesto to a container that can be covered with a lid to minimise oxidation.
  • Keep the pesto refrigerated for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to three months.


White bread (full recipe)


  • 567gm bread flour (I used High Grade flour)
  • 11g (1.5tsp) salt
  • 3.5gm  (1tsp) instant yeast (I used the prepackaged sachets of Edmonds yeast)
  • 385gm water at room temperature


  • In mixer mix all ingredients on slow speed with the paddle for 1 minute.
  • Increase
 to medium slow (no. 2 on the KitchenAid) and mix for 1 more minute. The dough will be soft and sticky.
  • Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
  • Mix on medium low (no. 3 on the KitchenAid) for an additional 30 seconds. The dough will form a soft, slightly sticky ball.
  • Lightly oil the surface of your bench. Use your fingers to spread the oil around the surface where you’ll tip the dough onto.
  • Tip the dough onto the oiled bench and complete the first stretch and fold.
  • Cover the dough with a large bowl and wait 20 minutes before proceeding with the 2nd (of 4) stretch and folds.
  • Re-oil the bench as needed.
  • Once 4 stretch and folds have been completed (with 20 minutes rest before the next stretch and fold) the dough is ready to rest until it doubles in size, this will take around 60-90 minutes depending on how warm or cold the room is. Remember to cover the dough with a large upturned bowl.

1309_Pesto and Parmasen

1309_Cutting and shaping

To make the braided bread

  • Re-oil the surface of the bench ready to roll the dough into a rectangle.
  • Press the dough into a rectangle and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until is roughly 9 x 13” in size.
  • Spread the pesto over the surface leaving a 1cm gap all the way around.
  • Grate some Parmesan cheese over the pesto, I’m not saying how much you need, just as much or as little as you want, but generally if you’ve covered the pesto you’re good to go.
  • Starting with the long end of the dough, roll the dough, tightly, toward you.
  • Pinch the end to seal it then roll the dough so the sealed end is underneath.
  • Get a large baking sheet around 9 x 13” in size and line it with baking paper.
  • Transfer your rolled up dough to the baking sheet and using a sharp knife cut the dough from top to bottom. Now you have two separate pieces.
  • Pinch the top two ends together and begin to braid by placing one side over the other. I started with the left side over the right meaning the right was on the left side. Keep repeating until you’ve braided the length of the bread.
  • You want to work the braid so the cut side is facing up where you can see all the bright green pesto peeking out.
  • Pinch the bottom ends together and then join the two ends (top and bottom pinched ends) together so you’ve formed a circle of dough.
  • Lightly cover the circle of dough with Gladwrap and let it rest for 30 minutes while the oven is heating.
  • Heat the oven to 240deg Celsius and if you’ve got one, place a pizza stone on the lowest shelf.
  • Remove the Gladwrap and grate a bit more Parmesan cheese over the top of the dough.
  • Bake the bread for 20-25 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Sometimes when I write up a baking experience several days after I’ve made the recipe (and this was made Sunday last week) it makes me really hunger for more of the same.

I enjoyed making the bread. I had plenty of time in between the stretch and folds and resting times to get stuck into other things (I was making gumpaste from the left over ombre pink fondant from Mum’s birthday cake). The bread was easy to make, I don’t know why people have a fear of baking bread. This recipe and method is so straight forward, and since you don’t have to knead for long periods in your mixer, or by hand, there’s nothing stopping a bread-baking novice giving this recipe a go. You’ll be glad you did.

1309_Baked and served



The breakdown of making a Fondant Frilled cake (Mum’s birthday cake)

This is going to be a long post I suspect. To try and make it less yawn-worthy I’ll separate it out into:

  • The Cake
  • Ganache and covering with fondant
  • Fondant Frills
  • Gumpaste Peony flowers

But a reminder of what the finished cake looks like, because as you’ll soon read, this cake did not look pretty during different stages, and perhaps more importantly the top tier was not meant to be frilled at all. You’ll read why it had to, if you make it that far.

Finished cake

The Cake

Given the number of really positive comments I’ve had when making the Betty Crocker Super Moist Vanilla cake using the adaptions from Rose Bake’s post, I was a bit perplexed because I didn’t want to make a box mix, but I wanted all the flavour that came with it, and it makes a really nice moist cake. I wanted all of that, especially because I was making the cakes a week ahead freezing them, then collecting them from Natalie’s on Thursday to begin decorating. I needed a nice moist cake that would retain it’s flavour.

What I had decided to do was make the WASC cake, but instead of sour cream I made up the instant puddings. The 8″ cakes were Butterscotch. The 5″ cakes were vanilla instant pudding with a Lorann Kahlua flavour. I swapped out the milk for buttermilk.

Friday night I made all the cakes. I used my 8″ pans that are 3″ deep and essentially had 4 layers of cake mix in the two pans. I also made the 5″ cakes, also in a 3″ deep pan, but I only had one 5″ pan. It was quite a long night, especially when I made lemon curd, waffle batter and got a crusty no knead bread underway, and all the while keeping up with conversation with Kade and Randall who were staying overnight on a whirlwind stop.

Bake me a cake

The cake batter came 4 cm up the pan and then the cakes rose almost to the top. Unfortunately the 8″ cakes dipped big time, in fact they sunk lower than the 4cm of uncooked batter. I had wondered about using a rose nail to get more heat into the pans, and on reflection I should have done it. The reason I hesitated was when using them on Cameron’s cakes it made the cakes cook on the bottom with a bit hollow, and I didn’t want that either.

8 and 5 inch cakes

After the cakes had cooled I double wrapped them in Gladwrap and then left them in the fridge overnight. The next morning I torted and levelled them, only to find one of the 8″ cakes was still stodgy in the middle. I couldn’t bare the thought of having the cake cut and seeing something that looked slightly undercooked. There was nothing more to do than whip up another two cakes. This time I put the batter across both 8″ cake pans. They cooked up fine. I was worried about trimming them while they were still so fresh and wondered if I should put them in the freezer rather than the fridge to get properly cold. I decided on the fridge.

Ganache and covering with fondant

I was making a white chocolate ganache. I’d found a link on Facebook where a very talented NZ Cake Decorator had provided her recipe. I made the ganache during the week to see what it was like, so I had time to change to something else if it didn’t work out. I have little faith 😉  No, it’s just this was too important to wing it.

torted and trimmed-2

I used the left over Valhrona white chocolate I had used with Mr Fussy’s Devils Dream Cake, some Cadbury chocolate buttons (has cocoa butter) and the balance with Nestles compound buttons. I really liked the method used and I’ll use this method again. I added a Lorann Caramel essence to the ganache. I might have added two. I had Mr Fussy as a taste tester and he couldn’t detect the caramel so I think I used both tiny bottles.  I’m not sure if I’ll use the recipe as is, I need to tweak it, or flag a white chocolate ganache and stick with chocolate with around a 50% cocoa percentage.

The reason I say that is it didn’t firm up as much as I would have liked. It was great to use. I found Ganaching the cakes much easier with this, but the pay off is it not setting firm enough. It does firm up nicely in the fridge, but it softens as the cake comes back to room temperature. And this caused me immense grief when it came to covering the cakes with fondant.

The only snag I had covering the cake with the ganache, came at the top. This is the very first cake where as I separated the cake card from the top (having brushed it with water to make it sieze and therefore “pop” off) it actually pulled the ganache off. I figured it would happen at some stage but was pretty peeved it had to be now. I had to re-warm the left over ganache to get it slightly runnier to more easily fill the void. As I moved the offset spatula around the top it kept pulling at the rest of the ganache. It was tedious work and I sort of gave up. It wasn’t until later when I was thinking about flipping the cake upside down for the fondant frills that I cursed myself not persevering and getting a perfectly flat top. I really needed that flat top when I was tipping the cake upside down.

I was pretty relaxed about covering the cakes. I knew the 8″ cake would have the sides completely covered with the fondant frills so I didn’t have to focus too hard on getting everything pristine, but that’s exactly what I needed with the 5″ cake.

My plan for the 5″ cake was to cover it and leave it perfectly plain, to then spray it with a pearl lustre dust and then pop the peony set on top, allowing the peony to be the focal point.

When it came to the 8″ cake I could tell I’d rolled the very edge of the fondant a little thin. I wasn’t too worried because I suspected this corner to end up as excess drapage.  Mr Fussy pulled the cake toward me and I unrolled the fondant over the top. And very soon the weight of the fondant was pulling and I was starting to see cracks all around the top edge. They smoothed out pretty nicely, but then as I smoothed the sides I could see that the fondant was too thin and I was getting some tearing. I’ve never had that before on the sides. I also had a couple of air bubbles that refused to release the air no matter how many times I poked at them. And then as minutes passed I saw that there were small bulges in several spots around the sides of the cake.

I’ve never had that much trouble with a round cake. I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t panicking. You wouldn’t see it, but it would have been better if I could get the bubbles out and resolve the bulges. I put this down to the ganache softening too much.

ganached and covered-2

In the photo above you can see a bulge in the bottom left of the cake, and another right at the front top edge. And I’m not showing you the worst bit, where I attempted to patch a tear that I deemed too wide to leave alone.

As for that 5″ tier that I needed pristine. Well that turned out not to happen. I’ve never ever had to pull the fondant off a cake before, but I had to do it twice! Each time a bit of ganache came with the cake and I had to wipe it off with a paper towel. I ended up putting the cake back into the fridge hoping it would harden up enough to allow me a better attempt. Each time it pulled at the top edge and was actually tearing right off. I put this down to the smaller diameter with the same height as the 8″ cake. It was just too much drag.

While I sat waiting for the ganache to harden I wracked my brain about how I could still get the covering I wanted. I just couldn’t see how it was going to happen. And I’m too inexperienced to know what to do. So I did the only thing I could think of, I made a collar which I then rolled around the sides, and I made a circle for the top. Of course that meant I had a seam down the back, and one around the top. No chance of letting that be seen. Lustre isn’t going to make that disappear. So it was with a sigh of relief I had fondant on the cake, but disappointment that I couldn’t get the finish I was after.

Fondant frills it would be for the top layer too. I prayed I’d done enough smoothing of the ganache after the two failed attempts to make it flat. But nope.

Out of balance-2

So much for approaching the cake covering relaxed. Though if I’d been worried before hand I’d have been a basket case with the way it all played out.

This cake is the first cake I’ve put back into the fridge with fondant on it. I’ve read heaps of people questioning about refrigerating fully decorated cakes and I knew that it was fine, but the cakes would condensate when they were removed, and needed to be left alone to try otherwise you risked leaving fingerprint impressions all over it.

I wasn’t worried about working with a cake that was condensating (is that a word?), I needed to wet the fondant strips to adhere them to the cake, it made no difference to me. I just needed the cakes cold, as Maggie Austin says, but more so because that ganache had another chance to beat me.

Fondant Frills

One of the many Craftsy classes I’ve paid for is Maggie Austin’s Fondant Frills. I’ve seen a number of these types of cakes on Pintrest and I was interested in how the look was achieved. When the class came up on special I decided I’d sign up for it.

Maggie’s “secret” is to flip the cake upside down, you place it onto the upturned baking pan with a piece of cardboard (cake card in my case) between the cake and the pan. This way you get the frills neatly falling the right way, and that first row sitting proudly above the top of the cake.

Ombre frills

I started out with the 5″ cake. I was going to leave it all white with the option to either dust the edges of each frilled layer with a shimmer pink, or use a gold dust dotted here and there.

I pretty much held my breath while I set the cake up for flipping. It was do or die. And to be honest, with all the other things that had challenged me along the way I expected to find a few problems with the cake flipping. But I’m glad to say that it was ok. Okay until it came to flipping the cake right side up again, and only because the cake pan itself shifted a little as I took my hand away and knocked into the top frill threatening to bust it.

Having survived the first cake I was less concerned about the 8″ cake, except how long it would take to cover it with frills and whether the softening ganache was going to give me more problems. I also didn’t know how that uneven top would affect the cake. I did have visions of everything inside the fondant moving about and dislodging. Yes I’d had some worrying times during the Friday at work trying to figure out if there was another way of getting the frills on without having to flip the cake due to the uneven top.

There was, I could add gumpaste to the fondant, or modelling chocolate. But I’d mixed the gradient colours the previous weekend and I didn’t want to lighten them anymore. Adding something to the fondant was not an option. I was just going to have to suck it up. I guess I was slightly relieved when I did get the leveler out and see that it wasn’t as nasty as it felt when I ran my hand over the cake. But it wasn’t great either.

Oh, I should mention how excited I was that my KitchenAid pasta attachment had arrived on Thursday. I’d ordered it from Fishpond, a model you can’t get in NZ. It came from America. Except the first one never arrived and I had to request it be resent. I was expecting it to arrive later and was thrilled it was here in time for Mum’s cake. I practiced on Thursday night since I had fondant out and it was all going swimmingly well.

And then on Friday night it decided to misbehave and it was grabbing at the fondant. I managed to get one row on the 5″ cake before getting the pasta rolling machine out and doing the rest by hand. And I’ve got to say it’s a lot of work and more fiddly having to roll and try to pull the fondant away from the machine. I’m sure I’d have saved a lot of time if I could have used the KitchenAid. All up it took 1hr 20minutes to cover the 8″ cake. I didn’t time the 5″ cake.

Ombre colours

My 2nd and 3rd colours were a bit too close and it’s hard to see the change in the cake. In fact I can really only see 3 colours. The pink was also brighter than I was going for, it made it very girly.

One of the things frustrating me was that a moist finger (Maggie’s instructions were to moisten the edge of the fondant strip with a little water to your finger tip) used to then place the strip against the cake was sticking to the fondant. So when I was taking my hand away I ended up pulling a hole into the strip. You can’t see any of them because the next strip covered it. But my advice is to try using a water pen. I bought a set on Saturday having learnt my lesson. Though I can’t promise it will be the answer, but surely it will save you having to wipe your hands dry after moistening each strip prior to placing it on the side of the cake.

One of Maggie’s sayings is “embrace the imperfections”. Good gracious, there’s so many imperfections in this cake and the decoration that there’s a whole lot of embracing going on.

I know it sounds like just about everything fell apart, almost every element caused me worry and extra time and Mr Fussy a lot of questions I knew he couldn’t answer. But really it was ok. I’m glad I did it, I’ve learnt there’s a lot of questions, but not necessarily immediate answers.

As for that 8″ cake. When I was finally done with covering it I had Mr Fussy help shift the lazy Susan that I’d been using while adding the frills, while I flipped the cake and then manoeuvred the cake up the right way to sit it on the lazy Susan. Mr Fussy wanted to take the cake pan from the top as I was lining up how to place the cake onto the base and I said it was ok. Famous last words. As had happened with the 5″ cake, the cake pan slid and this time it did knock the top layer of frills, and bust them. So I spent some time trying to get them upright and standing on their own. If only I’d allow him to help me some more. Oops.

Fondant Frills

I was a happy camper when I got up on Saturday and saw no more damage had been done and the broken frills were still where I’d left them. I just had to decide what to do with the 5″ cake. Should I leave it as is or add some colour here and there? In the end, after adhering the ribbon (I had a tiny bit of fondant with a few drops of water and mashed it up, then painted the sticky glue to the bottom edge of the cake and the ribbon went on easily, for the cake board I used double sided tape), I sent Natalie a few photos and we exchanged emails and I decided to place the cake onto the 8″ cake, using bubble tea straws and melted candy melts as the “glue” to stick the top cake tot he bottom, before deciding whether I thought a splash of colour would make or break the cake. I decided, obviously, that it was fine as it was. I think more colour would have been a bit too distracting. And since I wanted the peony set to be the focal point the whole less is more thought sprung to mind.

Gumpaste Peony flowers

I loved making the flowers. I had a ball. The only thing was the how long it all took. Well it didn’t take long I suppose, but there’s so many stages.

  • Make gumpaste
  • Glue a styrofoam ball and florist wire (I hate my glue gun!), then use florist tape to cover the wire (there’s 3 x 20 gauge wires)
  • Roll gumpaste, cut, vein and frill. Adhere to the ball, then repeat.
  • Leave it to dry.
  • Colour
  • Steam
  • Glaze
  • Then pretty much repeat for the leaves
  • Attach leaves to the flowers and tape together.

This peony is not as large as you can make it. You can add another 3 layers of 5 petals, but they’re all wired. Not that I was against wiring, but I felt the size of the peony with the bud and leaves was in proportion to the cake.

Pink peonies

While I only used one Peony and bud, I made 3 sets in different shades of pink. I wasn’t sure which colour I’d used, but I decided on the lightest pink since the cake was an ombre cake finishing in a blush pink colour (on the 8″ cake). I also made some extra petals. Maggie often has extras to put on the table or stick onto the side of the cake. But as it happened I didn’t have space on the cake and I wasn’t staging the cake on a table so adding extra petals wasn’t needed.

I have no idea what I’m going to do with the extra peonies. However I was looking at lots of images of Peonies to see how other people have placed them on cakes, and came across a picture of a peony that was being sold on Etsy. This person was selling them for $50. I don’t know whose currency that was. And they didn’t have any leaves, I’m not sure about a calyx since I didn’t look further.  No, I don’t think my flowers will ever be good enough for sale, and I’ve not considered it.

Pretty in pink

While I made a couple of full set leaves (there’s 3 parts to them) I didn’t have room for it on the peony set since the flower itself was going to be placed almost on the surface of the cake, and the leaves would usually be a little beneath the flower. Or at least that’s how Nicholas Lodge showed assembling the flowers. I also signed up for his Craftsy class Classic Sugar Flowers.

Here’s a shot of the back side of the peony set I had on Mum’s cake.

Underside of the Peony set

While I’ve made a better job of wiring the leaves, I’m still from perfect. You can see the wire which you shouldn’t. I love how the flowers really come to life after steaming them.

Ok, so that’s a blow by blow account of making the cake. I am pleased with how it looks in the end, and glad my choice in decoration has hidden a multitude of problems. And you probably wouldn’t have known unless I gave a very (long) honest account of making the cake.

Sugar Peony

Last words, not that I’m promising it will be short.

Travelling to the restaurant was going really well. I was in the back of the car with a 16″ cake board on my lap with a large piece of that rubber type mat with the cake on top of that. The very last corner we rounded and the top tier dislodged from the cake and went skidding toward the frills. I hate living in a city where the streets are a mess. I guess I should be glad that we got that far before it began to unravel.

Natalie took the cake from me and then I spoke with the restaurant staff about the delicate nature of the top tier. They were quite keen to put the cake in the chiller and I asked they not. I knew the fondant would soften and droop. They really wanted to put it in the chiller since they couldn’t think where else there was enough space, but they said they’d find a way. Phew.

Then when the plates had been cleared from dinner the waiter serving our table realised the “delicate cake with the flower” was for our table. I spoke with him and again mentioned the top tier having come unstuck and said he’d need to be careful picking it up and putting it down. He said he’d have me help. But then he turned up with the cake, the whole jolly lot. The 16″ cake board with the rubber non-slip mat. Still you can’t really expect a young man to have thought that the cake wasn’t meant to be presented with all of that.

Unfortunately the cake was much too moist. Somewhere along the line the cake seemed to have gained some moisture, the cake wasn’t cakey as it had been when I’d torted and levelled it. I can only assume that some of the moisture in the Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream and/or the ganache went into the cake itself.

Well that’s it for official cake “decorating” for the year, or at least until Christmas. I have no more birthdays now. It’s been a big year I guess. Cameron’s 21st, Dad’s 70th and Mum’s special birthday.

I’m going to be scratching my head looking for reasons to practice my new found skills. There’s only one way to improve, and that’s to keep giving it a crack. And given the amount of gumpaste I’ve made today, there’s a LOT of flowers to be made. But they better be pink and yellow. I see roses in my future.

And here’s where I wonder at what point I lost anyone who began this marathon journey reading this post.

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Mum’s birthday cake

This is a quick post of the photos of Mum’s birthday cake. I’ve been working on the cake (baked and frozen) and the decorations last weekend and finished decorating the cakes last night. Of course I’ve had to keep quiet about it because I want it as a surprise for Mum (who reads my blog and comments on my Facebook Page).

So here it is. Lots to be documented about making and decorating the cakes, and you can be sure I’ll have a follow-up post where I dissect just about everything. But for now I’m posting this (if I’ve worked out how to schedule the post I’ve quickly written during the day) since the cake will be on the table in just minutes.

Finished cake

Sugar Peony

Fondant Frills


Top tier


Blog anniversary – any excuse to make a cake


It’s taken me a week to get around to writing the post, but here it is. I was so looking forward to baking without having any real reason to do so. I wanted to try out something new, not that I had a clue what. But I didn’t need a cake. I needed an excuse to make it and what do you know, it happened to be a year since I began the blog. That’ll do. I just needed an excuse.

Funny thing is that I had a cake and I was still undecided how to decorate it. The cake was a bit shorter than I needed for some of the new cutters I wanted to try. And I really wanted to give stencilling a crack. But my stencils are too wide for the cake. What to do, what to do.

I couldn’t even decide what colour fondant to cover it with. I pulled out the yellow I used for my MIL’s birthday cake. I picked up and put back the grey I had left from Cameron’s 21st cake, which I used for Alastair’s 40th birthday cake.

Hopeless. I couldn’t make my mind up. And all the while I’m trying to decide what on earth I was going to do with the cake once it had been decorated. I love plans, I just didn’t have one.

Fondant cutter I have quite a few new fondant cutters which I ordered from Not Just Cakes from Annie’s Etsy store. In the end, as you can see, I chose the honeycomb cutter. I had measured the cake height and knew I had just enough to fit two rows.

I used the pasta machine to roll the fondant. I expected it to get caught but it didn’t. I was very pleased with myself. Then I set about cutting out oodles of shapes. I didn’t know how many I would need. And I was crossing my fingers that when I came around to the beginning (or is that end?) that it would just fit. And it did. Double happy for me.

Having covered and decorated the sides, what would I do about the top? Again I had a certain cutter I wanted to use to add something to the top but this 6″ cake was too small.

In the end I sat down and made a rose using the JEM easy rose cutter. I was pretty pleased that I managed to remember, for the most part, how to make the rose. I haven’t made one since we were in Nelson end of July.

Pink shimmer rose

I lightly dusted the edges of each petal with a soft baby pink which I mixed with a bit of pink shimmer dust. Then without even thinking I brushed a white shimmer over the top of the cake. I was done. And then I had a moment of panic wondering if the shimmer I’d just brushed over the top was edible. Oops. I still don’t know. I just took photos and then brushed the stuff off. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Mr Fussy took the cake to work. It was the Betty Crocker Super Moist Vanilla cake. This time I sifted the mix before adding all the other ingredients. I have to say the cake was much better, no little clumps at all. And all but about a teaspoon of the dry ingredients passed through the sifter easily. The rest I assisted 😉

Sifting solved the lumpy bits, but the cake itself is still holy, despite not mixing for as long as suggested. The thing is everyone loves the texture and the taste. I’m kind of stuck now. I know it hits all the right notes, I was getting compliments without seeking them out. Mr Fussy’s workmates were commenting about it, and Mr Fussy wouldn’t bother asking the question about taste and texture. Though bless him, he’s pretty good at taking photos of cakes he takes to work after he’s hacked cut them.

Anniversary Cake

So there we have it. A little 6″ number, covered and filled with Dark Chocolate Ganache, and decorated with a rose. The rose was unceremoniously dumped on the table, divorced from the cake which was destined for Mr Fussy’s work mates.

If I’d had a plan I would have used the yellow fondant with the honeycomb cutter, and I would have tried to make a gumpaste bee. That sounds like fun. I bet the bee would have gone to work with Mr Fussy.

There’s not much to report on this week. I realised mid way through the week that I was out of town Monday and Tuesday and then we’re out Wednesday evening. Everything I’ve done this weekend was in preparation for Mum’s birthday which we’re celebrating this coming Saturday. And just quietly, I’m pretty pleased with how it’s all coming together. I’ll have photos next Sunday.



Coming full circle

I’m jumping the gun and posting this before the cake I had made and decorated for the “I need an excuse and it’s my blog anniversary”.

It’s  more fitting that I post tonight’s dessert. One of the main reasons for this blog existing is because I was enjoying baking and wanted to share what I was making and trying, but what kicked the blog off was wanting to make Mum a really nice cake for her birthday. That was almost a year ago, well when I finally got the blog up and running, and made my first test cake.  You can take a trip down memory lane here, my first blog post.

Oh, I’m not going to hold out any longer, here’s what I made.


One of the disappointing things about the Black Forest Cake I made for mum was the lack of cherry flavour. At the time I didn’t know about the Mediterranean Food Company who sometimes have Maraschino Cherries. Since visiting the shop, on occasion I’ve seen them available, but not every time. In the back of my mind I thought I’ll have to pay particular attention the closer we get to Mum’s birthday.  Though I’m making something different for Mum this birthday. Stay tuned.

I happened to be over the right side of town with a client on Friday and decided to pop in and see if they had the cherries, and pop next door to, to Aitkens. I had been after food rings for some months now. I spotted some in Nelson but flagged getting them, they were so pricey! I’d seen them in Aitkens before somewhat cheaper. I nabbed 3 food rings and from the Mediterranean Food Company I grabbed the larger pottle of cherries and a few other things. There’s always a few other things that end up in my shopping basket.

I was pretty much set. I had in mind to use the left over Chocolate sponge from the Devils Dream Cake and stack the sponge with layers of cream and cherries. It was a pretty easy dessert to whip up given I had nothing more to prepare than chopping cherries and whipping up cream.


I added a tablespoon of cherry brandy to the unwhipped cream, and I stablised it as I had previously. A rounded 1/2 teaspoon of gelatine and a splash more than 1 tablespoon of cold water to the 400ml of cream I used. Then after a good 5 minutes I microwaved the gelatine in 5 second bursts until it had liquified.

After making up the desserts (I needed 4 rings!) I had a few bits of not quite round disks of sponge left over, and a little bit of cream. I put a teaspoon of cream on the sponge and Mr Fussy and I shared it. It was pretty tasty. Then I spotted another odd shaped piece of sponge. This time I brushed on a bit of the syrup (from the pottle of cherries) before dropping the very last spoonful of whipped cream onto it. It was so much better, and I thought the plain sponge tasted good. This is really odd because the first tiny smear of the syrup I tasted, tasted so much like almond to me. I’m not a fan of almond at all. I really don’t care for cherries either, but I don’t dislike them.

You might see that I had acetate lining the food rings. I cellotaped them (on the outside of the acetate that would not be in contact with the food) and then slid them back into the food ring. I used a cookie cutter to cut the circles from the 9″ sponge layers. Then it was no more trouble than to use a piping bag with a very large plain nozzle to squeeze the cream in where it was needed, then purposefully place chopped up cherries and repeat.

Drenched in Chocolate Sauce

Sorry for the image size, I’ve yet to add my other software onto the Mac which would allow me to trim the bottom of the photo. I produced the photo as a custom size and this is what you get for it, a photo that doesn’t fit the frame.

As you can see I didn’t stop at just assembling the desserts. I went one step further and made a chocolate sauce that I’d pinned during the week. Another of David Lebovitz’s recipes. Salted Butter Chocolate Sauce.  I think it’s kind of cute that using salted butter is a bit of an oddity in some countries. Using unsalted butter was something quite special for me, though I’ve got about 6 or so blocks of the stuff still vying for space in the fridge.

Here’s my slightly wonky dessert, mine was the one made using the almost circular sponge pieces, sans a food ring. But I wanted to show the inside, not that it really looks any different to the outside!

Inside out

But don’t you just love those cherries hiding out in that whipped cream.

So there we are, almost 12 months to the date and I’ve used the same ingredients and learnt a lot of new tricks along the way. And acquired a truck load of new equipment in that time. I’ve run out of space and would dearly love a 2nd kitchen and pantry. Mr Fussy is still participating in Lotto and I’m expecting any significant win to grant me my wish 🙂

While its not yet Mum’s birthday, she was able to enjoy this dessert, and I dare say she would agree it was a vast improvement on the cake. I think for less effort this was a much nicer Black Forest Cake. Of course having the correct cherries makes a HUGE difference. I personally preferred this as a dessert. And I’ll take making chocolate sauce over making chocolate curls any day.


Broken Ganache

Oops. Tonight I was making ganache. I was using Cadbury 70% chocolate, another of my experiments. That wasn’t the oops, the oops was overheating the cream and chocolate to the point I ended up with what I’ve learnt is called “broken ganache”.

Broken ganache

Look at that oily puddle of what I would have deemed useless and a total waste of around $15 in ingredients.

I am making ganache for a cake I’m baking. I’ve no real purpose for the cake, but it does happen to be my blogs 1 year existence on the 10th and following some naff little tradition I thought I could use this anniversary as an excuse to make and decorate another cake. And it gave me another excuse to try new things, like making the ganache with Cadbury chocolate instead of Whittaker’s which I’ve used several times before.

The Whittaker’s chocolate ganache I’ve found to be really thick and not that pliable. I used the Cadbury chocolate recently to make the Devil’s Dream Cake and was quite taken with how silky the chocolate was when it was melted, how smooth it turned out. I’m crossing my fingers the ganache works out better with Cadbury chocolate. Actually I hadn’t even known Cadbury made a 70% chocolate.

Obviously this wasn’t the post I was expecting to write, but after having made this blunder, and knowing I hadn’t actually burnt the chocolate I wondered if there was a way to redeem the ganache. Onto Google I went and found that what I had was referred to Broken Ganache. I found several different methods to fix this, one being warmed up corn syrup mixed with a tablespoon of the broken ganache. But there seemed to be a few more blog posts talking about warmed up milk doing the trick.

Here’s a few shots of my ganache as it went through various stages of repair.

Stages of fixing broken ganache

See that last shot?  It was almost there. In fact I thought it was good to go, but after 30 seconds or so of staring at it, I saw a little bit of oil on the very edges of the bowl, so I added about another teaspoon of warmed milk and came away with this:

Ganache restored

I don’t expect the ganache to be as thick as it cools overnight, which I don’t mind at all. My past experiences have been that the ganache is almost too thick to work with, although that has been with Whittaker’s chocolate.

I have again used a Betty Crocker Super Moist Vanilla cake box mix to make a Butterscotch cake for my little “need an excuse to decorate a cake, let’s make it a blog anniversary cake”.

I know in my last post where I made the box mix for Cel’s baby cake I said I wasn’t happy with it sort of clumping, but as it happened the box mix was on special with a saving of $2.60 a box (each box with the additional ingredients came to just over $10 and that was without the cost of eggs) so it was worth grabbing a few boxes. What I did different tonight was to put the cake mix through a sieve. Almost all of it passed through, the last bit with some squashing with the back of a spoon, with just a very small amount refusing to cooperate.

I was much happier with the texture of the made up batter, there were no clumps to be seen. I was also really surprised at how far the batter went. I have made a 6″ cake, then I scooped batter to make 6 cupcakes. I still have left over batter so I quickly lined my 4″ cake tin and scraped the rest into it.

The 6″ cake had 500gm of batter and was 4cm deep prior to baking. The 4″ had 170gm of batter and was 2cm deep. The 6″ cake took 34 minutes to bake, the 4″ cake 23 minutes. The cupcakes 18 minutes.

Referring back to the Instant Pudding mix. Tonight at the supermarket I grabbed a strawberry then chocolate pack. They are different weights. I don’t know why. The Butterscotch, Vanilla and Strawberry are all 70gm and that’s what I’ve been using. The Chocolate is 80gm. I’d still use that without any other adjustments. In my calculation of the weight of ingredients for a 15.25oz box of mix, the pudding mix came out to 96gm, but that didn’t work out for Greggs packs so I just used what I had and decided the 26gm (hopefully) wouldn’t make a noticeable difference.

Butterscotch cakes

My idea is to use the 6″ cake and torte it and cover it with ganache before applying fondant and then decorating it. As per usual I’ve not settled on a design. I have a couple of options, both new and both good, but I just haven’t picked one. If the ganache turns out to be too soft then this plan will change, but the good news is the ganache isn’t a waste, it might just be used in different ways.

For the 4″ cake my plan is to make up a frosting and use the left over caramel sauce. I wont do anything other than torte it and spread with the frosting and leave it completely undecorated. I’m toying with putting ganache in the middle AND using the frosting. It sounds good to me right now.  I’ll pipe the caramel frosting onto the cupcakes and call them done. Though I could slice them through the middle and make them really miniature versions of what I plan for the 4″ cake.

I’m open to ideas so I’ll wait and see how the 4″ pans out and then decide what I can do with the 6″ and the cupcakes. So many possibilities.

Lastly, I wish I’d known about broken ganache the other weekend when I had made the Devil’s Dream Cake, I wouldn’t have needed to make up a new batch of ganache after all.

Don’t suppose anyone else knew that you could add warm milk a teaspoon at a time, and continue to stir and repeat until it all come good? I have 500ml of cream and 1kg of chocolate, I’ve used a little over 1/3 cup of warm milk to bring life back to this batch of ganache. This is another positive as to why you shouldn’t fear making ganache. I’ll have to make sure Lyndal knows about this, she’s had this sort of problem in the past.

Last thoughts. I think I’ll change the method I’m using for making the ganache which currently is to heat both the cream and chocolate together in the microwave instead heating the cream to boiling point and then pouring it over the chocolate pieces and letting it sit a while before stirring it.



Cel’s ‘going on maternity leave’ luncheon

The cakeThis is the cake I made for Cel’s luncheon today. I’d been planning it for almost a month and the first thing I made was about 7 babies. From there I decided on the look, I wanted the baby on a soft blanket and to look very angelic, so angel wings appeared. And butterflies went from the clothesline scene above the clouds to join one sleeping baby. It was my way of merging one theme into another. It seemed to work pretty well.

Before I explain more about the decorations, best I start with the cake.

I feel slightly like a fake because I’ve always held the belief  good cakes only come from pre-selected ingredients carefully measured and lovingly brought together into the perfect batter. And now I’m having to reluctantly eat my words, but only after today. Only after those who had a slice of this cake proclaimed enthusiastically how moist and wonderful it was. How it had great flavour without being too sweet. I give you a boxed cake mix. Though there are a few small tweaks that make it not just a box mix.

ImageI got the “recipe” off Rose Bakes, using her Vanilla Cake Recipe. Rose talks about using a Pillsbury box mix and it being 18oz in size (though the size has since been reduced). We don’t have Pillsbury here, or not where I shop. Instead I used Betty Crocker’s Super Moist Vanilla Cake mix. Rose hasn’t yet gotten around to adjusting the other ingredients to down size the recipe, instead she has extra box mix and she just adds more box mix to bring the ingredients up to her original recipe.

So I’ve done the adjustments and I’ll share them here.

  • 1 x Betty Crocker Super Moist Vanilla Cake Mix
  • 70ml Vegetable Oil (I used Canola)
  • 200ml Sour Cream
  • 100ml water
  • 70gm (or 80gm, up to 96gm is fine) packet of Gregg’s Instant Pudding (use whatever flavour you like, I used Vanilla) *you’re mixing it in dry, not made up
  • 3 eggs. Actually I managed to capture some of the egg white and tucked that away in a container to use for “glue” with gumpaste flowers. So just a bit under 3 size 7 eggs. Our size 7 eggs seem to be a bit smaller (by weight) to what I’ve seen as “large” eggs on American websites.

The rest is really easy. You’re adding the whole lot to a mixing bowl. I used a hand mixer since it’s so easy.

What I didn’t like about the box mix is that some of the dry ingredients sort of clumped together. And when I had finished mixing it still appeared to have some lumps. I couldn’t get those out.

I used two box mixes for the cake. The cakes rose much more than I expected. I made 2 8″ cakes. My cake tins are 3″ deep. I used 740gm of batter for the cakes, and had enough left over for 4 (or 5) cupcakes. 740gm of batter gave me 2cm of depth unbaked. That’s the depth of batter I’ve had using different vanilla cake recipes. The first cake I made I had enough left for 5 cupcakes, the second mix only had enough left for 4 cupcakes. Don’t ask me to explain that.

After the cakes were baked I double wrapped them in Gladwrap and then put them in the freezer. One cake baked on Saturday, the other Sunday. The cupcakes were put into the freezer on Monday morning which was when I took the cakes out, and gave me enough space.

Monday I made up a batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream using my slightly adapted recipe from Joshua John Russel’s Craftsy class which I posted here. Unlike last time, I used all the butter but about a 1cm square piece. I also used a Sugarflair food gel, Paprika which gave me a really nice blush orange colour.  I trimmed and torted the cakes and this time I also trimmed the outer edges, something I’d watched from Cake Style TV in a free online class Cake Basics. While I’m happy with the result of the cake when it’s cut and you can see where the cake meets fondant, my knife was so sharp that it cut up the silver covering on the cake board. And that bugged me no end. I just couldn’t think of a good way of disguising it. Even though I covered a larger cake board and cut out an 8″ circle to fit the completed cake, it still didn’t fully detract from the shabby cake board. Once the cake is trimmed, even with a covering of buttercream and fondant, the cake was still less than 8″.

So a final word on the cake, despite it baking with large irregular holes (which I’d be thrilled with if I was baking bread), it really did taste pretty good, and it was lovely and moist. But it’s also very yellow. The cake mix seemed pretty white so I presume the Vanilla pudding mix had yellow “stuff” in it. With the hearty praise I received today I guess I’ll likely be making this again, at least until I’ve found a from-scratch recipe that gives the same results (less holes and yellow would really seal the deal).

Lunch spread

Over the past few weeks I’m used various silicone moulds for making the onsies, bibs and other characters. I’ve spent some evenings then using edible markers to colour and give detail and I’ve used my smallest butterfly patchwork cutter for the butterflies and then used edible petal dusts to colour them.

The blanket was a piece of gumpaste mixed with equal parts fondant which I rolled out and used my stitching tool in a fairly careless method (for me who likes order and neatness) to roll out lines and then used another tool (I have no idea the name) to press into the edges to give that scalloped edge and pattern. Lastly I used a ribbon tool under sections to lift it to give it some dimension of being just fluffed and laid on the carpet ready for sleeping baby.

Getting the nappy on the baby was very tricky. I wanted to get a nappy first and then add the ruffles, and that’s what I did. But I couldn’t get the right shape for the nappy so that it laid over the baby’s bottom without having overhanging bits or gathers where there was too much draping. I can’t believe how long it actually took. It was a very frustrating exercise. It’s not at all like arranging a nappy for a real baby. I know it’s been a very long time but I do have a reasonably good memory of preparing a nappy.

I used a metal butterfly cutter for the angle wings. After cutting out the shape I then rolled the shape out to make it larger, then used a cel stick (you can use a ball tool too) to drag from the middle to the outside to try and give a more “feather-like” impression. It also helped the thin out the fondant at the edges.

The posts were made from the same 50/50 mixture which I coloured brown and then shaped into a thin sausage. I knew it would need to be flat on one side to sit up against the cake. I have a Mankins wood grain impression mat which I used, placing the sausage on top and then sort of rolling it over the mat. It worked much easier than it had when I made the Angry Birds cake, but then I needed 3 sides to hold the impression which was almost impossible.

Hmm, what else?  Ahh yes. I got to play with my Mankins Extruder which arrived a week or so ago. I used that to squeeze out the grass. It wasn’t quite how I pictured it working. The grass is a bit too organised. This morning I used my mini scissors to try an separate some of the “blades” to allow it to appear more natural. I coloured some of the fondant (I’ve got a story there too) and added another Sugarflair colour to give it better green colour. Then I added as much Crisco as necessary to achieve the consistency of chewing gum, rolled it into a sausage and fed it down the tube and pushed out the “grass”. Trying to add such tiny pieces around the side of the logs took some patience too.

Clothesline sceneNow, the fondant. This is the first batch of homemade Marshmallow Fondant. I wrote about making it here.  I made it about two weeks ago. I had it double wrapped in Gladwrap in a Tupperware container. I forgot to rub a bit of Crisco over it before wrapping it up. Anyway, I didn’t know how it would behave, would it be like Bakel’s fondant? Kneading it took a bit more time, each time I pressed it, where the pressure was it sort of split/tore. It wasn’t really working the same and I couldn’t have splits in it, you’re looking for a nice smooth flawless finish. I used a bit of Crisco on my hands and that along with some more kneading finally gave me a consistency I could use. However the extra Crisco now made the fondant sticky, not on the top, but underneath right in the middle where I was rolling out from. It stuck so bad that I couldn’t release it by gently pulling it away from the table. And I’d used what I thought was a liberal amount of cornflour. In the end I added some cornflour to the fondant by dabbing my cornstarch puff over the top and then re-kneading it. And we were away. The fondant stretches just like Bakel’s. It smooths as well, it wasn’t sticky to use the fondant smoother over like I’ve had sometimes. All up I’d say it was a successful experiment and I’ll make it again, especially if I want to get a unique colour that would be difficult to achieve mixing colour into a pre-coloured fondant, or blending colours together. I also used the fondant to make toppers for the cupcakes. I used a quilting patchwork cutter to impress into the fondant (and again it stuck but a dab of cornflour sorted it out) and then a fluted biscuit cutter to cut the topper. I used the left over letter characters to spell out baby and a couple with silicone baby feet like I’ve used on Meredith’s nieces cupcakes. Hmm, I don’t seem to have a post with photos, I know I took some.

Cutting the cakeThere was a huge spread of food for Cel’s lunch. No one would cut the cake, eventually Cel started, but I finished off the job. Cel was delighted with the cake, the cookies and the cupcakes. She was taking some of everything home so her husband could take photos. When I’ve brought baking to work it’s just been our floor that’s seen some of the things I have been working on, new techniques and skills I’m practicing, so a good many people were quite surprised that I made the cake, and then to find out I did the cookies as well. People suggested I start my own business. As I explain, you couldn’t make a living with the amount of time you put into these types of projects. One day I might get quicker but for now I just potter about and have a good time trying new things and seeing a cake like this come together.

All the very best with the new addition to your family Cel. I hope Zayden doesn’t tire of Sydney when she arrives, I know he’s so looking forward to her arrival, as I know you and Ed are.  See you again in January!