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

Mum’s birthday afternoon

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Mum's birthday cake.

Mum’s birthday cake.

Mum’s birthday was mid-week and today we had a family get together afternoon tea.

I had made the cake a few weeks ago, having to stop in at Natalie’s to get some fresh ground coffee which I don’t have, or would need for later. I drink water and tea and coffee have no appeal. I know, weird right?

White Mocha Cake. Recipe by Cake Paper Party.

White Mocha Cake. Recipe by Cake Paper Party.

I made Summer’s White Mocha Cake. You can find the recipe here. The cake was pretty simple to make, and I used my new cake pans and was pretty happy with how the cakes baked. They were lovely and even, but they did sink during the last 3-4 minutes. But Summer said they would. My MIL saw the cakes and thought I’d goofed the recipe. Ok, so I know I’ve had my share of failures, but not this time.  The cakes rose to the top of the cake pans, settled back down and were roughly 1 1/4″ in height. I did however gouge one of the cakes as I ran the knife around the edge of the cake tin. I thought it might give me grief when it came time to trimming the cakes and layering them for ganaching, but thankfully it didn’t happen. I had visions of having to become a bit of a brick layer and use ganche as mortar and try and piece the bit that I’d gouged back onto the rest of the cake. With the cakes having been in the fridge (from the freezer) they were still firm enough and preparing the cake layers for ganaching went smoothly.

Reserructing the Coffee Caramel buttercream.

Reserructing the Coffee Caramel buttercream.

Now the coffee caramel buttercream on the other than, well that didn’t quite got so well. I had made the syrup the previous weekend (to when I made the syrup) and had it in the freezer. I split the batch because I knew I only needed to fill the layers and not cover the cake. Then last weekend I started out making the syrup. The instructions were not to let the sugar burn. It was taking an age to reach the right temperature and so I stepped away, not for long, but long enough. The house smelt terrible, the smell of burnt sugar filling the air.

Anyway, after making a second batch of syrup (it still never reached the right temperature before it started to show signs of the colour changing) I proceeded on with the buttercream. This is where I didn’t follow the recipe, having assumed the amount of coffee syrup I’d made was all required for the buttercream. Umm, no. I wondered why the buttercream didn’t have that gloriously smooth silky texture of Summer’s cake. It turns out you don’t need all of the syrup (although I don’t know the weight of the syrup). A few days later I whipped up some more butter and slowly started to add my watery buttercream into it. It all came together nicely and it now looked similar (the colour was darker) to Summer’s recipe.

The cake was ganached on Wednesday (I wanted to leave myself a day up my sleeve in case things went wrong and I had to start something over again) and for the most part it went smoothly. Although I am going to have to tweak my method of ganaching (upside down method) because the next morning when I turned the cake up the right way, the cake settled and there was a little dip in the middle. I think I’m going to have to use the two acrylic disc method, or at least I’ll give that a go next cake.

The finished cake. Compare how sharp the edge is of the bottom cake compared to the top (dummy cake without the homemade smoothers).

The finished cake. Compare how sharp the edge is of the bottom cake compared to the top (dummy cake without the homemade smoothers).

Since last Sunday I’ve also been making gumpaste roses. I wasn’t happy with any of the ones I made. Now I know just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean to say that no one will like them, but I just wasn’t that thrilled about using them on the cake.  I started looking at Stevi Auble’s Wafer Paper flowers Craftsy class. I thought I could give them a go and see if anything there came out looking better than the gumpaste roses. Last night I made two ribbon roses and a large open rose (all stylised) and I decided that I liked them better. Not that I knew how many I would use, or where I would place them.

I’d also covered a dummy cake. Partly to use as a practice for another project I’ve got coming up. I’d covered it in pearl white Sugarflair lustre last Sunday and was pretty happy with how it worked out. And I used some wafer paper that I’d cut with craft punches, an edge that I thought complimented the stencil I was using.

I was a bit up in the air about whether to use a “riser”. I was quite keen to see how it looked. I’d ordered a bunch of different sized 2″ cake dummys from DeeSee Creations in Hamilton. They arrived and looked good, I just had to figure how to cut them down since 2″ was too high, but that’s the size they come in. I had tried my craft knife but it really didn’t penetrate the stryofoam and my cake knifes weren’t “cutting it” (pun intended). It was another little detail that was playing on my mind. The design would all hinge on whether I could cut the styrofoam or not. Saturday I got a spare hacksaw blade and thankfully it worked quite nicely. I had expected that had I been able to cut them I’d end up with the discs being wonky and in need of some fine sandpaper, which I’d bought last week in anticipation of needing to sand into a smooth surface. But I was pretty good at lining everything up and they behaved nicely. I used my press ‘n seal for the first time (such a good moment, I’m such a cake geek). I laid the dummy on it and cut around the edge and it all worked perfectly, then I turned the other side and found that the press ‘n seal could be bought up the side as well and it all smoothed quite nicely. The “riser” was now fully covered with press ‘n seal. I used the new glue thingee Mum had bought me a while ago to run around the edge of the riser and then it was a simple matter of covering the sides with 25mm ribbon. Lastly a bit of painters tape held the dummy cake onto the riser. A bit of royal icing was used as the glue to hold the wafer paper edging to the dummy. Yep, I was pretty pleased at how that all turned out. The only thing is the lustre does come off so I had to be careful how to handle the “cake”.

Chopping up a chopping mat to make my own fondant smoothers.

Chopping up a chopping mat to make my own fondant smoothers.

I was in Alexandra on Friday and was debating whether to cover the cake in fondant that night, or wait until Saturday morning. The reason? Thursday night I found the ganache had softened a little to the touch and with the house being warm I figured it was just enough to soften the ganache, it had been perfect first thing in the morning. I didn’t know whether covering the cake in fondant and then rubbing the fondant to smooth it out would be more than the ganache could withstand if it were just a little soft. When I got home I checked and although the fire was going, the ganache seemed to have firmed a bit but not quite as firm as it had been on the Thursday morning. Ahh well. I decided to give it a go anyway because if I didn’t work I could somehow find time on Saturday to start all over again (although this would not have been an ideal outcome!).

During the previous weekend when I had covered the 6″ and 10″ dummy cakes I had found it really hard going and it seemed to take an age to get the fondant to spread out enough. My arms were so sore the following day. I re-read the instructions that came with “The Mat” and decided to follow those instructions 😉 Well I think I just needed a reminder about putting more pressure on the outside edge of the rolling pin and focusing on that part to help roll out the fondant. Needless to say it went a lot quicker but it was still a good workout. I was really hot after doing that, and knowing the ganache was not quite as firm as I’d have liked, I ran my hands under cold water for a while to cool them off.

Friday morning I had taken one of my thin plastic chopping boards that I use to roll out fondant for smaller things I’m working on and I placed my 8″ acrylic round on it and used my craft knife to cut a circle. Then I took my new clear acrylic scraper (for ganaching) and did the same thing. I was trying to get something that would act like acetate to use when smoothing the fondant on a cake. It is also supposed to make it easier to get sharper edges in the fondant. Can you believe I was doing this all before zipping out the door to catch a flight to Queenstown (which was 6:40am – yawn). I am anything but conventional. So feeling pretty happy that I had the right sizes and shapes for using as smoothers I was keen to see how they behaved by comparison to my Wilton fondant smoothers. This was another reason I was keen to get the cake covered Friday night.

I’d coloured the fondant the previous weekend having taken a bit of the fondant (ivory) and intensely coloured that, then added a bit of that to the rest of the ivory until I had the colour I was after. I was very happy with the colour, but I did have to test some of it with the stencil to ensure that the colour was deep enough that you could still see the stencil design.

With the fondant all rolled out I checked it for the usual dimples and imperfections that had shown up in past cakes. It looked pretty good so I was ready to hold my breath and cover the cake. I don’t know if this part ever gets any easier. I suppose it does, but the number of cakes I make that are covered in fondant are few and far between and the gaps between means I always worry that it will tear or I’ll have elephant skin or any number of other disasters will choose this time to upset the apple cart. No it wasn’t perfect. I had a small patch that had stretched a bit too much as I had covered the cake and I could see some of the ganche colour coming through. I wasn’t going to panic. I was hoping that by the time I stencilled the cake it would be hard to spot that bit. No point getting upset. I’m not a professional and I’m slowly learning to cut myself some slack. Every cake I make I learn new things so even if everything went haywire I’d still have found the experience valuable.

9 Texan sized muffins this was meant to make. 17 savoury "normal sized" muffin later, plus 12 chocolate. Who's complaining?

9 Texan sized muffins this was meant to make. 17 savoury “normal sized” muffin later, plus 12 chocolate. Who’s complaining?

I pricked a few air bubbles that refused to slip out from underneath the top of the cake so proceeded to start smoothing the sides, spreading the fondant down the sides of the cake. So far so good, even though it wasn’t perfect. Now the time to try out those homemade smoothers. First it was about getting sharper edges along the top of the cake. I have to say they worked better than I expected and I’m sure if I spent a little more time it would be even better, but it was the best I’d done to date so I wasn’t complaining. Next it was to assess the sides of the cake and focus on a bit where I’d bumped it and made a divot in the fondant. At first it wasn’t smoothing out, but then I changed to a circular movement with the rectangle smoother and that did the trick in no time at all. Although it wasn’t perfect I wasn’t beating myself up. I knew that the stencil would detract from the bits that could have done with some more time but I wasn’t sure if the fondant was already starting to dry out and I might actually gouge a bit that I couldn’t fix again because the fondant wasn’t quite as supple. Lastly I took a skewer and inserted it into the centre of the cake. It was now time to cross my fingers there wouldn’t be any ugly bulge to deal with in the morning when I got up.

So much for the delicate savoury item I was looking for to go with the rest of the afternoon tea.

So much for the delicate savoury item I was looking for to go with the rest of the afternoon tea.

As if that wasn’t enough, I spent the rest of the night covering the cookies I’d made the previous weekend (and had in the freezer) with royal icing. I was in two minds whether to then spray them with a subtle pearl gold over a stencil or not, but if I was going to then I wanted the cookies dry and ready the next day.

Then comes the next day where I get up and eye the cake to check for bulges. None! I ran my hands carefully around the cake and was really surprised how smooth it was. The homemade smoothers do a much better job than the Wilton fondant smoothers. I think it’s because there’s more contact on the cake, especially a round cake, from the homemade smoothers.  So that’s a winner. Although I’d already ordered some acetate smoothers from Etsy, I’m quite happy with the homemade ones I’ve got. The other bonus is that I didn’t have to use one bit of cornflour to stop the smoothers from getting stuck. Those thin chopping mats have just enough texture to them that they don’t grab and stick to the fondant.

Close up of the stencilling.

Close up of the stencilling.

I can tell you I was very nervous about using the stencil. I had watched some of the Craftsy class I was enrolled for on Stencilling. And I thought I had it sorted. I used the concept shown of how to wrap the stencil around the cake (that is a brand new knee high that I’m using), and I cut into my expensive stencil to make a slot for the knee high to feed into to secure the stencil around the cake. I wasn’t sure if my royal icing was quite the right consistency, if anything a bit on the soft side, so I stencilled a cookie first. It looked just fine to me. I’ve seen some stencilling where the royal icing was too stiff and it sort of looks like it’s pulled away in jagged bits around the edge of whatever the design is. I wanted my icing to be stiff enough to get the right shape left behind, but for the icing sit nicely and smooth out.

The consistency of the royal icing was just right for the cookie.

The consistency of the royal icing was just right for the cookie.

Let me say stencilling a cookie is considerably easier. Look at what happened to the bottom section of the cake. It’s all smooshed and has lost definition by comparison to the top half of the cake. Again there was no point getting upset. It wasn’t what I wanted but it was what it was. It’s not something you can just wipe away and start again. Because the bottom row of the design was thicker I had to wait longer for it to set enough before continuing on with a repeat of the pattern. It was about 2.5 times of the patter.

If I did this again (and I should really, I love the stencil design), I’d add another .5cm strip of stiff board (something that would bend) to the bottom of the stencil to lift the design up. I really should have had a full pattern at the top and not worried about where it finished at the bottom, especially since I was adding a ribbon to the bottom. Unfortunately the second section of the cake didn’t got any better than the first and the bottom was still thick. Not only that, the pattern didn’t quite line up and being the novice I am, I put royal icing over the last section of the pattern that was used to line up the stencil. I should have taped that off to avoid re-applying royal icing. As I say, I learn something (many things) each time I work on a cake. The last section I thought I was wising up and made more slots in the stencil at the bottom to try and get the stencil to sit flush against the bottom of the cake. That’s what it appeared was my problem. The stencil wasn’t flat against the cake, therefore the royal icing was being pushed through the stencil and each swipe over it to remove some of the excess was pushing more of it into the gap. This time I did line up the pattern better and I didn’t re-apply the royal icing over that section, and I had also used more painters tape to ensure I didn’t go back over the other side of the patter to re-apply where I’d actually started. I was already learning 🙂  However the icing still smooshed through at the bottom and didn’t appear to be any better for having secured the stencil toward the bottom. That leaves me to believe my royal icing needed to be a little stiffer. I’ll do better next time.

The cakeboard all dressed up. Frill press with brush embroidery.

The cakeboard all dressed up. Frill press with brush embroidery.

The dummy cake was ready, the actual cake was ready, now onto the cakeboard. And here I also learnt something. How boring would this be if I were perfect – haha!  I covered the board in fondant and used my homemade circle smoother which worked nicely to smooth out the fondant. I sort of lifted one side of it and kept it lifted while I went round in circular motions with the other bit. I held the one side up to make sure I didn’t gouge the fondant. Smoothing on a flat surface makes it a little easier to accidentally dig into the fondant. I used my new frilled edge pattern, bought specifically for this project (as was the stencil) and placed a 9″ circle onto the fondant (sadly I didn’t have the forethought to put baking paper under it to prevent it from sticking to the fondant) and then pressed the pattern into the fondant with the ends of the frill butting up to the circle. I really didn’t need to apply nearly half the pressure I was. I really only needed to get enough of an impression as I was going to use brush embroidery (something mum really likes) over the edge. Having pressed way to hard made it more tricky to then pipe over as I ended up with a bit of a trench like surface. I needed to pipe more icing so that it filled the little trench to reach the other side. I know that is difficult to understand, but hopefully you get it. I wasn’t happy with the colour of the icing so when it had dried I then brushed a pearl lustre over it.

More cookies. Using fondant roses and royal icing "flowers" to round out the design.

More cookies. Using fondant roses and royal icing “flowers” to round out the design.

Some stencilled and royal icing transfer cookies.

Some stencilled and royal icing transfer cookies.ay

After dinner I made the wafer paper flowers and finished piping and stencilling the rest of the cookies. I was pretty happy with where things were left for the day. I was tired, it was a full on day with one thing or another, but it meant Sunday I could potter and not be rushing about with last minute things. Everything was ready. Other than cleaning up the lounge. Don’t you find that job always gets done just as you’re about to have visitors. And then it looks so good you wonder why you don’t do it more often 😉

Lots of food. And there's still those chocolate brioche to come!

Lots of food. Looks like someone already pinched a savoury brioche. Recipe for Brioche by Little & Friday.

We had a really lovely time in the afternoon. I had made some savoury and sweet Brioche rolls (well I was only going for savoury but really wanted to try the chocolate as well – I can’t help myself!) and Natalie had made her dainty meringues and her Russian Fudge. Of course there was too much food, but that’s what you do, over cater. Plus we skipped lunch because we knew we were having an afternoon tea.

Mum finally got her birthday present having had to wait another 4 days for it.

Wafer paper roses with a little petal dust to bring it all together.

Wafer paper roses with a little petal dust to bring it all together.

Happy Birthday Mum, love you!

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