On to the plate

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


Leave a comment

Merry Christmas – 2014

And another year draws to a close. And almost without time to do anything for Christmas. Usually I’m baking Christmas Mince Pies from Show Weekend. My first batch was last Sunday. It’s been such a rush these past few months.

As a bit of a consolation prize I managed to make the Alton Brown Rich Fruit cake (same as I made last year), this time as a cake and I had enough batter left over for 4 (or was it 5?) mini loaves as well.

Mr Fussy's cake. All four corners have his name on them.

Mr Fussy’s cake. All four corners have his name on them.

Given the cake was baked only last week and as an after thought, there was no plan for any decorating. In fact the store bought decorations I’d relied on in past years I’d just thrown out. Now I was stuck. I didn’t really want to leave the cake covered in fondant, but to do something a bit different for Mr Fussy. This after all is his cake. And he gets to have all 4 corners. Corner pieces are much sought after in our family. Natalie managed to get the sides of the fruit cake baked for Jasmine and Sam’s wedding, and when I asked what happened to the corners she said she’d eaten them already! This was just 2 days after the wedding and they were gone. Saves that awkward moment when you begrudgingly share. But we understand, we’ve all been there.

But this is Mr Fussy’s cake. It wont be served on Christmas day, it’ll just be his little secret cake.

The rest of the weekend I spent baking and decorating cookies for Christmas. Much like the cake I really didn’t have any fixed ideas as to how I was going to decorate these. And some haven’t been finished, only that I’m not sure if I want to put anything more on the trees.

I rather like the trees just as they are. But they're not as Christmassy as they could be. To add some baubles or not?

I rather like the trees just as they are. But they’re not as Christmassy as they could be. To add some baubles or not?

Work has been frantic and the last two weeks we’ve been lucky to escape from work before 6pm, some nights it’s 7pm. So we arrive home exhausted and with little thought for anything but trying to summon up the strength to cook something that includes vegetables for dinner.

I got rebellious and made a squiggly snowflake. Anything goes!

I got rebellious and made a squiggly snowflake. Anything goes!

Anyway, these cookies were a good way for me to unwind and spend some time doing something I enjoy. Plus I got to make the reindeer cookie that I’ve been wanting to make ever since I saw it last year. But I didn’t have the right cutter, so a year later here were are, even if it’s just the one. Sadly the icing cracked while it was drying. Still was fun to make.

The big debate was whether to add the snow or not. So far the "or not" wins.

The big debate was whether to add the snow or not. So far the “or not” wins.

And here are some other cookies, not all of them, but a good selection of the others I made. Now to find containers to store them all in until Thursday.

A mix of stencilling, stamps and piping.

A mix of stencilling, stamps and piping.

Well, it seems it wont always go right.

Well, it seems it wont always go right.

Seems a bit weird to have a snowman at Christmas in New Zealand.

Seems a bit weird to have a snowman at Christmas in New Zealand.

I have no idea what the plan is for these. I bought ribbon and all, but what to pipe on them.  Merry Xmas? Mark, Anita I'm digging the "free spirit" piping though. I must be tired.

I have no idea what the plan is for these. I bought ribbon and all, but what to pipe on them. Merry Xmas? Mark (Mr Fussy), Anita I’m digging the “free spirit” piping though. I must be tired.

Hope that whatever you do during this holiday time you have a fun relaxing time spent with those near and dear to you. Stay safe.


4 Comments

The cake that almost didn’t make it

Hi!

I’ve been really busy, I know it’s not much of an excuse, but I’ve had two weekends back to back with learning sugar flowers with Robert Haynes and then Airbrushing and modelling chocolate (Chockit) with Kevin Martin from Chocolate Earth. As well as preparing for my nieces wedding. And it’s the wedding cake that almost didn’t make it! Yikes!!

Everything had been ticking along really nicely. The two (intense!) days of sugar flowers with Robert was a huge help with making the flower spray for the wedding cake, and the airbrush classes set me up nicely for understanding how to properly use my airbrush and therefore airbrush the bottom tier of the wedding cake.

My new beauty. Arrived on the Friday just in time to bake Jasmine and Sam's wedding cake. What a fine way to start.

My new beauty. Arrived on the Friday just in time to bake Jasmine and Sam’s wedding cake. What a fine way to start.

I cakes I’d baked, torted, filled and ganached and had in the freezer. I was set. I was feeling pretty good. Everything was under control. The flowers were all made and just had to be assembled (my biggest weakness – no wonder I leave that to the last) and I was feeling pretty confident about the airbrushing.

Sugar flowers in the making.

Dusted and with calyx. These are starting to look ready.

Dusted and with calyx. These are starting to look ready.

Top set are dusted, but they all started the same colour. Amazing the difference petal dust makes, even if I dislike this stage.

Top set are dusted, but they all started the same colour. Amazing the difference petal dust makes, even if I dislike this stage.

Well that's the freesias put together.

Well that’s the freesias put together.

Thankfully I got a chance to view the bridesmaid’s dresses because both the colour and the application I thought was needed was way off. Tuesday night I popped around to have a look, having felt uneasy about how the airbrushing would look on a wedding cake to find that the colour was quite different. Good thing I took some Dulux paint colour charts with me to get a better match for the deepest of colour. And I was relieved to see that the colours were much softer. The dresses were floaty and the ombre effect really subtle moving through the depths. Phew. But lucky I’d seen the dress or we’d have ended up with something that was more like a disco ball!

Doing it the hard way. I only needed 2 colours, light and dark. Great advice by Kevin Martin.

Doing it the hard way. I only needed 2 colours, light and dark. Great advice by Kevin Martin.

Practice post viewing bridesmaid dresses.

Practice post viewing bridesmaid dresses.

That harsh silverish practice was what I thought we were going for. I was so relieved to see those dresses.

Wednesday morning I took the cakes from the freezer. I would normally take them out the night before the evening I was covering them, but I wanted to give a few more hours for the ganache to really crust, just a bit of extra insurance. Thursday morning (24 hours later) I was surprised to see the 10″ cake still looking a bit tacky. I put it down to the cake being the biggest and therefore taking the longest to defrost and dry out. Come Thursday night it was still a little sticky. Since I needed the fondant to adhere to the ganache I wasn’t worried, I was about to make it stickier yet. What I did notice however was a really hollow sound when I tapped my finger against the side of each of the 3 cakes. I hadn’t heard that in the past and didn’t know what to make of it.

I thought we were good to go. The cakes had to sitting since Wednesday morning. It was show time.

I thought we were good to go. The cakes had to sitting since Wednesday morning. It was show time.

Mr Fussy was off getting the groceries to allow me a head start on getting the 3 cakes covered. It had been my plan to at least cover the 10″ and 8″ cakes. I had the Friday off and was going to airbrush the 10″ during the morning. I really thought I was going to end up with a good chunk of the day free leaving me time to make Christmas Mince Pies for Mr Fussy.

But then this happened within seconds of covering the 10″ cake ….

I'm in trouble! This has never happened before. I was not equipped to know what to do. Turns out there is nothing you can do. Ok then!

I’m in trouble! This has never happened before. I was not equipped to know what to do. Turns out there is nothing you can do. Ok then!

I was actually so preoccupied in getting the top edge sharpened that I’d not noticed what was happening around the sides of the cake. I knew it was warm in the house (given it had been a less than summers day) and when I couldn’t smooth this out at all I presumed it was to do with the ganache not being firm enough. I took a photo and asked a question on a cake decorators Facebook page and waited for some promising news. The news that came was not promising.

Eeek!

Eeek!

I ended up peeling the fondant off the cake. I used a razor blade to cut the fondant into wedges. With the Crisco on the ganache it was pretty easy to peel the fondant off. It was soon clear the cause of the problem was in fact the buttercream. It had bascially melted through the ganache. I managed to get the ganache of relatively easily and then I trimmed the cake some more. I was thinking the problem had been the ganache was too thinly applied in places. Now I’ve got what is almost 1cm between cake and cakeboard. That’s a lot of ganache. Thankfully I had ganache left over and was able to re-ganache the cake. The bottom left picture is of the 8″ cake. I was pretty sure the problem was only with the 10″ cake. I knew the 8″ hadn’t any potentially thinner parts ganached around the side of the cake. My plan was to have the 10″ ganached and then cover the 8″ in fondant. Then go to bed. But no sooner had I covered the 8″ cake the ripples around the sides came out. What had been a perfectly smooth ganache covered cake was now something that looked very different with the fondant having been pulled off. Boo. That meant the 6″ would be no better. Looked like I’d be going with the suggestion provided on Facebook, to deconstruct the cakes, remove the buttercream, add a dam of ganache then fill with buttercream and ganache the cake.

Having gotten to bed at 11:30pm (but not asleep, mind spinning wildly) I was up and re-baking the 10″ cake at 3:30am. Tired yes. But unhappy with where things were left on Thursday I knew I had to restart. By the time Mr Fussy got up (not that he had a restful sleep with me working in the kitchen) and I’d been for a run the supermarket was open again and I was off to get more chocolate and cream to make more batches of ganache. I was going to have to fast track getting the ganache ready i.e. put it in the fridge rather than leaving overnight to set up since I had to have the cakes ready and ganached Friday so I could cover on Saturday morning. Thank goodness the wedding was Sunday!

I had an appointment Friday morning and as soon as that was out the way I was off to Spotlight to buy more fondant, again just to be sure I had enough (I have 3 tubs left!), not wanting any unexpected trips to any store robbing me of some precious time.

New ganache made, and the new 10″ cake now ready for ganache, having first piped a dam of ganache to trap the buttercream in, this had been the recommendation from the Facebook page. While I dislike dams, I couldn’t take any chances with this and to play it safe I piped the dam.

Not taking any chances with the new cakes, this time a ganache dam to hold in that chocolate buttercream.

Not taking any chances with the new cakes, this time a ganache dam to hold in that chocolate buttercream.

I wasn’t sure I had to wait for the cake to settle, but again I was playing it safe and my plan had been to leave it for around 3 hours and by 3pm start ganaching the cake.

So while the cake was sitting and settling I began to dismantle the 8″ and 6″ cake to strip it off buttercream and pipe dams and then add the buttercream. Thankfully I had enough buttercream left over and in the freezer for this. Again I pulled the buttercream out of the freezer in the wee hours so it was at room temperature and good to go when I needed it.

Although I took the time to dismantle the cakes, dam them and apply new buttercream, the sides were ugly. They were rough, they looked hideous and even though I knew they would be hidden by ganache I was quite miserable about the state of things. After some rough calculations I knew I had time to bake new cakes, fast track the cooling, torte, fill and ganache but I had to get myself going NOW!  I even had time for an hour’s sleep.

Mr Fussy arrived home and tested the waters so to speak to see what the state of play was. He’s been such a great support, even though he wasn’t able to do much to help me bake etc, he came instantly if I called for help. There were lots of trips to and from the fridge.

I managed to get to bed before 11pm Friday and at that point all I could do was hope the ganache would set up firm overnight. I’d been testing the 10″ cake which I’d ganached around 3:30pm Friday and all things were heading in the right direction. I was hopeful that the trend continued. I’d had a conversation with Natalie before I headed to bed. I let her know that things were looking positive and that if the worse happened we’d have ganached cakes to eat, and I’d just cover dummy cakes. How desperate was that!

Many times during the early hours I would get out of bed and check the state of the ganache. At around 3am I knew things were good, so much so that I started to fill in the small holes left in the top of the cakes. I wanted to get this done now so that by the time I got up in the morning everything was prepared and I could just get on with covering the cakes without delay.

Team no sleep. Saturday morning and it's Groundhog day.

Team no sleep. Saturday morning and it’s Groundhog day.

I went back to bed knowing there was nothing more I could do and hoped that would be enough for my brain to quieten and allow me some sleep. I got 3 hours sleep, again. Two nights in a row, 3 hours sleep. Amazing what you can do when you’ve got your back against the wall.

All this time I knew this was no one’s fault. I wasn’t blaming anyone, I was disappointed, extremely disappointed, but I knew that I had a good cake, a good buttercream, a good ganache and for whatever reason this time the buttercream was my enemy. It wasn’t like I was underprepared, or ill equipped. It was just rotten luck. But fortunate I had the Friday off work or I might have ended up in the fetal position crying my eyes out. I couldn’t fathom a wedding without a wedding cake. I was very focused on what had to be doing, how it was going to work, the timing. And I pulled it off.

It was early Saturday that I started on the cakes. I had the 10″ covered by the time Mr Fussy had to pop out to pick up my sister and her family from the plane and my hope was that when he returned I’d be onto the 8″ cake. I even had time to eat breakfast.

When he returned I was just about to lay the fondant over the 6″ cake.  Thankfully the cakes were covering without any dramas and I was able to knock them out by 10:30am. At this time I headed for bed for an hour’s sleep while Mr Fussy ran off to do some errands for me, including picking up my dress from the dressmaker. Knowing there was nothing that could be done further with the cakes at that time I hoped I would be fast asleep within minutes. But it wasn’t to be.

I got up at midday and airbrushed the bottom tier.

A real live cake, airbrushed.

A real live cake, airbrushed.

I fussed about a little bit and then headed off to Jasmine’s Bridal shower. I knew that when I went home I had the cake board to cover, the flowers to reassemble and the monogram to attach to the top tier.

About that monogram. Oh boy. That monogram caused many batches of royal icing, some that just wouldn’t harden firm enough. What you might be able to make out from the photo above is the upside down cake tin. I had printed the monogram out, attached it to the underside of acetate, then put waxed paper (with a light covering of Crisco) over the acetate and then piped the monogram. It took many days of practice to figure out the right sized tip to use, and the order in which to start the piping. The “B” was done first, but even that had a start point and end based on the thickest parts to the thinnest, and always making sure the bottom curl of the b was well integrated in the royal icing of parts that joined/crossed over so that it was firmly in place. Then it was the S, I actually enjoyed piping the S, don’t ask why, but I’m glad there was one bit I enjoyed. The J came last. Then I had to carefully pick the whole thing up and wrap it around the side of the 6″ cake tin so that it would dry in a curve. As I say, it tooks days to do this. There were trial and error with colours, lustre/sparkle and finally I ended up with light grey coloured royal icing (made from egg white, not any sort of albumen or meringue powder) and then while the monogram was still in place painted with Global Sugar Art Nu Silver (edible). These pieces popped off nicely, usually they had fallen onto the bench and just shattered. No matter how much I tried to line things up so that I caught them, it seemed doomed.

Royal Icing monogram. So many times I piped, so many times I busted these fragile pieces.

Royal Icing monogram. So many times I piped, so many times I busted these fragile pieces.

I literally held my breath as I applied these pieces to the 6″ cake. I was almost terrified that they would shatter as I tried to get them to the cake, and then make sure they were lined up. Or that they wouldn’t remain stuck to the cake and fall off, shattering. I used soft brushes to hold them against the cake so that I wasn’t putting pressure on any one part. As each of the pieces were applied my confidence grew. And when I was done, and moved the cake back to the table I was very pleased with how it looked. My biggest worry was that the monogram would blend into the cake and not really be seen. Jasmine and Sam had opted for the silver when I had shared my concerns and I have to say that it looked pretty good when it was finished. I still worried about getting the cake out to the venue without the pieces dropping off, or the cake itself being knocked somehow and damaging the monogram. I still had another monogram piped so I finished colouring those so that I had a spare in case things turned out for the worst. I can tell you I could not pipe another set if I tried. I was so tired, my concentration not where I’d have liked it, and my ability to hold my hands steady had long gone.

And I can breathe. Nothing broke, and it all stayed put.

And I can breathe. Nothing broke, and it all stayed put.

Right, the bit I had been dreading (ok the 2nd bit) I’d pulled off nicely. The cake board was covered, that just left reassembling the flowers. Gah. This really is a big weakness of mine. I had already broken one petal of the largest rose as I was dusting it and here I was going to pull all the florist tape off and then start putting the flowers even closer together and then re-tape. Can’t see how anything could go wrong, right?!

Talk about fussing about. I just couldn’t get the pieces sitting nicely together to look natural and cohesive. And I broke another bit of petal. I really have to do better not overthinking the whole process. Anyway in the end I managed to get it looking much better, a lot tighter than my original assembly and I managed to use some of the filler flowers.

The arrangement before being inserted into the cake and then fussed with.

The arrangement before being inserted into the cake and then fussed with.

Feeling reasonably happy with where things were at I managed to get to bed by around 10:30pm. Mostly I slept through to the alarm which was set quite early. I wanted to be at the venue by 9am and it would take roughly an hour to get there. I wanted everything packed in the car by around 7:30am so that any last minute panic would be allowed for.

I got up and started to dowel the 10″ and 8″ layers. Got the royal icing ready, gathered together all the spatulas, ribbon, pins, stuff for fiddling with the flowers if I still needed to tweak them once in the cake, clothes, non-slip mats, boxes, containers. All manner of equipment that I wanted with me for assembling the cake at the venue.

How many is enough? I added a few more for good measure. And we're good to go.

How many is enough? I added a few more for good measure. And we’re good to go.

By the time I got the cakes into their respective containers/boxes and the car packed it was after 8am. Mr Fussy was given strict instructions to take it easy, we could go fast on the way home. We’d only had our new car less than 2 weeks and this was the most fragile of drives we’d be taking.

The most precious cargo our brand spanking new car has had the pleasure of carting around.

The most precious cargo our brand spanking new car has had the pleasure of carting around.

As we were turning into Trent’s Road the car ahead of us started to pull into the left. Mr Fussy started to pull out to pass when the car then started to turn to the right, it was doing a U turn in front of us, never having indicated once. Mr Fussy had to swerve sharply to the right to make sure we didn’t get collected before swerving back to the left onto our side of the road. Cripes, my heart was racing.

We made it to the venue which was only a few 100 metres further up the road and I popped inside to see if Amanda was in yet. She wasn’t there (we had somehow arrived just before 9am) but the guy at the bar pulled out the table (a chessboard table) and put it on the brick floor. I wasn’t thrilled to see the table with it’s Queen Anne style legs on top of a very uneven surface. I let him know that I only wanted to set up once and not move the cake so I’d wait for Amanda.

When Amanda arrived she moved the table but said she’d be moving it again to sit on top of the landing of the stairs. Only 3 legs were touching the wooden floor. I wasn’t thrilled about this but she assured me the table got used for all weddings and all the cakes were put on the landing for display. I know I was probably being over cautious, and being my first wedding cake, first three tiered cake, and having had quite the ride to get there I was looking for rock solid. When I realised this was as good as it was going to get Mr Fussy and I proceeded to collect the cakes and whatnot so that I could assemble the cakes.

When I went to get the 6″ cake I shrieked. I realised that it had slid off the non-slip mat it had been on and was resting against the side of the cake carrier. I thought it was all over for the monogram and was thankful that I had packed the spares. But I was hugely relieved when I took the cover off and realised it was all intact and not only that, there was no damage to the car from having being banged into the side of the cake carrier.

Ok, so all those dramas aside, this is the cake.

Front on view of the wedding cake.

Front on view of the wedding cake.

And we're done!

And we’re done!

Wedding cake. I was pleased how this came together, all things considered.

Wedding cake. I was pleased how this came together, all things considered.

I reckon if I’d not shared a photo of the rippled fondant, no one would have been any the wiser about the lead up to this cake.

I’m ever so grateful that Jasmine and Sam didn’t chose anything overly complicated for decorations that required last minute work on the cake, I’d have been in so much trouble. And it was extremely fortunate the wedding was on a Sunday and that I’d taken the Friday beforehand off work.

Here’s a few photos of the wedding party, Jasmine and Sam, and a photo of the sleep deprived Mr Fussy and I.

Everything turned out just fine in the end 🙂

The bridal party relaxing at the wedding reception

The bridal party relaxing at the wedding reception

The radiant newly weds.

The radiant newly weds.

Jasmine & Sam cutting the cake

Jasmine & Sam cutting the cake

First dance.

First dance.

Team No Sleep.

Team No Sleep.