On to the plate

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


Faye Cahill inspired cake

My manager has moved onto greener pastures and I wanted to make a cake for her farewell.

I had some ideas, I wanted purple or lavender (Mandy’s favourite colour) and I wanted a bit of pizazz because Mandy is a sophisticated lady who likes sparkly well-made things.

Faye Cahill InspiredThis cake isn’t anything like I started out to make. And with the passage of time (a month has gone by) I can’t even remember quite what my original plan had been. I do know that I wanted to check out how to apply silver leaf (there you go, that was my original plan) and referred to a Craftsy Class I had purchased which Faye Cahill presents, and then I was so taken with her design that I pretty much went with almost all of it.

Fantasy FlowerI had already begun to make the fantasy flower. Fantasy flowers have never worked well for me. Usually I get in a tizzy with it and ball up the flower and either start again, or walk away, or go watch another YouTube video and wonder how they make them so well when I’m struggling. Not that I’ve got crazy skills with realistic flowers, but I find them less of a challenge to get right. There you have it, fantasy is meant to be whimsical and I’m still trying to make it perfect.

I used Chocit for the centre. I was trying to place the little balls into the centre of the flower and they kept sticking to my finger. I had to use a Colour Shaper to ease it off my finger and onto the flower, but I got a little dent. So I just went with it and then poked the little balls all over. That’s the thing with a fantasy flower, no one can tell what it was meant to look like, so anything goes.

Silver leafThe silver leaf was pretty easy to work with. I only had 2 sheets, and my original plan was for gold leaf but when I ordered it, the company called back to say they no longer had it in packs of 5 sheets but I could buy 100. Yeah, nah (Kiwi slag for no). What I hadn’t realised until late in the piece is that silver leaf needs to on the cake for a day before you can place anything over the top. But when I couldn’t sleep I got up at 2am and applied the stencil. The stencil is for a cookie but I was only going to decorate the very front of the cake so the size was perfect. I was a bit hesitant with the stencilling because last time I stencilled a cake it didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted and ended up a little sloppy, mostly I think due to the royal icing being a little on the soft side. The stencilling went fine and I went to bed.

All that was left was to make the fondant cut out pieces, texture them and then use piping gel to get the little nonpareils to adhere. Oh and then to use royal icing to add some other details, which didn’t go quite like I wanted, but I know I obsess a little more than others.

Mandy1The last thing I wanted to do was to add a row of oval silver sugar pearls as a boarder. I placed a few on the cake but they were rolling everywhere. I had two different sizes and was tossing up as to which to add when I realised that it was going to take me forever to place them and the chances they would behave perfectly and stay put was slim to non-existent. I’ve since seen a picture tutorial from Sarah of The Cake Tin did which would have worked perfectly for me. If only her tutorial came before the cake I was making. Still, I know for next time!

Mandy has been gone for a month and I miss her for lots of reason. Everyone who knows Mandy knows you can’t replace someone like her. She’s one of a kind and I’m certain I’m not the only person who feels the void she’s left. If you ever come back Mandy, I’ll make another cake to welcome you!

Cake details:  American Mud Cake by Cake Paper Party. It’s 4 layers with a 7″ cake card separating the bottom two layers to the top two. Ganche using Whitaker’s 50% chocolate. Fondant by Satin Ice. Buttercream filling SMBC with Nielsen Massey Coffee extract.


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13 Years On

Anni2It was our 13th Wedding Anniversary mid March. I feel very lucky. 13 years with the best man in the whole wide world. My love for this man has not diminished with the passing of time, only deepened.  Ok, enough of the mushy stuff. It’s enough to say it was our wedding anniversary.

There was no way I was passing up an opportunity to made a cake for an important occasion. Mr Fussy (when badgered) suggested a Jaffa (flavoured) cake. Now for those in New Zealand, we know what Jaffa is. It’s actually a hard coated candy with chocolate in the middle, and an orange flavoured coating. They’re great, and a bit of a NZ icon, and were great for throwing in the movie theatre. Not that I ever did that. Why waste a perfectly good lolly?

Our cake was half of David’s cake. Though I flavoured the Sour Cream Vanilla Bean cake with Orange extract, and I also flavoured the ganache with Orange flavouring (Robert’s Confectionary). And the buttercream also had orange extract. I did all I could to make sure the orange wouldn’t be drowned out by the rich chocolate cake and ganache.

TrimmedI’ve run out of patience having to trim the sides of all my cakes to make sure I’ve got sufficient space to ganache. I ordered more acrylic circles with an extra 2mm (all around) increase. But for this cake I had to trim the sides. I admit it looks tidy when it’s trimmed, but what a waste of time, and cake, albeit just a bit of cake is wasted.

For whatever reason, I ended up with a slight bulge in the ganache at the base. I did the usual poke a pin in it and flattened the bulge, but I decided it wasn’t worth my time to cover in fondant and risk more bulges. Plus it was only a 6″ cake, and smaller cakes are more prone to pleats as you ease the fondant over the sides. A 4″ high cake that’s 6″ in diameter takes a bit more attention than say a 4″ high cake that’s 8″.

The cake was only for us so I was completely at ease with having a naked cake for us. Plus naked ganached cakes have their own beauty. And really, other than the bulge which I dealt with, the ganache is pretty tidy. All but the top, can you see? I’ve got a tiny little trench just in from the rim of the cake. Again I felt there would be more work in filling the tiny dip than the dip itself bothered me.

The Cake Lace is made from Claire Bowman’s mix. I made this lace almost 12 months ago. I’ve had it stored as instructed and it was still as pliable as it was when I made it. That stuff is the best. I never ate it when I first made it. I had no desire to do so then or for this cake. Once the cake was cut, the lace itself was removed. Though I did take the left over cake into work and left the lace on that section of the cake. I’m not sure anyone ate it. I did suggest they treat it more as decoration than “food”.

So there we are. The cake had a delicate orange flavour to it. Nothing overpowering or strong, just enough to know it was there. Someone at work thought it tasted like lemon. Go figure.

All the petalsAs for the flower, well it’s hard to believe this was a magnolia cutter. It seems more like some star burst flower than a magnolia. I think I cupped the petals too much. I used the veiner as the guide and made formers from tin foil which I laid over the veiner. Never mind, it still worked out fine, even though it’s not the flower it was meant to be. I have a photo of what the petal looks like with and without petal dust. Yes it makes a difference. At some point I will embrace the whole petal dusting, but I think I’m a ways off from that yet. I also took some of the petals away, I decided with all the petals that I made the flower itself was bigger than the cake! It’s all about proportion, well that’s a consideration anyway.

Petal dustAfter having had some of David’s cake the day before, then a slice of our Anniversary cake, we were all caked out. The cake itself was very rich. I know this seems odd to say, but without the fondant, the cake was harder to eat. The fondant seems to combat some of the richness by the sweetness. I certainly found one slice to be more than enough. And I know my work mates were happy we couldn’t face another slice.Anni1


David’s birthday cake

David2I’m a few weeks late in getting this post written. I had two cakes that weekend. This is the first. Then last weekend I made a start of Mandy’s farewell cake, all of which I’ll post. It’s just been a bit crazy between end of tax year for work with oodles of software upgrades to complete with a shortening window of time, and then cakes. Oh and Easter cookies.

But first of all was David’s birthday cake.

Layers of White TruffleI really wasn’t sure what to make, other than it was going to be both chocolate and vanilla. Mr Fussy said he wanted a Jaffa cake for our Anniversary cake (he probably didn’t want cake at all, but he knew I was going to make one anyway, so might as well play along). So half of each cake would be used in David’s cake, and the other half our cake. However the Sour Cream Vanilla Bean cake was left as vanilla for David’s cake.

How do you decorate a cake for a bloke? You can’t really have lovely frilly delicate flowers. But I needed to have something. And as per usual, the idea I had was a fluid one, and that what I initially thought I’d have changed a little over time. That’s the beauty of not having a particular design you have to create, you can go with the flow and be lead by how well (or not well) things are progressing.

White TruffleI’d been itching to try out the Bakels White Chocolate Truffle. I’d been following several posts on various FaceBook pages where it was discussed. I just wanted to know if it would set up sufficient that you could drape fondant over it and it remain stable underneath.

TopDavid’s cake was the perfect experiment for me. I warmed the truffle up and it was quite runny by comparison to usual ganache. But I was surprised how quickly it was firming. That gave me some confidence that it might set up firm. I used my usual upside down method for ganaching the cake. So putting all the weight onto the top (with the cake upside down) didn’t prove to be difficult at all. However the process for ganaching the sides means putting a little ganache on the top to basically secure the lid to use as a guide for getting a smooth surface on the sides. When I “popped” the lid off a bit of the cake under the ganache pulled away. Now I’m not one for waste, so I managed to scrape the cake off the lid and then pop it back where it lifted from. The upside down method worked really well and I was pleased with how it looked when I turned the cake up the right side and peeled the waxed paper off to reveal the perfectly smooth top. I went to bed.

Bubble topNext morning I noticed this bubble on the top. Everywhere else was perfectly fine. I think the bit of cake that had pulled away, which I fixed might have been responsible. It’s the most logical explanation. The ganache hadn’t set solid overnight as I expect of dark chocolate ganache so I was able to sort of apply a little pressure and see that it was able to move a bit. I used a needle and put a little hole in the top to then try and push the air underneath out. It worked well. Sadly I started doing so with just my fingers (like when you’re popping an air bubble in fondant), but the warmth of my fingers was starting to make the chocolate tacky. Belatedly I realised I should have used waxed paper and my fondant scraper to ease the bubble to the pin prick, that worked perfectly.

SucculentsNo harm done, I wasn’t leaving the cake top bare. I’d been making succulents over the week. And this morning I realise I actually had a Craftsy Class where Nicolas Lodge teaches how to make Succulents. But did I look? No. I instead scoured the Internet for instructions because doing things the hard way is sometimes the only way for me 😉

Chocolate paintingSaturday morning I set about adding some texture to the cake. I used a paint brush (only used for cake decorating) to slap the chocolate on. I had also used my Americolor Flocoat to mix a gel colour into the white chocolate to make a green that would be in keeping with the succulents.

Texture and colourEven when I’m trying to be random and haphazard I find that I have to work at making it look that way. Mr Fussy reckoned I should have attacked this stage blindfolded. For all that I achieved the look I was aiming for so it was now time to dust the succulents. That also was pretty easy. I certainly enjoy the look of gumpaste flowers having colours added, but I really find the whole dusting of petals my least favourite. I can colour royal icing and gumpaste to my hearts content, but dusting petals and leaves or, in this case succulents, is something I pretty much have to psych myself up for.

Petal DustSucculents all dusted and my “twig” made it was time to place them into the cake. Trying to arrange flowers or whatever is a daunting tasks for me. I am never happy with the process and I am never happy trying to wire them into an arrangement. I feels (and looks) awkward. I’m not at all confident with this phase and I really struggle.

David1For all of that, I was happy with the overall look of David’s cake. And of course the flavours were wonderful, although a little on the sweet side with all that white chocolate truffle.

Now to come up with some new ideas between now and the next birthday.David3


Frangipani Wedding Cake

Frangipani Wedding Cake

Frangipani Wedding Cake

Ok, deep breath. Another long post on the Frangaipani Wedding Cake I made for Jo’s son and daughter-in-law. The wedding was the 21 February.

Initially I was just making a 10 and 8″ American Mud Cake, ganached and covered in fondant with Tiff (Jo’s DIL) wanting to make the flowers.

I set my timeline which started the Sunday before the wedding. I offered Kathy to make a cake for Greg’s birthday knowing that I had time to do both cakes. The wedding cake being picked up the Wednesday before.

The Wednesday before (1.5 weeks out) Jo caught up with me and asked if there was any way I could make the flowers for the cake as well. Tiff had now realised that she was spreading herself too thin and didn’t have the time she expected to be able to make the flowers herself. Our communication continued by email and phone conversations that day. I wasn’t at work, but instead at a course.

Obviously I needed to know what the flowers were. Up until this stage I was only focused on making the cake and hadn’t asked how the cake was going to be decorated. Jo let me know the main flower was Frangipani and there were other flowers that Tiff had begun to make. A few photos were sent and I got busy searching YouTube and Google for any tutorials on making Frangipani.

As Jo has suspected, a Frangipani was a more simple flower to make (compared to a rose). I took a look at a finished cake that Tiff had liked the look of, mainly it was to show how she liked the flowers to be draped down the side of the cake. I started to calculate how many flowers I might need to make.

FrangipaniJo and I had another discussion the next day and I got to see first hand the flowers Tiff had made, and in turn I showed a sample I’d made the night before. I needed to test that the gumpaste I had was still suitable to use (it had been in the fridge for some weeks) and whether I had the right type of cutter to make the petals. My flower was much too thin, I wasn’t used to making a flower with thicker petals and I hadn’t twigged I was making it too thin until I had all the petals together. Anyway we decided I was on the right track and that we’d use all flowers I made. Now it was time to get busy, very busy, because come Sunday I was all about making both cakes and would have no time to spare for flowers. Though I still would have to dust the flowers, tape them and put them into an arrangement.

FillerFlowersI started making flowers Thursday night, made more Friday, now making filler flowers as well, and still reviewing several photos of other cakes with Frangipanis so I could make a stab as to how many I would need to make. I was also timing how much time it took and pretty much figured I could make 8-10 an hour. I really wanted to make 40+ but I made 34 as well as the filler flowers and 6 Calla Lilies, another flower I’d never made before. In then end I thought I had enough, maybe even more than I needed.

SemolinaSunday morning I was spent attaching wires to the Frangipani flowers. I knew I needed some to sit out from the cake, I didn’t want them all to sit flat against the cake. I wanted to create a sense of movement and lightness. But do you think I could find anything that explained how you’d wire a Frangipani? No. So I had to come up with my own method. It worked, but I wouldn’t say it was the right way, or the tidiest way you could do it. But it did the trick and for the most part the “attachment” would be hidden amongst the other flowers.

During the afternoon on Sunday I baked both the 10 and 8″ cakes as well as got all the ingredients together for Greg’s cake. I was thankfully allowed to finish work on Monday at 3:30pm which meant I could bake Greg’s cake Monday (more of that in a separate post).

AttachingWiresSunday evening I ganached the 10″ cake. That wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped. One batch of ganache decided it wouldn’t soften evenly and I ended up with what looked to be a grainy lump. Thankfully I had plenty of ganache and I warmed up another batch which was perfect. In the end I heated the first batch enough that it melted completely and it was absolutely perfect for use the following day, which is when I ganached the 8″ cake. I used two 4mm cake boards instead of my usual acrylic rounds. The trouble I had trying to get a nice smooth finish is something I wont discuss, but needless to say I am not a fan of cake boards. They weren’t perfectly round, and they were just slightly different in size which also caused some grief, as well as having to do a lot more the following day to get everything smooth and even.

Tuesday I covered the 10″ cake in fondant. I was a bit worried because it was warm in the house. I had to believe the dam I had used in the layers to hold the Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream was sufficient to hold it all together and I should not have any problems with bulges. The horror of what happened with Jasmine and Sam’s cake still haunted me. The covering was mostly straight forward, though there were a significant number of air bubbles. I did have one air pocket giving me grief, then somehow I managed to get a bit of ganache on the fondant. Well that made the it pretty clear what would be the front where I could hide the little speck with a flower or two.

BumpyCakeBoardWednesday was to be a really hot day, so when I woke earlier than I would have liked on Wednesday morning I decided I would get up and cover the 8″ cake. The house was cooler and I knew it would save me some potential difficulty that evening with the house being a lot warmer, and the ganache not as firm as I’d like. While the cakes didn’t cover as well as Jasmine and Sam’s, I was still happy enough, mostly because I knew I had a bit of leeway with flowers being added which I could place in such a way as to hide any small blemish. I guess you can hope that cakes will cover flawlessly but the reality is that it’s a pretty tall order. I guess I got really lucky with J & S’s cake, and given the other grief I had with their cake, I was owed some good luck somewhere.

As the days progressed my plans about what I’d do with each of the cakes changed. Not travelling on Thursday made a big difference, and while I would have managed had I not had the Thursday evening free, it did take a bit of pressure off.

So here I was Wednesday morning and the cakes were all but done. I just had to do the cake board, which proved to be a pain in the butt. It was my fault for not rolling the fondant thin enough which made it a bit of a mission, and not as tidy as I’d have liked. Then somehow I managed to cut my finger, which I hand’t noticed until I had the ribbon around the edge of the cake board. And you guessed it, I had somehow managed to get some blood on the ribbon. So off that came, and on went a plaster before I put new ribbon around the board.

Arrangements2I’d been chipping away at dusting the flowers each evening as I had time, then steaming them. Thursday morning (I woke early again!) I began to tape each individual flower and in the evening I started to make little bunches of 3 flowers. I created 4 arrangements and was mostly happy, except the top one. Friday morning I woke early and re-wired the top. I realised when you looked straight down on the arrangement that all the flowers faced frontwards. So I suspected I’d be re-wiring again.

While each arrangement looked fine, I had to think about how they would work together. I dragged the cakes out (they’d been up in the 3rd bedroom, the coolest room in the house) and started to play with how the flowers would fit together, mindful I didn’t want to mark the cakes. It was a tricky job and in the end I was no further ahead in what I was thinking.

Friday night I started to pull together all the things I’d need to be able to set up the cake at the venue. I wasn’t looking forward to dowelling the bottom tier. It makes me nervous. The cakes always settle a bit and what starts out as a perfectly level cake tends to dip a little in the middle. So the poly dowels have to sit a bit proud so that all up the top tier will sit level.

You can’t stop the days from rolling over and Saturday arrived and I was busy dowelling the cake. I had to do it several times because one or other of the dowels wasn’t at the same height and when I lay the ruler across the cake the ruler wouldn’t come into contact with one of the dowels. Talk about tricky!

Decorations1Jo had said the venue would be available from 10am. I knew the reception was at 4pm and guessed we’d leave home at 10am. Mr Fussy gets the job of driving (extremely carefully) while I sit in the passenger seat fretting about everything that could go wrong.

We left at 11am. And just like J & S’s wedding, we almost got collected by a car. And we hadn’t even left our own cul de sac.

It turned out to be a really lovely warm day. Earlier in the week the forecast was for cloudy weather with temperatures in the low 20’s. While I noticed how lovely and warm it was outside the venue, it never registered as being warm when we were inside.

I set about putting the cake together. I dithered about with the flowers. I had thought I’d start by placing the flowers on the bottom tier and working my way up. But I just couldn’t quite figure out how to get the flowers in the cake so that they sat against the cake at the right angle/place without adding weight and risking them pulling away from the cake, or ripping through the cake.

FrangapaniWeddingCakeI really was having a hard job trying to work it all out. In the end I got the top arrangement and the spray that fell over the side of the top tier sorted. And yet I still couldn’t work out where and how I would place the bottom arrangement. In the end I fiddled with the placement/angle of the wires and went to stick the flowers the side, but there was too much weight in the flowers and they more or less plopped out onto the cake board.

Having a hole int he side of the cake and still not knowing where the arrangement was going was creating a stressful situation for me. I knew I could “plug” the hole with one of the unwired left over Frangipanis, so I wasn’t getting myself too worked up, but I was still at a loss as to how to place the bottom arrangement. In the end I just held my breath and poked the wires into the top of the bottom tier right next to the middle arrangement. Then I just fussed about moving the individual flowers so that they faced different ways and weren’t too bunched up.

Each of the extra individual Frangipanis were used. I really didn’t think I would need them, but they helped to “shape” the direction of the arrangement.

In the end I was happy with how the cake looked with the flowers. I had taken a lot longer than I expected with the setup, and I was there doing a lot of thinking and not a lot of doing, but after all the time that had been taken to make the flowers I didn’t want to muck it all up by having them falling off/away or ripping through the cake due to their weight.

When I was finally sure that all the extra flowers I had attached (with Royal Icing) were now set on the cake we packed up and left.

Last time I made something for Jo (the Pirate and Princess cookies) she let me know as soon as she got home and looked at them how pleased she was. Not hearing from Jo about the cake made me start to fret that something had gone wrong. I had all sorts of visions that the flowers had fallen off or ripped through the cake. Or maybe the warmth led the ganache to soften and the fondant had slopped down, or ganache was running out from under the fondant. I kept looking at photos I’d taken from the venue and trying to determine just how close the cake was to the window, and just where the sun would have been by 4pm. Was it possible the sun had melted the ganache? It was awful wondering. I knew that Jo would have been very busy and in all likelihood nothing was wrong, but I couldn’t help the thoughts. I guess that if you did this regularly you’d have more of an idea of what risk there was in things turning bad.

I was extremely relieved when on Monday I received a text from Jo who was thrilled with the cake.

Wedding cakes, so much time and emotion are invested. It’s such an important cake, such a significant part of a wedding. I wonder if proper cake decorators ever get comfortable with setting up the cake and walking away and not worrying about how the cake is received. I doubt I’ll ever feel that way about any cake I make for someone other than myself.

Venue setupIf someone had told me I’d have made and decorated two wedding cakes within months of each other I would have scoffed at the idea. But here we are, and they both turned out just fine. I did however find a grey hair the other day. I don’t think it’s a coincidence!


Preview of a cake duo

There’s not enough time left to give my usual blow by blow account of making these cakes. So for now it’s just a couple of photos with a promise that I’ll do my usual re-cap of what went into making each of these cakes.

The wedding cake was made for Jo’s son’s wedding Saturday afternoon. The 50th cake for Kathy’s fiancee’s birthday.

This is the first time I’ve had two significant cakes to make in the one week, so it was a big thing for me.

More details will follow ….

Frangipani Wedding Cake

Frangipani Wedding Cake

50th Birthday Cake

50th Birthday Cake

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Waitangi Day – 2015

Waitangi Day Celebration Cake

Waitangi Day Celebration Cake

Haha, I just typed 2014. Boy it’s tough remembering we’re in a new year. Here’s a fun fact (not), I’ve gotten lazy with my writing and seem to always be in a rush. My 5 is verging on an S. I’ve been fully concentrating on making my 5’s more like 5’s. So 2015 is starting to look good 🙂

Seems odd to say “starting”. Here we are, the first day of February. Well January seemed to have flown by. For New Zealand February represents a month where we have a long weekend. Waitangi Day is on Friday. And as has been my custom the last few years, I’ve made a cake in recognition that Waitangi Day is something special to New Zealanders.

It was while we were holidaying in the Sunshine Coast that I began looking for a design that would give a uniquely Kiwi flavour to the design of the cake. I found this image on Flox.co.nz, it was one of several designs being considered for Fly My Pretties tour.

Check out the crack. Thankfully not a game changer to my plans

Check out the crack. Thankfully not a game changer to my plans

I loved the design but wasn’t sure I could pull it off. There’s a lot of detail in that Tui. But I decided to go for it with some minor changes, like excluding all that finer detail in the wings. I added some tylose to fondant and rolled it out and then used the image which I’d printed and then traced the image outline including some of the larger details. I wanted to give the Tui a bit of movement so I used some foam pieces to place under the wings and body and as I did that a crack appeared down the left side of the body. Boo. There was nothing I could do but to wait and see if the gumpaste hardened enough that it held the wing to the body or if it was going to drop off meaning I had to start again. Although I was going to wait 3 days  before gingerly picking up the Tui and seeing if it was in one or two pieces I couldn’t wait that long. I’m so very impatient. The next day (could I have waited less time? I think not!) I picked it up and turned it over and saw the crack was superficial. It hadn’t come through the back at all. Phew, but still annoying.

The colours weren't quite what I hoped. I wanted more depth and some shine.

The colours weren’t quite what I hoped. I wanted more depth and some shine.

Still I had to get up the courage to start painting the Tui. I looked at it each time I passed the dining room table. I kept telling myself I must make a start. But I told myself there was still plenty of time, and I had other things I wanted to finish before I needed to start worrying about the Tui. I did however make a start and at least get the outline painted, and the tail. But the wings. Well I was starting to have a change of mind as to how I would decorate the cake. Initially I planned to have a two tier cake, simply decorated with only the Tui. That meant I’d have to do something about the wings. Gulp. A new plan started to emerge. I would add some colour to the Tui, basically colouring in the wings. Having the outline and a new plan was all I needed to then procrastinate some more. I used the time to toss around ideas about how I would apply colour. Petal dust of painting with watered down food colour. As is typical, I couldn’t decide so made a start on what I thought would be easiest to get together. Hand painting it was. I wasn’t sold on the look so this morning I used petal dusts and some lustre. You see I had this image in mind for the colours and my hand painting wasn’t really up to scratch with dept of colour.

With a bit of time and some petal dust and lustre I finally had the look I had in mind.

With a bit of time and some petal dust and lustre I finally had the look I had in mind.

Ok, so the Tui was pretty much all I had hoped it would be. I still can’t see past the crack, but maybe I’m the only one. So it was onto the cakes.

I had baked Summer Stone’s Sour Cream Vanilla Bean cake (my favourite non-chocolate cake by the way) a few weekends ago and had it in the freezer. I also had a 5″ American Chocolate Mud Cake in my sisters freezer. The mud cake was already ganached and good to go. I ganached the SCVB cake on Saturday. Leah popped over to have a look at how I ganache my cakes. Funnily enough I was almost at a complete blank. It’s been almost 2 months since I last ganached a cake, and there’s been Christmas and holidays and old age that I started out all wrong. But it soon came right and we were able to chat about a few things that have happened over the last 4 years since we worked together.

Miserable little crack that just wouldn't be fixed. I hoped it didn't affect the integrity of the ganache.

Miserable little crack that just wouldn’t be fixed. I hoped it didn’t affect the integrity of the ganache.

When I got up this morning I noticed a hair line crack in the ganache on the 8″ cake. Boo again. I applied a bit more ganache to smooth over it and hoped by the time I got back from the gym it would be all ok and I could get on with covering the cakes in fondant.

I had gone to the gym a bit earlier so I could get home a bit earlier because we were gearing up for a hot day today. I wanted to get the cakes covered before the heat affected the ganache making my life miserable. But it was still too late, even though I was covering the cakes before 10am. As soon as I shifted the 8″ cake the crack came back, but longer than it had been. And while covering the cake wasn’t a problem, I knew the ganache wasn’t as firm as it should be, so there was a look of giving the the beady eye waiting to see if it would bulge. I was really wondering if I’d have the same sort of disaster I did with Jasmine and Sam’s wedding cake.

Going back to my simplistic clean design, well in my rethinking of that I decided that I wanted to repeat the Tui tail around the sides of the 8″ cake. Thankfully I had a larger image of the Tui and I used that as my template to score the pattern around the sides of the cake. I repeated the pattern 4 times, by the 3rd time I used a better tool for pressing into the fondant, and by the forth time it was much easier. I had to go back over the first two patterns to help smooth out the grooves to make it more fluid and less like I’d gouged the fondant (which I was basically).

It was so hot in the house, for the first time ever I had to put the cake into the 3rd bedroom, being on the cooler side of the house, in hopes that it would hold back the bulging, because there were tell talk signs that where the bottom layer was, it was starting to get a nice puffy ring around the cake.

Not everything goes to plan. The joys of cake decorating in Summer. Cracks, thinned fondant and ganache that should never be visible following a layer of fondant.

Not everything goes to plan. The joys of cake decorating in Summer. Cracks, thinned fondant and ganache that should never be visible following a layer of fondant.

Now onto the 5″ cake. This cake was 4.5″ tall so I knew I had my work cut out for me just with the height of the cake vs. the diametre. And the ganache was softer than the 8″ cake. It was suck it and see. And it wasn’t pretty. The fondant tore away at the top on one section and I pushed it back up, but made a bit of a flap where it overlapped now. I’d already decided I was going to texture the side of the 5″ cake. I’d been watching a Craftsy class by Faye Cahill during the week and she was demonstrating this technique so I wanted to give it a go. Plus I needed both of these cakes to stand on their own as well as being cohesive together. The 8″ is going to my work, the 8″ to Mr Fussy’s work. I do like to make things more challenging in the design stakes.

The fondant was a bit of a dogs breakfast but I was making some progress in tidying it up. Well I thought I was until I turned the cake and saw the biggest baddest bulge I’ve ever seen on such a small cake. It was really bad. I pulled the fondant from the side of the cake (this is why I prefer to use Crisco on the ganache in preparation for fondant) to see if I could push that sucker out. It wasn’t having any of it. I wondered if in fact the ganache was bulging because I was putting more pin pricks into the fondant than an acupuncturist would deem necessary to fix a stubborn ache. But I persevered and I won, sort of. The fondant was really thin, and the ganache has snuck out the bottom making it look somewhat untidy, but I wasn’t too concerned. A bit of ribbon would hopefully cover that up. I then textured the side of the cake. It could have worked better. Some of it impressed better than other patches. I was quite thankful that Mr Fussy tends to cut up cake before anyone at his work gets to see what it was to begin with. That took the pressure off trying to make it better. There’s plenty of room for improvement but working against the heat is something I knew I’d not win. So no point getting all in a fluster for.

Two out of four views of the hand painted Tui tail feathers.

Two out of four views of the hand painted Tui tail feathers.

The last little bit was to colour the Tui tail feathers that I’d impressed into the side of the cake. Up close I wasn’t sure if I needed to do anything. I wondered if it was enough to just have the impressions. But when I stood back it wasn’t noticeable. I set about using petal dusts (all edible) to apply colour. I made each of them slightly different. And I tried really hard to add a little colour at a time. Since I’m so patient (not!) I was getting tired of little by little, even though I knew it was the way. It’s hard to do things the way you know is right when you just want to see results immediately. I must have been a very trying child (and adult).

The 8" cake before adding the second tier.

The 8″ cake before adding the second tier.

Having applied the colour I again stood back and realised that it was looking more like seashells than feathers of a bird. Great, I’m going to have to use food colour to outline the feathers to make it look like it’s meant to be something. Instead of black, I used dark brown. I didn’t want such a harsh outline. I started with just the outline and it made a big difference, but it still wasn’t finished enough. I needed to add the details, and when I had, it really made a big difference.

It was finally time to put it all together. I put the ribbon around the top tier which certainly helped to hide the section that had ganache visible. But before I committed to putting the top tier on, I took a few photos. Even though I had tried to wipe the underside of the perspex cake board the 5″ cake was on, I knew it was highly likely that some chocolate would still be there and it would transfer to the bottom tier. I was also a little concerned the Tui wouldn’t hold. But as it turns out everything came together fine. I used two poly dowels to support the top tier and candy melts to attach the Tui to the top tier. Photos taken all I had to do was dismantle it all so that I could separate the cakes for Mr Fussy to take his one to work. I now had to prize the Tui off the top tier. The candy melts had done the job so well it was difficult to remove the Tui. And you don’t get to take something that’s been stuck to the side of the cake off without leaving some carnage. It’s not too bad, but again I’m thankful that no one will likely witness the cake uncut. The Tui wasn’t spared from damage either. Some of the tail has broken off. No tears were shed. I have some photos of what it looked like all complete and I’m pretty happy with the overall look. To anyone else this just represents a slice of cake with coffee at morning tea time. I’m not too precious about the cake.

Quite like this guy. Mr Tui looked good there for the few minutes I took to take photos.

Quite like this guy. Mr Tui looked good there for the few minutes I took to take photos.

So New Zealanders and Kiwis everywhere. Enjoy the long weekend that is ahead if you’re in New Zealand. Happy Waitangi Day (for Friday!).

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Banana Cake

Oooh, it’s been such a great weekend for trying out new things. In this post I’ll talk about the Agbay Junior, and touch on the butter (there’ll be a separate post coming for that).

Banana cake for the work folk.

Banana cake for the work folk.

I was making a banana cake because it was time to use up the bananas I’d taken from work (they were left, unwanted) and popped into the freezer. I’d decided some weeks earlier that when the time came I’d be making Summer’s Banana Cake recipe. You can find the details from this link.

Yesterday I’d made butter. Mum bought me a Mad Millie Butter kit for Christmas. Today I was using the butter I’d made, in the Banana cake.

Mainland unsalted butter on the left, my homemade butter on the left. A bit more crumbly, and more firm.

Mainland unsalted butter on the left, my homemade butter on the left. A bit more crumbly, and more firm.

Summer’s recipe is actually for cupcakes, but she does say you can easily make a cake from it. Summer’s suggestion is that you add an additional banana. And it was 3 bananas that I had from work, so that came together nicely. One of the things that I liked about the recipe was using a blander (food processor or similar) to get the banana fully incorporated. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of banana cake. I love bananas, but I’m not fond of cooked banana, except when it’s drowning in maple syrup and been heated (caramelised) to put on top of pancakes. Despite my lack of desire to eat banana cake I was really looking forward to trying out this recipe and method.

Creamed with the cup of sugar. You can see on the side of the bowl it looks like there's droplets of water. Could just be that the butter was still a bit too cold.

Creamed with the cup of sugar. You can see on the side of the bowl it looks like there’s droplets of water. Could just be that the butter was still a bit too cold.

Usually I’ll make 3 layers of cake from Summer’s other cake recipes, but I decided to make just two. I really wasn’t sure how far the frosting would go. I was hedging my beats. Anyway, the cakes took closer to 45-50 minutes to bake. I wasn’t really surprised given the batter was a little looser than other cakes I’ve baked of Summer’s, and of course the amount of batter was greater. The tops cracked, and oddly it was where the cracks were that the cake looks a little more moist (see later photo).

3 bananas weighed 339gm. And you wont get those perfect straight sides with any other cake pan than Magic Line (at least that's my experience).

3 bananas weighed 339gm. And you wont get those perfect straight sides with any other cake pan than Magic Line (at least that’s my experience).

This is the first cake I’ve made since Christmas. And for Christmas I got an Agbay Junior cake leveller. I was pretty darn excited that I’d be getting this baby assembled and using it. I’ve heard so many people say once you’ve used one you’ll never go back to any other method of torting cakes. I’ve seen the promo video’s. I’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos (for other things) where the baker is using the Agbay to torte a cake. Needless to say I was hooked, it was just a case of someone else buying it for me ;-). It was a good Christmas!

Once I had the Agbay assembled (was straight forward) I put one of the cakes onto the cake card and determined the size of the layer. Except I didn’t quite get it right and I needed to have dropped the height by one notch (which is like 1/16th of an inch I think). The second layer I torted at that height and it worked out perfect. I thought I’d try my luck and see if I could pass the first layer back through the Agbay. I knew I’d only need a thin sliver, I guess the 1/16th of an inch. What is life if not for living dangerously. So with that in mind I passed the Agbay back over the first cake and it worked! And you can see from the photo just how thin it cut. If I didn’t already love the Agbay for the ease and speed at which it could torte, I was now hook line and sinker in love with my new gadget.

First pass, and you can see some of the dome left behind. So back I go for a second pass with the Agbay lowered just marginally.

First pass, and you can see some of the dome left behind. So back I go for a second pass with the Agbay lowered just marginally.

With that in mind, it seemed perfectly acceptable to then use little hearts as decoration for the cake. And so I did. Boy oh boy, making a cake that’s decorated in frosting only is such a breeze. I did put a thin coat of frosting all over the cake. I needed to seal the sides since the cake is now in the fridge until I go to work tomorrow. I’d forgotten how easy baking a cake can be when you’re not preparing a cake for being covered in fondant. I feel like I achieved so much!

The domed tops we ate after dinner. I still had sufficient frosting to slap some more between the two tops. The cake is very definitely banana. And I found the texture to be quite smooth. The other thing that I like about the cake is the absence of all the black specks that you typically get with banana cake. I guess having blended the banana took care of that. So true to my word, I’ve baked a banana cake for my team at work. Quite possibly it’s the last time the current team is together. We’re moving out to MYOB’s new building, and part of the crew from the 3rd floor at work will be going to MYOB’s existing building (500m down the road) and my immediate team will be in the newer building. It’s a bit sad really, but cake will quite possibly make everything seem ok again 🙂

Simple but colourful decorations.

Simple but colourful decorations.