On to the plate

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


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Progel review and Baby Boy cookies

Colour paletteNot only am I giving my opinion on Progel, I also tried the CK brand pre-made Black royal icing mix. I was excited.

I’ve tried a Progel colour (Holly) before and I was unimpressed. I could not squeeze any gel out of the tube. I went red in the face, veins were popping and I was not having a great time. I tried to use a toothpick in the end, which was semi-successful. So needless to say I went into this holding my breath, especially when I’d bought 4 or 5 tubes while we were at BakeBoss in Brisbane.

New startMany other people have raved about Progel so I felt my first experience must have been really unlucky, so here I am, giving it another go and hoping I have a better experience.

SquirtThe news is good. I had no problem at all with getting the gel out of the tube, in actual fact, now I have to warn you that you shouldn’t really squirt it, which is a bit of a pain. But basically you can’t control how much is going to be dispensed when you squeeze the tube, even when you’re trying to be gentle. So squeezing some out onto a dish and then using a toothpick to transfer a smaller dab into the royal icing would be my advice.

Feeling BlueSo all was good with Progel and I’d buy it again. Except that I love Sugarflair. I’m sure there’s a place for both, in actual fact I tend to use the gels for colouring royal icing, and Sugarflair for colouring gumpaste and fondant. But I do love me some Sugarflair. The light blue is Sugarflair Baby Blue, and I can tell you I used a pretty small dab of colour and I still ended up adding a bit more white royal icing to tone it down. Sugarflair has an extensive range of colours and in my opinion a superior depth of colour, and what you see on the test card is the exact colour you’ll end up with.

Blog_200115Not that I’ve done it really, but the more Progel you add the deeper the colour. I guess I did do this with the Navy. To begin with it wasn’t as deep a colour as I wanted, so I added more, and then I got what I wanted, or close to it. I expected the colour to deepen as it sat. By the time I came to flood the cookies a day later I had no complaints over the colour.

CK BlackNext I moved onto the CK brand pre-coloured black royal icing. And yep, it was just as amazing as I’d seen it on the Gateaux Inc video (which I can’t find the link for now). It was as simple as adding in the powder and then the water and mixing the two. And before your eyes you get the most perfect glossy black. I thought it was too good to be true. I’m here to tell you that it was, sort of. That bitter taste you get when adding lots of black (or red) to the royal icing is sadly still present. But there’s no waiting. You just mix and you can go for your life using it immediately.Easy as

The tests weren’t all for nothing. I had planned to decorate cookies for one of the ladies from work who was leaving on Maternity Leave. We arrived back midnight going into Saturday and it was that coming Friday that Nicole was leaving. I was very thankful that I had more cookies than I needed for Christmas and had planned to use all of them.RI Transfers

Monday night I got busy making royal icing transfers. I didn’t really hold a lot of hope the rocking horses would come off the waxed paper in one piece. I was relieved and surprised that they did peel off in one piece.

Baby Boy1I had some vague plans as to how to decorate the cookies, and I began to write down those ideas, and in the end I still missed doing a few things, like making little baby feet, or using my new Stork and Baby stamp. But all in all the cookies are fine, even if my hand writing is a bit scruffy, and certainly not even or straight. I didn’t really have the time to get the Kopykake out, but that’s what it needed, for me at least. Hand writing on cookies is certainly something I need lots of practice on, and having the words in the right font in front of me would certainly be helpful.

Baby Boy2When I took the cookies in so many people commented that they couldn’t eat them. But I tried to polity explain that I didn’t make them to be looked at only, and I hoped they would eat them. Nicole took the two largest plaques home with her, and by the end of the day there was only 3 cookies left. That worked out nicely for us at home 🙂Baby Boy3

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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.


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Princesses and Pirate Cookies

Pirate themed cookies

Pirate themed cookies

I know. I’ve been bad at keeping up with a regular post. I’ve also been extremely busy these past few weekends. So much so going back to work on Monday seems like a break.

Enough of the complaining. This post is about a set of cookies I made for Jo from work, you might remember Jo from this post. She’s awesome.

I made the cookies twice. The first time was a few weeks before I needed them, but I made them Friday night and didn’t put them in the freezer until Sunday. I’d managed to flood many of them Sunday night but the icing hadn’t quite set properly (even with being in the dehydrator) and the ziploc bag stuck to the surface. So between worrying about the mottled surface and the freshness, I tossed the lot.

Onto a new batch. I still made them ahead of time, earlier in the week I needed them for but put them straight into the freezer. I still had the icing from the first batch so at least I didn’t have to remake that.

All the princess themed cookies

All the princess themed cookies

Thursday night I started with backgrounds, like the insets of some of the dresses, and piping some of the ships and the flesh part of the pirate faces. I also snipped up some cake lace I had to see if it might be able to be used in the dresses. I was off to a good start.

Friday night Mr Fussy went ahead and did all the shopping on his own (bless him, he’s such a good man) so I could go home straight away and get on with the cookies. We were leaving very early to get a flight the next morning to Queenstown where we were staying for Labour Weekend.

I was pretty happy with how the ships were coming along, and the pirates were fun to make. I really enjoyed the more “boy” themed cookies. I found the dresses more challenging. I wanted them to be pretty with lots of dimension and delicate lace bits. They look fine, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, they’re just not quite as I’d hoped. I think part of the problem was that I hadn’t quite thought them through properly. I should have had more of a plan. These aren’t the sort of cookies you can wing. Or at least I can’t.

Close up of the dresses

Close up of the dresses

All in all I was happy with the cookies but boy was I tired. So tired that I really didn’t want to take the time to photograph the cookies. The pictures were taken in haste. I knew I’d be really disappointed if I hadn’t taken any photos.

Saturday morning I rushed to pack a bag and get 4 or was it 5 Tupperware containers into the car to head out to the airport.  Jo met us at the airport and was so excited to get home and have a look at the cookies.

I had made more than we had spoken of. I always make more than I think I need. You never know if there’ll be an accident or I botch something up, or like this past weekend, drop a cookie I was happy with. So I always make some more. Plus I wanted to make a cake cookie, and I did.

It’s not like I need to make cookies for young children so when the opportunity presents itself I sort of cram a few extra things in that have piqued my interest over time.

Jo text me to say how much she loved the cookies. It’s really interesting what different people see as their favourite. I have come to realise that just because something is my least favourite doesn’t mean it’s a bad cookie. I pretty much get now that someone will look at it and think it’s the bee’s knees.

I wish I had a photo of Jo dressed up as Cinderella. The cookies were for her granddaughter Bailee, for her 5th birthday.


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Breast Cancer Awareness – 2014

In order to make up for the silence of the last couple of weekends I’ve got not one cake, not two, but three cakes. Am I off the hook?

And since you’ve had to wait for so long, I wont waste any more time, here they are.

Pink ribbon stencil. A trial of a new mud cake recipe

Pink ribbon stencil. A trial of a new mud cake recipe

Hope and butterflies. A cake for a special lady.

Hope and butterflies. A cake for a special lady.

A splash of colour using rose spirit and petal dusts

A splash of colour using rose spirit and petal dusts

I made a 6″ American Mud Cake, thanks to Summer’s recipe which you’ll find on her blog, Cake Paper Party. I also made a 8″ American Mud Cake (cakes 1 & 3 pictured). The middle cake is another of Summer’s recipe, one I’ve baked before, her Sour Cream Vanilla Bean cake.

I actually made a 6″ and 5″ cake from the one recipe, the 5″ cake is already filled and ganached and sitting in the freezer waiting for an occasion to be used. And it turns out the new mud cake recipe is a hit. It’s a little less heavy/dense and a little more cake-like for a mud cake, but it works beautifully still with ganache and fondant.

Both 6″ cakes had been filled and ganached and put in the freezer (cakes 1 & 2) and the 8″ had been frozen too, but was frozen as separate layers. The two 6″ cakes were taken from the freezer Thursday morning and I covered the 2nd cake in fondant that night. Cake no. 1 was covered the following morning (I couldn’t sleep). All were easy to cover in many ways. I’d given up on my The Mat and instead rolled the fondant directly on the bench. It rolled so quickly it was great. And I even rolled the fondant around the rolling pin. Previously I’d been concerned that I might leave impressions on the fondant from where it was rolling on itself. So while it rolled nicely, and wrapped around the rolling pin without any nasty marks, I did end up with a little bit of elephant skin going on.

My acetate smoothers had finally arrived from the UK. I didn’t think I’d end up using them as the ones I’d fashioned from a chopping board had done a good job on a previous cake, but the smoothers from the UK really did a lovely job of smoothing out most of the elephant skin. The acetate is thinner than the chopping board I hacked up which probably makes the difference. Anyway I managed nice sharp edges on all 3 cakes without having to work too hard for it. I’m so pleased that it’s all working out now, including having finally managed to get the ganache on just (about) perfectly. I had been having problems keeping the bottom of my scraper straight up and down, it was firmly on the board but it trailed at the bottom and it was causing me to have the bottom (which is the top – I ganache upside down) to taper in. So this last cake (no. 3) I used the acrylic rounds on both the bottom and the top and instead of spending 20 minutes trying to keep things even, I reckon I took about 5 minutes to ganache the cake. It was so easy, so simple, so quick. And it looked a lot better, like it was seemless. Other cakes have been fine, but a bit patchy in application where this looked like I started at one point and managed to get around the complete cake in one sweep.

The Friday night I covered the 3rd cake, it was looking really good. And of course it would, it was the only cake that would be completely covered in more fondant and didn’t have to look perfect underneath (Murphy’s Law). I also had two 10.5″ squares of acrylic which I had lightly covered in Crisco and then covered in white fondant. I covered these with a large zip loc bag. The bags were also 10.5″ so I couldn’t slip the acrylic inside and had to settle with placing the bags over the top to prevent the fondant from drying too much. As it turned out the edges had dried out a bit too much so I didn’t use those bits. But considering the fondant had been out for over 12 hours it worked nicely. I just cut the fondant into strips and then used a little palate knife to slip between the acrylic and fondant to manoeuvre the strip and then place against the cake. First I also applied a thin layer of Crisco onto the side of the cake so the fondant strips would adhere nicely. The design idea came from a post on The Cake Blog, a beautiful cake by AK Cake Design. Although I loved the process, the colours are brighter than I hoped they would be. Next time I’ll know better.

As for the Breast Cancer heart cake, that idea came from a cake Erin O’Brien had made. And then the 1st cake, my practice cake, I used the same colours as used in cake 3, but just what was left, and then “watered down” more with more rose spirit. It didn’t quite work as nicely as I wanted, it was a bit patchy, but again I’ve learnt a few things for next time. The plaque was made Friday night too. I rolled some fondant and the placed my Pink Ribbon stencil (for cookies) over the fondant, adhered a little by Crisco (without it the stencil slipped about and moved) and then I rolled it a bit more which let the fondant push a little through the stencil. While the stencil was still on the fondant I used a brush which had a light coating of petal dust and dusted over the pink ribbons. I removed the stencil and used the plaque cutter to cut out a section of what I’d stencilled. Lastly I placed the plaque onto a piece of waxed paper and then put that against a dummy cake so that it would dry with the right curve to fit nicely on the cake later.

Making the butterflies and the “hope” word was probably the hardest. Using tappits and patchwork cutters require quite a bit of patience, even using some new techniques I’d learnt (placing gladwrap over the letters, rolling gumpaste over). Needless to say there were a few busted butterflies and several of the same letters in case I wasn’t able to get the letters to come away cleanly from the rolled gumpaste.

All in all I was pleased with how the cakes came out. The last thing to do was to finish up the weekend by making a few cookies.

Dots Multi coloured roses Single rose


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Mum’s birthday afternoon

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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Sometimes it goes wrong – chalkboard cookies

Birthday bunting

Birthday bunting. I hand wrote and held my breath all the while.

Someone at work has a rather special birthday on Tuesday. Not that I’d given it much thought, but I decided on Saturday to make some cookies to take in. Dave has had his gallbladder removed so he wont be partaking of any cookies, cake or whatever else you might generally serve for such a celebration. But the rest of the team will be more than happy to have a cookie in his honour.

I made a blunder with the cookie dough, not paying attention. I ended up with twice the amount of white sugar than I should have. I knew that meant the dough would spread and spread it did. Given there’s no raising agents it spread big time. What I was left with was thinner cookies than I would have liked, and in turn that made giggling the cookies to get the royal icing to “melt” and settle in a nice even layer a bit tricky. One of the first cookies actually started to buckle in my hands.

Things were looking a bit funky.

Things were looking a bit funky.

This time I used a painters angled pallet knife type thing to spread the royal icing. Boy that’s a lot quicker than using a scribe took to push the icing out. It took no time to ice the cookies. Even before we went to bed I could see something odd going on with the black cookies. The black had quite a bit of cocoa powder in it to help deepen the colour, but it’s not a new trick for me.

Old wrinkly looking cookies

Old wrinkly looking cookies

This morning the first thing I did was check the cookies and I ended up with these wrinkly looking cookies. Boo. I wondered if it would be possible to scrape the icing off to salvage the cookies. But  before I decided whether to waste my time doing that, I wanted to know if the grey coloured cookies would still end up with a chalkboard type look. I got out my new click ‘n twist brush. It has quite a fat end and too fat to use on a small cookie. I decided to dab my paint brush into the paint that was pooling at the brush end. Phew. The cookie looked just fine. On that note I proceeded to scrape all the black royal icing off and re-ice the cookies with the grey.

Things were looking up. The chalkboard look was a go.

Things were looking up. The chalkboard look was a go.

Since the cookies were freshly iced I could use the “60” royal icing transfers I was doodling the night before. I let them drop and used the scribe tool to better position them, then push them into the icing a bit. I got carried away and decided to use some of the “eyes” as well. I’m going with a scene here, of people hiding in the dark to surprise Dave, shouting “Happy Birthday”. Yeah it looks odd but it’ll appeal to someone.

Practice makes perfect. Finally I had eyes. Not that I have a plan for them.

Practice makes perfect. Finally I had eyes. Not that I have a plan for them.

I decided that I might as well carry on puddling about and started to add little embellishments to the cookies. I’m hoping I haven’t made them a bit girly, but I’m sort of thinking black and white movie type era where they used lots of vintage type frames. Meanwhile I’m still trying to find the right font to use so that I can hand paint more messages onto the chalkboard cookies. I’ve also go some rugby balls and two scrolls in which to write a Happy Birthday message. The KopyKake will be used because the font will be a bit too fancy (not pretty, that’s different) for me to freehand.

Using this as a way to practice more piping.

Using this as a way to practice more piping.

I really like the cookies which have a bit of colour. I think being on a black background makes the colour stand more.

Hmm, capers. Maybe not next time.

Hmm, capers. Maybe not next time.

Plenty of spice in this tagine. Loved the dried apricots.

Plenty of spice in this tagine. Loved the dried apricots.

Anyway, aside from baking cookies I made another two Chelsea Winter recipes. Saturday night we had Chicken cacciatore and tonight the Lamb (but I used beef) slow-cooked tagine. Both were really good. That’s a lot of flavour in our weekend but both recipes got the thumbs up by Mr Fussy and he’ll be happy to have either meal again. Just not with the capers. It was the first time I’ve used capers and I can’t really say they wowed me. There was a hint of taste to them but nothing that made me think it really added something special to the meal. So no capers next time!

A bit more work to do but so far so good, given the rocky start to this project.

A bit more work to do but so far so good, given the rocky start to this project.

And in case you’re curious about the rugby balls and aeroplanes, Dave is fond of his rugby and Monday mornings are spent with the lads discussing the various games that were played. He also flies his own remote controlled planes and when the weather is suitable that’s where you’ll find him during his weekend, at the local flying club.


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Father’s Day

Royal Icing Transfers. I need to work on getting the consistency of the RI right.

Royal Icing Transfers. I need to work on getting the consistency of the RI right.

My Dad isn’t really one for all the fluff of a “celebration cake”. In some ways that meant I had an easy job for making something for Father’s Day, but what? What would I make that still looked special but didn’t require chocolate (Dad isn’t a fan) and still looked well presented.

All glazed up. Oma's Apple Tart.

All glazed up. Oma’s Apple Tart.

Having recently received my Chelsea Winter cookbook, At My Table, (it arrived the day we flew out to Canada) I browsed the pages and found something that seemed very much the type of food my Dad would like.

I’m sure Dad would have been quite happy with a block of cheese, or liquorice, or pineapple lumps, instead he got Chelsea’s Oma’s Dutch Apple Cake.

Start with a thin layer of batter

Start with a thin layer of batter

Add the sliced apple. And I added in freeze dried blueberries and some sultanas for good measure. Dad loves sultanas.

Add the sliced apple. And I added in freeze dried blueberries and some sultanas for good measure. Dad loves sultanas.

All ready for baking.

All ready for baking.

While Chelsea has shared a large number of her recipes on her own website, this particular one isn’t one of those. If you search you’ll find someone else has shared the recipe, but for copyright purposes I won’t.

When I phoned Dad to see that he’d be free the Sunday afternoon I ended the call with “tell Ruth she doesn’t need to make anything, we’ll bring afternoon tea”, and I knew those words would mean nothing.

As expected Natalie and I turned up with afternoon tea and Ruth had a table laid out with savouries and slices.

With a good dollop of cream. Pesto and cheese scones in the background.

With a good dollop of cream. Pesto and cheese scones in the background.

All that food was way too much (no surprises there!) and there was a heap left over. I had made far too many cookies so I dished those out and I left the leftover tart with Dad and Ruth to have with their dinner (which was leftover afternoon tea).

Pie anyone?

Pie anyone?

When we arrived home I got stuck into make Chelsea’s Cream Chicken Vegetable Pie. It isn’t a difficult recipe, but it does take a fair amount of time to get it all together, and that despite having prepared the carrots, mushrooms (yuck!), garlic and leek (the first time I touched one of those – had to ask for help how to prepare it!) during the morning.

Big chunks of chicken. I promise I tried to shred the chicken into "bite size pieces"

Big chunks of chicken. I promise I tried to shred the chicken into “bite size pieces”

The pie however was well worth the effort. Despite Mr Fussy’s misgivings about leek (which he’d never had, but on principle that it was a vegetable he didn’t like it) he enjoyed the pie. We did suggest that we might make it without the mushrooms next time. Neither of us are a fan but my MIL likes them so I kept them in, this time.

Dehydrator trays filled with cookies.

Dehydrator trays filled with cookies.

Going back to my cookies, I bought a dehydrator on returning to Christchurch and this was my first time trying it out with the cookies. It certainly helped speed up the drying time, but it didn’t quite eliminate the possibility of craters. You can see a couple of the letters have the tell-tale sign of a crater wanting to break free.

Some of the cookies

Some of the cookies

It was a very busy weekend in the kitchen for me. I’ve made Mum’s birthday cakes, ganache and royal icing in preparation for more sugar cookies to come.

During the week several packages arrived with more cake/cookie decorating things. One of those was a book on using cocoa butter to paint on sugar. The book has a number of different methods of painting and I enjoyed reading it Friday night. Now I’m itching to start painting. I can see a few week nights practicing all these new ideas I have running around in my head. In fact I’ve got so many ideas I’m almost not sure where to start! Better find somewhere.