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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!



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

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

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

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

Finished cake

The Cake

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

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

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

Bake me a cake

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

8 and 5 inch cakes

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

Ganache and covering with fondant

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

torted and trimmed-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ganached and covered-2

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

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

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

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

Out of balance-2

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

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

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

Fondant Frills

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

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

Ombre frills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ombre colours

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

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

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

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

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

Fondant Frills

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

Gumpaste Peony flowers

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

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

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

Pink peonies

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

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

Pretty in pink

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

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

Underside of the Peony set

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

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

Sugar Peony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mum’s birthday cake

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

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

Finished cake

Sugar Peony

Fondant Frills


Top tier


Coming full circle

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Drenched in Chocolate Sauce

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

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

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

Inside out

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

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

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


Another birthday, but bucking the traditions somewhat

It was my MIL’s birthday on Friday and for birthdays on that side of the family, the tradition is to have KFC and Christmas Pudding. I kid you not!

Mr Fussy and I have run away the last few years for our birthdays, and I can tell you we’ve not missed that birthday meal one little bit. I was a bit shocked that my MIL decided against KFC this year too. But first we’ll start at the beginning which involved Waffles for breakfast using a recipe I’ve previously posted, and Caramel Sauce. I’ve also posted that too. Waffles aren’t necessarily “special” in our house, they don’t require some occasion to be made, but they’re not made every weekend either. Having Caramel Sauce on them for breakfast, is a little decadent and that did make them just a bit special. Just one note on the caramel sauce, I used the full measure of Fleur de sel salt. It really is a bit more salty than I’ve previously had, but I think that’s because the salt doesn’t dissolve and it seems to settle at the bottom of the spoon or jar, so you’re left with the last mouthful giving a full blast of salt.

Waffles with Caramel Sauce

Given that it’s still winter (but it’s on the way out) the berries were Sujon frozen berries. I drained the juice into a pot, added a few teaspoons of sugar and after it came to the boil added a bit of cornflour which I’d mixed together with a spoonful of the boiling juice. I let boil again for a few more minutes. It made a nice little sauce. Two sauces, now that’s getting a bit carried away.

I wont come as a surprise to you that I was pretty much over eating (and over-eating) at the end of afternoon tea.

During Thursday night I torted and crumb coated the cake. I used the White Almond Sour Cream (WASC) cake with lemon extract. And I used the left over Swiss Meringue Buttercream( SMBC) from Dad’s 70th cake. I realised that SMBC wasn’t quite the same as it had been pre-frozen. It almost looked like it was weeping some liquid. And I realised that despite adding a bit more icing sugar, it would be too soft to take the weight of fondant.

Friday night I made a buttercream out of Butter, Crisco and icing sugar, and I made it quite stiff. Funny thing is, I could take a teaspoon of the frosting and then roll it between my hands and make a sausage from it. And believe you me, I used it like that. With the stiffness of the normal buttercream, and the slippery SMBC, I was having a really hard job getting a good coverage. The buttercream kept pulling away from the cake as I was smoothing it. I kept at it and in the end just had to give up. I used paper towels to try and even things out and smooth as much as I could. But it wasn’t a flash job and I expected the fondant to show up every one of those uneven surfaces. I also expected the fondant to bulge, that the SMBC would burst through the buttercream and have its wicked way causing all my fears to be realised. But that actually didn’t happen.  There’s a lesson to be learnt here. The SMBC I made is perfect for use the day it’s made, but not suitable for freezing and re-using.

Covering the birthday cake

You can see how the teal SMBC has come through the outer layer frosting. I did end up with a few air pockets around the side (and one I missed from the top) but managed to press them out. The scissors were made with a silicone mould and took a really long time to get the gumpaste/fondant to fit and sit right given I had to basically cut out the finger holes before putting the mould into the fridge. I think each one (there’s only 5) took around 10 minutes each. I had coloured the gumpaste/fondant lilac. I had read purple fades and sure enough, these are now grey, a really non-descript colour anyway.

I managed to find a way to make some gumpaste Tulip flowers in secret. Not easy when your MIL lives with you and is always around when you’re home.  Unfortunately you can’t see the really nice dusting of white sparkle and the yellow and green powder around the base of each flower and up the centre of each petal (the yellow).

TulipsBut I got there, having to hide them away in a wardrobe out of sight. In fact, when I was making the Mexican paste patchwork scissors I had Mr Fussy on guard duty to tell me when my MIL was returning from church and then I hurriedly moved the lot into our bedroom and then had to wait until the coast was clear again to finish them off. It was tiring being all covert.

Patchwork scissor cutter

I made the cookies last weekend and put them into the freezer. I then used a silver dusting powder with vodka to paint the blades. I made sure the dust was non-toxic and food safe. But I forgot to check the petal dusts I used for the coloured handles. The magenta ones are NOT suitable for eating. The petal dusts were awful to use with Vodka. The dust clumped and wouldn’t brush on easily. The magenta on the other hand was really nice to use. I guess what makes it easy to apply is what makes it unsuitable for eating. I iced the cookies Friday night too (make caramel, ice and cover the cake, make waffle batter and ice and decorate the cookies – it was midnight before I got to bed). I thought it would be nice to pipe the royal icing to mimic the scalloped edge of the cookie. Yes it would be nice, if I could do it. I was busy getting my phone to take a photo of how badly I was doing when I dropped the phone onto the cookie ruining the royal icing. See that yellow cookies?  That’s fondant. I scraped the royal icing off (the next morning when I had a brainwave of how I might be able to recover my faux pa) and then cut out fondant using the same shaped cutter, just one size smaller. Then I added the white dots in the ugly scallops I’d piped. The cookie bottom left, well the disposable bag actually slipped right off the coupler. I decided that was the last sign I needed to pack up and call it a night. Not my best work. But I learnt some valuable lessons, and no one pointed and laughed – thankfully Smile

I woke on Saturday far too soon for someone who didn’t get to sleep until after midnight. I slipped out of bed to the kitchen to see how bad the cake looked, fully expecting the fondant to have bulged due to the soft SMBC. But it hadn’t. Win!

After everyone had left me to it in the kitchen I put in the plastic dowel so that I could then feed the wires from the Tulips into the cake.

Attaching the flower arrangement

This is called a floating arrangement. The stems are fake. They are a plastic tubing. I melted a Wilton Candy Melt to put over the cut end to make it less obvious what it was. I should have used royal icing or softened fondant but that was too much trouble for the time I had available. The ribbon is covering up the join from where the flowers and leaves are then attached to the fake stems.

We skipped lunch, really who needed it knowing afternoon tea was coming. I spent a little bit of time knocking up the Rosemary Flatbread and then it was time to lay it all out for afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea

After the cake was cut Mr Fussy was asking why I wasn’t taking a photo. See, everyone now knows that all food must be photographed. I was reluctant, it gets a little embarrassing, but I took his question as permission. So here’s the cake, and the only reason I’m really showing the photo is to show how much the buttercream and fondant are a perfect match. See I did something right, and I wasn’t even trying Open-mouthed smile

A slice of birthday cake

I was a bit disappointed in the flavour of the cake. I had flavoured it with lemon extract. I knew it didn’t have that flavour when I torted the cake and took a nibble of the discarded top. I flavoured the buttercream and I could taste that. Without the buttercream it would have been a pretty bland cake. So I’m not sure I’ll make this my vanilla cake of choice. Back to the drawing board.

And as if we’d not had enough sweetness in the day, dessert for dinner was not Christmas Pudding (which we do have in our pantry – bought after Christmas when they’re on special, with the sole purpose of having for birthdays), but a variation, a fruit mince tart. My MIL requested Silverside for dinner since it’s something my BIL doesn’t often get, and she knew he’d enjoy it. Anyway the point of mentioning this is the crockpot was in use with the piece of silverside, so I was without the usual warming method for a Christmas pudding, hence the fruit mince tart.

This side of the family don’t have any warm pudding without custard. Oh my, as if my belly wasn’t already full, custard as well? No thank you! I put a spoonful of whipped cream on mine. Yeah I know, hardly doing without the extra empty calories Winking smile

Fruit Mince Tart

I’ve now used the last portion of the pastry I made for the Lemon Meringue Tart. I should have made fruit mince tart in a smaller flan dish to give a little more thickness to the pastry since I emptied 3 pottles of Tasti Fruit Mince into this shell. And as you’d expect, once I cut into the tart the filling oozed out.

Boy, what a huge day eating non-stop. Well it felt like non-stop. There’s been left over tart for pudding tonight. At first I vowed not to have any, then as I was rejuvenating the custard I decided I’d finish off the last of the prunes and have custard with it, which progressed to me nibbling at the pastry since the tart was directly in front of me. I have no restraint when it comes to desserts. None at all.


WASC–two very different birthday cakes

Sometimes I’m a little baffled by all the attention certain recipes receive. This recipe is a White Almond Sour Cream Cake batter. There’s a lot of discussion about WASC on CakeCentral. People are trying to replicate a box mix cake with a “from scratch” recipe. Anyway, I stumbled across this recipe and thought, why not?

You can find the recipe on this blog.

I used my new favourite site that takes the size of the original cake pan and the ingredients and then converts the ingredients to the quantities needed for a different cake tin.

The original recipe is for a two layer 8” cake tin. And what do you know? A 4” round and 6” square takes the same amount of batter. The 6” square tin being 70% of the original recipe. Easy peasy. I made the recipe and then weighed the batter and then divided it 70/30.

cake batter

I also added Strawberry flavour by Lorann. I used the whole tiny bottle. I used frosting icing that I’d had in the freezer. It was vanilla bean which I added strawberry freeze dried powder.

Baked cakes

I had the 6” cake in first and put the 4” in when there was 15 minutes remaining. Thankfully the timer went off just as the 4” was about to spill over and I had just enough time to throw a baking tray underneath to catch the small spillage.


Usually I make two separate layers but this time I decided to use the 3” high tins and put the full mixture in. It worked out fine. I only had one “top” to trim. And I’m pretty happy torting a cake now so I wasn’t bothered about slicing through the middle of each cake and getting a straight cut. The 4” cake rose more, even with a little spillage. Both of them went in at 42mm deep batter.

Ready to decorate

I made the cakes on Thursday evening and put them in the fridge double wrapped in Gladwrap. Friday evening I took the frosting I’d had in the freezer, and then thawed, and added the strawberry powder and more icing sugar to make it stiffer. I didn’t want the frosting softening enough that it bulged the fondant. Been there, done that. I also melted more 70% chocolate to add to the frosting I had left from our wedding anniversary cake to combat the extra icing sugar I was adding.

Saturday I had no idea how I would decorate the cakes. In fact I didn’t even know what I was going to do at all with the 6” square cake. I knew the 4” round cake was being decorated for Louise’s birthday.

I used Bakel’s pink fondant with white fondant for my birthday cake and it was still quite bright. I took a small bit of that toned down fondant and added more white fondant. A much better shade.

During the week I played around with the gumpaste and made some multi layered daisies. I’m not sure if they’re daisies anymore or closer to gerberas. I decided one of those would be on the top, and then on Thursday I made a new batch of gumpaste and to test it out I made some more daisies, just single ones. I figured that these could go around the cake.

Sharp Edger

You might know that I’ve been a little obsessed about sharp edges. While a 4” cake is a doddle to flip and do the upside down method, I still went ahead and tested out the new Edger tool I ordered from Australia. It’s designed by a British couple and so far I’ve not been able to source them in NZ. However ….. there must be a knack to using this because I gouged out the fondant, as you can see. So I flipped the cake upside down and carried on trying to fix the edge but I couldn’t push the fondant down to the gouged out bit to make it all better. Oops.

Butterflies and flowers

I made up some yellow Royal Icing so that I could pipe the centres of some “filler” gumpaste flowers I made late (try 11pm!) Friday night, so I went all out and piped the little daisies I’d cut out. They look much better with centres.

Here’s a view of all sides of the cake since I went pretty random on the groupings of flowers.

All views

I was pretty pleased with the final look of Louise’s birthday cake. The butterfly I had wanted to attach broke on me. It was a patchwork cutter butterfly and a much more delicate looking one than what I ended up with.

Louise loved the cake. Today is Louise’s actual birthday, Happy Birthday!

for Louise

That left me with the 6” square cake which I didn’t have a clue about. On the Saturday morning when I was awake (after just 5 hours sleep) I looked at my calendar application and saw that it was Alastair’s birthday the same day as Louise’s. And I knew it was a significant number. But I was at a loss how to decorate a cake for a bloke. And being ex-Army, but despite wearing a pink salmon shirt with a white vest, I needed to make the decorating fairly generic. Alastair goes to the gym and I had this wild idea that I could use modelling chocolate to make a barbell. That sounded all well and good, but how on earth would I make the bar straight, suspended.

Mr Fussy had dutifully bagged up all the extra strips of modelling chocolate I used with Cameron’s 21st cake so the plan was to use some of that to make the barbell and the numbering.

Before I committed myself to decorating the cake I sent a quick text Saturday evening to Alastair asking if he’d be at work on Monday. He’s one of the Account Managers (and brought me back the liquid egg whites during a trip to clients in Wellington) so not necessarily working from the office.  Yes came back the text (as well as an offer to help me then and there). I had to pretend whatever it was I needed him for on Monday could wait until Monday. So I got cracking. Until I stopped to contemplate how I’d get the bar to hold straight.

Fondant on the square cake

Brain wave. I had florist wire. Surely that would work. At this point I’d kneaded the modelling chocolate until it had gone a little greasy and it was starting to crumble. Although I had managed to figure out how to get it perfectly smooth and even thickness by rolling it under my fondant roller. It took a lot of patience to get the chocolate to hold around the piece of florist wire I’d threaded through the middle. Also trying to find the right sized circles for the weights was causing me a delay. I used my smallest circle cutter from the set, the large and small nozzles from the piping tips but I needed another one. The end of the funnel worked.

And this is what I ended up with.

for Alastair

Ahh yes. The lettering. I’m not very good with the patchwork cutters. In fact I suck. Lindy had shown me how to use the butterfly cutter while I was out there for the Peony Rose lesson on Saturday and then showed me again when I popped out again on the Sunday to discuss the consistency of the gumpastes I had made. I decided to give the alphabet cutters another chance. It was painstaking work. I’d made up some Mexican Paste on Saturday night and was hoping it would be the answer to my problems. It worked better on some letters than others. As and Ss were the hardest. Could Alastair have a few more As in it?

Having satisfied myself that I could string together the letters I was then stuck with how to fix them to the cake. I haven’t seen or read anywhere what others do. And the letters are so flimsy that I didn’t want to handle them any more than necessary. I pretty much threw them on the cake by sliding them off the paper to avoid touching them. I resorted to piping gel. I’d never used it before but had ordered it in for Cameron’s cake, thinking I would use it to attach the black sugar pearls (which I didn’t use in the end). You might be able to see that the gel leaves a shiney trail where I brushed it to the cake and then slid the letters over the top. Keeping the letters evenly spaced and straight was yet another thing I hadn’t thought about until now. I looked around the kitchen and couldn’t figure out what to use. In the end I used the ruler that was pretty much right under my nose.


There are 31 of us on our floor and I figured if Alastair decided to share the cake amongst his work collegues the cake would need to be cut into 36 (6 x 6). And Alastair did decided to share the cake. But he chickened out at cutting it up, despite being a chef in the army.  I had the honour (as I so often do at work). I was pleased to get a slice, albeit small. I got to taste the cake, to check the texture and figure out whether I was right to worry it may not be that fresh now. Thursday to Monday are a few days!

2013-08-12 10.05.20

The cake still felt fresh and it held the strawberry flavour. Alastair was very appreciative. I got a hug and the title of “work wife”.

The recipe is a keeper.


Decorating Cameron’s 21st cake

I wont bore you with a long winded story before the first photo. Of course there will be several long winded paragraphs, but first a photo of the fully decorated and assembled cake. This is a photo Mr Fussy took at the Church hall just as I’d finished putting it all together, I think it’s actually my favourite photo. Taken on his camera phone.

Mr Fussy Photo

We collected the 10” cake from Natalie after work on Thursday. I assured her taking it from the freezer at 4pm would be ample time for it to defrost in time for me to begin covering it in fondant sometime around 7:30pm. I was wrong.

The cake was still plenty frozen and while I put a smear of vegetable shortening on the cake it was a bit of a waste. There was no way fondant was going to adhere to the now frozen vegetable shortening.

There was no point having a panic attack. I had plenty of time really. But my preference would have been to have the cake covered Thursday evening.

Instead I re-did the cake board. Wednesday night I put a thin layer of fondant over the entire board and trimmed it. I really didn’t like it at all. I had watched a YouTube video of another way of covering the cake board and decided that was much more to my liking.

Mr Fussy helped me line up the cake onto the board so it sat in the centre, not before I scraped the ganache from the bottom – left over from when I had attached it to the cake board for covering in ganache. I then rolled the fondant and covered the board as I’d been shown. I was pleased the thickness was just perfect for the actual Perspex board the cake was sitting on.

I can tell you a lot of thought went into whether to cover the cake board before or after sitting the cake on it. This would have an impact on the modelling chocolate decorations. If I covered it last, then the fondant used on the board would end up covering 3mm of the modelling chocolate. I didn’t know if this would be a problem or not, might it end up pushing the panels where they sort of sprung out the top, like plank boards popping off the top rung of the fencepost. Or could I just attach the modelling chocolate sides to the cake leaving a 3mm gap at the base to allow for the fondant. I can tell you, this one small detail caused quite a bit of time to consider and I can’t say I really came up with a plan, it just happened that I covered the board on Thursday night and then calculated what that move meant.

I mentioned to Mr Fussy that if I woke anytime from 5am Friday I’d get up and cover the cake. I work at 3:50am. And what kept me awake was realising I didn’t put any melted chocolate onto the presentation board to hold the cake in place. Christchurch is really bumpy and I was having visions of the cake busting through the 3mm thick fondant and slipping off the board, or that it would clean jump up off the board and I’d be left with a few split seconds moving the board around trying to get it perfectly lined up with the now falling cake, to land exactly in the same spot it left. You can see how this would cause my brain to go into overdrive and not allow me to sleep.

Mr Fussy rolled over and murmured something to me and I gave strict instructions he must be very gentle driving due to the lack of chocolate cementing the cake to the board. Of course all earlier such pleas for him to drive sedately while transporting the gananced cakes to and from Natalie’s had fallen on deaf ears. I’m not sure why I expected him to take more notice now.

10 inch covered in panelled black fondant

At 5am I slipped on my running gear in preparation of covering the cakes then getting a run in before the day properly started. I thought an hour would do the trick. But at 6:30am I was just starting to pack things away. One of the sides wasn’t quite tall enough so I was fairly forceful in trying to coax it up the cake a bit to reach the top. That meant that it wasn’t the same thickness all the way which would only give me something else to worry about when attaching the modelling chocolate to the sides.

Following the instructions of the Craftsy Clean & Simple Cake Design course I signed up for, I smeared the vegetable shortening all over the surface of the ganache, in my practice cake I had used water. This only caused me lots of worrying moments during the day where I had dreadful thoughts the panelled sides would droop during the day and I’d end up making a mercy dash to Josie’s to flog her new tub of black fondant to re-do the cake.

I was relieved to arrive home with the 8” cake to find the 10” still standing and showing no signs of failure.

I was also relieved to find the 8” cake a lot smaller than I had thought. It sure made me feel better about covering it in fondant.

On the Wednesday evening I had covered my square cake dummy in vegetable shortening and had another practice go at covering the cake, turning it upside down to work on getting the corners nice and square, and the same for the top edges. It had worked out pretty well, but I knew that I’d need to get more fondant to the top corners so that they really did sit square. I had sharp sides and top but too little fondant for it to reach out to the point I needed.

I’d been working myself up over covering the 8” cake. I knew it wasn’t helpful. On Friday night I was fairly casual about the whole thing. I wasn’t rushing around in a flap. I didn’t even get onto it straight away. First up I put one side of the modelling chocolate onto the 10” cake, just to see how much time it took and how easy/difficult it would be.

First I cut myself a template of exactly the finished size of the panel so I could lay it across my modelling chocolate to know where I would actually place it. I had various lengths of the modelling chocolate so I needed to know that those shorter bits would still be long enough. And I needed to have thicker pieces at the ends because from experience with the practice cake, getting thin stripes to sit strong against the side of the cake isn’t as easy as it would be with thicker pieces.  I hummed and haad and made only one change to the pattern I’d laid out the previous Saturday. Cutting it out with the razor and attaching it to the side of the cake was straightforward and I knew the rest would be quicker since I now had the template and knew exactly where I would be making the cuts for the sides.

First side up

The only whoopsy was the height of the sides. I had made it a little too high so I then had to very carefully run the razor along bit by bit to try and get the side to sit flush with the top of the cake.

With that done and having gobbled a hamburger for dinner which Mr Fussy had nipped off to the local F&C to get, it was now time to start organising to roll the fondant.

I was in two mind whether to use The Mat or just roll the fondant out the old fashioned way. Because the cake was only 8” I decided to do it the old fashioned way. I was very conscious that I needed a little more thickness to make sure that in flipping the cake over I’d be able to have sufficient for the corners to reach the sides to make the necessary points. I also had more fondant than I needed so that I could be sure there was plenty of extra laying on the table that wouldn’t end up dragging the fondant down the cake.

I marked out the size I needed by dragging lines in the mixture of cornflour and icing sugar. Having already put a thin layer of vegetable shortening all over the cake, I kneaded the fondant to get it soft enough to work with. I used the vegetable shortening method again because I’d read that it would be easy to peel the fondant off (without getting gananche in it) if it went wrong, this would allow me another go at getting the fondant right if it all went belly up.

For some reason I can’t explain, I decided to fold the rolled out fondant over the rolling pin (a piece of PVC pipe I had cut for me at the local Bunnings store – and of course have spent time making sure it’s all clean and free of plastic shavings) ready to lay across the cake. Mr Fussy moved the cake closer to me which I had the fondant raised but not actually clear of the table. But it was enough to stretch it.

Pretty much every horror story you’ve heard about fondant, ripping, tearing, elephant skin, happened in a few seconds.

I actually looked to see if I could lift the fondant off cleanly to have a second bash, but there was ganache underneath. So I tried to work fast without panicing but all the time I was muttering how awful it was and how this had gone wrong and that had gone wrong and it was really ugly and there was nothing I could do to make it seem any less horrid.

So you wont be seeing a close up shot of the top tier.

It hadn’t been my intention to decorate the top tier that night, but it looked so bad that I wanted to make it better, not that I thought the side decoration would cover a multitude of sins, but it might detract the eye.

When I had practically pleaded Natalie to NOT have square cakes I said that if it went bad what I’d do is take the side decoration and cut it down the middle and then put one straight side at the base and the other half turned up the other way come from the top. But I’m afraid the cake was so bad that even that wasn’t going to have the desired effect, so I just went with the original plan.

I carried on and added the explosion. This was my 4th attempt at making it as a separate piece. I really didn’t want to have to add a second colour under the fondant and then cut the explosion from the cake. My practice explosion cake was a bit untidy with the secondary colour (red) leaving an impression on everything I touched. Yes I know it’s my that’s a bit unco and others would manage it without so much as a second thought. But knowing my limitations I really wanted the explosion to be separate and added to the cake. I had to add tylose powder to the fondant in order that it held its shape and not crumble and I tried to extract it from the upturned plastic lid that I’d wrapped it inside of.

I used two different sized cookie cutters to make the cuts needed to cut out a trough for which the explosion would be inserted into. I didn’t quite cut deep enough so it was a bit fiddly trying to coax 2mm of fondant apart from the cake.


This is probably the closest shot you’ll have of the top, I really didn’t take one photo of the top tier on its own. You can see that I tried to make a uniformed snake to then wrap around the outside of the explosion piece so that it wouldn’t look so surgical. I also brushed the inside of the explosion with silver lustre dust. It was fairly subtle and you could only see it when the light hit it just in the right spot.

For the 2 and 1 I found a font I liked, took a screen capture of the numbers at the size I wanted (9cm or there abouts) and then printed it out. Then I cut out the paper numbers, then traced that onto thin cardboard and cut that out, then finally used that as a template on the rolled out modelling chocolate. The night I did this the 2 wouldn’t stand on its own. I had inserted cut toothpicks in preparation for being able to stand the numbers up on the cake. I wasn’t convinced it would work, in fact I didn’t think it would work because the two gave no clue that it would hold its weight. But by the next morning it was all good and I was a happy person. I’d also been making those little grey and red stars over a few nights, as well as the bigger stars for the explosion. I already had the 3 sized stars made from fondant which I’d sprayed in lustre dust the previous weekend.

Originally the plan had been to carry over the modelling chocolate stripes onto the top of the 10” cake, but when the cake turned out to be 5.5inches tall (rather than the 4inches I had planned), I knew I didn’t have the length on the strips to achieve that, so plan B was to use the stars. I think they worked pretty well.

I’d achieved more than I had planned by the end of Friday evening which meant I could have a bit of a sleep in (for me) on Saturday. I was confident that I’d get the 10” cake finished by lunchtime. That meant we had time to do the grocery shopping, delayed from Friday night, and time to still get to the venue for 4pm which was the earliest we could get in.

lining up the stripes

One other thing that had been causing my brain to work overtime was how I would cover all 4 sides, and whether it would be possible to line up the stripes. And I found that it was actually really simple. I had to first make another template of sorts of the first side so that I could lay out the stripes in the same angle. And I got there without it doing my head in too much at the time.

Initially we had planned to take the 10” cake at 4pm and then would arrive with the 8” cake around 7pm to then get it assembled.

Mr Fussy was confident that, with the new non-slip mats stuff I’d bought, we’d get both cakes to the venue in one trip.

First I had to insert the dowels so that the top tier would be properly supported. I told Mr Fussy that his little hacksaw in the garden shed would not do, that I needed something food safe. During the week I popped into Bunnings and bought ratchet secateurs. I left them on the kitchen bench handy for when I needed them. But my MIL saw them and when my girlfriend arrived to do some gardening for us on Thursday, my MIL gave them to her. I’ll be honest, I was pretty unimpressed but I totally understand why a pair of secateurs would be destined for gardening use. Mr Fussy bought another pair for me Friday evening on his way home. Problem solved.

Adding support

The ratchet secateurs made a pretty easy job of cutting through the dowels. I’d made a less than 8” square from baking paper to act as the template to help me ensure the dowels were positioned inside the side of the cake.

Mr Fussy was very good driving to the venue. After his convincing me that we could take both cakes at once, and me saying he was being pretty casual about something I’d spent so much time working on, that I didn’t want his assuredness to be the undoing of my work, we made it without any cakes being rocked out of their place. I didn’t even hold onto the top of the big cake which was on my lap like I was expecting. I have to say that cake was very heavy, but I could still see it shooting straight up and off the board.

At the venue I got to work with cutting out a circle from the centre of the small cake so that I could put a small plastic pottle in there. The purpose was to put fondant in the pottle so that the wires of the stars would be in something that wasn’t intended to be eaten. The ganache was so thick. The circle cutter pulled away the ganache and the cake under it cleanly and Caitlin was the happy recipient of that surprise gift.

After making the insertion I covered over the top with a circle of black fondant. We got the top tier placed on the 10” cake and then it was a matter of cutting the wired stars to height – Mr Fussy took on that role – and then placing them in to look random but ordered (I can’t help myself!). I sprinkled over the stars in the “ledge” left between the 8” and 10” cake and then scattered more into the centre of the 8” cake so that it wasn’t quite so crude looking where the wires were poking out of the cake.

All up it looked really good. Logan’s Mum thought the bottom cake was a box, so I guess it looked exactly as we had hoped it would.

Natalie had put on such a huge spread that by the time it came for sweets, hardly any of the cake was eaten. There was an awful lot left over, and somehow we’ve managed to come home with a 1/4 of the 10” cake (Mr Fussy is taking it to work tomorrow).

Depsite the many things that didn’t quite turn out as well as I hoped, a lot of things did. I wont be put off using fondant to cover a cake, in some ways it’s made me more determined to master it (at least improve).

I’m so glad I had the chance to make the cake for Natalie, and Cameron. Everyone was really happy with it and thought it looked great.

Of course my next one will be a LOT smaller. My next one might be for my birthday in a couple of weeks, but then we’ll be holidaying in Nelson and no where near all my bits and bobs for cake decorating. I might be having a belated birthday cake, if at all.