On to the plate

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


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50th Birthday Cake

50_HappyBirthdayHere’s the run down on making Greg’s 50th birthday cake.

Greg’s party was the same day as Jo’s son’s wedding. I had contacted Kathy and asked if she was having a cake for Greg. I was testing the waters to see if she might, and perhaps if she might she might also ask me. I just wanted to be on top of things in the planning department.

When you’re not immersed in making cakes you don’t realise the time that is spent researching design ideas or even the time it takes to convert recipe sizes. Or may it’s just me dithering over ideas, never totally sure of what I’m doing, needing to plan every last detail out and have a few options up my sleeve.

Anyway, the same day I sought Kathy out was the day I learnt when Jo’s son’s wedding was. I now had committed to making two cakes. Although at this stage the wedding cake was just bake and cover. Based on that I got to planning and realised that this was quite do-able. I just hoped I wasn’t going to have to head out of town to any customers the week leading into the events.

50_GeometricKathy and I had a chat and I learnt Greg didn’t like chocolate (secretly dying inside knowing I needed to ganache the cake prior to covering in fondant). But his favourite dessert was Creme Brûlée (which I’ve never had). I suggested the Sour Cream Vanilla Bean cake with a Swiss Meringue Butter Cream with caramel, to try and give some of that some taste of the melted sugar on the top of a Creme Brûlée. Next we got talking about the type of cake. Kathy said a square cake would be less feminine looking (I didn’t actually roll my eyes, but I realised this cake would take a little more loving in making). Finally we discussed colours and design. Kathy said she really didn’t know, but their house was decorated using greys, black and red (good Canterbury colours there – the red and black). I asked if Kathy liked geometric shapes which she did. I was forming a plan in my head as we spoke, which was better than having no clue from the get-go.

A couple of weeks out I got to making the decorations. I used Chocit for the first time at home. I’ve used it during Kevin’s class which he held in November, but I’d not used it since. I can’t speak highly enough of Chocit and the Atlas Mercato pasta roller that Kevin had recommended if someone was in the market to buy one. Gosh it was just so good to use, and the Chocit behaved beautifully. It rolled smoothly and it cut easily. I was feeling pretty chuffed that I was ahead of the game and had the “colour” sorted and would have a fairly simple job of the final decorating of the cake.

Then that coming Tuesday is when Jo asked if it were at all possible that I could make the Frangipani flowers for the wedding cake. It was just as well Greg’s cake was mostly under control (in my mind).

SourCreamVanillaBeanDryIngredientsI was able to finish work early on the Monday of the week of the party and I’d prepared all the ingredients on the Sunday ready for me to make the cake batter. The recipe was for an 8″ round cake that makes 3 layers and I was making a 6 layer 8″ square. I had to convert the tin size and then I had to divide all the quantities by 3. I was going to make two layers at a time an bake them together. The square Magic Line cake pans were ordered from Global Sugar Art in the States but with the lip all around the tin I wasn’t able to fit two tins side by side in the oven.

50_Bake vs FanI put the first of the 3 batches in the oven, each layer on separate racks. However the one on the bottom rack, closest to the oven door baked like a wedge, that is one side was much higher than the opposite side. The height of the shortest sides was too short for my liking. I plodded on and put the next two cake layers in. The tin that baked the “wedge” was not used with the following 2 layers, but even so the same thing happened to the layer that was on the bottom rack. I watched it off and on and I actually swapped it to the top rack just after it had been in the oven for 20 minutes to try and circumvent the lopsided baking. It seemed fine when I swapped the tins over, but when the cakes were done, the one that started on the bottom rack was again a wedge. At least the two wedges would sit nicely one on top of the other (top to top). But there’s no way I could cope with using two layers that were too short. I decided that I had no option than to bake each layer individually. And I would make another two layers to replace the two lopsided ones. I was in for a long night after all. Just as well I managed to finish work early!

Mr Fussy received a SOS call asking him to stop in at the supermarket to get more sour cream, the only ingredient I didn’t have enough of to bake the extra two layers, but I got everything ready and we were right on time with having the batter ready right as I was pulling the 4th layer out (being the second cake I baked as a single layer). I was stunned at the difference it made to bake the cakes as single cakes as opposed to using fan bake to bake multiple layers. The single layers never crusted on the outside edges, and rose significantly higher.

50_Building a towerThat same evening I also ganached the 8″ tier of the wedding cake and I managed to get Greg’s cake into two halves. I piped ganche around the edge of each layer and then filled the layers with Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream. At this point it was after 10pm and I got cold feet about putting the two halves together. If things went well I would want to fix it and that could mean an even later night. Instead I covered both halves with layers of gladwrap and put the cakes in the fridge.

SaltedCaramelSauceTuesday I trimmed both halves. At this point I was very grateful I didn’t put the two halves together the previous night. I didn’t have a knife long enough to trim the cake if it had been fully assembled. Now both halves were trimmed I added the poly dowels to the bottom half to support the weight of the top half. I added a 1mm cake card to separate the two halves. This was part of my plan. Knowing Greg didn’t like chocolate, the bottom half of the cake wouldn’t have a layer of ganache on it, and therefore Greg could have a piece of cake free of chocolate. I knew the cake would be cut in half horizontally making it again two halves.

50_The towerI took a deep breath and turned the top half over to sit on the bottom half. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was totally fine. Nothing slipped, nothing came away. Since there was no crisis I decided to plod on and I ganached it. Again I had cake cards that weren’t a 100% match for each other. I hate that. Means I have to fluff about so much more trying to get it right, and did I mention it was a square cake. You might think a square cake would be easier but that’s not the case. Square cakes have to be perfect, there’s no hiding a corner that’s slightly off. I didn’t set my expectations too high (haha!) and knew that it would be a softly softly approach to squaring everything up. So Tuesday night was not quite a slap dash. I did try to get things neat and tidy, but I wasn’t aiming for perfection. That would be Wednesday night.

Or Wednesday morning.

I found that if I used my tallest acrylic scraper and held it flush on one side, then add ganache to my other scraper I could then rest the one with ganache against the one flat against the other side and move it up the cake applying a little more ganache where needed and eventually giving a pretty good finish. I had to wait a little bit for the one side of the corner from each 4 sides to set up before I could repeat the process on the other side of the corner. This one was a little more difficult because I was using my left hand to scrape up the side of the cake, which isn’t so easy when it’s not your dominant side. Everything felt odd and it took a lot more concentration. But we got there, and actually it all came together. So the last thing was the top. I had been mulling over how I would ganache the top. I really didn’t feel I could use the upside down method with cake being so tall and heavy. Instead I ganached it up the right way and then put waxed paper over it, then a large acrylic square and applied a little weight and got the spirit level out and tried as best I could to get the top level. Then into the fridge it went. And out the door for a run I was.

50_Bit by bit Ganache

Top left is the first round of ganaching. Top right was applying more ganache to the top to even them up (the top cake board was ever so slightly smaller than the bottom). And the bottom photos show the results of my method for squaring up the corners.

When I got back I took the cake from the fridge and top the acrylic square off along with the waxed paper to see how well the ganaching went. Well not as good as I had hoped. I was in for some patching up. One corner was too low. Sadly I never quite got it right and thought that it would be good enough. It wasn’t. I can clearly see how that one corner isn’t right after applying the fondant. So lesson learned. You really have to get a square cake more right than you might be able to get away with a round cake.

50_Ready to fondantFriday rolled around and while I was completely on track, I knew covering the cake in fondant was going to be tricky work. I had no intention of draping the fondant, I was always going to panel the cake. And for kicks I decided it would be fun to have each side a different shade of grey. Thursday I had coloured the fondant. It actually took quite a bit of work, and even then I wasn’t sure it the change in depth was as noticable as I wanted. It was hot work, working the colour in and I decided it was fine if I alternated a light grey next to a darker grey. So here I was Friday night figuring out how I was going to get what was almost an 8″ square onto the sides of the cake without the fondant shape distorting. And of course I wanted to make sure that it was all the same thickness. As you can see from the photo I measured out my “square”. I used the perfection strips (for rolling cookie dough) to make sure I was rolling an even thickness. And the painters tape was my guide to the square size needed.

50_4 SidesThe first one was for the top of the cake so it was slightly easier but I had to shuffle the rolled out and trimmed fondant onto another cutting mat and then sort of shimmy it off that onto the cake at the very right point. It was now that I could see that corner that wasn’t as perfect as it should have been told the truth. The fondant did stretch a bit as I got it onto the cake so I needed to use a razor to trim the piece again to the right size.

The first piece for the side also didn’t behave as well as I’d have liked. This time the fondant shrunk back a little as I got it to the side. you can see how the piece doesn’t fit as well as it should. I learnt a few things after these two sides, which would have been nice to know right off the bat. Anyway the rest of the sides were mostly fine and fit well with a little bit of trimming. I made not real effort to try and blend the sides. I didn’t want the straight edges to weave which I suspected they would if I tried to rub the edges to blend them a bit more. Next I got the same cutters I used for the Chocit decorations and impressed the fondant making each side different. I had no plan at this point about which decorative pieces would got where, but thankfully on the Saturday morning it worked out and they seemed to fit quite well.

50_ChocitI just had the cake board to cover (which again was a little problematic with the black fondant drying out too quickly and cracking), put the ribbon on and work on the “50” for the top. I’d made cookies using the same geometric shape. I used my Wilton cookie numbers to cut out the cookies. On Saturday I rolled more black fondant (having added some glycerine to help with the drying out), cut out the 5 and the 0, then used the geometric shape to then cut the shape so the number was in the middle and then flipped the fondant piece and placed the cookie over the fondant. I can’t recall what I used to get the fondant to adhere to the cookie. Maybe some piping gel. I had to touch up the fondant piece a bit which I did by using the Color Shapers. Then it was time to let the fondant dry a bit before I piped some melted chocolate onto the back of the cookies and then put cake pop sticks on. This would allow me to put the cookies onto the top of the cake and know they were secure in the cake.

The drive to the party was uneventful, but all the same I asked Mr Fussy to stop part way there so I could check the cake. I was concerned the top half of the cake could possibly budge and try to make a break for it from the lower half of the cake. I know it’s not totally rational, but I’ve never delivered a cake that’s this tall and made in two parts so I needed to give myself some reassurance that all was well. And it was.

CookieTopperOnce we arrived I placed the cookie decorations on the top, took a few quick photos and then the cake was put out the back (away from the sunshine and Greg – who didn’t know Kathy had arranged for a birthday cake) until later in the evening. Cutting the cake was a bit fiddly but we got there. There were numerous treks between the bench I was cutting the cake on, to the sink where I was continually cleaning off the knife. I have a real thing for making sure the knife is clean between cuts. I don’t want to see cake crumbs ending up embedded into the surface of the cake as I make the next cake. It was quite a slow process but in my opinion always worth it.

And there ends my massive tale. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to make Greg’s birthday cake. And I for the most part I enjoyed all the learning experiences I got from making this cake.

50th Birthday Cake

Time for a quick photo and then it was time to get this cake away from the sun. I do like the shadow the cookie decorations created though.

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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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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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Happy Birthday, Yvonne

Sorry to for the absence. Last weekend we headed to Hanmer for the long weekend. I got stuck into making sugar flowers and there’s not really much to show for it, or to say without the accompanying cake (not that I know how I’ll use them yet!). You’ll have to wait another week when Mother’s Day is all over with.

Since returning home I’ve made several batches of cookies, some using my new alphabet cutter set, but predominately the cookies have been for two events, Mother’s Day (next weekend!) and for my very best friend’s birthday.

Happy Birthday to my dear friend Yvonne

Happy Birthday to my dear friend Yvonne

I believe I’ve mentioned Yvonne before. Yvonne and I worked together when we were both at the bank working different areas of the Credit Card division of a bank that since been gobbled up by a bigger Aussie bank.

Yvonne was my Matron on Honour (and I can’t find any photos on the laptop) and I was her witness for her wedding some years later.

Life has taken Yvonne on many journeys to Holland and back, and currently she’s in Holland.

I flipped the cut out cookie to get a Giraffe to face the other way.

I flipped the cut out cookie to get a Giraffe to face the other way.

What I didn’t know about Yvonne until fairly recently is that she really loves Giraffes. Once I heard about that I ordered two Giraffe cookie cutters. I couldn’t find any in New Zealand, so these have both come from American, one from an Etsy store, the other from a big online cookie store.

PME 1 and stiff black icing.

PME 1 and stiff black icing.

I also got to use my Eiffel Tower cookie cutter.  The plan had been (and I don’t know if it eventuated) that Yvonne and Den would head to Paris to celebrate her very special birthday. So the Eiffel Tower cookie seemed fitting to me.

Thanks to SweetSugarBelle for her Giraffe tutorial

Thanks to SweetSugarBelle for her Giraffe tutorial

The hardest thing about the Giraffe (other than my constantly misspelling it!) was getting the cookie dough out of the cutter. It was a bit fiddly, but I persevered. The technique to decorate was wet on wet, though I was a bit late in tapping the cookie to get the brown spots to settle in, so one cookie has nice raised lumps in it 😉 The Giraffe heads were also wet on wet, but I piped the eyes last and again my black icing sunk into the white. I know it’s the amount of water in the black but it wasn’t that thin, plus I put the cookies in front of a fan heater to assist the royal icing to crust over quicker.

I’ve seen lots of cookies recently where the Helvetica alphabet has been used. But do you think I could come up with a number of different styles of design that were unique for each letter? I managed, but I wish inspiration came easier.

A little too much "detail". At least I don't remember the Eiffel Tower being this cramped.

A little too much “detail”. At least I don’t remember the Eiffel Tower being this cramped.

As for the Eiffel Towers, I started with the black on Friday night and was pleasantly surprised at how it came together. I first drew with an edible marker to get the beginnings of the framework and then I piped lots of lines and crosses. I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to do a second cookie. That piping with a stiffer consistency icing makes you hand hurt with trying to be so precise. I flooded the second cookie in white and cheated by using the edible marker to draw the Eiffel Tower. Because I had much more control over a pen I got a bit carried away and added a few too many crosses. The tower is looking a bit busy and cluttered.

So there we have it. I would have dearly loved to send the cookies to Yvonne, but the distance, the time to travel and the bulkiness meant it wasn’t an option. Instead the best I could do was post a photo to Yvonne’s Facebook page.  Mr Fussy will be eating the cookies. He is a bit appalled that he’s expected to eat the cookies spelling Yvonne’s name 🙂

And for good measure, here’s a few of the other random cookies I decorated. Not nicely set out photos, these are photos taken on my phone as I was decorating. There’s a couple that I’ll leave until next post where I have the cake, the flowers and cookies all out for afternoon tea.

Another technique that doesn't come naturally to me. Teardrops.

Another technique that doesn’t come naturally to me. Teardrops.

Although the lines are closer than I've ever managed (I've tried only twice before), they could still be a bit closer yet.

Although the lines are closer than I’ve ever managed (I’ve tried only twice before), they could still be a bit closer yet.

First time trying the snail piping. Possibly ok for a first attempt but more practice required.

First time trying the snail piping. Possibly ok for a first attempt but more practice required.

My icing was a little to stiff to allow for the icing to fall into swirls and curves. And I'm a bit challenged at them too!

My icing was a little to stiff to allow for the icing to fall into swirls and curves. And I’m a bit challenged at them too!

I finally found a brush amongst all my brushes that gives me the right look for Brush Embroidery. I was really pleased how this turned out.

I finally found a brush amongst all my brushes that gives me the right look for Brush Embroidery. I was really pleased how this turned out.

A few silver cachous to give a little bling

A few silver cachous to give a little bling