On to the plate

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


Preview of a cake duo

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

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

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

More details will follow ….

Frangipani Wedding Cake

Frangipani Wedding Cake

50th Birthday Cake

50th Birthday Cake



The cake that almost didn’t make it


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

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

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

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

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

Sugar flowers in the making.

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

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

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

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

Well that's the freesias put together.

Well that’s the freesias put together.

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

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

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

Practice post viewing bridesmaid dresses.

Practice post viewing bridesmaid dresses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I got up at midday and airbrushed the bottom tier.

A real live cake, airbrushed.

A real live cake, airbrushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Front on view of the wedding cake.

Front on view of the wedding cake.

And we're done!

And we’re done!

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

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

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

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

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

Everything turned out just fine in the end 🙂

The bridal party relaxing at the wedding reception

The bridal party relaxing at the wedding reception

The radiant newly weds.

The radiant newly weds.

Jasmine & Sam cutting the cake

Jasmine & Sam cutting the cake

First dance.

First dance.

Team No Sleep.

Team No Sleep.


ANZAC Day 2014

Lots of people have made the most of having Easter Monday being the same week as ANZAC Day (Friday) and have taken the 3 days off to give them a 10 day break. That’s smart thinking. We’ll just wait out the 9 weeks we’ve got left before a 6 week trip over the other side of the world. We’re ok with going back to work for 3 days.


ANZAC Day cake

I try to do something ahead of time for an upcoming holiday or special event, so I made use of the extra time at home to make my cake for ANZAC Day. I baked the cake on Friday and froze it overnight. I wasn’t sure the cake would turn out because I botched the recipe (it was another variation of a box mix) adding a packet of instant pudding that I didn’t need, and doubling the water (the recipe was actually for 2 cake boxes and I only needed one, so I needed to halve everything but kept the water at the original volume). That cake took 65 minutes to bake and I still wasn’t sure, but I had enough of getting up and down to the sound of the oven buzzer every 5 or so minutes.

As it happens, the cake has a lovely flavour and it has the right sort of texture I would expect.

Gumpaste poppies made using Bakels Red fondant with tylose.

Gumpaste poppies made using Bakels Red fondant with tylose.

I started the poppies on Saturday late afternoon. I figured I’d make enough for 3 poppies expecting some breakages but I should still get one good one from it. After dinner on Saturday I ganached the cake. Round cakes are such a breeze to ganache by comparison to square cakes.

Closer look at the handpainting at the front of the cake.

Closer look at the handpainting at the front of the cake.

I got up early on Sunday to cover the cake and cake board. I knew I needed the fondant to dry out 24 hours before hand painting. But I got impatient and decided to airbrush the board and cake just after lunch time. I didn’t have a problem with doing either. The cake board had more airbrushing because the fondant I used was a mix of autumn gold and white which gave this really cool marbled effect. I didn’t think the colour of fondant I used would matter given I was going to airbrush it. But the yellower fondant meant that the green I thought I was going for, ended up a more avocado colour.  I never expected the colour of the cake to blend seemlessly into the cake board so I wasn’t phased. Just calked that one up to experience and know for future that while it wont matter what colour I use, I need to compensate for it when I make up the colour.

This was the first time I’d used the airbrush on fondant. Mr Fussy was assisting. He was holding up a long sheet of paper towel behind the cake to catch any overspray. I took the lightly lightly approach. It’s better to have less colour because you can continue to build, but it turned out pretty well. I also had to hold a round piece of parchment (for lining a cake tin) on the top to lessen the chance of spray ending up on the top of the cake. All in all I think we did just fine. If anything I should have had more of the side with green, I thought I had until I started to hand paint the poppies and realised how much blue I had.

This is the first poppy. I hadn't realised just how many times you'd need to wind the black thread. This was a bit sparse.

This is the first poppy. I hadn’t realised just how many times you’d need to wind the black thread. This was a bit sparse.

Sunday afternoon, after packing up all the airbrush stuff (always so much stuff!) I got around to making the poppies. I dusted them (which is something I really don’t enjoy) and then made them up. Those things are tricky to make. The thread wanted to get caught in the florist tape and I was finding it difficult to get the tape up to the very top of the wire. But it turned out fine and I didn’t have any breakages. I even went so far as to steam the flowers. I went the whole hog aka completing the job. The new steamer I bought from Nicholas Lodge is the business. It’s very fierce. Heaps of steam. Which is a lot better than waving the flower over a pathetic excuse for a steaming jug. Still, it’s probably a good endorsement for a jug, you’re unlikely to get a steam burn.

I was doing well for time and everything so far was working as I had planned. That just left the flowers to hand paint today. I spent a little bit of time looking at images for fields of poppies. That had been what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know how to start things. Do I build up the green field and then add in the flowers. When should I paint the stems? I had no idea, and I feel like the painting process was a big clumsy. I think I should have begun with building more green.

Because I’m not an artist I had a few practice runs with using a pencil and paper to get the “flow” of drawing a poppy. I had a few variations, and I knew that if mine weren’t an exact replica it wouldn’t matter. No one would know what I was basing my poppies off.

I struggled a bit with the shading, and I had to keep reminding myself that as I drew and filled in with colour not to be put off with how things were shaping up. I was far from finished and it would start to come together as I added more detail. And on the whole I was happy with how the flowers were finished. Of course there’s some I don’t think are as well drawn and others that are my favourite.

This is one of my favourite handpainted poppies.

This is one of my favourite handpainted poppies.

Lastly I had to figure out how to place the poppies. I had spent some time thinking about it. Initially I was thinking 3 in a row, same height. But then I decided that might be a bit too ridged. So I added some stronger florist wire to two of the flowers to both strengthen and give more height so that I could stagger their height. Thankfully they still fit into the little straws I had (I think they’re for making cake pops).

I always knew I would set the cake to the back of the cake board, and I had measured the space I had to place the ANZAC sign/plaque. On Thursday I’d found a font that I thought was similar to the NZ Army font and I printed that out. I then used the tissue paper transfer method to get the writing onto the “plaque” I fashioned from a rectangle and heart cutter. And again because I have no patience, I did the transfer last night immediately after having rolled the fondant. A little of it pressed the fondant but not enough to distort the shape. I also used one of my colour shapers to tidy up the ragged bits from the cutters. It worked nicely.

So there we have it. This year’s ANZAC Day cake.

For those of us not enjoying the long long weekend, there’ll be cake at work tomorrow.

And now for an overload of photos, because I wanted to capture ALL of the handpainting, including the “back” of the cake which has the field of poppies, which Mr Fussy was really keen on, but I felt like it would mess up the clean look, even if it wasn’t truly a field look.

The beginning of the field.

The beginning of the field.

The end of the field. There's a lot of work trying to blend greens and add in the out of focus poppies.

The end of the field. There’s a lot of work trying to blend greens and add in the out of focus poppies.

The full view of the back of the cake - the field

The full view of the back of the cake – the field

Handpainting 3

Handpainting 4

handpainting 5

If there was one thing I could change, it would have been a nice piece of ribbon to go around the cake board. Despite having some lovely ribbons, nothing was suitable. The shiny silver irks me a bit. I couldn’t be bothered heading to the shops and have instead enjoyed a lazy afternoon catching up on some TV programmes, you know, spending quality time with Mr Fussy 😉


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