On to the plate

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


Progel review and Baby Boy cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Live long and prosper – David’s birthday cake

I realise I’ve become quite lazy with taking photos. Don’t get me wrong. I’m taking lots of photos, but from my phone. Setting up shots is really time consuming. And when it gets to the point I don’t want to bake because I want to take photos, then something has to change. So you’ll get the same number of photos (overload), but they’re from my phone, unless it’s something I deem to be quite special, then I’ll take the photos on the dSLR.

Ok, that out the way, not only are these photos from my phone, my Macbook had packed up (I’ve had it just 6 months) and has gone off to Apple to be checked out. It’s no longer charging.  So these photos haven’t seen Lightroom either. I don’t have Lightroom on my work laptop.

Phew, now I’ve come clean, let’s get onto David’s cake.

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Live long and prosper

I had made the Planet Cake Mud cake a few weeks ago and popped them in the freezer in anticipation of David’s birthday. I made two 6” cakes. The recipe is for a 9” cake.  You get two 6” cakes out of one 9” cake. It’s the first time I’ve made the mud cake recipe and I was pretty pleased with how it baked and cooled in the tin. I’d ordered the Planet Cake cookbook, but you can find another blogger who wrote out the recipe here.

I used a frosting recipe I’d spotted, probably over a year ago. I’m not sure why I decided now would be the time, but it was.

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Thick unappetising white sauce to become a silky frosting in another life.

The recipe makes the frosting starting from a white sauce. I know. Sounds disgusting, right? But it was weird and I like weird so I knew it was only a matter of time before I gave it a crack.

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Add that white sauce to the whipped butter and sugar and you end up with something quite unexpected.

Well the frosting turned out pretty good. It really was light in texture. The only thing is that there were a couple of small globs of the white sauce. While it seemed like it had all whipped up together (and it whipped up nicely like Swiss Meringue Buttercream) as I was frosting the cake, I spotted a couple of small globs.

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Texture of the mud cake.

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Oops, we’ve got problem. The ganache kept it all together.

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Crumb coated of sorts and ready for some frosting.

Getting back to the cake, Mr Fussy took the cake out of the freezer Friday morning (I was in Hamilton) and popped it in the fridge. I torted it Saturday when I was ready to frost it. Boy, that is one sticky cake. I got my knife stuck in the first layer (the bottom) on more than one occasion. So much so that in my desperation to extract the knife a bit of the side of the middle layer broke away. I wasn’t happy with that and it was putting me off the cake big time. Thankfully the middle cut and the cut to level the top layer (3 layers) was much easier. The cake really is as Kathrin said, like a brownie. It also had a much stronger taste of coffee than I expected. There was a lot of coffee (25gm of granules) but usually that disappears during baking and acts only to deepen the flavour of the chocolate. I don’t like coffee (and I don’t drink tea), so for me it was a little too much, especially when I hadn’t been expecting it.

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This is what I was aiming for at first, then Dave’s suggestion saw an addition of “Live long and prosper”. Very fitting for a birthday.

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Up to the second trace, now to trace the pencil (2B) outline onto the fondat by tracing over the same markings.

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Looks weird, and takes a bit of looking backward and forward between fondant and original picture to make sure you’re filling in the right sections.

  Backing up a bit, as I mentioned, I was in Hamilton Friday. When I got home the only thing on my mind was to hand paint the top of David’s cake. On the Monday I had cut a 6” circle of fondant and I’d printed out a black and white image of Spock. Dave at work spotted the image on my screen and suggested that I add “live long and prosper”. Good idea. I had to then decide where I’d place that, and what font/size I wanted, then I had to flip the whole thing over (I use Snagit, a screen capture (and more) application we use at work). The reason you flip it over is that you then trace the image onto baking paper and then the baking paper is placed onto the fondant, and you re-trace the image again, over the image you first put onto the baking paper. And when all is said and done, you’ve drawn the image 3 times. Twice on the baking paper (one each side) and then finally the traced image on the fondant.

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A sort of side-by-side comparison. Pretty close.

 I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. The only thing is that I didn’t get a very even coverage of Spock’s hair. I had some thinned out Sugarflair Liquorice which applied nicely to larger areas, but I ran out before I finished the hair, so I used the food gel without thinning it. That’s what did me in. I shouldn’t have been so lazy and I should have made up a little more thinned down black. You live and learn. And while it wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d have liked, over all I was pleased with how the image came out on the fondant, and I enjoyed the process. I must remember that I can take a bit of artistic license and could make some changes. I was thinking of adding some blue into the top but with the image sitting a lot to the bottom right it seemed like it would be trying too hard.

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Ombre sort of affecting lending itself to a sort of planet look. I used Americolor Sky Blue and Navy together and then took some of that colour and mixed it with the buttercream to get a lighter tone.

Instead I coloured the frosting blue. In some ways it reminds me of a planet, and with the theme being Star Wars, that’s kind of fitting. Not that I’d planned it that way.

I didn’t take a photo of a slice of the cake. I had flavoured the cream used to make a milk chocolate ganache with Lime oil. Mr Fussy wasn’t fond of it, but my MIL and I were quite taken with it. It was quite unusual to have such a flavour be quite bold, but not in the cake itself.

Even though we didn’t have the usual Paling family traditional dinner (yes you can laugh, I think it’s crazy – KFC with Christmas Pudding including custard), David was pretty pleased with having a birthday cake.

I put a round of baking paper between the cake and the fondant top so David got to take the top home with him, along with the rest of the cake.

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One last view of the hand painting. I have this on my new PME tilting turntable. Boy it makes it easier on the neck.

Now the frosting recipe says to have the cake the same day the frosting is made, but David managed to stretch the rest of his cake out to Thursday, his actual birthday. I forgot to ask him what it tasted like, and how he stored the cake. I suspect he wouldn’t know to put it in the fridge.

So that’s one cake for March done and dusted. Today is our wedding anniversary and I have made a cake, and we’ve had a slice, so that’ll be next week. Then Mr Fussy has a birthday at the end of the month, but he’s requested the Lemon cheesecake and no cake. Fair enough, and I like that cheesecake too!


I finally got the Modelling Chocolate right

Lite or Light?

The difference is clearOne of the many few things that has baffled me last year is modelling chocolate.

At the beginning I tried Glucose Syrup. It was too thick. The modelling chocolate just crumbled and I wasn’t able to knead it well. But I still managed to make use of some of it.

I made this practice cake, my first foray into using modelling chocolate.Wrapping-paper-design.jpg

Somehow I managed to get the consistency (proportion of Glucose Syrup) right, at least enough to decorate Cameron’s 21st cake.

Mr-Fussy-Photo.jpgBut I knew it wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t this wonderful thing that others claimed it to be. I knew that Jessica Harris and Loren Kitchens loved it and I had their recipes (JH uses compound chocolate, LK uses real chocolate – the proportion of corn syrup differs) and followed them to a “T” having found Martha’s Backyard in Auckland stocked Karo Corn Syrup, the very same brand that both ladies used in their recipes.

But, and it’s BIG but, I mucked up. I got so caught up on the Craftsy classes saying light corn syrup, the clear stuff, that I thought it was lite corn syrup. Clearly I was seeing and hearing what I thought was right because the recipes had light corn syrup. I thought the reason they were stressing light was because it was the lite version, the one with less sugar. The stress was on light being clear, rather than the dark corn syrup (which I clearly hadn’t twigged to).

Last time I used modelling chocolate it was for the accents to the Movember cake.

Best MoI used real chocolate thinking it might make the difference. No, in fact it was quite impossible to use. So soft. I could barely cut out the moustache shape and getting it from the mat to the cake was causing me to break out into a sweat. Of course it was also a really hot day that day.

At some point late last year I put in another order for Martha’s Backyard (while shipping was free) and I came across the light corn syrup. Finally the penny dropped. Light, NOT lite.

With Christmas being so close I was busy making Christmas type goodies and had no time to try out the new light corn syrup. Until this weekend.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Hamilton and wracking my brain about what baking I’d like to try out. The only thing that popped into my head was to try out the new light corn syrup.

Friday night I arrived early evening and that’s the first thing I did. I grabbed a bag of Wilton Candy Melts and refreshed my mind the proportions of corn syrup needed for each gram of compound chocolate. I was using Jessica Harris’ recipe. I picked out two colours, Sugarflair Grape and Americolor Mauve. I really don’t know why I keep using Mauve because I don’t like the colour.

I wasn’t 100% sure this was going to work so a colour I disliked wouldn’t matter if I ended up tossing the lot out.

But guess what!? It worked! At least after the hour following mixing it was a consistency that I could knead without too much grunt work, it didn’t crumble and even after quite a long period of kneading (I realised the first knead still hadn’t distributed the colour evenly) the modelling chocolate still held its own.

2014-01-10 21.52.01I went to bed feeling pretty pleased that this modelling chocolate would work.

In the morning the MC had firmed up and was hard. Very promising. Next I tried real chocolate. I had a little 50% Whittaker’s chocolate which I used with some black food gel colour, hoping it would turn blacker. I had Cadbury white Melts as well. I coloured a bit of it with white food gel (don’t do this! It doesn’t get absorbed, just becomes a bit of a slimey mess) and finally I went with Sky Blue. Knowing the chocolate was quite a creamy almost yellowish tint I wanted to combat that. I got out my trust colour wheel (which I don’t understand) and went with the complementary colour, hoping it would neutralise the creamy/yellow tinge. I added a bit of orange. The sky blue (which I might have added a bit too much of) ended up a lovely peacock blue. Not at all what I was aiming for.

2014-01-11 10.32.17While out in the garage fitting the new fridge/freezer in place (happy girl am I!) I grabbed all the little plastic containers with white compound chocolate Natalie brought back with her during their holiday in July. I checked the best by date …. 4 January 2014. Yikes!

Now I was on a mission. I wanted to use ALL of it. All 4 containers of 500gm of compound chocolate.

Tints and tonesRight (Sunday when I drafted this) now I’m typing and my arms, which are mostly flat against my side, are aching. My shoulders are so sore from kneading colour into the MC.

I began using the compound chocolate from BakeBoss (in Australia) by mixing the “electric” food gels. I remembered something Rosie from Sweetapolita said (when colouring buttercream which is also yellowish). She uses the electric colours to help neutralise the yellow. I began with electric green. I used a little bit of by comparison to my sky blue. It was a bit too light for my liking, not really looking that vibrant. But once I’d left it for a good hour I began kneading portions of it and adding extra electric green, then adding other green colours to give me some variations.

Next came the electric pink batch. It was quite bright (having learnt from the green) so I left one portion as is (but kneaded it to a uniform colour) and then added a number of different pinks to the remaining portions. And the same with the electric blue. Lots and lots of variations of blue. The last small portion I added some royal purple to. The light was fading so I wasn’t really sure what colour it ended up, but I’d say it was the closest to a sky blue. Weird.

20140111_193358This morning, after reading a post on Sweet Sugarbelle’s website about colouring royal icing red, I decided to use the last 200gm of compound chocolate with the Tulip Red I had. I got a lovely orange colour 🙂 To this I took a portion and again added more of the base colour, tulip red. Then to the rest I used different shades of orange and yellow.

20140112_083602Still not happy with my original MC, I took the Mauve and broke it into portions and made some different shades of brown and then added some to the Grape, some of the yucky white MC and I came up with all sorts of combinations. While I loved the original grape colour, I had too much of that colour. I took some of the original tulip red, some white and then added Royal Purple to a portion as well. And all up I have 34 colours.  And I’ve almost used my entire bottle of Light Corn Syrup, so I’ve put in a order for another couple of bottles, and blow me down, the free shipping until the end of 2013 is still on! I suspect someone has forgotten to update the website, but hey, I’m not complaining 😀

20140112_113540Now that everything has been mixed and remixed what I noticed is the original mauve and grape mixed with the white aren’t setting the same as the other colours. All of them are now in the fridge so hopefully they’ll all end up the same when it comes time to use them. Use them? Now I have to get my thinking cap on. Just what will I use them all in/on/for?

Using modelling chocolate in a brooch mouldIf you want to see some more photos (showing all the different gel colours I used to get all the different shades), I have them in an album on the Facebook page.

And now that I’m feeling pretty chuffed about making modelling chocolate I’ve just purchased a tutorial from ChokoLate and her recipe and it’s so very very different! It has icing sugar, water (!) and Glucose. I’ll give it a crack because she makes such stunning figurines (she lives in Belgium, she’s immersed in chocolate ;-)) and the finish of her modelling chocolate is like nothing I’ve seen before. I’ll let you know how I get on.


4 little experiments

I get a bit of a kick from experimenting in the kitchen. Does that make me sad?

I have too little experience to be so “wild” in the kitchen, but I read a lot and I have problems others have had in the past. Why not capitalise on someone else’s hard work and reap the benefits.

I also like to try my hand at things I’m ill-equipped to do, but I laugh in the face of uncertainty and sensibilities and limitations. And sometimes I really disappoint myself and wonder what the heck I think I’m doing and why do I do it to myself. But I keep coming back for more.

Anyway, these little experiments were fairly harmless.

  • New recipe
  • Tinting fondant
  • Turning yellow into white
  • “Drawing” on fondant with food gel colour

Harmless, but important little experiments, especially that new recipe. I was making my Movember Cake this weekend, and if the recipe failed, well there’d be no cake.

The recipe I found while meandering through the Internet “likeing” pages on Facebook of extremely talented bakers and cake decorators. I came across the blog of Three Little Blackbirds. I’d actually been to this blog a very long time ago. I remember because there was the video on ganaching a cake. It was the first video I’d watched on that technique. I ended up re-watching it during the week and picked up a few tips along the way. As in learning anything new, the first time it’s information overload, but it’s amazing what new things you pick up when re-visiting that once new technique.

Right, the recipe.

New Yellow Cake RecipeIt turned out great. The recipe is for 3 single layers of a 9” cake. The Movember cake was going to be 6” (my favoured size). That took care of two of the layers. I’d also thought it would be nice to make some cupcakes which I planned to then paint moustaches onto. I’ve been keen to try my hand at “painting” onto fondant.

The cakes were baked as single layers, as Erin explains, it’s to lessen the time they’re in the oven, which could dry them out. I’ve got to hand it to Erin. These are really tasty, and the texture is terrific too. Mr Fussy and I shared one, he was cleaning windows at the time but I was hand feeding him. He really enjoyed them. When it came time to fill the Movember cake I asked what flavour I should make the buttercream. He strongly suggested I not flavour it at all, the cake had such a wonderful vanilla flavour he didn’t want it disguised.

Ok, recipe gets the big tick.

The cake was taller than I was anticipating, instead of a 4” high cake I ended up with 5”. I needed more fondant than what I’d anticipated last weekend when I coloured it “gold”.

I’d taken some yellow fondant I had left over from my MIL’s birthday cake. I’d already toned it down adding white to the Bakels yellow, which is a vibrant yellow. I’d read that adding 1 part ivory to 3 parts yellow and a bit of chocolate brown food gel would render gold. And it did.

3 shades of yellowWhile sitting at the laptop trying to recall where I’d read that (I couldn’t remember the proportions) I was looking into the dining room at my magnolia. Looking at the centre and suddenly realising the centre was pretty much the gold I was wanting to re-create, I knew that all I needed to do was add the Autumn Gold Sugarflair colour to it. Ta-da!

In the photos you can see the gold fondant I made last weekend and the yellow that I started out with, and the small sausage shape I had tested the Autumn Gold with, again starting with the yellow. The Autumn Gold gave an even better gold colour than I got with the ivory and brown last weekend.

Love SugarflairAnd we get a second tick.

Finally came the hand painting. Now I say hand painting loosely because this is NOTHING like the skill shown by many others when they delicately paint flowers onto cakes. All I had to do was paint a few moustaches onto a small piece of fondant without needing too much artistic ability (thank goodness).

I used the left over fondant I had from last weekend, this was the marshmallow fondant I made (and have a great respect for, wait till the Movember post). It takes a bit more kneading to get it soft and warmed up but it rolls so nicely and it’s supple.

I’ve never covered cupcakes in fondant like this before. I’ve made little fondant toppers but not to cover as a dome.

But before I get to that I wanted to try something I’d read about. How to turn buttercream from yellow to white. I guess the primary reason people add Crisco to buttercream is to tone down the yellow.

I decided to give the yellow to white a whirl. I bought the Sugarflair (I love that brand!) Violet/Grape food gel and carried out my own experiment so that you can see what we started with and how far we got to achieving white.

Buttercream experimentI used the Lewis Road Creamery butter (which I also love). You can see the colour change just with beating it a few minutes. I’ve got that roll of paper towels there as a reference point. Even if the colours change as the light in the room does (I never used my flash) I thought the colour of the paper towel would be easy to remember.

I then added the icing sugar, which again aided in lightening the buttercream. Then I started to add a little gel colour. Even with what you see on the toothpick, I only dabbed it into the icing a few times. The colour did become less yellow, but it never turned white. I wondered what the tipping point was before the icing became the Violet/Grape colour. I added a little more colour after the final photo. It didn’t turn a purple colour, it has taken on an almost caramel/coffee colour. Weird.

Waiting for white buttercreamAnyway, nothing was riding on this experiment. The cupcakes were going to be completely covered with fondant so nothing to lose.

Lastly came the painting.

Moustaches are hard. Trying to get both sides even is very difficult. Each attempt I showed Mr Fussy and he assured me that when he grew a moustache for Movember, his never grew evenly. If I thought I could fix the balance of the moustaches I’d have done it. I feared that trying to make it better I’d make it worse. Sometimes you need to know when to back away.

I used the thinnest brush I have, a 000, and from what I know this is about as thin as they get. But it’s not thin at all when you brush, it flattens out. Perhaps I should be a bit more delicate. Needless to say I wont be rushing out to try my hand at something that’s meant to be fabulous.

Movember cupcakesOk, so that wraps up all the little experiments. Next up will be another agonising accounting of decorating a cake, best not done when it’s 30 degrees Celsius.