Tag Archives: baking

Cakes are Trolls, Part II

You can read how this all began here.

I had no idea how to pack gum paste decorations for traveling. Reassuring online research and a not-so-reassuring phone call to TSA had me nervous about flying with so many wires sticking out of objects. Handing the flowers over to be thrown into checked luggage wasn’t an option, so I had to figure out how to carry them on.

Originally, I wanted to layer the decorations in egg crate foam, but apparently everyone who lives nearby is either sleeping very well or not well at all because it was out of stock everywhere.

Instead, I used styrofoam cups and bowls to pack the flowers.

how to pack gum paste for flying

For the roses, I cut the tops off of the cups so they would fit stacked two high in cake boxes and lined each cup with tissue or paper towels. With each flower’s wire, I punctured a hole in the tissue lining and cup bottom, then pulled the wire out through cup until the bloom was cushioned in the tissue. I used another tissue for cushion on the top and hooked the flower’s long wire over the top of the cup. For the peonies I used the same method using bowls. I topped each peony with another bowl to shield the edges of the petals. Leaves and balls I wrapped individually and stacked together then wrapped again with paper towels.

Everything went in three 10″x10″ cake boxes, a size I knew would fit under a seat on a plane.

The flowers were protected from jarring in transport and easy enough to look at if an agent wanted to get a closer look.

And it worked. It all fit and nothing broke. Airport security took no issue with my carry-on. Agents were more interested to know if it was cake in there (no) and could they have some (NO). The boxes fit neatly under airplane seats and the flight went without incident.

When we arrived in Texas I put cake making to the side for a few days to help with wedding preparations. My parents hosted the reception at their house and also made all of the food. It was insane and still makes me tired to think about it.

When I finally extricated myself from savory cooking I started making the actual cake.

Originally, my sister wanted a chocolate cake with berry filling. When we got to Texas her husband-to-be asked for vanilla tiers as well. I wanted to cry a little bit because at that point wedding preparations were verging on a National Lampoon’s Vacation level. If it could go wrong, it did, AND MY HOW IT DID.

I am all about asserting myself and saying ‘no’ when I need to, but this was my sister, so a chocolate and vanilla cake went on the menu.

The cake needed to feed about 170 people. I used a tremendously helpful website to experiment with tier sizes and servings so I could see what the cake would look like with various tier sizes.

Once I knew the sizes of the tiers I wanted to make I started the math for the recipes.

calculating cake size

It took some spreadsheets.

I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible (that’s an affiliate link through Amazon, here’s a non-affiliate link if you’d like) when making this cake. I use The Cake Bible whenever I need a cake not to fail. Which is always. I always use it. I love other baking books but this book is the best book for cakes, the end.

The Cake Bible has a section that allows you to scale several recipes by pan size. You can’t just double a recipe and put it in a bigger pan and expect your cake to turn out well because cakes are assholes.

The edition I own has outdated serving sizes for wedding cakes so I adjusted the serving sizes in each tier. Once all of the counts, numbers, and adjustments were in, I checked the weights of my ingredients more times than I can count, fixed them a few times (sweaty armpits again when I almost missed a major baking powder error), then checked everything another time.

While my mom has everything to make anything savory, she doesn’t bake very much. I had to make some emergency trips to the store for teeny cake pans, large cake pans, larger cake pans, and largest cake pans.

Trying to muster up some of the initial battle cry I started out with a few months ago, I started baking. And then promptly sent my husband out on another emergency run for cooling racks.

substitute cooling rack

I made do with a colander for the 4″ top tier but was thankful when I had proper cooling racks shortly thereafter.

Making the sponges was the easiest part of everything.

The challenge of the cake came in two forms: ruffles and weather.

My sister doesn’t care for fondant but wanted stiff, nearly translucent, edible ruffles covering the cake. When researching techniques, I read that the types of ruffles she wanted are usually made of fondant or gum paste then attached to a fondant-covered cake using a little bit of water to ‘glue’ them on.

Determined not to watch guests peel off of their cakes layers of fondant or see gum paste ruffles shatter during cake cutting, I wanted the ruffles to be the only fondant on the cake.

Looking ahead, I knew It was supposed to be in the low 80s (F) and the cake was going to be outside. I needed a stable non-fondant frosting for the tiers of the cake that would hold the ruffles on without sliding off the cake as it sat in the heat for hours.

Mousseline frosting solved everything. An Italian meringue buttercream, egg whites in the frosting provided the stability and strength I needed.

I flavored the frosting with raspberry liqueur and made more than I needed to. I did not want to be caught needing to make more frosting when I was already exhausted, a lesson learned the hard way a few years ago.

Three days before the wedding I had the sponges completed.

That day I torted the five tiers, brushed them with simple syrup, and filled them with a berry puree I made the day before. I put a crumb coat of the mousseline frosting on and stored the cake in refrigerators overnight.

The next day I put the final coat of frosting on the tiers and started the ruffles.

I made a large batch of marshmallow fondant. My sister asked for ivory ruffles so I tinted it with a drop of so of brown dye.

Working in batches, I thinly rolled out pieces of fondant and used a pizza wheel to cut the entire piece into skinny strips.

I frilled each strip with gum paste tools and applied it the cake, one by one, using a small line of frosting to make sure it adhered well.

fondant ruffles buttercream cake

I repeated that until I wanted to throw up

fondant ruffles wedding cake

and then did it four more times.

fondant ruffles cake

I finished at around 10 p.m. the night before the wedding.

I drove straws through tiers so I could stack them on the day of the wedding. The straws allow for less displacement of cake than dowels but still provide enough support to hold the tiers up on each other.

Looking at the finished cakes that night and planning for what the next day would look like (chaos) I quickly realized a few mistakes.

1) I should have stacked the cake that night and used an additional support stake through all of the tiers. The cake would be tall and heavy and I was concerned about it tipping, even with the straws. I would have to transport each tier outside, one by one, instead of being able to do it in one trip with some help. It was too late at that point to do anything about it since I didn’t have the necessary hole drilled in the cake boards (the plate-like cardboard pieces on which each tier sat).

2) It was going to be hot the next day so the cake had to stay inside until the reception. It dawned on me that since the cake was not already stacked and adorned with flowers (I didn’t want the gum paste in contact with the cake to start getting soft on the cake which happens over the course of a few hours) I would have to assemble and add the flowers after we got back from the ceremony while the reception was going on. My mother hired waitstaff to help the next day but I did not trust them to carry and assemble the cake.

They were mistakes that could not be fixed and had to be worked into the plan.

The next morning the cleaning crew didn’t show, the rental company didn’t set up the dance floor, chairs, or tables, and we found they only gave us bowls instead of plates and not enough cups or utensils.

Also, it was the day of the wedding.

I told you it was National Lampooney. And I didn’t even tell you about the septic system problems.

My husband and I took over the cleaning crew’s job. Some of my family went outside to set up tables and chairs while other members scoured Texas for rental companies that would supplement equipment since the original rental company couldn’t.

It was a stressful morning.

Finally, a little later as things were coming together, some of us left for the church to meet my sister there for photographs while others stayed to tame the madness. I was supposed to do the bride’s makeup (you’d be surprised at how much makeup application and cake decorating have in common) so I showed up with my kit and waited for her to get there from her hair appointment.

And waited. And waited some more.

We got word that she was stuck in traffic from an accident on the highway but that she should be there in time for the wedding.

Oh, good.

My to-be-wedded sister walked in five minutes before she was supposed to walk down the aisle and that was the fastest I have ever applied event makeup in my life.

The wedding was a success with everyone forever holding their peace and a newly married couple exiting the church riding unicorns and hearts in their eyes and rainbows out their ears or pretty much just looking like that because they were so happy.

And then it was party time cake time.

My husband and I “drove the speed limit” back to my parents’ house and started working on transporting the cake tiers to the small gazebo and table where they would be on display.

I stopped short when I walked up to it because it was in 100% direct beaming sunlight.

I’m not sure how I missed this the entire week I had been there. There was no changing it now or shielding the cake so I prayed fervently that this stupid pile of butter and sugar would hold and all of the work wouldn’t slide off to crash in a pile of sadness and ruin.

My armpits were sweaty again and I wanted to run away screaming I DON’T DO WEDDING CAKES I DON’T DO WEDDING CAKES forever and ever.

Instead, I stacked the tiers and started poking flowers in.

I have two regrets with this cake. The first is that I didn’t use a dummy cake to practice wiring the flowers together on the cake. I felt like I put them in haphazardly in the end which still bothers me. I wanted them doing that cascade thing, remember

gum paste peony rose

The second is that I didn’t have a cake stand. My mom and I had a miscommunication about it and I ended up having to set the cake board directly on the cake table. It was fine, just not exactly how I wanted it.

But regrets and all, once it was stacked up, flowers all in, I took a step back and exhaled for the first time in a week.

wedding cake with ruffles and gum paste flowers
photo courtesy of Chris Rake Photography.

cake with ruffles
photo courtesy of Chris Rake Photography.

wedding cake with ruffles
photo courtesy of Chris Rake Photography.

I did it!

I managed to keep breathing for the rest of the reception but didn’t relax until the cake cutting. Despite being in the sun the cake held up beautifully. Nothing slid off or even around a little. The stupid pile of butter and sugar stood there very nicely for the whole reception. Thank you, mousseline.

There are a million things I could pick apart about the cake but I am just happy I was able to do it. It could have gone wrong and failed spectacularly at so many points but it didn’t.

I’m still not sold on making wedding cakes. They are in the realm of possibility now but still make me sweat. At least now there is less crying and more triumphant screaming.

Cakes are Trolls, Part I

I don’t do wedding cakes because the first cake I ever made was a wedding cake.

That’s enough to put you off of them for life.

When a coworker asked me to make her wedding cake, my baking experience extended to truffles that I made as office presents. Even with my grand lack of skills, her cake design was simple enough so I said sure, that I would do it as a gift.

What I didn’t know then is that nothing is simple with cakes.

They are the trolls of the baking world. They’re finicky because they’re assholes. They can and do go wrong at every step, sometimes just to watch you cry.

Making my coworker’s cake took months of practice. It was ridiculous and I cried a lot.

I think I’m happy that Pinterest didn’t exist in 2006. Photos of perfect cakes may have caused me to abandon the project. Instead, I raged at pock-marked frosting in my kitchen but carried on, oblivious to others’ perfection.

The final product was fine. When I brought it to the venue I was relieved that I was done and happy it was gone.

While writing this post, I thought to myself that I was happy I had lost the only photo I had of it, but a little digging and NOPE, FOUND IT (and its sweet, sweet photo editing job).


photographer unknown

And look, I even tinted that frosting to match the petals. I guess the result wasn’t as bad as I remembered. STILL, the process was exhausting.

Once I finished her cake, I left the whole dessert course alone for a while. I had developed pretty hostile feelings toward cakes and thought I would never touch another one again.

Yet, after a little while, the hostility I harbored birthed a desire to wrestle cakes to the fucking ground.

I started making cakes just to get better at it and began enjoying the process of showing them who’s boss.

Every time a cake turned out well I essentially did this in the kitchen.

Then, somehow, people started hiring me for cakes and I would respond YES I WILL MAKE THAT BABY SHOWER CAKE FOR YOU AND I WILL REIGN SUPREME OVER IT IN THE END DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY ALLERGIES.

Wedding cakes, however, I turned down. I swore them off because the pressure was too high. If anyone asked about wedding cakes, I told/screamed in horror “I DON’T DO WEDDING CAKES” and stuck to it.

I did that for six years until one of my sisters got engaged and asked me to make her wedding cake.

She sent me a photo of what she wanted. It was simple, not fussy, and used techniques I already knew.

“You won’t cry this time. You know this stuff. Plus, it’s your sister,” I told myself. I told her I would make her simple cake and felt surprisingly ok about it.

Then her wedding date changed and suddenly what she now wanted was very different and my armpits were sweating and I felt that horror scream coming on of I DON’T DO WEDDING CAKES.

Instead, I issued a battle cry and started practicing.

The cake she wanted had a lot of gum paste flowers on it, something I had never done (lolololololol of course).

I was happy Pinterest existed at this point. Now perfect cakes were something to aspire to, not something to feel defeated by. I found inspiration and tutorials on how to make exactly what I wanted.

I started with peonies. I used a tutorial from Cake Journal.

I didn’t think I’d be writing about my sister’s cake since I was more worried about abject failure. These are mostly iPhone/Instagram shots as I went along.

yes i used a baguette pan as a form what

Peonies require a lot of petals and I had a lot of peonies to make.

multipurpose meatfork

I was so proud of the start of my first ones. Then my neighbor (an actual, legitimate, professional cake baker) came over to visit. At my request she showed me what I was doing wrong with my petal edges.

someone is fabulous

You can see the difference most dramatically in the top two flowers. One is pretty uptight and the other is like I AM FLOATING FREE IN THIS WIND CAN’T YOU FEEL IT?

looking pretty tan there foot better put on some sunblock

Still working things out.

georgia okeefe

Close-up early on.

my kitchen was a mess forever

More petals, veining, rolling, ruffling.

She also wanted a lot of roses:

gum paste roses

so, I started to make roses (not sperm, as someone inquired)

gum paste roses

and more roses

gum paste roses

AND MORE ROSES

GUM PASTE ROSES

AND THERE’S NO TIME TO FIX NAIL POLISH BECAUSE I’M STRANGLING THE ROSES

pretty gum paste roses

I made some roses of a different color.

I started feeling a little more confident at this point (but not too confident because that’s when things start to go wrong)

smiling at me

and I guess the confidence helped because my components started smiling at me.

gum paste roses

I think I made thirty-something blush-pink roses and the same number of coral ones.

gum paste filler

I made some balls (to go along with the sperm) for some filler. It was late and this was the photo that happened. I feel like I’m in a tupperware at the back of the refrigerator.

gum paste roses and leaves

Of everything, the leaves were the most difficult part.

gum paste roses and peonies

This was not the color I wanted for the dark pink peonies at all and I was a little panicky about it.

It is the color they got because I am still learning how to get deep, dark colors in frosting/gum paste/fondant.

My Cake Baker Neighbor even came over to try to help me get the color I wanted but it was still a no-go.

To understand the problem, imagine you’re trying to get fondant a deep, bright, red for a fire-engine cake. Think about adding drops of red food dye to a POUND of white dough. You’re going to get pink. In fact, you’re going to get pink for a long, long, long, time. You may use up your entire bottle of red food dye in your handful of white dough. You now have a beautiful shade of deep pink. Look at that Pepto-Bismol fire-engine go!

I made progress with colors when I switched to Americolor dye but I still have a lot to learn about color mixing and doing it for cakes.

gum paste flowers

Even without getting the dark pink I wanted, when I strangled everything together the colors worked nicely. I wanted them arranged similarly on the cake as they were here.

(We’re not going to talk about the coloring on the balls because it was a nightmare.)

I finished the last gum paste object the day before we were supposed to leave for my sister’s wedding.

To fly across the country.

With innumerable, delicate, wired gum paste decorations.

And two children in tow.

And I hadn’t even started the actual cake.

Part II, with the hard part, is here.

Baked Eggs with Toast Soldiers, Many Ways

I’m a sucker for breakfast.

I love stealing down the stairs before anyone is up and starting breakfast
sometimes bringing it back to bed when I’m done
sometimes hearing the steady sound of descending footsteps before I’m finished with everything.

My husband’s favorite breakfasts are pancakes, waffles or dougnuts.
I make these for him at that magical intersection of him asking and me being willing.

A sweet breakfast is something I do out of love
and that’s pretty much it.
Any other time of the day
something with that much sugar would be classified as dessert.

I can’t start my day off with dessert.
I think I’d keel over from my blood sugar dropping by my toes.

Instead
give me breakfast tacos
filled with potatoes and tomatoes with cheese, bacon, and a lake of salsa fresca
an onion bagel with butter
polenta with green onions and parmesan!

Onions seem to be a reoccuring thing.

Always kiss me goodnight
BUT, BOY, YOU BEST HANG ONTO YOUR SOCKS IN THE MORNING.

In addition to onions
I also sing glory to eggs.

I don’t like an egg sunny-side up
or hard boiled
or soft boiled
or by itself.

I like them mixed in with other things
or scrambled with a lot of butter or bacon fat
or in a cheese omelet
or baked.

Baked eggs are wonderful things.

I had never made them before
but I ate them in one form at Bouchon in Las Vegas
and then came across this post about them.

Like Jennifer, I wondered why I hadn’t made baked eggs yet.

One morning I stood at my kitchen window
and realized the kale plants were starting to look like palm trees.

It was time to use some kale
it was time for breakfast
and it was time for baked eggs.

Kale from a garden is not for the squeamish.
An impressive variety of spiders claim its curly edges for home
and I now know those ruffles make a perfect spot for cocoons.

After picking, cleaning, chopping
AND GARBAGING DISPOSAL-ING THE HELL OUT OF SOME SPIDERS
I put all of the kale into a pot.

After it had cooked down a little
I added some onions
OF COURSE

and cooked those until they were softened and brown around the edges

A little salt and sherry vinegar
and the kale was done.

I had tomatoes in the garden
(we’ve only been done with them for a few weeks now and I miss them already)
so I chopped up a Cherokee Purple
and set it aside to add to the eggs.

I greased ramekins and then filled them up

and baked them until the whites were just set.

The yolks were still a little runny
and screamed for toast soldiers.

I scream for ice cream
yolks scream for toast soldiers.

Recipe: Basic Baked Eggs


When prepping the kale, the very tip of the stem does not need to be removed as it is tender, but the tough stalk does.To easily core kale leaves, fold them in half longways and run your knife along the edge of the core. This way you only have to make one cut to get the core out. With the leaf still folded, chop crosswise into manageable pieces. When making this recipe, you’ll have a little kale and onion mixture left over. I found no problem eating it straight out of the pot. You need to serve these immediately because they continue to cook in the VERY hot ramekins.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing ramekins
  • 1/2 pound of kale, chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt (or to taste)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 6 eggs
  • 11 ounces tomato (1 extra-large tomato)
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan-Reggiano
  • Toast, cut in strips for ‘soldiers’ (gluten-free toast for a gluten-free breakfast)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the kale.
  3. Cook until kale is bright green and softened slightly, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add chopped onion and cook mixture until the onions are soft and brown around the edges. The kale will have cooked down substantially.
  5. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar.
  6. Grease ramekins with olive oil and fill the ramekins with tomatoes, eggs, and kale and onion mixture, adding the egg last.
  7. Top with grated parmesan.
  8. Arrange ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes or until the whites have clouded and the yolks are barely set.
  9. Broil for one minute or until cheese browns.
  10. Serve immediately with toast soldiers on the side.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 6

Variations

I’ve made baked eggs several times since my first go around and what I love most (and actually get excited about) is how you can change the recipe. Starting off with your egg, you can play around until EGGSaustion sets in (Oh, please. You’d make an egg pun, too):

Spanish Eggs – manchego cheese/jamon or chorizo/pimenton garnish
Tex-Mex Eggs – salsa fresca/queso fresco or monterey jack/fresh jalapenos or chopped chipotles
THE ‘MERICAN – : bacon/fried potato shreds/maple syrup
Fancy Pants Eggs – sauteed chopped mushrooms/baby swiss cheese/spinach/chive garnish