Tag Archives: Cooking at Home

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.

Keep Your BBQ Sauce Off of my Pizza

Unlike the times before it
last week’s pasta making was successful.

Given my previous attempts at making noodles
I probably should’ve started the project the day before
but lady luck stood by a few hours before the supper club
and I had beautiful strands of beet pasta swaying on clean chairbacks.

My kitchen looked festive
and I think hats and horns wouldn’t have been out of place.

I kind of wanted to put on a flapper outfit.

I was disappointed that the pasta didn’t stay magenta.
It faded into BubbleYum pink
(just like this)
which was… interesting.

I didn’t overcook the noodles;
I put them in the boiling water and the color immediately leached out.

Boo.

Here’s this week’s menu plan
a little late:

Monday
Pizza with leafy green salads

Last night was movie night at the last minute, so for dinner we had frozen pizza.

When I picked up the pizza at the store I didn’t realize it had BBQ sauce on it.

There are three things that should never be on my pizza:
Chicken
Cheddar Cheese
BBQ Sauce

Last night I had a salad, theend.

The unfortunate BBQ sauced pizza made me wish for homemade frozen pizzas.
I freeze pizza dough all the time but haven’t frozen a composed pizza. I’m curious to see how that would, ah ha, pan out.

Tuesday
Dumplings with homemade wrappers

Trevor has been off of work today and yesterday, so today I made chicken fajitas for lunch.

I hope to squeeze out enough time between kitchen remodel work and baby wrangling to make a combination of this recipe and one from The Dumpling.

I have hopes, but they are not very bright.

I need to work on my nonexistent pleating skills, too. Given the time restraints put on me by Tiny, it may end up being the seal-n-go method.

Wednesday
Carnitas with homemade corn tortillas and queso fresco

Trevor was in the grocery store with me last week and came across pork shoulder on sale while I was looking at something else.

He brought it over to the cart and asked if we could make carnitas.

I nearly did the moonwalk in the aisle for two reasons:
1)The man barely asks for anything other than pizza, steak, or macaroni and cheese
2) He knew that pork shoulder was for carnitas

By all means, let us do carnitas.

Thursday
Kale, potato, and sausage soup

This is ripe for a blog post. My mother gave me this recipe and I’ve modified it to my liking.
I’ll negotiate with Tiny and see if he’ll let me photograph and write this week.

Friday
Leftovers

Saturday
Leftovers

Ordinarily I wouldn’t do leftovers back to back, but Trevor’s schedule is crazy this week and freshly made dinners would be wasted on these days.

Sunday
Mutti’s Louisiana Chicken Stew with pickled peaches

Mutti, my grandmother, made a gumbo that is one of my favorite meals. Growing up, we all called it Louisiana Chicken Stew and it wasn’t until I started playing with gumbo recipes that I realized her Louisiana Chicken Stew is a gumbo.

Now ‘gumbo’ sounds funny. Gumbo, gumbo gumbo!

She gave me her recipe for the stew and (quick) pickled peaches for my wedding
and it was my favorite present.

The leftovers are even better than the meal the first time around, as usual for stews and gumbos.

I’ve linked up to Menu Plan Monday.

Zucchini and Bleu Cheese Soup

Some people collect unicorns, frogs, or Coke bottles
but I collect cookbooks.

I can’t help it.
I started in college and never stopped.

The first cookbooks I owned were published by Hermes House
a publisher whose catalog often shows up on discount tables at Barnes and Noble
(Borders always used to carry them;
now that they’re liquidating, maybe you can find them there even cheaper)
and at places like TJ Maxx and Ross in their teeny book sections.

Hermes House books were my starter books because they were cheap
less than $10 new
the recipes were easy
and they had a lot of pretty photos.

For a college student
it was perfect.

As my collection grew
I cooked from a larger range of books
and I ended up donating many of the books I started off with
(books with lots of photos and little else)
but I’ve held tightly onto the books from Hermes House.

The recipes in these inexpensive vibrant books are good.
They’re surprisingly good.

I have 10 or so of their books
and I’ve yet to try a bad recipe from any of them.

I will say that the only downside to their cookbooks
is that there is a small amount of recipe overlap among them
but not so much as to discourage me from buying them when I come across them.

(Cook’s Illustrated is the worst offender for recipe overlap in their books
in case you’re wondering.)

In most of Hermes House’s books
they use European terms for ingredients
aubergine for eggplant
courgette for zucchini
but that is interesting to me
not a mark against them.

When I made a meal plan for this week
I had down “zucchini soup and tomato tart” for Wednesday’s main meal
but was without a recipe for the zucchini soup.

Since I was up for a challenge
I first checked James Peterson’s Splendid Soups
a gorgeous and amazing (and labor intensive) book.

Peterson did not deign to offer a zucchini soup recipe
and even explained WHY in the book:
zucchini on its own is not assertive enough.

It made me wonder if he had ever eaten as much zucchini in a summer
as a few plants could put out.

That plant would show HIM unassertive.

THANKS FOR NOTHING, PETERSON.

I shelved Splendid Soups
saving the challenge for another day.

I turned to ol’ faithful
a Hermes House book
Soup: Superb Ways with a Classic Dish by Debra Mayhew.

It had a zucchini soup recipe
but I didn’t have the exact ingredients
and I didn’t want as much cream or butter in the soup as it called for
so I set the book beside my cutting board for inspiration and made lunch.

I’ll never forgive everyone for not introducing me to the combination of bleu cheese and zucchini earlier in my life.

Jerks.

I served the soup with a tomato tart from a Canal House issue from last year.
You can find the recipe here.

Recipe: Zucchini and Bleu Cheese Soup

Summary: Bleu cheese varies in strength so start with a small amount first and then add more gradually, tasting as you go. Remember you’re going to garnish with more cheese and you don’t want to overwhelm the ‘unassertive’ zucchini soup. At the blending stage of this soup, if using a food processor or standing blender, remove 3/4 of the soup and blend, then return it to the pot. This soup is supposed to be thick, so some texture and chunks are nice.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoom butter
  • 1 medium mild-flavored onion, chopped
  • 8 cups zucchini, thickly sliced (about 4 medium zucchini, or the 2 giant ones from your garden)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • 4 cups chicken stock or low sodium broth
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • 1/4 cup cream or whole milk
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fresh oregano
  • extra bleu cheese

Instructions

  1. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, heat butter and oil until foamy.
  2. Add the onion and cook until softened and starting to brown, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini and oregano. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir frequently until the zucchini begins to soften and brown, 8-10 minutes. Turn the heat down if things look like they’re cooking too fast.
  4. Add the stock to the pot. There should be enough stock to almost cover all of the zucchini. Add more or less as needed.
  5. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the zucchini is completely cooked through, about 20 minutes.
  6. Using your blending tool of choice (immersion blender, blender, or food processor), blend the soup until the pieces are broken down, but the soup is not perfectly smooth.
  7. Add the cheese, one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition until it is melted.
  8. Add the cream or milk and stir until well incorporated. Adjust the soup’s consistency by adding more stock or water if the soup is too thick.
  9. Adjust seasoning with salt and ground pepper.
  10. Serve soup in bowls, garnished with fresh oregano and bleu cheese.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 45 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4