Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Angelic 50th Birthday Party

Elise and I were super excited, and somewhat nervous, about this cake! A friend wanted a cake for her Mom's 50th birthday party on Friday. Her mom really loves angels so she originally asked for a cake that looked like a sculpted angel, either sitting or lying down. We told her we couldn't do something like that because we're just not experienced in sculpting faces yet. While we enjoy a challenge, we didn't want to just dive into something that difficult and risk having a terribly ugly cake to give her! We came up with the idea of doing 2 upright angel wings with a halo hanging off one of the wings. Our friend loved the idea so we went for it! Here's the finished product:

Each wing was about afoot tall, a foot long, and 4 inches wide. They were made of marble cake with chocolate buttercream filling. We baked all the cakes on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, we carved the cakes and covered them with buttercream and marshmallow fondant. On Thursday night, we added all of the marshmallow fondant feathers and the gold dust.

To make the longer feathers, I just cut them out freehand with a pizza cutter. The petal veiner I used on the tulips worked perfectly for feathers so that was nice! The larger feathers were cut with an Easter Egg cookie cutter I have. The halo was made out of gum paste and painted with the gold sugar dust dissolved in clear alcohol (no, we didn't need a cocktail that night, this is normal practice).

We're happy with the way this cake came out, especially considering this is the tallest and thinest cake we've made so far! When you make something this shape, you're really fighting with gravity the whole time so it's all about handling the cakes gently and avoiding potholes in the road when you deliver it!

Next cake on the list: my birthday cake! Get ready, it's gonna be awesome!

Friday, February 20, 2009

How To Make Life-Sized Gum Paste Tulips

Gum paste flowers, when done correctly, can look just like the real thing. I have heard that Wilton gum paste wilts in humid environments so I used Nicholas Lodge's recipe for gum paste that holds up better in humidity. You can get his recipe here, but briefly:

To make 2 pounds of gum paste, beat 4 large egg whites in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for 10 seconds on high speed. Reduce the speed to low and add all but 1 cup of a 2-pound bag of 10x powdered sugar. At this point, you'll have a soft consistency royal icing. Continue to beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, measure out 12 level teaspoons of Tylose powder (available at Country Kitchen Sweet Art or Confectionery House). Make sure your mixture is at the soft peak stage and is shiny. If you're coloring the entire batch, you can add paste color now (ex: Wilton colors), but make it a shade darker than you want the final product. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the Tylose powder. Then, turn the mixer to high for a few seconds to thicken the mixture. Scrape out the mixer contents onto a work surface that has been sprinkled with the reserved powdered sugar. Grease your hands and knead the extra powdered sugar into the dough until it is soft, but no longer sticky. Place the dough in a zip-top bag inside another zip-top bag and let it "mature" in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Before using the dough, allow it to come to room temperature for easier handling. This dough will keep in the refrigerator for 6 months or it can be frozen.

To create the gum paste flowers, I loosely used Nicholas Lodge's protocol. Here is a photo of a few of the tools you'll need, which include aluminum foil, plastic wrap or a practice board (Wilton), petal dust (I used Rose for the edges of the petals and Hunter Green for the leaves), 26 guage wire, soft foam (Wilton), a flower veining set, a Cel Board (available at Country Kitchen Sweet Art among other places), a tulip petal cutter, a ball and veining tool (I used Wilton's), a small knife, and a small rolling pin.

International Sugar Art sells the Parrot Tulip petal cutter, but I decided to make my own. To do so, I purchased thin aluminum flashing from my local hardware store. It comes in a roll that's is about a foot tall so I cut 1-inch wide strips from it. I used pliers to shape the petal and then double-sided tape to hold it in place.

The Cel Board is designed so that there are small grooves onto which you should roll your gum paste. Roll the gum paste until it is almost thin enough to see the slight outline of that groove. The thinner you roll the gum paste, the more realistic the flower will look. After you roll your gum paste over the grooves, you can cut out your petal shapes as it is or flip over the piece of gum paste so you can see the ridges. In this picture, I have flipped the gum paste over so the ridges are now facing up. This will help you to line up the petal correctly. When you cut out the petal, be sure that the ridge is centered and the tallest/thickest part of the ridge should be at the base of the petal. The ridge will not reach the length of the petal, but that's ok. Cut out 3 petals using this method and store them under the clear flap on the practice board or just under some plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
Cut a 4-inch length of wire and dip the end into egg whites. The egg whites will act like a glue and hold the wire in place inside the petal. Place the petal on the edge of the cell board and slide the wire into the ridge. This takes a little practice until you learn how to guide the wire blindly up the petal. Insert the wire at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches into the petal, without letting the wire come out of the petal on either side. After the wire is inserted, work the gum paste at the base of the petal to make sure it is formed around the wire nicely.

Place the petal on the petal veiner with the ridge facing up. Using the soft foam, press the gum paste onto the veiner. You will only vein one side of the petal because a) that looks more realistic and b) if you tried to vein both sides, you would mess up the original veining.

Place the petal onto the soft foam with the ridge facing up. Using the ball tool, gently thin the edge of the petal as you would for making fondant/gum paste roses. Tulip petals are not usually very ruffled, so try not to add too many ruffles when you're thinning the edges.

For this next step, Nicholas Lodge recommends forming some aluminum foil around a large serving spoon to create the correct shape. I prefer forming it in the center of my cupped hand because you get a little more curve and shape in the petal. After shaping your aluminum foil by whichever method you choose, place the petal on it and allow it to dry completely. Once the petal is dry, brush the edges with Rose petal dust if you want to add a little more color.

Next, take a 12-inch long peice of 18-gauge wire and begin wrapping one end with green floral tape. Wrap the end about 5 times and then create a hook with pliers. Wrap that spot 5 more times and then continue down the wire so that the entire wire is covered with green floral tape.
Dip the thick end of the wrapped wire in egg whites and place a dime-sized ball of white gum paste on it. Shape this into a tear drop about 1 inch long with the wider part at the end of the wire so the wire is not visible. Using tweezers, squeeze the thick part of the teardrop into 3 sections to form the pistol of the tulip. Let dry overnight.

Each tulip has at least 6 stamen. You can buy fake stamen or be ambitious and make your own! To make the, take a 2-3 inch lengh of 26-guage wire and dip the end into egg whites. Place a small ball of yellow gum paste onto the end and form it into a thin snake on the end of the wire. Using tweezers, pinch the snake into 4 sections all the way down its length. Let dry overnight. Once they are dry, use green floral tape to attach all 6 stamen equally spaced around the white pistol. I also added 2 more 18-gauge wires to add stability and bulk to the stem.

In this photo, I'm showing you the plyers/wire cutters, 18-gauge wire, petal dust, and scissors I used. Along the top, you can see the stages of the flower assembly (left to right): the green floral-taped wire, the pistol on the wire with the stamen drying on the side, the stame attached to the pistol, the first 3 petals attached, the final tulip.

After you've dried and colored the 3 wired petals, use floral tape to attach them to the flower stem in a triangular shape. Then, roll out the gum paste over a flat surface and cut out 3 more petals. Put these petals under the practice board flap or plastic wrap to keep them from drying out. One at a time, press each petal into the petal veiner and thin the edges like before. Brush a little bit of egg whites on the inside of the petal and "glue" the petal onto the flower-in-progress so that this petal sits between 2 other petals. Do the same with the other 2 petals and let the flower dry overnight. The next day, brush the edges of the new petals with Rose petal dust and the bases of the petals (both inside and outside) with Hunter Green petal dust.

To make the tulip leaves, roll green gum paste over the longer ridge on the Cell Board. I just used a pizza cutter to free-hand cut the leaves, but you could also make/buy a cutter. Dip an 18-gauge wire into egg whites and insert it into the ridge like you did for the petals. To vein the leaves, you can create lines by pressing the end of a ruler against the gum paste multiple times. I found a corn husk veiner and that worked perfectly! I brushed up the center of each leaf with Hunter Green petal dust. Pose the leaf how you like it and allow it to dry over night.

I know the whole process sounds complicated, but once you get into the groove, you can make 20 flowers at once! It's time consuming, but very worth it when people tell you they can't believe they're sugar! Good luck!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I won!

I had a BLAST at the Let's Eat Cake Fundraiser last night! I am extremely competitive so I thrive in the stress of safely transporting and setting up everything for competitions. This was my first cake competition, but I was mentally prepared by watching lots of Food Network coverage of the Oklahoma Sugar Art Show competitions. That's the most prestigious wedding cake competition in the nation! One day, I'll be there...

Anyway, back to Let's Eat Cake! The bakers were allowed to set up their cakes approximately 3-4pm. Then the judging was to take place until 5pm and then we were allowed to enter and prepare for the public entrance at 6pm. My cake made the trip across town perfectly fine so I was thrilled! I managed to get the whole thing inside...and then I broke the bow off the front as I was putting the fabric around the base. Oh well! I did my best to "glue" it back on with some royal icing, but it just didn't want to stay put. I happened to have a Willow Tree piece that my cousin gave me at my bridal shower (thank you, Heather!). I brought it in case the bride and groom on top of my cake didn't make the trip. Since they were ok, I used the Willow Tree couple to stand in front of the bow and hold it in place. I also hid a tiny Tupperware under the orange fabric on the right-hand side of the bow ribbon. Apparently no one noticed it and the wooden couple didn't look TOO out of place. Phew! Here's what my table looked like when I left the room for the judging:

The plates on the table were left for the judges to taste. The cake I prepared was White Cake with Chocolate-Kissed Raspberry filling so I put XOXO on their plates in chocolate frosting and placed a raspberry over each O (get it, chocolate-kissed???). When we checked into the contest earlier that day, we drew our table assignments at random. God was smiling on me because I drew table 2! If you look behind my cake to the left, that is the entrance the public came through. Table 1 was actually on the other side of the door all by itself so I have a feeling a lot of people overlooked it. :( My table was the first one people saw and pretty much everyone tried my cake! I imagine, by the time people got to table 30, they were a little sick of cake... My table location couldn't have been more perfect! Oh, and a special thanks to Elise who gave me the white cake recipe and helped me pick out the pink, white, and peach fabric with which I decorated my table!

Since we drew tables at random, no one knew who were professionals and who were amateurs (except the judges). Here are the other entries into the competition. The first cake with the "R" on it is by Cyndi Richardson, who is another Wilton Instructor at Michael's. The second cake with the white roses was made by a woman who took Course 1 and Course 2 from me. It was exciting to see what she made, especially since she hasn't taken any of the fondant classes yet!

My awesome grandparents drove down from Rockledge, FL to be at the competition with me. We were able to grab a quick bite to eat before the competition and they even helped me tear it all down afterwards. Also, my other grandpa made the plywood cake board that supported the whole cake! Thank you so much guys!

Elise and I took a picture with Kerry Vincent, as seen on the Food Network. Rumor has it that she was VERY hard on the cakes when she was judging!

Paige Beck from WCJB TV 20 news (the local news) was there with her camera crew. The camera crew didn't get my cake at all, but they announced the winners on the 11pm news so it was exciting to hear my name on TV! I went to bed with a smile on my face, literally! haha!

Here I am receiving my first award for the Crowd's Favorite in the Amateur Division from Melissa, the event organizer, while Kerry Vincent announced it. I was really excited to get this award because that's what cake decorating is all about - pleasing the client! Accompanying this award was a gift pack from Michael's which included a large rolling pin (which I actually don't have yet), a fondant smoother, meringue powder, and luster dust.

Here, Melissa and I are posing with my second award which was for Best of Show in the amateur division. I was also very excited about this award! I tried to use as many different techniques on my cake as I could - gum paste flowers, gum paste modeling (the bride and groom topper), stringwork, piping, etc. - in an effort to get this award. This is the prize I coveted most of all! And I was hugely surprised that this honor came with a new stand mixer!!! Can you believe it!?!? I'm so thrilled! It's a white 5.5-quart Cuisinart and I think I've found another love in my life (sorry, Adam, Nani, and my KitchenAid Mixer). This one has a timer on the side and 12 (yes, 12) speed settings. Man, I can go to TOWN with my mixers now! Watch out cakes, here I come!

Here's a fun shot of all the winners...let's see if I can remember everyone...Left to right...
Heavenly Cakes by Neil won Best of Show for Professionals
Lisa Menz from Cakes by Lisa won Most Original Design for Professionals
Cyndi Richardson won Most Original Design for Amateurs (Yay, Cyndi!)
Debbie from Ms Debbie's Sugar Art won Tastiest Cake for Professionals (Great job, Gail! She took the classes from me too and she does all Debbie's baking.)
Whatsername won Tastiest Cake for Amateurs
Whatsername won Crowd's Favorite for Professionals

Cyndi and I showing off our winnings! Look, Cyndi's apron pattern matches her cake! Coincidence??? I think not! Haha!
And Lourdes made me pose with both of my plaques visible.

Last and CERTAINLY not least, here's an amazing photo of all the people who were there to support me last night. Thank you all SO much for your encouragement! It means a lot to me to have such awesome family and friends. You guys paid the steep entry fee AND gave up your evening to support me. Thank you so much, Nicole, Shelby, Grandma, Elise, Lourdes, Grandpa, and Lorelei!Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way - June, Cyndi, Chris, Pam, and Elaine! June and Cyndi were my Wilton instructors so I learned all the important basics from them. Chris and Pam helped me troubleshoot my tulip-making. And Elaine came to the rescue last week with last-minute instructions when I decided to attempt bridgeless stringwork for the first time!

And, of course, thank you to everyone who supported me from afar. For your sake, I won't name everyone but here's just a few: Mom and Dad, Robin, Mr. and Mrs. Judge, all Mom and Dad's friends and coworkers, Grandma and Grandpa Mitchell, and all my extended family. Your emails and phone calls of love and encouragement were really special to me. I am blessed to have all of you in my life! And, no, I didn't forget the most important person - Adam! Although he had to go out of town this week, I know he was there in spirit. I love you, Adam, and I hope I always make you proud!

Whoa, did that sound like an acceptance speech? Sorry about that - didn't mean to go all Golden Globe on you! I just wanted to make sure you all knew how much you are appreciated!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Romantic Escape

I wrote this post yesterday afternoon, but didn't have time to post it to my blog before the competition:

I am super excited about the Let's Eat Cake Fundraiser tonight! I have probably worked over 200 hours on my cake in the last 3 weeks so I'm ready for it to make its debut! The title of my cake is Romantic Escape, and it's meant to represent the moments during a wedding celebration that the bride and groom "escape" from reality and are only aware of each other.

I have heard people say that, when entering a competition, you shouldn't try to please the judges or the public - only yourself. If you make yourself happy, that's the best you can do. I am a firm believer in that theory! I can't control what others think about my cake, but at the end of the day, I'm proud of it! This cake was far from easy, and I tried many "firsts" on it, including the gum paste tulips, the huge gum paste ribbon and bow, the gum paste bride and groom, and the bridgeless stringwork on the top tier.

In fact, to show you that I hit many hurdles, here is the first groom I attempted to make. He's fat and stumpy! After making this groom, I learned that you have to form his legs and torso, let them dry, and THEN assemble them! To make the bride and groom on this cake, I formed the bodies with gum paste and allowed them to dry for several days. Then, I dressed them, little by little, allowing things to dry before I added too much more. It's a slow process but I'm much happier with the results. I mean, would you want to see this guy on your wedding cake? I hated him so much I didn't even give him a head or fix his broken arm! Haha!

And here are the many tulips I tried before I got one I liked (they're in order from the first one I made on the left to one of the ones on my cake on the right):

And, finally, here are some of the details on my cake:

The gum paste bride and groom embraced/danced (depending on your interpretation) atop the cake in a field of gum paste tulips. Wires should never be inserted directly into a cake, even during cake decorating contests in which fake cakes are used. To avoid getting points knocked off, I made a fondant plaque to sit on top of the cake. The wires from the leaves and flowers were inserted into this plaque so that they didn't disturb the cake underneath.

Stringwork is often revered as a technique that only master decorators can perfect. I disagree! With patience, a steady hand, and a little bit of knowledge, anyone can do it! If you'll recall, I put stringwork on my swan cake that I took to the ICES Convention last summer. The stringwork I did here is different in that there is no "bridge" under it, meaning the bottom of the stringwork is not connected to the cake! Bridgeless stringwork gives the impression that the icing is defying gravity and it's very awe-inspiring! I searched high and low for a tutorial on how to do bridgeless stringwork and finally emailed the Florida ICES Representative, who finally gave me the answers I needed! I'll make a post in the future on how to do both types of stringwork.

I came across a whimsical tulip design in one of my cake decorating magazines and recreated it with royal icing on one of the tiers. I also came across some instructions for how to make traditional-looking columns. Sure, you can buy clear or white columns from the store...but they look like plastic (because they are)! Making the columns added an additional skill to my cake.

And last, but not least, here are the stars of my cake - the gum paste tulips:

To make these tulips, I loosely followed Nicholas Lodge's directions as well as Pam's, another decorator from Ocala, advice. I made my own cutter to create the petals and adjusted it to be what I considered life-like. Tulips are one of my favorite flowers so I used this cake as an excuse to buy lots of them! I could have bought the stamen and pistols, but I thought it would add yet another skill to the cake if I made them from hand. Of course, that added even MORE time to the whole process. I'll make a post about how to make the tulips - check back later!