Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Library Demo

Spring is here! And that means it's time for another exciting demonstration at the Newberry Branch Library! I decided to do a more hands-on demo this time so I focused on spring cookies:

I think the Easter Eggs came out especially cool! They're almost a little psychedelic - but I prefer to call them kaleidoscope eggs!

Want to make some yourself!? They're easy! First, bake your favorite rolled cookie (gingerbread, shortbread, sugar, etc). After the cookies have completely cooled, you're ready to decorate them! Here's the recipe for the royal icing I use (from

1 lb. sifted confectioner's/powdered sugar
3 tablespoons Meringue Powder (available at craft stores or you can substitute powdered egg whites - see the package for instructions)
5-6 tablespoons lukewarm water.

Mix all ingredients in a mixer at low speed until incorporated. Then mix for 8-10 minutes on medium speed until the icing looses its shine and becomes think and marshmallow-like. This icing will dry out quickly so be sure to store it in an airtight container.

Color your icing with paste food colors (available at craft stores). Don't use the liquid colors you're used to seeing at the grocery store because they will change the consistency of your icing and make it really runny. Once you have the icing the color you want it, put it into a piping bag or zip-top bag and pipe a border around each cookie. For the eggs, I just put one border around the whole cookie. However, for the flower, I put a border around each petal. The border will prevent colors in neighboring sections from mixing so put a border wherever you want to separate colors.

The borders need to dry for a little bit so set the cookies aside while you thin down the rest of your icing. If you do all your cookie borders at one time, you can thin all the remaining icing. I thin my icing by adding 1/2 teaspoon water per 1 1/2 cups icing, but this is a sliding scale so you may need slightly more or less water to get the desired consistency. To test your icing, lift your spoon out of the icing and let it drip from the spoon back into the bowl. If the icing that dripped down blends back into the other icing in about 3 seconds, you have the perfect consistency. If you can distinctly see the icing that dripped for longer than 3 seconds, add more water. If the icing blends immediately, it's too thin so you need to add a little powdered sugar to thicken it again. I know this seems picky, but it will save you a lot of headache later when we move onto the cookies!

Ready for the cookies now? Let's go! Fill a piping bag or zip-top bag with the thinned icing. The idea here is to "flood" the cookie with icing so just squeeze the icing onto the cookie until you can no longer see the cookie underneath. To make the kaleidoscope effect, you can pipe swirls or stripes in different colors. Then, take a toothpick and gently scrape the end across the icing, dragging the colors with you.

For example, I made the white and purple egg by piping two horizontal purple stripes in the egg and filling the rest with white icing. Then I dragged my toothpick tip up and down vertically to create the kaleidoscope effect. On the blue and yellow egg, I piped a swirl in yellow icing and filled the rest with of the egg with blue icing. Then, I dragged my toothpick from the center of the egg to the outside, and back again.

The kaleidoscope eggs are super easy to make and are sure to impress! Good luck!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Escape to Savannah

Last weekend, Adam and I went to Savannah for James' and Elise's wedding! I was really looking forward to the trip because I'd never been there and because I really needed to escape from reality for a while! I have the habit of filling up every spare minute with "doing" - whether it be playing with sugar, cleaning the house, bathing Nani, crafting, baking, etc. - so I run myself ragged. I knew if I went to Savannah, I'd be forced to relax and slow down for a change!

Savannah was absolutely beautiful and the weather couldn't have been nicer! Ok, it could have been slightly warmer, but that's my only complaint! When we first arrived in Savannah around noon on Saturday, Adam and I delivered the wedding cake (Elise baked it and my mom & I decorated it) to the reception location. Then, we met up with James, Elise, Carrie, and Luis for lunch. After lunch, Luis, Carrie, Adam, and I walked around Savannah until it was time for us to go get ready for the wedding.

The four of us stopped at the Riverstreet Sweets Candy Store and got an afternoon snack. Adam and I shared a dark chocolate-dipped stick of marshmallows - yummy but hard to eat!

And then it was time for the wedding! James and Elise stayed at the Kehoe House Bed & Breakfast and got married in the square right across the street. It was picture perfect! Here are a few of my photos during the ceremony...notice my amateur attempt at Photoshop.

Here's a great shot at Elise's gorgeous gown as she said "hi" to Lorelei.
After the short, sweet ceremony, they took a stroll around the square to "share a moment as husband and wife," as the pastor put it.

Afterwards, they took a bunch of family photos and then took off to take romantic portraits together. Again, Luis, Carrie, Adam and I strolled around downtown Savannah. We all met back up at the Old Pink House for the reception dinner.

The wedding cake was proudly displayed on a table of it's own:

It was chocolate cake with praline-flavored buttercream. I covered the cakes with fondant on Wednesday to seal in the freshness and moisture. I decorated the cakes, with Mom's help (excellent polka dots, don't you think???) and Dad's input, on Thursday evening. This allowed the fondant enough time to harden so I was sure the cakes would be fine during the 4 hour trip to Savannah. However, I hadn't planned on driving through at least an hour of construction and bumpy roads! Fortunately, the cakes made it without any damage!

Decorator's Secret: The bottom tier is actually a dummy (Styrofoam)! Elise wanted a large wedding cake but only had 25 people in attendance so we added the dummy to give the cake that extra boost!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Rockin' Birthday Party!

Shortly after Christmas, Adam bought Guitar Hero and...not surprisingly...I was quickly addicted to it. I talked him into getting Rock Band 2 we'd have 4 instruments (drums, guitar, bass, and a microphone) a few weeks ago and I play it every chance I get - in between lab work and cakes, that is. Yesterday was my birthday so we decided to have a bunch of people over - just an excuse to play more Rock Band and make another cake! These are the invitations we sent out:

I decided to make a cake in the shape of a guitar. While carving the cake to that shape was relatively easy, covering it with fondant was a different story! I didn't realize it would be difficult to cover those sharp turns and curves at the top of the guitar until I actually tried! Luckily, I was able to cover my mistakes with decorations on the guitar.

The neck and head of the guitar was gluten-free chocolate cake and the rest of it was marble cake. The whole thing was covered with raspberry cream icing and then with fondant. The silver pieces were first made with grey fondant and then I painted over it with silver sugar dust dissolved in clear alcohol. The guitar strap was also made of fondant, and I hand-cut the Barbie and the Rockers logo (that took forever!). Remember Barbie and the Rockers from the 80s? Yea man, they were awesome. The musical staff was written on the cake board with pens that write in food coloring, and I made the notes and letters out of fondant. And last, but not least, the guitar strings...I just made these out of piped royal icing, but I wasn't really happy with them. First of all, they don't lay as straight as I'd like. And secondly, they just don't look as realistic as I'd like. If I were to make another guitar, I might try using fishing line or real guitar strings!

The party was a blast! We asked everyone to dress in "concert attire" so we got a wide range of outfits! I was a hippie rocker. I asked Adam to get me a T-shirt from Bakerella that says BakeLove so I was going to write underneath it "not war." Get it? Bake love, not war! (Mike's idea, I can't take credit.) So I sewed a few patches on my jeans, got some peace sign earings, found some awesome star-studded blue sunglasses, and wore a hippie headband. I actually forgot to put the words "not war" on my shirt, but whatever!

Here's a bunch of shots of the different bands that debuted at the party:

Me and Ben (sorry, Ben, you got cut out of this one)

Nicole, Shelby (nice outfits you two!), and Adam

Jiejin, Shelby, and Jack...I have a feeling it won't be long before JJ and Jack get Rock Band for the Wii!!!

Jeanette & Mike (awesome costumes!)

Lorelie and Nani! Lorelie had the cutest "Miss Behavin' " outfit on and Nani was sporting the awesome T-shirt Robin bought her that said "I love Ph.D.serts!"

And the other people I unfortunately didn't catch on camera: Elise, James, Ben (kind of), Matt, and Lourdes. You guys have escaped this time....but watch out for next time!!! Muahahahaha!

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Day in the Life

Every weekend, Adam and I devote one morning to cleaning the house. Nani likes to be a part of everything we do so she always "helps." She especially loves when we do the laundry and sweep the floors.

When we do the laundry, she likes to stand in the basket and/or burrow through all the clothes. Here is a photo Adam took a few weeks ago where she was in the middle of searching through some pairs of pants...probably looking for some socks. I am still working on my Photoshop skills. I know I'm horrible at it, but maybe if I keep practicing, I'll get better...eventually. Anyway, I found this cool effect this morning! If you can't see it in the picture, click on it. That should blow it up really big.

Here's a great example of how much she likes to help! She is standing in the basket on top of the clothes while I load them into the washing machine!!

Nani steals socks all the time. She doesn't chew holes in them, just likes to carry them away. Last night, I left two socks on the floor near my shoes. A little while after I put them there, I noticed that one of the socks had been replaced with her bone. Apparently, she felt like we needed to make a trade - a bone for a sock. I guess that's fair enough.

When I sweep the floors, Nani has to check all my little dirt piles to make sure there's not anything in there that she wants to salvage or eat. I normally don't let her root around in it, but as soon as I turn my back, she sneaks over again! Since she's so busy "helping" us clean, she misses her morning nap so she's usually very sleepy later that afternoon. All that work can really wear a girl out!

This Sunday, I took her outside and tied her to the fire hydrant (is that illegal?) while Adam and I washed our cars. She loves being outside and since we don't have a fenced-in backyard, she doesn't get to play out there as much as she'd like. With the combination of being outside and having a yummy bone, she was in heaven! Her face said it all so I grabbed the camera and took a few shots of her:

This picture absolutely cracked me up. Look at that goofy grin!

Baby Shower Cookies to TEXAS!

A friend of the family threw a baby shower for her daughter last weekend. She had seen pictures of some baby shower cookies I'd made and wanted me to send some for the shower. Nothing special about that, right??? Except that they live in TEXAS! Elise and I made sugar cookies and decorated them with pink Satin Ice fondant and a little bit of royal icing. I carefully packaged the cookies and shipped them to Texas! Apparently only 1 broke so they used that as a taste tester, and they still had plenty left over for the shower. Here is a photo they took of the cookies at the shower:

Kaylee Anne is going to be the baby's name - so pretty! I can't wait to see pictures of the little one!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Congratulations, Jiejin!

A good friend of mine and a fellow member of the Scarpace lab just completed her final defense of her dissertation last Monday. To celebrate this huge accomplishment, Dr. Tumer & Dr. Scarpace are throwing a party for her this weekend! I was thrilled and honored when Dr. Tumer called to ask if I'd make a small cake for JJ!

I've been hoping to have the chance to make a graduation cake for JJ because I really wanted to try to recreate her bound dissertation. For those who may not know, when you complete a dissertation (for a Ph.D.) or a thesis (for a masters), our department gets it printed and bound. The copy stays in the departmental library for anyone to read...although probably no one ever does! haha! The dissertation is bound with a black leatherette cover and imprinted with gold font.

Since we only needed the cake to serve about 10 people, I had to keep it small. I decided to make a large graduation cap out of cake and use stacked cardboard to make the dissertation. Recently in lab, we were talking about how some people decorate the tops of their mortar boards so they stand out in a crowd full of graduates. JJ is headed to Cleveland to, for the first time, be living in the same town as her husband so I wrote "Cleveland here I come" on the top of her cap. Here's the finished product:
If you're interested in learning how to make a cake like this, read on. To begin, prepare your cake board (mine was a piece of plywood my grandpa cut for me). I covered my cake board with white fondant that was marbelized with orange and blue fondant (Go Gators!).

Next, stack pieces of same-size cardboard and tape them together. This will create a firm "book" that the cake will sit on. You could easily do the book in real cake too - just be sure to properly dowel it so it can support the graduation cap cake on top. Cut a piece of black fondant just slightly (and I mean slightly) larger than the cardboard pieces and place it on your cake base wherever you want the book to lie.

Spread a small amount of royal icing over this black piece and set your cardboard stack on top. Next, roll a larger piece of black fondant. This piece should be large enough to cover the top and spine of the book. Again, use a small amount of royal icing to "glue" this piece onto the cardboard stack. When you work on the spine of the book, tuck the edge of the fondant underneath, rather than cutting it straight across. This will give the impression that you covered the "book" all with one piece of fondant. With a little bit of touch-up work, you can completely blend the two fondant pieces together so that there is no longer a seam.

Now you need to add the pages to your book. I added my pages using 3 separate pieces of fondant. To do this, roll a piece of white fondant and cut it to the right size to fit between your cover pieces. Apply a little bit of royal icing to the cardboard and put the white fondant in place. Once I had all of 3 sides covered with white fondant, I went back and added the "page" effect by pressing the edge of a ruler into the white fondant.

Now, let's move on to the graduation cap cake. I baked an 2-layer 8-inch cake- nothing special. Then I gently carved the cake to a flattened cone shape. At this point, be sure that the top is perfectly flat so the mortar board sits straight on top. After I carved the cake, I covered it with buttercream and then with black fondant.

Yikes! Excuse my purple/black fingernails (that's what you get when you dye fondant black) and my messy apron (good thing I was wearing it I guess)! Anyway, cover this cake with fondant as you would normally and trim away the excess at the bottom.

To accessorize and personalize this cake, I decorated the top of the mortar board, created a small fondant plaque that said "Congratulations, Jiejin!" and painted the spine of the dissertation with gold luster dust dissolved in a small amount of clear alcohol. I created the tassle by rolling very thin snakes of blue fondant, pinching one end to secure them all together, and attaching them to the edge of the mortar board. Simple as that!

Congratulations, Jiejin! Everyone is so proud of you and you will be sorely missed in lab!