Sunday, April 26, 2009

As seen in...

One of my cakes has been published in the magazine Mailbox News! While this is not necessarily a prestigious achievement, it's still exciting the one of my cakes in print! Mailbox News is a small magazine put out by the same folks that do American Cake Decorating Magazine. If you're a decorator, I highly recommend BOTH magazines because they're excellent sources of ideas and information. Mailbox News is almost 100% comprised of viewer's cakes. If you make a cake, you can send your photos and a brief description of how you created the cake to the editor. If you're lucky, they'll print your photo in an upcoming magazine! I have been submitting my photos since last summer and this is the first cake that has been published. Can you find it???

The description reads: "Melanie Judge of Gainesville, FL, decorated this confection for a local poker party. The marbled yellow-and-chocolate cake was baked in a 13x9-inch pan. She iced the cake with chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream after carving the cake into a slightly oval shape. The cake was covered in chocolate fondant and adorned with colorful fondant and gumpaste accents. The edible topper, gum paste playing cards, was decorated with edible food writer markers."

Thanks, Mailbox News!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Our Day at the Central Florida Fair

Last Saturday, Adam and I went to the Central Florida Fair. Our main reason for going was to see all the other entries in the confectionery arts competition, but we also thought it'd be fun to spend the day eating, playing carnival games, and spinning on all the rides!

Because I was DYING to see if my cakes won any ribbons, we ran straight to the cake competition! We were both thrilled to see that both cakes had won ribbons! The tulip wedding cake won 1st place in its category - "wedding cake 4 tiers or more" - and the It's Showtime won first place in it's category too! The It's Showtime cake also won Best of Show! How exciting!!! What's even more exciting is that I competed in the professional division this time! The rules for the fair competition stated that teachers were to enter the professional guess that included me! Here is a photo of all of the confectionery competitions entries at the fair:

And here are some close-ups of a few of my favorites. The first one is the cake that got 2nd place in the "wedding cakes 4 tiers or more" category.

For the record, this cake topper was probably not leaning when the artist dropped it off at the fair. The Florida humidity often alters the entries since people are constantly in and out of the exhibition hall during the day. She's probably just "wilting" due to the humidity.

I'm sure you also noticed that each of these cakes won either a red or blue ribbon. There were SO many categories so lots of ribbons were awarded!

As I mentioned in the previous entry about the Central Florida Fair, there was also a Peeps diorama competition. These aren't the winners, but they're my personal favorites:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hot off the Press!

Have you seen the latest copy of Gainesville Magazine? Pick one up on the way home today! Then flip to page 120. No, you're not seeing things - that's me! In this month's issue, they posted 10 pictures from the Let's Eat Cake wedding cake competition in Februrary. While I don't feel like they did the event justice (after all, they didn't even print the name of the man who won Best of Show, professional category), it's exciting to see it all in print!

I scanned the pages from the magazine in case you can't get your hands on a copy (click the photos to enlarge them):

Adam's First Cake Delivery!

This post is a little delayed because this cake was actually delivered on the same day as my last library demo. Since I was all the way in Newberry at the same time they needed the cake delivered to the baby shower, I asked Adam to deliver it for me! His first delivery!!! He was nervous, but I walked him through all the little details. The worst part about it was I asked him to place the gum paste baby blocks on the cake at the baby shower. I was afraid they'd slide around too much in the car and ruin the cake. Overall, the delivery went without a hitch, but Adam seemed to have trouble getting the baby blocks centered on the cake. He's an engineer with an extreme Type A personality! How did he get it so right-skewed!? I'm just teasing, I love to poke fun at Adam. Lord knows, he teases me at every chance he gets too!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Central Florida Fair

This weekend, Adam and I drove to Orlando to drop off my entries into the Central Florida Fair Confectionery Arts Competition. There were many categories to choose from, but I entered cakes into the "wedding cakes larger than 3 tiers" and the "It's Showtime" (the fair theme) categories. I also had to enter as a professional because the rules describe teachers as professionals. Dang, I gotta up my game if I want to compete with the pros!

The wedding cake was the same one that I entered into the Let's Eat Cake competition in February. I had to make a few quick repairs on it, but it was mostly in good shape after all the activity and transportation of the last competition. Here's a picture of me setting up my cakes at the fair.
Notice the utter disorganization in the room set-up. You can't see it because my head is in the way, but the majority of the other entries were on a table in the corner. That table got full so they had me set mine up way over here... They're going to move them to join the rest of the entries after the judging has taken place... Seems odd, but whatever. Also notice directly behind me is a table with Peeps dioramas (you can see the backs of the dioramas in this photo). Some were super cute...and some I just didn't get! haha! Adam and I are going back to the fair this weekend so I'll be sure to take pictures of most of the entries and post them here!

Here are my two cakes! Adam and I totally meant to take pictures of our heads poking through that ear of corn on the left-hand side of the photo, but we forgot! Hopefully it'll be on display this weekend!

As I mentioned above, the theme of the fair this year is "It's Showtime!" I wanted to make a cake that showed the stage as well as gave hints toward all the work that goes on backstage during a big event or show.

The front of the stage features a classic "It's Showtime at the Central Florida Fair" sign. The cow sitting on the corner of the stage was created in the likeness of a cow that appears on the fair brochures this year. The cow is announcing the start of the annual duck races! Here, 3 ducks (all wearing swimming goggles, although it's hard to see from this angle) are lined up at the starting line waiting to race!

On the side of the cake, I put 2 general admission tickets to the fair.

On the back of the cake, you see a ladder and paint cans (presumably used to decorate the stage) and a sign pointing to makeup, costumes, dressing rooms, etc. I decorated the sides of the stage with famous movie quotes and the words "lights, camera, action."

The stage is sitting on a giant film reel which is then sitting on a giant director's clapboard. Have you noticed anything....weird...about the pictures above? Notice how the film reel stays stationary, but we see a different side of the stage in each photo... The stage rotates! The red and white bulls-eyes on the cake are were you can place your finger to turn the stage. Here, I'll ask Adam to demonstrate:

Ooh, he seems really excited about it! Haha! Just teasing, he REALLY didn't want to pose for this picture. But, what can I say, I must have awesome manipulating skills - I didn't even have to beg! Maybe he knows that it's just better in the long run to shut up and do what I ask.

Anyway, I applied to be in a live, televised cake decorating competition the first weekend in May in Maryland. The rules of that competition say that at least some part of the final cake must move when a little pressure is applied. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to practice in case I got chosen! Unfortunately, it's not looking like I was chosen since I haven't heard from any of the producers yet...bummer, that would've been fun!

So how did I make the stage spin??? Hmmm...I think I'll save that for a future tutorial!

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Easter Obsession

Everyone has a favorite Easter candy and Peeps are usually top-ranked lots of people's lists. Not mine though! Don't get me wrong, I love Peeps! I even have a Peeps t-shirt that I wear on Easter every year (or on any other day when I feel like wearing a cute little fluffy chick on my shirt). But now that Peeps are available at other holidays, including Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine's Day, I don't feel the same urgency to purchase them and stuff their fluffiness in my mouth! While I'm still hoping Adam surprises me on Easter Sunday with some Peeps (hint, hint), these adorable little monsters weren't my subject of obsession this year.

This year, I was on the mission to find my favorite childhood candy. The biggest problem was...I didn't even know what they were called! After a quick internet search, I discovered that they are called Brach's Chicks and Bunnies! Now, I just have to find them! I searched high and low at Walgreens, CVS, Publix, and Target. I was about to give up all hope when I scoured the aisles at Target one last time. Thrown in with the strawberry-flavored Jet-Puff marshmallows, I found one lone bag of Chicks and Bunnies! Mission Accomplished!

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of trying one of these amazing treats, they are very similar to Circus Peanuts (surprise surprise, another of my favorites!). They are a very dense, chewy marshmallow that dissolves away to a smooth grittiness as you eat it. I know that sounds like an oxymoron - smooth grittiness - but if you've had them, I think you'd agree. These candies are perplexing. Upon first tasting them, people often get a confused look on their faces as they try to wrap their minds around the texture and taste. Some say it has a hint of artificial banana flavoring. Some like them better fresh and soft while others prefer them stale and hard as a rock. I personally like them fresh and I enjoy eating them without the over-analysis! Just enjoy them for what they are - pure marshmallow-y goodness!

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering about my bowl choice for this photo...We bought these wooden pineapple-shaped bowls in Hawaii on our honeymoon and we've never used them! I think we forget about them because they're on the top shelf (which I can't reach without a stool) in our kitchen. I decided these bowls would be perfect to display the Chicks and Bunnies! Let's call it a Florida-themed Easter basket!

Oops! It was just too tempting!

What is your favorite Easter candy???

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Monthly Tutorials

I'd like to start getting into the habit of putting some sort of step-by-step tutorial here every month. If there's something in particular you'd like to see, let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email!

This month's tutorial will be in 2 parts:
1. How to get the icing on a cake perfectly crumb-free and smooth.
2. How to use the Piping Gel Transfer to draw on a cake.

Part 1: How to get the icing on a cake perfectly crumb-free and smooth

We need to start with the basics. To get a beautifully decorated cake in the end, you need to begin with a correctly stacked and iced cake! After you bake your cake, you'll notice that there is a slight (or sometimes huge) dome on the top of the cake. You can't stack 2 cakes that have domes, so you first need to level the cakes. Wilton makes this amazing cake leveler that is absolutely fool proof (available at Michael's and other craft stores)! Basically, it's just a metal frame with a wire going across it. You slide it along your countertop and the wire levels the cake for you! No longer will you need to rely on a steady hand, your eye, and a serated knife to level a cake! Once the cakes have cooled, level them and either discard the dome tops or use them in another recipe (like Bakerella's cake balls).

Place a dollop of icing on your cake board and put one cake layer on top. This cake board can be cardboard, but it needs to be covered with aluminum foil or wax paper. This prevents the moisture from the cake causing the cake board to soften and become essentially useless. Wilton also makes these "show and serve" cake boards that are ready to use. The general rule of thumb is that your cake board should be about 2 inches bigger than your cake so if you baked an 8-inch round cake, you need a 10-inch round cake board.

Next, you're ready to fill your cake. Pipe a thick layer of icing on the top of the cake layer all the way around the edge. Fill the center with the filling of your choice. Keep in mind that if you fill the cake with cream cheese or something that can spoil, you'll have to refrigerate the cake. A lot of times, I just fill the cakes with buttercream unless someone requests a specific filling. Wilton has some really good visuals on filling your cake. Place the second cake layer on top of the filling. It's often easier if you put the leveled side of the cake face down. This will help keep the crumbs down when you ice the whole cake.

Yay! Congrats! Your cake is now ready to ice! Here's where the fun begins! Instead of loading the cake with tons of icing, put a crumb coat on first. A crumb coat is a very thin (and I mean thin) layer of icing covering the whole cake. As you put this layer on, you'll see lots of crumbs. That's normal! Keep going! After you ice the whole cake, set it aside for 10-15 minutes so it will "crust." Many buttercream recipes, including mine, will form a crust when it's allowed to sit for a duration of time. To speed up the crusting process, you can throw the cake in the fridge for 5-10 minutes. You'll know when your icing is ready to move on if you can gently touch the icing and it doesn't stick to your finger. When you get to this stage, you're ready to completely ice the cake. Now you're going to really load the icing on! The crumb coat will hold all the crumbs so this icing should be pretty clean. When you spread the icing over the cake, be gently so that you don't disturb the crumb coat. I tend to skimp on the icing because I feel like I'm putting so much on the cake! If you're like me, push through it and really load the cake up! The finished product will look much nicer and I've rarely heard people complain of having too much icing (they don't have to eat it if they don't want to, right?!).

After you've iced the cake, smooth it with your spatula as much as you can, but don't worry if it's not perfect. Insider secret: Some professionals hold a rigid ruler next to the cake and spin their turntable to help create a smooth, straight edge on the side of the cake. Others use clean, new paint spatula which are pretty inexpensive at your local hardware store.

Again, set the cake aside for 10-15 minutes and let it crust. Here's an exciting trick that will be sure to impress everyone! People call this the "papertowel trick." Are you ready? Are you excited? (I am!) You need some pattern-free papertowels -Viva brand works great! Lay the paper towel on your crusted buttercream and gently smooth over it with your hand/fingertips. Like before, be careful not to disrupt the crust layer. If you do, the buttercream will stick to the papertowel and you'll need to let it crust again before you can continue. Sometimes, I can do a whole cake with one piece of paper towel, but other tmes I use 5-6 before I'm happy. Be patient and gentle. If you work at it, you can have a perfectly crumb-free and smooth cake when you're finished!

Part 2: Piping Gel Transfer

Now that you have a beautifully smoothed buttercream cake, let's decorate it! Here's what you need:Choose a pattern that you like from a coloring book, the computer, etc. Tape it to a hard surface like your coutnertop, and then tape a piece of wax paper on top of it. If the orientation of your photo is important (ie, if there are words in it), be sure to flip the picture over before you tape it down. Sometimes it is difficult to see the picture from the wrong side of the paper so I usually trace it again with a Sharpee. Using Wilton's piping gel (clear is best, but I had white on hand so that's what I used this time), trace the picture onto the wax paper. Then, place the wax paper face-down onto the top of the cake, being careful to place it exactly where you want the picture to be. Gently trace your finger over the lines you drew to be sure that the piping gel is transfering from the wax paper to the cake surface. Carefully peel the wax paper off the cake. You should be able to see your piping gel lines on the buttercream. Next, trace over the piping gel lines with buttercream. The piping gel will not be easily visible in the final product so if you want to be able to see something, be sure to redo it in buttercream.

To trace this lobster and soccer ball, I used red and black icing with decorator's tip #3. I decorated the sides with tips #12 and #5 and the star and shell borders were made with tip #21.

Happy Birthday, Cassie!

The piping gel transfer can be used for a lot of different designs so let your imagination go wild!