Friday, April 30, 2010

A Monkey Safari Birthday Cake

I've been a bad blogger this week. I have FOUR cakes to post from last week...and now a bunch more from this week! Not to mention, I have 2 more stringwork tutorials to post. I promise I'll catch up!

Here's one of the more fun cakes from last week:

The cake design was based on one Debbie had done in the past, and I thought it was such a cute idea to have the little monkeys peeking from behind the palm trees. I also liked the design because I didn't have to make all those little monkey bodies!

The monkey on the top of the cake was modeled after the party invitation, and he was surrounded by festive little packages!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monthly Cakes for Charity!

It just doesn't get any better than when the sugar world pairs up with a charity to do some good! Last weekend, the American Cancer Society held a huge fundraiser in Greenwood, SC with a cake decorating contest, a tasting contest, a social, and a concert. For those of us unlucky enough to only find out about the event after it has taken place, there's still a way to participate!

They're selling 18-month calendars which feature cake photos created by some of today's top decorators. The decorators were asked to create a cake based on a song, like "Stayin' Alive" or "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Who were the decorators? None other than Kathy Scott, Carrie Biggers, Norm Davis, Zane Beg, Susan Carberry, Kelly Lance, etc, etc, etc!

The calendars are $20 each and $7.50 from each calendar sale will be donated directly to the American Cancer Society. Get more information about the event at the Half Baked blog and download an order form here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

3-D Gator Cake

Since we live in Gainesville (aka Gator Country, The Swamp, Title Town), I knew it wouldn't be long before we got an order for a 3-D carved gator cake. And, lucky enough, it came last week!

It was carved out of red velvet cake (my favorite) with white chocolate cream cheese filling, and the legs were made out of Rice Krispies treats.

Predictably, the gator was wearing a Tim Tebow jersey (this was a pre-NFL draft cake). The fondant was pinched, pulled, crimped, and scored to add texture, and I airbrushed it in shades of green to add highlights and depth.

3-D carved cakes are my favorite kind to do. I go through a series of emotions for each one. Initially, I'm stumped..."How are we going to do that???" Then, I'm intimidated..."What if I carve off too much???" Then I just dive in and start, little by little, carving away cake. Then comes the buttercream and fondant. At this point, I'm still pretty intimidated and scared. For example, this cake looked like a giant lizard rather than a gator! But you have to just keep plugging away. I keep telling myself...."It'll look good...just keep working (and crossing your fingers)." I step back often and examine the cake from all angles. And I get a LOT of guidance from Debbie! In the end, everything seems to work itself out...and I start breathing again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Creamy Magnolia Wedding

One of the wedding cakes we decorated last week had sugar flowers on it. I love sugar (aka gum paste) flowers! The idea that you can create something with an edible dough that looks almost identical to the real thing - if done correctly - is something I can't get enough of.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm definitely not the best at making sugar flowers. I have a lot to learn, I'm pretty slow, and I only complete new flowers through trial and error (lots of error). But I really enjoy making them. I get in the flower-making zone!

This particular wedding cake had ivory magnolias, chocolate brown roses, and bluish purple wisteria.

The magnolias were the biggest challenge on this cake. I had never made them before so it took me a while to figure out what worked and what didn't. And apparently magnolias have 10 petals! I only had to make 5 magnolias...but that's 50 individually rolled, cut, ruffled, wired, and shaped petals! 50!

For the wisteria, I just used blossom cutters of increasing size and cupped the center of the flower. Not an exact replica of the real thing, but it'll do.

When Debbie originally told me what color to make the fondant ribbon to go around the base of each tier, we were both a little doubtful that the color would look nice on the cake. It was like an Army green, but I referred to it as garbage pail green. We really didn't like it.

But once I put it on the ivory cake with the sugar flowers, I ate my words. The colors worked so well together - very earthy and serene.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Baby Shower Cake

I love baby showers! Who doesn't!? All those cute little clothes, the tiny shoes, the blankets, etc!

Last weekend, I got to decorate a cake for a baby shower that was based on this cake. Well, it wasn't just based on that cake, the customer wanted pretty much an exact replica!

So, similar to the original cake, the baby's rump was made in a half ball pan and covered with white fondant. The legs and feet were formed out of Rice Krispies treats and covered with fondant. And the blanket, polka dots, and bow are all made of fondant.

Love the concept...wish I had thought of it...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Pink Roller Skate Cake

Does every little girl have a pair of pink roller skates with hot pink wheels? I did, and I remember skating on them until the stopper was worn to a nub. Ah, those were the days...

But, anyway, last week Debbie and I got to create a pink roller skate for Rachel's 6th birthday party! Debbie carved the cake, and I decorated it. They told us they wanted pink - lots of pink.

So we gave them pink!

The wheels were carved out of cake (that was a pain in the tushy). The stopper was a giant ball of fondant.

And the laces and pom-poms were made of fondant. I love putting little stitch marks on cakes. It adds extra detail that, in my opinion, really enhances the cake appearance without adding a lot of decorating time if you use a little stitching wheel like this one!

I made a confession to Debbie today. I told her I will always try to "steal" the fun cakes like this one before she can decorate them. It's a major character flaw of mine. I could say I'm trying to improve...but that'd be a lie. I just love to do the fun cakes! Is that so wrong?!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guinea Pig Cuteness

Last weekend, some of our good friends went out of town and left their furry friends in our care. They have four guinea pigs! Considering our track record in pet sitting this year, I really had no idea what to expect...

At first they were a little timid - a bit on-edge after the car ride over to our house. They didn't like it when I put my big photography light on them either. They all huddled together in one-third of the cage for a bit.

Then they decided to check out their surroundings. They are surprisingly difficult to get a good photo of because they move in fast little scurries! But I managed to get a few. Here, let me introduce them:

Meet Snuffleupagus! She's different shades of brown, chubby, and very furry. As Adam's Mommy put it, "Her hair goes in every direction except down!" But the best part of all...check this out... can she see where she's going? You can't even see her eyes! From this angle, she's a giant fur ball with 2 little nostrils and a little mouth. She's also a little dense. Apparently, she has the tendency to walk into a corner of the cage and start squealing because she thinks she's stuck. Yea...

Ok, moving on...

On the left, you see Hedge Piggle! And on the right, showing a little 'tude, is Troggle.

Here's a close-up of Hedge Piggle. Isn't that an adorable little expression?! Who knew a guinea pig was capable of such cuteness?!

The piggies LOVE carrots!

And if you don't give each of them their own carrot fast enough, they'll steal it from the other pigs and cause Piggie drama. No one likes Piggie drama.

See? Hedge Piggle is just getting her carrot and Skitterbug is already planning her attack.

Yay! Carrots!

Adam & I really enjoyed watching the Piggies, but Nani definitely had the most fun! I think she considered them her little Piggies. She was really curious so we pushed a chair up against the table their cage was on. She loved to sit there and watch the piggies. If I opened the cage, they'd sniff each other, nose-to-nose.

They were instant friends! In fact, when the Piggies left our house last night, Nani actually cried at the door. Then, she ran over to her chair, checked the empty table, and cried some more.

I think she's finally getting over the Piggie separation anxiety...but maybe she needs another friend. If I get another puppy for Nani as a gift, Adam can't say no, right???

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Heart Faces: Desserts

Ok, I badgered Elise in the last post...but I'll praise her in this one. She has convinced me to enter a photo into an online competition!

This week, the theme for the competition on I Heart Faces is desserts! Hello, I can do that!

But, I'm not just going to enter a cake, cupcakes, or cookies...too expected. Instead, I'm entering this photo:

An entirely edible bouquet of sugar flowers!

Check out Elise's entry here (I'm in it!), and all the other entries at I Heart Faces: Desserts.

She Loves Mickey, Dang It!

I have a certain friend...

who has the cutest daughter...

who is turning 2 in May!

Long ago, I promised to make her birthday cake! Yay for cake!

My friend...let's call her Elise* for argument's sake...Elise wants her daughter's birthday party to be retro chic themed. He really loves this French postcard she found on Etsy and wants me to use that as inspiration for the cake.

No problem!


Except that her daughter LOVES Mickey Mouse! Playhouse Mickey is practically her favorite show on TV AND she just met Mickey at Disney World for the first time earlier this year. How can you deprive your child of THE Mickey Mouse on her birthday? After all, you only turn 2 once!

Why not consider a super fun cake like this one that Debbie & I made last week?

Or this one that my former Wilton student, Grace S, made!

Playhouse Disney! Perfect! Wait... perfectly adorable!

*Names were not changed to protect the innocent. Love ya, Elise!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stringwork with a Bridge - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of your online stringwork tutorials! To recap the last lesson, you learned Basic Stringwork, which rests right against the side of the cake. The key was consistency in piping and loop length.

Today, we're jumping to one of the ADVANCED stringwork methods! These strings will come right off the side of the cake! They will be supported by what is called a "bridge", but they'll still be very fragile.

Step 1: Begin the Bridge

Pipe basic stringwork on your cake like you learned in the last lesson. Here, I've just shown 3 basic strings. But, be creative! You can do this all the way around your cake or in segments, with loops of the same size or different, sloping up and down the side of the cake or at the same level. The options are endless!

Let these strings dry for at least 10 minutes. If you're doing strings all the way around your cake, by the time you get back to the first few they should be dry enough to continue.

Step 2: Build Up the Bridge

Pipe more basic strings right onto the originals. The goal is to create a sugar shelf coming off of your cake horizontally. Try not to angle the shelf upwards or downwards - it just doesn't look as nice. After you pipe each string, wait for it to dry before adding more. If you add too many too quickly, the whole bridge will collapse. Try increasing or decreasing the length of the strings as you move away from the cake. Here, I'm decreasing the length so I'll have a convex shape against the side of the cake.

Some people like to use a damp paint brush to gently blend the strings as you pipe them. This creates a solid-looking bridge. However, others steadfastly believe that this method looks tacky! Try them both and decide for yourself. (I have not blended here, but have done it in the past.)

Step 3: Finish the Bridge

As a finishing touch on the bridge, I like to pipe one solid line all the way across the bridge. If you increase or decrease your string length as you moved away from the cake, this is especially important. Often when you change string lengths, the edges start to look messy. By piping a solid line all the way across, it makes the final bridge look much nicer and more professional! Can you see the difference between the bridges in this step and the ones in Step 2?

Let your bridge dry for several hours or overnight.

Step 4: Begin the Strings!

To begin the strings themselves, place your piping tip* against the side of the cake** and begin applying pressure to the piping bag.

*Here, I am using a tip 1. Stringwork can be done with many different sizes, but the smaller you go, the more delicate the strings look. Keep in mind that the smaller you go, the more difficult it gets too! A tip 1 or 2 is a good place to start if you're just learning.

Tips this small clog easily! First of all, always keep your tip covered with a damp cloth when you're not using it. This will prevent the royal icing from drying inside it. Second, I like to push all of my royal icing through clean, unused panty hose. It's a little messy, but the hose will catch all the large sugar crystals that will clog your tip while you're piping your strings. It's an extra little step that is MORE than worth it!

**I like to draw my stringwork pattern out on a piece of paper first. Then, I hold it up against the side of the cake (before I create the bridge) and use a straight pin to poke small holes in the fondant around the perimeter of my pattern. Don't go crazy with the hole punching, but you will never notice the small holes in the finished product if you pipe your strings right on the holes. Today, I am just designing the string pattern as I go, but I highly recommend planning yours ahead of time!

As you continue to apply pressure to the piping bag, slowly move away from the cake. Only the very beginning of the string should touch the cake. This part is a bit tricky to get the hang of. You have to move the piping tip fast enough away from the cake so that extra icing doesn't stick to the cake, but you have to move slow enough so that you don't break the icing string. Basically, the pressure you're squeezing the bag with (or the speed of the icing coming out of the tip) must match the speed of your tip moving away from the cake.

This is what happens if you move your tip away too quickly or if your icing is not the right consistency.

If your icing is too thin, it will not be strong enough to pipe in a long string. How do you recognize it? It will be very shiny and will stretch as you pipe the string.

If your icing is too thick, you will probably feel pain in your hand while you pipe. You will also probably break a lot of strings.

If your icing is not working, take the time to thin (add drops of water) or thicken (add powdered sugar) it. Imperfect icing consistency is a source of unnecessary frustration. Anyone can do stringwork if the consistency is correct! Just play with it and discover what you're comfortable with.

Ok, starting fresh again...hold the tip against the cake and begin to squeeze the bag while moving away from the cake.

Step 5: Hold the String

Pipe a string that you think is the appropriate length so that it will reach your bridge when you lower it. But don't lower it yet! Hold the string up with your tip just like I've shown in the photo above. Try to minimize wiggles, too. I like to rest my elbows against the table to keep me from shaking too much.

Why are you doing this? Holding the string up like this allows it to crust over a bit. If you were to immediately lower your string, it would probably slowly stretch and break due to gravity. Allowing it to dry a little makes it that much more resistant to gravity's detrimental effects.
This method will also get nicer strings, in my opinion. If you immediately lower the string to the bridge, it will droop a little. Conversely, if it's slightly crusted when you lower it, it will be straighter and seem to defy gravity even more!

The amount of time you hold the string depends on the length of the string. Shorter strings won't stretch as much due to gravity so they don't need to be held more than a couple of seconds. Long strings (2-3 inches long) will need to be held quite a bit longer. Sometimes, I count to 20 or 30 in my head. And this is something that seems to be highly effected by humidity levels! Again, you'll have to play with it to see what works for you each day.

Step 6: Lower the String

Slowly lower the end of the string until it touches the bridge. The dry bridge is relatively strong, but be gentle just in case.

Step 7: Finish the String

If the string hangs just below the bridge, use your piping tip or a paint brush to gently break away the extra icing.

Step 8: Add More Strings

Moving to the left and right of the original string, follow the steps above to create more! There are a few things to keep in mind in order to obtain really beautiful stringwork:

1. Place your strings so close together that you could not possibly put another string in between them.
2. Keep your strings perfectly vertical.
3. Keep your strings evenly spaced.

In the next couple of photos, I'll show the string steps above from another angle:

Notice the strings lying on the cake board? I call that the "string boneyard." The facts: You WILL break strings. You WILL lose some due to gravity and stretching. You WILL purposely break strings because the spacing is off or they are not perfectly vertical. Therefore, you WILL have your own string boneyard. It's ok! Let them dry and brush them away later.

Here are some photos of the finished strings from different angles:

Step 9: Finishing Details

Now, of course, you could stop there. The strings look pretty awesome, right? But now you need to make them your own! This is where a pre-planned design really comes in handy because if something doesn't look right, you've tried it in pencil and paper first...not on your time-consuming, perfect strings.

Bleh! See what I mean!? Yuck! Definitely design your ahead of time so this doesn't happen to you!

But anyway, you can add smaller loops, diagonal strings, basic strings, dots, etc. to your bridged strings. Try adding the details with a different color - they'll really pop!