Sunday, December 27, 2009

Igloo cake

I worked at the bakery for the first time in...maybe six weeks? yesterday. I had a great time and realized how much I miss being there. The available hours probably won't increase anytime soon, so for now it looks like I will only work when there are gaps in the schedule.

Here is the cake I made yesterday--the igloo is a double layer ten inch round cake and a giant cupcake turned on it's side, all covered in fondant. The penguins hanging out around it are made with fondant (these pictures were taken with my phone...not the best quality, but it's all I have!):

and a better picture of one of the penguins:

I wanted to add a little blue fondant lake and a tree or two around the sides of the igloo, but I am already painfully slow in commercial bakery terms and felt like I needed to wrap it up already and move on to the next task (the rushing shows in my piping on the igloo)! Maybe next time...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Side trip: the Knifty Knitter

Over the holiday, we had a baby shower for my sister. The weather kept me from being able to attend, but part of my gift was a baby hat that I made with my all-time favorite go to for this type of thing: the Knifty Knitter.

These looms allow someone like me--unwilling to really put the effort into learning how to knit, let alone knit actual shapes rather than just rows of yarn--to make little hats or scarves quickly and easily.

So in about an hour, these materials

become this:

Perfect for a cold, Ohio winter!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gingerbread house

Another holiday tradition at our house is to bake, assemble, and decorate gingerbread houses. This year, we decided we would just do one house and share the decorating. I don't really like the strong flavor of most gingerbread recipes, so here is the one I use:

Gingerbread dough ingredients:
3 3/8 cups flour
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter

In a saucepan, heat the brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter until the butter is completely melted and set aside. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and slowly add the sugar mixture until blended. Chill the dough until it's easy to handle, then roll out and cut into house pieces. Bake the gingerbread in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

When the pieces are completely cooled, I use royal icing on all of the seams to hold the house together and let it set up overnight. The next day, we use vanilla buttercream frosting to adhere the candy to the house.

First up, the candy selection:

Here is the house, assembled and glued together with royal icing, left to dry overnight:

...and finally, the finished house. Not a portion left undecorated!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday trays

Every year around the holidays I try make trays with cookies, etc. on them for the neighbors in our cul de sac. Since I am still trying to figure out the flooding technique with royal icing on sugar cookies, I made some giant cookies to include in the trays. I still don't have it...I want that really smooth finish, but I think the thing I am missing is something terrible like Crisco. If that's the case, I guess I won't ever get there. I can't put that on top of the cookies and serve them to friends and family--it might end up with my guilt forcing me to jump in and knock the beautiful but deadly cookie from someone's hand.

Ben is home with me for the next couple of weeks, so he helped me by decorating the chocolate covered pretzels. Not one millimeter of that chocolate went undecorated. Check out that cute apron. He was a huge help!

One of the finished trays:

We haven't been able to get all of the trays delivered because not everyone was home last night, but we will try again today. That's one more check mark on my holiday to-do list!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Melting snowmen

I made about 45 of these cookies for Ben's classroom winter party. I have seen something like them on a website in the past and thought they would be a big hit. I had never tried flooding a cookie with royal icing, so the added element of being unsure of how all of that would go just made me want to try it more. Here is a picture of one of the finished cookies:

I used sugar cookies, but you could probably use just about any kind of cookie or cupcake you want (maybe a bigger cupcake...I don't know that there is really room for all of this on a regular cupcake!) for the base. Then I made the basic Wilton royal icing and piped an outline for the melted body. I thinned the royal icing out a bit more and piped that into the middle of the outline, then added rainbow chip sprinkles for the buttons and a half-melted marshmallow for the head. I added vanilla buttercream frosting for the nose, eyes, mouth and arms.

Next time (if there is one...these things take a long time to make and the marshmallow part is really messy!!), I won't flood the cookie with quite so much royal icing--I like how it looks when the flooding is flat on the surface.

In the end, I only brought home three cookies and my reputation as an overdoer was solidly intact.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Metal work

I made these for the Bizarre Bazaar as well.

Some quick hammered copper disc earrings:

And some asymmetrical fold formed sterling silver earrings with a satin finish:

Now that the BizBaz and after show sales for the season are wrapped up, I can no longer pretend I am too busy to update the website. It's a daunting task, since so much of the stock turns over this time of year (I'm not complaining, really!), and I like to wait until I think sales have slowed down enough that any changes I make will stick for a while. So that is on my to-do list for the weekend...maybe after I get some Christmas shopping in!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Glass, glass, glass

Here are some pictures of more of the jewelry I finished for and/or during the Bizarre Bazaar. These are all made with lampwork beads and sterling findings...fairly straightforward.

This giant lampwork bead with the sterling silver core is special to me because when I decided I wanted to make these "pandora" style beads, I found some tools online to assist with the task of adding the sterling core for around $300. A never-ending cheapskate, I decided to make my own by filing down a giant nut/bolt combination and it works fine. Sure, it took a million hours, but it was free (I found it in the garage...I'm sure Lowell won't miss it) and that baby is allll mine.

This bead is made of six rows of glass that are all two layers deep. Layering with first an opaque and then translucent glass gives the bead some depth, and I think some people call them dragon scale beads. There is something about this layering that is mesmerizing to me, and I finally decided to keep it. Two views of the same pendant:

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Bizarre Bazaar

Every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, there is an art show/fair/festival held in Lawrence called the Bizarre Bazaar. It was started many years ago by a group of women who made unusual art, and it has grown to the size of about 120 artists. When the registration form comes in May, you don't wait a couple of weeks to mail it back in to save your spot--you fill it out and return it that VERY DAY. The spots fill quickly and there is always a long waiting list to get in.

The show is unique in a lot of ways. The artist booth fee is very low, but each artist also participates in putting on the show by serving on a committee (advertising, decorating, etc, etc) and bringing items for the bake sale that takes place that day. There is definitely mainstream art, but also a great sampling of unusual art, like the woman who sells the decorated chicken feet (I am horrified by and strangely drawn to them at the same time) and another who made portraits out of chewing gum. I have done a few art shows in the past seven or eight years, but this is the only one I have done every year--I love how it feels to be there. There is something really great about the mood of the show. Maybe the participatory requirements bring the artists together, because everyone is really helpful and pleasant.

Anyway, here is a (quick) picture of my table at this year's show, taken in between shoppers:

Not the best photo, but the other one was out of focus and I was in a hurry! I have lots of new stuff that I put together for the show, and hopefully I will get some pictures up over the next couple of days. I got heavily involved in the lampwork to prep for this year since that was the bulk of what I sold last year. First up, a pair of earrings...more to come!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chocolate ganache cake

Since we planned to go to Lincoln for Thanksgiving, I decided it was the right time to try out a recipe for spreadable ganache I found a couple of months ago. I really wanted to use it because of the texture I had seen on cakes made with that ganache, but I have always put frosting or fondant on cakes and didn't quite know what I was doing. I made three versions of the ganache: white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate ganache. The dark chocolate was really very bitter, and I wasn't sure it would appeal to a large audience. The white chocolate was really just...underwhelming, so I settled on the milk chocolate for this cake.

The ganache has to sit for several hours at room temperature, bringing it to a consistency a lot like peanut butter. I made a chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream filling and put it in the fridge while the ganache was setting up. When I put the ganache on the cake, it was pliable at first, but the temperature of the cake cooled it quickly and it hardened a bit while I spread it. Just because I had it, I put some white chocolate shavings on top of the cake and put it back in the fridge overnight. When we cut into it about six hours later, it still hadn't come completely back to room temperature. Right out of the refrigerator, the ganache provided a weird sort of protective shell around the cake. I have read that it will keep cakes very moist and that some people put it under fondant for this I know why.

I tried--many, many times--to like the ganache. I just don't really think it's that great. It's ok, but I am more of a frosting girl, apparently.

Since there were going to be a lot of people there, I also made carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and Gage made an apple pie from scratch. I helped him put together the apple filling, but he made the crust and it was perfect--I was really impressed!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Camera cake

I made this carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for Hally's birthday. Since photography is her thing, I decided to attempt a sculpted cake. Even though it provides a cleaner look for the cake, nobody in my family really likes to eat the MM fondant (well, maybe for the first bite or two, but after that, no thanks) I skipped it.

The camera's lens and preview frame are made from poured sugar. I didn't have any molds to get these to come out the way I wanted them to, so I lined stainless steel cookie cutters with the Reynolds Release foil. There must be a way to sort of sand down the edges of the pieces once they come out of the molds, but I haven't figured that out yet. Even though the edges are a little bit rough, I wasn't even sure they would come out of the molds properly, so I was content with the results.

The pictures were taken in a hurry and the lighting isn't that great--I was still trying to put the finishing touches on the cake when Hally showed up for dinner!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poured sugar ice

I have been interested in poured sugar work, but only in the form of reading about it until recently. We had a wedding cake order at work with an "ice" theme, and the bride wanted some sort of ice to border the tiers if possible. It doesn't take much for me to try out new techniques, so the excuse to put the sugar ice recipe to the test was a welcome task.

It's really, really easy, and takes almost no time at all to do. There are a ton of recipes out there, but I settled on this one and it worked well:

1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup Splenda (not the packets...the bulk buy bag found in the baking aisle at the grocery store.)
1 cup light corn syrup

I started out by putting all of the ingredients in a pan, stirring until everything was blended and then bringing it to hard crack stage (300 degrees).

(ignore the ".7" past 300 on the thermometer! I read (later, of course) that it helps to pull the mixture off of the heat at about 295 so you don't go past the 300 mark, although some recipes instruct you to take the mixture to 310, so I don't know that it hurts anything.) If you don't have a thermometer, the way to tell when you reach the hard crack stage is to pull a bit of the mixture out and drop it into some water. If it is at that stage, you will hear it crack when it hits the water. If you don't bring the mixture to hard crack, the ice will not be brittle when you are will be soft.

Since I knew this mixture would caramelize and give an amber cast to the color of the sugar, I wanted to see what would happen if I added color to it. I selected orange from my regular Wilton gel coloring, dropped it in after the mixture had cooled a bit, and stirred it.

Then I poured the mixture onto crumpled up Reynolds Wrap Release foil (this has a non-stick side, which is best for getting the poured sugar out when everything is done). Side note: I learned that the thinner the sugar is poured, the better for ice chips, so I will spread the next batch out over more of the foil. Some of this batch ended up thicker than I would have liked.

Once everything was cool, I popped the ice chips out of the foil and it was ready to use. On what, I can't say. Maybe orange wasn't the best color to select?

I have read that clear ice can't be made from sugar because when it reaches the right temperature, it will caramelize. Clear poured sugar can be achieved, supposedly, by using Isomalt instead of a sugar mixture. Because I just HAD to know, I ordered some Isomalt off of the internet to give that a try. It was delivered to the house the evening before we left for our Orlando trip, so I haven't given it a shot yet.

BTW. The wedding cake came out great--the bride was really happy with it. Kelli used a round tip (maybe a 5 or 6?) to pull buttercream frosting over the edges of the cake tiers to give the feeling of icicles, and we used the sugar ice to border each tier. We made some that was not colored and was barely tinged with the amber coloring and also tried blue coloring on a batch and they both worked well. We used the clear-ish batch for the cake and painted it with blue and silver with the airbrush. Here is a picture showing a couple of the tiers:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Relaxation favorites birthday cake

This cake topper went on a birthday cake for a guy who likes to play guitar, play XBox, and drink coffee. It was a challenge to fit all of this onto one cake topper, and I came very close to leaving the television and stand off of the scene. But I checked the order and I said I would put those on there, so I did.

The chair and tv stand are made from rice krispie treats (a total of 12!!!) covered in fondant, the television and guitar are made from a combination of modeling chocolate, piped chocolate, and royal icing, and the figure, the coffee cup, and XBox controller are made from fondant. I put brown fondant inside the cup and topped it off with piping gel to make it look like liquid. All of this sat on top of a white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting.

This was my last cake order before the fall jewelry show...I have a couple of cakes I want to make for celebrations, but won't take any new orders for others until after Thanksgiving weekend. It will be good to focus more attention on the jewelry side of things...I have been turning a lot of projects over in my mind and it would be nice to try some of those things out!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thanksgiving turkey

This is a quick little fondant turkey I made for a cake at the store. I left work and forgot to put the little "thing" that hangs from the beak (after referring to it as a "giblet thing", I finally looked it's called a "snood") on it. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it, so I stopped by on my way home the next day and added it. Kelli (the rockstar who makes most of the cakes in the pastry case) had already put him on a cake.

So I didn't do the other decorations (the pumpkins, the leaves), but here he is:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween-themed baby shower cake

This cake was for a baby shower with a Halloween theme. The costume on the puppy matches the one the family dog is wearing for Halloween this year and although the angle doesn't show it too well, the mummy is pregnant. The chocolate cake has chocolate malt buttercream frosting and candy corn trim. The figures and pumpkins are made from fondant and the grass is buttercream frosting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lampwork jewelry

This weekend I used some of the lampwork beads I made over the past couple of weeks to make pendants and earrings. Ben worked with me, handing me the beads and pliers, humming as he helped. He has designed some pendants that we still need to finish...hopefully later this week.

The beads I posted last week, in finished form:

A couple of pairs of lampwork earrings:

...and two lampwork cupcake pendants (these almost didn't make it...I wasn't sure whether or not to go through with making them into pendants, but decided why not?) :

This week, I hope to take some inventory of what I have ready for the November show and make a plan to fill in the gaps. I have a few cakes to do between now and then, but it should all be fairly manageable...hopefully there will be more to post soon!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Haunted house cake and classroom cupcakes

Since Ben's birthday is so close to Halloween, I made him a haunted house cake to celebrate. I used a pound cake since I knew I would be stacking the cake so high and it did seem to make a difference in the stability. I made the cake in two square pans (eight inches and 10 inches), then cut them into strips to make the shape of the house.

Here are the five layers with the vanilla buttercream crumb coat:

I made marshmallow fondant to cover the house. Since the crumb coat had dried, I added just a couple of drops of water to the back of the fondant to make it stick to the frosting, smoothed it, and used an impression mat to give the side of the house a stone texture. I knew I would be putting some darker color on the walls and wanted the pattern to provide shadows across the surface.

The house, covered in fondant:

I needed something more rigid than fondant for the shingles, shutters, and doors of the house, so I mixed the remaining fondant with gumpaste (in a half and half mixture). Square cutters made quick work of the pieces I needed. I set them aside to dry and went back to work on the house.

I don't have an airbrush machine, so I used black color spray to get a darker color on the house.

Now, on to the fun part--adding the details! I piped a bat for the top of the house out of chocolate, and attached the shutters and door with frosting. I used edible glue to attach the shingles to the roof, and did some final outlining with orange frosting.

The demolition begins:

Ben and I also made cupcakes for him to take to school to share with his class. I frosted them, then Ben decorated them generously with Halloween sprinkles:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Glass work

I did some lampworking over the weekend to prepare for the upcoming Bizarre Bazaar in late November.

The beads are made with Effetre/Moretti, a "soft" glass from Italy (mine always comes from a glass company in California...but you get the idea). I start with glass rods and heat them over a torch fueled by propane and oxygen. Then I wind the molten glass around stainless steel mandrels in whatever colors I want, shaping it once I have enough glass to work with. When the bead is done, I put the mandrel in a kiln to cool slowly (this prevents stress fractures from the glass cooling too quickly) over several hours. Once the kiln cools down, I remove the beads from the mandrels, clean them, and use them to make jewelry.

These quarter-sized beads will become pendants in the near future...I will clean them tonight to add the silver findings.

The same beads, showing the other side of some of them:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

XBox 360 cake

Gage picked this cake for his birthday...the beloved XBox 360. He asked for the white cake I make with soda, cream cheese frosting, and marshmallow fondant, so that's what he got.

I underestimated how much time it would take to do this one...for starters, it took FOUR cake mixes to get the double layer cake. I put a piece of parchment paper on top of the XBox and traced the shape, then used that to cut out the shape of the cake. Since stacking cake pans in the oven messes with the baking, I baked the two sheet cakes separately. The form is pretty simple, but covering it with the fondant and putting on the details took a while. In the end, I was pretty happy with it. A side note...I know putting fondant in the fridge is taboo, but I didn't have a choice last night since the cake had cream cheese frosting on it. I put it in a cardboard cake box to help keep the condensation at bay and everything was fine this morning when I took it out to peek.

Here is the recipe for the cake made with soda--it's really easy and cuts the calories and fat and makes it really moist:

1 box of cake mix
12 ounces of soda to match the mix (diet sprite for white cake, diet coke for chocolate)
Bake according to box directions.

I know Sara is shaming me about the box mix. Sorry, Sara.

Here's the cake:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Scout baby cake

This cake was for a baby shower. The parents-to-be were both active in Boy/Girl Scouts when they were growing up, and the hostess of the party wanted the baby to be dressed in a cub scout uniform. Boys enter Scouting as Tigers, so that is the uniform I put on him with the orange neckerchief and badge. Dad is holding the Tiger field book.

The cake was white with chocolate malt frosting, hence the Whoppers candy around the trim.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Orange cream cheese frosting

I tried a new recipe on these carrot cake cupcakes: Orange cream cheese frosting. (Tinted orange for flair, of course.) The hint of orange was nice with the carrot and cream cheese flavors, but to make sure it remained subtle and not become overpowering, I put a half and half mixture of the orange with the regular cream cheese frosting on the cupcakes. It tasted like orange sherbet--I will definitely make this frosting again.

Here is the recipe I used, adapted from an old (classic?) Better Homes and Gardens cream cheese frosting recipe:
1 stick of butter
8 oz cream cheese
2 tablespoons of orange juice (no pulp)
2 teaspoons of orange extract
4 cups powdered sugar
Mix the butter, cream cheese, orange juice and orange extract together, then add the powdered sugar a little bit at a time until well blended.