Monday, July 13, 2015

Surprise Inside Picnic Ant with Checkered Tablecloth

Just in time for summer . . . 

Surprise inside picnic cake complete with ants and a checkerboard tablecloth! Edible candy melt grass blades (delicious, by the way) on snow white textured buttercream. Non edible basket and bug decorations.

Surprise Inside Unicorn

Thought you might want to see this magical surprise inside unicorn cake. The exterior is covered in a rainbow of sugary pastel pearls with a hint at what's waiting inside. The unicorn shape on the outside is coated in sparkly edible glitter flakes. Add a spiral shaped lollipop to the set up and you're ready to party!

CookieCon 2014

This was/is my post from last year's CookieCon. Which for what ever reason never got posted. Bad blogger! I also took photos all of the cookies entered in the Sugar Show but wanted to match them up with the bakers once the show was over and the cookie creators were finally revealed. Also never happened. Julia Usher of Cookie Connection was so much better at identifying some of the creators in her blog posts.  If you'd like to learn  a little more about the event, check here and here. You can also search "CookieCon 2014" once you're there to see her daily posts of the convention and check out TONS of other cookie related fun! The following is what I jotted down at the time . . .

Day Two of CookieCon 2014. Overload. And we haven't even nibbled on a cookie! The cookies are all for display only so if you're watching the calories, this just might be the place for you. Lots of classes to attend and crumbs of wisdom to be absorbed from these talented cookiers!

Last night my favorite kitchen store honored the attendees with a special shopping experience by opening their doors from 8-10 pm just for us. Although they also have a vendor booth at the event, you really have to step inside their store to get the full experience. My first thought the very first time I visited was, "Honey, I'm home!!!" It was like Christmas. Full on shopping frenzy with every cart taken and check out lines stretching down the isles. Which was kind of nice. Another chance to meet new cookie friends while waiting. There was a beautiful crepes station and a lemonade bar to mix up your favorite beverage along with other thoughtful touches, discounts and raffle prizes. They got to my piggy bank once again with some brand new cookie cutters from Meri, Meri. Had to have them. Thanks Orson Gygi!

Upon leaving the store, we found a long line of SUVs parked outside waiting to take the weary shoppers back to the hotel. Kind of looked like prom night. Without the frocks. Perhaps they should change the event name to "CookieProm" for next year.

I really wasn't going to enter any cookies into the Sugar Show. These ladies take cookie decorating VERY SERIOUSLY. And my piping skills simply stink. I decided to play along and was somewhat satisfied with my cookies. Until I got there. And had to place them side-by-side with some breathtakingly beautiful creations. Never trust your judgment at 2 AM. Kind of like the girls get prettier at closing time when your eyes start to glaze over.

One can only imagine the many, many hours spent on some of these stunners. For now, here are the shameful results of my efforts . . .

This was supposed to be rustic looking with "burlap" flowers. Oh well. The mini flowers are made from wafer paper.

This was the first cookie and ended which sounded like such a good idea at the time. The mini frog didn't really show up when displayed since other cookies are stacked in front. I still heart him. He has little froggy bumps on his back from sanding sugar. One kiss and I'm certain he turns into a prince. And as far as fairy tales go, the show also had a "Once Upon a Time" category. Which should be right up my alley. Not.

This entry started off with a plan to be elegant with eggplant and deep chocolate brown. I even bought a book that looked old to display them on. The rainbow colors won out like they do everytime with me. I just can't resist those happy vibrant colors!

And back to 2015 - Julia is looking for a corespondent to record this year's events. You can apply here if you're interested. I'd have loved the job but she would be no doubt completely unimpressed with my journaling skills. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Patriotic Flag of Chocolate Stars

Happy 4th to all of you! Are you seeing stars yet? It's almost that time!!!

Just sent this yummy treat to work with my hubby. And he just emailed me to say that it's gone even with half of the office out on vacation. Guess they were HUNGRY!!!

White almond cake with vanilla almond buttercream and completely covered in chocolate stars. Love the clean look of this and it was SO easy!

I simply melted blue, red and white Candy Melts in the microwave, each in a separate Ziploc quart freezer bag. I snipped off a corner and filled a star candy mold (eight 1 3/4" star cavities from CK Products), tapped in on the counter to level and remove bubbles and placed it in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Then I popped them out and repeated the above a few times. That was the most time consuming part but certainly not complicated or difficult. The stars can be made well in advance and just popped into the buttercream when you're ready.

The two cake layers can also be baked in advance and frozen which makes decorating so very much easier!

This was originally going to be a surprise inside cake but I decided to keep it simple. I think the beauty of this exterior would be lost with too many things going on. So now I just need to redesign the exterior of my surprise inside cake and I'll have two festive cakes!

Keep your holiday simple and enjoy every minute!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Surprise Inside Cake - Hidden Road

Easy. Cake mixes. Canned frosting. Candy Melts & molds. Chocolate rocks and stickers. You can do this!!!

The little hard hat and truck are made from Candy Melts and edible images. The truck was actually my inspiration for the whole project. Once I saw it the wheels really started turning. In my head of course. That particular chocolate truck wasn't going anywhere but in my tummy.

The barricade, vest, shovel and sign are stickers that I happened to have for just such an occasion. Edible versions would've been fun also but what a time saver they ended up being.

The hat was molded from a chocolate mold but I had no pickup truck. Woe was me. I always peek at the seasonal isle of the grocery store and that fateful day, I happened upon a chocolate colored pickup for Valentine's Day by RM Palmer Candy. I thought about using green luster dust to get the company color but then I noticed that the package used to protect the truck from moving around might actually be used as a mold. The plastic used to make it was thinner but it proved to be sturdy enough to mold the two trucks I needed. With careful handling, you could use reuse this mold at least several times. And who doesn't love a mold filled with FREE delicious chocolate for about a dollar? Check them out the next time you find yourself in the holiday isle.

If you can't find a pickup mold, there are lots of cute construction equipment molds that might suit your theme. Adorable for a child's party.

Even with all of the inspiration that the truck offered, I still had to find a way to hide the road inside. Ever wonder why simple ideas don't occur to you earlier? It was just never a problem that I needed to solve until that day but the solution was SOooo easy!

The sides and ends of the cake were covered in the leftover crumbs from the cake trimming. Just give them a few pulses in a food processor and they magically turn into delicious chocolate asphalt!

The rocks are Silver Nugget Choco Rocks. I purchased them at my local party supply store but you can also find them online here.

Let's get this construction project underway shall we?

You'll need some equipment:

2 large loaf pans (to hold one cake mix each)
4 baking nails
Large insulated shiny cookie sheet (optional)
Baking strips (optional)
Food processor or similar
Chocolate molds of choice (optional)
Rolling pin with 1/8" spacing bands or 1/8" dowels
Exacto knife or similar

And some ingredients:
2 Devil's Food cake mixes plus ingredients on box
12 oz package Nestle mini chocolate chips
1 T vanilla
Americolor black gel coloring
1/2 c Hershey's Dark Chocolate syrup OR simple syrup, divided

Frosting & Decorations
2 cans chocolate frosting + 6 T powdered sugar
OR homemade frosting
Candy Melts for modeling chocolate and optional molds
Corn syrup
Oil based candy color for optional molds if needed
Chocolate candy rocks

One day in advance:
Make a small batch of white and black modeling chocolate. You can find the recipe here by my friend and modeling chocolate expert, Jessica Harris, along with helpful tips and tricks. And if you haven't taken any of her Craftsy classes, you're missing out.

You can also make the strips for the exterior and interior road stripes but until your cake is baked and measured, your spacing might be a little off. Just make the long strips and wait to slice them into the stripes until you decorate the cake.

You can also mold the optional decorations in advance or wait until you need them.

Mix the two cake mixes as directed on package. Add the vanilla, mini chocolate chips and coloring. You can leave the chips out if you'd prefer but they make a nice texture and add interest to the cake.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour or use baking spray to prepare the loaf pans and baking nails. Or line with parchment if you prefer. Place 2 baking nails in the center of each pan.

Divide the batter evenly between the 2 loaf pans. Add baking strips if desired for flatter cake. I also use a shiny insulated cookie sheet under the pans to prevent a thick crust.

Bake at 350F for about 60 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in center and pulls away from edges.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Flatten cake tops with a damp paper towel and the bottom of the second pan. Be careful of the baking nails! Repeat for the second pan.

Brush the warm cake with the chocolate syrup or use simple syrup instead. Cool for 15-20 minutes and invert cakes onto parchment paper or a cooling rack.

When cakes are cool to the touch, wrap well in plastic wrap or foil and freeze until firm. Trim the tops of the cakes to 2" height while firm. Reserve the cake scraps.

Place one of the trimmed and cooled cakes on a cake board, plate or serving tray. Protect the edges with waxed or parchment paper for easy cleanup later on.

Tint the chocolate frosting to black and add 3T of powdered sugar per can to thicken slightly. About 40 drops of Americolor black gel per can gives you a nice black. Frost the top of the cake with an flat, even layer of frosting and set aside.

Knead the modeling chocolate until easy to work with. Roll the white modeling chocolate on a flat surface to 1/8" thickness using spacing bands or your rolling pin or dowels as a guide. Allow to set up slightly then slice into 5 strips about 1/8th inch wide by 1/8th inch thick or deep by the length of your cake. 

Depending on the finished size of your baked and cooled cake, you may need to adjust these measurements. Roll extra strips for the exterior of the cake at this time. I used 5 white and 4 black segments for the inside of my cake and 8 white for the exterior (no black needed for the top since they are just laid on top of the black modeling chocolate road) but do whatever pleases your eye.

I used the template above to plan what the slice of my cake would be. It was about 4.25 inches square.

Clean the work surface and tools and roll out 4 strips of the black modeling chocolate to 1/8th inch thickness by 1/8th inch wide by the length of the cake.

Place the strips along the long side of the cake.

Start with white at the edge and alternate with black until you reach the other side.

You can see that my spacing was still a little off even with all of the math and measuring but the resulting cake was still perfect for effect.

Add another thin layer of black frosting on top of the strips.

The end view should now look something like this. Only better. 'Cuz you're learning from my mistakes. Right?

Top with the second cake. Frost the entire exterior of the cake with the remaining black frosting.

Place the reserved cake scraps in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to form coarse crumbs. Press the crumbs into the sides and ends of the cake, leaving the top smooth.

Roll out a piece of black modeling chocolate about 1 inch less than the width but as long as the top of your cake for the road. Center on top of the black frosting.

Cut the remaining white strips into about 8 segments of about 3/4th inch long each and space evenly on the black road.

If you didn't mold your decorations in advance, now's the time. When they are set up, add them around the cake along with the candy rocks and optional stickers. You can personalize a truck, vest or hardhat or print road signs to edible frosting sheets if you'd like.

Here's a shot of the edible logo on the truck door applied with a tiny dab of corn syrup.

I applied the same logo to the hat using the same method. One sheet of tiny logos went a LONG way!

I didn't waste the edible logos on these non-edible toppers but wanted to cover up the John Deere logo. So these were printed on regular paper to go along withe the "Hats off to Granite Employees!" theme.

Hope you enjoyed this fun but simple and TaStY construction project! Now grab a fork (or a shovel) and get to the real work of devouring your moist delicious creation!

If you won't be there for the cutting of the cake, be sure to tell the server to slice across the cake to reveal the surprise!

This plan can be adapted to any letter or number (or entire name if you're that industrious) or a simple oval racetrack. Here is an example of a roadway font by Susanne Fiedler on Dingfontbats. 

You can download it for free here but you'll need permission to use it commercially. Or you could enlarge any block style font and add the dotted lane lines for a pattern. For a quick alternative, use the jumbo paper mache or chipboard letters or numbers from your local craft store as cake carving guides and then cover or paint them to work into your party decorations.

This chart on how to carve number cakes may come in handy for some of the cake ideas shown below.

And don't limit the fun to the little ones. This cake by Cake Central user ApelilaRains for a 40 year old could be adapted for a car enthusiast of any age.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Surprise Inside Cake - Hidden Downton Abbey

I have a fondness for Downton Abbey. Like the rest of some of the millions of viewers that have made it so popular.

I was so looking forward to Season 5 that I decided to make a cake in honor of it. No special occasion. No gathering of any sort. Just wanted to see if it could be done.

My first attempt was a fail. The batter wasn't baking up high enough to surround the tops of the castles.

So I added more batter. Just not quite enough.

After flattening the tops of the cakes the castles were still peeking through and I wanted a bit more white space.

Even this wasn't enough since once the cake tops were flattened the top of the castle lost some of its definition.

The next attempt wasn't a complete success since the castles weren't exactly lined up to mirror each other but I'm getting closer. Perhaps the 3rd time will be a charm?

The letters were cut from modeling chocolate using Marion Frost's Patchwork cutters from Global Sugar Arts. The castles for the exterior were hand cut from a modeling chocolate/fondant mixture.

Now that the cake drama is over I'm looking forward to some real drama at Downton!

Confectionately yours,

Surprise Inside Cake - Hidden Magic the Gathering Colors

This cake was made for my special friend who was celebrating his 12th birthday recently. He wanted a Magic the Gathering themed cake and since I'd never heard of it I went right to work researching my options. Turns out it's been around for 30 years and has quite a following in some circles. A field trip to the local gaming store was quite an eye-opener!


The birthday boy's heart was set on having a "Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath" card on top but that was WAY beyond my piping skills and available time. Can't even pronounce it let alone pipe it properly.

So I opted for laminated versions of graphics that he could remove and save as mementos. Customizing with his name was an added incentive to use the printed graphics. MUCH cleaner and neater than my decorations would've been and I saved countless hours as well! Just the thought of trying to create an edible version of the dice had me worried due to time constraints. As you can see below, he was quite pleased with the non-edible decor. Whew!

I think this is the biggest smile I've ever seen on this boy! He was very happy with the cake and cupcakes topped with the 5 color dots using Sixlets. And he didn't even know what was waiting inside! heh, heh, heh!


The oval from the card back showing the five colors used in the game was hidden away with only his mom knowing in advance. I wanted to surprise her as well but I couldn't stand it and at the last minute had to share! Plus I wanted to make sure they cut the cake in the proper direction to reveal the design. Yeah. That's it. It was necessary. Not just me unable to keep my big mouth shut.

I cut the cake before frosting (hence the washed out pictures from the required camera flash at 6 am. The colors are a bit off in this photo and are also lighter since the cake was still frosty but they warmed and mellowed some when the cake was cut) and while it was still frozen to double check the hidden design. Yep, you can cut and peek and no one will be the wiser once it's assembled and frosted! Although the oval shifted a bit to one side during baking the party guests didn't seem to mind or notice.

All sides of the cake with the cupcakes ready to party! The cupcakes filled up the space between the cake plate and the round tray quite nicely and added a fun 3D element with the shiny (and tasty!) brightly colored Sixlet candies.

Hope you had a MAGICal birthday Cooper!

NOTE: this cake was not for profit so I didn't worry about copyright issues but if you plan to make this cake to sell you'll need get the proper permission to use the logos.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pinecone Cake

I've been wanting to make this cake for years. Decades if the truth be told. I first saw it many, many years ago in Rose Levy Beranbaum's, The Cake Bible and immediately fell in love. Taking time out to make it was my Christmas gift to myself as well as my husband's office and I'm so happy to have finally given it a go.

It looked daunting, if not impossible all those years ago what with chocolate tempering and the hundreds of petals involved. I've learned a lot since then and my confidence to take on a cake of this caliber has changed. Still, I made it a bit easier by using Candy Melts (no tempering or temper tantrums) along with some other major adjustments. The cake turned out to be a whopping 13 x 10.5 inches without the branch or pine needles so I ended up using a lot more  (about 650) than the original amount of petals called for. Even so, they weren't nearly as hard as I'd imagined and putting them on the cake was actually fun! I'd change the angle of the petals near the top next time but was pleased overall with the rest of the project.
The pine needles are made of thinly piped green Candy Melts and the branch is Tootsie Rolls. I'd love to find an easier way to do this part since the thin needles break quite easily but I'd still use them in some fashion since it helps to finish off the cake.

Since the first one worked out so well and was easier than expected, I made a second one as a gift for some friends at at my favorite local kitchen store. I opted to speed things up a bit by using a non edible pine bough garnish clipped from a stem from Crate and Barrel.
Although this cake takes a little time, the method is easy and the WOW factor is soooo worth the extra effort. I even made a third cake on Christmas Eve that we decorated after dinner and served right up. We made a time lapse video to show just how quick and easy it really is once the petals are made. We didn't do quite as neat of a job and didn't use as many petals as my first two cakes since we were going for speed. It was after all time for dessert and the smell of all that chocolate wafting through the warm kitchen was mouthwatering. As you can see, the results were still impressive. You can see the youtube video by clicking on the box below or here: Pinecone Cake Time Lapse. (Choose the HD view for a better picture.)
So how did it taste after all of the effort? A cake that looks good but doesn't meet the taste bud test is a disappointment. Rose would be so disappointed to know that I used a boxed  Devils Food cake mix with mini chocolate chips slathered in   Smuckers Caramel ice cream syrup and canned frosting (horrors!) for the cake itself.  I was concerned that the petals might be hard to bite but they are so thin and made of Candy Melts so they just melt in your mouth. Tasted absolutely fabulous! Sorry Rose.

Hope you take time out to do something fun for yourself this holiday season! Merry Christmas to you and yours!