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Monday, November 24, 2014

Birthday Cake, Take Two or Fish Food

It's been a while. . . I know.  Things have been busy. And by busy, I really mean too cold to accomplish anything.  This is how my life has been lately.
  1. Wake up in the dark (have I mentioned lately how much I hate winter?)
  2. Pile on layer upon layer of clothing until I resemble the abominable snowman.  Convince myself  that I'm warm.
  3. Have that delusion smashed to bits the second I walk out the door.
  4. Violently shiver until my muscles fatigue (around the time that I get to work.)
  5. Work
  6. Repeat the warm delusion, losing delusion, shivering into seizures on my way home from work
  7. Contemplate going to the gym to get my blood moving, but decide that my blood will be warmer burrowed under fuzzy blankets.
  8. Go to sleep and dream about tropical beaches and sunburns.
  9. Repeat
So in other words, I haven't really been that busy, just that lazy (and cold. . . did I mention cold?)  But with this past weekend, came the blessed appearance of 47 degree weather.

**Let me pause a moment while I digest the utterly depressing fact that I now think 47 degree weather is a gift.**

The heat wave was right on time actually, since it was my dear husband's birthday this past week. (I did rouse myself from hibernation long enough to make some cream puffs -- post to follow soon -- but nothing really exciting.)

I felt the need to celebrate. Because what is the best thing about birthday celebrations? (see previous post for hint. . . )  Birthday cake!!! (as long as the baker isn't mired in a sea of apathy as an unfortunate result of being frozen like a Popsicle.)

So I thawed, and I baked.

The darn thing took pretty much the entire day to make, and I don't want to write a saga to rival the Odyssey, so this will be a quick (relatively. . . it's all relative really, right?) post dedicated to the decorations   That's the best part anyways!

For those of you who are interested in what's on the inside -- chocolate cake, caramel buttercream. Pretty simple.  I made a stout cake using Guinness because I wanted to be fancy -- but honestly, my regular chocolate cake recipe is better.  I will share in the future. Or now if you can't wait and want to message me for it.

Backstory:  My husband is an aquarium aficionado.  As in, he has two in the house already, and, if he could, he would put one in every room.  I like fish and everything, but not that much, so we're capped at two for the time being.  But, I thought it would be fun to combine his hobby with my hobby and make him a sweet little fish cake.  As in fish on the cake, not a fishcake like the ones that are fed to little kids.  And as in confection fish, not real fish, because, ewww, that would be gross.

I really wanted to make a cake that looked like an aquarium, complete with glass sides (made from sugar) but I'm not quite Cake Boss level yet, so I settled for a cake that looked like the ocean. . . sort of. . .if you squint, maybe.

Frosting was easy -- buttercream with a lot of blue food coloring.  Remember!  Gel color for buttercream -- water based coloring will not work. (Honestly, this was the best cake to frost.  No smooth edges necessary, the messier the better to mimic the motion of water.)

I decided to make "waves" out of chocolate, swirling white and blue candy together to get a pretty effect.  Stick those onto the edge of the cake, and I really didn't have to worry about getting a nice clean surface.

The figurines on the cake were made from modeling chocolate.  There are several medias that you can use to make edible figures: Fondant, Gum paste, and Modeling chocolate.  My media of choice is modeling chocolate.  As far as I'm concerned, fondant and gum paste may be theoretically food material, but I find the actual taste of both so off-putting, that they may as well be inedible. Modeling chocolate tastes like, well, like chocolate! And there's nothing wrong with that.  Another plus with modeling chocolate is that it doesn't harden when exposed to air like fondant does, so there is a lot more time to play around with the dough to make the figure absolutely perfect.  There are trade-offs of course--life is about compromise after all.  Because modeling chocolate stays soft for longer, it's harder to use food safe markers to decorate since it's easier to tear the clay.  Also, the warmer it gets the more easily deformed it is, so it's very important to handle sparingly and then once perfect, don't touch it! I left it at room temperature to dry for several days, but you can also harden in the refrigerator.

Here's how to make modeling chocolate:

Use a 5:1 ratio of candy melts to corn syrup.
*If you are looking for a pure white clay, be sure to use bright white candy melts

  1. Heat candy melt in your microwave at 50% in 30 second intervals until the chocolate is creamy and without any lumps.  Make sure not to overheat, or the melts will burn.
  2. Add the corn syrup and fold the chocolate into the corn syrup from the outside of the dish to the center.  When perfectly combined, it will look slightly curdled, but well mixed.
  3. Turn out onto cling wrap and wrap tightly.
  4. Set aside for two hours.
  5. After the break, knead into a smooth shiny chocolate clay ball.  It's beautiful.  It was so pretty that I forgot to take pictures and just started playing with it -- so sorry about that.
I'm not so good with the artsy stuff, so I followed this post to design the fish. (By the way, this blogpost should really be sponsored by Pinterest, since all the decoration ideas came from that fount of knowledge.) Since the post was written in Russian, I got really lucky that the blogger took many self-explanatory photos . . . unlike me.  Again, sorry -- my energy burst didn't extend to my camera as much as it should have.  But check out her post, it makes the seemingly complicated job of making a 3D fish from clay very easy.  Since I used chocolate and not real clay, it wasn't as simple as just pinching the multiple components together to make them stick.  But it wasn't much harder.  When working with modeling chocolate, just keep a small bowl of melted chocolate (I used 1 candy disk) and a toothpick around, and paint the clay with melted chocolate where you want another clay piece to stick.  Hold the two components together until the chocolate dries (about 15-20 seconds.)  Because, again, my energy burst was limited, I elected to color the fins with food markers instead of using additional pieces of candy clay to color them.  The leaves were much easier to make, I just rolled out the clay and cut out oblong shapes that looked leaf-like and scored the veins onto them.

 The idea for the waves came from Iced Jems.  Check it out; her cake looks awesome, and I was thinking, well, with blue and white, the swirled pieces will look just like waves! 

This is how you do it --

Set up two cookie sheets, lined with either Silpats or parchment paper.
  1. Melt one packet of white candy disks in a bowl and one packet of blue candy disks in a separate bowl. Now, you have to work quickly, because the candy solidifies in a hot second.  (Get it? Hot second. . . haha. . . it's not a blogpost without at least one bad joke. . .)
  2. Take a tablespoon of white chocolate and spoon it onto the parchment paper.  
  3. Move the chocolate around with the spoon until you have a fairly thin, round, even, layer of  white chocolate (or imitation white chocolate in this case.)
  4. Spoon a ring of  melted blue chocolate around the white.  Note: I drew all of the circles and rings before I started to manipulate the chocolate, but because that took a while, some of the chocolate had already started to solidify before I wanted it to, so in the future, I would probably do each piece to completion individually. Also, this would probably be easier to pipe onto the parchment than to spoon.

  1. Draw a knife through the chocolate starting at the edge of the blue chocolate, through the white chocolate and all the way to the other side blue chocolate. Keep swirling the colors until you get the design that you like. Don't overwork the chocolate though, or you will just get an even light blue color throughout.
  2. Repeat the process until you have as many pieces as your heart desires (or until you run out of chocolate.)
  3. Let sit until dry -- this only took about 10 minutes for me, but be patient -- try to move the chocolate too early and it will be ruined.

  4. After dry, use a knife warmed by running under warm water to cut a straight edge.
  5. Stick the pieces of chocolate onto your frosted cake with the straight edge down.  The buttercream   should keep the chocolate adhered to the cake but if you are having any issues, you can stick the chocolate pieces onto the cake using  a small amount of melted chocolate as an adherent on the back of the chocolate piece.  Hold against the cake until the adherent is dry.

And here is the finished product:




 So, again, not really Cake Boss quality, but I'm learning, so I call it a win (and besides, mine was way less expensive -- do you know how much he charges for those things?!)  Our fish, however, weren't so appreciative; I kept holding a figure up to the aquarium and they kept swimming away with alarmed looks on their faces.  (Oh yes, fish have expressions, you just have to look closely. . .)  Luckily my husband got a kick out of it, and we got to eat cake, (and I was temporarily warm) so ultimately a success!