Friday, July 31, 2015

"Time" for a Party (and Cake, of course)!

So this post was supposed to be a continuation of the last post -- essentially, a "Babycakes Part 2."  But, in the interim, my mom retired (so lucky!!) and I was so excited about her retirement party, that I just had to share all the fun details with you.  I had the privilege of planning the whole shindig, which, given the fact that I live in Ohio, and she lives in Michigan, had its challenges.  But who am I kidding, this whole Internet thing kind of makes the whole distance thing no big deal. Not sure what anyone did before the Internet, quite frankly.  (This, despite the fact, that the majority of my childhood passed prior to the utilization of the world wide web.)

Anyways, I always thought that it would be fun to have an outdoor tea party.  It just seems so dainty and girly, and Downton Abbey-ish.  And my mom, being the penultimate entertainer, seemed like the perfect guest of honor for such a party.  Catering was provided through Mrs. Maddox Cakes, in Farmington Hills, for anyone who happens to be from the metro-Detroit area.  And they were fantastic! Of course, I had never worked with them before, and I am in constant fear of running out of food, so I also pre-made a batch of my bacon-cheddar scones, as well as about a hundred coconut-orange mini-muffins and a bunch of cinnamon honey scones, all which were made a week to a month in advance and frozen.  (Because that is a definite part of my love affair with baking -- the fact that almost anything can be made ahead of time and frozen with no repercussions, whatsoever.)

Imagine how foolish I felt when they showed up with enough food to feed twice as many people for three times as long as necessary.  Not to mention that everything was delicious -- bright tea sandwiches, adorable not-so-petite petits fours, hearty quiches -- I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it. (And don't even get me started on how they traveled all the way from Farmington Hills to Ann Arbor to cater the party, with not so much as a gas surcharge tacked on to the final bill.)  Well, in any case, now my parents' freezer is stocked at least.

So, anyone who's looking to cater a tea party in Michigan -- there's my plug for Mrs. Maddox Cakes. (Funny story -- my mom worked for all these years as a tax auditor, and frequently when she would visit a food service business, they would have accounting down for services from Mrs. Maddox Cakes -- and she would always wonder who they were, and if they were any good.  Well, know we all know. . . )

The best thing about having an outdoor party, is that the majority of the decorations are already there -- lush green grass, colorful blooming flowers, leafy swaying trees -- it's beautiful to begin with.

So with a banner and some pretty tissue paper poms, we were good to go.  Imagine my delight at the fact that the poms were only a few dollars per pack of four . . . and then my dismay when I opened the package, and found that assembly wasn't included. But luckily, with my (free) staff of my brother, my mom (I know. . . I know. . . it was her party, but she wanted to help!) my husband, and my dad, we were able to make it work. Aren't they beautiful?  I think these may be my favorite casual decoration ever.

A slightly more difficult (OK, let's be serious -- a very much more difficult decoration) was inspired by a recent blog entry from One King's Lane.  If anyone is unaware of One King's Lane, it's one of those discount membership websites, like Gilt or Zulily, but it focuses solely on home goods.

In one of its posts, it described an arrangement utilizing a teapot, chicken wire, and flowers, so that the flowers emerged from the teapot in a way reminiscent of steam rising from the spout.

The chicken wire had to be formed into a cone shape and the end had to be forced into the spout. To get the wire into the spout, a good portion of the layers at the point had to be cut away. The hardest part, honestly, was getting enough of the chicken wire into the spout, without breaking the porcelain, so that the wire was stable enough to bear the weight of all of the flowers.

Once the wire was adequately crammed into the tea kettle, additional wire was wrapped around the spout to reinforce the strength of the wire cone and to keep it upright.

The stems of the flowers were threaded through the holes of the chicken wire, with the sheer amount of flowers pushing up upon each other, essentially keeping everything in place.

Finally, using a hot glue gun, smaller flowers were pasted onto the lower part of the wire, including the wound wire reinforcement, to hide all of the metal pieces.

 And, of course, what kind of party would it be without a festive signature beverage?  My husband, lucky for me, used to be a bartender, so he came up with the perfect combination of tequila and lemonade with some fresh blueberries and basil, and my two favorite alcoholic beverages, Moscato, and St. Germain to make an absolutely divine drink.  Add 100 mason jars (because mason jars make everything look so cute,) and the party punch was set to to (and go it did -- judging from the dishes at the end of the night, I wasn't the only one who loved it.)

Gotta keep those drinks cold, of course, especially on a sweltering 86 degree Michigan summer afternoon.  (Did I mention that tea time falls at the hottest time of the day??)  So cue the ice.  This was the easiest part of preparations.  A pack of edible flowers from the grocery store and 10 ice cube trays, and voila, a cute but not at all time-consuming accent.

Okay, okay, so I know this is a baking and cake decorating blog, and so far there hasn't been any of each, really.  But, you didn't think I would throw a party without a cake, did you?
So, here it is:
Mom's Retirement Cake

The cake was a two tier, doctored cake mix base.  

The larger tier was composed of a pineapple cake, whose recipe you can find here.  It was filled with a cheesecake mousse and frosted with a vanilla buttercream.
The smaller tier was a strawberry cake, filled with a white chocolate mousse and frosted with a vanilla buttercream.  The vanilla buttercream recipe can also be found in the same link as the pineapple cake.  So that just leaves the strawberry cake and both mousses.

So here you go:

Strawberry Cake, adapted from My Cake School

1 box white cake mix
1 small box of strawberry Jello
3/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup pureed strawberries 

Mix all the ingredients together at low speed until just combined, and then at medium speed for three minutes.  Pour 5 cups of batter into an 8 in diameter, 3 in tall pan which has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. (This should leave enough batter for approximately 3 cupcakes in a jumbo muffin pan.)

Bake for 55 minutes at 350 degrees. 

Here is an easy way to split layers, if you want to fill a cake that you just baked.  Measure up from the bottom of the cake to your desired height (I did 1.25 in.)  Put a toothpick in at a 90 degree angle to the cake.  Keep doing that around the entire cake.  Then rest dental floss (unflavored, obviously) on the toothpicks, so that the open ends of the floss are in front of you.  Cross the ends over each other, and pull until the floss splits the cake into two layers.  


I used Rich's Bettercreme instead of whipping cream, only because the Bettercreme is stable at temperatures up to 80 degrees for five days.  Meaning the cake would not have to be refrigerated.  Which is always a huge deal for me.  For all of you who are wondering, this product is available at GFS stores around the country.

2 1/2 cups of Bettercreme 
1 small package of Jello instant pudding (any flavor your heart desires)
Whip until soft peaks.  If you over whip, this loses its pretty, creamy consistency, so be careful.

After filling, and frosting the cakes, the time comes, of course, to decorate.  

I used Fondarific fondant this time, which tasted amazing, but, unfortunately, was so soft, that I thought the whole project would have to go into the trash. The fondant kept tearing every time I tried to move it.  It seems like the easiest way to fix this issue would be to place the fondant on a cake board, so it doesn't stretch while moving it to the cake, but I didn't have a cake board on me at my parents' house, so I just had to hope and pray for the best.  Eventually I got it on there, but not without a lot of sweat and tears (thankfully, no blood.) 

 A few plastic straws were placed in the center of the cake from preventing the lower tier from caving in from the weight of the upper tier.  Then the whole aggravating process was repeated to cover the top tier.

Well, live and learn, right?
(Ignore the play buttons. My brother had the foresight to record images, while I was preoccupied with attempting to keep my sanity during the whole ordeal, but the video format he used doesn't seem to be compatible with this blog.)

To finish everything off, I used a shell border of royal icing (made with CK powdered royal icing and water, diluted to piping consistency,) and used gumpaste cutouts for lettering, glued down to the cake with a little water (since, as mentioned in an earlier post, I have some major issues with my handwriting.)  I had made a few gumpaste flowers in advance, as well as a gumpaste clock, with the numbers also from gumpaste cutouts, delineating all the things my mom wants to do with her newly acquired time written in edible ink next to the numbers. (She is very ambitious, I must say. My clock would probably say "sleep" next to half of the numbers.) After those decorations were tacked to the cake with royal icing, a  few strategically placed sugar pearls were placed at the junction of the clock hands and in the center of a couple of edible flowers. Everything was brushed liberally with pearl dust, and the cake was finally done.  

And that's it folks! Thanks for reading until the end, I know this was a long one!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Babycakes Part 1

In the past several months, a few of my friends have celebrated the addition of babies to the family.  Two darling, delightful little girls.  The only unfortunate part?  They live so far away that I haven't been able to see the little cuties, to tickle their toes, or to wheedle a smile from their plump little faces.  In fact there's very little I can do from half way across the country, except ooh and ahh over the gorgeous baby pictures.  But. . . I figured out that I could provide some sustenance to the hard working parents.  And what do new parents need?  Lots of sugar.  So that's what I did.  Two cakes in honor of the appearance of two brand new people.  (Since all of you readers would need an exceptional sugar rush to get through one post describing both cakes, this post will be split into a part one and a part two.  Here's part 1:)

Bassinet Baby Cake

The cake flavors themselves were pretty basic.  Funfetti for one and vanilla for the other.  But for this cake, I got a little adventuresome and decided to try out a checkerboard design.  It requires a few additional steps, but, all-in-all, it's not that much work for a beautiful result. 

Here's how to do it:

Bake two layers of cake in two different colors (cake batter can be colored with any gel food coloring.)  I used pink color for one layer and left one layer white. 

Using round cutters, (biscuit or cookie cutters work beautifully) cut nesting rings into the cake.  Since this was a 6 inch diameter cake, I used approximately a 4 inch cutter to get the middle ring and a 2 inch for the smallest circle.

Nest the cake rings from both layers together, so the colors alternate.  Because the rings nest pretty tightly, there is no need to affix them together with frosting.  Place your filling on top of the first layer and repeat for the second layer.
Frost the cake as desired. I wanted to finish the cake with fondant, so I put a thin layer of frosting on top and then coated with a light purple fondant.  To make pastel fondant colors, it's important to remember that you need much more white fondant than the primary color.  Usually a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of white to color. 

To decorate the cake, I used some Wilton silver pearl dust, mixed with vodka until the mixture reached a paint like consistency.  Then, using a fine bristled paintbrush, I painted the name on the front of the cake.  This would work better for someone with better handwriting than me. . . I must say, it looked more flow-ey and beautiful in my head than actually on the cake. . . ahh well, chalk it up to a career hazard.

To finish the side, I used different flower molds and punches with three colors of fondant, and created little bunches of flowers on either side of the name.

And now, finally, the most interesting part of decorating the cake -- the topper. (I'm excited!!)

I decided to make a baby bassinet.  And I get a little creeped out by the fondant figures of babies, so I used a pink candy heart to put inside (made by melted pink candy discs in a heart candy mold.)

I learned how to make the baby bassinet with these very awesome two part YouTube videos, seen here and here

Here's the step by step:

Roll out a pancake of fondant (color of your choice.) 

When rolled out to your satisfaction, place the fondant on top of a fondant imprint mat,and, using a good amount of force, roll on top of the map a single time.  This will give the fondant a texture and design.

Cut a strip from the fondant.  The width of the strip should be how high you would like the bassinet to be.  The length should be the same as the circumference of the bassinet.

Join the two ends of the strip, in an oval shape, and attach with a small amount of water. 

Cut an oval from a different color fondant (I just used white) which is the same size as the oval that you just formed from the designed fondant.  This will be the bottom of the bassinet.  Attach the bottom of the strip to the newly formed oval.

Mold a small ball of fondant to fit into the tip of the bassinet.  This should pretty much fill about 1/3 of the bassinet.  Flatten out at the top, so it doesn't pop up over the sides of the bassinet.

Using a flexible wire, cut three strips of different lengths and mold into a semicircle.  The longer the wires, the taller the draping of the bonnet on the bassinet will be. 

Poke the ends of the wires solidly into the ball of fondant so they make multiple semicircles in a row, and so that they don't move. The longest (highest) wire should be in the middle, with the other wires on each side.

Roll a thin layer of fondant in your second color. 

Carefully drape the fondant over the wire, trimming the edges and molding so that the fondant hugs the wire and forms a fold in the back.  This can take a little bit of time.  Just work with it.

To cover the wires, cut a square from your second fondant color and imprint with a design as described above. Using a quilting tool, run along the sides of the square to make it look like the seams of a blanket. Drape the blanket in the bassinet and nestle the chocolate heart inside.

For the finishing touches: roll a thin rope of the first fondant color and line the bonnet and a thin rope of the second color to line the bottom of the bassinet with it to form the trim.  Then, using a mold of your choice, (I used a bow) form two fondant decorations to affix to the spot on each side in the front where the bonnet meets the bassinet.

And, ta-dah!! The final product!


And out!