Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pretty in Pink (and Yellow)

Susana sent me photos of the cake she made in Course 1-Class 3 - isn't it pretty?

Adding a dot of contrasting color to the center of a drop flower or drop star creates such a polished, professional look.

The flowers were made with Tip #2D - it makes creating flowers super easy - once you start it's kind of hard to stop!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flower Finale!

Tonight was "Graduation Night" for my first cake class - and I'm so proud of my students!

Tonight we learned the final step in the rose, how to make adorable sweet peas, and create leaves and vines.

All of the skills we've practiced over the last four sessions came together in beautiful floral cakes.

Susana perfects yellow roses

Kayla's pretty purple roses

Laura's pink petals

Finishing touch

Dani's hands are really red!

Lovely! After this photo Kayla added a few dots of pink to the purple border - looked great!

Susana's dots are very chic

Laura's amazing creation - I love the rose on the bottom!

Kari's fabulous pink & purple cake is going to her doctor's office as a "Thank You"

Dani's really red roses with a drop-flower border - she's a pro!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Class: Send In The Clowns!

No, these ladies aren't clowns, but in Course 1 - Class 3 they did learn to make figure-piped clowns. We had so much fun today - just look at the delicious results:

Jen's chic pink and black flower cake

So pretty! Her family was as little caked-out so she had the great idea to post "Who Wants a Free Cake?" on the board of her mother's club. One of the moms happily took her up on the offer and will be serving this scrumptious creation at her BBQ - everybody wins!

Marla perfecting her shell borders

And she made cute clowns for the top. Her cake is going to the nurses at the hospital who are caring for an ill friend - once again, everybody wins!

Kelly topped cupcakes with the clowns

We also practiced swirled flowers. I love the black and white - very Chanel.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Meet Me At The (Marin County) Fair

The Marin County Fair
(July 1-July 5) has several competitive categories of decorated foods, including cakes, cupcakes and cookies in adult and junior divisions. I'm going to enter for the first time this year - you should too!

Fees are only $1.00 per entry, and prizes are $5-$15 plus ribbons.

Click the links for more details, and click here for an online entry form

Adult Department

Division 31: Decorated Cakes

A mix of styrofoam or cardboard may be used providing the shape is one which could be achieved through baking.

Beginning Decorators (Open to exhibitors who have less than 24 hours of class instruction, or who are self-taught have have been decorating for less than 2 years)

Intermediate Decorators (Open to exhibitors who have 24-48 hours of class instruction, or who are self-taught have have been decorating for less than 2 years)

Advanced Decorators (Open to exhibitors who have 48+ hours of class instruction, or who are self-taught have have been decorating for less than 2+ years)

  1. Cake, Birthday
  2. Cake, Holiday
  3. Cake, Novelty
  4. Cake. Wedding, tiered
  5. Cake, Cool Green Fun (the theme of the fair)
  6. Cake, open theme
Division 32: Decorated Sun Cookies

Each entry consists of 3 cookies, decorated the same or differently. Decorations must represent a sun theme.

Cookie cutters will be available at the Fair office beginning on May 1.

  1. Decorated Sun Cookies, using all edible decorations
  2. Decorated Sun Cookies, using any combination of edible and non-edible decorations
Division 33: Other Decorated Items

  1. Decorated Cupcakes
  2. Decorated Gingerbread House
  3. Decorated Gingerbread People
  4. Decorated House - Pre-made kit
  5. Decorated Edible House
  6. Decorated Sugar Mold
  7. Decorated other items using a "Going Green" theme
Junior Department

Division 353: Decorated Cakes
(scroll down after the link)

  1. Cool Green Fun Cake, any recycled earth-friendly theme
  2. Novelty Cake
  3. All-Occasion Cake (Birthday, Anniversary, Holiday)
  4. Decorated Cupcakes
  5. Any Other Cake
Division 354: Decorated Sun Cookies (scroll down after the link)

  1. Decorated Sun Cookies - Exhibitor’s Age: 5 - 8 Years
  2. Decorated Sun Cookies - Exhibitor’s Age: 9 - 12 Years
  3. Decorated Sun Cookies - Exhibitor’s Age: 13 - 18 Years
Division 355: Other Decorated Items (scroll down after the link)

  1. Decorated Gingerbread House, any theme. (Halloween, Holiday, Winter, etc.)
  2. Decorated Gingerbread People, entry to consist of 1 to 2 large gingerbread
  3. people, each decorated differently
  4. Decorated Sugar Mold, any theme
  5. Decorate House, Pre-made Commercial Kit, plus your creativity
  6. Decorated Edible House, any theme, your choice of edible materials
See you at the Fair!c

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Saturday's Class: Over the Rainbow!

Thanks to the lovely and talented Jen, I do have photos from last Saturday's class:

Kelly considers courses 2, 3 and 4

Laura preps her pastry bags

Marla gets ready to decorate

Look what they made - too, too cute:

You'll have to take my word for it,,,

Cake class was so fun tonight,the cakes were amazing - but I forgot my camera!!

The ladies learned how to make shell borders, drop and swirl flowers and figure piping.

The white cake with the pink and yellow flowers on top was right outta' Martha Stewart

The cheery blue clown family on Dani's cake were adorable

The chocolate cake with white flowers was so pretty

The cupcakes were too, too cute

But, you'll have to take my word for it....

Sunday, April 19, 2009

And the winner is...

.... not me. Well, not quite. I was first runner up in the first Fairfax Cake Art contest. However, if the winner is unable to fulfill her duties I am ready and willing to step in :)

The event was a hoot - about 12-15 cakes made by kids and adults with lots of different takes on the theme of "Fairfax."

I'm not an expert in fondant by any means - and I definitely learned a thing or three in the process of making the all-carb replica of the iconic Fairfax Theater.

The Fairfax Theater

The Fairfax Theater - in cake!

My Major Award - a pretty hand-painted cake trivet

I started with 2 10" x 15" layers of basic yellow cake (flavored with almond extract just for kicks). I cut them in half and stacked three of the layers to form the main part of the cake (I've got plans for that fourth piece - watch this space!) I filled and frosted them with the Crisco-based class Buttercream we use in the Wilton Classes, and say what you want about Crisco but I'm glad I did because it was 80 degrees today and I hate to think how the cake would have behaved had it been made with my usual NeoClassic Buttercream.

Per the recommendation of R.L.B. in the Cake Bible, I beveled the top corners of the cake before covering it in fondant, in retrospect, I think I would have left the sharp edges and cut slabs of fondant for each of the sides, but hey - you live, you learn.

R.L.B definitely got it right when she said to color the fondant in the food processor - it worked brilliantly!

The architectural details were made out of Rice Krispies treats - and I must give full props to Max Starr for that brilliant suggestion. I snipped and bent a small arrow-shaped cookie cutter into the rectangle needed for the top piece.

The "Fairfax" sign was made using the Wilton Color-Flow product, but the technique works with royal icing as well. I made a template for the letters on a piece of paper, then put a sheet of waxed paper over it. Then I outlined the letters in white full-strength icing with a #1 tip and let them dry for a few minutes. Then I thinned out and colored the frosting red and let it flow from a #2 tip into the outline. It took a few hours to dry, but once they did the letters were rock hard and will last forever.

I used the same Color Flow frosting for the details on the marquis - and in case you can't read the movies that are showing, they are:
  • Frosting/Nixon
  • Slice Age
  • Crumb
  • Citizen Cake
  • A Sprinkle in Time
Max stuffs the ballot box for Mom

After the prizes were awarded the cakes were cut and served - I was glad to see that Amy Gosman had entered the contest because she's a fabulous baker and I knew her cake would be both pretty and delish - and it was! Her fondant tie-died T-shirt covered a yummy chocolate cake filled with cherries and hazelnut meringue cream.

The Contest was held in the Fairfax Pavillion

The Pavilion -in cake!
I didn't mind loosing to this amazing creation

The Pavilion After the Quake - Get Ready Marin!

No one seemed to have the heart to cut into my cake - and as much as I go on and on about how cakes are like sand mandalas (you work on them with mindfulness and and then let them go) I couldn't bring myself to do it either. As I was leaving the Pavilion with the cake, thinking I'd bring it to my Book Club or cake class, a fellow who was having a picnic in Bolinas Park came up to admire the cake and said I should bring it to the Fairfax Theater - brilliant! I brought it to the Theater and the staff just loved it -I said they could keep it there as long as they wanted (locals can drop by and take a peek)

My first foray into competitive cakery was a a lot of fun, next stop: Marin County Fair!

Classic Rolled Fondant (from the Cake Bible)

1 tablespoon/1 envelope gelatin
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon glycerin (sometimes hard to find, look in the skincare aisle at Walgreens or "Aisle 15" at Rite Aid)
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
8 cups/2 pounds powdered sugar (I don't bother to sift it)

Sprinkle gelatin over the water in a 2-cup heatproof glass measure and let stand for 5 minutes. Set into a small pan of simmering water and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. (This can be done in a microwave on high for a few seconds).

Blend in the glucose and glycerin, then add the shortening and stir until melted. Remove from heat. (I do this whole process in the microwave)

Place the sugar in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the gelatin mixture and stir with a lightly greased wooden spoon until blended. Mix lightly with greased hand and knead vigorously in the bowl until most of the sugar is incorporated. Turn onto a smooth, lightly greased surface such as Formica or marble and knead until smooth and satiny. If the Fondant seems dry, add several drops of water and knead well. If it seems too sticky, knead in more powdered sugar. The Fondant will resemble a smooth, well-shaped stone.

When dropped, it should spread very slightly but retain its shape. It should be malleable like clay, soft but not sticky.

Rolled Fondant may be used at once but seems to work more easily when allowed to rest for several hours, preferably overnight. It is important to keep Fondant covered to prevent it from drying. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. It will firm slightly upon standing.

When ready to roll out, spray the work surface and rolling pin with nonstick vegetable spray.

Store 1 month at room temp or forever in the freezer

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More fun in Cake Class!

We had a blast tonight learning about drop stars, writing, the magic of piping gel and the first step in creating the rose.

Dani and her mom made a gorgeous sunflower

Mastering drop stars


Monday, April 13, 2009

Love, Loss and What I Baked: Dapper Dan

For my mom's birthday in 2002, she wanted to have a bunch of us go to Film Night in the Park and see one of her favorite movies, Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

I was of course delighted to make the cake, and very happily the date coincided with what John and I like to call "Golden Time" - that period of time when you leave one job before you start a new job and you've got lots of free time with no stress about money or returning to a desk of piled-up work.

I took advantage of the time to attempt one of my more ambitious adventures in fondant. Dapper Dan Pomade plays a small yet pivotal role in "Oh Brother" (and has the pleasure of being run through George Clooney's hair) and is the perfect shape to be translated into cake.

The red is smoothed NeoClassic Buttercream (recipe follows) and the decorations are rolled fondant. I brushed the edges with silver poweder to create the metalic look of the can. I enlarged a photo of the movie prop and used it to trace the lettering in chocolate (what you do is place a sheet of wax paper over what you want to trace, and go over it with a small pastry bag full of melted chocolate with just a teeny, tiny hole in the tip of the bag)

Dapper Dan himself is also fondant - I cut out the features from the photo of the prop and traced them onto rolled pieces of colored fondant, then reassembled them on the cake like a puzzle. Around foil on the cake circle I piped "Oh Mother, Where Art Thou?"

It was so fun and relaxing to have a whole, free, uninterupted day to work on the cake. I was thrilled with how it came out, as was my mom. And, because I'm a big show-off, I loved carrying it through the crowds of people at the park and collecting all of the "oohs" and "aahs."

NeoClassic Buttercream (from The Cake Bible)

Neoclassic Buttercream

6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 cups unsalted butter 2 cups (4 sticks)

optional: 2-4 tablespoons liqueur or eau-de-vie of your choice

Have ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measure near the range.

In a medium bowl, beat the yolks with an electric mixer until light in color. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan (preferably with a nonstick lining) and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil. (The entire surface will be covered with large bubbles.) Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

If using an electric hand-held mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Don't allow syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off. Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition, use a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure. Continue beating until completely cool.

Gradually beat in the butter and, if desired, any optional flavoring.. The buttercream will not thicken until almost all of the butter has been added. Place in an airtight bowl. Bring to room temperature before using. Rebeat to restore texture but not until it has reached room temperature to avoid curdling.

Pointers for Success
  • The syrup must come to a rolling boil or the buttercream will be too thin.
  • Don't allow the syrup to fall directly onto the beaters as it will spin the syrup around
  • the sides of the bowl.
  • The egg/syrup mixture must be completely cool before adding the butter.
  • Using a hand-held beater makes this easier

  • Chocolate: Add up to 6 ounces of melted, cooled chocolate
  • Coffee: Add 1 tablespoon instant coffee disolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
  • Raspberry: add 1 recipe of Raspberry Sauce

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Flourless & Fabulous

(Max piped all of the whipped cream on the cake - he did a great job, no?)

Back in the day, the treats at the end of the Passover Seder were limited to canned coconut maccaroons (yuck) and dry sponge cake (double yuck)

Somwhere in the mid-80s, my family discovered that flourless could be fabulous, and mom and Aunt Ruthy started producing a series of delectable Kosher for passover desserts.

This super-rich flourless chocolate cake reminds me of the "fondant au chocolat" I had in Paris. I prefer the smooth texture to "crunchy" flourless cakes made with whipped egg whites - and it's also much easier to make.

Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake (adapted from Bon Appetit)

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
(you can fudge a bit here - I've made with all semisweet and 14 oz semi + 2 oz unsweetened just fine)
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
(I only had 3 sticks of unsalted - I added 1 stick of salted with no flavor difference)
1 cup freshly brewed espresso or 1 tablespoon instant espresso or coffee powder dissolved in 1 cup hot water or coffee
1 cup (packed) brown sugar (dark or light - whatever you have)
8 large eggs, beaten to blend

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Raspberry Sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line bottom of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2-inch-high sides with parchment. Place all chocolate in large bowl. Bring butter, espresso and sugar to boil in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add to chocolate; whisk until smooth. Cool slightly. Whisk in eggs.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Bake until center of cake is set and tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour. Remove pan from water. Chill cake overnight.

Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Place platter over pan. Hold pan and platter together tightly and invert. Lift off cake pan; peel off parchment.

Whip cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form - spread or pipe onto the top of the cake.

If you have some extra chocolate around, grate it over the top or decorate with chocolate curls.

Bon Appetit claims this will serve up to 20

Raspberry Sauce (from The Cake Bible)

2 12-oz bags of frozen unsweetened raspberries
2 tsp lemon juice
2/3 c sugar (optional)

In a strainer suspended over a deep bowl, thaw the raspberries completely. This will take several hours. (To speed thawing, place in an owen with a pilot light.) Press the berries to force out all the juice. There should be 1 cup.

In a saucepan boil the juice until reduced to 1/4 cup. (You can also do this in a microwave on high power. If you do so, make sure that you use a big enough heatproof glass measure or bowl to allow for bubbling.) Pour it into a lightly oiled heatproof cup.

Puree the raspberries and sieve them with a food mill with a fine disc. Or use a fine strainer to remove all the seeds. (This part is really time consuming.) You should have 1 liquid cup of puree. Stir in the raspberry syrup and lemon juice. Measure again, there should be 1 1/3 liquid cups. If you have less, add less sugar. The correct amount of sugar 1/2 the volume of the puree. Stir until sugar dissolves.

Love, Loss and What I Baked: Scarlet O'Hara

For most of 1997 I worked at Conari Press, a small book publisher in Berkeley. I had the pleasure to work with some amazing and creative people, including the co-author of my book The Party Girl Cookbook, Nina Lesowitz

1997 was a pivotal year for Nina. She turned 40, went through a divorce, moved and met her future husband. She also dressed up as Scarlet O'Hara and passed out matchbooks to strangers inviting them to "light her fire."

See, we were publishing a book called Hells Belles: A Tribute to the Spitfires, Bad Seeds & Steel Magnolias of the New and Old South (written by our colleague and friend, Seale Ballenger) and cooked a scheme to promote it at BookExpo by having Seale and Nina dress up as Rhett and Scarlet and hand-out promotional matchbooks. Being the "go-for-it" good sports they are, they eagerly jumped into their roles and had a blast.

So, for Nina's 40th Birthday I knew I had to attempt my first doll cake - and dress her like Ms. O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler. I baked the Black Magic Cake (recipe follows) in a large metal bowl. It took a LONG time to bake, but worked like a charm. I found a black-haired off-brand Barbie at the dollar store, and even found a mini straw hat in the doll making dept. of the hobby shop. I stuck green sequins into her ears with straight pins for earrings.

The dress is inspired by the one Scarlett wears in the "Picnic at 12 Oaks" scene:

I cheated a little and did vines instead of clusters of flowers, but I think it worked, and most importantly - Nina was thrilled!

Black Magic Cake

This is the best, easiest chocolate cake ever. I've made it hundreds of times. Sometimes I forget the salt or vanilla, sometimes I use buttermilk usually I don't and it still comes out yummy every time. I also love that it calls for oil rather than butter - which means you can make it on the fly without having to wait for butter to soften. I can get this puppy into the oven in 10 minutes.

The recipe is from my well-worn, butter-stained copy of Hershey's Fabulous Desserts, a circa 1990 recipe book that I picked up at Crown Books in LA and have had for a million years - the book pretty much opens itself to this recipe.

1-3/4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup strong black coffee
1 cup buttermilk, regular milk or sourmilk (1 tablespoon vinegar + milk to equal 1 cup)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350

Grease & flour two 8 or 9" cake pans or a 9" x 13" baking pan. In large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, soda, powder and salt. Add eggs, coffee, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. The batter is very thin.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes for round pans, 40-45 minutes for a sheet pan, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Also makes great cupcakes - used a 1/4 cup measure to fill standard cupcake pan

First Saturday Class

Another fun class - the ladies were very helpful and forgiving when I forgot a few things, thank goodness they were following along with the course book :)

The best was the visit from Kelly's nephews at the end of the glass - David was thrilled to see his name in frosting!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Love, Loss and What I Baked: Queen Cakes

One of my favorite books is Love, Loss and What I Wore, an illustrated memoir told told through clothes. The sweet, sad, and triumphant moments of author Ilene Beckerman's life are recalled in poignantly simple text and accompanied by a charming drawing of the outfit she was wearing at the time.

I've often said I wish I'd written this book, but since the exponentially more talented Ms. Beckerman beat me to the punch, I'll look back on the some of the cakes and treats I made, and what was going on when I made them.

These Queen Cakes were baked for an especially fertile baby shower. I worked at a publishing company with about 20 women, and in the spring of 1993, five of them were pregnant (I drank bottled water and wiped down all chairs before I sat down - I didn't want to catch what they had) The "Queen for a Day" shower theme celebrated three of the earlier due dates.

Queen Lynne's golden crown is made from melted peanut butter chips spread between sheets of wax paper and cut into a pointed strip

Queen Maria's tiara is white chocolate piped in squiggles onto wax paper and wrapped around the cake

Queen Barbara's ermine-trimmed crown was one of my first forays into fondant

This shower was the first one I can recall where friends of MINE, not friends of my parents or older relatives having a baby. Talk about your milestones. I visited Maria in the hospital the day after her baby was born. He was the youngest baby I'd ever seen and I'll never forget how impossibly little he was, the look of shock and awe on her husband Ted's face, and Maria's sweet, strong, satisfaction with the miracle she'd created.

What a Tool: Tip Brush

I just love my little tip brush - there's nothing better for getting the frosting out of the corners and crevasses of your pastry tips.

I keep mine on the shelf right over the sink and find myself reaching for it all the time. Totally worth the $1.50.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cake Contest in Fairfax!

Calling All Cake-Makers!

The Town of Fairfax is having a cake-fest on April 19th!

Here's the scoop:

The theme of the cake is ʻFAIRFAXʼ

Competition is open to all ages groups.
No previous experience necessary.


(donations will be accepted towards the Fairfax Artists-in-Residence Program)
Competitors will be judged within two categories as follows:

JUNIOR—Up to 16 years old
SENIOR—17 years and up

FIRST & SECOND prizes will be awarded in each category
A table space will be provided for your display.

You must bring your cake ʻPRE-MADE & DECORATEDʼ to the Fairfax Pavilion at 10 AM on Sunday April 19th. You will have until NOON to set out your display and make minor touch-ups to your cake. We have no facilities for baking, decorating, or other preparation on the premises so please make sure that apart from minor touch-ups your cake is ready to be displayed with whatever props you require. THATʼS IT!

Doors open at Noon. Prizes will be awarded at 3 PM and cakes will be offered for consumption to the public! Competition over at 4 PM!

First Class!

Last night was the first in my series of Wilton Cake Decorating Classes at Michael's in Marin.

We had a lot of fun! The 8 ladies learned how to make class frosting, all about tips and bags, and a preview of what we'll be covering in future classes.

Young Dani was delightful, Chef Duff had better look out - she loves to use fondant and I think she'll be giving him a run for his money in a few years!

I loved swapping stories about exploding chocolate balloons with Kari! Glad to know I'm not the only one!