Monday, July 6, 2009

Definitely not called FUN-dant

Baking and decorating has definitely been a learning process for me. more like a learning JOURNEY, truth be told.... a long, long endless journey.

I say that not because I'm not enjoying myself... but more because no matter what I do, I'm finding ways to improve myself, either in skill, recipe/tools, or process. That's a good thing.

frustrating at times, but ultimately good.

A long time ago, I experimented with fondant. I bought the wilton pre-made kind, and I used it to cover my daughter's butterfly shaped cake for her 2nd birthday. It was fairly easy to work with, but bleh. the taste was GROSS. chewy. and bland.

As I took a bite into the cake i had worked so hard on, I immediately felt disappointed that all of my efforts got covered up by a flavorless chew-toy.

Long story short.. that experience has prevented me from really experimenting with fancy-looking cakes because again... I refuse to compromise the taste of a cake. Cake should be EATEN. otherwise.. might as well make a playdoh centerpiece and stick candles in it, knowwhaddahmean?

So I did some asking around for better tasting fondants. I got a few recipes, and decided to go ahead and try this marshmallow fondant to cover my 4 layer white cake that I had filled with a home-made strawberry buttercream.

I'm guessing that I made the fondant a little too dry, because I had a considerable number of cracks.

and ripples.


(I made a larger one and a smaller cake, thinking I could keep the small cake for cutting and picture taking, and donate the larger cake to the bake sale... but since THAT didn't happen.. I kept the larger cake.)

At any rate... This marshmallow fondant certainly tasted better than the store-bought kind. and with a little bit of piping and well placed roses... you could almost say the cakes look nice.

of course.. the proper camera angle does wonders. cause this picture is pretty unforgiving of the cracks and ripples.

Again. learning process. I have a few other recipes I can try, and I sincerely think that the more I work with fondant, the better I will get.

For now, however... I'm going to stick to a well placed camera, and some pretty gum paste flowers to distract the eye.

of course... making a great tasting cake under all of those cracks can certainly help sway any critics from being TOO harsh.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hilariously not funny

So.. if you follow me on twitter or facebook, you'll know that I was busy this past week making cakes for this weekend's bake sale at church.

imagine the HILARITY that ensued when I took the bounty below to church and realized the bake sale is being held NEXT weekend, on account of the holiday weekend.


the good news is that our neighbors got a share of cake pops and cakes, and our dinner guests will get obscenely large pieces of cake tomorrow.

yes. I am officially a Yankee Doodle Dumbass.

Happy Independence Day, gang!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Really Rosie

Last week I tried my hand at making gum paste roses.

I figured it was time to start pushing my personal envelope in the decorating arena. I mean.. I'm doing well in regards to cookies... but my cakes. *sigh* my cakes need WORK.

So.. instead of diving right in, I decided to see if I could master just one little aspect of cake decorating... decorative roses.

I made my own gum paste... which wasn't that hard to do. but like my challenge with Elmo... I clearly needed a LOT more red at this point.

after I had a decent shade to work with... it was all about making little balls, flattening them out, then wrapping them around each other.

I got better with each one I did... or at least got faster.

I also decided to make just a few roses of a yellow shade.... that I ended up using on a chocolate cake.

The thing I think I like most about these roses is that they can be made well in advance of when you actually NEED them. Considering most of my baking and decorating has to happen in the small windows that I am not actively parenting the kids (which.. by the way, during summer is like ALWAYS) I appreciate the whole "set it and forget it" mentality with gum paste.

I still dislike that gum paste has no real flavor, and essentially will break you teeth if you try to eat it... but hey. they look nice. And every rose has a thorn, right? it's only fitting that gum paste roses have a snag factor, too.
stay tuned for my post about the cakes!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Never say "Easy"

I should have known better. By very nature of my mom's maiden name, Murphy, I SHOULD have known better.

Who would have thought that a simple character-cookie like Elmo would have been such a monumental challenge?
Clearly *I* didn't... because I told Cathy that it would be EASY to do cookies for her son's second birthday.


I'm not going to bore you with ALLLL of the details... but the highlights of my journey into the depths of believing that Elmo was truly the spawn of Satan include:

not being able to find an Elmo-shaped cookie cutter ANYWHERE, thus having to CREATE one from scratch

not having enough 'red dye' to create an Elmo-y shade of frosting, thus having to stop mid-mixing to go buy MORE red dye to get out of the pink realm.

in new jersey, because I was at my parents' house.

waiting 12 extra hours, unable to do anything while I waiting for the 'it's about time it's finally red' frosting to harden. only to find out that it NEVER DID, thus causing me to have to...

THROW AWAY entire first batch of cookies and re-create, roll, cut, bake, and apply new first
coat of "oh dear lord I have to make red again" frosting.

before 9am, because that was the day I promised to take my kids down the shore.

Re-attack the final detail pipings so they have a chance to dry before being packaged up and sent off to the birthday boy.

only to find out the post office did not offer 2nd day air, and had to ship them overnight.


don't get me wrong. This project was a GREAT experience, and I was so so sooooo happy to do it. but MAN! issue after issue! Here's a look at the final results:

Elmo- take two... but with a NICE shade of red

They may look like they're smiling, but they're really laughing at me

Elmo heads together with the centerpiece cookie

From paper to product-- using clipart and the invite for inspiration

all wrapped up and ready to go

Ultimately, I think that this was a great reminder that I shouldn't take anything for granted... and like baking itself... the slightest variation with technique, ingredients, and/or location can create exponential differences in the final product.

There was no question ever I wouldn't get this project done. Cathy is a wonderful woman whom I've met through the internet. She has a heart of gold and is just a KIND person in general. Of course... having a 2 year old myself... there is absolutely NO WAY on this green earth that I would send her son anything that didn't look like Elmo. There was absolutely no room for failure in this project... and I feel pretty confident that Cathy and her birthday boy, Liam, were pleased with the final results.

I know my daughter Rhena was.

kid-tested and Elmo Approved!

Happy birthday, Liam!!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Little Boy Blue

Back in the beginning of the year, I was sitting in a playdate with some friends, and the conversation subject got around to working.. pre-and-post motherhood, that is.

I, of course, told my tale of engineering days gone by, to not working, to thoughts about becoming a teacher, then to the present, which is trying to make a go of Stepford. Right around that time, my husband Troy had finished putting up the first draft of a website for me. It was exciting step for me in this small business journey, so of course I wanted to share with my friends.

One of my friends saw a set or two of the onesie cookies I have done in the past, and asked if I would be able to make something for her sister's shower, which was to be held in June.

I rarely turn down an offer to make cookies for someone. I've found that not only the experience itself of making and decorating the cookies, but the actual PROCESS of working with a customer is completely invaluable. Naturally, I eagerly said yes, and set her date in my calendar.

Although I had done onesie cookies in the past, this project presented some great learning points for me. The location in which the shower was being held was a Tea House, and while completely adorably quaint.. space was limited. I was now challenged to find a vertical way of displaying the favor cookies, but yet would still be under the umbrella of Stepford-classy.

My client and I tossed around several ideas, and as a result, I am now the owner of a few cupcake display stands. Thanks to her and this project, I now have a way to creatively display the favors, should a client want that. I know that for some folks, this step may be a given, but it was a great lesson to me in that my product still has to look good after it leaves my hands.

Outside of that, and a few swallows of time-management lessons, this project was an easy one. Well, ok, EXCEPT for when, the night before the event, I completely scrapped about 20 some-odd cookies because the blue frosting I made dried more int eh teal family, and nowhere like the baby blue that the invitation boasted. oops.

Invitation-inspired colors

All in all, however, the project came out great, and I'm pleased I was able to do it.

all set up at the Tea House

Up close and personalized

detail view of favor tags and 'cake topper'

That's a wrap!

Monday, June 1, 2009

I need votes!

so the voting period has begun for the ice cream cupcake challenge!!

I would SURE love it if you took a minute to go HERE or HERE to vote for my Coconut Creme Identity Crisis cupcakes!!

The GOOD news, other than me totally being your bestest friend for voting.. is that every voter gets entered in a drawing to win some cupcake cards! how cool is that???

(very cool. trust me on that!)

so please. don't make me beg. (at least not TOO much)

go HERE and ignore all those other delicious looking ice cream cupcakes, and vote for my Coconut Creme Identity Crisis cupcakes.


cause I'll love you forever like that.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Coconut Creme Identity Crisis

I love to bake. y'all know that. But it hasn't always been this way. Long time ago.. back in the days of me being gainfully employed, I would have EASILY told you that I preferred cooking to baking.. because baking was so.. PRECISE. a little too much of this or not enough of that, and you're looking at floppy, vanilla-scented pancakes that taste like paper plates. (not that I'd know ANYTHING about that... or maybe I would. hmmm.)

However, since 'retiring' from my life as an engineer, and consequently assuming the life-long role of 'mommy'.. I have found I have a real JOY for baking. like.. REAL JOY. like.. my house is imploding from hostile laundry-takeover and the kids are jumping to and from the couches well over 4 feet apart. on hardwoods. and yet... this happy HUM comes over me as I hear, smell, and taste my way through another baked creation. JOY, I tell you.

But I'm an engineer! not a baker! no.. I'm a mommy! but the baking! ohhh the baking.... SO yeah. so what if I'm in my upper thirties and just now figuring out what I want to be when I grow up? chalk it up to a good old fashioned identity crisis, right?

At any rate, I've really been making a concerted effort lately to dig in and get to know others that operate (either by hobby or profession) in the trade of baking. I've begun following new blogs, connecting with other Twitters (twitterers? tweeters? twits??)... anyways.. I've been meeting new folks. and this is GOOD! cause WOW! the TALENT that exists out there is AMAZING!!!

One of the best things that has come of this new venture into discovering me is that I found out about a contest. Now y'all KNOW I love a good contest! I'm always trying to score stuff from Erin Cooks, and that Bakerella's always hosts contests I can't pass up. But THIS, people. this is different.


Can you BELIEVE I've never entered a baking challenge before? I KNOW! so with my new ice cream maker attachment in hand.. I knew it was a sure sign I had to pop my proverbial cherry and enter.

And seriously. cupcakes? and ice cream? together? booyakasha! I was SO down for that!

Now, the PLANNER in me had a TON of flavor combinations I wanted to do... but the PROCRASTINATOR in me waited til the VERY LAST few days to even begin creating something to qualify as an entry. So... upon finding the super-easy-my-kid-could-do-it ice cream recipe, I decided to go with something of the coconut persuasion.


First of all.. this recipe I found for Coconut cupcakes is AMAZING! I'll do a full post on the cupcakes soon, but go ahead and check it out (when you're done reading this post, of course! no need to hurry off now, ya hear?) NUTMEG! using nutmeg added such a GREAT layer to the flavor of the cake... oh! seriously the best coconut cake I've had in like.. a LONG time.

it took me a few dozen cupcakes to REALLY figure out the proper amount to put in the liners (so as to leave enough room for the ice cream, and the ALL-important crunch layer) Turns out this a mistake I did not mind.

Oh.. and I had NO LUCK with my silicone flower pan. I thought I'd be cute with a flower-shaped cupcake? nope. wrecked the first two trying to release the cakes. then decided to eat the others out of spite. oh.. the things I put up with for the sake of art!

Now that I had the cupcake portions made and the ice cream made.. it was time to make the magic happen. Now, I COULD have just slapped the two together and called it good. or GOOD-GOOD cause coconut cupcake? GOOD. coconut ice cream? GOOD. But this is my first challenge, and I wanted to do it right. and besides.. what's a ice cream cake without a crunch layer? that's right.... these cupcakes needed some crunch.

So even though y'all KNOW I can make my own graham crackers.. I went ahead and used some good ole Scooby Bones. and how could I not? I mean.. just LOOK at Scoob! Even HE seems to be giving me a secret smile letting me know I'm on to something good here.

I crushed the 'bones' up, mixed with sugar and butter, then baked the pressed-down mix in the oven. cause YES.. I wanted the crunch layer even SWEETER and BUTTERIER (is that a word?) than the regular grahams.

Topped the cupcakes with the crumbled graham cracker crust, then topped that with the coconut ice cream. (yes, a few are missing from the pan, since I wanted to test the cupcakes. I wasn't sure if baking such a small amount would dry out the cake.. but I was pleased to find out that even that little layer of cake was moist and delicious!)

After those set, I topped with a simple whipped cream. store-bought, at that, cause you know.. deadlines and all. I used my piping bag to make up for the lack of home-made, if that earns me any points back!

once they had time to freeze a little more, I began the picture taking.

Ladies and Gentlemen.. I give you...

The Coconut Creme Identity Crisis

It's a cupcake! no, it's ice cream! but it's got a pie crust! and whipped cream! Do I eat it with a fork? a spoon? my hands? aaaah!! I'm so confused!

Yes.. to pay tribute to my very own identity crisis... I offer you an identity crisis in food form. and GOOD FOOD FORM IT IS!

My husband Troy tried them, and agreed with me that these are in the "holy Mother#*&%er these are Mother#*&%ing GOOD" category. but we like coconut. we could be biased.

YOU, however, my readers, are not! (ok.. maybe one or two of you are, and that's totally cool with me!) ACTUALLY, I'm counting on a FEW of you to be biased and tune in later this week so you can VOTE FOR ME so I can win this challenge.

If you're curious, you can check out the blogs of the co-hosts of the contest... Cupcake Project and Scoopalicious. then, of course, tell them how great I am. and that I deserve to win. or.. you know.. maybe just vote for me once (or twice or like 20 times. )

At any rate.. this was SO MUCH FUN to do!! SO glad I took on the challenge of a challenge, and I totally look forward to doing another one. but maybe next month or something. I'm so full of coconut right now, it's a little hard to move.. much less bake.