Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rodeo queens and everything in between

Batman and a desperate search for a pineapple upside-down cake
It's been pretty busy at the bakery lately, but that's a good thing because it means more business for Paige and more experience for me. I got to help out a lot on a Batman logo cake for a 16th birthday, which was pretty cool. I cut out a stencil of the logo for her and we cut it out in fondant. Plus, I got to frost the bottom of the cake with buttercream dots. Fun!

We also worked on a pineapple upside down-cake for a man who had ordered one for his birthday from another bakery but was so disappointed he ended up leaving it there because it barely had any pineapple and no cherries. So he asked Paige if she could make a good one with lots of pineapple as a birthday cake (this is two days after his birthday by the way — poor guy). So Paige made one with crushed pineapple and cherries in the cake batter, as well as tons of the fruits covering the top. It was great seeing his face light up when he saw the finished product and found exactly what he wanted.

Cupcakes galore!

We also got to make a bunch of cupcakes this week. One batch was for a Mickey Mouse-themed birthday and another was a simple cupcake wedding cake for a small wedding. For the Mickey Mouse cakes, I got to create Mickey silhouettes out of chocolate as toppers for the cupcakes while Paige made a more elaborate fondant Mickey face for the birthday boy. She let me make an elaborate Mickey too just for fun and practice. It came out pretty decent but he looks a tad crazy. I learned that even though fondant is a lot like Play-doh, it dries really quickly. That means you don't have a lot of time to sculpt before it starts getting dry and cracking. You have to almost constantly massage the fondant to keep it moist, but you can't do that when you shaping it into something. Lesson learned!

For the wedding cupcakes, the order called for a simple but elegant design of small dark chocolate-colored fondant flowers and silver dragees (edible metallic silver balls). I got to make all of the little flowers which look similar to the ones I made for the rodeo cake below. It's a simple technique to make the little flowers, but it has beautiful results.

Fit for a queen
The highlight of the week was making a 50th birthday cake for an ex-rodeo queen. Her friends wanted to get her a cake that celebrated those days that she is so fond of. They wanted a two-tiered cake that would resemble decorative stamped leather like you might see on a western-style belt. They also wanted a fondant sash that read "Rodeo Queen" and they requested colors that were feminine but not overtly girly and with a touch of turquoise. This would be topped with fresh flowers brought in from the client. I got to color all of the fondant (that's going to give me some toned arms) and make all of the little flowers that are dotted all along the sash. It took a lot of detail work to construct the cake, but the end result was truly gorgeous and fit for a (rodeo) queen.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A truly marble-lous technique

Paige was designing a cake for a client wanting a Tuscan sunflower theme. She began by drawing sunflowers on wax paper with yellow and brown icing, which will be placed in the freezer to harden until ready to apply to the cake. Next we had to decide what color fondant would work best to convey a Tuscany look. I suggested a light olive color to complement the bright yellow and brown sunflowers. Paige took that idea one step further by suggesting that we marble the olive green color with some brown. I was intrigued by that idea and hadn't known that fondant could be marbled. I'd never seen that done before.

First we started with white fondant, which she had me turn into the desired shade of green by adding green food coloring. That only gave us a pastel shade of green, so I kneaded in a bit of dark chocolate-colored fondant to get it to a more olive color. Once the green was ready, she began the marbling technique.

First, she rolled out the green fondant to a cylinder shape about the length of a rolling pin. She then cut some of the dark chocolate-colored fondant into a few thin 3-inch cylinder strips and placed those along the top of the green roll. She then rolled the two color together into one long cylinder which she folded in half, twisted a bit and kept rolling. You could see the marble effect instantly, but she continued to fold, twist and roll until she got the marbling look that she wanted.

The end result was beautiful and slightly reminiscent of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" painting. The green/brown marbled fondant helped tone down the color of the icing sunflowers, preventing it from looking too bright or obnoxiously cheery. Instead, it looked sunnily sophisticated, cute but not cloying. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this gorgeous cake. My hands are often covered in food coloring, powdered sugar or fondant so I don't take photos, but I wish I had. Definitely need to start bringing my camera with me. Instead, I found a photo of a similar-looking sunflower cake online (shown here) but it doesn't quite look the same. The photo gives you an idea of the technique, but their colors are too bright and their sunflowers are flat (Paige's flowers were made of thin, hard icing placed along the sides and stuck up above the cake edges). You get the idea though.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A lot can happen in just 30 days!

I still can't believe that it was just about a month ago that I was sitting at my work desk thinking that I needed to get out of that office and move onto something else —anything else —ASAP. I'm still a little shocked to find myself getting ready to spend my afternoon helping out at a bakery and that I'm going to culinary school in November. It all happened so fast and so smoothly, that it hasn't quite sunk in completely. I take that as a good sign though. It's like all of the pieces are falling into place because I've finally stopped fighting to swim upstream, and instead, I'm going with the flow of the current.

I do relish the excitement of developing new potential and learning something different and challenging. Graphic design was beginning to feel a bit rote and routine, so it feels good to put that on hold for a bit to explore a new art form. I like waking up in the morning knowing that I won't be sitting at a desk all day and feeling like I'm in a rut. I'm in no way a morning person, but I actually wake up now with a little bit of excitement and anticipation for whatever I might be doing at the bakery. I like getting my hands in the sugary dough and finding them covered in flour and food coloring. I love the inevitable smile that happens when you're dipping duck-shaped cookies in brightly colored chocolate.

Yep, leaving the office world in the dust was definitely a good choice. I don't know exactly where this career will lead, but I know for certain that I'm not missing that desk chair one bit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

C is for cookie, that's good enough for me

Today was all about the cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. I REALLY like making the cookies. Paige was running low on her chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies, so it was my job to make dozens of them in all sorts of shapes (hearts, fish, ducks, gifts, etc.) and dip them in different color chocolates.

In seconds...flat
I started with the dough that Paige made and put them through this fancy dough-rolling machine. The machine allows you to roll dough into a measured height of your choosing. It's pretty easy to use, but it's also easy to send your dough flying off the rolling table if you don't let go of the lever in time. I came close once or twice but managed to get through the day without tossing my cookies, so to speak. Once the dough was rolled, I got to use the various cookie cutters (the fish were my favorite) to cut out enough to fill the baking sheet and then into the oven. Once the cookies were baked and cooled, we heated up chocolate in the color most appropriate for the shape.

That's the way the cookie crumbles
Dipping the cookies is really fun, but kind of tricky. Shortbread cookies are a bit fragile and certain shapes are prone to breaking when you shake off the excess chocolate. The hearts and gift boxes were the worst and a few of those had to be disposed of (either in the trash or in my mouth). I only lost 4 or five though — not too bad for an amateur! Tomorrow we get to add a little more flair to the dipped cookies, but we first need to let the chocolate cool and harden overnight. Paige will also show me how to cover a cake in fondant and make lace tomorrow, so I'm excited to learn that technique.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My first decorated cake and a splash of ganache

Paige let me create some mini-cakes, including one for me to decorate as I pleased (because I'd be the one eating it). She baked the layers, but let me construct the cake and choose the filling — chocolate and cherries of course. Once the layers were stacked, I had to frost them in buttercream so that it was smooth all over. This is actually frustratingly difficult. You don't want to frost it too thick, but sometimes smoothing out a part that is thin will end up having cake showing through. To fix it, you add more and have to smooth it again, which makes another part have cake peek through. Grrr. After frosting six cakes, I was finally getting better at it, but I still need to practice a lot more. She told me to go crazy with the decorating so I can get a feel of how it works, so please excuse the tackiness of swirls, dots, daisies and roses all in one cake. I'm fully aware that it is a major design faux pas, but I wanted to try a variety of things. I promise that my future cakes will look nothing like this, instead they will be awesome! The rose is the one that I made the day before. I'm actually pretty happy with it. So here's the final result:

After the cake was done, we got a rush order for some football-shaped cookies. Paige had to whip up a batch of football shortbread cookies since we were all out. Once those came out of the oven, she let me dip them in ganache (a chocolate/cream mixture) which was a lot of fun. We managed to get them done by the deadline. Hooray!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

With a little help from my friends

I just wanted to give a big heartfelt thanks to everyone for your kind words and encouragement. It can be a bit daunting to suddenly stop everything and take a chance on something new and different, but having the support of great friends and family is reassuring and quite touching. A very special thanks to Paige for taking in someone that she barely knew and offering to share her talents. Saving the best for last, I can't even begin to thank my husband Ryan for being so supportive of such a drastic career change. I am a very lucky lady to have such a wonderful man by my side and I see many desserts in your future! Once I get this whole baking thing down, I'm definitely going to have to have a cake party to thank all of you.


Caught red-handed...Rockin' out to Journey

Today was my first chance to dip my toe in the water before making the plunge. Paige (pictured) of the Round Rock bakery called Paige's Bakehouse has kindly offered to take me under her wing and allow me to apprentice at her bakery. It was unbelievably kind of her to do that and I am forever grateful for such an opportunity.

So today Paige taught me how to make fondant roses. We had to use red dye to get the rose color in the fondant, so now my hands look like I've been playing serial killer but that's all part of the fun! Working with fondant is very reminiscent of play-doh in consistency, texture and even slightly in smell. Creating the roses is actually pretty simple and involves mostly rolling and smooshing, but it still takes a bit of practice to perfect it.

She also showed me the best way to frost a cake, plus other random and very useful pieces of information. Much of this happened while chatting, joking around and rocking out to Journey. It's all fun and games till someone walks in and laughs at us because we're singing into spatulas to cheesy 80s power ballads. All in all, I have to say it was a great way to spend the day and can't wait to go back again tomorrow!

Insert shameless plug here: 
If you ever need a special cake or need to tame a sweet tooth, visit and order a little something or stop by the bakery and pick up a cookie, petit four, mini-cake or one the other tasty little treats to snack on. Not to mention that you might see me there! Seriously, she makes very pretty, delectable items at a very good price and she's as sweet as her treats.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

You're doing what?!?

I think I may have caught some by surprise when I seemingly out-of-the-blue announced that I was thinking of putting aside my graphic design career to start a new one in cake decorating. I'm not exactly known for spending much time in the kitchen, but I do enjoy baking when the mood strikes me. Not to mention that I have a killer sweet tooth.

What many people didn't know is that I always thought it might be fun to decorate cakes for a living and actually wanted to do that as my first job when I was in high school. I've spent most of my life drawing and designing, so cake decorating seemed a natural fit. I had no experience or training in that area though, so I ended up working my first job as a cashier at Michael's Arts and Crafts (not a bad gig —I got great discounts on expensive art supplies). Yes, I was one of those art nerd people in high school and even a little bit in college. Since it's virtually impossible to make a career out of doodling, I chose to study graphic design/production art instead.

A case of the Mondays...everyday
This brings us to where I am now. Ten years of designing using mouse clicks and drags had become a bit of a drag. I've grown a little weary of being tethered to an office chair and trying to find inspiration while surrounded by office drama and staring at a glowing monitor. I started to worry that if I didn't escape the world of office drudgery soon, my passion for design might be snuffed out entirely. So I decided to quit my job and take a little time to figure out what I wanted to do with my career.

Back to School
That's when I started reconsidering the path not taken, a path paved in frosting. When I got stressed out at work, I would often joke with my coworkers about quitting and decorating cakes instead. It hadn't dawned on me yet that that was what I actually wanted to do. I guess what they say about there being an ounce of truth in every joke is true. Now I'm actually pursuing this path! I've applied with the Culinary Academy of Austin and will start their Pastry Arts Program on November 2nd and will have my certificate 6 months later. I feel excited, driven and inspired — things I hadn't felt in quite some time now. I got my fire back and I'm ready to take on the cake decorating world with frosting guns a-blazing!

From Fonts to Fondant | Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial License | Dandy Dandilion Designed by Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates