Thursday, May 27, 2010

Build Me Up, Buttercup!

Now that I have that song stuck in your head, I'm pleased to introduce you to my new Kitchenaid Artisan Standing Mixer (in the sunny shade of buttercup yellow)! This will make it so much easier to whip up billions of batches of batter and buttercream for baking. How do you like that alliteration? I've been using a hand mixer, but it just doesn't have the torque to handle thicker mixes so I end up having to manually mix thicker batters. Not fun. I think this will make life a whole lot easier.

I'm planning to try out a recipe for margarita cake and a confetti cake in the next few weeks. Now I'm really excited to make them because I'll get to team up with Buttercup (yes, that's what I'm naming her because the name just makes me smile). I'll be trying to make at least one cake or cupcake batch a week to practice decorating and to narrow down my favorite recipes. Sugar-coated research and experimentation, if you will.

If you think I'm actually eating all of these tasty creations, you are mistaken. I sample a little bit to make sure everything tastes okay, but mostly I pass them on to friends while I go hit the treadmill.  Ironically, I'm not much of a cake person so I'm not that tempted by the things I've been baking. Cookies, on the other hand, are my weakness so you won't see me baking too many of those. I try to keep out of trouble so I can keep fitting in my jeans — a challenging feat while exploring the world of cake decorating, but I will prevail!

Oh My Ganache...I'm doing a Groom's Cake!

My friend (and my old coworker from the Leader newspaper) Lauri will be tying the knot this fall and she's asked me to make the groom's cake. I'm flattered and more than a little excited! I decided to make her a mini-version of the cake for her and her fiance to sample to ensure that is exactly what they want. I used the leftover batter to make cupcake versions for my other ex-coworkers to enjoy.

The groom's cake will be a not-too-sweet (as requested) chocolate cake filled with vanilla buttercream and coated in ganache. On top of the cake will be a fondant circle with a hand-painted tiger to represent the Year of the Tiger, which is her fiance's astrological sign according to the Chinese zodiac. For the cupcakes, I just painted a variety of fun and wacky images just for kicks.

The final result tasted a bit like hostess cupcake (the one with the swirlies on top) but less sweet a tad more sophisticated. Delicious! Most importantly, it was a hit with both the future bride and groom. The ganache was smooth and chocolatey, but not too sweet. I'm personally not a fan of buttercream, but the recipe I used was fantastic and I actually enjoyed it. It had a light, almost whipped texture and it wasn't overly buttery. I hate when it feels like I'm just eating a stick of butter — blech!

I really liked this flavor combination —I'm definitely holding on to this recipe for future use.

Wilton Class Complete!

As of yesterday, I completed the first course of the Wilton Cake Decorating class and got my certificate! Since my last post, I've made two other cakes for the class. One was supposed to be a creepy little clown, but we were given freedom to do something else using techniques we learned in class. I opted to do make a bunny using a demonstrated technique for making faces out of buttercream. I also practiced piping shell borders and hearts on that cake as well. You'll have to excuse the crazy colors that I used. I kept reusing the colors that I made for the rainbow cake (or altering them slightly) because I didn't want to keep buying more buttercream ingredients for just a practice cake.

Our final class taught us how to make buttercream roses. They are a little tricky to work with, but its worth it for the end result. We also learned how to pipe leaves, vines and bows too. I love how the leaves turned out because the piping tip we use automatically creates the center vein of the leaf stem. Pretty cool! The roses got a little smooshed when I picked them up though because they didn't have time to harden before the end of class, but they're mostly intact.

I don't think I'm going to sign up for the other two Wilton courses now that I've completed the first one. I'm glad I took this class because it introduced me to the basic Wilton piping techniques and allowed me to practice with some instructor guidance. However, now that I understand the basics I think I can figure out how to pipe the items for their other classes by purchasing the Wilton "Decorating Cakes" book (only $12.99 and I also had a 40% off coupon). This book is kind of a compilation of most of their techniques for piping a large variety of flowers and borders, as well as how to make fondant/gumpaste decorative pieces too. Between the book, the first Wilton course information and my culinary school knowledge, it should be, well, a piece of cake.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Where There's a Wilton, There's a Way

As I continue on my job hunt, I decided to sign up for the beginner Wilton cake decorating course at Hobby Lobby in order to develop my cake decorating skills even further. Our first homework assignment was to bake any kind of cake and ice it (they showed us how) using the Wilton butercream recipe in our handbook. We also had to put some of that buttercream in five small containers, bring it to medium consistency and use colored gel paste to create five different colors for our class assignment.

In class, we learned about piping techniques and how to decorate our cake with a rainbow pattern by using a transfer technique to move the image from a pattern in our book and onto the cake. We then used a piping bag with a star tip to fill in the colors with the Wilton's buttercream that we brought from home. It takes a little time to change out your piping bag and it does get a bit messy, but it's pretty easy. Unfortunately, we didn't start piping until the last 20 minutes of class, so I kind of had to rush it and didn't have time to use all of my colors. That's okay though, I intend to create my own more elaborate design to practice these techniques on a future cake in my own time. Rainbows are nice and all, but they make me feel like I should be plastering unicorns and sparkles all over my cake.

Our next Wilton class (the third of four classes) will cover making buttercream roses and other flowers, so I'm pretty excited about that. We'll also learn how to make creepy little clowns (see photo), something I'm less than thrilled about. Our instructor said that a lot of people don't like making the clowns, but it's part of the standard curriculum. She did say that instead of putting the clown on the iced cake that we have to bring in, we can make a practice clown on the table and then scrape it off. I'm opting for that one because their buttercream bodies are a bit disturbing to me. Besides, I don't want to eat a clown — I heard that they taste funny (sorry, couldn't resist making that joke).

I've also been experimenting with cake flavors in my spare time. I recently made a batch of lemon-rosemary cupcakes with lemon zest/cream cheese icing. I really like this recipe because it isn't too sweet and like the unexpected hint of rosemary. The cake is more dense than fluffy (less like cake, more like cornbread consistency), but I think it worked great in cupcake form. It might be a bit too dense for some in cake form. I found the recipe in a magazine, but a friend of mine found it online if you would like to make a batch ( I added an extra tablespoon of lemon juice and a little extra rosemary to the cake. I also added extra lemon zest to both the cake and the icing since I had some leftover and, in my opinion, you can't add too much lemony goodness.

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