Wedding Cake

Fondant wedding cakeI took a big leap and and did my most challenging cake project yet – a wedding cake for a dear family friend.  I discovered many new things about cake decorating with this one. The biggest lesson is that the simpler the design, the more exacting the decoration needs to be.

Wedding cake photo flowersThe design process was really fun. The bride wanted a simple and elegant cake that had a modern style. Twisting the layers and adding a few glam decorations like the gum paste lilies and a silver glitter letter “L” as the topper  kept the design both sleek and interesting. The “L” was made from gum paste that I cut with a sharp blade and let dry overnight and covered with edible Disco Dust. You can buy it in almost any color at your local bakery supply store.

Disco dust cake topper
Here’s how it came together:

Days before the cake was started, I made the gum paste lilies.  If you’ve read my past entries about cake decorating, you know what a huge fan I am of gum paste. It handles very easily and dries rock hard. I’ve found so many uses for it. This time, however, I stuck to traditional flower making. I followed the directions from a book and made these in one night.
wedding cake gum paste flowers

Here you can see a bit of the process. A ball of gum paste is attached to a piece of floral wire and shaped into the stem. I painted it with brown food coloring and sprinkled it with corn meal to recreate the look of pollen. The petal itself was cut from a cookie cutter and ruffled on the edges by rolling a metal ball gum paste tool along the edges.

making gum paste flowersHere are the lilies all assembled and hung to dry overnight. I made all of these in one evening.

Cake baking

Here’s a tip when it comes to baking large-scale cakes. Place a rose nail in the center of the pan to conduct heat through the middle of the batter. This helps the cake to bake more evenly and avoid any raw centers or overdone edges. It also helps it to bake with a nice flat top as opposed to a domed center.

how to make a wedding cakeWhen assembling square cakes, the trimming and layering process must be done meticulously.  Getting each cake level and square proved to be very difficult, but worth it in the end. In this photo, the filling was applied by first piping the border with buttercream. This prevents the filling from oozing out the sides of the cake later on.

Frosting a wedding cake Once stacked, each cake is sealed with a very thin application of buttercream frosting and refrigerated to set up for a second coat followed by fondant.  I love doing this thin layer first because you don’t have to worry if crumbs get mixed in. Once refrigerated to harden a bit, this thin layer  gets covered with a second layer of buttercream that stays clean and smooth. This first buttercream coat is also a great time to refine the shape of the cake and smooth out anything that is not level and square.

Decorating a wedding cakeOnce each cake was frosted and covered with a nice white layer of fondant, it was time to work on the details. Here are a few tools that I used to apply edible pearl dots to each side of the cake. I created and printed out a few templates and held the paper to the side of each cake as a guide. Making a small poke with a tooth pick left a small mark on the fondant that I could could cover up as I applied the pearl dots.

Here is one last shotof the finished cake. As usual, the cake had its imperfections, but I was really pleased with the results.  The best part was sharing it with the bride and groom!

Wedding cake pics

Paper Autumn Tree

Fall decorations tree Every year we like to decorate our house for the autumn. My son’s favorite project is building a tree in his room. I started doing this a few years ago when we wanted the house to be festive without having a lot of money to spend. This tree is made from nothing more than a roll of brown butcher paper, left-over construction paper from around the house, and a roll of masking tape.  With a little time and effort, spent cutting leaves mostly, you can grow a tree just like this for a great kid’s room decoration. Here’s how it came together.

How to make autumn leaves out of paperI started by sketching some different leaf shapes inspired by the trees around our neighborhood. You can also look up some clipart and use those as a template. I like to trace a full sheet of leaves and cut 3-4 sheets at a time.

decorating a kids room with leaves

The next step is cutting the butcher paper in to a long and wide strip for the trunk and several small strips for the branches. Rather than rectangular strips, they should be cut more like long triangles. This will help to create a branch effect that gets smaller as it grows out from the tree trunk. You can hold up the paper to your wall to measure and get an idea of how long to cut the paper. Once cut, crunch and wrumple the paper pieces  to create a rough texture that simulates tree bark.

Fall kids room decoration

To build the tree, start with the trunk. You’ll use lots of masking tape to adhere it to the wall.  I generally form the trunk with my hands, scrunching and twisting it to make it get smaller as it reaches the top of the tree. As a general rule of thumb, give it a few twists and turns to change the angle, rather than making a straight line. Very few trees grow perfectly straight.  Follow by building out branches from the trunk, starting with the largest pieces first and using short little pieces to branch out from those. Tree branches grow just like our our arms that connect to smaller hands and on out to even smaller fingers at the ends.

Special Note on Masking Tape:
I discovered that masking tape comes in a a variety of  ”stickiness”  levels. If your tape is not particularly strong, you may find as I did that the branches will be a constant problem falling off the wall. This is no fun, so be sure to buy some really sticky tape.

Once your tree trunk has been built, its time to attach the leaves. I like to mimic how a real tree turns its color from the outside in. The core has a few green leaves that transition to the bright oranges and reds on the tips. Have fun experimenting with the colors! I think it would be really fun to do a whimsical tree in a girls room that is done in shades of pink and purple, maybe even with a white tree trunk. If anyone comes up with their own variation, I’d love to see photos!

Book Signing with Bakerella

Signing of my Cake Pop bookToday I met one of my baking superheroes, Bakerella. I caught wind of a book signing happening at a local Williams-Sonoma store and wrangled the family to spend the afternoon waiting with me, in much anticipation, for the glorious moment we got to meet this very talented and inspired baker.  For those of you who may not have heard of her, Bakerella is the inventor of the famed “Cake Pop” which is the most delicious combination of cake and frosting on a stick and all dipped in chocolate. They are not only a tasty treat, but nearly the cutest things you’ve ever seen.  Check out photos on her blog.

Cake Pop Book SigningWaiting eagerly outside the store, each of us snuggled with our newly purchased copies of her book. The crowd was a buzz with excitement as we swapped baking stories and flipped through the book’s pages of advice and inspirations.  It was the most enjoyable line-waiting experience I’ve ever had!

Cake Pop book signing at Williams SonomaAnticipation brewed as the time drew near.

The time came to meet Bakerella, and we were all invited to cram into the store and share a short Q&A time. I, along with every other person there, was busy juggling my cell phone between taking pictures and typing text notes as questions were answered from the Cake Pop fountain of knowledge. Who better to get advice from!

Cake Pop decorations at Williams SonomaBooks signed and stored safely away under our arms, most of us fell victim to the whimsical displays of Cake Pop candies, books and baking supplies that were scattered throughout the store.  These rainbow candies were almost more than I could resist.

I could spend hours pouring over the baking supplies at Williams Sonoma. These were just a few items from their cupcake supply displays.

Here’s a shot of the book. You’ve got to take a look and get a copy for yourself!

Black Eyed Peas for Lunch

Healthy Lunch recipeWhat’s this? No sweet stuff? I thought I’d try to write about the food that I cook the other 6 days a week. After all, a girl’s got to keep things in balance you know. People are always asking me how I stay healthy and fit while I cook the sweet treats on this blog. The truth is my regular diet runs virtually fat-free and as close to all-natural whole grains, meats, dairy and produce as possible. Sometimes it feels like having a split personality, eating this way and splurging so decadently when it comes to baking. But… it strikes a very happy balance that allows me to enjoy the good stuff without suffering any consequences. It works.

This recipe is a combination of my favorite Tex-Mex ingredients with something completely new – black eyed peas. If you haven’t tried them before, I highly recommend doing so! They are quite nutritious and very satisfying. When eating lean and green I am always trying to maximize satiety and food volume and minimize fats and calories. This dish is so flavorful and filling, it really hits the spot. It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare and makes enough for 2 meals.

Black Eyed Peas Hot Salad
2 Servings . 250 calories and 16 grams of fat per serving

For the Dressing
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lime, juiced and zested
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

For the Salad
12 oz. bag frozen black eyed peas
1 small red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup diced avocado

Turn oven broiler to high. While heating, boil the black eyed peas in lightly-salted water until fork tender and drain. Broil the onion and bell pepper for 4-6 minutes.  While things are cooking, combine the dressing ingredients.  When the onions and bell pepper are done cooking, let them cool down just a bit. Finish by combining all ingredients and the dressing in a bowl and toss gently. You can serve this salad warm or at room temperature.

*Nutrition Note:
If you want to boost the satiety of this meal, add some heat. Spicy dishes tend to make you feel more full and crave fewer foods afterwards.

Braided Danish Pastry with Cream Cheese Blueberry Filling

Pastry recipeThanks to a most inspirational blogger and French Culinary School student in London at Foodbeam, I was inspired to try my very first French pastry made from scratch. I have a secret and deep-rooted desire to attend pastry school and spend  my days making indulgent baked treasures for friends and family. Until life allows me that luxury, I live vicariously through little projects at home whenever I get the chance.

In laymen’s terms, this a Danish braid. And yes, it can be used to make Danishes much like you would buy at the donut shop. But if you are expecting the typical dry flaky texture, get ready to have your socks knocked off! I’ve never tasted a softer, more moist pastry dough in my life. Here’s how it came together.

Danish donut recipeThe original recipe called for a vanilla pastry cream filling sprinkled with chocolate chips. I chose a ricotta lemon cream cheese filling with blueberries instead. The fun of this recipe is that you can choose almost any filling you like. Someday I will try making one filled with Nutella, perhaps another with Cinnamon Vanilla pastry cream, or even a savory variety with herbed cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The options limitless!

Making danish pastry dough recipeNew Heights in Precision
My new best friend in the kitchen is my digital scale. The more advanced the recipe, the more often I find the portions are measured in grams and ounces. I’ve come to learn that using measuring cups and tablespoons are far less accurate. The ingredients can be dramatically impacted by the humidity, temperature, altitude, and even your scooping technique and the results can be quite varied. This recipe is no exception.  I’ve also found that it is much easier to throw a bowl on a scale and dump things in until I get to the correct weight as opposed to scooping, leveling and trying to keep count of how many cups of what I’ve added.  There is also build-up of dirty measuring cups that need to be washed over and over again.

Making danish pastry dough at homeThe original blog post on Foodbeam also has step-by-step photos and instructions you may want to check out. The following is what my baking process looked like.

One of many things I learned is that pastry dough is not one recipe, but two separate mixes that are layered and folded and re-folded together to make one sheet of dough. The photo above is the first half of the dough called the “détrempe” or egg-based yeast dough.  The second mix is called “buerre manié” which is simply butter mixed with a little flour.

Making pastry dough from scratchOnce the dough and butter mixtures are complete, the layering began. I first rolled out the yeast dough into a large rectangle and spread the top 2/3 with the butter mixture. Then it was folded in thirds as shown in the photo above and set in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.  This folding process is called “turning” the dough. Once chilled, the dough was  turned and refrigerated again. This process was repeated 3-4 times throughout the course of the day with the final refrigeration lasting 3 hours.

As the dough was on its final chill in the fridge, I made my lemon-ricotta and blueberry fillings.

Easy Blueberry Syrup
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoon water

Combine blueberries and sugar in a small saucepan. Mash blueberries as you heat the mixture and bring it to a boil. Once bubbling, add the conrstarch mixture and cook until it thickens. Remove from heat and let cool until it has a jelly -like consistency.

Ina Garten’s Lemon Ricotta Filling
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don’t whip!

Now for the assembly…

Pastry dough recipeI rolled the dough out into a large rectangle and made horizontal cuts along the outer third of each side.  These strips will eventually create the braided effect.

Pastry braid recipe with blueberry fillingNext I spooned in the filling down the middle. Before beginning to “braid”, I folded up the dough at each end of the braid. This helps to keep all of the filling goodness inside the braid and not leak out when in the oven. Now for the braid: I went back to the top and alternated sides folding the side strips in towards the middle and covering the filling.  The dough strips should overlap in the middle. You may want to wet it a bit to make sure that the strips stick to each other as you go. Otherwise the braid may fall apart in the oven and things will not look so pretty.

Danish pastry braid recipe To bake the braid, you can lay it out flat on a baking sheet, or use a long loaf pan. Using a loaf pan helps to keep the sides nice and straight and the braid will have a little more height. I wanted this effect but didn’t have the right size pan, so I grabbed a ceramic casserole dish and built a make-shift divider out of aluminium foil supported with a damp rolled towel to hold it up. It worked beautifully!

Lemon ricotta pastry creamI was hesitant to bake the braid and serve it without adding any glaze or topping, but I was very happy that I refrained. The braid baked beautifully and the flavors from the creamy filling and dough were so magical, any anything else would have ruined it.

Here is the recipe as posted on Foodbeam
makes two small braids or a large one

for the détrempe
225g flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
40g caster sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
80g milk
1 egg
1 tsp natural vanilla extract

for the beurre de tourrage
125g butter, at room temperature
1 heaped tbsp flour

Combine the flour,yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix in the milk, egg and vanilla extract. When the ingredients have been incorporated, start kneading the dough until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky. Form into a rough rectangle, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes, while you get on with the butter block.

Cream the butter and flour. Shape into a rectangle and wrap in cling film.

You now have a little spare time, just enough to make the crème pâtissière (recipe below).

After the détrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 20 x 30 cm and 1cm thick. Spread the butter evenly over the centre and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the détrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns. Wrap the dough in cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the dough on a floured work surface – the spine (picture a book spine) should be on your left. Roll the dough into another approximately 20 x 30 cm rectangle, and proceed with a tour double (what is a tour double?): visualise the middle axis of the rectangle, grab the lower end of the dough and fold it over so it meets the middle axis. Do the same with the upper end. I’ll call this an open book. Finally, close the ‘book’ and wrap it in cling film. The second and third turns have now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Do a final simple turn: place the ‘book’ in front of you, spine on the left and roll it into a rectangle slightly larger than a sheet of A4 paper. Brush the excess flour away and fold in three, just like you would do with a business letter.

Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours; however, I tried with a short 20 minute rest and it worked perfectly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish dough into a 20 x 30 cm rectangle, approximately 1/2 cm thick. Transfer onto baking paper. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 10cm long cuts with a knife, each about 2cm apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
Pipe the filling down the centre of the rectangle, and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Starting with the top and bottom flaps, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Tuck in the ends.

You can either place the braid into a loaf pan, or leave it rest onto a baking sheet.
Both ways, allow the braid to double in size at room temperature, for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C and bake the braid fopr 10 minutes; turn around, lower the oven temperature to 180°C, and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until golden.