‘June’: Oh The Places You Will Go Cake

No Dr Seuss shaped cake today. Sorry to disappoint. But a cake for a new adventure. It also is being called my June bake because I was super hectic for a range of reasons and didn’t bake in June, but did another more complex bake in July also. So to keep things moving we’ll call this the ‘June’ bake.

July was the month my sister moved overseas for her new job. So naturally I had to make a cake for her, a pretty niftly-decorated cake with a map of the world (cakes for my sister are definitely over-represented on this blog…I must love her or something)!  So this #cakesnotcrises post is a discussion about using fondant, and an excuse to talk about previous cake decorating exploits as well as this one.

Cakes of the Past: The White House

I have a bit of a tendency to jump into themed cake making and then realise I need to come up with some new skills! I think the most ridiculous, in terms of ingredients and naivete, cake I’ve made is the cake in the shape of the White House for my then-housemate’s birthday. In fact Alice and I spent a day making that one. Stupidly we made it using a brownie recipe so it was about one million eggs and a field of sugar (but oh man was it delicious!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That required two layers of ridiculous brownie cake and then a jar and a half of Betty Crocker’s white chocolate icing.

We weren’t sure if it would really look like the White House at all at several points. Here is a younger me being concerned that it was going to come together.

Icing helped. As did the addition of a good old American flag, some snipers, a painted-black toy car with police escort, and some lego landscaping.

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While there appeared to have been a coup by the end of the night, it was a great success! Thanks to Alice who endorsed and aided this mad adventure back in the day.

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And that was the beginning of fun cake making. Possibly one of the most epic, also. Although at least the icing for it was easy, unlike others…more on that shortly.

Cakesnotcrises Bake cake plans

Back to my ‘June’ bake!I used a different chocolate cake recipe to last time, but it definitely wasn’t as good as the cake mum made from Add A Pinch for Alice’s Gift Wrapped Cake, so I’m just going to recommend that one again. …Maybe that can be a 2016 adventure: try and rate different chocolate cake recipes?

I made a double recipe for this cake because I was taking it to Alice’s farewell party–that’s double a recipe that normally makes a two layered cake. I put it all in a rectangular pan (for reasons that will become clear), baked it and re-made the recipe for the second layer.

Sorted. Let them cool and squished chocolate ganache between them. I didn’t smooth the edges and crumb-coat it like previously because I wasn’t icing to the ground for this one due to time constraints. If I wanted to neaten it up in that way I would have put them in the freezer and when firm, taken them out and trimmed the edges. Crumb-coating means putting a ‘messy’ thin layer of icing all over, and then fridging it again. This prevents any crumbs from coming through the final smart layer of icing (it ‘traps’ them in the crumb-coat). But I didn’t do that this time.

The next step was icing, which is where the fun was in this one! If I did it again I would fondant icing the underneath layer also, but it was a biiiiig cake, and fondant has its own fun as I’ve previously learned.

Cakes of the Past: Fondant Fun

A few years ago, my friend had a circus themed 30th. It was tremendous, not only because everyone dressed up but because her partner surprised her with a adult bouncy castle in the backyard. Truly fabulous! I told her I’d make the cake, and decided I’d make it in the shape of a circus tent. Easy, I thought, A circus tent is basically the shape of a cake! Soon realised that it required a cone on top which was a whole other adventure in shaping cake (and one I’d like to try again, wasn’t 100% happy but it was totally ok).

I had decided to try using fondant for the first time. I bought a big roll of while fondant and planned to dye it. Now folks, in future when you’re planning on dyeing fondant icing if you want super bring colours you need to buy the power or oil dye. The water-based one from the supermarket runs into dramas because you can’t add too much without affecting the consistency (you don’t want it too soft!), and it takes a lot to get a deep colour. This is a thing I learned.

I’d always wanted to make a rainbow cake, and what better excuse than the circus coming to town? So four layers in different colours, chocolate ganache between them. Crumb-coated (not pictured), and then covered in a white fondant. This picture has been taken from the ‘good’ side. There is a seam on the other side. But for a first time it was pretty alright.

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Fondant icing requires you to roll it out and then in one move that looks much cooler when professionals do it than my attempts while muttering profanities under my breath drap it over the cake (that you’ve coated with jam – apricot works well) and smooth it down.

I then took the fondant I’d dyed and made the tent’s strips. Topped it with a bobble (holding up the big top!), and then made teeny bunting to go around!

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Birthday girl loved it, so mission accomplished! It looked pretty great when cut also!

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Fondant can be fiddly. Trying to get things to stick and stick straight away without smearing apricot jam everywhere is an adventure. I’m also still not confident in how to make the best, minimal joins sometimes, but something to work towards.

Oh the Places You Will Go

The ‘June’ cake bake is not nearly as fancy perhaps as either of these two… or architectural. But was a lot of fun!

As I said above, I didn’t use fondant for the base of the icing. I just made a basic icing:

  • icing sugar
  • hot water
  • knob of butter
  • blue food colour (seriously, apparently have a thing for dyeing things blue if this blog is anything to go by!)

Smeared it all over the cake! Looked a bit like water with its textures. It also has the advantage of drying relatively quickly and smoothly. This is why I chose it over a butter-cream icing, which may have looked more like the sea, but would have been harder to place the continents on.

The continents were made using the most amazing cookie cutter set I think I’ve ever seen. The reviews on the Amazon version of them are hilarious as people complain that you can’t use them as a teaching tool because they aren’t accurate… Well duh, they are cutters for delicious snacks. Buy a map.

I do like the idea here, but I wish they were actually continent cookie cutters as some people had suggested. They are not. There are six of the seven continents and North America is actually split in two. They are cute but I think most people would never use Australia or Asia for cookies as one is huge and the other is tiny. They would work to some extent as educational supplements, maybe for tracing or playdough. The cutters themselves seem pretty sturdy and are a cheerful green color. I would recommend these or even give as a gift, just read the details.

— Amazon commentor

Before I got into using the fondant I made a plan for how they were going to fit on the cake. I needed Australia and the middle east to be visible, so I sacrificed the west coast of the Americas (lo siento) and the eastern tip of Russia (izvinite (thanks google translate)).

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I traced the size of the cake (from the tin) on a piece of baking paper and then placed the cutter pieces. Once I’d placed them I drew around them (see above) so I had an outline when needing to check placement of pieces.

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Then it was on to the rolling. Rolled out the fondant…green of course! Then cut the pieces out. Some of these were trick-eee, with fiddly isthmuses to careful poke loose. Then it was a matter of holding my breath and placing them on the iced cake!

Used some red fondant and cut out tiny strips as well as two love hearts. Placed these in the fridge while doing the continents. Because they were so small they heated up and got a bit soft from me handling them while cutting. Popping it in the fridge sorted them straight out.

Last thing to do was put the little flight path on the cake with the love hearts at each end.

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As you can see, some continents look a bit… shall we say odd. Poor Europe. Part of this is probably down to the fact that I was cutting fondant, so there was no partial expanding when baking (no baking!) like there would be if cookies. And this is a potential entry for ‘World Maps Without New Zealand’ also.  However, to the people at Amazon I say get off the internet and quit your whinging!

Sister lovedddd it, and it was also delicious!

IMG_4523Side-on view. As you can see I didn’t use fondant icing so the edges aren’t ‘tidy’, but the delicious chocolate insides are visible here also! Yum!

So this bake wasn’t the most complex,  but it was fun to play with fondant again, and have an excuse to buy a world map cookie cutter set. Will have to find other uses for a puzzle-piece Europe and an anemic South America! Challenged accepted! I find fondant lots of fun. I’d like to play with it more and do some of the more complex flowers and other 3D kinds of decorating you can do with it. I enjoyed the white-chocolate and glucose mixture from the March bake also. A firmer consistency than the fondant. I think there’s potential to do some interesting things with a mix of both when decorating.

There’s a bigger, more involved bake coming for July! Thanks for indulging my excuse to reminisce about previous cakes as well as talk about this one!

Safe travels and fabulous adventures Alice!

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May: Norwegian Cookie Bake!

The 17th of May is Syttende Mai or Norwegian National Day (/Constitution Day). My family is part Norwegian (my dad’s dad was Norwegian) and one of the ways we celebrate this is by celebrating syttende mai with family dinner at my parents’ place. I thought I’d bake something Norwegian for dessert in celebration. It is often typical to bake a kvæfjordkake (humbly known as ‘the best cake in the world’) or a suksesskake, or a bløtkake (very similar to a Victorian sponge). But I decided that ‘just’ a cake wasn’t enough (although I’m going to make a kvæfjordkake sometime soon because it looks delicious! and I’ve not made one before). So I instead decide to appropriate a Christmas tradition of making a variety (traditionally 7 types) of biscuits that are traditionally made to have out when visitors drop by around Christmas time. So over the course of a weekend–and it literally took me the weekend–I baked 5 types of Norwegian biscuits, plus plain (but ah-mazing) sugar cookies that Mum can eat, and as I’d run out of time to make the 7th type of cookie it was lucky that wonderful friend Bec had been invited to dinner and brought a little bit of her English heritage in the shape of Elizabeth Shaw mint chocolates that we made the ‘7th’ item on our plates. Continue reading

March: Gift Wrapped Cake

Ok. I dropped the ball a bit. I did my March bake, and then never posted it. However, it wasn’t perhaps the most challenging of bakes, although it was definitely time consuming. My sister’s birthday is at the end of March and so I agreed to decorate the cake for family birthday dinner.

Mum made the cake (chocolate of course, by request of my sister). She used this recipe–humbly titled “The Best Chocolate Cake”–from Add A Pinch. It was undeniably delicious and the recipe is really easy. Continue reading

February: Pear Tarte Tatin

Yes yes, I know it is now mid-March and the title of this blog says February. I am pleased to say, despite failing to post a blog in February I did all the cooking in the correct month at least (well the second attempt was in March)! In this shortest month of the year I came back from my honeymoon, packed our flat, moved to Brisbane, started a new job, found a place to live up here AND baked. No wonder February disappeared in a flash!

So when I moved up to Brisbane I moved in temporarily with my folks while I looked for somewhere for Brendan and I to live. Considering they were letting me stay with them I thought I’d bake something for them, and that my mum can eat. My mum has a salicylate intolerance which means there is a long list of foods to be avoided – in particular fruit, vegies, and spices.

I decided to attempt a tart tatin, and to make it mum-friendly, made a pear tarte tatin. A tarte tatin is an upside-down tart. You bake caramalised fruit under a pastry sheet and then flip it over to serve. The oft-repeated tale is that two sisters (the Tatin sisters) ran a hotel in France and one overcooked/burnt the fruit for an apple pie and in an attempt to save it inverted it and served it to her guests who loved it. Other food historians suggest that the tart has existed in the Sologne region of France for hundreds of years and while this story may have an element of truth to the events, there is contention about whether it was ‘invented’ by the sisters.

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January: Eclairs

And so the baking begins. January’s challenge is ECLAIRS!

Like all these baking attempts, I’m not pretending to be an expert and I’ll share as I go where I found information or help, and reflections on how things turned out. If, dear reader, you’ve made anything I bake and have suggestions I’d love to hear them! Even when I think I’m succeeding I’m generally flying blind (or basing it on things I’ve read on the internet/ eating the thing at some point in my life and trying to remember what it was like). So as this adventure begins be advised that while I’ve used recipes and adapt or follow them here this is also a self-reflective process of baking that I’m trying to record.

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previous eclair attempt: sadly flat, saved by excessive chocolate

So: January! Why eclairs? Well, several years ago, in my ignorance I decided to make eclairs one evening. I found a recipe on the internet and went for it. Suddenly I found myself making the dough in a saucepan, and realised I’d definitely, inadvertently stepped out of my normal baking zone.

Those mini-eclairs I made (mini both in length and puffiness) were still eaten with glee by work colleagues but to be honest they did not puff as choux pastry is meant to, and I think it was really the combination of chocolate whipped cream and chocolate topping that saved me.

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