Saturday, April 28, 2012

Our First Cake Show

As most of you probably know already, Will and I entered cakes into our very first cake show/competition last weekend. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun too!

Here are the cakes.

First up, my little cake boy's creation:

The bones on the top are arranged as letters to spell the dog's name, Rover. It's hard to tell, though.

Will's cake was designed to follow a theme. The whole theme of the show was a family celebrating several milestones, including a 25th wedding anniversary, their daughter's first baby, their son's turning 16 and getting his driver's license, and their dog turning 10 years old. Will chose the dog part of the theme and drew out a little picture to prepare for doing his cake. He decided on the colors and design, then cut and put all the pieces on himself. I am soooooo proud of him!


Drumroll please.....

Will won FIRST PRIZE in his age group!!

He won a little basket full of cake stuff for kids, including some sprinkles, edible glitter, a set of decorating tools (icing bags and icing tips), and a little decorating book with instructions for several projects that kids can do. Will immediately picked his next project: a cake that was in an ad for another book, one for adults! My little go-getter. I think he can do it, though!

I entered two cakes into the competition. One followed the theme and celebrated the 25th anniversary. The other was a non-themed wedding cake, which was a separate category until the other cakes dropped out! So, my two cakes ended up in the same category.

Here they are!

At home:

At the show:

The wedding cake:

The wedding cake won 2d place for the intermediate category! That won me a nice red ribbon and bragging rights! :)

Both of my cakes, and Will's cake too, are made from cake dummies. Cake dummies are styrofoam cake forms. I wanted to use them for a few reasons. First, it allowed me to work well ahead of time. This was the only way to have enough time to complete both large cakes and help Will with his. It also saved me a lot of baking time and time preparing real cake to be covered and decorated. It would have been way too much cake for us if all the cakes had been real. While I'm sure we could have given it away, I kind of wanted to keep these. Using styrofoam as the base allows us to keep the cakes for "display" pretty much indefinitely.

Now all three cakes are sitting in our dining room for all to see! Okay, so no one really goes in there to see them. But they could if they wanted to! :)

Here are a few decorating details. First, the wedding cake. That's the one with the birds. Will calls it the "lovebird" cake. I love it! (Did you notice that pun, too? Hee Hee!)

I hand-molded the birds on the top from a lovely teal-colored fondant. I love love love this color! It's one of my new favorites right now. I thought that molding these somewhat abstract bird forms would be easy, but it was surprisingly tricky! They kept wanting to settle on me and flatten out. I think that perhaps my fondant/gumpaste was a little too soft. In the end, I like them, though I think I could have done a little better given more time and materials.

I made the nest around the birds by first flattening out a piece of brown fondant to form the base of the nest. I then used my clay extruder and some of the same fondant to make the ropes that formed the main part of the nest. I pretty much let them fall messily around the birds so that it would look a little more natural.

Some things I have learned about using the clay extruder. I have a cheap-o one from Michaels. There are nicer ones on the market for sure, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money when I got mine. Click here to see the one I have. The link is to Amazon, but they sell the same kind at Michaels for $10 or $15.

I have had so much trouble with this in the past. Based on some advice I read, I would mix shortening into regular fondant to soften it up. This was to make it easier to push it through the extruder. The fondant always came out ragged with edges that refused to be smoothed down. I would add more shortening and then the fondant would just fall apart. Argh!

So, this time instead of adding a bunch of shortening, I used a Q-tip to rub a little glycerin onto both sides of the extruder plate and inside the tube of the extruder. I then mixed a little of the glycerin into the fondant until it was nice and soft, and stretchy. It worked!! It was so easy to push through and came out nice and smooth. Yeah!! So, if you ever use an extruder for your cake decorations, remember to add glycerin. Works like a charm!

Okay, back from that little commercial break. Ha!

The most time-consuming part of this cake was the birds and vines. They were all cut by hand and placed by hand onto the cake. All of the little leaves were cut separately. I think the judges thought I used a cutter to do the birds and maybe the leaves because I lost points for level of difficulty. Next time I know to write my process on a little card so they know exactly what was done!

I really love this cake. I don't want to sound braggy, but this cake truly shows my style -- the modern clean design, the colors, everything. Some people believe that a simple design means that it was simple to make. I think that couldn't be further from the truth. The less you have on a cake, the more careful you have to be to make sure everything is perfect. You can't hide a lot of flaws with lots of decorations. I wanted this cake to be really clean and it ended up being the cleanest work I have ever done. And I'm proud of that!

Wow, this is turning into a long post! I hope you all are sticking with me!

Here are some more pictures to hold your interest! :)

Here we are hard at work! I'm hoping that you will focus on Will in this picture because he is oh so cute in his little apron concentrating on his fondant. And that you aren't paying much attention to me.

Will in his apron. He made it himself!

Want some details on the peony cake? Even if you don't, I'm giving some anyway! Ha!

The focus on this cake for me was the peony. This was the first time I've made a flower like this, peony or otherwise, and I wasn't sure at first if I would use it for the cake show. But I really loved how it turned out! I think it really looks like a tree peony. You can decide for yourself if you like. Just google "yellow tree peony" and look at the images that come up. You will get to see some truly amazing real peonies!

The top and bottom tiers of this cake have a quartrefoil-like design pressed in all around the cake. I did not have a mat for this, but used a tool for cutting edges to make the design, turning it on it's side and around for every other line to make the full pattern. This was time-consuming, but I really like the result.

The middle tier has quartrefoil-shaped plaques with either "25" or "S" (for the couple's last name) on them. The plaques are edged with a fondant rope. Each tier has a bottom border made from a fondant rope painted silver.

Overall, I really like the subtlety and softness of the design of this cake. Again, pretty simple I guess. But a challenge to get right. The flower is truly the star of this one.

While at the cake show, the kids got to decorate cupcakes. They mixed fondant to make the right colors, then molded little animals to top a cupcake.

Will made a little fox.

Sorry you can't see it very well. Here he is holding his cupcake and hamming it up for the camera.

Kate made a little dog. I'm afraid you can't see hers that well either. Sorry!

Kate wanted to pose with her cupcake beside Will's cake.

I hope you have enjoyed our little cake show adventure with us! Come back again soon!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Last week, I had the pleasure of making two princess cakes for two of my favorite little princesses. Honestly, they belong to one of my favorite families.

Shhhh... Don't tell them. They might get big heads! :)

These sisters have birthdays very close to each other, so they had a joint family party. A princess party. With princess cake, of course!

Amber chose Belle.

Elena chose Rapunzel.

I had never made a doll cake before and it was a little trickier than I expected! Some people choose to bake the cake in a pyrex bowl to get the mounded shape of the doll's skirt. I chose not to because I like the predictability of baking in my round cake pans. I didn't want a situation where the edges of the cake were over-baked and the center not quite done, which can happen in the bowl because the center is so much deeper than the edges. So, I chose to bake two 8-inch rounds and two 6-inch rounds per skirt. Then I stacked and carved to get the skirt shape.

The bonus was lots of cake scraps for me, er, uh, I mean for my family. Yeah, that's right. My family.

These princesses had skirts that were 7 inches tall. That is tall for a cake! They had extra support to hold the weight. The general rule, for those of you who are wondering, is support every 4 inches of cake. If a cake is taller than 4 inches, it needs extra support in the middle.

It was so much fun doing the details of the dresses of these cakes! I tried to make them close to the originals and all the decorations are fondant. The swirls and flowers on Rapunzel's dress (down the front) were painted on using a little petal dust mixed with vodka. I mixed a couple of different purples with a little shimmer dust to get the color.

Oh, and I should mention what you probably already know. I am a little (okay, a lot) lacking in photography skills! The lighting on these pictures is terrible and the colors came out a little funky. That was actually a dark red paper behind Belle. I'm thinking a photography class or two would really help me! If any of you have any handy little tips to control lighting (without spending oodles of dough on a fancy lighting booth), I would really like to hear them!

Want the details of the cakes themselves? Of course you do! :)

Belle is vanilla bean cake with vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream filling. Rapunzel is chocolate cake with caramel swiss meringue buttercream filling. Yum! Yum!

Thanks for stopping by and taking a peak at my cakes!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Special Treat

Mmmmmm....... Looks good, doesn't it?

I put this little cake together in honor of a visit from my in-laws. Nothing too fancy, but oh was it good!

I did this the same weekend as the fishing cake, so I needed something simple. But it was just right.

The cake is my own yellow cake with Nutella swiss meringue buttercream filling. I used the same buttercream to cover it and give it a rustic look.

Don't you just love the term "rustic"? For me and cakes, it means I didn't take the time to smooth it all down as perfectly as I could. It's like a short-cut that is in vogue. Or like when a house listing says "charming" and really means "small."

I'm not judging, though! I like a rustic look on a cake. Sometimes looking homemade is comforting. It reminds me of home and childhood treats.

The chocolate shavings on the top were the perfect simple decoration.

To make the Nutella buttercream, mix up a batch of vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. You can find my recipe and instructions here. Add Nutella a little at a time until it suits your taste. This buttercream can handle quite a bit, but don't try to add a whole jar at once! I think I added around 1 cup. (Sorry, I wasn't measuring!) This buttercream would be really good with chocolate cake, too!

I just finished revising my recipe for my yellow cake, so I'm sharing it with you. You are going to love it!

Now you can make this yourself and enjoy it with your family! Or hide it and eat it all yourself after the kids go to bed. Uh, not that I've done that. Very often.

Or with your morning coffee. Tasty!


Yellow Vanilla Cake
Makes 2 8-inch cakes
10-1/2 ounces (3 cups) bleached cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
10-1/2 ounces (1-1/2 cups) granulated sugar
6 egg yolks plus 1 whole large egg
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
4 ounces heavy cream
2 ounces (1/4 cup) plain yogurt
4 ounces unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl fo an electric mixer, combine cake flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix on low for at least 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, egg, extracts and a couple tablespoons of the cream. Set aside. Add the rest of the cream, the yogurt and the butter to the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Turn the speed to medium-high for 1-1/2 minutes. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, then add the egg mixture in three parts, adding each part on low speed and then mixing on medium-high speed for 20 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Pour into 2 greased and parchment-lined 8-inch cake pans. Bake until the top springs back when touched lightly with a finger and a toothpick inserted in the center comes back with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 35 minutes. Cool in pan on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely on the rack.

To make this into a white cake, sub in 6 large egg whites (6 ounces) for the yolks and whole egg. Voila! White cake. If you use pure vanilla bean paste instead of simple extract, the cake with be flecked with little vanilla seeds. So pretty! And very tasty too!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fishing Cake

Here it is!

I hope it lives up to the hype at least a little bit...

I have had the pleasure of getting to know my friend Connie through Bible Study over the past several years. She is wonderful! Her husband was celebrating a birthday a couple of weeks ago and Connie asked me to make a cake for him with a fishing theme. I was thrilled to be able to do it! And I'm not just saying that! Connie let me run with a design, which was also a lot of fun.

A closer view of the top:

I have to admit, there were a few things I wasn't quite sure about before I started this cake. I had the design in mind and loved it. Originally, it was going to just be the boat. But the more I thought about adding a person sleeping, the more I liked the idea. I decided to go for it, even though I've never molded a person before. Ever. I was really pleased with how it all came together!

The moral of this story is....

Just go for it! The worst that can happen is it doesn't work, it gets removed, lessons will be learned. You learn what doesn't work, what might work, and how to improvise in the midst of it all. I truly believe that I learn more and improve more from my failures than from successes. Though the successes are a lot more fun! :)

Okay, back to the cake!

The boat is cut from fondant with a little tylose powder mixed in to help it dry more quickly. I made a little model out of plain paper first so that I could make sure it would fit together properly. I used the paper pieces as templates to cut the fondant shapes. There were four pieces total: one for each side, a bottom, and a back. I made the pieces look more like wood by scoring "planks" with a knife tool. I then made more shallow line marks randomly across the "boards." I dusted the whole thing with a little black powder color to give it more dimension. Then I "glued" the pieces together with some vodka and supported it with paper towels and little plastic cups until it dried. If I did this again, I would glue the pieces together with melted chocolate and I'd try to finish the edges of the boat a little better.

Do you like the little fish?

He's a trout. Not too shabby, huh? I really love this little guy. He is molded from white gumpaste and then colored with petal dust. For the color, I mixed together two different greens and a little black, then dusted it on to the fish with a tiny little paint brush (used only for cake stuff and never for paint). Pink petal dust colored his mouth.

I wanted to make my fish as real and accurate looking as possible, so I printed off several pictures of trout from the web and tried to mimic the details as best I could. I actually made eleven of these little guys. All but the one above were used as cupcake toppers on gluten-free cupcakes made by Connie's daughter-in-law.

I also love the little cattails. They are toothpicks painted with brown food coloring and topped with a little brown fondant. All the other details on the cake are fondant, except for the grass, which is green buttercream piped on using a grass piping tip.

The cake itself was vanilla bean filled with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. It is also covered with the vanilla buttercream. The water on the top was fun to do and so easy - just swirl away with an offset spatula!

I hope you all like my fishing cake! Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Christening Cake

At long last, another cake post!

A few weeks ago, my friend's darling daughter Charlotte was baptized and I had the pleasure and privilege of making the cake!

Pink. Pretty. Just right for a little girl.

I am so grateful that this cake came together! A little more than a week before the party, I came down with the flu. I was sick for about 3 days, then started to feel better so I thought I was out of the woods. Instead, I was hit with a sinus infection and two ear infections! And when I say hit, I mean it! It knocked me out! The doc said my ears were "angry with me." I thought that was so funny. And true!

I love it when something unexpected makes me laugh when I'm feeling pretty crappy otherwise. Those little moments are the best!

Thanks to some antibiotics, I was feeling well much better when it came time to bake and decorate. Also, I was no longer contagious, which is really important when you are baking for someone else! Just in time!

Want the details of this cake? Of course you do! :)

Both tiers of this cake are vanilla bean cake with milk chocolate ganache. They are fondant-covered and also decorated with fondant details.

The top is a white fondant plaque with a cross made by forming ropes of fondant into loops, then pinching and connecting them in the middle. I added the tiny pink flowers for dimension and to pretty it up a bit. They also serve a functional purpose. They hide the joint. Nice! I love it when things come together like that!

"I love it when a plan comes together!" Come on now - I know I wasn't the only one thinking that! And no comments about how old I am to remember that quote! :) Points to anyone who knows where it comes from!

I quilted the sides using a homemade quilting marker/impression mat, then made the actual lines with Wilton's little quilting wheel. I saw online one time a homemade mat that could be used to mark spaces or lines. You can buy these mats, too, but they aren't cheap! Click here to see an example.

I'm sorry, but I cannot for the life of me remember where I first saw the homemade mat, so I can't give proper credit. I will say, though, that I didn't copy it exactly but rather just used the general idea of a homemade mat to figure out how to do mine.

In case you are interested, this is what I did. I bought an inexpensive plastic cutting board, the kind that is flexible and that you can see through. I was looking for a clear one, but couldn't find it, so I opted for a pastel blue, which I could still see through. You could also use a flexible plastic placemat. After I made mine, I found plastic sheets in the quilting section of Hobby Lobby. They were clear and would have been perfect for this project. They were by the self-healing cutting mats.

So, I had my plastic. Next I bought little plastic sticker dots in the scrapbooking section of Michael's. They are simple raised dots meant to be used to decorate a scrapbook page. Mine are very small, white and very smooth on the top. I cut my plastic sheet lengthwise so that I had a long piece that was 4 inches wide. This is because the cakes I make are generally 4 inches tall. The cut long edge will be the top of the mat. I placed the dots on the plastic sheet in a grid pattern using the pre-printed grid on my own self-healing mat. You could also use a ruler. You want them in a diamond pattern. I ended up making two of these mats, one with 2-inch diamonds and another with 3-inch diamonds. I used the smaller one on this cake.

Don't they look cool? And all for just about $3.00 total!

To use them, align a long edge with the bottom of a fondant or buttercream covered cake (fondant works best). Very gently press the dots into the cake, just enough to make a small mark with the dots. Be careful not to move the mat out of alignment! Once the marks are made, very carefully pull the mat straight out from the cake. Line up the last row of marks with the dots on one end of the sheet and press the rest into place. Continue until you have marks all around your cake. Then simply connect the dots with the wheel tool or small pizza cutter (though it might be difficult to get all the way to the bottom edge with the pizza cutter). Make sure you don't cut into the fondant, but simply mark the lines very lightly.

Easy peasy, right?

I hope you enjoyed seeing Charlie's christening cake!

The news is out that I recently made a pretty spectacular fishing-themed cake. I'm so humble, aren't I? :) Well, that cake is coming up soon, so come back looking for it! I know that you will love it! And hopefully it will live up to this hype!

Monday, April 2, 2012


I have been busy lately! But not all with cake or baked goods. I have been reorganizing my kitchen. I emptied all of my cabinets and shifted everything around to make my kitchen more usable and comfortable for me. After all, I spend A LOT of time there and it is my favorite room of the house. It's where all the magic happens!

And that is why I'm sharing some of it here. I figure you all like to bake (or at least like to read about baking) and so maybe some of the tips and tricks I tried will help you too!

This was a big job. While I had cabinets and drawers empty, I also completely cleaned them. It is so nice to have that done!

My kitchen has a lot of cabinet space, but half of the space in them is unusable for me because I am so short. I can only reach to the second shelf in the upper cabinets without a stool. So, I want the things I need most on the first two shelves so that I don't have to get out the step stool for every little thing. I also wanted to avoid running all over my kitchen and around my island, which is right in the center, for every project. So, I created "stations" in my kitchen. For example, I have a baking station. It is basically the island, which has three small drawers and two cabinets. I put all of my baking ingredients in the larger of the two cabinets, along with a set of mixing bowls and liquid measuring cups. In the remaining cabinet, I have baking pans - my most-used cake pans, cooking sheets, and cooling racks. The drawers contain baking utensils like measuring cups and spoons, some spatulas, a rolling pin, silpat mat and my candy thermometer. In another is my plastic wrap, parchment paper, foil, and wax paper. Now when I bake, I can reach everything I need from one spot! It's perfect!

I also have a cooking station with my oils, spices, canned goods and other most-often-used pantry ingredients, and my pots and pans. I have another set of mixing bowls here, along with the utensils that I use most often for cooking. This is all right by the stove. I have noticed already how this type of organization will make my life in the kitchen easier.

So, here are some projects that I tackled when doing all of this. To create more easily accessible space for myself, I hung some smaller things on the insides of the cabinet doors. My spices used to be all jumbled together in a big drawer. Now they hang in little plastic bins on the inside of the cabinet that contains my cooking oils.

The spices themselves are in little clear plastic containers that I found on clearance at Target a year or so ago. When I get new spices, I decant them into these little containers and store any extra in its original jar on the highest shelf in that same cabinet. The bins that you see hanging on the door are actually silverware dividers that I found for $3.99 each at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I attached them to the door using Command strips. Genius, right? Yes, thank you! :) Because the spices in their new containers are so light, the strips hold them up beautifully and I don't have to worry about trying to screw anything into the thin wood of the cabinet door. I labelled each jar with my low-tech labeling system. That would be a pen and some tape. I should have printed off fancy labels on fancy clear paper, but that seemed like too much trouble. I know. Martha would be so disappointed in me!

I also have my extracts in little baskets secured to a door in my baking area with Command hooks.

I needed a deeper basket for these taller items, so the plastic silverware dividers would not work. I found these baskets with the bathroom items at Meijer. It was $4.00 and came with suction cups attached. I simply pulled off the suction cups and used the little holes for my hooks. Storing my extracts this way also makes them all easier to see, so I remember what I've got!

I used to store my main baking/cooking utensils like whisks, spatulas and wooden spoons in a large jar next to my stove. I had the idea to hang them to save some counter space and make them look much cooler. I bought an inexpensive towel bar at Target and some shower curtain hooks. I hung the towel bar on the bottom of one of the upper cabinets by the stove. Each hook has one or more items hanging on it.

I really love how this project turned out! My fab Mother-in-Law gave me her whisk collection and now I have a great place to display it!

Another counter-space-saving project has to do with fruit. We try to always have lots of apples, bananas and other fruit in the house, which I love. What I did not love was having a big fruit bowl in my way on my counter all the time. I found an oval bread basket at Target and decided to hang it on the wall. It worked! I originally had it hanging with Command hooks, but the full basket was a little too much for the little things. So, I went and got a couple of thin bathroom robe/towel hooks and used those instead. They are attached with drywall anchors, so this basket isn't going anywhere!

Here are some pics of a couple of other things I did:

Our most-used mugs are now hanging with, you guessed it, Command hooks! They are hanging right above the coffee maker on the bottom of the upper cabinet. Very convenient!

Our island has an overhang, but there isn't enough room in that spot for stools or anything, so it has been pretty useless space. I want to eventually build shelves custom for that space, but to try out the idea, I bought these little rolling bathroom cabinets at Walmart ($20 each). In these cabinets, I have the kids' snacks and other snacks, like the bars my husband takes to work with him everyday. I found the red chevron bins at Target. They hold the kids' cups so they can now get their own drinks of water when they are thirsty. Here's to some independence for those kiddos! I love it!

The "curtains" are tea towels I found at Target (can you tell red is my accent color?). I bought two small tension rods, "hemmed" the ends of the towels with no-sew, no-iron hemming tape and hung them on the bars. Don't they look great?

I have so many more projects to share with you! But it will have to wait until another time. What's that they say? Leave them wanting more. I'm sure you all (well, the four of you who actually read my blog anyway!) are so fascinated by all of this that you can't wait for more! :) I have more cake projects to share, too. So stay tuned!