Let’s Go Somewhere Where There’s CHOCOLATE!


Wallace and Gromit's Big Bake logo

Last Friday I did a small bake sale at my husband’s workplace for the Wallace and Gromit’s Big Bake to benefit Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Charity. They’re a UK group raising funds to improve the lives of sick children in hospitals and hospices by providing medical equipment, family care, art/music/play therapy, and more.

Peo and I found out about the Big Bake at the Cake and Bake show in London and saw promos again at the Birmingham Cake International show, and we thought we’d give it a go even though we’re not set up to do anything large-scale here.

As it was, I ran out of time to do as many goodies as I wanted, but I at least made enough to fill small boxes and bags, as shown below.

In keeping with many of my recent posts, I made a bunch of 3D mini-Smarties filled ornaments:

3D ornament cookies

These can be very basic or very detailed depending on your time, tools, and skill level.

I was going to do a separate post on how to make these, but given that I’ve covered the basics elsewhere I’ll do a quick how-to here as a recap. First, start with the Base Cookie instructions back here on the 3D Candy Filled Baseball Cap Cookies post. Then simply roll out some fondant in whatever colour you wish, using a texture mat or pin if you like, and affix the fondant over the cookie with a bit of corn syrup/golden syrup thinned with some water. Add a little lump with a hole in the middle on one side to serve as the hanger and voila! You can then leave it plain or add more elements, paint on some colours or dust, or whatever suits your fancy.

I actually pre-made some basic ornaments back in Austin with the intention of posting a tutorial on them, but since I’ve now made these new ones I’ll discuss some of those individually and put further details in the captions on how they were made.

red, green, and blue ornament cookies

These were the ones I made in the summer. The red and the green were made with a texture mat I got in a cake event goody bag somewhere along the line, and the blue was made with the texture mat that comes with the Autumn Carpenter snowflake set. Then the raised bits of each design was painted with edible gold and silver. For these ones, I also made the hanger part solid and painted to match the other details.

basketweave ornament

I found a bargain-bin basketweave rolling pin at the NEC show for £2 and used that for the first time to make this cookie. I also dusted it with Disco Dust because sparkles are awesome.

star ornament cookie

For this one I covered the cookie in plain green, then rolled out of some yellow, used the same texture mat from the Austin samples above on the yellow, cut that with a little star cutter, and put the star on the cookie with a bit of thinned golden syrup. Then I brushed around the edge with more of the golden syrup and plonked on some gold pearls I found cheap at Sainsbury’s, and stuck another in the centre.

scrollwork ornament cookie

This one also uses the same texture mat as the Austin examples, except I realized I forgot to bring silver or gold edible paint. So I used my new sugarpaste extruder gun to make thin ropes of yellow and stuck those on the design instead. This was very tedious and while it looks pretty good, it was hard to keep it neat (you can see the flaws I didn’t bother to fix) so I’d only recommend this method if you are very patient, have lots of time, and possibly are imprisoned.

bow ornament cookie

Here I used a hexagon texture mat from a Makin’ Clay set (and you can see in the one below and to the right that I used the same mat there the other way around). Then I extruded some ribbons and made a simple fake bow.

sparkly blue ornament cookie

This was super simple: I put on a plain covering of smooth fondant, brushed the whole thing with the water-thinned golden syrup, and then dumped some blue sugar crystals over it.

I also made some basic shortbread cookies using a recipe from the Renshaw blog. I cut most of these out using the cutters from the Autumn Carpenter snowflake set and then covered them with fondant. The round ones were cut with a set of graduated two-sided cutters I found at Poundland.

Christmas cookies

Look how much variety you can get with just a few cutters!

deer cookies

These have green fondant cut with the same cutter as the cookie (the round one is indented with the next size down in the set). Then I added deer cut with a little PME deer cutter I found in a bargain bin at my local cake shop here in Cambridge, plus a red PME sugar pearl for the nose.

brown deer cookie

Here I used the PME deer cutter and red sugar pearl again, this time with a white fondant background and a chocolate fondant deer.

Same as above, but reversed, and frankly adding more chocolate to the shortbread is really, really tasty.  I've posted about putting chocolate fondant on cookies before because it is an easy way to get a smooth, delicious covering on cookies.

Same as above, but reversed, and frankly adding more chocolate to the shortbread is really, really tasty. I’ve posted about putting chocolate fondant on cookies before because it is an easy way to get a smooth, delicious chocolate covering on cookies without having to temper or spread actual chocolate.

holly cookie

If you don’t want too much fondant on a cookie, you can go with just a tiny decoration like this. I used a small PME holly leaf plunger cutter and three of the red sugar pearls. Fast, easy, and lovely without overpowering the cookie.

snowflake mini cookie

Simple flat blue fondant background with the smallest PME plunger snowflake cutter in white on top.

I also used the Autumn Carpenter snowflake set to make these large, fondant-covered cookies. In the past I’ve done fancier things with that set but since I was pressed for time and didn’t have all of my tools, I just went for a basic texture mat finish dusted with Disco Dust.

big snowflake cookies

The Disco Dust didn’t show up in the photo but these sparkled beautifully.

I also had a go at making some candies for the sale. First I used Oh Nuts’ Homemade Peppermint Patties Recipe to make some mints. I had trouble making the log roll as per the directions because my mix was too crumbly, so I added about a tablespoon of milk and that helped. The recipe doesn’t specify what kind of cream and I had Double Cream on hand (which is like Heavy Whipping Cream in the US), so it could be that they meant to list a thinner cream.

I also cut mine a lot smaller so they would be pop-in-the-mouth size, so I used more chocolate to coat. I melted some of my new favourite baking chocolate (which I think is not actually baking chocolate and that might be why it’s so delicious), the Tesco’s Finest 72% Swiss Dark Chocolate bar. I’m not sure how much I melted because I softened some and then added more as seeding to try and keep it tempered, and I also knew leftovers could be used to glue together the 3D cookies above.

Since I recently graduated to Proper Cake Decorator status by actually making sugar flowers that aren’t Audrey II, I tried making some mini poinsettias using a set of three graduated five-pointy-petal cutters (they are probably calyx cutters but they were unlabeled) I found in a bargain bin at the NEC show. These are really easy: you just cut out a green and red in the largest size, then a red in each of the smaller sizes, stack them with the petals offset, and put three yellow dots, sprinkles, sugar pearls, or whatever in the middle.

poinsettia mint candies

I wasn’t sure how many candies there’d be when I made the flowers so some were left plain.

The only downside was I bought plain white flower paste with the intention of colouring it as needed, and the only gel colours I had on hand were the Dr. Oetker ones which I must say are terrible. Ugh, those gels are barely above the watery, cheap, grocery store sets of four colours. Despite adding tons of the red to my flower paste, the best I could get was pink. How I miss my Americolor Super Red!

candy detail

Detail of a cut mint candy and the poinsettias behind. This picture isn’t washy…the colours really are that weak.

I also made some easy dark chocolate truffles using this recipe. Once again I used the 72% Swiss bars mentioned above. These are delicious.

sprinkle covered dark chocolate truffles

I bought some cheap holiday sprinkles at Poundland, used the whole thing, and then used a whole jar of multicoloured sprinkles from Sainsbury.

dark chocolate truffles

A close up because yum reasons.

I totally just got sprinkles all over my keyboard nomming one of the spare ones while working on this post. Food blogging is very perilous. Yes. Hang on, I should roll a saving throw against Sugarification…

D20 cookie

Whew, I made my roll thanks to this cutter from Warpzone! I put royal icing on this cookie with the swirly leftovers of the “black” (aka grey since I also miss my Americolor Super Black) and the blue from other cookies.

Anyway, next came the Doctor Who cookies, all in my standard Dark Chocolate Rolled Cookie recipe. Because every Christmas cookie package should have an Angel cookie in it, right? And Adipose cookies are like fat little snowmen, d’awwww. And Dalek cookies are festive because…because…um…BECAUSE DECORATE! COOKIE-ATE! CHOCO-LATE! OM-NOM-NOM-INATE!

Or maybe I just knew the nerds at my husband’s workplace would fork over more charity cash if I geekified the boxes, booyeah!

weeping angel cookies

Don’t blink or someone will eat these out from under you!

adipose cookies

I can’t think of a sweeter way to build your own adipose storage. Well okay I can but that’s a whole different, bigger project.

dalek cookies

Dalek cookies ONNAPLATE! And if these terrible EXTERMINATE jokes are getting to you, perhaps you should just relax.

The Angels are fondant cut with the same cutter as the cookie. These cutters (which all came from Warpzone) are fairly deep which meant I had to roll the fondant much thicker than I usually would in order to get the interior imprint.

The Adipose are covered in royal icing, which turned out to be quite a pain to mix when one is living without a mixer. I had to whip it with a flimsy electric whisk, so that’s why the Angels have fondant: I just didn’t have the energy to mix more royal!

The Daleks are also covered in royal icing. I did the body circles first and put on the gold balls while it was wet. Oh, but let me tell you about the balls! Both the Fourth and Tenth Doctor were right to call standard dragees/sugar pearls “edible ball bearings” because they’re pretty to look at but rather nasty and hard to actually eat. But the gold balls on these Dalek cookies are Gold Crisp Pearls I found at Tesco (they also come in silver) and they’re actually quite lovely! The bottle says they are “milk chocolate covered cereal crispies coated in a gold coloured sugar coating.” So they’re like teensey weensy Nestle Crunch morsels in shiny gold. This means when you eat the cookie and get to them, you don’t have to brace yourself for a tooth-shattering impact, because they pretty much melt in your mouth with the slightest crisp texture and blend in perfectly with the rest of the cookie.

Anyway, once the dots had set I flooded around them with red royal icing and then immediately sprinkled some Red Sugar Shimmer crystals over that. I put some Baby Blue Glimmer crystals over the eye piece and for kicks put a snowflake sprinkle on the suction cup arm.

Dalek cookie detail

I for one bow to our new robocookie overlords.

There was also a Tardis cookie but I seem to have forgotten to take a photo of it. Which might be just as well since I didn’t do a great job of icing it. I’m going to go ahead and blame wibbly wobbly timey wimey reasons.

In the end I prepared nine boxes stuffed full of cookies and candies and took them to my husband’s office, which is more boxes than employees there. I asked for a suggested donation of £10 per box and some folks gave more, so we raised £70 with three boxes left over.

box contents

Each box contained two Doctor Who cookies, a bag of mints and truffles, one other big special cookie, three smaller holiday cookies, and one of the 3D candy filled ornament cookies.

I offered the spare boxes online to anyone who could come pick them up, but unfortunately all of my friends who were keen to donate and get the goodies were too far away. So I gave the spares to neighbours with the Wallace and Gromit stickers on the box so hopefully they’ll learn about the charity and donate separately.

All in all I think £70 (which is about US$109 on today’s exchange rate) isn’t bad for a one-person bake sale at a small office.

Thanks to everyone to donated and to the Wallace and Gromit charity for doing such important work for those who need it most!

Posted in 3D Cookies, Cake Decorating, Cookies, Donated Items, Links, My Recipes, Other People's Recipes, Products, Severe Nerdery | Leave a comment

3D Candy Filled Turkey Cookie


As I’ve mentioned, we’re in the UK for a year, and before we packed up our Austin house to come out here I made a bunch of holiday-themed cookies with my new Nordicware Cookie Cup pan (which I bought of my own accord and have not received any incentives or compensation for) so I’d have things to blog without having to bring all of my cake tools over.

I was pretty rushed during that time so at the last minute I banged out a quick turkey version of the 3D candy filled cookies I’ve been posting about lately. If I’d had more time I would have tried a cookie version of my popular turkey cakes, but I figured it might also be fun to show how you can put together something really basic and fast using cutters.

Note that you should totally customize this to the tools you have on hand, and if you don’t have shaped cutters you can just use a knife to cut the shapes you need. Also, there’s a lot of fondant on this, so if you don’t have a cookie cup or similar sphere pan, wing it (heh) with a cupcake pan. This would be a fun activity to keep the kids busy over Thanksgiving weekend, and they’ll put even more fondant on so you might want to treat it as one of those situations where the fondant really is meant as decoration and not to be fully eaten.

Start with the base cookie directions on the 3D Baseball Caps post and use any candy you like for the filling. Or if you’re sick and twisted like me, you could use the directions on the 3D Choco-Blood Filled Eyeball Cookies post to fill your turkeys with fake blood and then make them scream as you bite them. Muahahahaha.

Ahem.

Anyway, once you’ve got your shaped and sealed cookies ready, brush some diluted corn syrup over the cookie to make it slightly sticky and proceed as follows:

red feathers on cookie

Roll out some red fondant. Using a small leaf cutter (especially if you have one that’s plunger-style with embossing, like this PME rose leaf cutter) or teardrop shape, cut a bunch of “feathers” and arrange them from the bottom sides up as shown in the photo, finishing with a centered one on top. The feathers should overlap enough to hide the cookie, but leave the very bottom of the curve uncovered.

feathers on cookie

Roll out orange fondant and use the same cutter to make more “feathers”. Arrange them as shown, more or less with the points in between the points of the red feathers, and covering a bit more of that bottom curve. Repeat with yellow, but this time place the first one so it covers up any remaining cookie on the bottom edge, then fan out the rest from the centre. No more cookie should be visible after this point.

chocolate head note

Roll out some brown or chocolate fondant for the head and body. A small music note cutter upside down makes an excellent head shape, or else cut a similar shape by hand.

body on cookie

Use an oval or circle cutter with the brown/chocolate fondant for the body.

wings

Roll two elongated teardrop shapes in the brown/chocolate fondant. Bend the tips back as shown to make wings.

legs

Roll two more elongated tear drops, this time in orange. Use a knife to cut two toes, then use the back of the knife to make little indentations up the leg as shown.

turkey cookie

Affix the legs and wings on as shown (or however you want, play around and make your turkeys have different poses!). Cut or shape a small yellow oval and cut one side of it as a beak and put it in place. Put a little red snood over the beak. Make or cut a white circle for the eye with a smaller black circle on top (or use a mini chocolate chip). Cut or shape a red comb for the top of the head. Mine kind of looks like a freaky beret. Oo la la, it’s turkey time!

There you have it: super easy and once you’ve got the base cookies made, it’s super fast with cutters.

Of course if you’re looking to make something fancier, check out my ebook on Cute and Easy Turkey Cakes. Those are great for school/church bake sales, or as a family activity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cookies, Sick and Twisted | Leave a comment

Vermicelli Hair at Birmingham Cake Show


Okay, going to a cake show where you’re not a volunteer or part of the core management team is a whole different experience than I’m used to! At the Cake International show at the Birmingham NEC – one of the most prestigious and largest cake shows in the world – I got to hang out with friends, see all the competition entries, play with hands-on stuff, and watch demonstrations all without having to worry about catering to anyone else’s schedule! I even had Peo with me, and we had three great, fun-filled days of cake and chocolate delight.

We also both entered the competition. That was tricky given that most of my tools are still back in Austin, not to mention the whole thing where Robin is 17 months old, we have a tiny kitchen, and I had to rent a car to drive a bit over two hours to Birmingham. On the wrong side of the road for the first time. In the rain. In the dark. Yeah.

This meant I had to do something fairly quick, small, and very stable for maximum portability. Luckily this show has a category called “Small Decorative Exhibit” which is akin to the Austin show’s “Special Techniques Not on a Cake”, only removing the “special” part which I’ve wanted gone for some time since the Austin judges tend to pick flowers to win and flowers – while lovely and indicative of high skill – are about the most standard thing you can do in cake decorating.

So I was happy to enter a “Small Decorative Exhibit” of an Ice Queen, not at all like Elsa, nor like the oversexualized images you’ll find if you Google image search that moniker, but instead someone who is commanding the powers of winter and looks like she might hurt you if you get in her way.

Thus I made this:

2014-nov16-figurefront

She wasn’t perfect and some of my intended experiments failed early, but overall I’m pretty happy with her. The judges were as well, enough to get me a Bronze Medal:

Bronze Medal Certificate

I got a lot of wowed congratulations for this…apparently it’s not common to get a medal at all on your first Birmingham competition!

In talking to one of the judges, I agreed with every assessment that lost me points and pretty much every one boils down to me not having enough time or my full array of tools: the whole board should have been covered, there should have been more to the scene, her feet are a bit clunky, her face is weirdly pudgy and a bit bug-eyed, and pretty much you can tell by looking at it that I know what I’m doing but I didn’t put enough time into it.

The base construction was white fondant rolled over the board and hand sculpted to give it a windblown flow. I made a wire armature using the same techniques described in my Dynamic Figure Modelling ebook, except without a cake or structure to anchor them I fed the bottoms down through the board and affixed them firmly there with packing tape and a glue gun.

Then I made indentations by the wires to make it appear that the snow had moved under her feet, and to echo this I made little footprints at the right pace behind her as if she’d been walking but now has lunged forward with the effort of conjuring her snow and ice swirl.

2014-nov16-figureinprogress01

I made a swirling wire and similarly anchored it down through the board and then again tightly through her forward hand. I covered the wire in twists of very wet fondant and let it dry.

Then I built up her body just like I do in the dynamic figures book, this time fashioning a bodice out of layered snowflakes cut with the smallest in the PME set of snowflake plunger cutters.

figure in progress

I put a rough white covering over her midsection first and then built up layer after layer of the snowflakes.

When I got to her face, I used very wet white fondant to sculpt the tiniest little white eyelashes and lipstick. I’m pretty happy with how those turned out.

detail of figure's head

Her face came out chunkier than I intended, but I’m still happy with the eyelashes and lips.

The icy parts of the whipped up snow swirl as well as the clear parts of her dress are all thin gelatin cast on various texture mats, including a hexagonal one (and then cut into strips), a floral lace one (spread so thin that it left airy gaps in the lace), and ones that came with the Autumn Carpenter snowflake cookie set. I made some thicker than others, some tinted slightly blue (which goes slightly green with yellowish gelatin), some with rainbow disco dust and some plain. To shape the various cutouts as needed, I warmed them with a stick lighter and affixed them with piping gel, giving at least 24 hours of drying time between layers. I also painted on drips of piping gel as icicles in various places.

For the bits blowing out of her hand, I cut ragged triangles out of the thinnest cutoff bits from other elements and stuck them on with piping gel, flaring them as necessary to create a blown spread.

gelatin shapes

Closeup of the stuff being blown out of her hand. It has disco dust in it which sparkles very nicely under the right sort of lights, but is hard to photograph.

As for my intended experiments, part of why I wanted to do this figure was because I wanted to try new methodologies with hair for figures. Experienced modellers know that you should never, ever do the knife-hack-job method for hair that beginners inevitably gravitate towards. On a small scale, you can’t ever get it fine enough and it never looks good. What you want to do is suggest locks with intentional, designed waves, sculpted gently with a narrow but blunt tool.

But I wanted to try something closer to the fine texture of actual hair while sticking within the realm of edible sculpture. My first thought – as is often the case with me – was to try gelatin, especially since it’s pretty much the same stuff as actual hair (gross, I know, but that’s the truth of it). I wondered if I could do “spun gelatin” in the same way that one spins sugar, which is where you take a whisk or fork and dip it into boiled sugar and then whip it back and forth to create long, thin strings.

So I tried…and nope.

gelatin globs

The gelatin doesn’t have the stretch of sugar, so while you can get a few strings, mostly you get globs.

I mean sure, you can get some strings that way, but to get enough for a full head of hair – even for a small figure – would take ridiculous amounts of time. It is nice in that it stays flexible for a long time so if you did take the time, you could have an actually fuzzy, edible head of hair that flutters in a breeze, but the tedium isn’t worth it.

Then I wondered about doing like I’d done for raindrops for the Singin’ in the Rain piece (which I only just realized I still haven’t posted, whoops…I’ll get to it soon!) and tried dribbling the gelatin on my little rolling pin taped into place over a tub. I don’t have my long nylon pin here, and it became apparent quickly that this would also take forever:

gelatin dribbled over rolling pin

This does make strings that you can snip off, but only a few per go, so it’s really tedious.

Clearly gelatin alone wasn’t working. I pondered about adding some stretchy sugar into the mix, and then realized that gelatin plus sugar equals marshmallows. I’ve been meaning to make my own marshmallows ever since I saw Alton Brown do it on Good Eats years ago, but when I looked up his recipe I realized I couldn’t do it for this project on account of having no stand mixer (or even a hand mixer) here in the Cambridge kitchen. So then I found this video and went with its linked recipe (adjusted for UK ingredients). Once I had the marshmallow goo, I tried spinning it like sugar.

Erm…nope.

spun marshmallow

I got more threads, but they all squooshed out thick and flat.

broken marshmallow string

Also, very fragile and self-sticking, making it a very bad choice for hair strands on a figure.

marshmallow strings

This was the thinnest I got it, spun out on corn starch on a nonstick mat. But these were sticky and super fragile. Peo ended up eating a lot of them and declared them tasty, but they didn’t suit my project.

I even tried pulling the marshmallow goop between two forks, hoping that’d produce strings, but it pretty much just made a mess.

Then I started Googling around for variations on edible hair, and came along this video and recipe for how to make Dragon’s Beard Candy. It was actually fun to make and while it took a lot of upper arm strength to pull, was otherwise relatively easy. It produced a really nice result:

thin candy strands

Some of the Dragon’s Beard Candy held in a wine glass for testing. This is minutes after it was made. It looks awesome!

If you wanted candy hair for a figure that was being served immediately, this stuff would totally work. It looks great, Peo said she loved the taste, you can add colour in the early stages of the recipe to tint it as required, and it doesn’t require any special ingredients or tools.

Unfortunately, this is how it looked a mere four and a half hours later (and it wasn’t rainy or particularly humid):

melting candy

It’s already melting less than five hours later. There’s no way this would last for a three-day competition.

And here it is at two days:

completely melted hair candy

Heh. Yeah. That’s not going to work.

I began to despair. I really wanted my figure to have hair blowing in the wind, and I needed it to be stronger than I knew I could get with fondant, gumpaste, or royal icing.

Then I remembered that I’d seen vermicelli (aka angel hair pasta which ought to be a real giveaway to its potential) used to make itty bitty antennae for ladybugs on cakes before, so I threw some Sun Shun Fuk Amoy Flour Vermicelli into my next Tesco delivery order (we don’t have a car while we’re here so it’s non-trivial for me to acquire ingredients or even do basic shopping). I chose it because most of the vermicellis listed were more yellow and in tight little nests, and to save time I was hoping to not have to boil the noodles.

Happily, this particular brand came in wide waves that I was able to break off as flowing, curving locks without having to boil at all.

vermicelli

It’s breakable but does bend a bit before breaking, making it reasonably resilient for travel.

I tinted some fondant with the tiniest amount of yellow colouring until it matched the natural colour of the pasta, and put that on her head in very softened, wet lumps. Then I pressed the curved waves of raw pasta in, flaring out to one side, building them a bit at a time until I got the look I wanted. Between each batch, I used a damp, small brush to literally paint the fondant up and around the pasta, securing it into place without making it look lumpy, sometimes adding tiny amounts where needed.

figure from above

Figure from above where you can see how the waves of pasta are embedded into fondant on her head.

I used tweezers to stick smaller pieces on the more windblown side of her head (keeping in mind that she’s partly creating the wind and blowing the snow forward and to her left).

In the end it all came together fairly well, if not how I originally envisioned. And I’ve demonstrated that vermicelli totally works as edible hair!

2014-nov16-figureright

2014-nov16-figureback

ice swirl

Detail of the swirl, built up with many layers of fondant, gelatin shapes, and piping gel.

footprints in snow

Detail of the footprints. I dusted the entire snow area with pearl dust to help highlight indentations.

gelatin ice dress

Detail of the skirt and cape, all of which are gelatin cast in the same way as one makes gelatin bows, but then softened with heat to shape into place and glued on with piping gel. This took about a week to get all of the layers on, since each layer was heavy on the previous, so if the piping gel hadn’t hardened the whole thing would slide off. Even taking days, I had to set the whole thing with a heavy pot nearby so its handle pushed the dress against her body while the final drying took place.

figure placed on show table

At the show.

gelatin in light

Closeup of the faux ice sparkling in the show lights.

Peo’s entry was in the category for kids under 12 years old. They had to make a birthday cake with an inscription, so Peo chose to make a chocolate-fondant covered cake (using a dummy, which was allowed for this competition) with Pokemon characters and inscribe it to her friend George. I showed her how to roll out the fondant and get it on the cake, but she did the actual work.

When she hit on the idea of doing Pokemon balls as a border, I said that was a great way to hide the bottom edge. She figured out all on her own to cut red and white balls in half with a black bit in between. I told her she’d be sick of making them by the end but that doing that kind of repetition happens a lot in art, so she’d better get used to it if she wants to go forward in creative spaces.

Pokemon cake

Peo’s Pokemon cake for her friend George back in Austin, whom she misses very much!

For the figures, I printed off sheets showing the various characters she wanted to do and we talked about how to break each down into parts for sculpting.

pokemon cake

Peo’s cake at the show, showing the various characters she modelled.

This was by far her best cake, the one she put the most thought and – most importantly – follow-through into. Her conversation with a judge was very encouraging and she got some tips on how to improve her figure modelling going forward. But she did get a Certificate of Merit, and she herself acknowledged that the medal-winning cakes in her category had cleaner lines and looked even more planned out than hers.

certificate of merit

Peo was happy with this award and is inspired to try even harder for bigger awards in the future.

Once we got our cakes placed, we were able to relax and enjoy three whole days of a cake show! Here are our favourite highlights from all that we saw and did.

Friday

On Friday, we walked around to look at some of the non-competition displays since the competition displays were roped off for judging. We also made some fun stuff and watched some demos, learning about chocolate and lettering.

When some of the competition tables opened for viewing we had a look and took some photos, but I didn’t realize name cards would be out the next day, so I don’t know the baker name for all of the photos. As I see them appear on social media or on the official photo list, I’ll update to give credit where I can.

Avatar cake front

This lifesize Na’vi Princess Neytiri by Emma Jayne Cakes was a centrepiece for the show.

Avatar cake side

According to this article it’s mostly sculpted from crisp rice treats.

rainbow cupcake dress

Rainbow Cupcake Dress by Cake Masters Magazine

blue edible lace

Molded edible lace on the bodice of the Rainbow Cupcake Dress.

Peo at dress

Peo held up by our good friend Chip Myers to pose behind the Rainbow Cupcake Dress.

Peo making cupcake.

Peo making her contribution to the second Rainbow Cupcake Dress at the Cake Masters Magazine booth.

Peo pointing

Peo pointing to her cupcake. This was early in the show so the stand filled in later.

Peo's cupcake

Peo’s cupcake. She chose red for her flowers and butterfly. Of course she chose red and if you know anything about her (ahemcoughgryffindor) you’ll know why.

rose

I finally graduated Cake Decorating 101 and made an actual flower (as opposed to a man eating plant, which is as close as I ever got before). I did this at one of the hands-on tables.

Peo's vampire stuff

While I was making my flower, Peo made some stuff with the University College Birmingham folks at the next table. I think they were supposed to be making ducks but somehow Peo started making vampire animals instead, and then they showed her how to make vampire teeth.

Christmas cupcakes

Easy Christmas cupcakes demo by Cake Angels. The trees are ice cream cones with the wide round brims cut off. The pink and yellow flower is made from mini marshmallows snipped on the diagonal and the sticky exposed inside dipped in sanding sugar. The rest is basic buttercream piping and dragees/candies.

Creation of Adam in sprinkles

Also by Cake Angels, this huge version of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” rendered in sugar and sprinkles.

Sprinkles for painting

Detail of the above to show the sprinkles and sugar used.

sprinkles for painting

Another detail shot.

bunnies

Bunnies hiding in tree stumps, by Peo (left) and me (right) at the Northwest Sugarcrafters hands-on demo table. Peo actually followed the instructions, but I made my trunk more trunk-like.

Peo with Danielle Gotheridge

Peo on stage at the Author’s Kitchen with Danielle Gotheridge after her demo on lettering techniques. Peo says she learned a lot and if she’d known some of those tips before making her entry piece, she’d have tried Danielle’s trick of using a thin fondant rope to write in script for George’s cake above. She’s keen to work on lettering design on future cakes.

sugarpaste snowman

The Birmingham British Sugarcraft Guild had this hands-on demo table to make snowmen. When the nice lady doing the demo suggested putting mustaches on, I said you could even make them curly-ended. She said the sugarpaste wouldn’t go that thin. So I did it, because if there’s one way to get me to do something in my creative arts spaces, it’s to tell me it can’t be done. Then I stuck a beret on him and called him Monsieur French Snowman. Ho ho ho.

Peo's snowman

Peo’s snowman wore all three demonstrated hats and had legs with socks. Seems legit.

Then we started working our way through the first competition cakes.

Brave witch's cottage

The witch’s cottage from Brave. I took this before the names were out so I don’t know who made it. I bet it won an award so I’ll check the official listings once photos are up. Update: the baker is Lynsey Wilton-Eddleston.

Mama bear

Mama Bear from the above Brave cake.

Brother bear cub from the Brave cake above.

Brother bear cub from the Brave cake above.

Witch detail from the Brave cake above.

Witch detail from the Brave cake above.

Operation cake

This Operation cake had fabulous detail but may not have done well since it was in the sculpted category and other than the little holes for the pieces, it’s not very sculpted. Baker unknown, but if it does appear on the awards page I’ll cite it. The washy colours are my camera’s fault; the real-life version was very well done.

dog cake

There were several dog cakes, and Peo liked this one after I pointed out that the dog was making himself sick eating candy. I think Peo could relate. Also: decorative drool is funny. Also also: I’d be sick on licorice allsorts as well since they’re nasty candies old ladies keep around to punish their grandchildren with, based on my experience! Baker unknown.

river boat cake

Peo and I both liked this since we so many of these boats on the Cam here in Cambridge. Baker unknown.

hedgehog cake

Hedgehog sculpted cake by Zahir Rathod whom I met because he was staying with his family in the same hotel as Peo and I. Fabulous detail on this one, and it was one of our favourites even before we met Zahir!

owl cake

Here is Zahir’s owl cake. It’s amazing.

Wreck it Ralph cake

A Wreck it Ralph cake in the sculpted category. Baker unknown, will update if it comes up on the winner list.

back of Wreck it Ralph cake

The back of the Wreck it Ralph cake. I love it when folks pay proper attention to the back!

tiger cub cake

This stunningly detailed tiger cub cake won first place in the sculpted category. It is by Vicki Smith.

goblin baker cake

One of Peo’s favourite cakes at the show. Baker unknown.

faux food cake

This is a pretty good faux food cake in general, but what I really loved about it is in the next detail shot. Baker unknown.

faux egg

Check out the faux raw egg! I’m not sure how they did this…possibly with liquid glucose (aka glucose syrup), possibly with gelatin or really good piping gel. If I find the baker on social media I intend to ask!

mini kitchen

This delightful miniature kitchen was right beside my piece. Baker unknown but I’m pretty sure it placed so I’ll check the photo listings when they’re up. Check out the insane level of mini details!

mini cake scene

Another great miniature scene in my category, which required the entire thing to fit in a 12″ box, so that gives you an idea of the teeny tiny scale on this. Will list a baker as soon as I can find out.

mini patio scene

Another great mini scene, this one with so many details that a photo doesn’t really capture it! Baker unknown.

Snow White scene

An exquisitely rendered scene from Snow White. I’m pretty sure this won a medal so I’ll list the baker once the official photos are up.

Snow White witch

The lighting wasn’t good for my camera but trust me, this figure was amazing!

steampunk dragon and samurai

This was Peo’s favourite in my category and with good reason: it has amazing detail on a steampunk dragon, it has well-captured motion in the screaming Samurai, and the whole thing is an excellent presentation scene. By Dirk Luchtmeijer and it won Gold plus 1st Place in the division.

steampunk dragon

Detail from piece above.

fairy tale Christmas

A very nicely done Christmas scene incorporating fairy tale characters. Baker unknown.

A steampunk skull and map, very nicely done.  Baker unknown.

A steampunk skull and map, very nicely done. Baker unknown.

figure of a lady

A lovely figure from Brazil in the International category. Baker unknown.

stringwork cake

This cake is impressive enough at first glance with its upwards stringwork and bridges out to the points of the trees. But then check out that cross stitch piece…

cross stitch royal icing

See how intricate this is? But wait it gets better…

floating stringwork

That cross stitch rendered in royal icing is floating on top of strings of royal icing. This super-delicate work is made by first making the top piece and letting it dry, then putting it into place on supports (often tiny bits of foam) while the support strings are mostly piped into place and also allowed to dry. Then the foam supports are removed and the last few strings are put into place. It’s amazing, fragile, and indicative of high skill. Baker unknown but I’m sure this got an award so I’ll list when I can.

Christmas church cake

I liked this one primarily for the church which reminded me of half of Cambridge. Baker unknown.

Christmas stringwork

This is a very nice cake overall, but I took its photo mainly for its insanely advanced stringwork.

Christmas stringwork

If your jaw isn’t on the floor then you’re not a decorator, because this is amazing stuff. And remember, they had to transport it to the venue! Baker unknown.

Christmas table cake

Table cakes are fairly common because the tablecloth effect is relatively easy and very effective, but this one is particularly well done. It’s clean, detailed, and lovely. Baker unknown.

Christmas elves

Excellent figure work here with a lot of motion and characterizations going on in a small amount of space. By Valentina Terzieva.

sledding cake

Another superb example of dynamic figures, all doing things even in a small space. Baker unknown.

Mary Poppins cupcakes

Mary Poppins cupcakes with tons of detail and a wonderful display. Baker unknown.

5th of November cupcakes

Bonfire Night cupcakes. Not particularly fancy, but very effective in their design. Peo and I both really liked these and Peo is keen to try some if we stay in the UK and get to have another Bonfire Night ourselves.

cloisonne cupcake

A gorgeous effect here with some cloisonne cupcakes. Baker unknown.

zombie bear cupcakes

Awww, look, teddy bear cupcakes! Except…wait a minute…THOSE ARE ZOMBIE TEDDY BEARS. OMG Peo and I loved this display to death. Note the cut cupcake: that was the judges checking that there were no wires in the cake and that it was real cake. A lot of cakes at NEC are cut like this after judging. A lot also get disqualified. Baker unknown.

zombie bears

Detail from the cupcakes display above. So much wrong. So much win.

zombie bears

And then there was this one non-zombified bear in the corner, terrified. A detail element like that sells the whole story. Bravo! Also: heh heh heh…

Christmas cupcakes

Wonderful figure work on these cupcakes, especially the ones that take most of the design off of the cupcake in a clever way by making the cupcake tops pulled sacks. Baker unknown.

Swedish Chef

Peo and I both really liked this Swedish Chef cake. It won a prize so I’ll be able to get the baker name from the photos once they’re up.

Saturday

On Saturday we took the time to go through more of the big displays outside of the competition.

abacus

In the Grotto by Shugarush. This abacus is teeny weeny!

I remember this toy!

In the Grotto by Shugarush. I remember this toy!

Grotto

In the Grotto by Shugarush.

reindeer pops

In the Grotto by Shugarush. Teeny weeny cakepops!

cookie

Peo’s first entry in the Grotto’s cookie contest for kids.

cookie

Peo’s second entry in the Grotto’s cookie contest for kids.

cookie

My cookie, but obviously not in the kids’ contest. I was just playing around while waiting for Peo. It was a great show in terms of being able to play hands-on all over the place.

This large wall was covered with animatronic Fraggle Rock characters by Cake Frame, at least some parts of which are rendered in edible media. Of course Peo had her own Fraggle Rock cake, which is actually what indirectly got me involved in cake shows in the first place since I joined Capital Confectioners in 2008 hoping someone could help me make Doozer sticks for that cake, and then I found out they had a cake show and the rest is history!

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Sunday

On Sunday morning we went to the one paid demo I’d signed us up for, and then we looked at the rest of the competition cakes.

guitar cake

I saw this coming in on Friday morning and was impressed. So were the judges: this won Gold and 1st place in its class. The details are amazing and it looks like real leather. By Katerina Schneider.

wedding cake

Peo was very annoyed that this huge cake by Adela Joann Calvo only got a Bronze. She loved it.

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split wedding cake

A fun take on the split wedding cake idea, by Emma Roberts.

tile wedding cake

A really nice pastel rainbow tile effect. I know it won Gold but I can’t read the name on my photo so I’ll have to wait for the official photos to name the baker.

wedgewood cake

I love love love this style. This is by Elizabeth Fearnley and won Silver.

knitting wedding cake

This was one of my favourite cakes at the show. It is a knitting wedding cake. How adorable is that? And it looks knitted all over. It’s by Emma Matthews and won a well-deserved Gold.

knit wedding cake detail

Look at this topper! Look at how the knit stitches wrap around the cake! This is gorgeous and adorable!

mini dragon

This was my favourite entry in my category. It’s a teeny tiny dragon with insane levels of detail, down to the itty bitty scales. It’s by Helen Atkins who won Gold for it.

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Nemo cake

This wonderful Nemo cake by Beata Khoo was one of Peo’s favourites from the show. It has wonderful design and superb details. It won a Gold and 3rd Place in its category.

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mini mice wedding

A sweet little mouse wedding scene by Marie-Claire Harper. It won Gold.

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Wallace and Gromit garden cake

Peo and I spent a good long time looking at all of the Wallace and Gromit details on this wonderful piece. Unfortunately I seem to have not taken a photo with the baker’s name so I’ll try to find out later.

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Maleficent

An amazing and audio-featured Maleficent cake by Vicki Smith.

Joker cake

Peo was a bit spooked by the amazing detail of this Joker cake by Laura Miller.

Aladdin

Excellent Aladdin cake by Sofia Raposo.

lifesize Katniss

A lifesize Katniss from the Hunger Games by Lara Clarke. It won Gold, of course!

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The photo with the cake, showing that it is real cake inside.

The photo with the cake, showing that it is real cake inside.

Tyrion

Lifesize Tyrion Lannister cake by Lara Clarke.

inside Tyrion

A Lannister always proves he’s made of real cake.

phoenix

A glorious Phoenix by Jennifer Whitby. It won Silver.

swing cake

This isn’t just a cake display of a girl on a swing. It also has fabulous, amazing detail all over, and more importantly the swing is angled in mid-swing. I explained to Peo how much harder that is from a technical standpoint, and how much more motion it gives to the whole piece. Amazing work by Rhu Strand.

swordsman

Amazing swordsman by Denise Robbins, and it won a Silver.

older ladies

Also by Denise Robbins, some wonderfully sassy older ladies.

I got to meet lots of really great folks at the show, including some of my idols like Carol Deacon! My first ever fondant work was done out of one of Carol’s books, so it was an honour to tell her how much she’d changed the course of my life.

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People kept giving stuff to Peo all through the show. On Saturday when Peo had to miss part of one of the British Sugarcraft Guild demos because we had to queue so long for the washroom, she told the lady she’d missed part so the lady let her come back at the end of the day to take the demo piece home. On Sunday when we were near their booth again for another demo, a different lady said they all remembered her high interest and wanted her to have yet another display. They were all super nice!

Also on Saturday, Michelle Galpern – mom and support staff to the mega-talented Sidney Galpern – gave Peo an isomalt owl with a little LED inside. Peo played with it for hours until it broke and she still has the pieces on our dining room table right now.

At various booths, people gave her extra samples of fondant, chocolate, and other stuff. I’m telling you, this kid leads a charmed life!

And back to Sunday, check out the huge chocolate sculpture Peo won:

chocolate structure with Alistair Birt

Peo on the Chocolate Experience Stage with Alistair Birt. Birt demonstrated how to make the chocolate flower on the 100% chocolate tower shown here. Peo won the whole assembly by asking the most interesting question. She asked were we could get some cocoa butter to try what we’d seen Birt do, and also if a beginner could do this technique. Birt said everyone has to start somewhere!

On Sunday they opened up the tables for the National Cupcake Week Finalists. None of these were marked with names so I can’t post credit. But Peo and I loved them!

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We also found time to do some shopping, mostly on Sunday. Here’s most of what we bought (with a few things not shown because they’re secret Christmas gifts!)

products

Some mini pans so I can play at cake while I’m here without committing to large projects, a rolling mat because mine is back in Austin and we don’t have good surfaces in this kitchen, some basic tools I’m missing, some new tools to try, Lorraine McKay’s new book, and some cocoa butter plus dust colours so I can play with making my own chocolate transfer sheets.

All in all, it was a blast and I’m seriously considering going to the Manchester show. I’ve inevitably left things out of this post, but I’ve been culling photos and writing things up for two days straight so please forgive any omissions or typos. Remember: I have a 17 month old.

But if you’ve got any suggestions or requests for experimental techniques you think I should try for Manchester, let me know in the comments!

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cupcakes and Mini Cakes, Experimental Techniques, Fancy cakes, Figures, Links, News, Praise from others, Prize Winners, Working With Kids | 2 Comments

3D Choco-Blood Filled Eyeball Cookies


cut open eyeball cookie with fake blood leaking out

Because your Halloween isn’t complete without this.

First I showed you how to use the Nordicware Cookie Cup pan* to make 3D Candy Filled Baseball Cap cookies. Then I showed you how to do the same thing but turn it into a Jack-O-Lantern instead.

But this isn’t one of those normal blogs for sane and sensible people. This is Eat The Evidence. This whole blog is about pushing the boundaries into the nerdy, the weird, and the downright freaky.

And thus I know you’ve all been waiting to find out how to make eyeball cookies that bleed chocolatey fake blood into your mouths when you bite them.

Am I right or am I right? Exactly.

To make these cookies, you’ll need a batch of your preferred rolled cookie dough (I recommend my Dark Chocolate Rolled Cookies), some of my fake blood recipe, and either the Nordicware Cookie Cup pan or something similar that makes half-sphere cookies.

Start by following the first part of the Base Cookie directions on the baseball cap post, except STOP before putting the candy in. Instead, continue as follows:

Melt some chocolate like you would to seal up the regular Base Cookie, but this time use it to coat the inside (concave) side of the cookie cup, plus the top of the round. The fake blood is very wet, will make the cookie soggy, and eventually leak out unless you create a chocolate pocket inside the cookie to contain the blood.

coating cookie in chocolate

It is vital that you cover the entire interior surface thoroughly.

Then let the chocolate harden fully, boosted in the fridge if necessary. The chocolate must be 100% hardened or it will combine with the blood and leak out.

Once it’s hardened, pour in some of the fake blood, but do not overfill.

blood in cookie

Better to have an air gap than a leaky, sticky mess.

Pipe a bit more melted chocolate around the cup edge and then put the round on it with the chocolate coating on the inside. This new melted chocolate will seal the round to the cup.

sealing the cookie

Give the round a bit of a twist against the cup to ensure it’s really secure, but try not to wiggle it more than necessary so the blood will stay down and let this new chocolate set up without mixing.

While this chocolate is still warm, carefully use a spatula or knife to smooth it around so you don’t end up with any lumps at the seam, and to help make sure the seal is complete. Be sure to leave the cookie upside down until this chocolate is set.

spreading chocolate around cookie

Push the chocolate inwards as you go to ensure there are no leaks.

Once you’ve got your cookies sealed up with blood inside, the rest is actually really easy, especially if you have a set of graduated circle cutters.

Roll out some white fondant. Brush some corn syrup thinned with some water over the cookie and then put the white fondant over, smoothing downward as you go. You can either pre-cut the fondant with a wide enough circle cutter, or else just do a blanket and trim it around the edges. A pizza wheel is the easiest way to trim around, but a knife will do. Trim inward, not downward, to tuck the white under and cover the cookie completely.

Use a red edible ink marker or a brush with a bit of red food gel to draw some squiggly blood vessels around the eye, as in the photo below.

covered cookie

The blood vessels help direct the eye (heh) away from any imperfect lumps.

Next, roll out some blue, brown, green, or whatever iris colour you like and cut out a circle. Affix it in place with a bit of water or some of your previous watered-down corn syrup. Then roll out some black, cut a smaller circle, and affix it in the same way on the blue. Make a tiny white ball, flatten it, and affix it in place. Voila! Eyeball cookie!

eyeball cookie

The white dot is technically optional but it really does improve the way the eye looks.

Then when you cut the cookie open or someone bites into it, there will be a variant of this reaction:

Note that the fake blood can stain, so make sure your recipients are least somewhat prepared for stuff to leak out. Also be prepared for pedants who’ll complain that it should leak white goo instead, and suggest to them that they go ahead and make a mint-cream filled variety if they like.

bleeding cookie

The blood is thick and continues to ooze out over time.

And just to prove that the cookie was edible and tasty, there’s this:

animated gif of Peo eating cookie

Peo loved it and declared it, “Gooey and chocolatey.” Then she worried about police getting confusing evidence if there was a murder in our house. Not that she was worried about the murder…just the confusing blood spatter. Priorities. We have ‘em.

Peo

Behold the face of evil.

Happy Halloween!

* Again note that I haven’t received any compensation or consideration for recommending that pan. I purchased it independently and just really like it. I provide the link to their store for information only. It is not an affiliate link. I bought mine at my local cake shop.

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cookies, Experimental Techniques, Sick and Twisted | Leave a comment

3D Candy Filled Jack-O-Lantern Cookies


Recently I showed you how to use the Nordicware Cookie Cup pan to make 3D Candy Filled Baseball Cap cookies. I bought this pan of my own accord and have received no compensation from Nordicware. If you don’t have one and don’t want to get one, you could do this technique with an oven-safe cakeball pan, sphere cake pans, or possibly even a muffin pan if you’re prepared to have the result be a different size or less spherical.

Halloween is in a couple of weeks, so here’s how to use the same technique to make easy Jack-O-Lantern versions instead. This would be a great activity for a group of kids, especially if you prepare the base cookies in advance and just let the kids wild with the fondant.

To make the base cookies, follow the directions starting at ** Base Cookie ** through to ** End Base Cookie ** on the baseball cap post.

Next, make four small ropes of orange fondant and adhere them across the cookie with some corn syrup thinned with a bit of water, coming together at the top and bottom as shown in the photo below:

orange ropes on cookie

These don’t have to be perfect; they are forming the textured base for the rippled pumpkin shape. Some of you are decent folk who will look at this pattern and see a sort of birdcage. Others are like me and see another version of a Facehugger cookie.

Roll out some orange fondant thinly (thin enough to not overload the cookie, but still thick enough to not show the dark cookie underneath) in a rough circle much wider than your cookie. Brush the cookie and ropes with corn syrup thinned with water, and lay the rolled out fondant over carefully. Use the sides of your pinky fingers to gently nudge the fondant between the ropes to create a pumpkin-like ripple and be sure that the covering is sticking to the cookie all over.

fondant covering

Tuck fondant down between the ropes to give an overall smooth finish.

Trim the excess away using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, working at an angle along the bottom edge inwards to tuck the fondant completely around the sides. You don’t want any cookie showing through.

Make a little green stub of a stem and adhere it to the top with some water. Roll out some thin, tapered ropes and twist them into curls to affix alongside the stem.

Then roll out some black fondant very thinly and cut out facial features as desired. Your Jack-O-Lantern can be silly, scary, or any style you like. Stick the black pieces on with a bit of water and voila!

finished Jack O Lantern cookie

If you’re making a lot of these, small triangle or other cutters can speed up the process.

I took this one to a bake sale for donation so I don’t have a photo of it being cut open, but it had the same M&Ms in it as the baseball cap cookies. For Halloween, though, you could put candy corn or any other treat in there.

What’s that you say? Candy is boring and you want something much, much gorier to come spilling out when the recipient takes a bite? Well then sign up for updates for this blog, because the next post will deliver just that. Muahahahahaha…

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cookies, Experimental Techniques, General Freakishness, Working With Kids | Leave a comment

Itty Bitty Teen Weeny Pumpkin Fairy For Halloweenie


Pumpkin pile and Halloween fairy in less than 4 inches

A lot of cute Halloween detail packed into a tiny space!

As previously mentioned, I’m in the UK for a year so I don’t have most of my cake decorating tools. In fact I typed this paragraph while attempting again to stack ganached cake layers for Peo’s birthday cake since the previous attempt fell over in the fridge because I don’t have any wooden stakes to hold tiers together and it turns out the fridge here has sloping shelves.

O.o

Anyway.

I brought only what I needed for a small entry in the Birmingham cake show in November. So when another cake show popped up on my radar for early October, I was glad I was too late to sign up to enter the contest. But then I noticed that Renshaw Baking had a Modelling Magic contest where folks could make a Halloween cake topper with 200g or less of their sugarpaste, send in a photo, and then possibly be invited to bring the piece in for judging. 200g is a very small amount and I had brought my new PME mini modelling tools with me, so I decided to give it a go.

I wasn’t sure by the contest description if interior supports were allowed or not, since it said it had to be 100% sugarpaste. I usually use a lot of foil and toothpicks in my figures, so I decided it’d be a fun self-challenge to make something with lots of small features that had no internal supports whatsoever. I made a little board out of scrap cardboard with foil over it as a base, but otherwise used no toothpicks or anything else other than fondant inside the piece.

I also knew I had to get the piece from Cambridge to London on a bus, then a train, and then the jostly London Underground through to the show. That meant the design needed to be bottom-heavy, well-supported, humidity-proof, and any thin bits would need to be supported by design.

My first idea was to have a cute little pale witch or goblin decorating a Jack-O-Lantern, but I quickly realized I’d have unsupported arms doing that. I pondered various options until I came up with the notion of many tiny Jack-O-Lanters in a pile, some lit and others dark, and have a wee little Halloween fairy lighting them, positioning her so that all of her limbs would be supported. I knew that would give me the opportunity to try to make tiny little delicate wings, something I hoped would impress the judges.

The finished topper; a little fairy lighting a stack of Jack-O-Lanterns.

back

From the back.

Well it must have worked, because I won first place during the Saturday contest and got a bag full of goodies!

certificate

First place, woot!

books, pens, fondant, marzipan, and cake decorating tools

What a great prize pack! Thanks so much, Renshaw!

I took photos as I worked – albeit a few hasty and thus blurry or poorly lit ones, sorry – to show you how I made the piece so you can go forth to make your own.

I started by making several small balls of black and yellow as the inner cores of the pumpkins, and I let those dry overnight. Well, they were dry enough in the morning, but I actually left them for a couple of days because I’m a busy homeschooling mom in a foreign country running around to see castles and museums and whatnot all the time, battling transportation woes and occasional sharknados.

So when I next had time, I took a bit of orange and made a partial pinch pot like so:

orange pinch pot beside black ball

Even with the dried inner cores, you have to be careful as you go because you really only get one shot at this on this tiny scale.

I very lightly dampened the inside of the pinch pot and rolled it around the inner core, moving the outside around as gently as possible to make it even and seam-free. This was my first time using Renshaw paste and I must say, it did a very nice job of self-seaming.

orange ball

You want enough orange to cover the core without being too thick, so pinch off any excess as you go. If you end up with a small seam as shown here, that’s fine because you can put that on the bottom.

Then I used one of the PME tools (I think each tool has a name but I’m too self-trained to know the proper names for all of these things, sorry) to make indentations as shown below. Of course then handling the tiny things often munged those indentations out and I’d have to redo them, but I found it helpful to at least start with them.

indentations on orange ball.

It pretty much looks like a teeny pumpkin at this point.

Next I carved eyes. The PME set has a little half-circle tool that was just right for cutting our round eyes, but for triangle ones I’d just use one of the sharper pick style tools to pick out a bit of the orange and then poke into three corners to form little triangles. There’s no set rule to this stage other than to remove a bit of material down to the inner colour and then try to make symmetrical eye-like shapes.

eyes

If you indent round eyes upwards in the inner corners, they look cute-sad.

Next I’d make the nose as per the triangle eyes method mentioned above. Then I’d do the mouth, which was tricky to do without munging the other features. I poked the smile corners where I wanted them to be, then lightly traced lines for the mouth I wanted, including any built-in teeth. Then I picked out orange from inside the lines carefully, gently removing or folding back any spurs that stuck out. This is one of those things that takes some practice and familiarity with the medium.

pumpkin face

After cutting out the mouth, make the tooth square by using a pick tool up into the corners, and then a flat-edged tool pushed gently up against the bottom and sides. Repeat as necessary until you’re happy with it.

If I’d had my mini circle cutters available, I’d have tapped one against the top to make a round indentation. But those are back in storage in Austin, so instead I grabbed the closest PME mini tool and hacked out a little circular shape on the top. Then I used one of the conical tools to make an indentation in the middle.

pumpkin lid and stem

You could skip this step, but it’s one of those details that sells them as Jack-O-Lanterns. I bet nobody noticed the little “lids” but if they hadn’t been there, the piece wouldn’t have seemed as detailed.

My first attempt at covering a black interior with orange went horribly wrong, so I’d mashed it together in a marbled ball. I then used bits of that marbled stuff to make tiny stems. I shaped a little stick, dampened the hole, and stuck it in.

mini Jack-O-Lantern

Completed little Jack-O-Lantern!

The procedure for a “lit” pumpkin is exactly the same as an “unlit” one, just using a yellow ball instead of a black one. You can vary faces as suits your whims.

three Jack-O-Lanterns

Slight differences in design add a lot of different character to each Jack-O-Lantern.

I let all of the pumpkins dry at least overnight (since it took me several late night post-baby-bedtime sessions to make them) so they were nice and firm. Somewhere along the line I also covered the mini board with a thin layer of green fondant and let it dry as well.

To stack them, I arranged them all in front of me and decided first which one was the weakest, because that could go in the middle. Yes, the mostly-hidden pumpkin in the middle was still one that took effort. Why? Because it let me hide the worst one, and because when competing you never know where a judge is going to peek. Your competition mindset should never include skipping details! Of course if you’re just doing this for someone who wouldn’t notice, go ahead and put a dried orange ball in the middle.

Anyway, I tried carefully stacking them in different ways, keeping the “lit” ones to one side since I knew I wanted it to look like the fairy was going through the pile and lighting them. By planning out the stack in advance, I knew what fit where and risked less damage in putting them together.

I moved them all back off (but in an order so I knew what would go back on where), then stuck the middle one in place with a tiny bit of wet fondant. I then did the bottom outer ring the same way.

To attach pumpkins to pumpkins, I first placed the upper one where I wanted it to sit on the lower ones and carefully made tiny marks against the upper one where all the touch-points were. Then I wet tiny bits of orange fondant, smoothed the edges of the bits onto the upper one on those marked points, and pinched it out to make a little soft fondant spike. Then I gently pushed the upper pumpkin into place and used a damp, small brush to smooth out the smushed adjoining bits of orange fondant. That way they were all firmly held in place but with a lot of open air in between. If you look closely at these photos you can see the joins:

stacked Jack-O-Lanterns

I put the sad one on the bottom because it’s holding up the weight of the others. Little details like that help tell a story.

stacked pumpkins

I took some decent photos at this point in case I didn’t get time to add the fairy. This would not have been as good an entry, but it at least could serve as a completed entry as is. Also, in this photo you can see one of the chunkier joins I didn’t smooth as well, at the top.

When it was time to add the fairy, I knew I needed her completely supported by the Jack-O-Lanters if I was going to do her with no internal supports. That meant putting her on the bottom but reaching up and over, so her arms could be on the pumpkins and not free-floating.

I drew a rough sketch to the correct size on a scrap grocery receipt:

sketch

As I mention in my Fondant Figure 101 tutorial and Dynamic Figures ebook, starting with a human figure really helps make sure you keep proportions correct. I held this up to the stacked pumpkins to make sure everything lined up where I wanted it to go, and then used it as a guide when making the body pieces.

To make the torso, I started with a bit of purple fondant in a teardrop shape:

purple teardrop

I sized this to my drawing and kept having to make it smaller. It’s really easy to accidentally go too big at this scale.

I then gently and slowly made a pinch-pot of the base of the teardrop, flaring out the edges to be a little dress.

dress

Working out the bottom edge. This is thin, but ultimately I went even thinner to give the dress some movement and the suggestion of a cloth edge.

Next I picked the side I wanted it to go on so that her arm would be able to reach up and be “lighting” the top lit pumpkin. I wet the front of the torso and gently, carefully pushed it into place, starting from slightly above and pushing down (including from inside the skirt) so that some of the purple fondant filled the face holes of the Jack-O-Lanterns, helping to anchor it in place.

torso mounted

The front of the dress is squished into the eye and nose of that Jack-O-Lantern, making it fit with a tight, strong bond. This was important because most of the fairy’s weight would rest on those points.

I pinched the top in at the sides and flattened the top to shape the upper dress. I used the side of a tool to make a little waist indentation around the middle. Then I used one of the PME tools to poke in little shoulder holes and came in from the bottom to poke leg holes underneath:

leg holes

It was hard to get a photo but you can sort of see the two little leg holes under there. Not that I generally recommend standing your piece on its side using your computer and a block of fondant to hold it in place, but it does also show how strong my structure was.

For both the arms and legs, I rolled a thin snake of white, then an even thinner snake of black, and wrapped the black around in bands like so:

making arm stripes

These didn’t come out perfectly even, but at this scale that’s nearly impossible to do because it all wants to stick to your fingers and melt.

Once the bands were on, I gave the whole thing another gentle roll to make it smooth. Then I cut it, decided which orientation looked best, wet the shoulder holes, rolled the arms to a point on one side and a flat end on the other, and poked the points into the shoulder holes. I also lightly wet the undersides to glue the arms to the pumpkins. Then I made super teeny tiny hands (see my 101 tutorial for hand making, and then see a licensed therapist for a huge quantity of relaxation medication before attempting these on this scale).

I had rolled a wand stick the night before, but it was so tiny (about the width of a Jimmy/sprinkle) that it kept breaking. So I took the longest portion that was left, put it ever so gently into the fist hand, made a tiny little flat star of yellow and stuck that to the pumpkin, then stuck the other end of the stick to the yellow star with a tiny yellow point to make it look like a 3D sparkle wand.

amrs on

The arms are fully supported. The wand looks unsupported and it is in the very middle thanks to the pre-dried stick, but it’s actually firmly anchored in the hand and in the sparkle bit. If we hadn’t been restricted to fondant only, I’d have painted a bit of disco dust onto the yellow part.

I made little shoes by making elongated black tear drops and folding the point back over as curly toes, mounted them on the base, and made little indentations at the ankle with one of the mini ball tools.

For the legs, I took my banded snake and bent it in half, anchored the bottoms in the shoes, then shoved the bent part up against those leg holes I’d made previously and used one of the tools to jam leg material up into the holes. That sounds so sweet and gentle because cake decorating is romantic and I write romance novels.

legs mounted

See, now it feels wrong to have taken this photo.

Also, as I blog this I realize I must’ve done the legs first since the arms aren’t on in that photo. Which goes to show just how tired I was while making this, and just how poor my memory is! It actually doesn’t matter which you do first because everything is resting on or hanging from that torso, so as long as the torso is on well, the rest is fine.

Anyway, next I made the head, which I’d usually mount with a toothpick but since the challenge here was to use no internal supports, I couldn’t do that. I made a ball, indented for the eyes, put in the smallest possible black balls (anything less got stuck in my fingerprints), pinched out a nose, and used that PME half-circle tool to indent a smile.

head

Sorry for the blurry photo but I was in a rush and this is really tiny, even for a macro lens.

I put some water on the neck of the torso and mounted the head. Then I went to bed, knowing that if I touched it again at that point, I’d wreck it.

The next day I marbled what remained of the black and white limbs into a marbled tiny pinch pot, hacked at the edge to make some hair locks, and gently put it into place with the tiniest amount of water. I didn’t fuss about the top because I knew there’d be a hat on there.

hair on

The trick with hair is to suggest locks, not to try to make individual hairs.

The hat was super simple: a teardrop pinched out at the bottom like the torso but going further and keeping it nice and round.

hat

Give the hat a bit of a bend and you’re good to go.

Somewhere along the line I also made tiny wings by lightly marbling some white with a bit of purple, then rolling it as thinly as possible and cutting out the shape I wanted. I picked little holes in a matching pattern on each with one of the sharper PME tools, and let them dry for a couple of days.

wings drying

If I’d been smart, I should have made extras as backups!

Once the hair was on, I mounted the wings with a bit of water on the back of the torso.

wings on

You can see in this closeup that one actually broke on the tip. I left it. Tampering would have made them fall off. Once they’d dried on they were reasonably strong, but before that this was the most tenuous part of the entire piece.

I put the hat on, weighed it one last time (I’d been weighing throughout to make sure I never even approached the 200g limit), and then set it aside to dry for the show.

weight

The air in between the Jack-O-Lanterns helps this piece come in well under the maximum weight. Not that they even weighed the pieces at the contest, but they might have!

So there you have it! Now go make something itty bitty and cute, then link your photos in the comments.

Posted in Cake Decorating, Figures, News, Praise from others, Prize Winners | Leave a comment

3D Candy Filled Baseball Cap Cookies


several mini burnt orange baseball hats

Delicious, adorable little baseball hats with a candy surprise inside. Your team/party/afternoon needs these!

backs of cookies

The hats from the back. Imagine this display coming out for your next sports-themed event!

Early in the summer I purchased the Nordic Ware Cookie Cups pan (note that this is different than their cake ball pans!) because I’ve been experimenting with 3D cookies and thought this pan might help.

It took a bit of getting used to – especially remembering to liberally spray oil on the plastic press part, including a fresh coat for every new pressing – but the pan works to make vaguely spherical cookies. I say “vaguely” because each half-sphere tends to have a bulge in one side and when two are put together, they’re a bit short to make a fully rounded sphere. I have made spherical cookies in the past using half-sphere pans with the cookie dough on the concave side (and only just noticed that I never finished the post about those, whoops, heh, sorry), but the dough there rises up in the middle so you don’t get a lot of interior room.

This Nordic Ware pan uses the convex side so your cookies have really nice hollow middles, but the tradeoff is the outer surface isn’t as smooth. Of course, if you’re going to cover the outside with some kind of icing anyway, it doesn’t matter if the cookie surface is a bit crackly. And if you stick to shapes that are okay to be slightly less than spherical, the pan works really well.

In linking above I see they are now showing a methodology where you put balls of dough and press down, but everything I made here used the methodology recommended on the label, which was to roll out a sheet of dough (I used my favourite dark chocolate rolled cookie dough), place a sheet over the pan, tuck the sheet down into the indentations between sphere bumps, press and cut with the plastic press, and then remove the excess. I brought the pan with me here to the UK for more playing around, so I’ll try the dough ball method soon.

When Capital Confectioners was having a summer-themed bake sale, I made these baseball hats in the team colours of the University of Texas in hopes of raising money for the club. You can make any team colours that suit your needs, and if you’re feeling very fancy you could even make or edible-image-print some team logos!

Here’s how they were made:

** Base Cookie **

First I baked a bunch of half-spheres with the Nordic Ware pan and let them cool fully. Then I baked a batch of simple round cookies, using a round cutter sized to the actual half-sphere bottom edges so it’d match as closely as possible. I have a set of Ateco round cutters so I have a lot of choice in size; if you don’t, pick the closest round cutter you have that is slightly larger. You can always trim if necessary, but if you go too small, your bases won’t fit your cups.

Once both the cups and rounds were baked and cooled, I melted a bit of semi-sweet chocolate and put it in a small piping bag (a Ziplock bag with one corner cut off will do just fine). I placed some M&Ms (these happen to be the dark chocolate kind but any small candy will do) in the cups and then piped some melted chocolate around the edge.

three stages of filling cookies

You can see that the cups do not all come out evenly round on the edges, so attaching can be difficult where edges are thinner. Always place the candy in first and then pipe the chocolate second, or else the candy will land on the chocolate as you put it in and then you totally have to eat any that stick and get in your way. I mean that’s probably a law or something. And if you do that too often you won’t have any left to fill your cookies. Yes.

I then put the round cookie bases on the candy-filled cups like a lid and balanced them so the chocolate would harden in this upside-down position. That helped prevent candy and chocolate from spilling everywhere because, as mentioned in the caption above, you’d have to eat it all to hide the evidence of your mess.

Once the pieces are firmly together, you can turn them back over. They should look like this:

chocolate cookies on a board

Shhh, they’re all choco-secrets!

** End Base Cookie **

The instructions above can be used for any kind of design, and in fact I’ve already made more for various holidays and other themes that I’ll post soon (Update: here are some made to look like Jack-O-Lanterns and a slight variant for choco-blood filled eyeballs).

For the hats, make a brim by rolling out some white fondant (or your colour choice) fairly thin and cut an oval. Again, I have Ateco’s graduated oval cutters but if you don’t, you can use a circle cutter or do it by hand.

Cut the oval in half and gently pinch out the straight edge as shown below:

white fondant cut and pressed out

Flaring the edge will help you squish it onto the ball, making it stay on better. Plus it prevents the next layer from having a discernable lump from an edge underneath.

Arrange your cookie so the higher side (if there is one) is towards the back. Brush the cookie with a bit of corn syrup thinned with water (about a 50-50 ratio is fine). Using a cotton ball, wadded up foil, or some other support, bend the brim onto the cookie, pushing the pinched-out edge firmly against the cookie so it sticks while the front edge is supported, as shown in the photo below:

hat cookies with brims on

Since you’re cutting two brims at a time, brush two cookies and then apply the brims. There’s not much point in brushing the corn syrup on a bunch of cookies in advance, as it seeps in and/or evaporates after a few minutes. Note that the brims don’t have to be perfect or all match; many baseball hat wearers bend their brims to suit their own preferences.

Roll out some fondant very thinly in the colour needed for the main part of the hat. In this case, I made some burnt orange by adding a bit of Americolor Warm Brown gel to some Satin Ice orange fondant. Cut a circle using a cutter a little bit bigger than the one you used for the round cookie bases; remember that you’re working in three dimensions so you need more fondant to cover the cup cookie and the base all the way down to the bottom. Better to go a bit big and trim off than have to stretch it and risk tearing.

Use your circle cutter to cut out an indentation as shown below:

burnt orange fondant cut in a circle with an indentation cut out

The indentation will accommodate the brim.

Brush the cookie and the part of the brim attached to the cookie with your corn syrup mixture. Lay the fondant over the cookie so it is centered and the indentation is centered over the back edge of the brim. Put it on gently at first so you can adjust it as necessary, and then smooth it on with your hands from the center top down to the bottom edges. Because this is fabric, you don’t have to worry about it being perfectly smooth! You just want to make sure it’s firmly on the cookie with no air bubbles so it doesn’t crack later.

Trim any excess at the bottom with a sharp knife, cutting inwards against the base so it tucks the “fabric” underneath instead of leaving any exposed cookie showing.

Make seam lines with a stitch wheel (also known as a pounce wheel), or if you don’t have one, the end of a tooth pick dotted along. Make the first seam line going up from the center of the brim, over the top, and down to the back edge. Then make another one alongside it. Next, start at the center top and make a stitch lined down to the bottom edge at about a 60 degree angle (roughly a third of one side). Then start alongside that one at the bottom edge and go up in parallel over the center top and down a matching angle to the other side. Then make the second part to that first 60 degree angle line. Then make the next lines at 60 degrees from the other side of that center line. See the photo below for reference.

Use a small round tool (I used the tips of a plastic piping bottle, but a #3 or similar size regular piping tip would do, or a clean condiment squeeze bottle top) to make a little round indentation between each stitched angle as shown below.

Make a tiny dot of fondant and use a bit of water to affix it to the top cross point on the cap, as shown in the photo. This may match or be a different colour depending on your cap’s style. Do a Google Image Search for your team’s hats to check.

For these hats, I used a Wilton alphabet T cutter to make little Ts in thinly rolled white fondant and affixed them on the middle with a bit of water. You can put any design on that suits your needs.

finishing the fondant cap

If you don’t have a stitch wheel, I recommend getting one. Mine is metal from an art supply store, purchased decades ago. These days inexpensive plastic ones are readily available from any cake decorating supply shop. It’s a handy way to add a fabric look to stuffed animals, clothing, and more, and so much faster and easier than poking with a toothpick.

As a final touch, roll a thin snake of your main colour of fondant, flatten it slightly, and affix it to the back with a bit of water. Run the stitch wheel along it as shown in the photo below:

back of cookie with band

A little band adds that extra touch of realism. I guarantee you, nobody will notice that little pleat of excess fondant on the right side, because it just looks like fabric and also it’s a candy-filled 3D adorable hat cookie.

Then sit back and await the joy that comes from the recipient breaking or biting the cookie open to find a candy surprise inside!

cookie cut open

It’s a cookie. It’s a hat. It has M&Ms inside. It’s chocolate containing chocolate. It is made of happiness.

Watch out for more styles coming soon! Hint: Halloween is coming up and I know how to make things bleed chocolate. Muahahahaha. Sign up for automatic updates from this blog using the Subscribe function in the upper right of each page to make sure you don’t miss anything!

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cookies, Experimental Techniques, General Freakishness, Products | Leave a comment

Earl Grey Chocolate Torte Because England!


Sorry for the lack of posts lately but I have a good excuse: I’m in the UK for a year! We packed up our Austin house into storage – including most of my baking tools and supplies – and have rented a house in Cambridge. It’s a small mid-1800s row house with a wonky oven and a monkey toilet that has inspired a whole separate blog I’m about to start (which will not necessarily be family-friendly and is likely to contain copious quantities of swearing, so parents are advised to restrict their children’s access).

But since it’s kind of unfair to announce I have a monkey toilet and then tell the children they shouldn’t go look, here at least is the banner image I’m using for that other blog:

monkeyloo

It’s a toilet. The landlord put a monkey toilet seat on it. When you sit on it to go, you’re going into the cut-out portion of a monkey’s face, which Peo particularly enjoys. I expect Jane Goodall to come by to thrash us for this any day now. Oh, and it’s extra-disturbing if my husband leaves the seat up and I walk past the open door at night and see the framed face of a monkey peering at me out of the dark.  Which my husband says is a peek-a-loo.  Now I’m laughing and terrified at the same time, which only increases my need to go to the loo, but there’s a monkey in there…

As for the wonky oven, it has no handles (the landlord says the previous tenant broke the handle off), so you have to wedge your fingertips into the sides and pull it open. Oh and the handle is what holds the oven door glass in place, so that’s threatening to slip out when you open it. Oh, and the grill (broiler) doesn’t work. Oh, and it’s fan-forced/convection but remarkably uneven, which is disturbing given that one of the benefits of that is supposed to be more even cooking.

And because I didn’t realize it was fan-forced when I tried to whip up a fast batch of my favourite go-to potluck recipe – Brown Eyed Baker’s Snickerdoodle Blondies – the outside burned while the inside was still raw, so I threw it out and went up to bed for a good 2-hour-long cry. Because by that point, we’d been without internet for nearly two weeks (even on my phone), the power had gone out to half the house (including the monkey loo, where it still isn’t back on), and nothing was going right. The inability to bake what an easy, fast recipe was the final straw.

Luckily since then I’ve gotten a bit more used to how to use the fan-forced oven, though it is still unreliable and dangerous because of the lack of handle. I googled around for chocolate recipes one night and ended up finding this BBC recipe for a chocolate torte with Earl Grey tea in it. I don’t drink tea or coffee and had been sleeping poorly, so I was kind of hoping for a choco-caffeine boost. Corran and I agreed we didn’t want the ground almonds and upon further googling I found that gluten-free folks use a one-to-one substitution of ground almonds for flour, so I substituted it back since nobody in this house has a gluten issue. I also dropped the temperature way, way lower to compensate for the fan-forced oven (you’re supposed to drop by 20 degrees C but I’ve found with this oven it works better going 30 C lower).

It turned out quite nicely with a pleasant head-smell of the Earl Grey without actually tasting of the Earl Grey. There’s no bitter tea taste, and it’s a moist, chocolatey torte. If there’s a caffeine boost, however, we’re not noticing it, and neither did friends when I served this to them.

torte

A moist, chocolate cake with a light, pleasant Earl Grey aroma. Perfect for tea time with friends.

Another thing I quickly learned in the UK: butter comes in blocks, not sticks, so it’s weighed here. There are also different types of sugar and other ingredients. Any recipes I post from here will have as many conversions as I can reasonably list as I myself learn to work with a completely different system.

Earl Grey Chocolate Torte
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A moist, chocolate cake with a pleasant scent of Earl Grey tea.
Author:
Cuisine: dessert
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 2 Earl Grey tea bags
  • 100ml (just under half a cup) milk
  • 250g/8.8 oz dark chocolate (I used very nice 72% swiss bars from Tesco, if I was in the US I'd use 70% Ghiradelli bars)
  • 200g/14 tbsp/1 stick plus 2 tbsp butter, diced
  • pinch of salt
  • 140g/1 cup flour
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 200g/7 oz caster sugar (aka superfine sugar, which in the US is granulated sugar you put through a food processor, but you should be fine with regular US granulated unless the crystals are huge)
  • a few tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and powdered sugar/icing sugar to dust, optional
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F/180C/160C fan/gas 4. Spray a 23 cm/9 inch springform pan with flour spray if you have it, and if you don't, coat with butter/oil and dust with flour. Set aside.
  2. Put the milk in a microwave-safe container and heat on high until it is steaming but not boiling.
  3. Cut open the Earl Grey tea bags and pour the leaves into the milk. Set aside.
  4. In a nonstick pot on low temperature, melt the butter. Mix in a pinch of salt.
  5. Chop/break up your chocolate into small pieces and add to the melted butter. Stir thoroughly with a silicone spatula until the chunks of chocolate are almost gone. Turn off the heat, then continue to stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
  6. Add flour to chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly. Add the egg yolks and tea-milk mixture, mix thoroughly again.
  7. In a grease-free bowl using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or electric whisk, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Add the caster sugar and beat again until incorporated and the eggs are stiff once more.
  8. Fold the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture, taking care not to deflate the egg whites.
  9. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. It should still wobble slightly on the top when done; do not overbake! Allow to cool completely for at least a couple of hours in the pan.
  10. Remove the torte from the pan and place on a serving dish, then dust first with some cocoa powder and then with powdered sugar, if desired.

 

Posted in General Cooking Tips, General Freakishness, Links, My Recipes, Other People's Recipes | 1 Comment

Pancakes Made Portable


Several years ago I blogged about my Healthy Oat Pancakes, and those are still a staple breakfast for me.

But I’m about to be travelling abroad for an extended period of time (more about that in another post soon) where I will have a kitchen but not my kitchen with my tools. That matters for anyone used to cooking. Further, I’ll be taking my older daughter around to museums and other places – dragging the one year old around with us – so I’ll have to be up and ready to go many an early morning, all without a car for the most part. Since I’m certifiably allergic to mornings (that is totally a thing, I swear) and since I have a medication I have to take when I get up and then can’t eat for an hour, I’m going to want to grab breakfast while on the train.

Portable food tends to be very high carb, which is bad for me as a diabetic. Protein just doesn’t travel well. I need something that is filling, has minimal refined carbs, won’t spike my blood sugar, and is easy to eat on the go. Oh, and something I’m willing to eat, since I’m generally not keen on food in the morning at all and a fussy eater in general.

I thought, “If only I could take my favourite pancakes without that being gross or weird.” And then it occurred to me that pancakes and muffins are pretty much the same thing other than cooking method (or sometimes a slight adjustment in liquid amounts). So I just tried whipping up my pancakes as muffins, and it worked! Upcoming breakfast issue solved!

muffins

The sprinkled oats on top cancel out the chocolate chips inside. That’s just basic science. Yes.

The best part in terms of blogging is that – just like the original pancakes – you can easily tailor these to your preferences. Check out the chart on the original post for ways to change these to suit your needs.

Healthy Oat Muffins – Base Recipe

Dry Ingredients (can be mixed ahead of time and stored at room temperature)

2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup quick oats
1/4 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp Splenda for baking
(See Optional Mix-Ins below)

Wet Ingredients (add just before cooking)

2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Method

Preheat oven to 375F and prepare a standard muffin pan with baking flour spray or paper liners.

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl, including any of the Optional Mix-Ins.

In a separate bowl, microwave the butter just enough to melt it. Add the milk to the butter, then microwave again until the butter re-melts (do not overheat!). Add the eggs and beat the liquid mixture together.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry and mix with a fork until blended, but do not overmix.

Distribute the batter equally amongst the 12 muffin cups. If desired, sprinkle extra oats on top.

Bake for 15-17 minutes or until you can see the edges turning brown in the cups. Cool for a minute or two in the pan, then remove and cool fully on a wire rack (if you can resist eating them all right away, that is).

Optional Mix-Ins (add to dry before adding liquid)

1 tbsp whey protein
1 tbsp ground flax
1/3-1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/3-2/3 chopped nuts/seeds of your choice
1/2 cup of blueberries or more
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice

I made mine tonight using a scant handful of mini chocolate chips, a bunch of mini frozen blueberries, and the last of a bag of chopped walnuts (otherwise I would have added more). I don’t even measure those items beyond the “yeah, that looks good” stage.

muffin cut

Moist and tasty without being overly sweet. Perfect for breakfast on the go.

These are super easy, very customizable to your needs, and will make my life a lot easier during our travels! I plan to make big batches ahead of time and store them in the freezer. Then I can just thaw them in the microwave and toss them in a tub in my bag or in the stroller (plus extra for the kiddos who will undoubtedly see me eating and want in on the deal) and eat breakfast on the train from Cambridge to London. Whoops, I just gave it all away, didn’t I? Heh…

Posted in Breakfast, Food Issues, My Recipes, Other Food | Leave a comment

Review of DecoGel With My Flexible, Edible Stained Glass Methodology


When Icing Images gave out small free samples of their new DecoGel product at the Frosting Creators of San Antonio’s Day of Sharing in May, I lost count of how many people came up to me to ask if I knew anything about it. That’s because I’m well known in cake decorating circles for having pioneered the use of gummy as a cake decorating medium, particularly using homemade gummy candy in basic translucent, opaque, or clear varieties.

I first put homemade gummy candy on a cake for the 2010 Austin cake show (the beads around the bottoms of the tiers of my First Place Showcake “Space by Spacewest” entry) and then stumped the judges at the 2011 Austin show when I used panels of it to create a water tank and coatings of it on fondant to simulate an explosion on my Wolverine Fangirl Ultra-Cake. I’ve since received the first ever Innovator’s award at the Austin cake show for my gummy techniques as well as a special Gelatin award at the most recent show (which I still haven’t blogged about yet, sorry…I blame everything on the fact that I have a baby!). Plus my Flexible, Edible Stained Glass ebook has been featured on CakeFu, mentioned in one of Mike McCarey’s Craftsy classes, and sold around the world.

In other words, for some time now when cake decorators want to know about gummy techniques, I’ve been the go-to person to ask. I’ve even been given the nickname “The Gummy Queen”. So it wasn’t surprising that a new gummy-like product would have people asking me if it works with my techniques.

I contacted Icing Images and they were kind enough to send me some larger samples to test with my stained glass methodology. I had to vary the technique a bit from the ebook because one of the main properties of DecoGel is that it doesn’t dry out, so you can’t make the leathery sheets that I typically recommend for the stained glass technique. But as mentioned in the ebook, you can make fused stained glass pieces with fresh gummy sheets if you’re careful and alter a few steps, so I pretended the DecoGel was fresh gummy for the purposes of testing.

The first thing I noticed about DecoGel before my free samples even arrived is that it is much more expensive than homemade gummy. An 8oz tub of DecoGel (about 1 cup or 236ml) costs $16.99 plus shipping from the US store. You can make about the same volume of homemade basic gummy for the cost of one box of gelatin dessert mix (ie Jell-O or store brand) and four envelopes of unflavoured gelatin, all for about $2 or less depending on brands or local grocery store prices. The other two recipes I provide are similarly inexpensive, using a can of sweetened condensed milk for the opaque recipe and some corn syrup for the clear recipe.

But where DecoGel beats homemade gummy is convenience and shelf stability. The samples I received have an expiry date of February 2016 – that’s almost two years away, even kept at room temperature – and it is expected to stay soft and usable for that entire time. Homemade gummy will get moldy after three or four days at room temperature unless it is dried, but then it is more leathery and over about six months will become brittle.

Homemade gummy needs to be mixed, cooked, and then warmed and cooled repeatedly to get all of the bubbles to rise to the surface. At that point you can either remove the foam or work around it. DecoGel takes care of all of that work for you; a busy decorator could have a stock of every colour, grab what they need quickly, and start working on their actual piece instead of spending time cooking the stuff to begin with.

Some DecoGel tubs have a bit of foam at the top but it dissipates when you heat it up.

Icing Images offered me two colours to test, so I requested the Green and Clear so I could make a floral stained glass piece, using the Green for leaves and the Clear to test as a base for mixing other colours. I whipped up a simple pattern that any reader is welcome to use as well:

floral stained glass pattern

Download this graphic and use your preferred graphics program to resize it to the diameter needed, then print and follow the directions in the Flexible, Edible Stained Glass ebook.

Normally you can microwave DecoGel in the containers it comes in, but my samples were marked as having been compromised in shipping (the tubs had cracks) so they weren’t for consumption or direct microwaving. So I pulled the DecoGel out of the container (it came out really easily) and microwaved it in a bowl for 20 seconds at a time on 60% power until it was mostly liquified. Then I gently mixed it until the remaining lumps melted.

The first thing I noticed was that it was very thin and runny compared to my basic homemade gummy. Then I noticed that it has a slightly unpleasant smell, which plain gelatin has as well. However, the gelatin smell in homemade gummy is completely overridden by the gelatin dessert flavour scent. My husband and I tried a bit of the edible DecoGel sample I got from the Day of Sharing, and agreed that the flavour was “meh”. Not horrible, but nothing we’d seek to eat. Homemade basic gummy is, by contrast, quite tasty.

Because I was unsure how the DecoGel would spread, I placed the pattern (which I resized to 6 inches) under a clear texture mat and simply poured it from the bowl wide enough to cover the parts of the pattern that required that colour, plus a bit extra. I generally recommend using a baster to apply homemade gummy to texture mats and molds because this allows you to get under any floating foam on top and suck up the ultra-clear stuff on the bottom of the pot. It turns out that using the baster also reduces bubbles forming on the texture mat, plus you can readily suck up any bubbles that do appear. So whether you’re using homemade stuff or DecoGel, I recommend using the baster method if you want to get bubble-free sheets.

poured DecoGel

Green DecoGel poured over a lined texture mat over the pattern. Note that the Green colour comes with sparkles in it.

Remember that any warm gelatin medium can be heated beyond what a plastic texture mat or chocolate mold can take. To avoid damage to your mats and molds, be sure to cool homemady gummy or DecoGel enough that it’s mildly warm to touch but not hot!

Next I warmed up the Clear DecoGel and put a portion in a separate bowl, and then added a single drop of Americolor Electric Yellow Gel.

gel colour added to DecoGel

Clear DecoGel is not perfectly colour-free for the same reason my Clear Gummy recipe isn’t: gelatin has a natural yellow tone that simply can’t be avoided once either product is more than a few milimeters thick. In this photo you can see the single drop of Americolour Gel I added to the Clear DecoGel, which has not yet been mixed in at all.

As I began to mix the colour, I was extremely impressed with how easily and quickly it blended into the DecoGel, much more easily and uniformly than with my homemade basic recipe, where gel colours sometimes break up into lots of little globs that need to be vigorously mixed to fully blend them in. Of course sometimes when I mix colour into my basic recipe, I’m deliberately trying to create marbled colours (such as the wood grain, water, and plant effects on my Lady of Shalott piece). So if your goal is to mix your own uniform colour, DecoGel makes this easy. If you want to marble with DecoGel, you’ll have to handle it very, very gently.

tinted DecoGel

The single drop of Americolor Gel blended fully into the DecoGel with hardly any mixing at all. This is particularly valuable for minimizing adding bubbles to the product.

The next stage in my typical Flexible, Edible Stained Glass technique usually involves cutting out the pattern pieces, placing them on the dried sheets of gummy, tracing around them with edible ink marker, and then cutting out the pieces with a sharp x-acto blade (see the ebook for details). I know from experience that edible ink bleeds into fresh gummy but does not do so on dried sheets, and I wasn’t sure if it’d bleed on DecoGel or not. I also wasn’t sure if the paper pieces would stick to the DecoGel and/or mar the surface, the way they probably would with fresh gummy. So instead I placed the pattern under a clear cutting board and cut the solidified DecoGel sheets I’d poured on the various texture mats right over the pattern.

yellow petals of DecoGel

Cutting petals from the yellow-tinted Clear DecoGel sheet. Note that the cuts are being made on a clear cutting board, NOT on a texture sheet! This piece was cast on a speckle texture sheet but then moved to this cutting board. Never cut on a texture sheet or you’ll ruin it.

Note that this methodology coupled with the floppier nature of either a fresh gummy sheet or DecoGel can make precice cuts more difficult than with dried sheets. On the flip side, it’s a lot easier on the wrist to let a sharp x-acto blade glide easily through fresh gummy or DecoGel compared to pulling it through a dried gummy sheet. So the net result is faster, easier pieces but with less precision. That’s no big deal for a simple pattern such as this one, but intricate geometric patterns may take an extra degree of caution.

Also note that if you’re cutting directly over the pattern, you still have to leave space for the “leading” portion of the stained glass, as covered in the ebook.

Once I had all the pieces cut, trimmed as necessary, and arranged on another fairly smooth work surface, I tinted some of the Green DecoGel black with some Americolor Super Black gel, and then followed the standard technique laid out in the Flexible, Edible Stained Glass ebook for applying the “lead” portion, including mounting a #4 tip to my baster (which is shown in step-by-step photos in the ebook). The DecoGel stays fluid longer than my homemade gummy, which made it trickier to control during this phase but also meant I didn’t have to keep the tipped baster in a glass of hot water because the DecoGel didn’t solidify and clog the tip at all through the entire assembly. That’s a great feature!

leading applied to DecoGel stained glass piece

The runnier DecoGel needs to be managed more by allowing spillover to flow out to the sides where it can be harmlessly trimmed away later. You must ensure the “glass” pieces are all completely flush with the work surface or the black will flow underneath.

It is then very easy to use an x-acto blade to trim the outer border and voila, a DecoGel version of Flexible, Edible Stained Glass!

Finished DecoGel stained glass piece.

Finished DecoGel stained glass piece.

Unfortunately, there is a significant downside to using DecoGel for this technique: unlike with my homemade version, the DecoGel does not fuse to itself. Simply moving this small piece carefully from the work surface to the white surface for photography produced a tear between sections:

tear in stained glass

In the previous photo I was able to arrange this tear so it was hidden, but every time I moved the piece the tear spread easily.

I poked gently at some other pieces and they started coming out easily as well.

more pieces out

These came out of the “leading” as easily as if it was a mold. Which might in and of itself lead to interesting possibilities, but wasn’t the desired result for this technique.

I set the piece aside for 48 hours and then tried again to see if maybe it just needed some time to fuse. After all, I know that if you accidentally drip some fresh homemade gummy on a dried sheet, the solution is to immediately pop the whole thing in the fridge until it sets up, then carefully remove the fresh bit from the dried bit. It will peel off, although it usually mars the surface a little bit. But if you leave that drip on the sheet overnight, it takes cutting to get it off.

However, even 48 hours later the DecoGel had not fused together and easily came apart. I was able to pop all of the “glass” pieces out of the “lead”, leaving a net behind:

empty net

This too could lead to interesting alternative techniques such as spider webs, but isn’t what I was hoping for here.

This doesn’t mean you can’t do the technique with DecoGel. You absolutely can. You simply need to keep this fragility in mind when planning your design. A design comprised of a few medium-sized pieces that is then placed carefully on the top of a cake should work fine. Mounting on the side of a cake may present more difficulties; I would recommend only applying it to firm fondant with a thorough coat of piping gel, ensuring that the stained glass is supported along the bottom so it doesn’t slide down and tear from its own weight.

But I would not recommend DecoGel for multi-layer stained glass pieces with joining parts such as my Elemental Gummy cake. That piece involved fusing multiple layers together and lifting them around the cake. A DecoGel version would have fallen apart. Large pieces without support may also tear themselves apart.

Another caveat: using dried sheets of homemade gummy prevents colour bleeding, as mentioned above. This allows for drawing with edible ink markers (as with the Lady of Shallot’s face), painting with gels (as with the motifs on the Lady’s blanket), or even airbrushing. Although I didn’t test edible ink markers specifically with DecoGel, I noticed that the black from the “leading” had started to bleed into the “glass” pieces after the 48 hour test:

black leakage

Black Americolor gel from the “leading” portion bled into the adjacent DecoGel within 48 hours.

This means that since DecoGel can’t be dried – which is good for some applications and general longevity of the product – it probably isn’t well suited for markers, painting, and airbrushing. I’ve seen some lovely work with DecoGel applied over Icing Images so I know it works well for that without bleeding, but I would not risk a stained glass piece where painting is required unless it’s going to be delivered and served in less than 24 hours.

Thus you can use DecoGel to make stained glass as long as you keep the above points in mind. Here’s a chart summarizing the various benefits compared to my three homemade gummy recipes:

  DecoGel Basic Gummy Opaque Gummy Clear Gummy
Molding x x x x
Texture Mats x x x x
Easily Re-Melts x x x x
Low Cost   x x x
Shelf Stable x      
Pleasant Scent   x x  
Pleasant Flavour   x x  
Fast Preparation x   x  
Microwaves Well x      
Can Be Dried for Stability/Fusing/Painting   x x x
Easy/Uniform Mixing of Added Colour x   x  
Easy Marbling of Added Colour   x x x
Fuses Well To Itself   x x x
Holds Heat/Stays Liquid Longer x      

Generally speaking, if you’re a busy professional decorator who sells a lot of cakes and you want a flexible medium on hand and ready to dispense in minutes, get yourself some DecoGel. If you’re a home baker who primarily makes cakes for your kids, bake sales, or other casual needs, stick with homemade gummy.

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