If You Prick Our Brains, Do They Not Bleed?


You know you’re getting your Halloween baking right when you’re constantly asked if you watch Dexter.

I wanted to make a bleeding brain skull cake for the Halloween party thrown my by husband’s employer last year, especially since I spent the money on the big Wilton 3D skull pan the year before and really should cost-justify it more often. That’s right: buy the skull stuff at Halloween, find reasons to use them forever. That’s sound craftnerd investment, that is.

I wondered if I could do the brain as a long blood-filled tube all curled up on itself so it would bleed at any point when cut. I know just enough about fluid dynamics to realize that if you’ve got a tube filled with liquid and bend it, that increases the pressure, so that I’d need a way for excess to escape during bending. But my more immediate concern was to wonder if the caning nature of modelling chocolate would lend itself to making a long, stretched tube filled with goo in the first place.

So I experimented.

Short answer: no.

Long answer:

I put some of my tasty fake blood in a modelling chocolate capsule like I did with the Bleeding Zombie Rat Cake.

fake blood in modelling chocolate tube

Mmm, chocolate flavoured gore.

I then started gently rolling it to stretch it, and at first it was working.

modelling chocolate tube at five inches

This is just getting started, not much longer than the original tube.

But in short order, it all went badly. The modelling chocolate started to crack under the changing pressure of the internal fluid (so fondant wouldn’t have done much better) and let the blood seep out.

tube cracking just under six inches

Bloody cracks. Feh.

So clearly the pressure was a problem. I made a new tube and this time let cracks appear as I rolled, but kept them under control. I let the pressure readjust, then capped the leaks with more modelling chocolate. This got the roll a lot longer, so there was faint – if sticky – hope.

another tube, three inches long

The second tube.

nearly ten inch tube with fake blood leaks all over

You can see the various plugs and patches, plus smears from the leaks as I rolled. This is certainly not pretty on the outside.

I then cut the tube to see if it’d bleed…

a cut tube with fake blood seeping out a little bit

Meh. One drop after waiting too long. Not very bleedy at all.

Well that was disappointing, especially since the actual application would have to be even longer with probably even less reaction.

I mashed it all up together and tried one more time, going even more carefully.

nine inch tube of modelling chocolate containing fake blood that can't be seen

By this point the modelling chocolate had taken in a lot of extra corn syrup via the fake blood, so not only has its colour changed, but it was also getting really soft and sticky. This is as pliable as modelling chocolate gets.

That time I managed to keep the blood mostly inside, so I figured I should try bending it and see if – as expected – the internal fluid pressure would wreck the whole thing.

bent tube cracked and leaking fake blood

Yep. As mentioned above, this modelling chocolate was soft and pliable at this point, yet it still cracked under the increased pressure of bending the fluid. That bit to the right actually spurted out of the middle as I bent it. Wait: does this make me a blood bender like in those Avatar cartoons? Sweet! Literally!

For good measure I cut the folded tube, hoping it’d at least bleed…

bent tube cut with minor amounts of fake blood smeared out

More meh. There just isn’t enough blood in there to make this worthwhile.

fake blood smears on a bent, cut tube

The best possible piece and even here there’s insufficient blood in the tube to make for a good bleeding when cut. Meh meh meh.

I gave up and instead went for one of my brain molds, picking the size that was closest to the skull pan, or at least where the texture would allow me to fake it best. Yes, of course I have multiple brain molds in multiple sizes. Haven’t you been reading this blog long enough to guess that?

Anyway, I dusted the mold with corn starch and put in a sheet of modelling chocolate at about a quarter inch thick.

white modelling chocolate molded as a brain

This is actually a jelly mold kit and although the brain was not the right size, it was a good start since it gave me the right sort of texture that I could then gently stretch out a bit.

I made the skull cake, cut a bit off the top for where I wanted the exposed brain to be, and covered it with white modelling chocolate. I made a flattened area for the molded brain to sit upon, including a bony ridge around the edge, and mounted the brain so it made a hollow cave against the flattened area. I sealed it down thoroughly on all sides but the very front.

Then I filled a medicine syringe (the kind for giving babies medicine, but this one was fresh and never used with actual medicine) with more of my fake blood mix.

syringe filled with fake blood

These medicine syringes work well with corn-syrup based recipes like the fake blood on account of being made to dispense corn-syrup stuffed kiddie medicines. Ew.

Next I simply squirted the blood into the brain area until it was almost full, then sealed it up.

skull cake with brain on top and blood under brain

Peek a boo, I bleed you!


brain on top of skull cake

Sealed up brain cake. No hint yet that there’s a giant puddle of fake choco-blood in there. Muahahahaha.

Then I went about airbrushing black into the recessed areas of the skull until I noticed the blood started to leak out the back.

leaking blood on brain

Whoops. Guess that wasn’t sealed as well as I thought…

I tried to ignore the leak and started working on the teeth, which I first sculpted with a rounded tool pressed into the modelling chocolate. I then airbrushed with the black, followed by a light wipe over with a paper towel to make the fronts whiter against the recessed areas:

modelling chocolate skull teeth

I was pretty happy with how these looked. The airbrushing makes a huge difference compared to just having the white modelling chocolate.

I airbrushed the brain a mix of black and red to make it nice and gory, and had the whole cake on a cool red glass platter the kind folks at the Forth Worth ICES gave me for doing a gummy demo at their Day of Sharing a couple of years ago. I think it’s supposed to be a nice, fancy platter and not be used as decorative gore, but hey, that’s how I roll.

completed skull cake with a brain sticking out of the top

The completed skull brain cake. He’s smiling at you. Muahahahaha.

skull cake outside

I took him to the backyard for a nice holiday and some sunny pictures. He seems pretty happy about that. Then again, with teeth like that, what does unhappy look like? Right: Skeletor. Got it. Note: did you know Skeletor can’t use a straw? Muahahahahaha.

Unfortunately, the leak didn’t stop. In fact, it got worse. Bad enough that I decided it was now a “feature”. Yes. I meant to have it leaky all along. Yes.

leaky brain cake

Do you really want to quibble with someone serving a cake like this? I didn’t think so.

Thankfully even though it slowly seeped on the dessert table at the party all evening, there was still enough blood in the brain that when I cut it, it flowed all over in a nice disgusting manner, as you can tell from the squeals of delight all around as I cut into the thing. Muahahahaha.

So even with the errors and failed experiments, this was definitely a success. I’d say if anyone else is going to give it a go, just be sure to super-duper seal that brain at the back end before filling it with blood.

Happy Halloween!

Posted in Cake Decorating, Experimental Techniques, Fancy cakes, General Freakishness, My Recipes, Sick and Twisted | 3 Comments

This Is The Very Model Of a Modern Melty Chocolate Cake


My daughter Peo is slightly obsessed with “The Pirates of Penzance.” But when she asked for her eighth birthday party to have a Penzance theme, I pointed out that most other kids her age – even at her very nerdy school – do not know who Gilbert and Sullivan were, let alone have multiple librettos committed to memory. I suggested that we have a general pirate themed birthday but that the cake could be Penzance themed.

baby with a pirate patch

Peo’s little sister Robin wearing one of the pirate patches for the generalized pirate birthday party on her corrective plagiocephaly helmet. D’awwwwrrrrr.

baby with a pirate sticker

At the party itself, Daddy put one of the pirate stickers from the craft supplies on Robin’s helmet. I had the kids decorating their own mini pirate chests and colouring their own pirate bandanas while they waited for the big treasure hunt to start.

Since I happened to have a Mike McCarey treasure chest cake stand that he graciously gave me at the end of last year’s Austin cake show (see this post for what I did with a stand he gave me the year before), I suggested to Peo that instead of using the stand to make a cake-a-pult as she originally wanted, we make it General Stanley’s chest full of stuff he knows about from his Modern Major General song.

Later it occurred to me that the Pirate King could have stolen General Stanley’s chest, so we decided to have a shiny plate indicating that it was General Stanley’s but then have that crossed out with the Pirate King’s moniker scrawled over the top.

Thus, I spent almost every weeknight for a couple of weeks working on bits and pieces of the cake – including making the entire trunk lid with General Stanley sitting on it – while my husband dealt with the four-month-old. I also made two sides of a coin in polymer clay, one of which had a skull and crossbones, and the other that said, “Peo’s of 8″ – a joke combining Peo’s 8th birthday and “pieces of eight”. I used my food-safe Composi-Mold to make a mold of each side, deciding that’d be easier than dealing with a two-sided mold, and made 19 coins out of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I then airbrushed them gold and put the two halves together.

chocolate coins airbrushed gold

The coins before the halves were choco-glued together. I turned one over so you can see the chocolate colour. It’s always best to airbrush or dust metallic colours onto a dark background like this to make the colour really pop.

I mounted Mike’s stand to one of my raised plastic stands for easier portability, and wrapped the whole thing in foil. Then two days before Peo’s party I baked four 9×13 chocolate cakes (the Betty Crocker Triple Chocolate mix with a big squirt of Hershey’s Special Dark Syrup added), filled and coated them with three batches of my Dark Chocolate Buttercream, and arranged them on the stand:

chocolate box cake

The cake squared off as much as possible, firmed up in the fridge and ready for decorating.

Then the night before the party I made four modelling chocolate panels measured to fit the cake and go up enough to create a lip around the top, mounted them, and added all of the pieces I’d made. I had originally planned to do a King Arthur as I’d made previously for my husband’s Monty Python cake – because combining nerd fandoms is awesome and Peo loves “The Holy Grail” almost as much as she loves “The Pirates of Penzance” – but I ran out of time and it was pouring rain so I couldn’t get the figure to dry fast enough. I’d already made the shield, though, so I stuck that on as well.

pirate trunk cake with no lid

The cake without the lid on yet, showing the chocolate coins filling the interior.

I ensured the lid fit properly and took some photos in the kitchen, but then removed it for safer portability the next day, especially with rain in the forecast and the party being in a park. Here’s the cake fully assembled at the park:

full Pirates of Penzance chest cake - front

There isn’t cake in the lid: it’s cardboard and foam board. I followed Mike’s instructions for adding rounded sides but also added a strip of cardboard along the middle of the arch to ensure the cardstock wouldn’t collapse under the weight of General Stanley. I didn’t notice that King Arthur’s shield had fallen over until after the photos had been taken, but I did stand it back up.

General Stanley detail - side

Side shot of the top figure from the kitchen the night before. General Stanley is made out of fondant, mostly my own recipe, with the parasol done in Satin Ice on a skewer. Peo requested that his outfit be the variation from the 1983 movie she loves so much.

General Stanley detail - front

Detail of General Stanley from the front. There’s foil in his chest, toothpicks throughout, and his parasol arm is 18 gauge wire. If this had been a competition piece I wouldn’t have allowed the parasol to rest on the helmet, but in this case when it naturally slumped there I decided a) I have a four-month-old, b) the 8-year-olds won’t notice, c) this is not a competition cake, and d) I’d rather the parasol be extra-supported and not fall off, because the 8-year-olds would notice that.

Peo on the table

Peo standing on the table singing the Modern Major General song to explain the elements of the cake to her friends. She is wearing her Pirate King shirt. Sometimes we use an eyeliner pencil to draw curly chest hairs on her when she dresses up this way, again because of the 1983 movie where Kevin Kline as the Pirate King is constantly showing off his hairy chest much to the chagrin of Angela Lansbury as Ruth. You may notice there’s something wrong with the cake…see below for more on that.

front of cake - detail

Detail of several elements from the song. There’s the sign for “Commissariat” pointing to the cake because of the line, “And when I know precisely what is meant by ‘commissariat'” – as in, that’s where the food is. King Arthur’s shield (“I know our mythic history, King Arthur’s and Sir Caradoc’s”) has fallen over but can be seen in photos above. The frogs are because “I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!” The cut cone is for the line, “In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous.” The weapons represent the line, “When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a Javelin.” The figure at the side is addressed further below.

detail of frogs and weapons

An above-shot of the frogs, javelin, and rifle. The rifle was surprisingly easy to make: just roll a snake fatter on one end, squish that end flat, pinch it to make the shoulder butt edge, indent the front end with a small ball tool, and let dry ensuring that the barrel is straight. Add the little black bits to suggest a barrel, firing mechanism, and whatever the thing on top with the sight and the powder pan is called, lightly stain the back end with some brown food colouring and voila, an old-school rifle. And of course the javelin is just a rolled snake with a tapered end and a white band added.

detail - nun's book on tactics

This is a young nun reading a book on Tactics because of the line “When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery”.

detail - Pinafore poster

On the left side of the cake is a poster for “H.M.S. Pinafore” because of the line, “And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.” I actually kind of messed up the hand-painting on this classic poster (see here for what it should have looked like). After getting the lady done so well, I should’ve gone to bed but didn’t and then accidentally got the sailor out of proportion. I also ran out of room at the top, and ran out of time for more detail, so I fudged it.

cuneiform

I printed off some cuneiform samples I found online for Peo and she scratched similar shapes into this fondant block. It was even her idea to scratch them in versus painting them on afterwards. After it dried completely I gave it a black food gel wash. This is all for the line, “Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform.”

full cake - right front

The full cake from the right front side, showing the hypotenuse and acrostic on the side. Peo wrote the acrostic. These represent the lines, “With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse” and “I answer hard acrostics.” You can also see a scroll with calculus perched on the corner for the line, “I’m very good at integral and differential calculus.”

Caractacus figure

This is Caractacus, which should be Caratacus but as it says in the song, “And tell you ev’ry detail of Caractacus’s uniform.” Caratacus was a British chieftain who resisted the Roman invasion and is generally depicted as wearing a loincloth or partial robe and loincloth, thus making knowing all the details of his uniform quite the cheeky Gilbert and Sullivan joke. I made him with his axe here. Alas, his fate was not much better on this cake, as will become apparent below…

My original plan with this cake was to cover it in Satin Ice’s Dark Chocolate fondant, but when I realized my supply was going to be iffy for covering the cake, I decided to go with McCarey’s intended design for this stand and make modeling chocolate panels. Panels would also create the illusion of depth at the top, and the forecast for the day of the party was supposed to be warmish but raining, so I figured it’d stay up long enough.

Heh.

The weather that actually hit was instead very hot and humid – low 30sC (mid 80sF) and over 90% humidity – so within the first hour of the party, we noticed the back of the cake was starting to bulge:

bulging cake

Uh-oh.

But we figured the modeling chocolate was thick enough to withstand a bit of buttercream pressure, so we just left it.

Meanwhile, I took the kids around the park on an evil scavenger hunt. Why evil? Well, as several of them noted two thirds through it, we were going in a circle. At first I denied it but then when they insisted that it really did seem like we were just walking a big circle and going back to the site of the party I said, “Oh come on. Pirates would never play tricks on you. Pirates are the most honest, chivalric, decent human beings there ever were.”

The children screamed that no, pirates aren’t like that at all!

I grinned.

They laughed.

Muahahaha.

(Although let’s make it clear that I was out in the park the previous weekend mapping this all out while pushing a stroller the whole time, and then again in the wee hours that morning to put the clues in little rain-proof baggies tied on branches and fences and whatnot so they could find them.)

Sure enough, the last clue on the scavenger hunt said that the meanie guts parents had turned into pirates and had their treasure. The kids had to present the solution to the puzzle for which they found clues on the hunt in order to get that treasure. I set this whole thing up so that when Corran could see us heading down the path into the the bushes for that last clue, he could pull out spare eyepatches and pirate costume gear and get himself and the other parents suited up.

MUAHAHAHAHA.

Anyway, in that 45 minutes that I had the kids going around the park, the cake pretty much melted:

melted chocolate cake

The back of the cake with the chocolate panels drooping down.

melted cake, left side

The left side of the melted cake, showing how the decorations popped off as it melted.

melted cake, right side

The right side. It is saying something about how well I fused the panels together, though, in that the modeling chocolate slid down like a slowly stretching sock as opposed to just falling off. Yay me. Sigh.

The upside is that the gooey dark chocolate buttercream and the warm cake tasted awesome. The entire park area around the cake already smelled like a chocolate factory before the melting, and after…well let’s just say we’re probably lucky we didn’t get get stormed by all of the children in the park.

Plus, the melting added some unexpected fun: the bulging panels eventually popped Caractacus off, which made the children shriek with glee as they watched him fall. Then they grabbed him and clustered around him shouting things like, “I’m going to eat his axe! It tastes like blood!” and “Peo, eat his head!” and “Stab him in the face!” and “No, stab him in the loincloth!” It went pretty Lord of the Flies in the end…

Death of Caractacus.

A gaggle of little girl pirates horrifically dismembering Caractacus, thus showing him far less mercy than Emperor Claudius. And they say video games cause violence…apparently, so does opera, chocolate, and everything else.

So despite the melting, the cake was a hit and the party a success. And just in case there was any lingering doubt about my complete impropriety as a parent, later that afternoon I gave Robin, Peo, and I matching temporary pirate tattoos left over from the goodie bags:

pirate tattoos

Every four month old should have a matching family tattoo, right?

Posted in Cake Decorating, Fancy cakes, Figures, General Freakishness, My Recipes, Severe Nerdery, Working With Kids | 3 Comments

OMG Bacon Cheeseburger Hash Brown Pie!


piece of the pie

And it has veggies in it so you can totally pretend it’s healthy!

I always say nobody should come to this blog for pretty photos, but if you have Scratch’n’Sniff installed on your device, activate it now because OMG this dinner is unbelievably good!

It’s also highly customizable. Adjust the ingredients to what you like and/or have on hand. Substitute the canned tomatoes for fresh or for a variety that has hot peppers in it, if that’s your thing. Swap out veggies. Try a different cheese. There’s even a different pan style shown at the bottom of this post for those who skew to the nerdy or don’t have a cast-iron pan. A printable recipe is down there too.

But assuming you are using a cast iron pan – which I strongly recommend – let’s begin!

First, you’re going to need some bacon fat. The easy version of this recipe (and the version I always make) is to use bacon fat I already have on hand as described in this post, and Kirkland Signature Crumbled Bacon later in the recipe, which is a big bag of real bacon bits I always have in the fridge for salads, soups, etc. But if you don’t have either of those, you can fry up four or five strips of bacon in your cast iron pan. Set the bacon to the side and drain off excess fat if you do this, but leave a good coating of fat on the pan.

Either way, once you’ve got bacon fat in the pan, chop up a medium onion and brown it in the fat over medium heat.

browning an onion in a cast iron pan

I said “brown”, not “lightly sauté” or “sweat” or any of those other wimpy half-cooked notions. Brown those suckers. Get some flavour going! BOOYEAH. Just don’t burn them. Brown, not black, got it? Right.

While you’re browning the onion, get a non-stick pan about the same size as your cast iron pan and coat it with some bacon fat as well. Warm it up on medium-low heat and add four cups of frozen hash browns. By “hash browns” I mean the little stick-like shredded ones, not the cubed ones. Regional dialects make food blogging hard! You probably could also use the freeze-dried kind if you hydrated them but I’m not sure how much one of those containers makes and the cooking time will obviously vary. You could also probably make them fresh by grating your own potatoes and rinsing the excess starch off and then squeezing them over a bowl in a lint-free dish towel and I’m sorry, now it’s already next week so don’t do that unless you are hard-core on whole ingredients.

Put the frozen potatoes in the pan. As they thaw and cook, press them down with a spatula to stick together a bit. Dot a few more small bits of bacon fat around upper surface to lube it up. When the underside is browned (check frequently: different brands and types of potatoes brown at different speeds, mine take about 5-10 minutes), use the spatula to cut sections and flip them. This whole process will be going on while you work on the other pan, so let them sit and brown but don’t forget about them! If they get very toasty fast, it’s okay to turn the pan off and stop the cooking.

hash browns in a frying pan

Here are the hash browns already flipped over.

When the onions have browned to your satisfaction in the first pan, it’s time to add a pound of lean ground beef (about 96% is good) and lower the temperature of the cast iron pan down to medium-low (I use 3 on my gas stove). Brown that up with the onion still in the pan, all mixed together.

beef in the pan

Beef and onions in a cast iron pan. Smells like homey yum.

While that’s cooking up (and in between checking on your hash browns in the second pan), grate up three medium-sized carrots. Don’t grate your knuckles; nobody wants to taste the cook in this dish. I always grate my carrots to the point where it’s dangerous and then give the end to my kid – who happens to love raw carrots but isn’t keen on big mushy cooked ones – or I nom them myself. See? HEALTHY. Yes.

Then mince two cloves of garlic and if you made fresh bacon, chop it up into fine bits.

Once the beef has no pink left, throw the carrots and garlic in the pan along with a half cup of the Kirkland crumbled bacon (or your fresh stuff). Mix and cook until you see the carrot bits start to soften and break up, probably in just a few minutes.

adding carrot, bacon, and garlic to pan

Carrots make bacon healthy. That’s a scientific fact*.
*WARNING: totally not a scientific fact.

Next, add a can of diced tomatoes. We really like Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes because they’re tasty and don’t contain a lot of freaky ingredients. Just open the can and pour the whole thing in, easy peasy. Well not peasy: the peas come later.

Also add a teaspoon of beef bouillon paste. I strongly prefer Better Than Bouillon Beef Base because unlike those nasty little cubes, it tastes like beef with salt added, not salt that once got sneezed on by a cow. Plus it’s a paste so it’s easier to add it in and smear-mix it around without having to add boiling water first. If you can’t find it you can probably use the cubes but note that I haven’t tried the recipe that way and I’m not sure how much water you’d have to add. Seriously, get yourself some of this beef base stuff. It keeps for years in the fridge and is worth it.

Anyway, mix all that into the cast iron pan (and check your hash browns again if you haven’t already!) and let it warm up for a couple of minutes.

tomatoes and bouillon added to pan

Tomatoes help the carrots make the bacon healthy, another scientific fact like the one above. Yes. *shifty eyes*

Toss in a half cup of frozen peas and a half cup of frozen corn, or about the same volume of any veggie you like (just make sure the pieces are small if frozen, or pre-cooked if a larger veggie). Mix, then heat until the veggies are warmed up, about five minutes.

By now your hash browns should be nice and toasty on both sides. Lift the non-stick pan so it’s over the cast iron pan, and then tip the hash browns out like a big pancake right on top of the meat mix in the cast iron pan, sliding the non-stick pan out from underneath them and away as you go. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but shift it around if necessary to get it in a nice layer over the top. Add a half cup of shredded sharp cheddar sprinkled over the top.

Move your oven rack to just under the broiler, and then put the cast iron pan in there and broil for three to five minutes, keeping a close eye on it the whole time, until the cheese gets bubbly and starts to lightly toast. Remove immediately.

finished pie

Toasty cheese potatoes over bacon and beef with veggies. You’re welcome.

Then serve pie style in wedges as shown in the photo at the top of this post. Yum!

But wait, there’s MORE!

Let’s just say you happen to have a Pi shaped pie pan because you contributed to a Kickstarter campaign for Pi Pans (or if you’re reading this post from the future (insert scifi music here) hopefully they’ll be on sale here). Let’s also say you don’t have a cast iron pan. You could make the meat mix portion in a regular dutch oven or deep frying pan, then transfer as much as will fit to your Pi pan (or other oven-safe pie pan), break up the hash browns into chunks and arrange on top, add the cheese and then broil. Then you’d have PI SHAPED OMG BACON CHEESEBURGER HASH BROWN PIE!

Pi-shaped pie

When Peo saw this she gasped, “Is it PI DAY?!” I said, “No, that’s March 14. But I made dinner Pi-shaped because it’s a pie and I got a Pi Pan.” Then she said, “HAHAHA I get it! Can we eat it NOW?” Yes we can, baby. Yes we can.

As you can see, you’ve got lots of delicious options for this recipe. Just make it however suits you best, and eat that evidence. Because seriously, OMG.

Here’s the printable recipe:

OMG Bacon Cheeseburger Hash Brown Pie!
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Bacon and beef fried up with veggies and topped with hash brown potatoes and cheese.
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • Bacon fat - either a few tablespoons of previously reserved fat or rendered fat from frying fresh bacon from this recipe left in the pan, see notes on blog post
  • ½ cup crumbled real bacon bits OR 4-5 strips fresh bacon, fried and cut up into bits
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cups frozen hash browns (grated kind, not cubed kind)
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 14.5 oz can organic fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon Beef Base
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • ½ cup frozen corn
  • ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Method
  1. Coat a cast iron pan in a thin layer of bacon fat.
  2. Finely chop the onion and brown in the cast iron pan on medium heat (gas 5).
  3. Meanwhile, in a separate non-stick pan, add a thin layer of bacon fat and set to medium-low heat (gas 3). Add frozen hash brown potatoes. When they begin to cook and thaw, press down flat with a spatula. Dot with a small amount more bacon fat. Fry until the underside is brown, 5-10 minutes. Cut into pieces and flip to brown the other side. If both sides are brown before other steps are completed, turn off heat and let sit.
  4. Add ground beef to the browned onion in the cast iron pan and reduce heat to medium-low (gas 3).
  5. Grate the carrots and mince the garlic.
  6. Add carrots, garlic, and bacon to the cast iron pan once beef is no longer pink. Mix and cook until carrots soften, about 3 minutes.
  7. Add entire can of tomatoes and teaspoon of beef base, mix and heat.
  8. Add peas and corn, cook until they're heated through, about 5 minutes.
  9. Tip the hash browns out of the non-stick pan onto the meat mixture, adjusting as necessary to make a layer on top. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top.
  10. Set oven rack to below the broiler. Place cast iron pan under the broiler and broil (on high if you have multiple settings) for 3-5 minutes, keeping a close eye on the pan, until cheese bubbles and starts to brown. Remove immediately.
  11. Serve by cutting wedges.

 

 

Posted in Dinner, Main Dishes, My Recipes, Other Food | 3 Comments

Save That Fat!


Bacon fat is awesome.

No, really. It’s pretty much free when you think about it – it comes with the bacon you buy whether you want it there or not – and it does a faboo job of cooking all sorts of things. Depending on the relative saltiness/smokiness of the bacon, it can even impart hints of that flavour to food cooked in it.

Obviously it’s not healthy, but then few cooking fats worth using are. So if you’re going to sauté an onion or fry some potatoes, would you rather have an unhealthy dish that tastes okay or an unhealthy dish that has nuances of bacon? And for free?

Right.

If you Google around about how to save and store bacon fat, you’ll see a lot of variety. I know this because I was recently checking to see if there’s an official length of time that it’s safe to store the stuff in the fridge; foodsafety.gov doesn’t seem to include it and random people’s estimates fall between “a few weeks” and “six months”. Personally I store it for about six to eight weeks and then feel iffy about it, at which point I dispose of it properly by putting it in the trash, not down the sink!

Anyway, when it comes to the actual collection and storage some people filter and others don’t, and containers and methods of collection vary. I have no idea what’s right or wrong, but I do know my method is easy and works for me, so that’s what I’m going to tell you about.

Sometimes when I cook bacon I’m making a sandwich with it, but more often than not I’m also cooking eggs. I like to cook up the bacon, transfer it to paper towels to drain (I always fold the paper towel over the bacon to get the fat off the top and to keep it warm), pour off the fat, and then cook my eggs in the slight amount of fat and lots of brown bits left in the pan. This makes my eggs yummy.

Because this means I’m pouring the fat hot, I do have to be careful. Not only can it burn, but I don’t want to put it on certain kinds of glass that might shatter from the thermal shock. For that reason I use a Corelle cereal bowl, because I know from a lifetime of experience that Corelle is really good at handling sudden temperature changes.

Further, I keep a damp dishcloth handy so I can wipe the dribble down the side of the pan as I stop pouring. That way I can safely return the pan to the stove for cooking eggs without having to worry about fat dripping into the flame and spurting off all over the place.

If it’s the start of a batch, I simply pour the fat into the bowl, let it solidify on the counter, then cover it with cling wrap and write the date on the cling wrap with a Sharpie. This way I know the age of the oldest fat in the bowl, and I go by that when judging the age of the entire thing. I typically start a new bowl every month even if the old bowl is still usable, just to make sure I’m not throwing out fresh fat along with old stuff.

bacon fat bowl

A few layers of bacon fat in a bowl that I started on July 27. I can tell at a glance when the oldest fat was put in there so I know when to chuck it.

If there’s already fat in the bowl, I take the bowl out of the fridge as I start cooking the bacon so the bowl itself is a little warmed up by the time it’s time to pour more, and then I am careful to pour the fat onto the other fat, not onto the sides of the bowl. The fat in there quickly cools the new fat coming in and they melt together.

(And yes you can absolutely play Bacon Fat Geologist later when you dig through the sedimentary laters because science is fun!)

I leave the bowl out long enough for the fresh hot fat to cool to a safe handling point, put the plastic wrap back on, and put it back in the fridge. No filtering necessary! In fact, those bits of fond are pretty much bonus good bits for your cooking later.

Then whenever I need some cooking fat, I can scoop out a tiny bit or a lot as needed. For sautéing an onion, I just smear a little bit on a nonstick pan. For making schnitzel, I’ll use a whole lot to cover the bottom of the cast iron pan in about a quarter inch of fat. Whatever the needed amount, it’s a really useful thing to have on hand and I highly recommend saving it!

Posted in Breakfast, Dinner, General Cooking Tips, Other Food | 2 Comments

These Cake Balls Are In The Bag


plate of cakeballs

Gucci and Chanel never had it so good.

more purse cake balls on a plate

Don’t purse your lips against these tasty treats!

If you know me, you know that I’m the least fashionable person possible. I have 15 pairs of the same capris in different colours, and I have many nerdy and/or cake-related t-shirts. That’s my wardrobe. If you see me in a dress, chances are someone is dead or getting married or depending on the scale of the drama, both.

So when the Austin cake club had a theme this year for our Day of Sharing of “Fashionista” I thought, “Meh, I don’t know anything about fashion short of being sick of Ridge and Brooke’s constant on-and-off marriage thing.”

But then it occurred to me that I’ve been looking for an excuse to make more of my dark chocolate buttercream cake balls that I made for my friend Kyla’s birthday in the form of wee little Adiposes, so why not make some little purses? They’d be easy, right? Just shape the cake balls and wrap, right?

Yes! It turns out they are that easy! In fact, I had to force myself to stop making them and go to bed so I could get some sleep before the event, because they were also a lot of fun to make. They’re a great opportunity to use any texture mats/pins, small cutters, or other fun cake toys serious decorating tools you have lying around that don’t get nearly enough use. You can also use scraps of fondant, and then scraps of scraps blended into marbled patterns.

The one caveat I’ll state is that for this application you want good quality fondant. I often use my homemade stuff because nobody pays me to make cakes, so I usually can’t cost-justify commercial fondant. But while my homemade fondant is excellent for figures, it doesn’t do well at being rolled thin and folded. For all of the purses shown below, all of the fondant is Satin Ice. (Disclaimer: the Satin Ice I have is all leftover from our cake show, and it was donated to that show. So I didn’t pay for it, but it didn’t come directly to me for this blog.)

For the cake balls themselves, I used a box mix (Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge) with a couple of large squirts of Hershey’s Special Dark syrup added, and then about half of a batch of dark chocolate buttercream. That made over 60 little purse shapes. Obviously your yield may vary depending on size and shape of the balls you make. There are tons of web sites and videos out there that show you how to make cake balls so Google for more details, but the very basic methodology is you break up the cake and then mix in the frosting thoroughly. I like to use two forks to tear up the cake in a large bowl, pour the frosting in, and hand-knead.

The next step is to shape the balls, which in this case are clearly not balls at all. Purses come in many shapes and styles, so don’t fret about anything being specific unless you’re trying to replicate a particular purse, in which case Google for images and shape it accordingly. Generally speaking you want to make a ball in your hands, gently pinch out the shape as desired, and push it down a little on a flat surface so it has a stable bottom. The basic purse is a ball that is pinched at the top like a point-free teardrop. Backpacks are the same shape pushed flat on one side. Handle bags are the basic shape with a pinky finger or thin tool pushed down in the middle and the sides nudged upwards. Round purses are thick disks pushed flat one one side to stand up. All of these are roughly about an inch and a half wide, but you could go bigger or even a little smaller.

cake balls on a tray

An entire batch of shaped cake balls. You can see that there are lots of different shapes. Hint: if your shape won’t stand up on a tray, it’s not going to stand up when covered and put on a plate.

I like to put my cake balls in the freezer to fully harden, although if it’s really humid this can create the problem of the balls sweating out through the fondant as they come out. To combat this, you can either just put them in the fridge (but then they’ll be softer for covering) or pull them out a few minutes before covering and wipe off the frosty condensation, plus build in some time for them to sit and dry out after covering. I did the latter for these purses, sitting them on a bed of cornstarch as they dried so they didn’t stick to the plate I dried them on.

Either way, you do need to cool them after shaping or else they’ll be too soft to cover.

Now here’s something I want to make really clear: I had never made a cake ball purse before. So how did I know how to do it? I didn’t. As I said above, I figured I could just wrap it, so I tried that using another lump of fondant in the right shape, proved to myself that it worked, and then I went to town with it. You don’t always need someone to show you how to do stuff. Once again, the reason for the title of this blog is I want to encourage you all to try things, play with your food, and worst case scenario you end up with ugly cake balls so EAT THE EVIDENCE!

Here are my first three experimental attempts, which are very basic. The backpack turned out kind of weird, but it’s cute and obviously a backpack:

three cake ball purses

My first three purse cake balls. Basic, easy, and fast.

Here’s how to make the basic red purse shown above. First, roll out the fondant in an oval shape much bigger than the bottom of the cake ball. If you’ve used a texture mat or otherwise prefer one side of the fondant to be the outside, be sure that what you want showing is on the underside. Brush on a little bit of water at the sides and where it’ll join above the cake ball as shown in the photo:

making a purse 1

You can also brush around where the sides will join if you find they’re not staying closed. That will depend on how wet the cake balls are. The frozen cake balls are wet enough that the fondant will stick to them easily. If yours aren’t sticky on the surface from condensation, brush more water on your fondant. But don’t overdo it, because you don’t want it starting to condensate and becoming a wet mess!

The next steps are simply to fold the fondant around the cake ball and pinch it shut. Don’t pinch hard if you want a visible seam to remain as the purse’s opening.

making a purse 2

Lift up one side and gently rub it against the cake ball to adhere it. Don’t go too hard or you’ll squish the cake ball, especially if it’s not frozen. Also be sure your hands are clean or else you’ll have cake ball crumbs being smeared all over the outside of the fondant.

making a purse 3

Fold up the other side and smooth it on, pinching it closed all around, flush against the edge of the cake ball. At the bottom, pinch and push down slightly to make a flattened fold against the cake ball as shown here.

For the next step, you should use whatever you like for cutting fondant. A sharp x-acto or paring knife will work. I found it easier to use these small, sharp scissors that are made for sewing but I always use for small cake decorations (hint: if you make a green fondant cone and make little snips up the sides you get a great mini Christmas tree effect).

making a purse 4

It’s easiest to cut across the top first. You can start higher up to get extra stuff out of your way, but eventually you want to snip along the top so just a bit of the seam is popped up (depending on your purse’s style of course). Next, cut straight down the sides so there’s a bit sticking out as shown here. After that, cut on an angle from the top down to the side fold in a manner that suits your purse’s style (i.e. it could go close to the contour of the ball or might flare out as you wish).

making a purse 5

Wet the side flap a little bit, fold it up, and pinch it in snugly.

making a purse 6

Then just roll or extrude a little handle, attach it with a tiny amount of water (or if the ball was sweating a lot from being frozen you may not even have to) and attach a little dragee or similar candy as a clasp. Voila! Adorable little cake ball purse, fast and easy!

The one above is sitting on a bed of corn starch since the ball because of condensation from the frozen ball, but even fondant without that condensation problem is likely to stick, so let it dry up for awhile (overnight is best) on a bed of corn starch. Then when you’re ready for it to go to a plate or package, carefully brush or wipe the corn starch off of the bottom with a dry brush or cloth.

After my first couple of basic purses, I was able to do this simple covering, handle, and dragee in about four minutes. In fact, for this stage you want to move quickly because you don’t want your fondant drying out and cracking as you work it.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do more complex designs. Really, the sky’s the limit on these, and as I mentioned above, it’s a good time to use a lot of tools you have around that you might not get a chance to use often unless you’re committing their patterns to an entire cake. For instance, in one of my cake show prize packs over the years I won a tiny little flower-pattern roller that quite frankly isn’t very useful otherwise. It’s so small that it’s hard to make in even repeating rows beyond its length, and the roughly-cut design sticks to fondant after a couple of rolls over, even with corn starch. I’ve let my daughter play with it but I was meh on it until this application, because it’s perfect for these little purses!

Flower texture pin purse

Roll out your fondant to almost the right thickness, then give one final roll with the patterned roller. Flip it over and assemble as shown above. Note that a directional pattern like these flowers will be upside down on one side. I guess you could overcome that by cutting the fondant and doing each side separately, but that’ll take longer so only do that if you think the recipient will notice or care.

texture mat on a purse

This one was made with a texture mat that features large flowers surrounded by smaller ones. It’s tricky with this sort of pattern to line it up centered when the fondant is upside down, so plan to be able to shift the ball around a bit as you bring the sides up. And of course, the back big flower isn’t as well-aligned (it’s lower, not pictured).

orange stitch purse

Another easy option is to run a pounce wheel around the sides and corners for a really effective fabric look. On this I also etched some really faint lines with a carving tool. This cake ball also had a slightly higher profile.

You can also make handles that stand upright, but it takes a bit more skill. The handle should not be too thin or it’ll fold down, or too thick in which case it’ll flop over. Roll out the fondant, bend it, wet the top of the purse, and then push the handle gently down into place, pinching slightly downward and sort of slightly smearing the fondant out to the sides to anchor it. You’ll be able to feel if it’s steady or not as you go and adjust accordingly with some practice. Then be sure to set it aside overnight to dry before transporting or covering.

upright handle

This upright handle is a simple rolled snake pushed on and flared out to make it stand. There are no supportive structures in place. The purse itself was rolled on a texture mat and started out with a slightly different cake ball shape: instead of curving down at the sides, it curves up like a Hello Kitty head.

Here are most of the rest of the purses and details on how they were made:

red flower purse with silver paint

The same red flower-pin purse as above, except I decided to paint the dots with Albert Uster silver, which gave it a whole different look.

red silver flower purse

The red flower texture mat one from above, except I painted the central big flower with Albert Uster silver and the handle as well. I also stuck a dragee in the center of the big flower.

Hello Kitty purse

Speaking of Hello Kitty heads, they looked so much like it on the tray that I decided one should be like that character. I know it’s not exact, but it’s close enough that everyone at the event referred to this as the “Hello Kitty purse”. It’s one of the cake balls with the upturned sides, and instead of folding a flap up at the bottom sides I cut it close and pretty much just smooshed it closed. I then rolled little flattened balls for the bow, flattened ovals for the eyes, a flattened black ball for the nose, and some tiny snakes as the whiskers.

pink dragonfly purse

This is another one of those upward-corner styles as well. The dragonfly was simply cut with a tiny cutter. This is an excellent project if you have tons of small cutters as I do!

marbled purse with white heart.

This is marbled black and white fondant for the main purse, a white fondant heart cut with a tiny plunger cutter, and an upright handle that was rolled on a texture mat.

sack style purse

This one is more into sack territory. The cake ball is a cone shape. I rolled out some marbled scraps of various colours and then gathered the whole thing around and pinched it together on the top to let the edges flare out like gathered cloth. I then used some marbled black and orange as a rope that I “tied” around the neck. I considered adding a stick to make it like a bindle but decided that was straying from the theme too far, but you could use this methodology to make a really cute set of old school bindle bags on candy sticks!

orange and black backpack

My first attempt at stripes turned out kind of chunky on this backpack-shaped cake ball because I made the snakes too wide. In the two below, I made much thinner snakes and that worked better for striping. For the backpack, do it as the main method but with more on the rounded side, and tuck the side flaps in more at the bottom like soft cloth. Add two ribbon-style straps to the flat side.

black and white striped purse

For this I rolled out very thin snakes of black and white, alternated them, and then rolled them out as a sheet. Otherwise it’s exactly as the how-to above.

pink and white striped purse

As the black and white one above. Doesn’t this look like it should taste like peppermint? It doesn’t, but there’s no reason you couldn’t make peppermint cake balls inside!

pink flower purse

Here’s another one done with the flower roller, and this handle was extruded on a clover setting.

orange and black star purse

This cake ball had a slightly higher profile, so I left off the handle to make it more of a clutch-style purse. Otherwise it’s simply the standard method as shown above with black plunger-cut stars stuck on.

pink checker grid purse

Pink rolled with a Fat Daddio’s “checker grid” impression pin. The handle was extruded using a tear-drop shape (with the pointed end curved on the inside) but it’s really hard to tell.

black purse with checker grid

A square-ish profile cake ball with the fondant rolled with the same pin as above.

red hearts on grey marble purse

A cake ball with a more stylized top, wrapped mostly as shown above but with points left flaring out to the sides more. Marbled white and black fondant with red plunger-cut hearts stuck on.

pink and black stripe purse

The basic methodology except that I laid down some very thin snakes of black when the pink was mostly rolled out. I then swirled some of the trimmed off part as the handle.

cylinder purse 1

A cylinder shaped cake ball to start, and this time I wrapped it roll-wise in marbled scrap fondant, then rolled out two disks and put them on the top and bottom. I ran the pounce wheel around the seams, then rolled and cut a flat style handle and attached it teapot style.

cylinder purse 2

Same as above but with red top and bottom to contrast.

orange heart purse

The basic methodology shown above on the upturned-corner style cake ball, but I trimmed the bottom side flaps very small so they’re hardly there at all. Orange hearts from the plunger cutter again.

yellow wide purse

Another one of the more stylize-top cake balls, but this time with a simple yellow covering with a light touch from a wave impression mat. The handle is scraps marbled together, cut as a flat ribbon.

pink and black teddy purse

Pink and white marbled for the main purse with a simple mini teddy bear cutout in black added.

black and orange marbled purse

Black and orange scrap fondant from the black and orange backpack above marbled together with the pounce wheel run around the edges and up the middle for a leathery look.

yellow circle purse

This was my favourite for turning out as a fancy purse. I think my Barbie dolls had one like this when I was a kid. The cake ball was formed as a flattened, thick disk. I cut two circles out for the sides, then wrapped a ribbon cut to fit around the middle. I had to massage the seams together all around, which took some doing without just sliding the fondant side to side. Once it was all together, I ran the pounce wheel around, made a ribbon-style handle and pounce-wheeled it before putting it on.

So there you have it: lots of styles from a few basic methods. These are super easy and mega-cute so go make some! Get some friends together and have a cake ball decorating party!

Posted in Cake Balls, Cake Decorating, My Recipes | 2 Comments

Product Review: Composi-Mold – And it’s AWESOME


Have you ever sat around thinking about your craft and wishing there was a tool that would meet your needs, but figuring that your dreams of such a thing could never come true?

I frequently look at the vast numbers of decorative molds available and think, “That’s lovely, but I’d probably only use it once and it’s so expensive. Plus I only do cakes for donation most of the time so I can’t cost justify a whole set of fancy molds, nor those silicone mold-making kits.” So I’ve often thought how cool it’d be to have some kind of re-castable medium that’s also food safe. I’ve even tried playing with things like the wax that comes on Baby Bel cheese, frozen buttercream (which does work okay for gummy), and various contraptions made from foil and/or cling wrap. Nothing worked well for casting fine detail, especially from smaller objects.

So when I received a free sample of Composi-Mold FC to review from Composi-Mold – which promised to be a microwaveable, food-safe, reusable mold medium – I was intrigued. I watched their introductory video and their video about using the product with chocolate and fondant, and started to get excited:

It just so happened that I’d just received my Kickstarter mega box load of plastic RPG minis from Reaper, so I decided those would make excellent test subjects. I had no doubt based on the videos that Composi-Mold would do well with large objects, but how would it do with very fine details?

I watched Composi-Mold’s video on making two-part molds and set about doing that with one of the wings from the Reaper Griffon since it seemed like two-sided wings might be a reasonable thing to want for a cake decorating project. It was big and flat so easy from that perspective but would challenge the mold on detail of all of those feathers and would push the limit when casting because of being thin. I figured if this worked, it’d be instant proof that bigger stuff would also work.

At first I decided to see if it’d work to do a more standard two piece mold than they showed, so I tried filling a container with some melted Composi-Mold and laid the wing on top of it.

Composi Mold test 1 - photo 1

I was pretty sure it’d float, especially with that much surface area.

I let that set up hard and cold in the fridge, then froze it for about ten minutes, applied cooking spray to the whole thing, and poured the top half of the mold on.

Composi Mold test 1 - photo 2

This is about where I realized I’d forgotten to add some excess fondant or something to form a sprue hole into which the casting media could be poured. Whoops.

When that half was fully set, I removed the top half which made a beautiful impression. Unfortunately, the floating thing didn’t work at all and the mold on the lower side was riddled with bubbles that got trapped under the wing when I put it on the surface:

Composi Mold test 1 - photo 3

Clearly there were reasons why their video said to do it differently. But at least this reusable material means I didn’t blow money on a mistake like this!

I used the good top half as a push mold with fondant just to see how that’d work, and was quite happy with the result:

Composi Mold test 1 - photo 4

I just pushed Satin Ice into the still-lightly-greased mold as I would any other push mold and it came out with great detail.

Composi Mold test 1 - photo 5

Here’s that one-sided wing trimmed of excess. That’s a perfectly serviceable piece for many cake decorating applications. The residual cooking spray gets absorbed into the fondant in a few hours so don’t worry about cleaning it off.

So then I figured I should actually use their instructions for a two-piece mold! They use polymer clay to affix pieces to the bottom of the container so they don’t move or float, but to keep this entirely food-safe I used a bit of fondant instead and it worked well enough. I stuck the flatter side of the wing down with fondant and poured some Composi-Mold over it:

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 1

If you tap it lightly as you pour, the bubbles come up and away from the item you’re casting.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 2

Here’s that mold solidified. You can now see the fondant I used to stick it to the bottom. Some Composi-Mold got underneath but that’s fine because you just trim that away with an x-acto knife.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 3

Here is the same thing as the photo above but with the excess trimmed away and the fondant removed. I also trimmed the sides with scissors so it’d fit back into the container easily.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 4

This time I remembered to add a bit of fondant on the side as a sprue/filling hole! I also sprayed the whole thing again with cooking spray as a release.

Success! Once it had all set up, I was able to separate the mold along three edges by running my finger down the seam and leave the fourth slightly attached so the whole thing opened like a stiff book.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 5

I also used my x-acto blade to widen the sprue/pour hole a bit, but other than that it looks like I got this mold right!

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 6

Close-up of half of the mold, showing how it really captured so much detail of the original plastic wing. This product is really impressive! (rim shot)

I got an appropriate amount of fondant and pressed it hard between the two halves of the mold. Voila, a lovely two-sided wing that just needed a bit of x-acto work to clean away the excess from the edges:

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 7

Press-molded fondant wing, side 1.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 8

Press-molded fondant wing, side 2.

I trimmed that wing and set it aside to firm up, and later put it on a flower former curve to let it dry solid with a bit of a curve to it.

Meanwhile I sandwiched the mold between two flat plastic tub lids and taped it together tightly with packing tape to hold it firmly shut. I positioned it in a tub mostly upright.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 9

I foolishly put some of the packing tape in the way of the pour hole, but then cut it away with my x-acto blade.

I happened to have some Opaque Gummy around from a separate experiment (which I’ll post about later), but any of my gummy recipes should work just fine and as always the translucency could be used to fantastic effect.

I warmed the gummy up and then let it cool to just before solid and also put the mold in the fridge. That way I’d lessen any chance of hot gummy melting the mold. And therein lies the only fault Composi-Mold has compared to silicone molds: I very much doubt you can cast hot sugar or Isomalt with Composi-Mold because the working temperatures with those media will likely exceed the melting point of Composi-Mold. Think of Composi-Mold in the same light as chocolate molds, not hard candy ones.

Anyway, when the mold was cold and the gummy was liquid but not very hot, I used my standard baster technique to pour it into the mold. Voila! Another success!

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 10

Gummy wing, side 1.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 11

Detail from side 1, showing how well the mold translated the original plastic feather lines to the end product.

Composi Mold test 2 - photo 12

Gummy wing, side 2.

I put the mold back in the freezer for a bit and warmed up some Wilton Candy Melts. I quickly realized though that even when melted, they’re too thick to run down through a thin, cold mold. I could tell that they’d clog up part way down instead of filling out to the ends of the feathers. So instead I held the mold open and filled the recessed cavity side overfull with melted candy melts, then closed the mold and pressed down hard. My first attempt was actually too hard and I think the mold was too cold, because it set up fast and then cracked in there. I cleaned it all out and while the mold was still cool but not fridge-cold, I tried again and pressed firmly but not as hard. Then I let it all set up in the fridge for half an hour and voila, another lovely detailed wing:

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Wilton candy melt wing, side 1. Some edge cleaning is required but an x-acto takes care of that easily. Obviously you could use lots of colours of candy melts or chocolate to spectacular effects.

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Wilton candy melt wing, side 2.

Here are all of the wings together, including some gel-painted details on the one-sided fondant one to highlight the details:

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From top to bottom: the original plastic wing, half of the two-piece mold, the one-sided wing with gel colours added on one side, the two-sided wing dried in a curve, the Opaque Gummy wing, and the Wilton Candy Melt wing.

Clearly, Composi-Mold is fantastic at capturing fine detail and works very well in a variety of edible media. I was wholly impressed by this experiment.

That made me want to really push the limits of the mold and see how small I could go. I grabbed another Reaper mini, this time a man holding a shovel and a lantern. I watched their video on casting plastic army men and followed the directions precisely. Unfortunately, while that clearly works for an extremely liquid medium like casting urethane – which you can easily pour in and manipulate in the mold before it sets up – it didn’t work for edible media. Gummy solidified in the tiny leg holes immediately and wouldn’t progress through. I didn’t even bother trying candy melts. And when I split the whole thing open to make a push mold for fondant, you can see by the photo below that the fondant just wasn’t up to holding that fine detail:

ddd

There was just no way I was going to get that tiny shovel handle out intact in soft fondant.

fff

Even pushing hard on the outside of this thick mold couldn’t get the fondant between the legs very well. This figure is too small for fondant.

Of course this isn’t the fault of Composi-Mold, but it does illustrate a limitation of using edible media versus other media. Which brings up a another note: even though Composi-Mold sells filters for cleaning the mold medium, I personally would recommend against using non-food media in any Composi-Mold you’re using for food. I would strongly recommend that if you want to make non-edible molded items, get a separate batch and mark them so you can easily distinguish between them. (Update note: Composi-Mold FC is their food safe stuff, LT is their regular stuff, so that might help keep them distinct for you as well.)

Anyway, I decided to give the mini concept another try, but this time found one that had a wide base with a skirt. As you can see from the photo below, my first attempt with the gummy solidified before making its way to the bottom of the mold. For the second attempt, I made the gummy thinner (which makes it much more delicate and hard to get out intact) and used the baster to really shove it down in, but even then it trapped bubbles in the arms and unlike with the urethane in the video linked above, there was no time to squeeze bubbles out before the gummy solidified. So once again I tried shoving fondant into it, but even this broom hand and arm kept breaking off on removal from the mold because fondant just can’t go that small without serious fragility issues.

ddd

The original plastic one on the left is 1.25″ / 3.5 cm tall, so this is super-small scale stuff. It’s possible if you found a mini with the right shape and did proper mold-casting along seam lines you could replicate it in edible media, but at this scale it’s very difficult to work with in general. Again, that’s the edible media that’s tricky: the Composi-Mold picked up the detail and worked just fine.

Summed up: Composi-Mold is a convenient, reusable mold medium that picks up excellent detail from original pieces and translates it well to all kinds of media, including edible ones. The limitations I found were more the fault of the edible media than the Composi-Mold. It is rare for me to be this enthusiastic about a product, but it really does fill my personal need to be able to have on-the-fly molds for cake decorating without purchasing tons of expensive silicone molds.

I will be eagerly demonstrating and recommending Composi-Mold to the Capital Confectioners Cake Club in August, and I know there will be a bunch of dropped jaws followed by applause. I will also send this review out to everyone I love in the cake world, because I know this is something a lot of people have been wishing for!

I am so impressed with this product that I’ve even agreed to place an affiliate link on the sidebar of this blog, which otherwise doesn’t accept advertising. I will get 10% of sales from that link but honestly I’d post their link even without that because I heartily recommend it.

Composi-Mold rocks. Get some and make things on your cakes that nobody else has ever made before!



UPDATE: This post is actually referring to Composi-Mold FC, their Food Contact version. There is also Composi-Mold LT which is the original version not meant to be used for food. If you are purchasing some for food, be sure to stick to the FC stuff.

Posted in Experimental Techniques, Gummy, Products, Severe Nerdery | 1 Comment

“Pretend It’s Healthy Because It’s Got Oats In It” Microwave Snack Cake


So you know those evenings when you’re sitting around and want a nice snack but you don’t want an over-sugared box mix brownie or cupcake because it’ll wreck your sleep or be diabetic-bad or whatever? You want something tasty and chocolatey, but you’d like it to have some kind of decent ingredient in it to mitigate the bad ingredients? And you don’t want to bake something for an hour because then you’ll be forced to spend that time playing your favourite video game instead of going to bed? FORCED, I say! Yes.

A few weeks ago I wanted something like that but had had such bad results from the various microwave mug chocolate cakes I’ve tried that I went desperately Googling for something different. I tried putting oats in the search because I’ve got lots of oats on hand and they’re healthy and filling.

I found a lot of minor variations on something called a Toll House Microwave Snack Cake (mostly like this one), but can’t actually find it as an original on the Nestle recipe site. All of the versions I found were too big for what I wanted, and the fat and sugar amounts were really quite high.

After some tweaking around, I have come up with a smaller, healthier version that I love so much it’s become my regular snack-attack go-to deliciousness. I cut it in half for two really generous servings but it could easily serve four as a dessert.

oat snack cake with chocolate chips

Dense, oaty, mildy sweet, very tasty and filling. Add your own other ingredients to suit your tastes and needs.

"Pretend It's Healthy Because It's Got Oats In It" Microwave Snack Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A dense, mildly sweet, very tasty oat cake with chocolate chips or your preferred ingredients.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 2-4
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup (half stick) of regular butter, softened
  • ¾ cup oats, quick or old fashioned, uncooked
  • ¼ cup flour, whole wheat or AP
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar (I actually don't fill my ¼ cup, so I'm doing a bit more than an ⅛th cup but I don't like things sweet)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts, optional
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips, or semi-sweet, or whatever you like
Method
  1. In a microwaveable bowl (I like our Corelle large stew bowls for this, a cereal bowl is probably too small), mix everything up to the milk. Make sure it's thoroughly blended.
  2. Add the nuts and chips. Mix in.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic and poke one or two small vent holes.
  4. Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes depending on your microwave. It's done when the top looks dry and is springy to the touch.
  5. Use a knife to separate the cake from the sides of the bowl.
  6. Handle the bowl with gloves because it'll be hot. Tip it out onto a plate. Scrape out any remaining chocolate chips and eat them. Obviously this is a required step.
  7. The original recipe said to let it cool because it was clearly written by criminally insane people. Eat it warm and gooey. You're welcome.

 
 

By the way, this happened so my posts might not be so frequent for a bit. I’ll do my best but sleep is suddenly at a premium!

Posted in Links, My Recipes, Other Food, Other People's Recipes | Leave a comment

The Last Cookie Bender


Or maybe the first. Probably somewhere in between. It was either that or a Futurama joke and I do try to keep this blog family-friendly.

Anyway.

COOKIE BENDING!

A friend on G+ challenged me to make a bent-clock cookie as seen in Dali’s famous piece The Persistence of Memory. I Googled around to see if anyone else had made such a thing and found that the Dali Museum apparently sells two-dimensional bent-clock cookies, but that was all I could find.

So I made one:

Dali Cookie

Chocolate cookie with fondant painted with food gel and edible ink marker.

The decorating wasn’t any particular challenge, but to get the cookie to bake bent – plus unbroken and stable for decorating – took some experimentation.

I was making some of my favourite rolled chocolate cookie dough for some facehugger and sonic screwdriver cookies for friends anyway, so I decided to experiment with some extra dough.

At first I thought I’d hang the cookies to bake with the hopeful result that they’d hang of their own accord after decorating. But I wasn’t sure if the dough would move too much, so I ran some tests.

I cut some ovals out of the dough and hung them on a flour-sprayed inverted cake pan:

cookie experiment 1

I tried to support them up against the rolled lip of the pan. It felt stable while cold, but I could already tell they would probably shift at least a little during cooking.

In short order, though, it became apparent that there was going to be a weak spot at the bend:

cookie experiments 2

Sure, that crack would be covered by the fondant I planned to put on top, but weakness is never good in cookie construction, even when hidden.

Thus, even though I already had doubts about this working I knew people would inevitably ask, “Have you tried…” so I persisted. With memory. See what I did there? Heh. Yeah. Ahem. Anyway.

I tried adding extra material to the bend point and put that cookie on the pan along with the other two regular ones.

cookie experiments 3

I was already anticipating failure as a meaningful result at this point. Science works whether you want it to or not.

Annnnnnd…yup, there’s the negative result as anticipated:

cookie experiment 4

Cue the sad trombones.

cookie experiment 5

This is the one I added extra material to, which you can see just weighed it down more.

But as Adam Savage so wisely said, “Failure is always an option.” It’s important, because it gives us data. And what do we do here at Eat the Evidence when we have an aesthetic failure of a tasty baked good?

Cookie Monster animated gif.

That’s right, Cookie. We Eat the Evidence, nom nom eye-wiggle nom. Image from here. Intended for parody/educational purposes only. Don’t sue me…all I’ve got is a stale Dali cookie in my cabinet. Plus I’m a sustaining PBS member so that surely counts for something, right?

In fact, since one of them actually came off the pan intact, it at least gave me hope that cookie bending was plausible by some other method.

cookie experiments 6

Yes, my daughter and I ate this. And the broken bits of the other two. And we scraped the delicious crumbs out of the cake pan’s rim and ate those too. Don’t judge us. What? Nothing. Yes.

Next I thought I’d try the Simi Flex Form Molds I had just been reviewing for use with gummy. I thought maybe if I could use some foil to hold the ends in place, I could somehow curve the strip under the cookie and hold it up during baking like an underwire. But just like underwires, this proved to be a hassle-prone idea because the flex form just didn’t want to stay in place, especially once it got slick with the flour spray:

cookie experiment 7

This is why I don’t post videos to this blog very often, because the language I was using with this all flopping around all over the place was decidedly not family-friendly.

To be fair, the flex forms were not made with this in mind so this is not in any way a strike against them. I was just trying to see if I could repurpose them for something else.

I bailed on the idea of using an inverted cake pan entirely and decided instead to try a muffin pan. I rigged up one cookie with no spray and one cookie with spray. I knew the top end would sag into the other cup, but figured this was worth a proof-of-concept try anyway.

cookie experiment 8

I thought maybe being bumped up against the bottom of the cup would stop the dough from going too far. I have had success in making hollow-sphere cookies before (oh yeah, I should probably post that since I promised to um…a year ago…heh…), so this was at least plausible.

If this had worked, I’d have done it again with foil or something in the other cup to hold the top edge up. But as shown below, it didn’t work. The sprayed side was a particularly bad result:

cookie experiment 9

Oh the cookianity!

cookie experiment 10

This side isn’t horrible and may have been made to work with some support for the top edge, except that it was really, really hard to get off in one piece. I don’t like posting instructions for other folks that are likely to make people frustrated, so while this had promise, it still was not an acceptable methodology for cookie bending.

cookie experiments 11

Mind you, it did look kind of nifty when it came off, and was reasonably stable like this.

The time had come to realize that hanging it to bake just wasn’t going to work. I needed to prop it up face-down, meaning the interior corner would puff out and not be well-suited for actual hanging against a cornered edge, but at least I could get a stable bent cookie out of it.

So I cut another couple of ovals and propped them up against a silicone mini pan I won as a door prize and haven’t used for much else other than making a big candy star for a holiday cake:

cookie experiment 12

I made sure to push them up against the little pan firmly for as much of a bent edge as possible. At this point I was reasonably sure this would work, since I’ve had cookies come out slightly curved from parchment paper bumped up on pan edges.

Sure enough, this worked:

cookie experiments 13

Bent cookies! Hurrah! Be sure not to remove the support until they’ve cooled, though, or else the hot, tender dough will just slump over. But once cool, these are pretty strong in this shape.

It sat around waiting to be decorated for several days because I was so busy with other projects. But eventually I got around to rolling and cutting some white fondant in the melted shape of the Dali clock and applying that to the cookie with some water and corn syrup. I then made a very dilute mixture of water and blue food gel and painted it on to look as close to the original painting as possible. I let that dry for nearly 24 hours to be sure it was completely dry.

Next I made the markings for the clock and wrote on the numbers. I then rolled a long snake of yellow and wrapped it around, pushing it gently to overlap the face edge, fixing it in place with corn syrup and water. I sculpted the teeny tiny bee and teeny tiny hands, then added the top knob and voila, a Dali-inspired actually-bent melted-clock cookie:

Dali Cookie - side view

Side view so you can see the bend. The colour jar used for support is the one I used for the painting. I usually prefer Americolor gels but I still have some of these Wilton ones around from my early decorating days, and in this case I wanted a more dilute color so Wilton is better for that.

Dali Cookie - Bee view

View from the other side so you can see the bee better. Note how I indented the yellow border more harshly in some places to accentuate the wobbly-melty design. The timey-wimey-ness, if you will. And if you clicked the link above to the sonic screwdriver cookies, I know you will.

Dali Cookie - back

The back side, where you can see that the dough has pinched itself so while it’s strong enough, it won’t sit flush against a corner.

There you have it. You can bend cookies, as long as the recipe allows for it and you have it fully supported. Some doughs turn almost to liquid during baking (which is why they spread so far) and thus may not work as well as more stable doughs. I happen to know that this chocolate dough doesn’t spread so much, which is why I keep pushing it beyond sensible limits. If you want to make a bent cookie, be sure to test your preferred recipes in advance. You will likely not have trouble finding an audience to help you eat your evidence!

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cookies, Experimental Techniques, General Freakishness | 3 Comments

Gummy Stars and Stripes


Last weekend I attended the 2013 Frosting Creators of San Antonio Day of Sharing and decided to do some further gummy experiments with the excuse of entering a piece into their “Born in the USA” themed contest.

I wanted to find out the following:

1) Could I get a translucent white gummy, as in, not use the Opaque recipe but somehow use the Clear recipe without resorting to adding white food colouring, which clumps up and makes speckles?

2) Could I cast gummy directly onto plexiglass instead of doing the more labour-intensive Flexible, Edible Stained Glass methodology of creating sheets, drying them, cutting them, and fusing them?

3) What would happen to the gummy cast directly onto the plexiglass as it dried? Would it be stuck to the plexiglass enough to keep it in place, or would it eventually curl the glass or split apart?

Thus, I made the US flag in gummy, figuring I probably wouldn’t win anything in the competition but that it was good impetus to answer those questions.

First, I sized a graphic of the US flag to the width of my plexiglass, which I got inexpensively as part of a poster frame from Target. I had some printing issues but managed to get the stars section and enough of the stripes that I could then use a ruler on the paper that came in the frame to draw out the rest of the lengths.

While prepping some blue Basic Gummy and warming/cooling it several times over for optimal clarity, I clipped one of the frame sides on to keep the gummy from flowing over the side and used Simi Flex Form Molds (which I recently reviewed here) as dams on the other three sides, held down with small fondant buckets especially along the frame clip to ensure there was no leaking.

gummy US flag 1

The Simi silicone strips stick to the plexiglass well, but I used tubs just to be sure that joins and overlaps were pinched tight.

Then I used a baster to carefully apply the blue gummy into that space.

gummy US flag 2

See those blue drips in the upper left corner? Whenever I do gummy work, I make an effort to approach with the baster from an angle where drips will matter the least. Sometimes there aren’t any drips, but if there are, you don’t want them to land on your actual work surface or other portions of your piece if you can avoid it. Although the stained glass ebook does cover how to recover from such a mishap, should it happen.

I let it set up on the kitchen table for a very long time (mostly because I had to go pick my kid up from school) and then removed the strips and the side clip carefully to reveal a lovely blue rectangle:

gummy US flag 3

Any slight remnants were easily trimmed off with an x-acto blade, and otherwise this was perfectly aligned on my printout.

Next I used a star cutter as close as possible to the size of the stars on my printout. This would have been easier if I’d done it when the gummy was still freshly poured and just solid, but because as mentioned above I had to pick up my kid, take her to karate, come home, make dinner, get her to bed, etc., it was evening before I got to cutting and the gummy was really solid. I had to push the cutter down fairly hard and give it a wiggle each time to cut through (which probably scratched the plexiglass but I didn’t mind since I was only using it for this project and the seams would hide those scratches). On that first hole, you can see some ragged edges because I didn’t cut down far enough and had to go in with an x-acto blade to remove the star. After that, I cut harder and they came out more cleanly.

gummy US flag 4

By the second last column of stars, my thumb was bruised from pushing on the little cutter and I thought of Grandpa Simpson.

Next is where that first question came into play: how could I get a white gummy that wasn’t the Opaque recipe (because I thought opaque would be too harsh against the translucency of the red and blue, and half the point of doing stuff in gummy is the translucency)? I still need to write a separate post all about the speckling that occurs when you add white food colouring to gummy, but I knew that that wouldn’t work. So I tried an experiment of adding a tiny bit of milk to the Clear recipe. It worked! After a few experiments, I decided that two teaspoons of milk to a single batch of Clear was the right level of white for what I wanted. I then carefully filled in each star hole with that result, letting the beads of liquid rise a little above the holes to help ensure there was enough to settle into the pointed ends of the stars without leaving gaps.

gummy US flag 5

These puffs did flatten out a bit as they firmed up and dried.

Then I lined up some of the Simi strips along the lines on my sketch, pushing them up against the blue field, and put one of the frame’s side clips on the other side to once again help contain the gummy as it flowed.

gummy US flag 6

I took the time to write R and W in every stripe on my guiding diagram because when you’re working closely on a piece and getting tired, it’s far too easy to make a mistake. Always build in extra safeguards against silly errors, especially the kinds of errors that will offend people.

gummy US flag 7

The key when filling a trench like this is to go in a smooth, steady motion and let the flow of the gummy push its way along. Remember that you can use your baster to suck up any bubbles that come out, and be sure not to overfill the area or it will flow over the far side. You want to put enough in there that it makes a thick piece that wells up against that side clip without bulging over.

Then it’s simply a matter of working your way down, letting each stripe solidify and then using one of the Simi strips to make a dam for the next one.

gummy US flag 8

This was a fairly easy project at this point: cast, go do something else for half an hour, repeat.

gummy US flag 10

Progressing down the stripes.

It is important to mention that the plexiglass does flex under the warmth of the gummy, even when you let it cool down substantially. You can see in the photo below how the flexing created highs and lows in the stripes, and if you look at the blue section you can see that it’s lighter in the middle because it’s thinner there. I thought this might happen but wasn’t worried about it, and as the piece progressed and the “waves” lined up with each other naturally, I decided it was a good look for a flag. But this might not be so good if you wanted it to be perfectly even, so keep that in mind.

gummy US flag 9

You can somewhat combat this by paying close attention as your filling the trench and adding a bit more gummy to the thin spots, but that can usually just flow along anyway so you can only do so much about it. If this will ruin your piece, don’t cast directly onto the plexiglass; use the more standard techniques shown in the Flexible, Edible Stained Glass book instead.

When I got to the longer stripes below the blue field, I had to use two Simi flex mold strips end-to-end because the longest is 21″ and I was making a 24″ wide flag. But my earlier tests had shown that they were pretty good about not allowing leaks, and even when a bit dribbled through it would self-plug the hole as it set up, so I wasn’t too worried.

gummy US flag 11

End-to-end Simi Flex Molds on the wider part of the flag. No leak! These really are great products for this sort of thing. They’re made for isomalt but work very well for gummy.

When it was all done and very definitely set up, I took it outside for some sunlit photos. I wish I had a way of suspending it against the clear blue sky, but this was the best I could do because our neighbourhood has so many lovely tall trees:

gummy US flag 12

Behold the gummy glory of Old Glory!

gummy US flag 13

A direct view.

gummy US flag 14

Detail of the stars which actually sparkled in the sun quite nicely.

The reason I put it on plexiglass was so that it could be mounted in a curved fashion on a stand at the actual show and I could write on the information sheet that judges are invited to bend it to see how incredibly flexible it is. I did that for the Lady of Shalott piece for the Austin show in 2012 but the judges there didn’t understand and actually knocked points off for the plexiglass. Thankfully in San Antonio they understood and later told me they thought that was a cool aspect of the presentation.

In fact I guess they really dug it, because they gave it first place in the Special Techniques category! And this was in the Masters division! I entered it at that level because the way their show writes the rules, I guess I’m a master of gummy since I’m the only one who has done this much work with it and put out a book on the subject. I didn’t expect to win anything, though. And to be really fair, it was the only piece in its category and division that was on-theme. Still, I’ll happily take that pretty blue ribbon!

gummy US flag 15

Ooo, shiny!

Now for the bad news: remember my question above about what would happen as the gummy dried? The answer is it splits apart at the joins. It actually had started to do this by the morning of the show, which was frustrating. By the time I got around to making this post a week later, several deep splits had shown up:

gummy US flag 16

This is the most recent split, which I noticed yesterday, about a week and a day after creation.

gummy US flag 17

This split was there on the Sunday morning of the show, a few days after creation. It hasn’t gotten any bigger, though.

gummy US flag 18

Some splits at the side started showing up through the day during the show and have been slowly getting worse since. That makes sense since they’ll be drying out the most with the increased surface exposure on the ends.

So what does all of this mean? Summed up, you can cast pieces directly onto plexiglass for a short-term display and they will fuse together, but you need to be aware that as they dry, the fused edges will start to pull apart in random places. I could have cast this whole thing on the plexiglass in one day and then carefully removed it to form one whole piece, then laid it back down or put it on something else and that would have relieved some of the tension from the drying, especially if I repeated that a few times. But remember that I likely scratched the plexiglass when cutting the stars and trimming the sides of stripes, so if I’d lifted it and put it back down, those hidden scratches may have become more apparent.

You could, of course, make a piece like this on a food-safe super-smooth mat and then wrap it around a cake (in this case, a very large cake). You could even allow it to drape and fold like thick cloth, and the fused joins should stay together fine as long as they’re not stressed in any way, including as they dry further.

Just be aware that you can’t make a long-term piece of large pieces fused together unless you allow for drying and shrinkage, or the fuses will pull apart.

Here’s to hoping some of you make something cool for the 4th of July with this information. Maybe it’s time to do something other than a blueberry, strawberry, and whipped cream cake this year? Why not make a cake, cover it with white buttercream, and make a small flag out of gummy and lay it right on the buttercream? That’ll impress your friends and family to be sure!

And yes, despite becoming a US citizen last year I am still also a Canadian citizen. I could make a giant gummy Canadian flag, but it’d be much trickier to cast those two big red stripes and then a vast white field in the center. Then I’d have to cut out the maple leaf and fill that area with red, right up into each of the eleven pointy corners and do it as evenly as possible. That’s harder. If someone nearby holds an event where I have an excuse to do it, though, I will…

Posted in Experimental Techniques, Gummy, Praise from others | 1 Comment

Clear Gummy Recipe Posted!


At long last I’ve posted the recipe for Clear (as in colour-free) Gummy:

http://www.eat-the-evidence.com/gummy/clear-no-colour-gummy/

part of a sailboat made in the gummy stained glass technique

The sails are Clear Gummy cast thin with nothing else added. The light blue is Clear with the tiniest amount of blue added. The green and darker blue are both Basic Gummy.

Up until now this recipe was only available in my Flexible, Edible Stained Glass ebook. But now that all three of my gummy recipes are here on the website, I can finally catch up on posts about the various pieces I’ve made using the recipes, including my Austin cake show stuff from February and a piece I just did last week for a San Antonio show. Spoiler alert: I have a shiny new ribbon!

I’ll try to get those other posts out as fast as possible, given the real-life stuff I have going on.

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