Drum Roll Please!

This fabulous cake was for a friend and colleague of mine who has taught at my school for about as long as I can remember. He taught 3rd grade when I was in 3rd grade (although I wasn’t in his class), and was a dear friend of my mother’s. This year, he retired, and I was overjoyed that his wife asked me to make a cake for his retirement party.

His main interests (apart from teaching) being playing the drums (he’s a musician as well), art, and swimming, we decided to creatively represent all three of these.

I baked a combination of vanilla and chocolate cakes, and to add a bit of excitement, placed a chocolate layer in the vanilla cake. This was the bottom tier, and largest drum.

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The second, smaller drum, was entirely chocolate, and the ‘skin’ cover of the drum was blue, to represent a swimming pool.

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Making the metal fixings of the drums was tricky, but proved to be quite an important learning step for me. This was the first time I’d done anything like it, and getting to fondant around in one piece was difficult. I had to do it in two pieces for the largest drum, as using one one length kept tearing.

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Once I got it stuck on and let it set for a few minutes, I painted over the grey fondant with metallic silver food paint.

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I had one thin layer of chocolate cake leftover, and rather than throwing it away (I hate wasting, and I was out of space in my freezer to freeze it), I made a thin tambourine to sit on top. This was a total extra, but I thought it’d be nice to emphasize Robert’s passion for art by also including an artists’ palette; instead of just having drumstick paintbrushes.

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This part was a bit last-minute, and not as secure as I would have liked it to be, however the overall effect was striking.

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Everything (except dowel rods) is edible in the cake, including the drumstick paintbrushes which are made of fondant.

Happy Retirement!

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Decadent Chocolate Roses

Today’s cake is a rather decadent chocolate layer cake. Months ago, my friend Emily sent me a picture of a cake with large chocolate rose swirls all over it, and I resolved to make it for her birthday. Well, her birthday eventually came around (as birthdays do), and she got her chocolate cake.

The cake itself is a simple cocoa devil’s food cake. which I iced with chocolate buttercream, both between the layers and on the outside. Then I made another batch of buttercream for the large roses.

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To help break up the monotony of constant brown chocolatey-ness, I whipped up a mini batch of vanilla buttercream and colored it pink. I added tiny swirls of pink ‘flowers’ to complement the brown.

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And of course, I got to practice my piping writing. Although I did forget to cross the ‘t’ in birthday! O.O

Sorry this was a bit of a short post this time around – I didn’t take many pictures of this cake, and it was a fairly simple confection.

Thanks for reading,

Jo x

 

Holiday Treats!

Happy 2014 everyone!

For this post, rather than give an in-depth look at everything I baked this holiday season, I thought I’d give you an overview of the cookies and cupcakes I made. This is partly because some of the cookies I made are extremely basic and don’t warrant an entire blog post, and partly because there would be a lot of posts to cover everything. So I figure it’d be simpler to put it all into one holiday treats post, so you can feast your eyes on what I baked (and maybe keep to your resolutions too).

Holiday Cut-Out Cookies

I made these as the end-of-year treat for my colleagues. I actually spent an entire week on them, baking them the previous weekend, and decorating them a little bit every evening.

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I made nearly 120 cookies. I then personalized some of the stockings and the stars, with the first initial of my colleagues, and separated out the cookies.

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Each person got 4 cookies. I placed them into a holiday bag, with a note from myself and Josh.

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Old-Fashioned Butter Press Cookies

I went home for a few days at Christmas, so I had to make some cookies there too! Since I left my KitchenAid mixer and everything at my place, I made simple, hand-mixed, butter cookies. These were Mom’s favorites.

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My dad found a new cookie press tucked away in a corner, and to my delight, it had a tree form! (and a pumpkin, but that’s for a different holiday). I decorated these simply, with red and green sugar.

British Pudding – American-style

Actually, these aren’t mini British Christmas puddings at all. They’re leftover chocolate cake and icing, which I transformed into cake balls. I had a bit of white candy melts left, so I whipped these up and topped with festive sprinkles.

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Apple Pie

Okay, so maybe it’s not that festive, but it was one of my contributions for our annual Christmas dinner at some very dear friends of ours, so I figure it deserves it’s place here.

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My apologies for the bad-quality photo, it was hastily taken before I put it out on the buffet.

New Year’s Eve Cupcakes

My last festive piece of baking, were these pink champagne, New Year’s Eve cupcakes. What else would you need to finish off the year with a flourish?

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These were quite the hit at the party I took them to!

And so here ends my first blog entry for 2014. I can’t wait to see what new baking adventures the year brings me! In the meantime, one of my resolutions is to form healthier eating habits… so I guess whatever I bake, I shall have to bring in to work ^_^

Thanks for reading!

It is a truth universally acknowledged…

…that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” -Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

This cake was commissioned for a Jane Austen lover, and what better than an open book cake, with one of Jane Austen’s most famous quote along its’ open pages? That is what I dreamed up for this cake.

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Shaping the cake was quite difficult actually. I have yet to find a good chocolate cake recipe that doesn’t fall apart on me the moment I shape it. With a lot of icing and struggles later, I finally was able to cover it with homemade marshmallow fondant.

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I let it rest like this overnight, and then encountered a new problem. Cutting marshmallow fondant in a straight line is EXTREMELY difficult. Because the nature of marshmallow is to be quite elastic, such was the fondant, and cutting it was a nightmare. I finally rolled it out and stuck it in the freezer for 15 minutes, then used a sharp knife dipped in boiling water to help with the cutting process. It (sort of) worked, and I was able to shape the book cover (purple) and bookmark.

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I then cut faint lines into the fondant on the sides of the book, to simulate pages. In order to show these up, I mixed a very light brown food coloring and vodka mixture and painted it on.

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Mixing colors into marshmallow fondant is also very tricky, and I eventually had to resort to painting certain sections over in order to get better vibrancy.

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Finally, I was ready to do my writing. A few years back, I came across a set of edible ink felt-tipped markers. They were an absolute life-saver, as I used these to write the words, rather than paint them on with a brush.

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I confess, I did have to look up the quote to make sure I had it right. I was terrified as I was writing that I would mess up, skip a letter, skip a word or something! But, luckily, I didn’t. I still need to work on writing straight though ^_^

Thanks for reading!

Happy Halloween!

Okay, okay… so Halloween was three days ago. Problem is, I like my scheduled Sunday updates, and I guess that means that if there’s a holiday involved, its related post is going to get delayed by a few days.

Besides, the only really exciting thing here is that I baked super cute Halloween cookies for our Halloween party.

We had some guests over for the week of the holidays, so baking these cookies took about three times the time it should have. My friend Jenna had given me a neat cookie making and decorating book for my birthday last year, with lots of recipes and techniques for using royal icing (of normal consistency and liquid consistency). My brother Keenan also sent me a link a few weeks ago to SugarBelle‘s website, which has a bunch of easy-to-follow cookie decorating tips.

So I was all set.

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I used my brand-new Halloween cookie cutters that I got from The Craft Company, and got lots of cookies out of the recipe. I just made a basic vanilla cookie, as that would suit everyone’s tastes.

After the cookies cooled, I mixed up the royal icing.

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I had A LOT which was good, because I was going to need several colors. That being said, I still have some plain white left over, even after making a second batch of cookies and decorating those. I read the instructions about royal icing both on SugarBelle’s website (Outlining and Filling Cookies) and in the recipe book, and starting icing the outlines. I started with the ghosts, because there was no color to add to the icing, so I figured they were the easiest to start with.

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They were quite easy and I was really pleased with myself.

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I also made bats and cats – although getting the black really black for the cat was tough, and I actually ran out, so some of my cats just had outlines. My bats looked pretty cool with outlines and accents too.

I was most pleased with how the pumpkins turned out though.

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Using royal icing was both tricky and simple. Simple, because there was no fancy opening or tip in the piping bag; I just sniped a tiny piece off at the end, and that was all I needed. The tricky part was diluting the icing to flooding consistency. Beginner’s luck allowed me to get the ghosts’ just right, but I added too much water to the black and purple, which meant they took much longer to dry. As it was, they were taking several hours.

I was pleasantly surprised that, despite the cookies laying out for the icing to dry for hours on end, they didn’t actually go stale at all. Some of these cookies are nearly a week old now, and still taste just as fresh.

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I found that decorating these cookies gave me a similar sense of satisfaction as decorating a cake. Of course, a cake is a one-off piece, with lots of smaller decorations coming together, whereas these cookies were four designs repeated many times over.

I had lots of fun, and I look forward to using different cookie recipes, and using my next set of holiday cookie cutters… Christmas is just around the corner!

Thanks for reading!

Pears & Almonds

Hello everyone!

Autumn has well and truly arrived in Luxembourg. It’s rainy, foggy, and chilly, which makes me happy to stay inside and bake. A part of me loves autumn for the changing leaves, sweaters, boots, and warm drinks, but part of me really does miss the warm summer days.

Last week, I tried to stick to my updating schedule (once a week) even though I hadn’t baked. That turned out to be a bit of a flop, as you lovely people seem to be more interested in my actual baking products than the tools that help me along the way. That’s totally fine, but it does mean there might be the odd week where there is no update because I haven’t baked anything worth posting about.

So without further ado, here we go with some pear and almond cupcakes.

The recipe is from the book Cupcakes Galore by Gail Wagman, and I mainly wanted to try it out because it looked delicious and I had some pears that needed to be eaten/cooked this weekend.

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The batter was easy to mix up, and included ground almonds as a partial flour substitute, which I always find interesting. It doesn’t alter the consistency very much, and provides extra taste.

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Originally, the recipe is for making jumbo cupcakes. As I don’t have a jumbo cupcake pan, only a regular one, I made regular-sized cupcakes. When it came to cutting the pears into quarters and pressing them into the cupcakes, the quarters had to be rather small. But no pear went to waste, for the parts I cut off, I ate ^_^

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The recipe did not include an icing recipe; rather, it called for making caramelized almond slivers, to top the finished cupcakes. So, I cooked these, and ended up with PLENTY to spare:

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I am definitely making a note in the book that the topping can be halved! Since I had so many, and I didn’t want any to go to waste, I deviated from the original recipe, and whipped up a small batch of almond buttercream frosting. This was also because the cupcakes didn’t look very pretty with just some sprinkled almonds over the top, and the pear sticking out. By covering it with the buttercream, I provided a sticky surface for (some) of the caramelized almonds to stick to, and generally upped the appearance of the whole cupcake.

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And finally, I took a leaf out of Theresa Helmer’s book. She is a cook and food photographer I follow on deviantART, and her presentations are always so beautiful. I had a few autumn accessories on hand, so I decided to set up my finished cupcakes with a bit more flourish than usual.

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Thanks for reading!