My Cake Decorating Gallery

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

GM Cupcake-Cake


A few months ago I saw an interesting cake in the bakery chest at Kroger. It was frosted and looked like a bear-shaped cake and then I realized they were just cupcakes placed right next to eachother and frosted over. I thought that was an excellent idea, as cupcakes are pre-portioned and easy to eat with your hands... but apparently you can still decorate them like you would a normal sheet cake so it might even be easier than decorating each one separately. I filed it away in my mind and then finally got to try it out on my own for my group's holiday party.



These pictures will disclose I work at GM so there's no hiding that. Our party was scheduled at WhirlyBall and we were allowed to bring in desserts so I signed myself right up (and my mom made Christmas cookies) and started researching. I knew I'd already be super busy (see buche and cookie exchange posts... too lazy to link) but I couldn't resist.



I went to CakeCentral.com to see examples of cupcake-cakes and there were several! For anyone interested in cake decorating, I recommend getting a free user account there - just the quantity of pictures is worth it for getting ideas. I realized that the "star method" of decorating cakes is what I wanted to do ... I wanted to use a star-tip frosting tip and create a design on the top of the cake using hundreds of little stars (in different colors)... it's almost like impressionism or pointillism paintings for you art buffs!



During Thanksgiving break, I had a chance to try out my star-making skills with my mom advising. It really only took a minute to see how it works and give it a whirl. In about 15 minutes, I had a mock GM logo on some wax paper and I was content in my ability to do this for the real thing a few weeks later.


Since my yule log took all weekend, I baked the cupcakes Monday night and Tuesday nights. I made 1 box of chocolate and 1 box of yellow, so people could pick and choose their favorite flavor. By Tuesday night, I had mixed up a large triple batch of the buttercream icing for decorating. Two boxes (24 cupcakes) was the right amount to cover my group so I got out my 1/2 sheet cake board (cake supply store) with liner and started laying out the cupcakes.


First step was to create a rectangle to fit all the cupcakes on the board, however I staggered them to fill in as many spaces with cupcakes to make frosting easier. I afixed the cupcakes to the cake board by squirting a small dot of frosting on the bottom and placing it on the board. Each cupcake would have a little frosting for that extra umph for keeping it in place during the drive to work and then to whirlyball.



The last task for Tuesday night was to put the first layer of buttercream spread onto the cupcakes, which was pretty easy. I just glopped a bunch on and spread it around to make as even of level cake top that I could. I used the spatula to outline where my white box and underlined GM would go.




I also used a pastry bag filled with white buttercream with a star tip and got all the white stars done for the letters and box outline of the logo, since I had time. All of this went into the fridge to chill overnight.



Wednesday night (the night before Whirlyball) I reserved enough white frosting for the remainder of the cake decorating (plus a little extra) and used the rest to make my bright blue I was looking for. I got some great blue food colorings from the cake shop, though I did notice it started to separate from the frosting (if you looked really closely) as my hands warmed it up while decorating. This was a lot of stars to make and your hands can get sore, but I spread it over 2 days and also had to take breaks to re-chill the frosting if it got too soft.



(the flash makes it look a little less straight than it was because of white frosting underneath in this shot)


Finally it was done and I put it in my cake box and in car so it was ready to go. This cake was a big hit with my group (I kept it a surprise and they seemed impressed) and it also got a stamp of approval from my mom who is the cake-decorating queen and my mentor. No cup-cakes were left behind(even though we were all full of holiday cookies galore), many coworkers were excited to take them home to their eager sugar-craving children. This idea is perfect for kids! Think of all the shapes you can make.






I used the same decorator's icing that I used for the yule log from the Wilton website. This time around, I used a bit of almond extract with the vanilla to create a slightly different (my mom's preference... and tasty) flavor. My favorite cake combination is chocolate cake with white frosting, YUM!




I don't think you need a recipe for box-cake cupcakes. hehe



Buttercream Icing (great for decorating)
From Wilton.com


Ingredients:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used 2 tsp almond and 1 tsp vanilla for my 3 batches)
4 cups sifted powdered sugar (approx 1 lb but could be more or less depending on consistency you want)
2 tablespoons milk (more or less if needed)

Directions:
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

YIELD: Makes about 3 cups.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The 2nd Annual Christmas Cookie Exchange

I'm glad that on here, I can say Christmas. Of course, at work, I have to advertise "Holiday" just in case.... Anyway, I used to work at another company and there was always a Christmas Cookie Exchange which I happily joined. When I moved to GM, there wasn't much of anything going on year-round... no Cinco de Mayo pot luck or Chili Cook-offs. Luckily, I got hired there so I've brought a few of these traditions into existance.





This was the 2nd annual cookie exchange and I didn't really decide what to bake until the last minute, from being so busy with my other baking projects (see buche de noel and GM cupcake-cake). Plus it there was tons of overtime (including all day Saturday which was my baking day) and the holiday itself that I was supposed to be preparing for. Still, I finally decided on two recipes (to split for my required 75 cookies) - One labor-intensive Gingerbread Cutouts with royal icing piping and one less time intensive Swiss Mocha Treats (chocolate/coffee flavored cookies).





For some reason, I couldn't find the Martha Stewart magazine with the gingerbread cut out recipe in it (it was under a stack of papers on the kitchen counter) so I tried another gingerbread recipe that I found on foodtv.com (Bobby Flay Gingerbread throwdown competitor's recipe). I made up the gingerbread dough Saturday night and by Sunday morning it had become apparent that it was way too dry to roll out. It was super annoying and I had to redo the whole thing using Martha's recipe (which I luckily found). It always works that way - right when you don't have extra time, things happen to waste time. I really liked Martha's recipe, it was spicy (included pepper) and worked well for my 5in snowflake cutter (Martha was making 7 inch cookies, wow!)












The exchange went pretty well, 8 participants... though it was a bit like pulling teeth just getting people to particpate and choose a date and stop complaining! I'm not sure why I choose such time-intensive stuff, reminds my of my friend Andrea who said she made cute little decorated cookies for her own exchange and received an incomplete amount of no-bake cookies from one person.... On the other hand, in my exchange, we have many people who have never really baked so it's a great opportunity for beginners to try something new.





All in all, it was a success and hopefully we'll have a great one in 2008 as well! From other participants, we had some tasty treats: Coconut truffles (my personal favorite), Swedish thumbprints, snicker surprises, chocolate dipped cereal balls, indian cookies, fudge, almond cookies, and more!
I'm not sure if I'd make the Swiss Mocha Treats again, though I did enjoy them (husband didn't). The coffee flavor was a nice touch of something different. The gingerbread recipe was excellent though I would like to try hubby's mom's orange infused recipe sometime.



Swiss Mocha Treats

INGREDIENTS:
2 oz Swiss bittersweet candy bar, broken
½ cup + 2 tbsp butter, softened, divided
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 large egg
3 oz Swiss white chocolate candy bar, broken

PREPARATION:
Melt bittersweet chocolate and 2 tbsp butter in a double boiler or small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring often. Add espresso powder, stir until dissolves. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Let cool to room temperature.

Place flour, baking soda, salt and stir in a medium bowl. Beat ½ cup butter and sugar in large bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in bittersweet chocolate mixture and egg. Gradually add flour mixture. Beat at low speed until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375F. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls (mine were a little bigger but these cookies spread, 1 –inch is good). Place 3 inches apart on cookie sheet (lined with parchment is nice). Flatten to ½ inch thicke rounds with fork dipped in sugar. Bake 9-10 minutes or until set (don’t overbake). Immediately remove cookies to wire rack; cool completely.

Place white chocolate in small Ziploc bag, seal. Microwave in 20 second increments until white chocolate is melted – smooth out chunks with your hands. Cut off very tiny corner of bag and pipe or drizzle decoratively over cookies. Let stand for 30 min until set. Store tightly at room temperature or freeze up to 3 months. Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.





Gingerbread Snowflakes
(from Martha Stewart)
Makes 4 dozen 5 inch cookies
Ingredients
6 cups all-purpose flour plus more for work surface
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
4 tsp ground ginger
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses

Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Set Aside. Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Divide dough into thirds; wrap each In plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Roll out dough on a lightly (I used lots) floured work surface to ¼ in thick. Cut ito snowflakes with a snowflake-shape cookie cutter. (press hard and lightly shake cutter to help separate cut outs.. the more flour, the less stickiness). Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.



Royal Icing
1 pound powdered sugar
4 tablespoons meringue powder
5-8 tablespoons water (choose your consistency)

Put sugar, powder, and water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low until smooth, about 7 minutes. If icing is too thick, add water a little at a time; if too thin, mix icing 2 to 3 minutes more. Use a pastry bag with round tip and decorate cookies. Use sprinkles if desired. I used dragees (edible metallic decorative balls) and sparkley sanding sugar as well as brush-on shimmery powder (all edible).


After all that, you certainly can't say I don't use my kitchenaid mixer.....

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quick Caprese Sandwich



I still had some ingredients leftover from the cooking club (fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato... like Margherita pizza) and I was busy busy busy making my buche de noel so I didn't have much time for cooking (nor did I want to make a bigger pile of dishes to clean!) I had some ciabatta bread and cut one open into two slices and made myself a little "pizza" and put it under the broiler.

Dressed it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and I like mine with a dash of balsamic vinegar (hubby doesn't).



As you can see, I cleaned my plate!



Quick Caprese Sandwich



2-3 oz fresh mozzarella cheese sliced
6-10 sprigs of fresh basil, rinsed
1 medium tomato, sliced (or 1 or 2 romas)
ciabatta bread or your choice of "crust" (sliced if necessary)
olive oil to dress (1 tbsp maybe)
splash of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Start broiler on High in oven. Place bread/crusts on broiler-safe pan and assemble the following: tomato, basil, cheese. Pop into the oven and broil until cheese starts to turn brown and bubbly and juices start flowing out. Drizzle olive oil, vinegar and add salt and pepper to taste - eat immediately.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Buche de Noel

My mom has talked about meringue mushrooms for a while and said they are the classic accessory to the French Christmas Yule Log (or buche de noel as the French like to call it). We talked about making a yule log cake and all the fun things you can do to make it look realistic, and finally this year I had a reason to bake something for the holidays (other than my cookie exchange items!) My mother-in-law was hosting a wrapping party lunch for charity last weekend and since it's that time of the year.. I volunteered to bring a festive dessert.






My mom and I practiced the meringue mushrooms (using a recipe from AllRecipes.com - see below) the day after Thanksgiving while The Husband was out hunting. I realized I loved meringues, especially with a little chocolate in there.. light, airy, and crispy! The recipe is really easy and the fun part is detailing each mushroom with cocoa using simple tools to make the full effect.




Life has been extremely busy so I didn't actually have a recipe picked out for which yule log I would bake the night I was going to start it. I kept looking online and either the logs were ugly or had horrible reviews for cracking while rolling, bad taste, soupy, etc. I eventually found a short-cut recipe for using a box cake, and I thought "fabulous.. I'm a working woman, I'd rather spend time making it detailed to look like a log than bake a from-scratch sponge cake." Box cakes always at least taste good and come out well every time. I picked up some Betty Crocker SuperMoist boxes and made them in my 12x17 jellyroll pan. What I thought was the tricky part (the rolling) turned out to be no problem, I rolled one short-end to short-end and one lengthways, to create my log and branches.



The recipe said to let the cakes cool while rolled, and then fill later. This was a big mistake and if you ever try this: FILL AND THEN ROLL right out of the oven after cooling a few minutes. Cakes don't like to dry rolled up, and then be unrolled afterwards... as seen in this photo I took at 7:30pm the night before this cake was "due."





While the box cake rolls were cooling, I took the time to whip up the mushrooms and bake those so they could also cool off. This is a pretty simple recipe, this one in particular from AllRecipes.com. I had better luck at home with my KitchenAid (than I did with my mom) getting enough air into the meringue so I was able to get several "stand-up" stems for the mushrooms.



Instead of giving up (my mom's advice), I ran out to Kroger at 8pm to get special ingredients for a "from scratch" sponge cake. I was a little nervous about this because I don't typically make cakes from scratch and a sponge cake is not your run-of-the-mill recipe. I found a random recipe online that had a lengthy description of how to master this so I decided to trust it though I have no idea who that person is. I followed the directions to a T and lo-and-behold! The sponge cake rolled.




I filled it right after it was out of the oven (as noted above in lessons learned), so the roll was complete and ready to pop into the fridge!



I made a white chocolate buttercream frosting for the filling (see recipe below). I thought it might be the "long lost white frosting I love" but it wasn't. However, it was quite delicious with chocolate cake. I had some left over and used it on the box cake to try and salvage enough to create the branches of my log. I had seen many pictures online and I knew exactly what I wanted in a branch - a thinner roll than the log itself, one coming out the top and one longer one coming out of the side. No offense, but many online were super ugly... at least it helped me decide what I'd do different.


I used Wilton's recipe for Chocolate Decorator's Icing (a buttercream 'sturdy' enough for holding its shape) and decided to spike it with some coffee. I loved the way it turned out, a deep, chocolatey flavor with a hint of espresso.




It was a perfect color for tree bark (I was concerned it would be a light-tan) so I was also excited about that!




It took me into the wee hours of the night (1am ish) but I finally got the chocolate frosting covering all the portions (almost ran out... so much for the 'extra cake' I was going to make for hubby!) and used a knife to draw the bark-like lines from end to end. The frosting could've been a little more moist, so extra time was spend trying to smooth out my lines. I eventually realized a rough-look was helping with the realistic goal, however. I added some of the leftover white filling into the chocolate frosting to make a lighter colored end so it looked like the log had been sawed off. Many pictures I found online did this in a different way - either all covered in "bark" or in a spider-web design, both of which I think looked lame.. er...I mean, .. unrealistic. haha This was easy and worth it, in my opinion.




Once the bark was done, I let it chill in the fridge and finished up the mushrooms by attaching the stems to the tops, (puncturing a hole with a knife, and using melted chocolate chips as glue) and decorating the bottom webbed portion (powdered baking chocolate and a toothpick) and dusting the tops with more powdered chocolate. Meringue will absorb any moisture in the air so I kept them in an air-tight zip loc bag for over night in hopes to keep them crunchy (and they were).



I called it a night and knew I could muster up enough time to create vines, berries, and the finished look prior to the party at 12noon the next day. In the morning --- first things first, I mixed some white decorators icing (had reserved some prior to making it chocolate/coffee for the bark) with green food colorings to create a nice leafy green color. I used a small round tip to create the lines and spirals.



I had a second frosting bag with the rest of the green frosting but used a leaf tip to create the leaves. They were both easy to do, after some trials on a paper plate.





The brown log already looked better with a splash of green.



Next, I wanted to add some bright red and I created berries to attach near the vines. I used a large round tip and actually pressed that into a marachino cherry to get the look that I wanted.





I only used a few cherries and used green frosting to afix them in trios where I thought they would look nice. One fun thing was that I got to create this log however I wanted, so my vines and mushrooms and berries can grow where I choose!




The next step was to get the mushrooms involved....




I used more melted chocolate to attach the mushrooms to the cake if they wouldn't just stick into the frosting on their own. I even had some just "growing on the forest floor" on the cake board. It was fun playing "forest god" and making all the decisions.





The rest went into a blue (washed and lined) mushroom basket that I got from the grocery store, to add to the realism of "picking mushrooms in the forest." I did get one comment from some one thinking the mushrooms were real so that made everything worth while!

The mushrooms held up really well for the entire weekend.





I tried not to use too many mushrooms on the log, no one wants a fungus-y cake.... ha.... ha.



The final touches came by dusting the top of the log with powdered sugar through a seive and glueing real evergreen snips to the corners of my cake board. (I had a 1/2 sheet cake board covered with a paper liner that I bought from a cake supply store).



Hooray, the cake is officially DONE!!!! Like, 17 hours later. haha (don't let that scare you from trying this, you can learn from my mistakes!)




I was extremely happy that the cake made it to its destination in great shape. It didn't budge in the car, even though I had to turn around part of the way there because I forgot the mushrooms and it was freezing rain. I drove extremely slow!



I thought the cake looked especially nice in the lighting at my mother-in-law's house.




Thank you for joining me on my buche de noel adventure. If I ever made one again, I think I'd try the cake box again and just fill as soon as it's out of the oven (maybe letting it cool for 5 minutes). I think this method would work and be fastest and taste best. The spongecake was not my favorite - a little dry and eggy flavored. The box cake was good, as usual. See below for recipes!




And now for the recipes.....


Meringue Mushrooms

(as seen on AllRecipes.com)


INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces chocolate confectioners' coating (or semi-sweet chocolate chips)

DIRECTIONS (my additions are seen in bold)
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F (110 degrees C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a large glass or metal bowl, use an electric mixer to whip egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla. Continue whipping until the whites hold soft peaks. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar so that it does not sink to the bottom, and continue whipping until the mixture holds stiff shiny peaks.

Place a round tip into a pastry bag, and fill the bag half way with the meringue. To pipe the mushroom caps, squeeze out round mounds of meringue onto one of the prepared cookie sheets. Dip your finger in water and pat down the pointy tips that result when you pull the tip away from the mushroom cap. Don't worry about doing this with the stems, that part can be cut off or inserted into the cap. For the stems, press out a tiny bit of meringue onto the other sheet, then pull the bag straight up. You can also make "laying down" stems. Do not worry about making all of the pieces exactly the same. The mushrooms will look more natural if the pieces are different sizes. Dust the mushroom caps lightly with cocoa using a small sifter or strainer(I didn't do this, I prefer to dust on cocoa after they've baked)

Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until the caps are dry enough to easily remove from the cookie sheets. (I baked for close to 2 hours at 200F Set aside to cool completely. Melt the coating chocolate in a metal bowl over simmering water, or in a glass bowl in the microwave, stirring occasionally until smooth.

(This is where I dusted bottom of caps with cocoa and used toothpick to make lines like "webbing" originating from the center and also dusted tops of caps). Poke a small hole in the bottom of a mushroom cap(I used a knife). Spread chocolate over the bottom of the cap (in the hole, I used a wooden skewer). Press tip of stem lightly into the hole. When the chocolate sets, they will hold together. Repeat with remaining pieces. Store at room temperature in a dry place or tin.





White Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting
(as found on RecipeZaar)



Ingredients
1 cup butter softened
2 cups
confectioners' sugar
6 ounces
white chocolate or white baking bar, melted and cooled
3-5 tablespoons whipping cream or
half-and-half





Directions
1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and confectioners sugar at low speed until fluffy.
2. Add in melted and cooled white chocolate and whipping cream (start with 3 tablespoons and add in more to achieve desired consistancy).
3. Beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes, scraping the bowl with a spatula.


Buttercream Icing (Wilton.com)

(specifically used for decorating cakes)


Note: Medium Consistency
Ingredients:
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon
Clear Vanilla Extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approx. 1 lb.)
2 tablespoons milk


Directions
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla.
Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.
YIELD: Makes about 3 cups.

I reserved about 1 cup for my green vines and leaves.

The rest was turned into chocolate/coffee flavor by adding 3/4 cup cocoa or 3 oz melted unsweetened chocolate squares and 2 more tablespoons of milk.




Sponge Cake Roll Recipe
(chocolate was not great tasting but it did roll OK)


This was one of the few recipes for my 11x17 pan that I had on hand. Used recipe as seen in a very detailed website: Ellens Kitchen




Box Cake Yule Log Recipe

(this is the one I used but I do not recommend the method of rolling, cooling, and unrolling. I would use again but just fill and roll 5 minutes out of the oven).

Betty Crocker's Christmas Cookbook recipe