My Cake Decorating Gallery

Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Daring Baker Adventure! Vols-au-Vent!

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Woo hoo! I have never made puff pastry before, so I was super excited. I watched the little video everyone found that had Julia Child and Michel Richard making puff pastry (to be used for something else) and I made my quick dough in the food processor, and I got out my pound of butter, hammered it down into a disc, and wrapped my dough around it. Making a puff pastry means rolling out the butter-wrapped-dough and folding it onto itself, and then rotating the dough disc, rolling it out, and folding it onto itself again.

These are called "turns" and you need to complete 6 turns to complete your puff pastry. Also the butter has to be kept incredibly cold so you have to keep chilling your dough in between turns. All in all, it wasn't too bad of a task and it was fun! I'm glad to have tried it.

Next, for making vols-au-vents. I hadn't heard of these but it turns out they are just puff pastry "cups" to hold a lovely filling, savory or sweet. A classic vols-au-vent filling is a creamy mushroom mixture, like a thick soup, so I decided to do something similar and make a large vols-au-vent and whip up a thick and creamy chicken stew. It was like a chicken pot pie really, and it turned out to be so delicious! The Husband loved this so much, I made it a few more times for him throughout the week. Goodness, we ate a lot of puff pastry this week.

I had a few different shapes of "pastry bowls" - some small, some large, trying out a few of my biscuit cutters. I didn't have any small enough to make super cute little bites so I had to cut those by hand with a sharp knife. I had some leftover scraps of dough so I rolled them out into a rough square and covered them with cinnamon, rolled up each end towards the center, and then sliced them into palmiers. These were baked along with the vols-au-vent and after one bite of a cinnamon palmier, we fell in love and gobbled up all the rest This homeade puff pastry is so delicious!

There were a few other vols-au-vents left over from my first batch of baking, and after the delicious creamy chicken stew and cinny-palmiers, I couldn't leave well enough alone. The Husband already went snooping around and ate the "hats" of the remaining cups so I decided to just make fresh vols-au-vents the next day and use these up. I cut one ripe banana and sauteed it with brown sugar and butter, with a pinch of cinnamon... a quick banana foster! I poured this into the two remaining vols-au-vents and they were devoured shortly there after.

The next day I made a larger vols-au-vent for The Husband for more left over chicken stew and the extras were used for additional palmiers. I also made a few appetizer vols-au-vents, but savory with something besides chicken stew. I used chopped up black forest ham, gruyere cheese, and scallions. These were so delicious freshly baked, dipped in a little bit of dijon mustard.

These were a big hit with The Husband (as expected) and I would certainly do something like this for a party appetizer sometime. I think they would be crowd pleasers!

I also made some fillings for my dessert vols-au-vents for the next day - a pastry cream and some caramel dried apples (that were reconstituted in cider). The next day, I finally got home early enough from work to take advantage of daylight for taking decent photographs. I quick made 4 small square vols-au-vent (and some additional palmiers) and filled one with pastry cream and a raspberry on top, one with pastry cream with our favorite blueberry preserves, and the last one was filled with the caramel apple mixture. I was so excited to try this pastry cream.... then I found out it was basically vanilla pudding. What is that light and airy white cream that fills doughnuts... is that bavarian cream? I think that is what I was hoping for. Maybe next time :)

These dessert vols-au-vent were equally delicious and I decided to just use up the rest of the pastry dough and make a mini strudel with the remaining caramel apples for The Husband, and the rest got topped on a casserole of additional chicken stew (yes three times in one week, but he didn't complain due to the pastry!) which was baked into a delicious pot pie. I actually was being really good this week which means The Husband ate about 90% of the puff pastry batch in a matter of 4 days or so... uh-oh. :) Good thing he runs marathons!
Anyway, these were truly delicious and I had so much fun thinking of different fillings - savory and sweet - to go into these little beauties. Making the puff pastry was a great lesson and I might even make it again sometime (even with the frozen stuff being so readily available). Thank you Steph! Go to  Steph's blog for the recipe. :) Oh and sorry for being a day late, I can't believe I forgot yesterday!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anime Birthday Cake

One of my fellow Michigan Marching Band horn section members asked me if I could make a surprise birthday cake for her sister's 13th birthday. Her sister loves Japanese culture and especially the anime (japanese animation) show called Death Note, and a character called Lawliet or "L" from that show. She sent me a link to a picture of an L key chain which I printed out and used for modeling the character on the cake from. I don't watch anime but a quick google search showed me that there was also a book with "Death Note" written on it which was also common in the show (if you write some one's name in the book, they apparently die).

With that, I thought I had enough information for my cake design. Chocolate cake was the favorite of her sister, so I went with that and put in my typical raspberry buttercream filling and covered it in white buttercream to set the stage for my decorations.

I wasn't sure how I was going to do the L character, and I first tried "painting with buttercream" - this sounded better in my head than it turned out. As you can see from the picture, it would have been the most frumpy character of all time, and I would've been embarassed giving that to some one! Thankfully I had some fondant that I decided to layer to make each piece of Lawliet, painted each piece separately, and then layered them on top of the cake. This went much better and I was able to cut clean edges with a sharp knife after rolling out the fondant. Any portion that was a different color was cut separately to be layered later. For the black, I used store-bought black frosting - there was no way I was going to get that jet black myself starting with white frosting. The rest of the colors were from gel colors and I used a paintbrush for all of it.
I also made a Death Note book out of fondant and painted it with black frosting, and then piped on (very carefully) "Death Note" in the same font from the actual book. I used gold luster dust to paint the edges of the book to simulate pages.

Lastly, I needed to incorporate my friend's sister's name, Rachel, onto the cake and show that this was a birthday cake somehow. Since she loved Japanese culture, I googled how to write Happy Birthday in Japanese. I was surprised it was 9 characters but after a quick trial run on a paper plate, I thought it looked pretty good and decided to write it on the front of the cake in black icing, and then put Rachel underneath. I also used black frosting as a pearl border on the bottom of the cake to finish it.

I was really pleased with how this turned out, it was much better than I expected and I was really excited about the Japanese lettering as well. It was all a very fun project, thanks Mary for thinking of me for the job!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pomegranate Cosmopolitan .. or Maybe Pomopolitan?

A fruity martini recipe with some health benefits!


1 small airplane sized bottle of good vodka (or about 1.5 oz)

.5 oz of Grand Marnier (or triple sec for a poor man's version)

4 oz of 100% pomegranate juice

splash of lime

Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice and pour into a lovely martini glass and enjoy a refreshing and colorful cocktail. Garnish with lime or orange slice to add some pizzazz!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clay's and Sarah's Wedding Cake and Lobster Groom's Cake

I recently had the honor of creating a wedding cake and a groom's cake for the wedding of one of The Husband's best friends, Clay, and his fiance Sarah. There were a number of challenges with this project, first and foremost - I've never made a wedding cake or groom's cake before!!!

Second, Clay thought maybe a lobster cake with red velvet would make an awesome groom's cake. I agree it sounded great - and maybe a little unusual, you might think, but Clay is living in Maine for a few years and Sarah will be joining him right after the wedding to live in Portland. Also, you might not know but the most common groom's cake is an Armadillo (Anyone see that movie??). I didn't have a groom's cake (looking back I should've, I was not interested in cake decorating yet then), as it was not customary in my family. This tradition hails from the south, and a groom's cake is a gift from the bride to the groom, and it is usually a non-white cake that has a bright and vibrant theme of one of the groom's hobbies or interests.

So lobsters.... they are a tricky shape and that was challenge number 2. The third and biggest challenge was the location of the wedding - Iron River, Michigan! It's no less than an 8 hour drive from our house in Troy into this far west region of the Upper Peninsula, but we were so excited because we love the UP and we knew it would be a fun trip.. I just had to get the cakes up there safely!

For the wedding cake, Clay and Sarah left it totally up to me so that made it very easy. I decided to go with a 12 inch round circle for the bottom layer and a 7 inch for the top layer. This wasn't your typical "wedding cake order" and the story was that they originally were not going to have a cake and do other desserts, but then they hoped to have one at least for pictures,.. so this was pretty low pressure for me. A perfect time to try it out!

So due to the interesting logistics involved with this project, I had to have a game plan. I thought I might be out of town the weekend before so I had to do some things in advance. I decided to make the cakes in advance and freeze them in separate layers. This is the first time I did this but I read about it online and tons of people do it. The cakes keep their moisture. One thing I did learn, however, was that frosting frozen cakes sucks. I thought it might be easier to deal with them because they'd be more solid - but no - it just freezes the frosting as you spread it on top, and then to make matters even worse - the cake has to totally thaw before the frosting will "crust" (for smoothing purposes) because otherwise you get tons of condensation and the frosting is still tacky. This was a giant pain and I learned my lesson - either frost/finish the cake totally and then freeze, or totally thaw the cakes before filling and frosting them. It's always good to learn lessons and I ended up working it out in the end.

There was more work to be done in advance - the lobsters. I gave up the idea of carving out a lobster from a cake and making that the groom's cake.. first off, lobster bodies aren't very big and it wouldn't serve many people. Mainly, I haven't made my own fondant, the storebought stuff tastes yucky, and I didn't have enough time to try it out, knowing that a full lobster body cake would require a smooth fondant finish. So, I had decided to just do a "seascape" cake with a lobster on top.

Then my mom said "did you see that Cake Boss last night?" and apparently Cake Boss had a request for a lobster engagement cake and Buddy made a pair of lobsters - a bride and groom - for on top of their cake! I can't find a full picture online but here's one from TV News Reviews Blog which is just showing the "groom lobster." I didn't think I'd use the idea at first but after a few days, I thought it would be a more cute groom's cake. (I must admit, I like my lobsters better than Buddy's... no offense Buddy!)
Cake Boss was also an inspiration to try out modeling chocolate. I had never heard of it before that show this summer, as many other cake artists also admit, and many of us have tried it recently. I also got a lot of information about it from Emily of Cake Is Life who uses modeling chocolate for many of her recent beautiful confections! You basically take any kind of chocolate (dark, milk, white, colored candy melts), melt it, and add some corn syrup, (about 14oz chocolate to 1/3c corn syrup) and then spread it out in a pancake, and then knead it into a playdough consistency the next day. This worked out perfectly for me, and I was happy to note I found bright red candy melts at Sarah's Cakes and Supplies by my house, so I didn't even have to worry about color fondant or chocolate red. What I love about molding chocolate is that it hardens and firms up right away, but if you heat it with your hands or microwave, you can get it right back to playdough consistency and continue on. Fondant and gumpaste can be floppy or frumpy, and modeling chocolate tastes like chocolate... way better!

I spent Saturday making the bodies of the lobsters and it went pretty well. I used a picture of a real lobster as a model. Sunday I made little legs and tendrils (supported with toothpicks and wire) and created the veil and hat details to really make the lobsters look like a "real couple." I loved the way they turned out, and I had purchased some dark green and gold luster dust to paint on to finish the lobsters up with some definition. I left the legs and tendrils all separate with toothpicks inserted, so that they would travel separately and I would put the lobster together once I arrived at the reception site, at the last minute. I thought it would be safer to travel with everything disassembled.

I also made seashells and starfish out of some leftover fondant I had, and I painted them with the green and gold luster dust and made indentations with a toothpick to make them as realistic as possible. I loved the way they turned out. I packed up the lobster pieces and seashells in two shoeboxes lined and layered with papertowels and parchment paper. This traveled very well in the car.

I used vanilla cake for the wedding cake with my typical buttercream icing and raspberry filling, and the lobster cake was made from red velvet cake. I had never made that before and it was quite stunning to see cake batter the same color as my kitchenaid mixer! Wow! If you haven't had red velvet cake, it basically tastes like chocolate cake.

I did get information about the wedding colors in advance from Clay - the bridesmaids were wearing black dresses with a white sash and the colors were black and white! The flowers were calla lillies but I had envisioned a two tiered wedding cake separated with a big section of flowers and topped with a bouquet of flowers... calla lillies are like a million dollars a piece so I decided to just go ahead with my own design. This meant bringing my own flowers, which was another fun project and I couldn't do it too far in advance. On Thursday before taking off for the U.P., I stopped by a florist for some white mums and went over to Nino Salvaggio's and saw they had a splendid selection of flowers... and a way better price than the stupid florist. The colors in my head were green, burgundy (burgundy was one of the original colors I was told about by Clay) and white. I got some hypernicum berries in a burgundy with lime green stems, some more mums in white and light green, some baby green hydrangeas, some cheerful daisies.. and well, here's the picture, you'll see... I liked the combination a lot. I put them in a pail filled with water and they made the trip up north without a problem!

I pre-filled and frosted my cakes and then froze them, hoping that would help them "keep" in the long car ride up there. Cakes take a long time to thaw so it worked out fine. By the time we arrived at the cabin in Iron River, the cakes were ready to sit out for 30 minutes after being unwrapped and the frosting crusted over nicely. This was the first time I tried the Viva method (using the ultra-smooth paper towel on top of a crusted cake to smooth it out with your hand) and I absolutely love this method. It is a million times easier and better looking than the hot water/knife smoothing method. All you need to do is buy Viva paper towels, gently lay them on top of your crusted buttercreamed cake, and use your hand to smooth the cake through the paper towel. Here is an example of a before and after on one side of the lobster cake:

See above, before the Viva Method - this is about as smooth as you can get with a spatula. See below for an after shot of the Viva Method - pretty smooth for buttercream!

Once at the lodge and after smoothing out the three cakes, it was time for my last minute decorations.

I wasn't sure what decorations I'd do on the wedding cakes - maybe swiss dots (groups of 3 dots in a triangle all over), or regular polka dots or swirls. I practiced on a plate and even know it was more work, I felt the swirls looked the most elegant. I was happy the way they turned out. The only other work on these would be at the reception site - placing the cakes, the tiers, the ribbon and flowers.

For the lobster cake, last minute decorations were only mixing up two colors of green buttercream and making seaweed all around the edges. The rest of the decorating would be done at the reception site - placing the lobsters, the seashells, sand, and accessories.

When the wedding day was finally upon us, I was happy to find the cakes were still in good shape (they took up most the space in the fridge that was also filled with a ton of beer as our cabin was the 'party cabin' as we had 8 people and most of the groom's men staying with us. After the wedding ceremony at 1, I came back to the cabin and started packing up between 2:30 and 3. The reception site at the Iron River Country Club would be open for guests at 5 so I had a good hour and a half to put everything together.

Gwen, Tom's wife, was the unlucky one who volunteered to come help me with setting up the cakes and I truly appreciated her help. We had lots of stuff to carry in and she kept me on track when I would tend to "try to keep adding more flowers" and fiddling with things in general. Thanks again Gwen, you're the best! I was definitely nervous as this prep time was the culmination of 2 months of planning and about 2 weeks of work.

I had made a detailed list of where to start - unpack everything, place decorative ferns on the table (thanks Grandma for the ferns), place mom's revolving silver platter cake stand, take out cakes, center tier legs into bottom cake, tape top cake onto tier, add ribbons, place flowers, etc.. just in case I got too nervous to know what to do next. I love lists. It worked perfectly.

We spent a long time putting flowers on the wedding cake (and of course I had lost my scissors and the ones we borrowed were terrible which also made cutting the ribbon difficult, hence the quadruple pinning on each tier to cover up mismatched ribbon seams) but finally we got to a point where even I was satisfied - "Okay Gwen, you're right, it's as good as it's going to get! We're done!"

The lobster cake went together much faster - place lobsters, place legs, place sand (brown sugar), place seashells, and place veil and hat. The toothpicks in the legs weren't in the right place exactly so I had some bright red frosting on hand to fill in the gaps, it worked out great. People were trickling in watching the progress and it was really satisfying hearing the positive comments. Sorry for anyone who was there when I accidently bumped the wedding cake with my finger and may have muttered some explicatives... I smoothed out the small bump I made as best I could. :) The bride and groom seemed to love the cakes and Clay made a nice announcement to everyone in the country club getting food that I was the cake decorator, as they could all view it while passing by to get their food. I was very pleased with how everything turned out and was just happy to get everything up there safely and put together without any major hitches! It was a super fun project, I learned about a lot of new techniques, and thanks to Clay and Sarah for the fun adventure and congratulations!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge: Indian Dosas (Vegan Style)

Debyi from Healthy Vegan Kitchen was our host for the September 2009 Daring Cooks challenge. Debyi chose the recipe for Indian Dosas from the "refresh" cookbook by Ruth Tal.

I didn't make the dosas until today, the posting day, but I made the curried chickpea filling and coconut curry sauce in advance. I also was making 36 pints of Skyline Chili this weekend so while I had wanted to put all this together sooner, I didn't have the stovetop space for another frying pan! :)

As a side note, I had a little mishap with the spicy chickpea filling. It called for a few medium peppers, so I picked some up - banana peppers. They weren't too spicy but they definitely had a kick when I tried them as I was chopping them. Before I knew it, I must have somehow gotten some of the hot pepper oils all over my hands, which eventually ended up on my face... I washed my hands about 4 times and a few more before taking out my contacts and I felt fine when I went to bed. When I woke up, I attempted to put my contacts back in... but that didn't work out at all. I think I even still had some rogue pepper oil on my fingers still.. I just couldn't get it off! My contacts are the expensive hardy kind so I only have 4 pairs a year, but luckily it was just about time for a new pair. It was glasses for a few days to let my peppered eyes rest and by Sunday I had a new pair in and I am feeling just fine! Whew. Next time - remove contacts first and wear gloves! I used to have weekly disposable contacts so it was never a big deal when I was making spicy salsa... I'll be more careful from now on. :) The spicy chickpeas were worth it. :)

I love Indian food but this was an exceptionally interesting challenge because Debyi dared us to cook totally free of animal products and the recipe seemed to be gluten free too! I've never cooked anything Vegan in my life, but I was excited to try it. I love vegetarian food. I love meat too, so I guess I love it all. :) Anyway, this meant having to buy some special items that I wouldn't normally get - soy milk and all purpose gluten free flour.

The dosas are crepe-like pancakes which are filled with the curried garbanzo bean filling and this can all be topped with a delicious coconut curry sauce. I love chickpeas and all the flavors in this dish. Thank you to Debyi for introducing me to this kind of cooking and for a real kitchen adventure!!

And now for the taste test - I am home alone tonight so I just made a half batch of the dosas and I didn't quite read the directions (and scoop two tablespoons of batter into the pan) and just put half the batter into the pan and swirled it around like I do crepes. I did the same thing for the second dosa and had two pan-sized dosa pancakes.

I filled the dosa with the chickpea mixture, folded the dosa over like a crepe and topped like the sauce. A few quick (and unfortunately dark) pictures and I finally got to dig in - oh my gosh! This is SO delicious! All three of the components added such a unique aspect of the final flavor profile.. I *loved* this recipe. The dosa is soft, spongy, and has a wonderful consistency to contain the spicy chickpea mixture which is just an explosion of flavors. The coconut curry sauce is creamy and tones the spicy filling down and brings everything together in a truly wonderful blend of flavors. Oh darn I just realized I forgot the coconut and cucumber toppings... guess I'll have to have another one tomorrow! :)

In summary, I was wondering what I'd be doing with my extra gluten free flour and soy milk, but now it is pretty clear that I'll be making more batches of these recipes and sharing with my family! My parents are going to LOVE this. So yummy! Thanks again Debyi!!!!!!

Indian Dosas
From the"refresh" cookbook by Ruth Tal

Dosa Pancakes
1 cup (120gm/8oz) spelt flour (or all-purpose, gluten free flour)
½ tsp (2½ gm) salt
½ tsp (2½ gm) baking powder
½ tsp (2½ gm) curry powder
½ cup (125ml/4oz) almond milk (or soy, or rice, etc.)
¾ cup (175ml/6oz) watercooking spray, if needed

Dosa Filling
1 batch Curried Garbanzo Filling (see below), heated

Dosa Toppings
1 batch Coconut Curry Sauce (see below), heated
¼ cup (125gm) grated coconut
¼ cucumber, sliced

Dosa Pancakes

1.Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the almond milk and water, whisking until smooth.

2.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed.

3.Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan in a circular motion until it is a thin, round pancake. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter.

Makes 8 pancakes.

Curried Garbanzo Filling

This filling works great as a rice bowl topping or as a wrap too, so don't be afraid to make a full batch.

5 cloves garlic
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced (red, yellow or orange are fine too)
2 medium hot banana chilies, minced
2 TBSP (16gm) cumin, ground
1 TBSP (8gm) oregano
1 TBSP (8gm) sea salt (coarse)
1 TBSP (8gm) turmeric
4 cups (850gm/30oz) cooked or canned chick peas (about 2 cans)
½ cup (125gm/4oz) tomato paste

1.Heat a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Add the garlic, veggies, and spices, cooking until soft, stirring occasionally.

2.Mash the chickpeas by hand, or in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste to the saucepan, stirring until heated through.

Coconut Curry Sauce
This makes a great sauce to just pour over rice as well. This does freeze well, but the texture will be a little different. The flavor is still the same though. My picture of this sauce is one that I had made, had to freeze, then thaw to use. It tastes great, but the texture is a little runnier, not quite as thick as it was before freezing.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ (2½ gm) tsp cumin, ground
¾ (3¾ gm) tsp sea salt (coarse)
3 TBSP (30gm) curry powder
3 TBSP (30gm) spelt flour (or all-purpose GF flour)
3 cups (750ml/24oz) vegetable broth
2 cups (500ml/24oz) coconut milk
3 large tomatoes, diced

1.Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, or until soft.

2.Add the spices, cooking for 1 minutes more. Add the flour and cook for 1 additional minute.

3.Gradually stir in the vegetable broth to prevent lumps. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the coconut milk and tomatoes, stirring occasionally.

4.Let it simmer for half an hour. Enjoy!!