Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Making of a Wedding Cake

I thought that it would be more interesting to dedicate one post to detailing the entire process of making my first wedding cake, rather than posting pictures every time I worked on it (because, honestly, I kept forgetting to take pictures anyway...).

This is actually my second wedding cake. The first was miniature and a collaboration between myself, my brother, and my bestest buddy growing up, when I was maybe 11 or 12? It included an icing rose under a wine glass between the tiers - it was pretty fancy... If I could find a picture of it, I'd show you. But that one was mostly my friend's design which I helped execute. This cake, on the other hand, is not real and is all my design and work! :)

So, as previously mentioned in other posts, to begin constructing the cake, we first had to come up with a design, and decide what size/how many tiers (but not more than 3), etc. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, but after looking for petal cutters to make flowers, and looking for piping designs and not finding one particular thing I liked... it took me a while to come up with my actual design. But, once a general design was conceived, we then cut our cake dummies out of dense styrofoam (actually, the teacher cut them out, with an electric saw) and sanded them to get them as smooth as possible, and round off the top edges. I settled on a three tier round design, with 10", 8" and 6" tiers.

The next step was to mask the styrofoam dummies with royal icing, still trying to get it as smooth as possible, but not worrying too much about it; because once the royal icing dries (rock hard), we sanded the dummies again. Now comes, I think, the trickiest part (aside from the design :P) - rolling out the fondant and covering the cakes. I had little difficulty with the white tiers, but when I decided to add colour to the third tier, things got a little cray-cray. In the end I succeeded, with some help from the teacher. Also, we coated the sanded, frosted cake dummies with sugar gel to help the fondant stick. Had this been a real cake, most likely it would have been masked with buttercream, and the fondant would just stick to that.

Royal icing


Now comes the fun part - decorating. Aside from not being able to settle on a specific design for the longest time, I really enjoyed this part. I love artsy things and decorating, especially dessert things. Making the roses and painting the focal tier were probably my favourite parts, and it shows. Figuring out what to do with the rest of the cake was a little more difficult. There are so many designs out there to inspire, but I wanted it to fit with my focal tier and my roses... I'm still not sure that it all works together as well as it should, but anyway... It's done, it is what it is. As always, I could have done better, but I'm relatively satisfied with the end results. For a first-time attempt. ;)

I wanted to be able to try and showcase several different decorating techniques that I've been seeing on the Internet over the summer: hand painting on cakes, brush embroidery, and string work. And of course, flowers. In the end I didn't include brush embroidery because I couldn't come up with a design to fit the rest of the cake (but probably I could have done anything and it wouldn't look any weirder than it already does :P).

I wanted to make the middle tier what I call my "focal tier" because I wanted to try hand painting on that one. In the beginning I thought I might leave it white like the others and hand paint some kind of vignette or cameo on the front. But then I decided to cover it with light blue fondant and paint small pink roses all over it. And that turned out really cool.

Focal tier - hand painting
I wanted the other two tiers to have string work and some kind of piping that worked with roses - either a rose motif, or something feminine and lacy. I wasn't sure if I wanted them to be completely covered with a piping design, or just have a pattern around the top, or top and bottom... I really only decided when I had the cone of icing in my hand. And even at that, the morning of the day I finished it (last Friday), I was still debating adding something else because I felt they were missing something. Still kinda do...

6" tier with lacy string work

10" tier with lacy string work
Definitely need more practice in the piping/string work department...

So that's the cakes themselves. The only other decoration was piped borders, and my roses and leaves. I didn't take pictures of the process, or the leaves before I coloured them, but it was fun once I got the hang of it. Originally I thought I would just do white roses because that seemed easiest and I thought it would fit the theme better... and maybe I should have stuck with that. But I decided to lightly colour them with pink pearl dust. It transformed them, gave them so much more life, so I was really happy with them at that point.

The first ones I made with the school's recipe for gumpaste

Bad lighting - they were as white as the ones above. Made with Wilton gumpaste from powder.

After adding some colour and calyxes
The leaves, which I didn't take pictures of before adding to the cake, I made with the same white gumpaste, and dried them over a rolling pin or around the edge of a bowl turned upside down. After they dried, I airbushed both sides with two tones of green. Airbrushing gave them a slightly shiny and more realistic look. It was my first time really using the airbrush for anything artistic.

And, well, that's it! After stacking them, I made a simple white shell border around each tier with a star tip. I felt I needed a bit of height on the top to add my flowers to, so I made a little dome of fondant and carefully glued the flowers and leaves to it with royal icing - a very delicate task! And kind of tricky, since they were all made individually, so they didn't really fit together, you know? Anyway, here's the final product. As I said, I'm satisfied, I think it's all pretty good work, but I'm disappointed with the overall outcome once I put everything together. And the more time passes, the more disappointed I am. The life of a perfectionist.

Photo courtesy of Sandra

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Without ice cream..."

"...there would be darkness and chaos." - Don Kardong

Unrelated, but sometimes I read other people's blog posts and think, "Such eloquence. Why can't I write like that?" I try, from time to time. But I find that when I make an effort to write with eloquence, sophistication, finesse, and the like, when I re-read my entry, I feel like I sound pompous and haughty. I guess I just have to resign myself to the fact that I write in a very conversational way. I hope it's interesting. They may not be the most inspiring or concise words you've ever read, but I hope they come across as genuine and give you a sense of having had a nice conversation with a friend over a cup of tea (or whatever your beverage of choice might be).

With that said, I'll move on to talk about this week's pastry adventures. Admittedly, there wasn't much excitement this week, but I try to look at most experiences as an adventure of some sort in any case. Monday and Tuesday were cookie & frozen dessert and days. We made two frozen desserts. We actually didn't make any cookies this time, except for the cake/cookie that is part of one of the desserts and/or decorations.

For the first dessert, simply called a bombe glacée (layered frozen dessert in a demisphere mold), we made a vanilla bean ice cream, and a raspberry mousse. We filled the demisphere mold with the ice cream, leaving a hollow in the middle, and leaving to harden in the freezer. Once the raspberry mousse was ready, we filled the hollow in the mold and let freeze. Once completely frozen, we removed the dessert from the mold and covered with a marbled nappage miroir (clear sugar glaze), piped around the bottom with whipped cream, and decorated with cigarette cookies and raspberries. Tada!

Bombe glacée

The second dessert is called le Rucher which means apiary (which is a bee farm, for you laymen ;) ). For this, we needed a cookie/cake for the bottom and sides. The cake was sprinkled with chopped pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, cherries, and coconut before baking. We then prepared a honey ice cream and a raspberry sorbet. The sorbet we molded in a silicone disc and froze. With the ice cream, we filled the circle mold, leaving a space for the disc of sorbet, and then filling in the rest of the space with more ice cream. We then sprinkled the same nut and fruit mixture onto the top of the dessert, and refroze. Once solid, we glazed with miroir and  decorated with frilly cookies, white chocolate decorations with honey, and raspberries. Voilà!

Le Rucher

Yesterday we spent the day working on our wedding cakes. Had I known in advance, I would have gone to school prepared. As it was, I didn't have some of my tools and so I could only do so much. Today and tomorrow, and one day next week, we are still working on the cakes because the end of next week is the exam, and therefore the end of the module. We also made croissants and a bread we made last year called Cramique, so considering that I made a lot of progress today. Tomorrow will really just be putting it all together and adding finishing touches. Once we finish the wedding cakes, we're supposed to make a 3D sculpted cake. Some of my classmates are already half done their 3D cakes. It stresses me out when other people are so far ahead of me. Anyway, I will get it all done, I still have a couple days... *deep breaths*

By the way? Only 91 days until this chapter comes to an end! I still need to find a placement for my practical training which starts in 10 weeks! *sigh*

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Weeks In...

We have been so busy the past couple weeks! We've been baking breads and viennoiseries for various events, we've started 2 more modules (cookies and frozen desserts), we've been working on our wedding cakes... *phew*

Earlier this week (or maybe it was last week?) I had an epic failure. There are times when I consider something I've made to be under par, not the best I could have done, but it's always good. I haven't ever (in the course) had an outright failure, and let me tell you, it hurt my pride. But, a wounded pride is always good to keep us on our toes, and I really haven't been on my toes since we started back at school.

So, I'm sure you're dying to know what the failure was. Let me show you...

Deceptive chocolatines

Rather innocent and, if I may say so, perfect looking chocolate croissants, yes? Wrong! Sadly, a lack of attention meant that I used the wrong chocolate (pâte de cacao = pure chocolate, no sugar added). Thankfully I had used some of the ends of dough to make extras to taste, and thankfully I tasted before putting them in the store for sale... It was a horrible, disgusting surprise, and it hurt my heart to have to dump this whole batch of otherwise perfect croissants in the garbage. :'(

Monday and Tuesday we were in the new modules. We made three different types of cookies: tuiles aux amandes (thin almond cookies shaped like Pringles), bâtons maréchoux (little stick cookies covered in almonds and dipped in chocolate), and some biscuits pochés (Spritz cookies). We also made a lemon sorbet which we used to fill empty lemon rinds, and a maple glace aux oeufs (custard-based ice cream).

Bâtons maréchoux

Biscuits pochés / Spritz cookies

Citrons givrés

Today we had an exam practice (Already?! I know!!). The module in which we're making the wedding cakes is a decorating module. The exam is to make a themed cake, but we don't know the theme until the day of the exam. We have to be able to come up with a design, present a drawing of the design, and then execute the design within the time frame. We were given an idea of what the theme might be (big hint on "child's birthday cake," and then there are the current seasons/holidays). So today for the practice we were given a choice to either do an autumn theme or a child's birthday theme, but whatever we chose, there had to be a buttercream border around the top, and a piping border on the top, and have room to be able to write a message. I always feel very limited when I'm given restrictions like these, so it took me quite a while to come up with a design, but I settled on a John Deere theme, inspired by my nephew. I would have liked to have kept it for his birthday, but since that's not until April...

I have some very talented classmates! I was thoroughly impressed by their work today - we have all come a long way since last year! Some of the other designs included Spongebob, Patrick, Tinkerbell, Bugs Bunny, Obelix, Mickey Mouse, a really cute road with cars, forest animals, and there were a few autumn themed ones. :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wanna know a secret?

Psst! Wanna know a secret?

It's not really a secret, I just wanted your attention. After a long, hard day and some retail therapy, I spent a few moments this afternoon copying the holidays from my school calendar into my day planner, and then I decided to count how many days are left until the end of the course. It's been a bit of a habit of mine since high school to start counting down the days until summer vacation shortly after the first day of school. Not because I'm wishing the time away, just because I like having that goal and a physical number to look forward to. Also, putting a number of days on it helps one to realize how short the time really is! Four months may or may not sound like a good chunk of time, but when you consider how many modules we have left to do, how much work (especially after a day like today), plus a 3 week practical training period... It boils down to just 106 days. In 106 days, this Pastry school journey will have come to an end, and a new chapter will (hopefully) begin!

So what made today difficult? Well, we were working on our wedding cakes again. I still had the middle tier to cover. All the kneading and rolling out yesterday made my arms sore and weak and tired today. After many, many disastrous attempts at rolling out the fondant; adding glycerin by hand, and then by machine, multiple times; getting frustrated almost to the point of tears... I finally got some help from the teacher and he covered the cake for me and left me to smooth it out, which I'm pretty good at. *Phew!*

After getting the last tier covered, there wasn't much else for me to do today other than attempt to make some flowers. So I mixed up a batch of gumpaste and gave it a shot. However, our gumpaste recipe is really dry and crumbly, it doesn't work well for flowers at all. I managed to make two roses, but they are so loose and fragile, I'm afraid they will just crumble when I try to attach them to the cake. So, since we won't be working on the cakes again until next week, I'm going to try to make some different recipes at home and see if I can't find something that works a bit better.

Tomorrow and Friday we get a break from fondant and gumpaste - we'll be working on breads and viennoiseries. We're making croissants! Yum! :) Maybe we'll do something new as well, and maybe I'll remember to take pictures... ;)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The great thing about cake is..."

" doesn't feel like work. You forget about work. Kids, adults, they all get the same look in their eye when they're decorating cakes... That's the magic right there." - Duff Goldman

I can't say I've been dreaming of wedding cakes, or that they aren't a lot of work, but they've certainly been on my mind a lot over the weekend, and I am having fun. :)

Friday we sanded our styrofoam cake forms, then mixed up royal icing to mask the styrofoam. Because that's as far as we could go with that (have to wait for the icing to harden before continuing), we also made sweet bread rolls over the course of the day, which were amazing and made the whole school smell so good!!

Last week I had come up with a cake design that involved one very large peony on the top tier. However, upon doing some research, I decided that actual peony petal cutters would look best, but they are very expensive. So, despite how boring and unoriginal they are, I've decided to go with roses. But roses didn't really fit with my design, so I've had to redesign the whole cake. I hope it will turn out as nice in person as I've imagined in my head and on paper...

Today we made rolled fondant to cover our cakes, but first we had to sand the royal icing on the styrofoam to smooth it out. Then we covered the cake forms with a thin layer of clear piping gel to help the fondant stick. Making fondant is not particularly easy, at least not the first time. One has to pay very close attention to temperatures and textures. Rolling it out is no cake walk, either - you have to keep moving it and dusting it with powdered sugar so it doesn't stick to the table, and then when you've reach the proper thickness, you have to very carefully maneuver it onto the cake without tearing it or dropping it off your rolling pin (yes, that is the voice of experience talking). But you're not safe yet! Now you have to gently and carefully smooth the fondant down over the sides of the cake, avoiding wrinkles and ruffles, and without pulling and tearing the top. *Phew!* I managed to get my top and bottom tiers covered and smoothed fairly well (for my first time using rolled fondant!). I wish I would have had time to do the middle layer, but I wanted it to be another colour, so by the time I was done mixing the colour, time was running out, and when you're rushed things definitely don't work. So after a few tries, I decided to wait until the next time we work on wedding cakes to cover that layer, which I believe will be Thursday. It's unfortunate because my plan for the middle tier will probably take the most time, other than the roses, and I won't be able to work on it until the fondant has dried a bit. C'est la vie!