Monday, November 20, 2017

Wedding cake ... really?

Every now and then, I will get a request for a very unconventional wedding cake. This cake request was from Kayli and Nathan from Denver. Their wedding was on a Sunday, so since I don't work or deliver on Sundays, Kayli came with 3 of her bridesmaids to pick up the cake. Kayli and Nathan met with me several months ago, and described what they had in mind, and I had cake samples for them to taste. I then had my son, Tom (Disney animator), draw a sketch for me to get a rough idea of what I could design for the cake. The request was a bolder or mountainside with grassy patches and a hammock on top, with the bride and groom. Also, they wanted some succulents on the cake because they really like them. So, here are a few pictures to show the progress of the cake.

 Rough sketch for cake idea.
 Stacked and filled 12, 10, and 8 inch layer cakes with support dowels. In the freezer to chill.
 Carved and shaped cake with crumb coat. Back in freezer to chill.
Final coat of buttercream, and back in freezer to chill before adding modeling chocolate.
 Finished cake. I used crushed edible rocks for the gravel on the trail, and touched up color with petal dust mixed with Everclear.
 Trees and figurines were molded from modeling chocolate, with the bride's dress  and hammock from Flexfrost, edible icing sheets.

Succulents were made from gumpaste. 

It's always a challenge and takes longer than anticipated to do a new design. But the bride and groom were happy with the results, so I'm good with that. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

The word that cake decorators hate the most...

Well, I guess hate is a pretty strong word... how about really dislike... the word is CONGRATULATIONS. Why do I not like this word? It is because it has 15 letters to write, cut out, press out, mold, or whatever, and then try to get the placement just right.  And that takes a lot of time. Combine it with "Congratulations on your Retirement" and then it's really fun. 

Look at all of the wording on this cake!

Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems to go wrong that can go wrong? Well, I had one of those days last Saturday... what was supposed to be an easy cake turned into a nightmare. I had designed a cake similar to this before that turned out perfect. First of all, my edible ink printer quit working and so I needed to repair it to get it working properly. I didn't get it working in time, so had to cut out emblems and everything by hand. I could have used my Zing electronic cutter, but didn't think I'd have time for that either. Then I tried combining two different kinds of fondant to make a camo background for the cake, and the different color pieces split when I decided to cover the cake with it... what? Oh, by the way, I found a new fondant that I love to work with. Dream Fondant by Choco-pan is wonderful to roll out and cover your cakes without any tearing or "elephant skin." So then, because I spent too much time trying to fix the printer, I didn't have time to cut out the letters for the cake, so did the writing in free-hand cursive. Granted, my cake writing is pretty good, but this particular cake would have looked better with a different type of lettering. I ended up giving the customer a discount and told her that it wasn't my best work. It looked like an amateur's cake, and I AM NOT AN AMATEUR, I AM A PROFESSIONAL. At least I knew the cake would taste great.  Ok, I will now get off my soapbox...

This is how the cake should have looked. 


So, I learned several lessons - yes, I'm still learning - from this whole experience. #1 - always print out my images the night before, in case the printer needs servicing. #2 - prepare the lettering ahead of time, so you are not trying to get it done the last minute. #3 - Don't combine different kinds of fondant when making a camo background for an Army cake. 

I got online on Saturday night and ordered some tools to make my cake decorating life a little easier... Marvelous Molds has come out with a new line of molds called Flexabets. I had some of these already, but the one I really needed and ordered was "Congratulations." The Flexabets are a bit tricky to learn how to use correctly, but when you do, will save you a lot of time. 




The other thing I ordered was a steamer to clean my edible ink printer print head when it gets clogged. I ordered this from Icing Images. I love the quality products that I get from Icing Images. Hopefully, this will make maintaining my printer a little easier and quicker. 



And no, I did not take a picture of the cake that I was not happy with... didn't want any of those memories. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ahhhh... Cream Puffs!



Cream puffs, eclairs, or profiteroles... all use the same kind of choux pastry dough. Cream puffs are round, eclairs a little longer in shape, and profiteroles are basically cream puffs with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate or fudge sauce... yum! Cream puffs are an impressive dessert, yet very simple to make.




Have you ever wanted to make cream puffs, but just think they are too difficult? Well, you must try again. Cream puffs are very easy to make, if you just follow some basic tips that I have learned over my years of baking and catering.




When I was still catering, we made many many cream puffs. Not only did we fill those with whipped cream and mousse fillings for desserts, but we also made them as a shell for our savory chicken salad, which was a huge hit with our customers. Now that I am not catering any longer, I don't often make the chicken salad puffs, but I have been experimenting lately with different presentations of dessert cream puffs. 

Chicken Salad Puffs


Once you learn how to make the  choux pastry dough, you can make the cream puffs any size you wish, from mini to much larger. My favorite is usually somewhere in between. When making a cream puff tower, you usually need to make very small, or mini puffs. I have not yet perfected the true croquembouche-the French cream puff tower assembled with caramel that hardens and makes a crunch in your mouth, and is decorated with strings of pulled caramel. It is a perfect combination of flavors- the soft yummy sweetness of the filling and the crunchy caramel as you bite into the cream puff. Usually, you use some sort of a crocquembouche mold for the best results. It is my goal, sometime soon, to perfect one of these. I have assembled small cream puff towers with melted chocolate, which also works well... just not the true French croquembouche (which means "crunch in the mouth.")


Traditional Croquembouche


Son-in-law, Eddie... cream puff lover

In the meantime, I would like to share the recipe and tips for making a perfect cream puff, and also my basic simple mousse and simple Bavarian Creme recipes.

One thing I have learned to do is to measure my eggs. We have our own chickens, and so the eggs are not always consistent in size. 1 cup of our fresh eggs usually equals about 4 extra large eggs. My baked items always turn out better when I measure the eggs to make sure the amount is consistent. 

BASIC CHOUX PASTRY DOUGH

1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick butter)
1/4 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 cup flour
4 extra large eggs (1 cup)  

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 bun pans with parchment paper.

Bring water, butter, salt, and sugar (if desired) to a rapid boil. Remove from heat and add flour, and stir until it forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pot. Return to heat for 1-2 minutes and stir until you have a smooth ball and less moisture. Measure the eggs. Pour mixture into mixing bowl, fitted with a flat paddle. I use a KitchenAid, but any mixer will do. You can even just use a spoon and lots of elbow grease. Turn on mixer and add one egg at a time. Mix until incorporated, then add the next, and so forth. Continue mixing until you have a soft smooth batter. 

Put batter into a pastry bag fitted with large tip, and pipe onto pans. You can also use a cookie scoop or two spoons to put batter onto pans. If you have peaks at the top of your dough balls, wet fingertip and smooth down. This will prevent the tips from burning. 

This next step is very important and I have learned from trial and error. Put puffs in the 425° oven for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to to 375° and bake for another 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your cream puffs. This will make certain that your puffs are dry enough and will not collapse, yet still remain golden color. I have learned this from experience. 

Remove from oven and cool completely, away from draft, before filling. When ready to fill, you can either slice the tops and fill, or use a pastry bag by inserting the tip into the side or bottom of each puff to fill with cream or mousse filling. Sprinkle dessert puffs with powdered sugar. 







SIMPLE BAVARIAN CREME

8 oz. cream cheese
(2) small packages vanilla instant pudding mix
3/4 cup milk
1 large or 2 small containers of Cool Whip, thawed

Beat cream cheese until softened. Gradually add pudding mix until combined. Very slowly add the milk, and continue beating until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip until thoroughly combined. Keep in refrigerator, or freeze for longer storage.

EASY MOUSSE FILLING

8 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 small container of Cool Whip
Cocoa, fruit, jams, fillings, peanut butter, Nutella, or any other flavorings

Beat cream cheese to soften. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. If you want chocolate mousse, add desired amount of cocoa at this time. Beat until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip until thoroughly combined. Fold in desired flavorings, or leave plain for vanilla mousse. Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage. 


















Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tired of traditional cake? Try a brownie cake!



One of the fun things about being a cake decorator and a grandma is being able to design birthday cakes for my grandchildren... at least the ones that are local. Occasionally, I will be visiting my out of state grandchildren on or near their birthdays, so I will get to decorate simple cakes for them. 

As you can probably imagine, my kids have had more than enough cake while growing up in the Leavitt home. We even resorted to buying birthday pies from Marie Callender's, so we would have a nice break from cake.  Now, for my daughter's family, I rarely make traditional cakes for their birthdays. This year I have made cream puff cakes, fruit pizzas, and their favorite... brownie cakes. 

I love working with brownies because they are dense, easy to shape, and most often there is no need to use the support that you would in a normal cake. And then the taste... well, who doesn't love a really great brownie? Rich, moist, chocolatey, layered with delicious buttery chocolate buttercream and maybe raspberry, peanut butter, or salted caramel filling. Wow! I get hungry just thinking about them. Granted, it has taken several years for me to perfect my brownie recipe at our high altitude. For my favorite brownie recipe, click here. One of the most important keys to baking a really great brownie is DO NOT OVERBAKE! Check for doneness a few minutes before recipe time... every oven is different. 

Here's some photos of the latest brownie cake I designed for 5 year old grandson, Hunter...

 Pirate treasure chest brownie cake... no support needed. Used a small wedge of RK treats to prop open the top.

Look at those rich fudgy brownies inside! Layered with buttercream, and entire cake was covered with chocolate buttercream and modeling chocolate. Bring on the milk!

Other cakes I have designed from brownies...

 Granddaughter Lexi's Harry Potter cake
 Granddaughter Carissa's Zootopia cake
 Granddaughter Lexi's July 4th Birthday/Baptism cake
 Granddaughter Carissa's Olaf Frozen cake
 Lexi's piano cake
Son-in-law Eddie's "Superdad" cake

Monday, August 22, 2016

What to do with little chicken eggs? Make omelettes of course!


As you have probably guessed, we go through a lot of eggs here at our house, so that's why we have our own chickens. Back in April, we acquired 6 more chickens, since our older chickens were not laying as often, so were not keeping up with the demand. After eating eggs from our free range chickens, it hurts to have to buy eggs at the store. Just recently all of our young hens have started laying. When they first start laying, their eggs are very small and we find them all over the yard. They have finally learned to lay in the coop, but we don't always find them in the nesting boxes. They will eventually learn. Since we had an abundance of these little eggs, we decided to make omelettes tonight for dinner... so good! I put ham and cheese and a few green chilies in Bruce's and I enjoy mine with fresh tomatoes, green chilies, and a little cheese, topped with salsa and a couple dollops of sour cream... yum. One thing that we enjoy using in our omelettes is a spice called Sunny Paris that I purchase at Penzey's Spice Shop. That and a little salt and pepper with just a little milk and we're good. Omelettes for dinner... it's a good thing!

You can see how small the eggs are compared to the regular size

Our favorite omelette seasoning



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ripe bananas? How about cookies?



Do you ever have bananas that look like these, and wonder what to do with them besides making quick breads or smoothies? Well, look no further. I have found a yummy cookie recipe that uses ripe bananas - the riper the better -  and it's a keeper. 


These cookies are bursting with banana flavor and loaded with chocolate chips and pecans. You can leave out the nuts if you wish, but I just happen to love nuts, especially pecans. I always use Ghirardelli chocolate chips. They are my favorite and always make everything taste better!


These cookies have more of a soft "cakey" texture, rather than crisp and chewy. 




Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

Cream butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the mashed bananas. Add the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. 

Bake for approx. 10 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown on the bottom. 






Sit down with your cookies and a glass of milk... enjoy! 

(P.S. How the heck am I supposed to lose weight?)