The monthly birthday cake for our Church should be simple — because I don’t have time to do complicated — but I never allow it to be so. DH knows me so much better than I know myself. He told me I need to be challenged and that is why every time I do a cake I have to try a new technique. Otherwise, why bother? He’s right, of course. So, instead of doing a simple cake with some fondant balloons on it I had to try this fault line cake trend. I fell in love with one on Instagram by #macaronsbymo that featured macarons in the “crack.” But instead of using buttercream I thought I would go with modeling chocolate to cover the cake and give me more control over the fault line. Overall, I was happy with my decision. As always, there are some cake decorating notes:
Notes on modeling chocolate:
Modeling chocolate is perfect for this project as it can be positioned upright immediately and it won’t sag like fondant. I try to use Merckens melting wafers because I think they perform and taste better.
I used a 4:1 ratio of chocolate to corn syrup but a firmer modeling chocolate would have been easier to use for paneling the cake so I’ll probably go with a 5:1 ratio next time. Also, I used the pasta attachment on the Kitchenaid mixer on setting “2” to get about 1/16″ thickness. I felt this was too thin and showed too many many “bumps” on the cake so next time I’ll stick to 1/8″ thickness which corresponds to setting “1.” I tried Chocolate Chameleon candy color by Artisan Accents this time which worked really well — as you can see the chocolate turned out a really bright pink and I only added about 0.1 oz in with the corn syrup.
Notes on ganache:
I had white chocolate ganache left over from my last project a few weeks ago which I had frozen. Interestingly, with the few extra degrees of heat (okay, maybe 10) since the beginning of May the ganache was almost too soft to work with. Good to know for next time — use a 3.5:1 ratio of white chocolate to cream for hotter temperatures. Although it firmed up on the cake overnight it was still easily depressed when covering with the modeling chocolate.
Notes on Macarons:
I have been happily using the Italian method for making macarons for a few years now and will not go back to the French method ever. My current favorite recipe is that from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook with the only two modifications being 1) I do not use vanilla in the shells and 2) my oven temp at convection 315F.
Here is a relatively short video showing how I put the cake together.
Pasteis de Nata (Portugese Egg Custard Tarts)
I love custard-based desserts: canneles and pasteis de nata are some of the few things I will make for myself because I truly crave them. Although croissants are my number one diet-breaker favorite pastry of all time they take much longer to make so they don’t work for cravings. Truth be told, I love laminating pastry so the whole experience of rolling out laminated pastry and then watching it puff in the oven and then eating it is magical. Oh and kouign amann. Those are definitely in my top five. Again, any laminated pastry. I forgot almond croissants which has both creme patissiere and a croissant. I’m getting carried away.
Back to pasteis de nata. Puff pastry and custard. I first heard about them on GBBO and fell in love with their history — the whole thing about needing to use up egg yolks that were left over from starching the nuns’ habits with egg whites was just fascinating. You can find the exact recipe I used from GBBO here but just know that the batter amount is enough for 18 tarts not 12 so you can either decrease the batter amount or increase the puff pastry to about 450g (from 300g roughly). If you are going to use the whole batter amount I found it easier to roll out one 300 g piece of puff pastry to 20×30 cm as specified in the recipe and another to 15x 20 cm.
Here is a short video to assist you in assembly. I ate them hot right out of the oven and burned by tongue but didn’t care.
I have found — or should I say accepted — a technique for coloring macarons that makes me happy. My macarons turn out beautifully except for the color. I can always get reds and yellows to turn out well but greens, purples and blues are utter failures. They fade, they brown and even the shapes of the macarons are altered by the addition of these colors. I have tried different gel brands, different powder brands, different ovens to no avail. Today I tried yet another brand of coloring powder of which I was assured would be heat-resistant, etc. But I used about $3 (3 g) of powder to achieve a faint green-beige and I reached my absolute limit. My pistachio buttercream was a beautiful pistachio green whilst my macaron shells resembled — well, nothing. So I pulled out my airbrush and gave them a light mist and voila! We are done with our struggle and used less coloring to boot. Plus, if I want a half-and-half effect a la 7-Up then that is what I shall have! At first I felt I had cheated my way to a brightly-colored macaron but it’s not any different than adding it to the batter. Color is color. Try it. What have you got to lose?
Filigree Swirl Wedding Cake
I’ve only ever made one wedding cake and it was a 2-tiered naked cake with fresh lavender. Very low pressure and yet my hands were still shaking when I was arranging the lavender around the cake. I had no intention of making another wedding cake. But then my priest’s wife called with a request. (In the Coptic Orthodox Church our priests marry and have children). She wanted me to make her son’s wedding cake. I have never denied a request from Fr. Daoud — he helped me and my family through some really tough times and he is the only reason my semi-white husband felt comfortable converting to the Coptic Orthodox faith. So I asked her to send some pictures of what the bride wanted. My heart dropped when I saw the pictures — a four tiered hand-painted cake by a cake designer, Yuma’s Couture Cakes. With flowers . I hate making flowers. But so began a 6-week long planning process.
The first challenge was to make those flowers. I recently subscribed to the Paul Bradford Sugarcraft School and I love that all the instructors use ganache which is my preferred coating. So I went there first but all the flower tutorials were so complicated and time consuming and didn’t look like the flower I was going for which was more like a gardenia. So I got on the PBSS facebook page and asked for help.
Another user had this great idea to start with a flat disk of gumpaste and attach rows of ruffles. This idea worked beautifully. It was simple with the added benefit of a flat back which was easier to attach to the cake later. I used 50/50 gumpaste/fondant for the flowers. For the flowers with the “button” in the middle I just used a brooch mold that I had to shape it and give it some texture.
I had to buy some additional pans and since the Magic Lines were on sale I bought those. All my other pans are Fat Daddio’s. The Magic Line pans yielded very different results! The cakes came out with cleaner edges and were more evenly baked; I had even less doming than usual even though I was using the same techniques ie baking strips, heating rods. I may consider replacing all my pans with Magic Line ones.
Regarding heating rods, I really like the Fat Daddio rods and found it necessary to use at least one for the 10×3″ and two for the 12″ cake pans.
I used pulverized freeze dried strawberries for the strawberry IMBC and pistachio praline nut paste with rosewater IMBC for the other vanilla cake. The chocolate cake had a dark chocolate ganache, caramel and walnut filling.
IV. Filigree Swirls
The original cake designer had hand-painted all of those swirls but I did not trust myself to do that so I tried to figure out a less abstract method of getting them on the cake. I have been using the Cricut machine to do a lot of cake stencils so I tried a few patterns — first hand drawn then downloaded images — and settled on four that I used on the cake. I used 6 mil mylar sheets to cut the stencils.
I was nervous about airbrushing the stencils because the last time I had tried to stencil a complicated design on a cake it came out blurry. One of the mistakes I realized I had made was that the cake was not perfectly round/smooth. If the surface is not smooth the stencil pops out in places and the stencil does not come out as sharp as it should. So having a smooth surface is critical. Also, I used the Evil Cake Genius method of taping a piece of tulle over the stencil to keep the smaller pieces of the stencil flat against the cake. As you can see in the picture below I have a collar of parchment paper taped to edges of the stencil with masking tape; there is a piece of tulle taped snugly over that; a few pieces of masking tape covering the pieces of stencil that are above the level of the cake to avoid spraying the top of the cake.
I practiced on the top dummy tier first in case it came out poorly.
I only sprayed one stencil on at a time to allow it to dry before doing other parts of the cake so I basically had a rotation of tiers being airbrushed. I was pretty happy with the results.
V. Dummy tier
Did you know you could easily slice through styrofoam with a hot knife? I do now. All my tiers were 5″ but it is not easy finding a 5″ dummy so after some internet searching I bought two 3″ dummies, heated up a knife over my stove, used a 2″ cake pan as my guide and sliced through one of the 3″ dummies. I then adhered the new 2″ piece to the 3″ piece with melted chocolate. DH is still complaining, however, about the knife I allegedly “ruined.”
The fondant was the beast of the whole project. I have gone through several brands lately trying to find one that I like since I’ve gone off Satin Ice. I love Dream fondant but it’s hard to find. I decided to give Fondx a try. I tried it out on the dummy first which was my smart move. But I bought 10 lbs of it which was my dummy move. I tried nine times to cover that dummy but it kept tearing off. I ended up panel wrapping the dummy which was fine but I still had to cover 3 more tiers. I emailed the company and they advised not to knead it for too long. They were very nice and sent me another 10 lbs but I still struggled with it and ended up panel wrapping all four tiers. It worked out okay although I wasn’t fond of the seams. I used a mix of 90% ivory/10% white Fondx. Also, I found it much easier to stick the top piece of fondant for about 10 minutes before placing it on the cake and trimming it.
I used both dark chocolate ganache and white chocolate ganache to coat the cakes. I find that since white chocolate ganache tends to take longer to set I need to make it about 24 hours in advance and leave it at room temperature. A 3:1 ratio of white chocolate to cream has worked best for me. Dark chocolate ganache can be made about 10-12 hours in advance and will be set.
The method for making ganache that I prefer is to heat the cream on the stove first but just before boiling microwave your chocolate for one minute to soften it up. Pour the cream over top and let sit for five minutes before whisking slowly.
I think everyone gets nervous about stacking cakes. One thing I wish hadn’t done was keep the cakes on their work boards after they were covered with fondant. The fondant edges stuck to the work boards and gave me rough edges when I went to move them. Mental note for next time. However, I was very pleased with the doweling. I used instructions from one of my favorite pastry chefs at www.wickedgoodies.net. She advised not just one dowel through the center of the cake for horizontal support (ie to keep the tiers from sliding off of one another) but two dowels through each pair of tiers. See diagram below. Two long dowels run between then 2nd and 3rd tiers at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock and two more long dowels between the 3rd and 4th tiers at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. My cake did not budge. It did not even twitch. For the stand I got a footed MDF board which was fantastic. So much easier to be able to put your fingers underneath the bottom board!
To be honest, this was the part that scared me the most . I have transported three tiers before but not a 4-tiered cake and not 30 miles. Also I had no idea how I was going to lift it even with a second person. I failed my DH here because I would not consider his first idea which was to use a long plywood board. I just kept picturing something out of a circus where the clowns are trying to balance an elephant on a board and the poor elephant topples over. Actually, I think that’s a movie called Dumbo. Anyway, I betrayed my husband by going on the cake forums and it turns out that is exactly what people use. He drilled holes to make it easier to grip and it worked like a dream. More like a palanquin than Dumbo on a stretcher.
Thanks for tuning in for this whole post. All together I conservatively estimate that I put in about 27 hours making this cake! One last thing. For disassembling I found needle nose pliers to be indispensable in removing the dowels.
You can watch most of the assembly in this short video.
Vegan Cookie Monster Cake. Wait, That Doesn’t Sound Right…Vegan Mud Cake a la Cookie Monster
Vegan cakes have really tripped me up in the past. But I have been tweaking a recipe I got out of “Modern Vegan Baking“ . I have enjoyed perusing this book for ideas but the recipes are not accurate in their measurements; there are omissions and typos throughout the book. With some work I have made the “Fudgy Triple-Chocolate Cake” heretofore renamed “Vegan Mud Cake” turn out well consistently.
This was an 8-inch by 4-inch four layer cake with vegan dark chocolate ganache filling and vegan American-style buttercream (Earth Balance vegan butter replaces the butter).
I made the eyeballs by covering foam balls with fondant and the hair was piped with a Wilton grass tip (#29). You should know that those Chips Ahoy cookies in his mouth are not vegan so they were just used as props!
Another note: I scooped out a little of the cake for the mouth but wait to stick the cookies in there until just before presentation as those Chips Ahoy cookies are not sturdy enough to withstand the softening power of the ganache for long (ie. Cookie Monster ate the first set of cookies I put in his mouth).
Updated History and Recipe for Finom Szelet
I did not plan this but it turns out that 4 years ago to the day I tried to make Finom Szelet for the first time. Afficionados of Hungarian baking will be familiar with Gerbeaud Szelet but might be scratching their heads about Finom Szelet. That’s because it seems to have originated from my grandmother-in-law’s village in Hungary, Homokterenye, and has remained exclusive to that community. Since my husband and brother-in-law told me about this dessert I have inquired repeatedly and done exhaustive internet searches regarding its origins or its recipe but have found nothing. While we were in Hungary this past summer I asked everyone I met about Finom Szelet (which literally translates to “fine slice”) but no one recognized the moniker. Until I got to Homokterenye. My husband’s mother’s family, the Kovacs side, originate from Homokterenye and the family there immediately claimed the dish. Everyone there makes Finom Szelet! Our cousin, Diana Berze helped us translate the recipe and I now have the official Homokterenye version and also the version given to Mrs. Papp in Bath, Ohio by Mama Maria Kovacs. Between the two I was able to recreate Finom Szelet for the Keszey brothers today!
This will replace the recipe that I posted on 12/29/2014.