Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are the ribbons out yet?

This past weekend was the National Capital Area Cake Show (NCACS) in Annandale, VA.  It is put on by the VA chapter of ICES (International Cake Exploration Society) for cake artists and cake enthusiasts.  You can take classes with some of the "big names" in the cake world, do some shopping, and check out cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and showpieces made by kids, adults and pros.  This was my third year attending the show and by far the most fun I have had at the show.  I entered 5 different categories in the various competitions and took 4 different classes. I also spent a few hundred dollars on various supplies... of course that part I could have done without... but like any woman, I do love to shop... just not for clothes and shoes :).

My first class was with Edward Frys who does awesome sculpted work.  He taught airbrush basics and the best part about it was that I got to keep the airbrush!!  The worst part about it was that I was on my feet for 3 hours and 2 hrs after that.  Next up was brush embroidery and quilling with Mark Seaman.  I had some instruction on brush embroidery before, but I do learn some new tips and tricks.  I loved the quilling!  I had seen in done on a cake a few years ago and knew I wanted to learn... turns out it is really easy... just super time consuming.

On Sunday, I took Fab Fondant with Ashley Vicos.  I enjoyed listening to her but was a bit disappointed I didn't get to finish the project cake.  Finally I took a cookie decorating class with Diane Shavkin.  She is a cake decorating legend and I hope to utilize all the new techniques I learned from her in the near future.

While I enjoyed the classes and learned a lot, all I wanted to know the entire time I was there was did I win a ribbon?  I drove my poor friend nuts!  I just don't have any patience, and I am super competitive.  I was most interested in finding out about my tasting cakes (both chocolate fudge but they were in two different categories) and the cookies.  I thought it would be awesome to bring home a ribbon for tasting, but alas, I didn't.  I think it is a hard category to win since everyone has different preferences and you don't get any feedback, plus you are going up against people who have pastry degrees!  The cookies intrigued me because all the entries were great and my friend Amy was also in the category.  I was excited to see that third place ribbon!!!

As for the two decorated cakes, I got a 1st place and a 2nd place ribbon for those.  While I am happy to win the ribbons, there wasn't much competition (I am not saying the other entries were bad... I am saying there weren't many other entries period).  But a win is a win right?

So here were the entries..

Can't wait to enter again next year!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When are you opening a shop?

This is the question I get most often, and the one that causes a lot of internal strife.  Part of me really wants to own a shop... REALLY wants to own a shop.  I would love to be able to have customers come into an official store, order a cake for pickup the next day, and possibly even "shop" a little.  I would have tons of storage and have a place for everything.  I could have my cake dummies on the walls and decorate in bright colors and whimsy.  I have so many ideas that I just can't do from my home, but could with a shop.  Oh how the over-achiever voice in me is screaming!!!

And then there is the other side of the coin... more expenses means more volume and higher prices.  I couldn't take a weekend here or there to go out of town with family.  Who would watch the boys?  Will burn out or physical ailments set in faster?  And the list goes on and on... so for the time being, I am sticking with my home business.  I get to set my own hours/workload, go on vacation when I want to, and try to help support my family.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Baby Turns 1 - Part 2

One of the things I had the most difficult time deciding was a party theme for Reid.  Unlike his older brother at this age, he really didn't have any interests.  He paid no attention to the TV, with the small exception of the opening and singing numbers of Yo Gabba Gabba.  He didn't have a toy or a book that he played with a lot. Nothing... so after much internal deliberation, I decided to go with a fairly generic first birthday theme.

So next up was deciding on the cake... well this was going to be easy... stars and circles in the colors of the plate!  The particulars of the design would be decided as I was decorating.  As for the inside of the cake, I get to make that decision.  Since Reid and I were sharing the party as my husband and older son have done for the past few years, it is law in our house that the cake is decorated to fit the child's theme, but with the cake flavors the adult wants because our kids don't like cake ... GASP!

Anyway, because I still had other work to do for the week, I decided to try to combine things as much as possible. The top tier was banana because we had a bunch of bananas that were past their prime and I hate throwing them out.  The top tier was decided for me since I had special requests for tastings and just used the left over batter to make the top tier.  For the first time, I put two different flavors in the same tier... not that this is something new or exciting, just never tried it.  So the top tier ended up being cinnamon bun and blueberry muffin.  For the icing, I decided on Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  It's something that I just started to make and had yet to cover a cake in it.... what better time to experiment!

Covering the cake went fairly well... it's definitely not as perfect as using an American Buttercream, but still not bad.  I don't want to think about covering an evil square cake in it, but I am sure it will happen at some point.  The biggest difference, besides the taste and preparation, is the work time.  Swiss Meringue doesn't crust like many American buttercreams do, so you can spend a lot more time trying to screw up... I mean fix things.  Overall I would give the cake "smoothness" a 6 out of 10.

As for the design, I just cut out a ton of stars and circles... I was planning on just randomly throwing them on the cake, but after putting the first few on I changed my mind.  Instead I grouped them in a series of hills and valleys.  So here's the cake in all it's glory... I did learn a lesson though... putting that many stars on wires causes them to be heavy and not do what you wanted them too :)

As usual I over prepared and made some cupcakes too...

These were just chocolate and vanilla... I know some folks are opposed to the outrageous flavors in the cake so I had these for the kids and those adults with very specific palates.

As for the rest of the food, we had way too much but I don't like the thought of anyone going home hungry.  We actually had so much leftover pizza that we gave away a 1.5 pizzas and still ate it for 5 days afterward (I don't want to look at pizza for at least a month).  We had a ton of leftover cake too and well unfortunately I think it will end up in the garbage (it pains me to do this, so the leftovers are still in the fridge).

Overall I think folks had a good time... and I am happy the "big" 1st birthday party is over... the next one or two will be low-key family affairs... and then onto the parties with all the school kids.... YEAH (please see the sarcasm in there).  Speaking of... I need to decide what we are doing for Aaron's (the older son) birthday...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Baby Turns 1!

So this past weekend we had a joint birthday party for my little guy Reid and myself.  Our birthdays are a little over two weeks apart so we held the party on the weekend in between them so family would not have to gather twice in a short time frame.

I had read about doing candy buffets and thought I would start offering them as part of my business.  Of course I needed to do one and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity.  Along with a bunch of blue and primary-colored, store-bought candy, I made some items as well.

First up... homemade marshmallows!  I used Alton Brown's recipe... and well... I wasn't impressed.  I was planning on using more vanilla than mentioned in the recipe, but I forgot.  I really need to learn to print out the recipes and make notes directly onto the recipe.  After my disappointment with these, I really wanted to make Giada's orange marshmallow recipe, but alas I did not have time.

  Next up... chocolate covered pretzels.  These are super easy... the biggest thing I had to figure out was how to get the chocolate to cover most of the pretzel.  I don't know what the official method is but I used a Pyrex measuring cup about 3/4 of the way full, put the pretzel in the bottom and used a spoon to coat the pretzel.  I just twirled off the excess and put the pretzel on wax paper.  After the chocolate set a bit, I would sprinkle them.  If you sprinkle them too early, all the sprinkles fall to the sides.

And finally, I made some birthday cake fudge.  My friend Meri posted this recipe and I HAD to try it.  It was really simple, and only took about 15 minutes to put together.  This is definitely something I would make again, although I recommend against eating it in the middle of the night.  Apparently, according to my brother, it causes strange dreams.  Anyway, here is a link to the blog with the recipe:

So here is a pic of the assembled candy buffet... I had a lot of fun doing it and I know my husband is happy he doesn't need to here about it anymore.  And don't worry, I will do a post on the rest of the party and cake in a bit!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sometimes I wonder...

When I was in college, I went to the local thrift store to pick up some cookie cutters to make Christmas cookies for my sorority.  I found these interesting cookie cutters that had a pattern on the inside to give the cookies detail.  At the time I didn't have much success using them to actually imprint the cookies, but it didn't prevent me from buying them whenever I saw them.

Fast forward more than a decade.... and a friend of mine asks me to squeeze her in for some circus cupcakes for her little boy's first birthday.  I was already booked, but since she is my best customer, I squeezed her in.  I knew I wanted to do some sort of clown, but figured I would just make several cutouts and assemble them into a clown head.  However, in my quest to pick up glass containers (in another post), I stopped by one of the thrift stores near my house and stumbled across a clown cookie cutter with the imprint inside.  It seemed to be the perfect size for cupcakes and was the perfect price (25 cents).

I rolled the fondant out about 1/8 of an inch thick and stuck the cutter in.  Of course, the fondant wasn't thick enough and didn't leave the impression.  It dawned on me that I had tried this before and had the same result.  In that case I just ended up decorating the fondant cut out by hand.  But this past weekend, my brain actually worked... which seems to be happening less and less lately. So here's what I did... I used the cutter to cut out the outline.

Then I pushed the fondant piece inside of the cutter and pushed it against the impression on the inside of the cutter.

The first time I did it, I had to use a toothpick to get it back out, but the second time I brushed a bit of cornstarch in the cutter and it fell right out.  I even rolled the fondant out to about 1/16th of an inch and they came out just as well.

I needed them to dry so I could color them... and thankfully the oven light did the trick.

Within a few hours, they were hard enough to color and I think made a pretty cute cupcake topper!  I
can't believe it took me this long to figure this out!

PS  If you find any of these cutters that aren't for Halloween or Christmas... I WANT THEM!
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