Sunday, May 25, 2014

Classic birthday cakes (some WAY better than others) and Predator...

Every time D leaves for deployment, the floodgates open in Clovis and it rains for days on end. The funny thing about that is I always forget we have a wetlands area across the street from us that fills up in to a massive pond/small lake. Sounds nice, right? Yes...until the frogs get there. Then any time I go outside, the noises they make makes it sound as if I'm about to have a close encounter of the third kind, or be slain by the Predator...so I'm constantly shifting my view to look out for his tell-tale shimmer.

Pictured: our  lake and possibly Predator.

But perhaps cooler than possibly being stalked by Predator was the cake my friend Megan made for her boyfriend's birthday. Now, Megan possesses two qualities I will never have in this lifetime: an unflappable amount of patience and an art degree. What we do share is a hatred of fondant, so she took upwards of FOUR DAYS to complete this amazing Lord of the Rings cake. And while I know absolutely nothing about those books/movies other than hobbit feet are hella weird, this cake is still the shizz. Each layer was a different flavor!! It was gorgeous in execution and delicious in taste, and if they weren't leaving soon, I'd probably just make her make all my cakes so I could stick with just blogging...that's called "outsourcing."


She even snuck Winterfell in on the map...
which was literally the only reference I understood.

I almost don't even want to show you my rinky-dink birthday cake I made for our friend's birthday today. I made a classic homemade chocolate fudge cake and finally tried making icing from scratch so I could use that paper towel trick I mentioned several blogs/sleeps ago. He's a huge San Jose Sharks fan, so my color palette reflected that in the teal and black dyes....and white sprinkles. Even though it's only the border, I still pledge allegiance to sprinkles. Forever and always.

Had you not seen the LOTR cake, you'd probably be impressed by this.
 I am SO happy with how smoooooooth that frosting turned out. I mean, it totally looks like fondant, but you know it flipping isn't because fondant is, and will always be, the devil. I had another, "Looks like cocaine exploded in the kitchen again" scenario happen while making this icing in my stand mixer. I threw in a couple cups of powdered sugar with my shortening and thought I was only turning my mixer on low, but instead my hand slipped and the level went to what seemed like 11 (kudos to you if you understand the Spinal Tap reference). After I cleaned myself and my kitchen up, the frosting went on looking like this:

Cratered and splotchy like my currently sunburned face (long story).
You may have also noticed my industrial sized Crisco sitting in the back there. You never know when you might get your head stuck between a railing, so I always keep some handy for non-frosting related emergencies:

You've saved me more times than I care to admit, Crisco.
With the help of my pastry scraper/chopper, I was able to even out the edges of my cake a great deal, which was super helpful. It also felt pretty badass to use because it is the closest thing to resembling an actual tool in my cake baking arsenal:

I could be scraping cakes or siding with this bad boy,
you don't even know. Well, the frosting bowl kinda gives me away,
but you get the point.
After thirty minutes in the fridge to cool off, I went to town with my Viva paper towel. It would've been really wise of the girl who gave the tutorial to mention you have to wait thirty minutes before going swimming using the paper towel trick so the icing can crust over. Luckily, I've been burned so badly in the past by some Pinterest finds that I always read the comments. Clever girl. To achieve ultimate fake-out fondant with plain vanilla icing, take the Viva paper towel and just lightly place it on top of the cake and smooth out with your dainty, diligent fingers in a back and forth motion; repeat again on the sides. If you're like me and you don't have dainty, diligent fingers, your clunky, child-like fingers will also work with this trick- it is foolproof.

Ohhh Lordy that's smoother than an R. Kelly slow jam.

This cake I will also get to partake in eating at, you guessed it, Sean's birthday party. I am now winding down with 8" round cakes for now. I feel like I want to try cakes with different sized tiers for the next couple of weeks. I'm starting out with minicakes that I am taking on a trip with my mom next weekend. I'm also dying to learn how to make a killer hedgehog-shaped cake...speaking of hedgies, even though I got to watch the Thunderbirds practice on Friday before the big air show this weekend (that's where the sunburn came from. Turns out it wasn't such a long story), the best thing I've seen the whole weekend was this picture sent to me by my husband, who knows my limit of obsession when it comes to hedgehogs is practically endless:

A rare spikeball in its natural habitat...still looks pretty cranky.
Although this larger-than-I'm-used-to-seeing hedgie is cute, she's no Peeberton; I think we can all agree on that one. So on that note, til next time, my fellow eaters!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cookie Monster cake...not just for kids!

...as in, not a single child had a piece of this cake. My husband is getting ready to go on one of his yearly government mandated vacations, so we threw him a going away bash/early birthday extravaganza at a friend's house this past Saturday. It was pretty much the child's birthday party you always wanted to have, but with booze...meaning it was even better. We set up the slip-n-slide and bought a ridiculous amount of Capri Suns to beat the heat. I'm going to tell you, one- I was proud I could open a Capri Sun without stabbing straight through the thing with the straw or causing a large leaky mess, and two- those things are way more delicious than I remember. That being said, the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance to this adult-child's birthday shindig was the cake my hubster requested:
C is for cookie, and coincidentally, codependency.
I had an absolute blast making this Cookie Monster cake. Who knows, maybe Kate: Baker of Cakes Who Hates Kids (a slogan I decided against using on business cards) may actually have a future in making children's birthday cakes; we call that irony. Or in another case, maybe you or someone you love dearly is also still a man child child at heart, or a pilot like Derek (same thing), or just really likes Sesame Street...I can totally hook you up. In all seriousness, my husband's youthfulness is a breath of fresh air to someone as crotchety as I am for my age. He keeps me from being a 27-year-old shut in who crotchets afghans for her dog and hedgehog while watching Matlock reruns. 
Tools of the trade, locked and loaded.
While it looks like Mr. Monster must have taken a really long time to texture, he didn't because I totally cut corners. You can cut corners in the caking world and still make a gorgeous or fun cake (Hey, I make the rules here)- especially thanks to the large fella on the left up there- my triple star tip. I covered the top of the cake first, starting in a large circle and working my way in. I took the smaller star tip on the right and covered in any blank/missed spaces, because tessellations are not something I have worked with since the 6th grade, so my repeating pattern game is totally off the mark.
Don't mind my absolutely awful crumb coating,
I was apparently hopped up on cookies when I did that...
So you can see how the pattern just repeats itself over and over and over until you've got a cake entirely covered in blue stars:
It's so fuzzy! But in a good, edible way.
Not the, "I'm pretty sure that's mold" kind of way.
At this point, if you're anything like me you'll also be covered entirely in blue stars, too. I cropped this picture because it looked like a Smurf massacre occurred on the counter, and their blue blood was literally all over my hands...and arms, and elbows, and again, not sure how, but my hair, too. Yet my apron was completely devoid of blue. I'm really talented, y'all. Apparently my husband isn't the only one with childlike qualities in this house. And in the words of the great Analrapist (pronounced "uh-NAHL-ruh-pist"), Tobias Funke, "I blue myself..." I must have said this at least three times throughout the caking process. I do, however, consider it a win any time I get to incorporate an Arrested Development reference into my daily life because there's always money in the banana stand.
He sees you when you're sleeping...wait, that's not right.
I had the most fun working on Mr. Monster's eyeballs. These are just made of marshmallows so large I can't even fit one in my mouth without detrimental effects to my jaw occurring. Seriously, these things are the size of my fists. I cut one in half and then flattened the pieces out with my Bailey's lowball glasses. Yeah, not exactly kid tested OR mother approved, but those glasses got the job done right. My rolling pin was too large to flatten these in a nice eyeballish shape, and instead looked more like a rhombus. I am killing it with these 6th grade math references today. I then took chocolate melts, globbed a bit of frosting on the back, and pressed them on to the marshmallows. Finally, I chopped cookies in half and just shoved them into the icing where the mouth should be. But since Cookie Monster isn't exactly the daintiest of eaters from what I remember, I crushed up a cookie and sprinkled the crumbs around his mouth and chin, and finished up with a cookie border around his head cause he's always got cookie on the brain:
The addiction is real.
The cake was a funfetti cake (sticking with a theme here), and was almost completely gone by the night's end. We had just enough leftovers to enjoy two more slices, and we'll arm wrestle for the last tiny piece later, or act like adults and share it. I highly enjoyed seeing a bunch of adults running around with their mouths dyed blue from the frosting while jamming on some Capri Suns. My hubster sure knows how to have a party, alright. Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Please tell me this looks like cake to you...

Yellow cake is arguably the best smelling of all cake flavors. So don't make the same mistake I did today and pull one out of the oven and then sit down to eat a chef salad for lunch while the cakey aroma wafts through the air...because there is nothing more unbelievably unsatisfying as eating rabbit food for lunch while the delicious, buttery yellow cake smell haunts your nostrils. And this is even coming from someone who voluntarily likes and eats salads on a regular basis. Yes, there are actually people in this world who enjoy a good salad. I know our margins are insanely low compared to people in this world who enjoy a good piece of cake:
Topped with chocolate ribbon frosting, and sprinkles-
because they still make everything better.

I'll get to the deets about this chocolate-iced scrumptiousness here in just a moment...I feel my strikingly successful attempts at wooing you with my humor every weekend has earned me a small "whine and cheese" session (that's what I call it when I bitch about things and have a glass of wine handy; it sounds so much more entertaining that way). It has been one of those weeks around here. Between dust storms making me even more embarrassed about living in the armpit of NM while I tried to entertain family on a very brief visit (timing may or may not have been affected by said dust storms), things randomly popping up dead around here (birds, rodents), and finding snakes in the yard (OK, so it was just the one, but still), I'm about ready to consider becoming a full-time shut in. All the while when I was dealing with dead animal carcasses and existential crises solo this week, my lucky hubster was working down in Hawaii for a week, flying and hobnobbing with celebrities...
I'm not sure what she's wearing, but she's still fabulous either way.
Can we talk about how jealous I am??!? I mean, I know I shouldn't be because he was working the whole time he was gone minus one day, but how fortuitous that he gets to meet the House Bunny herself, Anna Farris, on his ONE day off! He really has the luck of the Irish on his side. Apparently my heritage is not nearly as kind and obviously more self deprecating. I definitely probably made myself a few drinks with tiny umbrellas in them this week to soothe my longing for tropical regions. Thank you for allowing me to whine, now, on to the tasty part...
Don't look, its naked!
I finally got to try out my cake leveler (pictured above) with this cake. Normally I don't because I'm awesome at evening out my batter before throwing it in the oven, and directly after a 10-minute cooling period, I place my cakes face-side down on a towel on my cooling rack, which flattens everything out even further. But since this cake obviously was aware of the theme of my week, it decided to come out a bit lopsided and disappointing. Looking for a silver lining, I was antsy to use my leveler because it combines two of my favorite things: garotte wire a la Hitman, and end results of perfection. You also better believe I ate that discarded piece in the back with a dollop of chocolate frosting...just making sure my cake was safe to eat before giving it to friends and taking one for the team. I'm extremely loyal like that.
It's so..smooth.
Last week I told you about my failure when it came to smoothing canned butter cream...pictured above is my crumb coat with canned chocolate frosting. I wasn't even trying and this stuff smoothed on like the cake gods were giving me the win I so desperately needed. I was honestly a little sad to cover it up. But since Kate doesn't bake plain cakes, I went for the gold...
Chocolate ribbon, squee!
And proceeded to ribbon the entire cake. Here you see it without its top layer of frosting, or cake toupee, if you will. This technique is fairly straight forward. All a caker needs is frosting of his or her choice, piping bag fitted with a petal tip, and strong wrists. Starting with the small end of the petal tip facing your fine self, hold the bag straight up and down and pipe out little ribbons, swaying your wrist back and forth. By the time I was halfway through icing this cake, I realized my entire body was mimicking the swaying of my wrists, and the cake and I had been having an intimate, junior-high style slow dance together. "Careless Whisper" was of course playing in my mind, and cake, I'm never gonna dance again, the way I danced with you. But mostly because I hate dancing. So, don't take it personally.
We've gone from naked cake, to bald cake, to fully clothed and covered cake.
To add the cake toupee, just ribbon in the circle with the small end of the petal tip still facing you. To cover up any premature balding spots, just add sprinkles (we can't all be perfect).

I was SO worried about the chocolate icing just looking like a  poo-cake. But, thanks to the ribboning, even if it does look like a piece of poo to you, I think we can both agree it is the prettiest piece of poo you've seen all week, amiright? Other than sore wrists (its tedious, people!), this one turned out almost as I had planned, so I owe the cake gods a sacrifice. Looks like I'll be eating another salad for lunch tomorrow to appease the gods while looking for wrist strengthening exercises and leaving the cakes be. Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Royal Icing is a Royal Pain in my...

Hand. What did you think I was going to say? Okay, given my propensity for colorful language, I can see how that was misleading, and I apologize. So here's a picture of a really pretty cake I made this weekend to make up for it:
Straightforward- simply cake by Kate.
Better? Yes. Moving on then...this little lovely lady did not take me anywhere NEAR as long as last week's petal cake. However, I have found that I have an extreme love/hate relationship with royal frosting. That's the stuff the flowers are all made out of...pretty much just a buttload of powdered sugar, with a sprinkling of H20 and meringue powder. Now, since life likes to make my path to victory and world domination through cute cakes as muddled as possible, let me tell you about how these flowers almost became the tasty death of me.

Wilton and the people who made my meringue (I have to sound it out as I type it so as not to misspell it- mur-an-gay! ole!)  powder have totally conflicting ideas on how one should go about making royal icing. And in both cases, they were WRONG. The first batch I tried to make via Wilton's methods, and my icing ending up like a runny booger...yum. The second I put it into a piping bag, it was running out so profusely it was like the nose of an allergy-ridden person sitting in a room full of twenty cats and fresh cut dandelions. Not one to give up on the first try (that's a total lie), I went for round two with the meringue powder's recipe. Once again I was left with snot-like icing. Boogergate really got me down, so I turned to my dear friend the internet to figure out what I was doing wrong aside from wasting copious amounts of powdered sugar. I was covered in so much sugar I know I had to look like I was fresh off a week-long coke binge. Cakes and drug references all in one blog...you guys are so fortunate to know me. I'm still finding sugary film on random kitchen accoutrements. But apparently my problem is that I'm too trusting in recipes from well-known baking companies (filthy liars), and you should never add as much water as they tell you to create royal frosting. The third time was truly a charm, and I spent quite some time piping out drop flowers:
So many flowers, so much hand cramping.
Here's the thing about stiff icing- it's stiff. So stiff that I had to take breaks after a few columns or my hand certainly would've fallen off. I've been told I grossly over exaggerate things, but I'm almost positive that's how it would've gone down. I'm very happy with how they turned out, and after a night out to dry, these little babies were as hard as a tasty little hockey puck that melts on your tongue. I know because I tried several...as you can see from the empty spaces in the picture above.

My friends that I caked for this weekend requested a chocolate cake. I've yet to do chocolate because I feared it would require at least 35 gallons of white frosting to cover up the cake's dark color. I was completely right (victory!). I ended up piping lots of decorations on the side to help conceal the chocolate below. That sounds like a really bad title for a romance novel...The Chocolate Below, a novel about one baker's lust for chocolate and sex with some guy who bears a striking resemblance to Count Chocula.

Annnyyywayyy...I have been watching Youtube video after Youtube video on how to smooth canned icing on to a cake, and well, I suck at it, but have gotten better thanks to the videos...
Them sides are almost as smooth as a baby's tushy.
I know, if I want smooth cakes, why not use fondant instead? Because fondant is awful and I should kick you for even suggesting that without actually suggesting that. Cakes are made to be eaten! Fondant, I'm almost certain, is made to outlast an atomic bomb. So that really can't be good for your digestive tract...and icing is the whole reason to eat a cake anyway! I am 100 percent positive that if it was socially acceptable, people would just gather around giant tubs of icing with their preferred spoon at weddings, birthdays, and other festivities and go to town. I want to live in that world. But as I was smoothing my icing yesterday to the sultry sounds of Shirley Manson and the boys of Garbage, her singing "Go baby go go" inspired me to press on.
This woman is perfect, and I hope she would like my cakes.
Annnnd I pressed right on to adding some gorgeous sprinkles to the top of my cake. Because sprinkles say "I'm here to party," and not "I quit trying to do this before I suffered a mental breakdown." 
Sprinkles make everything better.
Overall, I am quite happy with how "pretty" this cake turned out to be. I know I am going to have to start making my own butter cream frosting in order to do the "paper towel trick" to smooth out my icing and have that blemish-free cake of my dreams. I'm so getting on that level, people. Next week I am venturing into barely explored territory and frosting a cake with chocolate icing. I'm hoping it doesn't turn out looking like a giant piece of poo, but you'll find out all about that in a week's time. And although it is extremely hard not to dive in to a cake after it makes my house smell like a delicious paradise, the real victim in all of this is Hank the cowdog. He hopes (and salivates) with all his might and cuteness that Mom may drop the odd piece of frosting or cake on the floor, but to no avail. Instead she just tortures him by making the house smell completely edible. Til next time, my fellow eaters!
"Hi! Don't forget about me being super cute down here
and posing for all your crazy ass photos, MOM."