Peony Wedding Cake for Jennie!

May 23, 2011

Being the eldest out of three girls, it was especially emotional for me to see my kid sister all grown up and exchanging vows.  In my eyes, she'll always be the little girl that loved to shine in front of the cameras (not like that has changed much), and whose giddiness was contagious after the clock struck midnight.  In early March, our families witnessed the marriage of Jennie to Steven, whose dorkiness is awesome.  I really wanted to make a wedding cake then, but living out of a suitcase in San Francisco for a week didn't really make that possible.  Luckily, with family and friends everywhere, the two newlyweds had to plan two extra wedding receptions... one in L.A., and the last one in our hometown Chicago.  Woot Woot!

Since it's my sister, the cake had to be amazing and delicious.  The design of the cake was left entirely to me.  Creative freedom is always a plus in my book.  Starting with the color palette, I chose her default color from childhood, Pink! Mine was blue, Jennie's was pink, and Linda's was purple (and still is).  I decided to use different shades of pink and in different values.  I wanted the cake to look monochromatic elegant, and not Barbie childish.  After selecting the colors, I created the design by taking notes from their two wedding invites.  The first invite was from their actual wedding, whose contemporary graphics consisted of light pink swagging strings of beads.  The invite for the Chicago event was a modern take on the traditional Chinese invitation, whose embossed peonies became my main decorative element.

I began with the gumpaste peonies and researched for tutorials.  I have never made a peony prior to this, so this was going to a challenge.  It could go either way, I could totally breeze through these or get frustrated out of my mind.  Luckily, It didn't quite get to the latter.  It does take some practice though.  Using peony cutters, I started wrapping the smaller petals around a small ball of gumpaste attached to a 20 gauge floral wire.  After my first two layers, I noticed that my peony was looking more like a small cabbage.  It also felt really heavy.  I did not like how it looked or felt.  I knew this was not going to work on my cake.  I started all over and used CelBuds instead.  These are bud shaped styrofoam that I could insert a wire through it and twist the wire to secure in place.  There was no way that my peony would fall off the wire when I hang it upside down.  I began on the petals differently too.  I started with the largest petals and attached them to wires, and ruffled the petals with a ball tool on a thin foam pad.  I then allowed these to dry in shallow flower formers.  The smaller petals were cut out and I ruffled them the same way, but attached them to the CelBuds.  I used a skinny veining tool to open up the petals more and hung them upside down to dry.  After the first layer was dried, the second layer of petals were attached, opening up slightly more than the last.  Once these were dried, the largest petals on the wires were attached by wrapping the wires around the center wire.  These were then covered with floral tape for a clean look.  Each petal was then accented with a blush of deep rose petal dust for life-like and subtle color.  Notice that some were left as closed buds for variation.

Now that the challenging part was over ( or so I thought), it was time to bake the yummy goodness that everyone will enjoy!  Green tea with raspberry whip filling! Yes, this was my first attempt at this recipe and I never thought that finding cooking grade green tea matcha would be so hard.  I think it took me about three days to find some, and some that didn't cost me an arm and a leg.  I eventually found some and it was definitely worth it.  It had a subtle sweetness that I really liked.  The cake consisted of three levels of stacked cake, with a 14" bottom, 12" middle, and a 10" top.  It was a lot of cake.  I was really worried about how level the cake would rise, and how evenly baked they would be.  Good thing I had my Even Bake strips, and that I found a neat trick that uses a flower nail to help the baking process.  A flower nail is placed head down in the center of the pan and the cake batter is poured around it.  It acts like a heating core, but there no huge hole to fill later.  My cake baked so even that I didn't have to level my cake!  Amazing!  Each one was then torted after cooling, filled with a non-dairy raspberry whip, and stacked accordingly.  I crumb-coated each one after allowing them to settle.  This helps eliminate the side bulges.  White vanilla fondant covered each cake, and then smooth to perfection.  To carry on my color theme with out over doing it, I airbrushed on a pink sheen on each one prior to assembling the cake.

Construction is very important when dealing with a cake of this size and weight, I think it was total of 50 lbs.  I inserted 8 cake dowels in the bottom cake, and 6 in the middle level.  The cake was then stacked and held in place by a long dowel down the center.  I did not want this cake to move during my 45 minutes drive.  A pale pink ribbon of fondant was rolled out with the help of a pasta roller, and trimmed each cake level.  A brighter pink was then used in a 9mm beading mold and trimmed the ribbon.  To continue on the look of their first invite, random lengths of beads were attached to the cake for a modern flair.  The gumpaste peonies were attached to the cake onsite, and I couldn't be happier with result.  I hope she loved it as much as I wanted to make something special for her.

Congrats again sis, and welcome to our crazy family, Steven!

Rainbow Cake for Kylee and Bethany

May 20, 2011

At the beginning this month,  I was asked to create one most colorful cakes ever. . . a rainbow cake!  But this was not just a cake, it was a cake with a spectrum of shimmering cake pops and a fantasy horse!  This cake was for Thu's eldest daughter who was turning 4, and her niece who was going to be 6.  Her daughter, Kylee, has a love for black horses, and Bethany loves anything shimmery and colorful.  This cake was a mash up of the girls fave things. 

Thu requested cake pops, and they were perfect for the concept of this cake.  They would make up a bright and shimmery rainbow, and a lovely black horse would sit nearby on a cloud pedestal.  The base of this cake was a delicious marble, and the cake pops were round balls of yummy vanilla and moist chocolate cake.  This cake required some careful planning to achieve the perfect arch of colors.  I created a template in Adobe Illustrator with a 9 x 13 cake as my guide.  This allowed me to figure out how many cake pops in a certain color was required to fill the space, and at what size I should make my cake pops to fit properly.  Once I had my template, it was on to creating my little black horse.  I have to admit, it took me two tries to create a horse I was happy with.  I've never made a horse like this before, and I had to steer away from it looking too much like a pony. . . Okay, so I was kinda worried.  My first horse started to look resemble a mix between a donkey and a cow.  It was not what I going for.  I finally realized that my shaping and positioning of the limbs that was affecting the overall look.  A horse has a very defined muscle structure, and this guy looked like it hadn't hit the gym in years!  Time for a do-over and some photo inspiration, and the horse was looking so much better.  Thin ropes of green for the horse's mane brought this little guy to life.  Kylee requested glitter in the it's mane and that is what she gets.  After the hair was set in place with gum glue, some edible glitter was lightly brushed on foe some shimmer.

Two batches of cake were made for the cake pops, one in vanilla and the other in chocolate.  The cakes were then crumbled and mixed with some butter cream.  The key is to not add too much at a time, and not make the mixture too moist.  You don't want the cake balls to fall apart when you try to coat them.  Using the template I created, I shaped the cake balls to the correct size and placed them in the fridge to firm up.  I left them in for a couple hours before attempting to coat them.  Working with 4 at a time, I dipped the end of a lollipop stick into the melted candy coating and inserted it halfway into the cake balls.  In one continuous motion, I dipped the cake pops into the candy coating in the colors needed.  I remove excess candy coating from the covered cake pops by tapping on the inside of my wrist after dipping them in.  Tap the same wrist that is holding onto the cake pops.  This helps lessen the force to the cake end, and lessen the chance of them falling off the stick.  After they were coated, matching disco dust was sprinkled on to add a little bling.

The base cake was torted and filled with buttercream, then crumb coated with more of the same yummy stuff.  Since we had a rainbow, clouds and a blue sky just seemed natural as the backdrop for the cake pops.  I kneaded white and blue fondant together, but not completely intergrated.  This creates swirls of blue and white, mimicking clouds floating in sky.  This was used to cover the base layer of cake, then smoothed to perfection.  Using my template ( so glad I made this thing), I marked the location of each cake pop.  This ensured that they fit perfectly, and the arch looked smooth.  A pedestal made from cereal treat was covered in white fondant, and placed in the upper corner.  This was the perfect platform for my little horse to view the lovely rainbow from.

A new twist to the phrase, "Taste the rainbow!".

Jacob's First Birthday... A cute cake for the little tiger!

May 19, 2011

Jungle cakes have been a common theme for me, but this one was special.  This one features a cute tiger named Jacob, and it was his 1st birthday!

When Carol messaged me about making a cake for Jacob, she only had one request.  Jacob was born under the Chinese horoscope year of the tiger, and that set the tone for this cake.  She wasn't sure if she wanted a stacked cake or if she wanted a small 3D cake in the shape of the a tiger.  For the number of servings, I recommended a stacked construction, adorned with various baby animals and the very special tiger on top.  I just love to make gumpaste animals.  They are the cutest things as they come to life in my hands.  The little guys were created one week ahead to allow for proper drying time ( and any falling limbs ).  I then rolled out a thin sheet of green 50/50 mixture of fondant and gumpaste, and cut out leaves using a cutter.  To give them a nice life like movement, a ball tool was used ruffle the edges on top of a thin foam pad.  Larger leaves were created and placed on wires to adorn Jacob's name on top of the cake.

The stacked cake started with two 10" layers of  lemon cake sandwiched around alternating layers of raspberry puree and bavarian cream.  The top level was two 8" layers of the same cake and yummy filling.  The two were then crumb coated with buttercream, smoothing out any imperfections.  The bottom layer received a blanket of green fondant and was smoothed to perfection.  The top was covered in a chocolate fondant and trimmed in the matching green asymmetrically.  This gives the appearance of rising grassland.  The very bottom was trimmed in a thin ribbon of chocolate fondant.  Using piping gel, I attached the animals in the appropriate positions and accented them with the jungle foliage.  Using a wooden plank imprint, I created a message sign just for the birthday boy.  This was affixed to the front of the cake with a little gum glue.  Winding vines and blades of grass gave this cake the final touches it needed.  Happy birthday to the little tiger!

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