Saturday, November 15, 2014

Metallic magic

A colleague and friend asked me to make a cake to celebrate her mother's 60th birthday. She was looking for something simple and elegant, so we went with a rustic icing texture and metallic sugar pearls around the bottom of each tier:

Just goes to show that you don't need to go fussy to go beautiful and sophisticated!


Monday, October 27, 2014

Dia de los Muertos

This fall, I participated in another decorating competition through Pastry Chicago and The French Pastry School. This was the 8th Annual Haunted Cupcake Competition, and the cupcakes were judged based on their originality and being haunted, funny, or scary. I wanted to do something intricate and beautiful (versus gory), so I decided on a Dia de los Muertos theme. I made Ginger Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing, which I topped with fondant sugar skulls and roses:

All the cupcakes were evaluated by an incredibly distinguished and intimidating panel of judges: Chef Nicole Bujewski, Chef Instructor of The French Pastry School of Kennedy-King College at City Colleges of Chicago, demonstrated several techniques perfect for decorating Halloween cupcakes and beyond. The panel of judges included Memo Aguilar, Pastry Chef at Vanille Patisserie; Evan Bockenfeld, Manager at Magnolia Bakery; Angela Kelly, Management Recruiter at Mariano's Fresh Market; Elysia Root, Owner/Pastry Chef at Elysia Root Cakes; Kathy Summers, Executive Director of the Illinois Restaurant Association; and Joely Vargas, Production Manager at Magnolia Bakery.

And, shockingly, I came in third place! I can't believe my cupcakes were judged by such heavy hitters in the pastry world!!! It was such a fun competition, and I can't wait to participate in more events in the future. 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Hollywood send-off

A dear friend of mine was recently offered an amazing opportunity to move to Los Angeles to help build out the West Coast office for her company. Although I am disappointed to see her go, I'm so proud of her accomplishment and know she is going to be incredibly successful in her endeavors!

She had a going away party at a local bar, so I made a two-tiered LA-themed cake, complete with the Hollywood sign and Santa Monica Pier and beach.

So sad to see Katie go, but so proud of her! And now I have someone to visit when winter gets unbearable here in Chicago!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Personal development

Sometimes, when I get blue or bored, I force myself to try something new or have a new experience. A few weeks ago, I took a walking architecture tour of a neighborhood near me, and it was such a great opportunity to get out of the house, meet new people, and learn something new. This week, I decided to try my hand at macarons, which I'd never made before. It was HARD, and I had to make two batches before I get them even close to right (the first batch went straight in the trash!), but I can't wait to make them again!
Pink with pretty metallic accents

Check out those feet!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer lovin'

I had about three weeks to recover from the last wedding cake debacle before embarking on the next one. The decorating on this cake was much simpler and more rustic, and I wasn't IN the wedding! But, I still had to travel - not as far as Pennsylvania, but still pretty far, and in even warmer weather.

This is easily the biggest cake I've ever made. This was a four-tier cake with an 18" tier, a 14" tier, a 10" tier, and a 6" tier. This cake is designed to serve 197! And, I learned something new while baking this cake - my oven is only 18" deep! So, baking an 18" cake is quite the challenge.

Like last time, I started baking 2 weeks before the wedding. But, given the size restrictions in my freezer, I actually had to slice the 18" cake into semi-circles before freezing. I also made the gum paste peonies ahead of time, using the bride's beautiful color and pearl colors to inspire me:
Prep work
Coral beauty
Pro tip: always make extras!
Again, as before, I decorated each tier individually, and packed them up to make the trip to Cleveland, OH.
The challenge of traveling with an 18" cake!
If you can believe it, this drive was even hotter than the drive to State College. And, I didn't have the night to let the cake set up in the fridge once I arrived - I was driving the morning of the wedding. Unfortunately, when I got to the venue, things were very melty and very droopy. I had some time to re-ice, and I brought extra icing, which is great, but the icing itself was very soft, so I ran into some challenges.
Re-icing at the actual venue - not ideal!
This was another scenario in which "all things considered," I think the cake turned out beautifully. Again, the bride and groom loved it and were very happy, so that's what I'm putting in the bank.
Final product
I think the big takeaway here is that I will no longer be doing traveling cakes in the summer heat!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baking and bridesmaiding

I'm back from an epic East coast tour and am happy to report that my second of three wedding cakes for 2014 is done. This was a BIG DEAL for a few reasons. First, it was a big cake - four tiers. Second, not only was I making the wedding cake, but I was a bridesmaid as well - what an honor! Third, this was my first time doing an order (a) with string work and (b) with dark on light (navy piping on white icing!). Fourth, and most importantly, the wedding was not local - it was 568 miles away in State College, PA!

I started baking two weeks before the wedding. As long as you let your cakes cool completely and wrap them really well (I do 2 layers of saran wrap followed by 1 layer of aluminum foil), it is perfectly acceptable to bake ahead of time and then freeze your cakes. Now, if you are a normal human with the normal number of refrigerators in your home (which would be 1), this is only going to get you so far ahead of the game, but it's better than nothing.

I then decorated each tier the day before I left for PA. I used Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which is perfectly safe at room temperature, though I wanted the cakes to be as cold as possible before I left since they were going to sit in a car for 11 hours... Unfortunately, since I am still a normal human with a normal number of refrigerators in my home, I could not fit all four tiers in the refrigerator at once, meaning they had to take turns in the refrigerator overnight.

Fast forward to the drive to PA. It was HOT. So so very hot. I had the air conditioner on full blast, but I just knew in my heart of hearts that it was too hot for the poor cakes, which were stuck in the backseat and trunk of the car. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do about that... When I arrived at the venue in PA, the cakes were looking VERY MELTY and VERY DROOPY, which caused me to melt into a puddle of tears.

This is where I have to give a shout-out to the fine folks at the Nittany Lion Inn. The event planner took one look at my tear-streaked face and immediately went into problem solving mode. I needed to be at the wedding rehearsal in one hour, and then had to make my appearance at the rehearsal dinner following - because, remember, not only was I baking for the wedding, but I was also IN the wedding. He made room in the walk-in cooler for the cake, introduced me to the kitchen manager, and set up time and space for me to come fix the cake first thing the following morning (the day of the wedding, ARE YOU KIDDING ME). The kitchen manager even offered to whip up batches of extra icing for me, which was SO GENEROUS, but luckily this was not my first time at the wedding cake rodeo, so I had brought plenty of extra - it was just very, VERY soft from the car ride.

The next morning, I appeared in the kitchen at 5:30am. I needed to be ready for a hair appointment at 9am. It was go time. I did as much repair on the individual tiers as I could, which was a challenge, since with the heat, the dark navy icing had bled into the beautiful white icing underneath. I then stacked the cakes, added the borders, and bit off all my nails as I watched two very strong men move the cake from the table onto a ROLLING CART to put back into the walk in freezer. I then prayed to all the gods of cake and headed off to fulfill my bridesmaid duties.

The wedding was, of course, beautiful. We had a great time. I tried to forget about the cake since there was nothing I could do about it at this point!

Once we got back to the Inn, I went to check on the cake and help the caterers place it on the display table. Once again, I bit off what remained of my nails while I watched two very strong men move the cake from the rolling cart to the cake table. I placed the gum paste flowers on the cake and called it a day!
The final product
The beautiful bride and groom
In the end, Jack and Lauren loved it, and that should be all that matters.

From my perspective, I am happy with how the cake turned out, all things considered. I don't like that caveat, though, "all things considered." I want to be happy with how the cake turned out, period. So, I chalk this up to a learning experience... and now I have some good strategies for next time!


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Winner winner, cookie dinner!

This past weekend, I participated in Pastry Chicago's seventh annual Spring Cookie Competition. This is a competition for amateur and student bakers, and was held at The French Pastry School. One of the most fun parts about participating was that we were given a tour of the school and treated to a decorating demonstration by one of the school's chef instructors - I was DEFINITELY tempted to quit my day job and enroll in full-time pastry school!

The competition was sponsored by Plugra Butter, Nielsen-Massey Vanilla, and American Almond, so we were required to use all three products in our recipes, which we had to develop on our own. The challenge was to come up with a unique almond shortbread recipe, and to decorate the cookies in a "spring flower" theme.

Now, historically, I have not decorated my shortbread cookies - to me, they are much more about flavor than they are about aesthetics. So, I decided to toe the line between flavor and decorating, and created an almond shortbread "nest" that I filled with a violet-scented chocolate ganache. Using the violet flavor and aroma in the ganache gave me a great excuse for decorating these nests with royal icing violets, tying together the flavor and the decorating, which is something I love to do.

Sweet and simple
Big winner!
I was so surprised and honored to win against some very stiff competition. It was such a fun event, and I will definitely be participating again in the future!


Monday, April 28, 2014

Spring showers for summer weddings

In preparation for another wedding cake I am doing this summer, I did these beautiful bridal shower cookies! Again, I just love how you can customize this simple and elegant design to match the wedding colors.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Just the thing for a girls' night in

This week, I had the incredible honor of making a very special Icing Smiles cake. The recipient of this cake is a 12-year-old girl who had been moved into hospice and wanted to have a fun, laughter-filled girls' night with her friends. I cannot imagine the strength it takes to have OR attend such an event, so I wanted to create something really special for her.

I was told that there was no specific theme required for the cake, but she "is definitely a girly girl" and loves pink and purple. I couldn't think of a better option for her party than makeup and animal print!

First, I made the makeup for the top tier of the cake using a mixture of fondant and gum paste, so it would dry hard. These pieces are "edible," in that they are safe to eat, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it!
Eyeshadow and blush palette
I think these lipsticks are some of the cutest
things I have ever made
All the makeup components, ready for drying!
Next, I covered the bottom tier in a hot pink and black zebra pattern:
Can't get much girlier than this!
I chose to cover the top tier in bright purple fondant, which I quilted and studded with white sugar pearls. This was my first time quilting fondant, and while I'm relatively happy with how it turned out, I definitely could have done a better job with my measuring and spacing.
Full cake
Can I get a close up? I absolutely LOVE
the effect of the pearl dust on this cake!
I am so happy with how this cake turned out. I heard that the recipient and all her friends ooh-ed and aah-ed over it, and that it was better than she even dreamed. I am so honored to have the opportunity to use my talents to brighten someone's day, and I am grateful to be able to participate in Icing Smiles.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Showering the bride with love

Bridal shower cookies are one of my favorite things to make. They are so simple and elegant, and can easily be customized to match the wedding colors.

This weekend, I traveled to Philadelphia, PA, to celebrate my cousin's fiance's bridal shower and bachelorette party. I will also be making their wedding cake this summer, which is a HUGE honor (and I'm in the wedding, which will make for an interesting challenge!), so I wanted to prove my chops with cookies for the shower.
Navy and white to match the bride's colors
The secret here is to make your fondant/gum paste flowers ahead of time with a small extruder/punch - then the piping can be really simple for a clean and elegant look. I had a little bit of navy-on-white bleed from the airline travel (cookies travel pretty well, but it was hot and dark colors on light colors is always a risk), but all in all, I think they turned out beautifully!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

A sleek and sophisticated wedding cake

This weekend, I had the honor of making a three-tiered wedding cake for a colleague's wedding celebration. They chose to elope in Jamaica, but had a party at a local restaurant when they got back to celebrate with their friends and families.

The bride chose a chocolate cake (I went with Smitten Kitchen's infallible chocolate butter cake!) with a simple white fondant covering, a metallic satin ribbon, and a monogrammed cake topper.

All dressed up and ready to go
Cakes always look better in their staged environment
A really lovely and elegant cake table
I think there's something really stunning about the simplicity of this cake, and it was a fun and challenging one to do - with this clean of a design, there's really no room for mistakes!