Monday, March 31, 2014

Tree Branch Wedding Cake

Finally, my cakes were good enough for someone to seek me out and pay me to do a cake.  It started as a bridal shower cake that was going to be plain white with a car that has a just married sign hung on the back with tin cans hanging.  But soon it turned into the wedding cake itself.  Cue the freak out.  This means business

I had one grainy picture from a text message to work from.  The idea was a plain white cake with a tree branch going up it.  Couldn't even distinguish the type of flowers.  The week before the wedding I got the added info that the bride like black and white.  (Note: I wasn't working directly with the bride but someone who was purchasing the cake as a gift).

I searched the Internets high and low for a good tree branch cake example.  And let me tell you, they are few and far between.  Most that I found were on a single layer cake (I had planned for 3 tiers) or they were really chunky.  Not the looks I was going for with my first paid gig.  This had to be spectacular.

During the search I did manage to find some examples of dogwood tree flowers that I really liked.  I at least had a flower idea to move forward with.  Since I didn't have a shape to use to cut these out of fondant, I drew something on a piece of paper then traced it onto the fondant with a sharp knife.  They turned out great once molded and put together.

This cake was scheduled to be picked up Friday night so I started by making the 3 sizes of cake on Thursday evening.  I went with 6", 8", and 10".  My first instinct was  to do 6", 10" and 14" (4" between sizes for 2" around each tier) but when I went to buy the 14" cake pan I realized I could probably feed 100+ people with the cake if I went this direction and I only needed to feed around 50.  The sizes I picked actually turned out perfectly.
Middle layer getting chocolate buttercream icing

Best tip: flip the top layer of each tier upside down for a smooth/flat surface to work with

Since these cakes had edges straight from the pan (ie: nothing I had to cut exposing the middle which has a lot more crumbs) I was able to do their icing very easily.  I watered down the buttercream enough that it was super smooth yet not running.  I laid in it thick to cover the edges of cardboard each tier would sit on.

The final step to layering the cake included placing dowel rods into each tier that would hold another tier on top.  I just placed them about an inch in from the edge of the tier above and 2 inches apart.  Then I dropped (yes literally held it where I thought it would be centered and dropped it while saying a prayer).  Once the tier is placed there is no moving it.

Once they were stacked I created a border between each tier so they didn't look so rough and made it look like a uniform cake.  Then I made tiny fondant balls and placed them within the border.

Ready for a picture?

Isn't she a beauty?

Doing the branches that crawled up the cake was a go with the flow procedure.  I just grabbed a handful of fondant and made a thick bottom then I thinned it out as I moved upward.  I knew that adding a limb after the fact wouldn't look good so anywhere I thought a limb would look nice i just squeezed some fondant to the side.  Once I got to a stopped point I ripped off the extra fondant and molded a final small limb.  Then I went back and created all the other limbs.  I had one branch climbing up the entire cake with 2 small branches each spanning 2 tiers on the front then an additional small branch on the back.

You can see the border a lot better here.

The top of the cake is always the big question for me.  What do I do.  My go to has always been a stack of flowers.  That's how my wedding cake had been done and I've seen it online for cakes so I went with it.  I placed a big blob of icing then laid 4 flowers around it and a flower on the top.  

The final step was a light dusting of silver shimmer over the branches, inside of the flowers and border.  I accidentally used a wet brush when I started on the branches and found out a really liked how it gave a textured look to them since I was almost "painting" them.  For everything else I used a dry brush and dusted the powder on.  You can see a bit of the veining in the above photos on the branches.  The shimmer is so light that it doesn't really photograph but in person it is noticeable.

Well now I can take that out of the books.  First wedding cake, DONE!

Have you been to any weddings yet this year?  The Season of Love is soon upon us!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thomas Cake

My oldest niece turned 3 right after Christmas.  Finally after everyone got over being sick in their house, we threw a party to celebrate.  This year the request was for a Thomas the Tank Engine themed party.  Since I helped out last year by making her cake I offered to do so again.  I figured a well known character would be easier than a character I had never heard of (Kipper from last year is a British TV show character).  Not so...

I searched around Pinterest for ideas on how to create a Thomas the Tank Engine cake.  I filled my Cakes/Cupcakes board with quite a few tutorials and googled the heck out of images of Thomas.  It slowly started to come together as I worked on the cake but I had my doubts until the very end.

My mess of a kitchen.

I baked a large sheet pan cake (approximately 4 boxes of cake mix) on Thursday for the party Saturday. I broke the large sheet cake into some smaller pieces (but not so much that it wouldn't be large enough to use) then placed in the fridge overnight. On Friday morning I pulled everything out and built the cake.  I used multiple layers and shapes and did a layer of icing between everything to make it stick.

Building the layers.

I placed this back in the fridge just a bit for it to "harden" up some.  This makes it a lot easier to ice without tiny pieces of cake crumbs being loose.

A good ol' "dirty" icing

This is the point where I found out due to sickness the party was cancelled and freaked out.  Then I consulted Lord Google himself and found out I could freeze the cake.  Guess I could have figured that out myself being that our wedding cake is still in the freezer sitting around for another bite at year 3.  So I placed this into the freezer to harden up the icing before wrapping it.  The next day I pulled it out quickly, wrapped with Saran Wrap and placed back in the freezer until who knows when at that point.

Once the party was rescheduled I pulled out the cake Friday afternoon before the Saturday party.  I spent the evening putting a thicker layer of icing on the cake.  It went on nice and smooth since the "dirty" icing left a better surface to work on.  Then I layered it in fondant (trying not to think about that tough task) and did all the little decorative elements.

Layer of fondant on.

Starting to look more like a train.

Top view.

Thomas himself (I made this way early so it would harden, it's from fondant as well) and train wheels (fondant circle with icing spokes)

Railroad crossing signs.

Train Tracks.

Saturday morning I was up early and assembling the final touches.  I also had to make the cupcakes that I was bringing to the party because I'm never sure how many my cakes will really feed.

For your viewing pleasure: Thomas the Tank Engine.

Happy Birthday sweet girl!

Like I said, in the end I liked how it turned out, but I was doubtful during the process.  Not perfect but the birthday girl was happy and that's all that matters.

So glad this bad boy survived an hour and a half drive to the party as well.

Any birthday parties you've been celebrating lately?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Organize It: The pantry

On to the next spot in the house needing some organization.

I don't remember how we lived without the huge open kitchen and ample pantry area in our first house.  In all honestly we didn't really have less stuff but when we moved and had more room, every nook and cranny was still full.  I'm not sure how it happens, but I bet you all know the feeling.

I blame it on organization.  In the townhouse I tried to keep things very organized since there was so little space.  Things were grouped together, stacked, placed in boxes, etc.  I might have had to move something to get another item but that was the way it would all fit.  When we moved and started deciding how to organize the new place, we spread out a bit more.  The small plates weren't stacked on the large plates which were on top of the serving plates.  There was no longer stacks of 4 glasses but each sitting by themselves in the cabinet.

The pantry for the longest time was the catch all for kitchen items that had no place.  The land of the misfit kitchen items.  It was becoming a problem though.  A problem that needed fixed before it got too out of hand.

Hey you lovely mess!  Don't be fooled by the few organized areas.  Or the fact that I removed some items before I remembered to take a picture.

I pulled everything out and spread it out on the kitchen table and counters.  I started grouping everything together that once put back in would sit in one spot.  We have serving platters, storage containers, pastas, baking supplies, all the extra paper towels we buy in bulk (why do we do this?!), knives, the griddle and foreman.

I could barely fit half of these items in there without warning people to not open the doors.

Don't forget the random s'mores supplies next to the soup and tea bags.

Next step was to think about what we use most often.  What items are just stored in here.  How to I fit the most item into the space.  How can I configure all the boxes to not take up valuable shelf space.

Top shelves

Drink at the top.  We don't drink very often so this doesn't have to be handy.  This is also all the extra that doesn't fit with the liquor and things.  We're hoping to find a wall mount wine rack we can use in the dining room.  We also have a large serving bowl and some gallon drink containers if we're mixing something up.  Hidden to the right is the griddle and foreman.

Next shelf down has a lot of my baking supplies, the cupcake stand which holds various items as well.  We have a large seashell shaped serving bowl (from my wedding shower) that holds all the ready to make pastas (yes, these are a staple in our meals).  Then on the far right is the pasta in Oxo containers and cereal.

I love the organization this bowl of pasta gave us.

Bottom levels

I forgot a picture of the one level that is cut off in the above picture.  It has pancakes mixes, our knife block, soup (which we buy in bulk as well), breakfast bars, oatmeal.

Next is a lot of the storage items we buy in bulk (paper towels, napkins, ziplock bags).  Then cans dressing, other supplies that last longer.  To the right (which you can see below) is all our snack stuff like chips and cookies.

The bottom shelf and the floor house all the party supplies, boxes of serve ware and coolers.

Lookin' good.

The organization of the pantry has definitely made daily life a lot easier.  I know I said most items aren't used frequently, but something in here is used at least daily.  So opening the doors up and knowing exactly where to look is nice.  It's kept up petty well so far (a few days) so we'll see how this set-up works for the long haul.  I'm sure there will be some adjusting.

Do you buy any items in bulk?  Any handy tips on organizing a pantry you'd like to share?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Organize It: The ribbon box

Today starts me cleaning of the catch all room.  As I've mentioned before we bought a much larger house to become our forever home.  It has rooms we don't even use.  Heck, the kitties have full reign of the 500 sq. ft basement that I rarely see.  The one thing I think our house is really missing is a proper mud room.  I live in Ohio people, 80% of the year the weather sucks and I have wet, muddy, or snowy shoes that need removed and a coat to take off and hang.  Our laundry room is right across from the door we enter through (from the garage) and we place all shoes and coats here.  But when I walk in the house with my arms full of stuff from shopping, it goes in the catch all room.

This is also known as the craft room, the office, the back room, the workout room....the list goes on.  We just got a cable box for back there so I've been spending more time in there cleaning up and organizing.  To organize the whole room though, there are a lot of little things I must organize first.  I'm getting there, tiny bits at a time.

Enough rambling.

For a few years now I've had a box thrown in with my scrapbook stuff where I store ribbon.  Spools, tiny pieces, from gifts, scraps I find.  Every little bit!  I started by throwing out the worthless stuff then went ahead organizing the rest.

Nothing too scary right?

WRONG!  Pop that bad boy open (well actually it wouldn't even shut) and you have an explosion!

I tried to roll them up then lay into the box, but they kept unrolling.  No bueno.

Laying nearby in the crafts pile were a bunch of twist ties left over from small clear plastic gift bags.  I usually use ribbon to tie them up instead but have kept the twist ties.  I decided to give them a go.

At first I wrapped it under and around, but I found that it was squeezing the ribbon too much.  If it stayed like that for a long time, when I go to unwrap and use sometime it wouldn't be smooth.

So I switched to tying from one side to the other.  I left it loose, squeezed it tight and then twisted.  These seemed to work great.  Bad description, let's look at some pictures.

Looking neat and pretty

Thick ribbon, thin ribbon

Rope and chord

Patterned and solid

Alright, that's starting to sound a bit like a Dr. Seuss book.

I organized it all.  Every last piece got wrangled up and twist tied.

Ahh, organized

I'm happy with the results and that everything now fits into the box.  Part of the reason the box never shut before though was because of the spools of ribbon I have.  A few I took off since there wasn't much left, but other larger rolls have been tossed into the crafts bin for now.  Organizing that is another day.

Nice.  Clean.  Organized.

And that my friends is the tale of the ribbon taming.

What are you organizing around your place?  Or are you waiting for Spring cleaning to really kick you in the butt?