Sunday, 21 August 2016

Working with Modelling Chocolate

A couple of years ago I was really reluctant to introduce modelling chocolate into my (cake decorating) life.
 I was just starting to get the hang of working with fondant, and making modelling chocolate sounded tricky. And fiddly. And like more work.
B-u-t I kept on hearing about how great it was to work with and knew that I'd have to capitulate and give it a try eventually.
And oh, boy am I glad that I did!
Now, I don't know how to work with plain fondant anymore. I have expectations based on the results that I get from a modelling chocolate/ fondant blend, that plain fondant just cannot match.
We don't have a great selection of good quality fondant icing available to us here in Durban. And that used to bug me. But it doesn't anymore. Because I've moved on, and the there's no looking back!

Everything on this birdhouse cake is a modelling chocolate / fondant blend. 

What do I like love about it?
It's ability to set fast and firm - like the roof of this birdhouse cake; placed flat on a cool surface, it firmed up in minutes but was still flexible enough to bend over the apex of the house.
The way it cuts - no snagging and feathering along the edges like fondant would.
It's versatility - paneling cakes (like the one above), modelling creatures, making delicate flowers, use in moulds; it does it all.
And then, of course there's it's taste.
 Chocolate does make everything better!

But, as you know - chocolate is not without its issues. So, let's look at one of those now:

In the process of making your modelling chocolate, you may land up with a crumbling mess.
Don't throw it away!

Here's how to rescue crumbling modelling chocolate:
Let it set for a few hours or overnight.
Then heat it briefly in the microwave to soften.
Knead it into a equal mass of fondant.

It may look like this ... !

Don't discard it!
Carry on kneading the crumbly modelling chocolate mess and the fondant together, mop up all the stray crumbs, and heat again briefly in the microwave.

Carry on kneading and it'll look like this - a perfect blend!

That transformation only took about 2 minutes to achieve. An extreme modelling chocolate make-over! How can you not love it?!

Happy decorating!


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Shark Cookies & Shark Cupcakes

And of course there were shark cookies...

Shark attack cookies!

 ...and shark cupcakes...

The cookies were the biggest hit. Usually at kids parties, there are bits of half-bitten eats scattered around, right?!
 Well, for a change the look was deliberate! And then they got properly devoured (the only boy who left a half-eaten one was my son...)
 The bite mark was created using the edge of a small hedgehog cutter. Which was just weird (hedgehog vs shark...?!)
The "jaws" design and shark-attacked surfboards were both inspired by Sweetsugarbelle.
And every boy went home with his own reef shark to nibble on.

The cupcakes were buttercream-covered red velvet, with a blackcurrent jam secret centre, just to hint at a bit of gore lurking in the depths. It was an 8 year old boy's party, ok! 

Shark-infested cupcakes!

I'll share the chocolate cake recipe that I used for the cake  with you soon.

Happy baking!


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Shark-Themed Birthday Cake

Ok, I'm just going to come right out and say it - I don't like sharks. Not one bit.
It's not that I'm afraid of them.
Ok, maybe I am, but my risk of encountering one is pretty low.  (I don't go into their space much.)
They hit my creep button, even from a distance, though. Big time.

 My son however, is fascinated by them; and knows all the different types. (Thanks largely to the game Hungry Sharks. Dreadful admission!).
So, I had little choice when he decided on a shark themed birthday party this year...

I took my time circling the idea though, before I had to finally take the plunge.
 (Did you get the way I made that a sharky/watery metaphor?!)

None of the shark cakes that I looked at for inspiration appealed, though. I just didn't see anything attractive in them, no matter how well executed they were. But then I found a couple of cartoon images that didn't completely freak me out, and began modelling the shark topper.

Those pink shark gums, though ... No way. I couldn't bring myself to add that feature to this guy.
 So he got a black mouth and a pink tongue.
 Do sharks have tongues?!
 Well, this one has a sneer, and a tongue. But no pink gums.

To cut out the teeth, I rolled a long thin sausage of paste (a modelling chocolate / fondant blend) and sliced it into small triangles. (I tried using a flat piece of paste first, but the teeth lacked dimension. Sharks teeth need to have dimension!)

The 2D sharks were cut out using printed templates (Google search "shark silhouettes").
 I placed the templates onto rolled-out paste, and used a pointed tool to outline the shape, then cut that out using a sharp craft knife.

As it happens,  I lost some of my antipathy towards sharks while I was cutting these out - they have a beautifully streamlined angular shape.  Very sugar-craft friendly..! 

The cake was covered with a modelling chocolate/ fondant blend that was marbled using a technique similar to this

So, do you think I can legitimately say it?  I survived a shark attack!

Happy decorating!


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Decorated Panda Cookies

School cake sales.
They never seem to coincide with the end of a session of classes when I've got demo cookies looking for a home. They're always smack-bang in the middle of a busy-baking period.  
Of course, I could just make popcorn, or buy a dozen doughnuts (which are both great sellers...)
But I don't.

I was already in cookie-decorating mode (for the ballerina classes and Jack's party), so why not make a few dozen more...?!
The plan was to keep it simple, though: Minimal colours. Like black and white. Pandas! Great idea. Simple.
But then they needed blue eyes.
And pink paws.
And character.

So, these simple panda cookies took me a whole afternoon to decorate.           

And we sold them for R5 each at the cake sale. 

The economics of cake sale are um... amusing
We provide the treats to the school.
And then we give our kids the money to buy the treats that we've supplied to the school. 
So basically we're paying for everything twice.  Funny, huh?!

That's parenting in a nutshell... You pay for it! 


Happy decorating!


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ballerina Cookies

I attended a ballet class once, when I was about 4.
We had to run around the stage pretending to scoop up flowers and place them in an imaginary basket. It was mid-term, so the other little girls had all been doing this for a few weeks already.
They knew where to run. But they hadn't learnt to be light-footed yet. And I got trampled in the stampede.

End of story.

But I love a ballet theme. Pink and pretty - it just makes me happy! (No stampede PTSD).
My daughter isn't interested in doing ballet, though (despite demanding the full kit a couple of years ago.) So we're unlikely to have a ballet-themed party for her.
I just had to schedule a ballerina cookie decorating class instead.

Those lovely twirling ballerinas are inspired by Sweetsugarbelle
(She has a number of suggestions of what to use for the faces; I used a ladybird fondant plunger-cutter set for these cookies.) 

You hardly see a set of ballet cookies without them these days. Such a clever idea! 

Now, mine is not nearly as clever, but here's how I turned a heart into a pair of ballet shoes: 

My  favourite out of this set, though, are these two sweet ballerinas - lost in their dance....


 I printed out a template image (Google search - "ballerina silhouette"); drew around it on the dried royal icing background, and then iced on the figures. 
The skirt ruffles are done using an Ateco 101 petal tip, and stiff royal icing. 

"Dancing is like dreaming with your feet"

Happy decorating!


Friday, 15 July 2016

Milk Tart (Easy!)

Now you're probably lucky enough to have been handed down Tannie or Ouma's favourite melktert recipe - as priceless as any family heirloom.
But not me. I only have vague memories of my Austrian grandmother (who did bake, but not milk tart), and none of my South African one (who probably didn't... with ten kids, I've gathered she was more of a hide-in-the-corner-with-a-bottle-of-gin kind of parent, anyway!).

So no local family recipes for me. That's ok. I have Magdaleen van Wyk's  Complete South African Cookbook, which covers everything from "Abalone (see Perlemoen)" to "Zucchini (See Marrows, baby)".
But its "Milk Tart (see Melktert)" recipe calls for folding stiffly beaten egg whites into the custard. And if I can avoid folding in egg whites, I do.

So this is the milk tart recipe that I use most... It's easy - you don't even have to bake the custard; tasty - which is kind of important! And it makes 2 tarts - one for your guests and one for you!

Milk Tart
Preheat the oven to 180'C
Grease 2 loose-based pie pans. (Will make 2 tarts.)

Pastry Ingredients
120 g sugar 
125g butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
320g cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat well. 
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix to form a stiff dough. 

Roll out the dough and press into the two pie pans. 
Bake at 180'C until the pastry is light golden brown (about 15min). 

 Filling Ingredients 

1 125 ml full cream milk (4 1/2 cups)
1 cinnamon quill
peel of 1 naartjie
200g sugar
3 eggs
2 tbs cake flour
2 tbs corn flour
1 tbs custard powder
1 tsp vanilla extract*
pinch salt

Cinnamon for sprinkling

Place the naartjie peel and cinnamon quill in the milk, and bring to the boil in a saucepan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until light and creamy.
Add in the vanilla, flour, corn flour, custard powder and salt.
Pour the boiling milk into this mixture. Stir well.
Return to the saucepan and the stove. Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens.
Remove the naartjie peel and cinnamon quill.

Pour into the baked pastry shells, and refrigerate until cool.
Sprinkle with ground cinnamon before serving.

* A melktert is traditionally flavoured with almond extract rather than vanilla. But I'm not a huge fan of the former; and I love a vanilla-flavoured custard.
I'm satisfied with the South African-ness of this dish - especially with the addition of the naartjie peel.
But you choose - feel free to add almond extract, instead!

Happy baking!


Monday, 11 July 2016

Feather Cookies

I found a reason to take that cookie dough out the freezer and get decorating! 
Our lovely au pair/ baby sitter, Shauna, celebrated her 21st birthday this weekend, and she asked me to do some cookies for the party. 
While I don't take on orders, I do entertain special requests. And this is a very special young lady, who is not only great with the kids (and the cats!), but has also chipped in to help us in reception at the practice now that my mother has become too ill to work there anymore.  
All off that, and a boho chic / shabby-chic theme: I couldn't possibly say no :o)  


Some of the party decorations were white feathers strung up on pink satin ribbon. So that was my starting point for these cookies. 
(I made a variety, but I'll share some of the others in another post). 

Here's how the feather cookies were done: 

I don't have a feather cutter, so I used a surf-board cutter and trimmed the ends freehand with a knife.  (Find my vanilla cookie recipe here.)

I outlined the top of the feather in pink and white below. (Outline with detail-consistency royal icing and an Ateco 00 tip or PME 1.5);  

then filled the top with pink flooding-consistency royal icing, 

and the area at the bottom with white flooding consistency royal icing. 

Using a scribe tool (a cocktail stick will work), I feathered the area where the two colours met, while the icing was still wet.

Here's a close up of the area  (you see the feathering, don't you?!)

Once the icing was dry, I used detail-consistency royal icing to add the central shaft to the feather. 

Fly free! 

Happy decorating!