Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Fun with fondant
The very creative Gastronomy Girl made a beautiful Tiffany-inspired cake for her sister's birthday a few weeks ago. It was her first try at using fondant icing and it turned out wonderfully. Gastronomy Girl was inspired by the gorgeous cakes on Planet Cake, a website I've never seen before but once I clicked, I was mesmerised. Their cakes are just so amazing, they are works of art.
Once I'd clicked my way through as much of their website and I could and D had told me that we didn't have enough spare money for me to take one of their cake decorating courses, I started reading their blog. Then I realised that my cakes are pretty boring and how much I really want my cakes to just look pretty. So I started reading lots more blogs and watching youtube videos on cake decorating and in the end made a special trip over to the shopping centre to buy the Planet Cake's A Beginner's Guide to Decorating Incredible Cakes.
The Planet Cake book is amazing. It has recipes for sturdy cakes that can hold up to decorations and tiers that are delicious and easy to make and the perfect step by step guide to working with fondant. There's lots of pictures too! Unfortunately, I only bought the book on Sunday afternoon and had to wait an agonisingly long week to go and visit some hospitality stores and party stores to stock up on supplies.
I also stopped by the supermarket to stock up on the more basic ingredients. It was a very very exciting basket of icing sugar, cream, Orchid ready-to-roll icing, food colouring, eggs, butter and couverture chocolate. It was a basket full of promise.
Decorating a cake the Planet Cake way is a multi stage process, and the book says that you need to be willing to devote the time to it. I rushed a little, but I've got a good handle on where I went wrong and what I need to practice for next time, because there will be a next time. I was so proud of my little cupcakes and I can definitely improve on my big cake. I also want to buy some more tools, especially some paintbrushes and a smoother.
Once you have assembled all of your ingredients (a good scale is a necessity), line and grease your cake tins and make sure the paper "collar" extends 2cm above the top of the tin. Whoops, I read that to be two inches. I don't care, they look awesome. I don't often put a lot of care into the lining of my tins - I'm too impatient - but they do work out so much better when you take that extra time.
The cool thing about the mudcakes in the book is that you melt the butter with some water and use that to melt the chocolate. There's no beating involved (just a quick whisk of the eggs) and all you need to once everything is measured is pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir. I was so easy. While I made the white chocolate mudcake from the book, Planet Cake have published a recipe for the chocolate mudcake here.
I wanted to make small cakes because I had hoped they would be easier to work with, so from the mixture in the book (which is said to make one 22cm round cake) made two 13cm round cakes and 11 muffin-sized cupcakes.
Unfortunately, many of the cupcakes did not make it to the decorating stage. It was a very sad story, but essentially the cake is awesome and we couldn't resist them.
You are supposed to let the cakes cool in their tins, but I didn't read that bit until after I took mine out of their tins. The cakes need to cool completely before you start the next stage, the ganache.
The ganache is simple too, using Planet Cake's recipe as posted here. I used the microwave, putting cream and chocolate into a microwave safe bowl and heating for 1 minute on high and then stirring. You are supposed to let the ganache set overnight, but I left mine for a few hours in the fridge.
Before the ganache, you are supposed to brush your cakes with a little syrup to stop them from drying out (this is particularly relevant for cupcakes). This stage was a contentious one, as the syrup is made by mixing apricot jam with some boiling water and D does not like apricot jam. He did not want me to ruin his cakes with any apricot taste. In the end I brushed the cakes before he woke up and gave him some syrup-brushed cake topped with ganache to eat before I told him about the syrup. (He couldn't taste it, by the way.)
By the syrup stage, there were only 6 cupcakes remaining. They looked lovely and shiny though.
Once the cupcakes were done, it was time to move onto the cake. I decided to only do one cake at a time, as the other cake is happy to remain in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for two months.
My round cakes came out of the oven with an extremely impressive dome. Unfortunately, this had to go. There are many techniques on the internet about how to get your cake to rise evenly and flat, but Planet Cake recommend that you just let it do its thing and then cut the top off, because then you are assured a flat top. Once I had my flat top, I then had to cut the cake horizontally into three even layers. The texture of the cake really helps with this. It was very easy to cut and didn't crumble at all.
Brush your layers with syrup and then sandwich them back together with ganache. Mmmm.
Chocolate heaven continued after that because the next step was to ganache the sides. Planet Cake recommend putting your cake on a board that is the same size as your cake pan, as the cakes shrink during cooking and you can use the board as a guide to ganache your cake back to full size. My cake didn't shrink too much and I didn't have to use much ganache to get it to match the board. I don't have a turntable but I can definitely see how much easier it would make the process. It would mean that you could keep your hand in the same position and just rotate the cake, instead of having to change your angles depending on where you were working at the time.
You need to do the sides first, leaving the top ganache free. You are supposed to use the ganache to patch up any gaps in the cakes and to make a nice smooth finish. I found the sides turned out quite well. I was proud!
The top was a little harder to do because you have the edges to consider. Some of my edges were better than others, but on the whole it wasn't too bad. Once the whole cake is covered you need to let the ganache set. Leaving it overnight is recommended but you can also freeze the cake for 10 minutes. I cleared room in the freezer and took the 10 minute option.
The next stop is called hot-knife. Once the ganache is set, you stand a long palette knife in hot water for a few seconds and then glide it over the top of the cake to smooth it out. Let the ganache set again and then you can cut off any overhang on the top edge. The cake should be left to set until the ganache is completely hard before you start decorating. I didn't do this and my ganache stained my fondant. Lesson learned.
The book is set out so that you start at the beginning with easy cupcakes and then make your way through the book to more complex cake shapes and decorating techniques. I jumped ahead a little because I really wanted to try a big cake, but next time I will stick to cupcakes until my work is a little neater.
I really want something from Tiffany and Co, whatever it may be. I think their jewellery is just lovely. So far, D hasn't taken the hint. Looking through pictures of cakes on flickr, it seems that many people like a Tiffany inspired cake as a temporary substitute for or, as in Gastronomy Girl's cake, to complement a Tiffany gift. I love the colour combination of the boxes, too.
So, while the idea was in my head, there was never really an intention until I ended up with a lovely light blue that was close enough to the Tiffany colour that I decided to go with Tiffany inspired cake. I was very excited. In case anyone was wondering, it was from two drops of blue food colouring mixed into white ready to roll icing.
Planet Cake say that using their ganache to achieve a perfectly smooth surface to the cake means that they can roll their fondant out quite thinly. 3mm is the recommended thickness. I am terrible at rolling out anything, whether it be pastry or fondant, so I was a bit hesitant. I made sure I dusted the surface with icing sugar regularly and made sure that I lifted the icing often so it didn't stick to my baking sheet. Luckily, it was a very humid day and that made the icing quite sticky so the extra icing sugar didn't hurt.
Because I cooked my cupcakes in a muffin pan, I used muffin sized cupcake liners which were a little too large for the cakes. I removed the liners and when I smoothed my discs onto the cupcakes, I just folded the edges under.
Making the bows was much harder than it looked. I tried making the bows with my version of 3mm thick fondant but the ribbons kept tearing. I rolled the icing out a little thicker and had much more success. I guess this is something you learn the more you work with it.
Another thing I learned (a little too late, it turned out) is that the commercial brand fondant that you buy from the cake decorating shop is so much easier to work with than the Orchid brand you buy from the supermarket.
I'm still very very proud of how these turned out, especially the cupcakes. I can't wait to try something else, but I am going to practice manipulating the fondant a bit more and sticking to cupcakes to start with.
I have promised D that I will make something geeky. I know it's hardly original, but I want to make Mario mushroom cupcakes and something World of Warcraft related. Exciting!