I wanted to double major in culinary arts and patisserie when I was going to cooking school. As it turns out, there wasn’t time to completely finish either degree. A two year program at the school I attended turned out to be three full years due to the fact that the programs were so popular that the school found it most important to allow new students to enroll which left the ones working on finishing out of luck with classes filled on an alphabetical system. I remember the day I realized this, after being unable to register for the classes I needed that morning, and found myself sitting in the counselor’s office. One minute I was looking forward to finishing up an elective or two and taking my eagerly awaited Asian Pacific cuisine courses, the next I was walking off campus for the last time. An attempt to finish on the mainland, by visiting campuses with culinary programs and consulting schools who offered them, failed as well. My credits, other than liberal arts, would not be honored at other culinary schools. I had just given birth to my first child and was looking at beginning culinary school all over again. I chose to be Mom.
Fortunately, in the area in which I now live, I have some very good options in culinary programs if I do want to start all over from scratch. But after years of line cooking, I have decided that now is the time to just be Mom, again. Working was so difficult for me. My younger son really needed me during those years and told me on a daily basis, so off to work I went, guilt-ridden, knowing my husband’s income was enough to support us, but sticking to my guns saying that cooking was the only thing I did for myself. Now, of course, I wish I could go back to those evenings of rocking a little guy to sleep, knowing how short the “little guy age” would be, rather than running around in an apron trying to make myself happy. A new job with lots of overtime for my husband sealed the deal. I wasn’t going to homeschool my children during the day and then stick them with a sitter in the evenings while my husband and I worked just so I could selfishly choose my own path. But I will be on the line again one day. I may even find myself back in a classroom or lab. Who knows?
What I do know is that every time a birthday comes around and one of my boys wants a special cake “just so”, I really wish I had taken patisserie in college. Baking is my favorite form of cooking. Over the years, I’ve made all but one or two of my boys’ cakes and though my skills improve, it is very difficult to pull off that cake every time and some years I stand wincing at my final creation.
Ace of Cakes, the reality show featuring the creations of Chef/Owner Duff Goldman and his staff at Charm City Cakes, is where I first saw fondant used extensively. I had seen photos in the old Wilton cake decorating books of rolled frosting cakes, but the things this man can do with cake! I realized the sky was the limit and I had to get my hands on some fondant to see what could be done. As her wedding gift years before, I made my sister’s cake. I was terrified that I would make a disaster of her reception, but by teaching myself to make red roses from icing, lots and lots of red roses in different sizes, I was able to pull it off. White frosting, red roses all over, plastic topper, silver foil leaves strategically placed among the roses. We were even able to get it transported to the Hard Rock Cafe in Honolulu, where she had decided to throw her extravaganza, without it sliding into a puddle of icing in the back of our SUV. When I started watching Duff work his magic, I thought that fondant was the greatest invention and wished I had known about it when I made my sister’s cake. To roll out a sheet of frosting onto a cake, leaving a seamless, undimpled surface to work with? Perfect medium for an amateur like me.
The first cake I made for one of my boys using fondant, was a treasure map for a pirate themed party. I was happy with the look of it, but it tasted terrible. I had used Wilton ready-made fondant out of a box and it was gooey and tasteless. I took one bite and decided that I did NOT like fondant, and that I would never buy it again.
A few years later I decided to try again with a homemade recipe. I searched online for “fondant that tastes good” and found this one on All Recipes. Rolled Buttercream Fondant
It was a little too moist to work with the first time I used it. The cake looked sloppy and the fondant sagged, cracked, and drooped in places, was very difficult to get it transferred to the cake.
For the added decorations, I worked in a lot more confectioner’s sugar to the finished fondant and ended up with a stiffer consistency more conducive to molding. It worked, even though the initial sheet that covered the cake continued to be a problem. A bonus, however, was that just as the recipe creator claimed, it did taste just like buttercream frosting!
For his latest birthday cake, my older son wanted his cake to look like a video game screen. It would be a flat sheet cake (hallelujah!!) so I told him I would try my best. As it turned out, with a little help from some ready made sheets of colored sugar sheets we found, it was easier to accomplish than I thought it would be.
While looking at decorating products in the store, he saw a cake mix that made a zebra striped cake and decided that he wanted his to look the same. It was very expensive, actually part of the line that Duff Goldman has created, so I told him we would make a yellow and a chocolate cake mix and learn how to zebra stripe it. I found these instructions for a zebra striped cake and they worked like a charm. How To Make A Cake with Zebra Stripes on the Inside!
According to the instructions, you start the striping process by pouring one or the other of the batters into the center of the pan. Pour the alternating batter into the center of the initial circle of batter. Repeat until the batter reaches the sides of the pan. One color just rolls over the other until stripes are formed.
The fondant was problematic the second time around, as well, but I was able to add enough confectioner’s sugar to the recipe to make it workable and I will use it every time I need fondant to cover a cake.
I make it in my mixer with the dough hook attachment, then knead in more confectioner’s sugar by hand.
I also add a little butter flavoring to make it taste more like buttercream. This is the one time I pull out the toxic sludge, hydrogenated oil in the form of shortening, artificial coloring and flavoring, and let my kids go crazy with it.
I spread a very thin layer of frosting over the baked and cooled cake to act as “glue” for the rolled fondant to stick to.
Then I worked in paste colors to the fondant to make it the appropriate colors. For this cake, I needed black for the main sheet and aqua, green, purple, and pink for the details.
I then rolled the fondant out on a surface generously sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. I roll it up on my long, French rolling pin then unroll it right onto the cake.
I can see it beginning to crack on the corners, so keep working it smooth with dusted fingers.
Then I trimmed off the excess.
I waited and waited for the shortening in the fondant to absorb the excess confectioner’s sugar from the surface of the frosting. It wasn’t happening with the black fondant. I’ve never had this problem before. Finally, I resorted to very lightly dampening my hands and working them over the cloudy surface. Then I took coffee filters and absorbed the moisture that brought up. It worked and within minutes, I had a shiny black surface to begin decorating.
The sugar sheets were fabulous, because they have a mylar backing. I was able to draw out what I needed on the mylar with a marker, then use kitchen shears to cut out the shape before pulling the sugar sheet off the plastic. I used a tiny bit of water as glue for the sugar sheets. Missile Command is the classic Atari game we were going for. The boys supervised me every step of the way to make sure I was getting it right. We did well, but for the little blue guns that fire at the missiles as they drop. There was no way to get them accurately shaped, as the sugar sheets are very delicate. I ended up using a small teardrop shaped piping tip as a stamp to cut out little pieces of sugar for the guns. The rest was a…piece of cake. Feel free to roll your eyes at my punniness.
I’m still not too good with a writing tip, but my boy didn’t seem to mind and that’s all that mattered.
I had a very happy boy who was proud to show off his cake at his arcade/pizza party. As soon as they were done eating their portions, I noticed that all the boys headed directly to the arcade game the cake was modeled after. I had to laugh.
Now I’m just hoping that the for the next birthday cake, my younger son will also choose one that I can make with a flat sheet pan. Anything else scares me. Though some day I’d like to be able to do something like this…
Pillows Wedding Cake with Flowers Topper
I think I need to take a class or two on cake decorating first. Giggle
Awesome cake! You did a great job!
There is nothing more guilt inducing than having children. I’m sure I wasn’t half as concious of my shortfallings before I had my son. As they say these things are sent to try us. 🙂
Brilliant looking cake. 🙂
I look forward to reading about the day you went back to school in forth coming posts. 😉