Monday, September 19, 2016

Planet Cake

When my son requested a space party for his birthday this year, I rubbed my hands together with glee - finally I had an excuse to buy some cool tools from the Evil Cake Genius

My grand idea for a cake was something that looked like Jupiter. I had seen a hand painted one on Pinterest, and I wondered whether I could create a similar effect with swirling fondant. 

So I ordered the hemisphere baking tin and spherical cake combs and waited with baited breath until they arrived. You have got to love a fellow cake baker who shares their secrets with you - the Evil Cake Genius sent extensive instructions on how to create a flawless sphere. I was saddened to discover the bottom of her sphere is made from rice crispy treat. Straight away I knew I was going to be one of those smarty pants cooks who deviates from the well trodden path. 

The instructions said to fill the tin to almost full to ensure you get a complete hemisphere. My first attempt was too short. I had to bake again to get it right. Once I had two hemispheres, I carved out a hole in each and filled one side with blue chocolate rocks. Then I stuck the two halves together with chocolate ganache. 

Then I transferred the ball to my turntable. I knew it would sit in the almost 1cm depression in the middle - I wanted that so it wouldn't roll away while I coated it with ganache. 

It was obvious very quickly that my sphere was too small to use the expensive and dangerous combs I'd bought especially for this occassion. Apart from the fact that I hadn't made the bottom out of rice crispy treat or impaled it on nails on my cake board, I wasn't going to build up as much ganache on the exterior as The Evil Cake Genius does with her buttercream. 

I did, however, use the comb to pick away as much ganache as possible on the under side of my sphere to make room for the fondant covering. I set about smoothing the ganache using a hot palette knife. I even covered it with plastic wrap and smoothed it with my hands. 

Then it was fondant time. I cut 1cm thick pieces of orange, white and chocolate fondant. I layered them next to each other in an offset fashion, then rolled them up like a snail shell. I stood the roll on its end, then began rolling the fondant out into a big circle. 

Once I had the fondant rolled out enough to cover my sphere, I painted the ganache with sugar syrup, then carefully cloaked the cake with the fondant. Talk about exciting! I smoothed it down until all that was left was its "feet". 

I trimmed the excess off with a scalpel several times, then manoeuvred the cake to the edge of the turntable to tuck the fondant edge underneath. Once that was done I began smoothing and smoothing and smoothing with my plastic flexible smoothers. This bit was fun!

I stuck the sphere to a black cake board with royal icing and let it sit until it dried.

Next day I was convinced the whole thing would roll off the board in transit. So I made some black royal icing and piped it around the board close to the bottom of the cake and stuck purple chocolate rocks in the icing to act as breaks should there be any movement. 

Next, I cut an eight inch round out of the middle of a 10 inch cake board. I covered it with purple fondant, then sprinkled it with silver edible glitter. With the ring positioned on the cake, I added a giant lollipop to look like an orbiting moon, and a black glitter candle in the shape of a seven. And voila: planet cake!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Drip Cake - the low down on the learn!

If you love cake as much as I do, you were probably astounded by the mergence of Katheryn Sabbath's drip cakes last year. Her use of candy colours combined with common candy decorations are a visual feast that has sent cake aficionados wild all over the world. 

I thought I'd have a go at creating a drip cake myself, after seeing a tutorial this week that uses watered down candy melts for the drip component. 

I had three seven inch vanilla buttercakes in the freezer. I set out to build a mega tower, which would let me take my 30cm Perspex scraper out for a spin. As I built the layers I quickly realised I'd end up with a cake so high, it wouldn't fit in my fridge and I would have trouble getting someone to eat it. So I went for three layers of two centimetres each. 

I painted each layer with raspberry jam, then scattered a few frozen raspberries across each. Then I spread 3/4 cup of what I'm calling royal buttercream - royal icing made from meringue powder with 500g of butter combined into it - onto each layer. Yep - that's half a kilo of butter. The amount of butter in this cake is staggering. 

Then I made up a batch of chocolate buttercream. It's really important to state I don't put shortening in my buttercream. While adding a half a cup of vegetable shortening will make the buttercream slide better when you smooth it, to me it gives a horrible mouth feel and even more horrible aftertaste. If a cake doesn't taste good, what's the point, right?

So I began smoothing on my chocolate buttercream. I found anywhere it connected with the royal buttercream it separated. I put the cake in the fridge to firm the chocolate buttercream up, but my first attempt just didn't quite cut the mustard. I decorated this one with chocolate wafers and sent it to a good home. 

I put a really bad crumb coat on my second cake and left it in the fridge overnight. When I finally plucked up the energy to plough on today, the buttercream was super solid. I had left the remainder out on the bench over night, covered in glad wrap. It was nice and soft so I beat it with the Kitchenaid and smoothed it onto my chilled cake. I find my buttercream recipe will not smooth easily. It's more suited to piping. The more I try to smooth it, the more dents and grazes and take off marks I get. So after a while I just took a hot knife to it. 

I put it in the fridge and prepped the topping. I put a whole bag of blue Wilton candy melts into a mixing bowl with a quarter of a cup of water. Terrifying!  This is what the tutorial said to do, but you can't trust anything you see on the internet! 

I gave the candy melts three 30 second zaps in the microwave. I had to stir the mix so much to melt the chocolate, it ended up with a lot of air bubbles. If you've ever used candy melts for cake pops, you'll know they are gloppy when melted. The water thinned it out well. But not well enough, I think. 

At the ready I had one piping bag of pink royal buttercream and one of mauve, plus some pink pearlescent bubblegum balls and some pink sixlets. I considered silver cachous, but they can turn black in the fridge and can make a cake look unsightly. So I left them out. 

I spooned the warm candy melt onto the edge of the cake and pushed it over the side as the tutorial instructed. Because of its thickness, it didn't drip like Kathryn Sabbath's. In fact, it wanted to set really quickly, so repeated attempts to push it over the side only caused bulges. 

I piped some royal buttercream puffs onto the surface and placed the gumballs and sixlets in a considered pattern on one side. The result is OKAY but I couldn't give this cake to anyone and feel good about it. 

The lesson here, I think, is that a cake design which can seem thrown together is actually art in disguise. Kathryn Sabbath clearly has a secret drip ganache recipe that I'm not privvy to. If I were to do this again, I'd cover the cake in ganache, not buttercream. The interior looks spectacular, but this is an intensely sweet cake. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Royal icing for sugar cookies Pt2

Okay, so you've got your cookies, you've got your flood icing. Now what?

It's time to choose your colours and fill your piping bags. There really is only one brand of food colour that is used in royal icing. Americolor seems to be the only product that doesn't alter the very delicate liquid balance you've just spent about 15mins adjusting. Trust me, I've tried other brands - liquid colour, gel colour - they just don't produce the same result. 

So choose your colours and decant about 200ml of icing into three small mixing bowls. I use ramekins. Add a few drops of colour to each bowl, reserve the icing left in the main bowl for your white supply. I try to stick to four colours per cookie project including white. But there's nothing to stop you from doing more if you have the inclination. 

Use a long handled teaspoon to mix the colour through the flood icing, ensuring every last scrap of white is combined. Americolour will dry darker, so with reds and blacks, don't drive yourself nuts trying to get full colour saturation in the wet stage. The colour will be right when it's dried. 

Set up your piping bags with piping tube sizes according to whether you are laying down a base colour or layering over the top. Flood icing is no good for pipe work on dry icing so you'll be using these colours for wet on wet techniques or laying down colours next to each other. I use a No. 3 tube for the base because it gives a thick layer, sets hard and gives the cookie a nice crunch. 

Fill the piping bag then seal it off. I use cable ties because they seem most effective. But you can also use kitchen string or rubber bands. 

Pipe a line around the edge of your cookie. Just do them one at a time. Try not to drag the piping tube through the icing. This needs to be a neat ridge. Hold the piping tube about an inch above the cookie at a 45 degree angle and guide the icing to fall into place. This is called a "dam". Fill in the space inside the dam straight away. You should see the icing connecting up with no "scars" visible. Every part of the cookie top should be filled. Pipe a little extra to get a nice level finish. Some people gently shake their cookies from side to side to help the icing heal. I try not to touch them as I invariably stick my fingers in the icing. Belle sits hers on a tray and shakes the tray. 

If you want to do a wet on wet technique, like polka dots, you have to drop the spots into the base layer before the icing can form a skin. This means you have to continue working on one cookie at a time. 

It's complicated, isn't it? Now you know why cookie artists charge so much for a single cookie. 

Once you have iced all your cookies set them aside to dry for 8-12 hours. That's right! Last minute rush jobs are not possible with sugar cookies. They really do need that amount of time to dry, and putting a fan on them is advised. 

Can I suggest, if you're really into this and you want to know more, check out the youtube channels of Sweetambs, Montreal Confections and Haniela. They are such inspirations and can teach you so much more than me. And of course you should check out my dear friend Belleissimo Cookies' youtube videos too. Happy cookie-ing!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Royal icing for sugar cookies Pt1

If you read my sugar cookies post earlier this week, you're probably waiting with baited breath for the icing recipe. The good news is resting your cookies for one or two days is really good for laying down icing. It gives the butter a chance to drop and reduces the risk of grease absorbing into your icing and discolouring the final finish. 

As I mentioned, I am a student of Belleissimo Cookies, so all credit goes to Belle for what I've learned. And Belle will tell you her knowledge is garnered from many masters around the world. There are so many great cookie artists willing to share their knowledge and I have benefitted enormously from their generosity. 

You will be shocked, no doubt, when I tell you my royal icing is made out of Pavlova Magic! This is an Australian product based on meringue powder. In other countries meringue powder is easy to get in quantities. Not so much here. So Pavlova Magic is the secret ingredient. Now you know!

2/3 cup warm water
1 Pavlova Magic
1kg pure icing sugar

1. Empty the meringue powder into your Kitchenaid mixer bowl. Add the warm water and whisk with a balloon whisk for 30secs. 
2. Add all the icing sugar to the bowl. Using the paddle beater, mix to combine. Increase speed to sixth gear and beat for 10mins. Seriously. Use a timer!
3. Remove about a third of the royal icing and store it in a plastic container in the fridge. 
4. Now it's time to thin the icing down. There is no easy way to get this right. It really is trial and error. Start by adding one tablespoon of water and stirring it in by hand. You will see the icing starting to soften. Add another tablespoon of water and mix to combine. You cannot do this on the mixer. It has to be by hand. 
5. Now switch to teaspoons. Add another teaspoon of water and mix to combine. After each addition test your icing by dragging a knife through the top. You want to count in seconds how long the icing takes to "heal". Count one-elephant-two-elephant and so on. You are looking for a 10 count icing. 10 seconds for the mark you made to disappear. 
6. Now add another teaspoon of icing, making sure all of it is mixed with the water so it's all the same consistency throughout. Are you there yet? Do another check with the knife. 

Belle Harris says the icing should be as runny as warm honey. I say it should heal in a ten count. Don't forget - Belle is the master! You will need to find what works best for you. Once you have your icing you can colour it. This a whole other story.  Stay tuned for my post on that topic. 

Sugar cookies

In the past two years I've had the great fortune to make friends with Belle Harris of Belleisimo Cookies. Every year in October I shut down cake production because of the hot, humid weather. I don't have aircon in my home and I can't stand the added stress of cake designing  in the heat. So Belle suggested I give cookies a go. 

Sugar cookies are a whole other art form to sugar craft with fondant. The cookie dough is a soft eating cookie, and you need to go to great lengths to keep your cookie in it's shape and level on the top. Sugar cookies take ages to make because the icing needs eight to 12 hours to dry. I've achieved a level of competence in my cookies, but Belle is at mastery level. You can check some of her cookie instructional a on youtube. 

Meanwhile, here is my sugar cookie recipe, which I've adjusted to suit my style. 

250g butter
200g pure icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 medium egg
425g plain flour 

1. Beat the butter and sugar until it is very pale and fluffy. 
2. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until combined. 
3. Add the flour and stir until combined. It really is best to do this by hand, not with a mixer, if you don't want your cookies to be tough. Stand the cookie dough for 15mins. 
4. Roll small batches of cookie dough out  on baking paper lightly dusted with more flour. Your dough needs to be about 4mm thick. I use wooden skewers as spacers to get the height right. 
Carefully press your preferred cookie cutter into the dough. Do not lift it! Slide a large palette knife under the cutter and dough, lift the two together and transfer to a cookie sheet lined with baking paper.  Position the cookie, remove the cutter and go again! Keep repeating until all the dough is used. 
5. Bake in moderate oven for 22mins or until golden brown. You may find your oven cooks the cookies faster or slower than my oven. You'll need to work out what is best for you. 
6. When you first take the cookies out of the oven smooth their tops with a fondant smoother. This is to flatten their tops and pop any air bubbles. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool. 

I'll write another post later this week to explain how to do the flood icing. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sharp edges on big cakes

So what have I been doing all this time?  Deepening my big cake skills mostly.  I found an amazing cake designer named Jessica Harris, who was an interior designer in a former life. She has an amazing eye for geometric design. I took her Craftsy class, Clean & Simple Design, in which Jessica teaches some of her most popular designs. But she also teaches her technique for getting the sharp edge on a fondant cake. Would you believe she turns her cakes upside down?  It's not for the feint hearted. Ganache must have been set for a day to attempt this technique. But it works! As you can see from this bee themed cake.

So what's the trick? You prepare you ganache layer as normal, making sure you get the top level and the edges sharp. Here's what mine looks like when I'm satisfied with the finish. 
I roll out the fondant and apply it in the same way as usual. I still panic every time I do this. You'd think I'd be over that by now as every job always works out! Jessica suggests trimming the fondant to about 1cm of the bottom of the cake. This is your first chance to turn ithe cake upside down. 

Get a piece of baking paper and put it on the top of the cake. Put a cake board on top of the paper then carefully get your hand under the cake and flip. This should be no problem as you have a perfectly sized board under the cake too, right? 

Flip the cake and put it on the bench. Smooth the excess fondant skirt upwards so that it is perpendicular. Then trim it to the height of the bottom of your cake using a one sided razor blade or a scalpel. Flip it back over and continue smoothing the fondant the same way as usual, making sure the sides are straight and the top is level. Now flip the cake again. 

Use your straight edged smoother to smooth the fondant on the edges downwards. That is, in the direction of the top (your cake is upside down). At this point check the tiny space between the edge of your cake and the bench top. Do you see a shadow? The round edge of the cake casts a shadow. Continue smoothing the fondant downwards until you can't see a shadow any more. Switch to fondant smoothing plastic squares if you have them to put the final polish on your fondant. When you turn your cake back over it should look like this:
It takes time to get this technique right. But it's worth it. If you try it let me know how you go!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


The word “tiramisu” literally translates as “pick me up”. This layered dessert probably earned it’s name because of the delicious coffee syrup soaked sponge that make up its base. It is believed tiramisu originates from Tuscany, which is famous for other layered cakes, however, it doesn’t appear to be a very old recipe. Tiramisu often includes a liqueur in the coffee syrup, which is why many people regard it as the Italian equivalent to trifle. The best tiramisus leak coffee syrup onto your plate, and always taste better the day after they are made. I came up with this recipe a few years ago when I was commissioned to write a children's international cookbook. Sadly, the book never eventuated, but this recipe has become legend in my house, with even my non-dessert eating husband slurping it up!

3 egg yolks
¼ cup caster sugar
1 tblsp corn flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
250ml milk
500ml marscarpone cheese
2 tblsp instant coffee powder
2 tblsp sugar
500ml boiling water
1/4 cup Marsala wine
one nine inch sponge cake, cut into four layers
¼ cup cocoa powder
300ml whipped cream

1. Combine the egg yolks, sugar, flour and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Whisk until the mixture turns pale.
2. Add the milk and whisk to combine with the egg mix. Place the saucepan over a medium heat and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble. Cook through for one minute. Pour the custard into a glass bowl and set aside until completely cool.
3. Place the coffee powder and sugar in a measuring jug. Add 300ml boiling water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool.
4. Beat the marscarpone cheese in the large bowl of an electric mixer for 1 minute. Spoon in the custard and mix on slow to combine.
5. Line the cake tin you baked the sponge cake in with Glad wrap, ensuring there's plenty of overhang. Place the layer that will be the top face down in the tin. Soak the sponge with a quarter of the coffee syrup, then cover with marscapone mix. Repeat with all other layers. Seal the cake with the Glad wrap and refrigerate for two hours.
6. Turn the cake out onto a serving plater or cake stand and ease the Glad wrap away. Spread a thin layer of whipped cream over the top and dust heavily with extra cocoa.

Makes 10 serves.

Where is the Kitchen Alchemist?

Long time no blog, right? I haven't been doing nothing though! Like most bloggers, I gave up on the big stories and went for micro blogging sites like Facebook and Twitter. I have been keeping the world up to date over there. Not so much here.

I have been churning out big cake after big cake. I've also taught myself how to make sugar cookies. I'll taking a moment over coming weeks to put some new posts up.

Cooking wise, when you have a kid there's a whole lots less fun cooking, I can tell ya! But there have been a few inventions. I'll share those too.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Road Test: Coloured Fondant

It wasn’t such a long time ago when the only colours cake decorating fondant came in were white and ivory. Then Cake Art came on the scene and introduced vibrant red, brilliant green and black fondant.

In the past couple of years two new players have entered the market – Satin Ice and Bakel’s Pettinice, and I think it’s high time we took a look at coloured fondant and how it has performed in the jobs I’ve completed over the past year.

I first bought Cake Art’s red fondant when I thought I would decorate a Christmas cake with all red instead of traditional white. I chickened out at the last minute, not confident I could pull it in the dead heat of summer. When I finally got around to using the 1 kilo roll of red fondant, I noticed it was very wet and somewhat grainy. My supplier (Hollywood Cake Decoration) told me it was possible to add up to one third white fondant to Cake Art’s intense red fondant, and it would still have the same deep colour. I didn’t need to expand the bulk so I didn’t try it, but I’ve since tested this idea and found it to be true.

About two years ago I began to read about Satin Ice pre-coloured fondant on various American cake decorating websites. I was excited by the range of colours Satin Ice was offering. The next thing I knew, Robert’s Confectionary in Australia was offering Satin Ice and bringing out specialists from America to help us learn how to make our fondant go further. I bought a one kilo bucket of yellow Satin Ice, intending to make a cake in the shape of a wedge of Swiss cheese for a friend. But she changed her mind at the last minute and asked for a dessert cake instead.

Last winter when I was working in the markets and shopping at Hollywood every week, I was excited to find my favourite fondant, Bakel’s Pettinice, has introduced coloured fondant. They included blue, black, red, pink, green, yellow and purple in their coloured range, all in handy 750g packs. And then there was still the trusty 7kg bucket of white or ivory still available for big jobs.

Over the past year I’ve made lots of different big cakes and I’ve used these coloured fondants to save me time and elbow grease when multiple colours were needed. Here’s my basic low down on the three different brands offering coloured fondant:

Colour: All have a great colour range, including Cake Art, who were clearly threatened by the entrance of Satin Ice into the Australian market. But I’ve found if you have a primary colour and a load of white fondant you can basically create any colour you like. The hardest colour to make is purple – mixing red and blue to get purple results in a dark and dirty purple. Cake Art offers several tones of mauve and purple, so if you need delicate colour, it’s probably best to go for their product.

The Bakel’s Pettinice colours are INTENSE. If you want to create light anything, you only need to add a little pinch of coloured fondant to white to get a pretty pastel.

Texture: All these coloured fondants seem wetter than normal white fondant. In summer they all need a bit of corn flour added to dry them out and prevent them from turning to tacky paste. But be careful not too add too much – it will create cracks and scars when you bend the fondant over the corners of your cake.

The Pettinice and Satin Ice textures are comparable – smooth to work with and easy to give a final polish to, but the Satin Ice seems to stay tacky for a lot longer. Cake Art seems to be grainy, and there is nothing I’ve been able to do to change this other than work corn flour into it. Because of this I never use Cake Art to cover a big cake.

Flavour: I’ll be straight with you. Cake Art tastes yuk. Satin Ice is supposed to be vanilla flavoured but tastes like medicine in my opinion. The hands down winner in the flavour department for me is Bakel’s Pettinice.

So there you go – I hope my insights help you know which coloured fondant to use when and how to handle them to get the best results. I’ll make no bones about it – I favour Bakel’s Pettinice above all others. Happy cake decorating!