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!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Barnacle! Quasi! Peso!

When I was asked to make an Octonauts cake for a little boy's fourth birthday, I was very relieved to have all the coloured fondants from the Bakel's Pettinice range on hand to use. A year ago I would have had to mix up all the colours myself, which is incredibly time consuming. Having pre-coloured fondant to work with saved me a massive amount of time in creating the colourful characters from the cartoon series, Octonauts.

I made this cake on the same day as the purple 30th birthday cake, so I still had to struggle with the hot weather. Once again the ganached cake had to be set in the fridge. And I also had to work cornflour into the fondant to ensure it would go on the cake. Unfortunately, I think I put a bit too much conflour which changed the chemical composition of the fondant, which in turn caused cracking and scarring on the sharp edge. While I was able to recover the fondant this time, I found out a couple of weeks later that too much cornflour can actually wreck the fondant all together.

The thing that took the most time with this cake was making all the creatures, including the Captain Barnacles, Quasi and Peso figurines. They each had to be the same size, and needed to have the little details on them to complete their likeness. I have to say, as with all cake art, you're really just trying to create an impression rather than an exact replica. And these guys impressed enough for the little boy whose birthday it was to ban everybody from eating them.

My special tip after doing this cake is to try and complete your cake the day before it has to be delivered. This one had shiny patches on it because of the cold ganache, and I'm convinced it might have dried out if it had been left to sit overnight like the purple one.

Oh - and both of these cakes had to travel a good distance to be delivered. I was thrilled that neither one came to grief in the car, but I'm sure this was out of pure luck than anything else!

Birthday cake with a bow

I haven't been blogging a lot lately because it has been a summer of utter cake avalanches. Some weekends I have been doing two or three cake jobs and had absolutely no time to share photos or stories about it. One of the greatest challenges has been keeping the cakes under control in the hot Australian summer. I work from home and I do not have airconditioning, so I've had to work out how to get cakes to stabilise instead of turning to mush.

I made this cake for a 30th birthday and got myself very tangled up trying to get the ganache to set. I made it about 12 hours before I needed to use it, which normally would be enough in winter to get it to the right consistency. But in summer it never achieved better consistency than thickened cream, so I had to put it in the fridge. Once I started covering the cake it had to go in the fridge every 20 minutes to get each layer to set. Overall this took me two hours, but remove the waiting time and, using the barrel ganaching technique, this really wouldn't have been more than 30 minutes.

In winter fondant is rock hard and I sometimes zap it in the microwave to get it soft enough to work with. But in summer it is very soft and sticky. Anthea Leonard, director of Sweet Art, recommended I add cornflour to the fondant to dry it out enough to handle. While this helped me get the fondant onto the cake and bought me enough time to smooth the fondant down, I found because the ganache had been set in the fridge the coldness of the cake caused the fondant to go shiny and sticky. With this cake I finished it early enought to put it in a room to stand overnight. I was relieved the next day to see it had dried out and had a typical matte look.

A word on the fondant bow - this one took me eight goes to get right. Apart from the fondant being very soft, it was surprisingly difficult to get it to look like a bow and not a big white mess. I had to try several different shape cutting technicques to find something that would work - I ended up with a shape similar to a bow tie. The lesson for me was to never stop trying to get things right until they are. You'd be surprised what results you can achieve when you push yourself that little bit further.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Caking in extreme weather

If you live in Sydney, Australia, you will know that it has been a summer of extreme weather. We’ve had two extraordinary heat waves where the temperature has reached over 45 degree Celsius. And then there have been a few occasions when we’ve suffered through extreme monsoon rains.

Both types of weather create conditions for cake baking which change almost everything I know to do in the kitchen. During the heat I left the butter on the bench and it warmed to almost melting, then I used it to bake cupcakes. The result was an incredibly rich, thick cake batter which produced about six more cupcakes than usual – a surprising, good result.

In the monsoon rain I created a selection of cupcakes as samples for a wedding, with four different designs using buttercream, fondant and royal icing. The buttercream never set – never even formed a shell on it which is really necessary to help it hold its form. Mean while, the fondant absorbed the moisture from the air until it became sticky and glossy. The decorations (a fondant bow) absorbed so much moisture they began to lose their form and droop. I noticed the strong colour also began to run.

As a producer of cakes for others, for which I am paid, I have needed to find ways to make sure my cakes can reach my customers in good, food-safe condition. Here are my top tips for dealing with the weather:

1. Keep the butter chilled until 20mins before you need to use it.
2. Bake late at night if you can, and ice early in the morning (seriously I’ve gotten up at 5am to do some jobs in summer).
3. Work additional corn flour into soft fondant to help it firm up. Avoid pure icing sugar - seriously this tip has recently saved me from disaster.
4. Dry decorated cakes in the coolest room in the house.
5. Add about half a cup of extra icing sugar to butter cream to help it keep its form.
6. Pipe in tighter circles to compensate for icing that might “relax”.
7. Make pastillage sugar charms as far ahead of time as possible to help them dry out.
8. If you have air conditioning in your house – use it!

Good luck and happy cupcaking.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Bake Lemon Slice

What can I say about lemon that I haven't said before?

I've told the story of my mother's lemon tree that fruited three seasons of the year. And I think I've told the story of the minature lemon tree my husband and I were given for our wedding (which incidentally has fruited more lemons this year than we've ever had from it before).

Lemon is one of those classic flavours that just cannot be outdone. It's up there with chocolate and vanilla in my opinion.

When I was pregnant, I was surprised to find I craved lemon (and tomato). I would happily have eaten nothing else, which probably wouldn't have agreed with me since both are so high in acid. Yet those were the two flavours I wanted most.

I've had friends say in the past that a vanilla cake with lemon icing is the next best thing to heaven. Lemon when it is allowed to retain it's simple nature is a beautiful thing in cooking. So all hail the humble lemon! Here is my mornng snack tribute to lemon.

500g Milk Arrowroot biscuits
2 cups desicated coconut
2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
250g butter, melted
1 cup condensed milk

1. Finely crush the biscuits and combine them in a large bowl with the coconut and lemon rind.
2. Gently heat the melted butter and condensed milk.
3. Pout over the biscuit mix and stir until combined - make sure all crumbs are wet.
4. Pour into a 30cm x 20cm brownie tin and press to compact. Keep pressing until the biscuit base becomes firm. Make sure you press the mixture evenly and fill the corners so that the base is level. If you have a small rolling pin you could you it to finish the top to make it smooth. I used a rice spoon which has a wide flate back.
5. Chill the biscuit base for half an hour.

2 cups pure icing sugar
3 tblsp lemon juice
3 tblsp desicated coconut

1. Combine the icing sugar and lemon juice and mix until combined. Make sure there are no lemon seeds in the juice.
2. Spread the icing over the top of the biscuit base.
3. Sprinkle the coconut liberally over the top.
4. Allow to stand for an hour so that the icing sets. Return the slice to the fridge if you like - this will help it cut better.
5. Carefully loosen the sides of the slide from the tin and slide it out onto a chopping board. Cut into 16 rectangles or 32 smaller ones.

Note: I think this slice is best stored in the fridge but you can also freeze it and thaw before eating.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Chocolate Coconut Slice

One of the odd things about being a part time baker is, while I'm busy supplying quality baked treats to cafes and customers, I then get a cafe cake from the espresso bar where I get my coffee at work. I always find the choice limited and the quality questionable.

So this year, I've decided to be my own customer for cafe cakes. It means I get a treat to go with my coffee that I know will be good, I'll save about $3.50 a day which adds up to $17.50 a week. Plus I will keep my husband supplied with morning snacks too - although I think he eats the snackies I make him in the afternoon.

So here is my first cafe cake for the year - chocolate coconut slice, which has yielded 18 slices. We only need 10 for the week, so eight can go in the freezer and be enjoyed some other time.

2 cups plain flour
2 cups desicated coconut
1 cup caster sugar
4 tblsp dutch cocoa powder
370g butter, melted
1 tblsp vanilla essence

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius and line a 30cm x 20cm brownie tray with greaseproof paper and set aside.
2. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Pour into the prepared tin and press to cover the enitre area. Try and get it as flat on top as you can. Pressing it with your fingers is best.
3. Bake in the oven for 30mins. Allow to cool completely in the tray and then carefully transfer to a wire wrack.

1.5 cups pure icing sugar
2 tblsp cocoa
45g softened butter
3 tblsp hot water
2 tblsp desicated coconut - for decoration

1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with an electric hand mixer until thoroughly combined.
2. Spread the icing evenly across the slice.
3. Sprinkle with the coconut and allow the icing to set - at least an hour.
4. Cut into 18 slices.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Three Cheese Potato Bake

In 1998 my friend Sophie came to visit from France. It was the second time we met face to face, having been penpals since we were high school kids.

Sophie came armed with a swathe of genuine French recipes, which we attempted to cook for a dinner at my mother's house. While Potatoes Au Gratin had been served in our home before, the recipe we'd used was not like Sophie's. Hers was based on beef stock and creme fraiche, which unfortunately was unknown in Australia at that time (or at least in Penrith). It also had bacon interspersed through the layers of potato, and if I remember correctly, needed topping up with more creamy stock as the potatoes cooked.

My mother and I messed with Sophie's recipe so much, I don't think it resembled the French version much at all. And don't even get me started on the disaster of a cherry clafoutis, which we had no idea how to handle! It turned out rubbery and we could tell by the look on Sophie's face that it wasn't right. Needless to say cherry clafoutis is now produced by every would be Masterchef who is trying to impress which I simply cannot understand.

Potatoes au gratin is very common in Australia these days but has degenerated into "potato bake". Not very glamorous! When it's cooked with respect to French tradition it can be heavenly, but thanks to the cream in it, one serving always fills me with guilt. So I've developed this recipe which is light on fat but plentiful on cheese. I hope you like it.

6 medium waxy potatoes
1 chicken stock cube made into 2/3 cup of stock
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup grated mozarella
1 tblsp parmesan cheese
1 tblsp grate tastey cheese

1. Slice the potatoes thinly on the mandolin (or with a knife).
2. Arrange in a loaf sized baking dish. I put the potatoes on their side for a pretty effect.
3. Pour the milky stock over the potatoes, leaving the edges of the potatoes peeping above the fluid.
4. Sprinkle the cheeses over the potatoes.
5. Bake in an oven preheated to 180 degree celcius for one hour.
6. Allow to stand for 10 minnutes before serving.

Serves six.