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.