Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Short Attention Span Challenge | The Cake Boss Lady, sort of

Birthdays are an interesting time for parents.  For kids, it is exciting, full of presents, games and fun.  For parents, it is a nightmare.  Well, I am speaking for myself.  For me, birthday parties are a nightmare.  I really hate planning them.  Perhaps for me though, the part I like least is figuring out what I will do for “The Cake”.

I don’t know if it is Pinterest or Facebook, or Cake Boss but it seems like children’s birthday cakes have become quite a production.  It is something to show off, a piece of artwork.  What happened to cupcakes with some cheap little sprinkles?  When I was a kid, the “Barbie cake” was as fancy as it got.   As far as birthdays go, it isn’t keeping up with the Jones’s anymore, I’m just trying to keep up with the Jones’s annoyingly fancy cake (or the JAFC).  My kid goes to a birthday party, and the next thing I know she asks to make what might as well be an amusement park on a platter.  First off, let me admit, I am no baker.  I can handle biscuits and cookies, but cake scares me.  They never turn out right.  They are always overcooked, or undercooked, or just gross.  In my family, if you can make a cake and cover it successfully with fondant you are a cake master,  a “Cake Boss”.

The Challenge
So that’s what I learned this week:  How to bake and decorate a fancy fondant cake.  The JAFC.  This week I was “The Cake Boss Lady”.

My double boiler
The cake I chose to decorate was a Génoise , a French Sponge Cake.   According The Perfect Cake the recipe originated in Italy and in the 16th century Catherine de Médicis brought the recipe to France as part of her dowry.  I felt very French and fancy making it.  Although, I am sure her pastry chefs were rolling over in their graves.  Because truly, the reason I picked this cake, was the picture in the book looked like it was a cake you decorate.  I know, right? What a great research technique. I’m here at the reference desk next time you need help with your project.  I failed to notice this recipe required a double boiler (which I don’t have), cake flour (which I also didn’t have) and “cake soaking syrup” (which I didn’t bother to make).  However, even without the proper tools and ingredients, the cake turned out “good”.  Well, at least, according to my 4-year-old (who also enjoys eating Play-doh).

The Process

Fondant covered cake
I moved onto the decorating, as that was the part I was most nervous about.  Let me tell you a thing or two about fondant.  Fondant is that smooth cake decoration that is often seen on wedding cakes, and also the JAFC.  It can be used to cover the cake, make figurines and decorations.  It can be made at home, or purchased.  I bought it at Michael’s Craft Store. It was about $22 for a box of two packs, enough to cover a 3 tier cake.   

Mixing color

Fondant comes in colors, but for this challenge, I purchased white and mixed the colors myself (which I was able to get from a friend).  Fondant comes out of the box in a large, hard brick.  To use it, you knead it, and knead it, and knead it some more.  Then, either shape it to make figurines and/or roll it out to cover the cake.  This is the tricky part.  It is meant to be rolled thin, but not thin enough to break. I was using a small cutting board and my fondant didn't get thin enough so I had a large thick coat of fondant. In some ways it worked to my advantage, because it was easier to mold flatly onto the cake (with one of my kid's blocks rather than a cake smoother, as suggested in the book I checked out).  A big disadvantage of thick fondant is that fondant is not very tasty.  It the consistency of silly putty but tastes like straight sugar.  Apparently, my little Play-doh connoisseur thought it tasted fine.  To stick the fondant to the cake, I used buttercream.  After the fondant is set on the cake, fondant figurines or decorations could be stuck onto the existing fondant cover with water, buttercream, or jelly.

The Result
The Play-doh Connosseur/Amateur Fondant Sculptor
Cake decorating was not as scary as I thought it would be.  
As the author of one of the books I used said repeatedly, "It is so easy a child could do it" (Party Cakes for Children by Carol Deacons) .  In some ways, she was right.  The thing about fondant and cake decorating though, is that it takes a very long time.  I started this project at about 10 am and I was not done until dinnertime...which was perfect because we could eat it for dessert, but I probably won't be making any more JAFCs anytime soon.

The buttercream left on the flower could have been brushed off with a pastry brush.

The kitchen aftermath

And the blooper...
When mixing color into buttercream, do not try and mix it directly in the bag, especially if you have not put the frosting tip in first.  Otherwise, you will have to reach your hand into a bag of colored frosting.  The colored frosting just might get all over your house, including furniture, clothing, and maybe even your children.