Monday, February 25, 2013

Wheek Wheek! (Guinea Pig Cake Tutorial)

Guinea Pig Cake Process
I had a Work Hard, Play Hard kind of weekend and I'm gonna be honest with you, my body just can't bounce back like it used to in college! In fact my head's pretty mad at me right now for not going to bed 2 hours ago lol. But I had to type up this post now 'cause I couldn't wait another second to share my first carved cake with you! My good friend E is a guinea pig lover (and proud mama to 6 adorable lumps of flesh and fur piggies), so I volunteered to make a guinea pig-shaped cake for her big 3-0 party this weekend. I was pretty scared to carve a cake for the first time, but I'm so glad I went for it because (with P's help) I was able to make something we all found super-cute. I looked at a LOT of cake versions of this adorable rodent and EVEN MORE photos of real pigs before settling on my own path. Kinda really hoping not to see another guinea pig photo for a few months, as cute as they may be...

Nonetheless, I wanted to share some notes (before I forget!) on how I made this cake in case any of you have pig-lovers as friends/family/clients/selves. Wish I'd thought to document the initial cake carving/spackling process, but I'm hoping the 3 pre-buttercream shots below are still helpful. If you have any additional questions about how I made this Wheek-tastic cake, don't hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me an email!

Guinea Pig Carved Cake
Makes one approximately 11 x 5 x 5-inch cake

12 or 14-inch Cake Drum (sturdy base board)
Three 8-inch square cake layers 
***I made 1.5x batch of my favorite chocolate cake with 1 extra egg and 1/3 cup less coffee
Chocolate Buttercream
Vanilla Buttercream
Black, Brown, Yellow, Pink and Green gel OR powdered food coloring
Spatula (for frosting between cake layers)
Sharp Knife for Carving
Piping Bags (optional)
Medium Paintbrush (used for food ONLY, with coarse bristles for best texture)
LOTS of Paper Towels
Gumpaste (for eyes, ears, and nose)
Vegetable Oil (for painting the eyes)
Smaller Paintbrush (for painting the eyes)
Wilton Tip #233 (or other grass piping tip)

I started off by cutting, filling, and stacking my cake layers with chocolate frosting to make a 10 x 5 x 4-inch rectangular cake. Crumble any leftover cake into crumbs and combine with enough frosting to make an easily moldable material for spackling the cake. (If you've ever made a cake pop, this is essentially what goes into cake pop fillings.). Chill rectangular cake for at least 30 minutes, then start carving! Use back and forth motions with a sharp knife to cut away small pieces of cake at a time. I just looked at a LOT of photos of guinea pigs (including my friend's actual pigs) and became familiar with their shape from different sides. To start with, you'll want to smooth out all the top corners and carve more toward the middle to create a subtle "waist" between the main guinea pig body segments. I'm not great at thinking in 3D, so this part was nerve-wracking when I thought I could only cut away. BUT (and you can call this cheating but I won't care =p) once I started using the mixed paste of cake crumbs and frosting as spackle, both building up the shape and cutting it away, I was able to just have fun. The angle, size, and shape of the head also stumped me for quite a while, so I just kept building up the cake "butt" with more spackle haha. So if you noticed that this (pig) baby's got some back, the credit/blame falls squarely on these here shoulders...**cheeeeeesy grin** 

Guinea Pig Cake Process
If you find the cake getting too soft to carve well, simply stick it back in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up again and then continue working. When you're happy with the shape, chill the cake again to set the shape. While you're waiting on that, reserve about 1/2 cup of vanilla buttercream, then divide up and color the remaining chocolate and vanilla frostings to make the shades you want for the fur. I used black gel food coloring to darken chocolate buttercream and a mixture of vanilla frosting, chocolate frosting, and brown and yellow gel colors to create the lighter shade of brown fur on the pig. 

Now's also a good time to color the 1/2 cup of vanilla buttercream reserved above a vibrant grass green for later. I used a combination of gel and powdered food coloring. Cover and set aside for later.

Guinea Pig Cake Process
Once the cake has been chilled enough, it's time to add the fur-textured buttercream. I spent as much time figuring out the best way to do this as I did studying guinea pig shapes (is it just me or do those both make me sound ultra cool?? and not weird at ALL). The keys to getting a fur-like look with buttercream are (1) to use a paintbrush (one reserved for FOOD use ONLY) with somewhat coarse bristles, (2) to apply the different-colored sections from the back of the cake toward the head, and (3) to wipe your brush off VERY well whenever it touches more than one color at once.

Guinea Pig Cake Process

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Modern Cake Decorating Tutorial with Edible Wafer Paper

HeythereCupcake 1
Stunning Wedding Cakes (above and below) by Hey there, Cupcake!
It's obvious from my favorites posts that I've fallen truly and deeply in love with cake decorating during the past year. One aspect of this creative community that really draws me in is the amount of openness, sharing, and instruction that goes on between professionals and hobbyists, experts and complete n00bs such as myself. This exchange occurs constantly through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, countless blogs, and devoted forums such as Cake Central and Cakes Decor. And such support among artists is the reason many of us novice decorators have had the courage to try daunting designs like this extended tier cake I made for my company's holiday party and the carved guinea pig cake I'm about to make for a friend's birthday.

HeyThereCupcake 2
Many professional decorators are not only generous with their advice, but are also releasing full tutorials for their coveted techniques (some for purchase but many for free)! It's become a common enough occurrence that I started praying for one from the first moment I saw these stunning Hey there, Cupcake! cakes using die-cut edible paper (above and below photos). Edna De la Cruz of Design Me a Cake turned out to be my knight in shining armor with her tutorial created for Edible Artists Network Magazine. Please check out her step-by-step on using craft punches with edible wafer paper to decorate your cake HERE!

This is an especially exciting technique for those of us without Silhouette or other die-cut machines yet don't have the delicate touch and patience to cut these patterns by hand. Any Martha Stewart craft punch will work, and there're so many beautiful ones to choose from. I've already purchased the Double Arches Punch Set used to create part of the Hey there, Cupcake! designs above. The Optic Dot Edge and Deco Shells punches are also on my caker's wishlist but I'm trying not to be toooo much of a shopaholic (for now...). Also, if you're interested in making chic edible paper flowers like those in the top photo, Paul Bradford offers a tutorial for similar flowers as part of his online Sugarcraft School (£9.95/month). 

I hope at least some of you find these tutorials as interesting as I do, and Happy Caking to all of you!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Day Late OR 364 Days Early? (King Cake Cake Pops!)

King Cake Cake Pops
I know Mardi Gras was technically yesterday, but can you really blame me for wanting to keep the party going? I made these King Cake^2 Pops for a birthday celebration at work today. And based on 100% statistically sound exit polling, these treats would be a welcome offering year-round =p. The filling is a 6 Bittersweets original cake full of sour cream, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cream cheese. Dressed up in a slim candy coat and sparkly colors, these are my most party-ready cake pops yet! I suggest you grab on to any excuse you get to make these, whether it's Mardi Gras, a birthday, or even just Hump Day =).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Favorites

I'm a bit short on time today as I've got work work as well as some baking work to do tonight on top of being on the tail end of the bug that finally caught up to me this weekend. Hope you guys had a better weekend, and take a few minutes to feast your eyes on the work of the incredibly talented folks below!

Hyperrealistic PENCIL Portrait by Kelvin Okafor
Sculpted Snake Cake (included in honor of the Chinese Year of the Snake) =D by Innicka Dee Cakes
1 InnickaDee-Sculpted Carved Snake Fondant Cake
Double Chocolate Heart Cupcakes from Sugar and Snapshots
2 SugarandSnapshots-Choco Piped Hearts Cupcake Toppers Vday
Poppy Flower Cake Pops by Sweet Lauren Cakes
3 SweetLauren-Red Poppy Flower Cake Lollipops
Watercolor Painted Flower Cake by Dessert Queen
4 DessertQueen-Chinese Watercolor Painted Flower Bird Ridged Textured Fondant Cake
Chocolate Cookies with Dulce de Leche from Call Me Cupcake
5 CallMeCupcake-Choco Caramel Stuffed Brownie Drop Cookies Idea
Chocolate Caramel Rum Cake Photograph by Bakers Royale
6 BakersRoyale-Choco Rum Bundt Cake Sliced FAVE Idea

Monday, February 11, 2013

Latest Music Obsession (Tegan and Sara "Love They Say")

In light of some heavy news both P and I have gotten about our grandparents in the last few weeks as well as in light of Valentine's Day this week, I thought I'd post one of my favorite songs from the new Tegan and Sara album, Heartthrob, that's keeping me upbeat =). Hope you all had a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sucré King Cake Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Sucré King Cake giveaway! The randomly selected winner is Athena of Athena Plichta Photography (comment #42)! Congrats and please look out for my tweet and email me your mailing address ASAP!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big, Fat, Chewy, Perfect: The Best Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Perfect Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies 4
I rarely use the word "perfect", and never in reference to my own baking (being my own worst critic and all...). It's a term too often used to describe the generic and mundane rather than the extraordinary. But it's also incredibly subjective with meaning that varies as much as the individuals that use it. So when I tell you that the GIF below is 100% how I reacted to my first bite of these thick and chewy gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, I want you to understand that I'm not using the word frivolously =D. And lest you think this an exercise in self-congratulations, I openly admit to making only minor tweaks to an already incredible recipe by Alanna of Bojon Gourmet

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
While I'm aware on some level that multiple types exist, the only CC cookies that my brain registers are crisp around the edges, chewy in the center, oozing with melted chocolate chunks, and bursting with a flavor akin to butterscotch. All of us who share this concept of Cookie Nirvana as well as an interest in gluten-free baking owe Alanna a huge debt of gratitude. With some slight tweaking of the types/proportions of grains, she's created a GF cookie that stays chewy in the center, spreads like a wheat cookie, and is equal or superior to any CC cookie I've ever tasted (conventional OR GF)! For you skeptics out there, know that all my guinea pigs coworkers loved these, and not one could tell they were gluten-free. 

Perfect Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Perfect Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies 3
In this day and age I'm willing to bet that most of you have had reason to contemplate gluten-free cooking. Whether you're baking for a friend with celiac disease or just experimenting with alternative grains, I'm confident your search for The Best (Gluten-Free) Chocolate Chip Cookie will be over as soon as you whip up a batch of these. And being a gift that keeps on giving, I wouldn't be surprised to see other GF cookie posts popping up soon using this base as the starting point...I truly hope you enjoy this "perfect" recipe as much as I have and would love to hear about your results if you try it!

Perfect Best Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
P.S. - I didn't use any ole pecans for these cookies, but Jumbo Raw Georgia Pecans I received from Oh! Nuts. Although I did receive these for free for my holiday baking, I can honestly say (and have said before on this blog) that I loved and paid for their products long before they ever offered me free samples. There's so much to love about Oh! Nuts that it's hard to know where to start. First, there's the incredible taste and freshness. These pecans are huge, fresh, and have a hint of natural sweetness that makes them addictive right outta the bag. Speaking of the bag, I love that all Oh! Nuts products come in a sturdy bags that stand upright, are resealable, and have a window in the front so you can easily identify the right product in your pantry later. Anyway, I'll stop gushing as you surely get the point by now. Oh! Nuts is a wonderful supplier of bulk nuts and candy, and I can't recommend them and their products enough! =D

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Favorites

It's been a somber weekend as my YeYe (paternal grandfather) finally passed away after suffering a set of serious strokes 3 years ago. He never got out of the hospital bed since the strokes. I'm fortunate to have been able to spend time with him about 2 years ago when I went back to visit, and I'm glad he's probably had the chance to say goodbye to everyone at this point and vice versa. We will certainly miss him, but I hear that our family back in China is able to focus more on the positive things we want to remember about him at this point. I'm sad not to be able to attend his funeral, but my dad's on his way back now and will bring the best wishes of all of us who can't make it. As I was just telling my friend, I'm doing okay but I've still lost so few people close to me that it definitely hits me still. Just the concept of having someone being gone forever (no offense to anyone who is, but I am not religious) is still so difficult to grasp. I think I'm more sad for my little sisters growing up without our grandparents than for myself. I'm sure we'll keep their spirits alive through stories though =).

On a happier note, I felt like this would be a good time to restart my Favorites posts and focus on some joyfully beautiful things that are in our world. As pretty as my picks are, I don't just post them for looks.  I save the works that inspire me from all sorts of artists to serve as a constant reminder of what's possible to make with our mind and own 2 hands if we just set the mind and heart to it. As you surely have noticed, I've developed quite a passion for cake decoration in the last year, and I need to remember to practice practice practice to hopefully reach the level of these artists I admire one day. As usual, I hope you feast your eyes on these wonderful works!

Stunning Wedding Cake with Glittery Stripes and Peony Flowers by The Cake That Ate Paris
1 CakeThatAteParis-Glitter Striped Fondant Wedding Cake Peony Flower FAVE
Vanilla Tea Photograph from Alicia Buszczak (Stylist)
2 Alicia Buszczak (st)-Vanilla Pods Tea Drink
Baking Ingredients Photograph from Ingwervanille
3 Ingwervanille-Egg Flour Salt Pastry Baking Ingred Idea
AMAZING Nautical Wedding Cake (Photograph by Green Tree Photography; Cake Artist Unknown)
4 Unknown-Double Barrel Rope Gold Anchor Striped Nautical Fondant Wedding Cake Idea
Chicken Rice Noodle Soup from My Cooking Hut
5 MyCookingHut-Chicken Rice Noodle Soup
Baklava Bars from The Pretty Blog
6 PrettyBlog-Baklava Diamond Phyllo Bars Honey Nuts