Friday, May 12, 2017

Fun with Cake Decorating

My First Wedding Cake Accomplishment
My First Wedding Cake Accomplishment
I took a Wilton cake decorating class back in 1995, starting at three weeks prior to my daughter's wedding. I was planning to make and decorate her wedding cake, with no knowledge of stacking a tiered cake or making a flower with an icing tip and bag. When I entered the store that offered the classes, I went in search of a book that could show me how to do what I needed. The woman who helped me out kind of rolled her eyes when I stated my needs and my intent!

All things considered, the wedding cake turned out pretty well. It was a very small wedding, so I didn't have to make a really huge cake, and aside from the fact that it had the tiniest "lean" to it, it came out great. I made what are termed "drop flowers" and kept it simple. 
Gum Paste Flowers & Fondant
Gum Paste Flowers & Fondant

I went on to complete the three part Wilton cake decorating course and was quite proud of my accomplishments, going on to take a course on fondant as well. That was the last actual class I took, but over the years I learned to make gum paste flowers, some quite realistic, if I do say so myself. I made a lovely wedding cake for my son and his wife, and the theme was beachy. Julia loves all things beach and bright tropical flowers. I made flowers and seashells out of gum paste for their cake. Keep in mind, I had 14 years of experience by this time. Still, it took me countless hours creating all the flowers and shells, making plenty in case of any breakage. 

I have made all sorts of cakes, small and large, in the years since I took that first Wilton class, and the classes kept me learning and trying new things. I don't go all-out in cake decorating unless it is for someone I love and care for. I would never do it commercially - it is just too much work. But I have always been artistic, and this is just one more of many creative outlets for me. 

And then recently I started seeing ads on Facebook for "Russian Icing Tips" and seeing how with one quick squeeze you had a whole flower. Granted, not as realistic as I generally go for, but still, it was intriguing. I finally broke down and ordered a small set (see it here) through Amazon (where else?). It arrived over a week ago, but I didn't get around to trying them until yesterday. 
Maple Pecan Pound Cake with Basic Stabilized American Buttercream
Maple Pecan Pound Cake with Basic Stabilized American Buttercream

First off, I found a cake recipe I wanted to try. I needed a cake to decorate, of course. I was online, possibly on Pinterest, though I cannot recall exactly, and found a cake called Cold Oven Brown Sugar Whipping Cream Pound Cake. (Quite a mouthful!) Click on the name to take you to see that cake and recipe. I had only ever tried one pound cake that went into a cold oven and it has always and unfailingly stuck to the pan. So understandably, I was leery of trying this, but hey!

The cake sounded awfully sweet, yet called for no salt. I added salt. It called for a TABLESPOON of vanilla! I used one teaspoon, plus a teaspoon of maple flavoring. I was capitalizing on the brown sugar theme with the maple flavor, so I added pecans as well. Another change I made was substituting lard for the shortening. I avoid shortening in anything if possible, and always go to butter first. Still, I know that shortening has a somewhat stabilizing effect. So does lard. Though I had not yet used lard in a cake, I had used olive oil in cakes, so I knew that despite the pronounced flavor of olive oil, it does not remain apparent once the cake is baked. So, lard it was.
Making Two-toned Icing Packets
Making Two-toned Icing Packets

I whipped up the cake and with some trepidation set it into the cold oven and baked it. It took 1 hour and 23 minutes for the cake to be done. The recipe stated "80 to 90 minutes," so I'd say that was about right at 83 minutes. While it was baking, I went on to read a bit about the type of icing needed to accomplish nice flowers with the new Russian Icing Tips. Once set, I used as a basis a Wilton recipe that uses some meringue powder in it. The meringue powder helps stabilize the icing, so that if making flowers, they will hold nice, sharp edges, and stand up under heat if needed. I found a video from Global Sugar Art that really helped me understand a bit more about the hows and whys and some pitfalls with Russian Icing Tips and it also showed about making two-toned flowers using the method I used in the photo collage above. I made one mistake.
Icing Bag with Tip & Icing Bag with Coupler and Tip
Icing Bag with Tip & Icing Bag with Coupler and Tip

When I ordered the icing tips, I also ordered the couplers. These icing tips are large, so they do not in any way fit with the little regular sized icing tip couplers. The reason for couplers, in case you have not used them before, is to allow the ability to switch out different icing tips, while using the same icing color. For example, if I wanted to write "Happy Birthday" in blue on top of the cake with round icing tip #3, but also wanted to make pretty shells around the border in the same blue icing, I would just unscrew the outside of the coupler, remove the one tip, replace with the next one and screw the outside piece of the coupler back in place. 

Three Tips & Three Color Combinations
Three Tips (top with coupler) & Three Color Combinations
Since I was trying out three specific icing tips with three different combinations of icing colors, I really didn't need the couplers at all. I combined orange with yellow centers, white with orange centers and yellow with green centers. In the video, Chef Alan just set one of the tips into the bag, cutting just enough off the end of the bag to allow the tip to peek through, then snipped off the end of one of his icing packets (as I've shown above), and dropped the cut end into the icing bag. This way, if you choose to switch tips you can simply turn the icing bag upside down and the whole plastic wrapped tube of icing with the tip still stuck to it just falls out! With a coupler, this was not the case. 

Also, as the tips themselves are really large, the couplers are also very large. VERY large. And with that you end up with a huge amount of icing stuck down in there between icing tip and coupler. You can only squeeze just so far before you are at the rigid edge of the coupler, and then you are left with all that icing down in there and no way to neatly press it out into a flower. Watch the video!!!

Another thing to remember is that the icing for these flowers needs to be far more stiff than what would normally be used to ice the cake itself. The cake will need at least a "skim coat" of icing so the flowers have something to adhere to. When making the icing, first make it without adding any liquids except for the vanilla. It should be the proper consistency, particularly if measuring by weight. If it really is too stiff, add in cream, 1 teaspoon at a time to loosen, but remember it needs to be thick to hold nice stiff edges and not flop over. When piping the flowers, the icing tip must be perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the cake surface. The tip should be touching the icing on the cake, then squeeze, holding for a second to adhere the base, then continue to squeeze briefly while pulling upwards. Stop at between ½ to ¾-inches high. 

Maple Pecan Pound Cake

Makes one 10-inch tube pan cake
Maple Pecan Pound Cake
Maple Pecan Pound Cake

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks, 4-ounces each), room temperature
½ cup lard, room temperature
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
¾ cup chopped pecans

Spray the inside of the tube pan with cooking spray and set aside. 

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Separately, measure the whipping cream and stir in the vanilla extract and maple syrup. Set these aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, lard and both sugars for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each is incorporated thoroughly before adding the next. Ad in a third of the flour mixture and mix on very low speed to combine. Add half the whipping cream mixture and stir in. Add another third of the flour mixture, blend, add the remaining cream and then the remaining flour. Stir in the nuts, then turn speed up a couple of notches to completely blend the ingredients.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan and run a knife or spatula through the batter to release any trapped air bubbles. Set the pan on a baking sheet with rim and place in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 325 degrees and bake the cake for 1 hour and 20 to 30 minutes.  Check for doneness when a toothpick inserted into the center (between middle and edge of pan) comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow the cake to set for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the outer edge and remove the cake from the outer rim. Run the knife between the cake and bottom of the pan to loosen, then check to see that the cake is not stuck to the center post. Carefully turn upside down onto a plate, then reverse so that the cake is again right side up. Allow to cool completely before icing.

Basic Stabilized American Buttercream

Basic Stabilized American Buttercream for Piping
Basic Stabilized American Buttercream for Piping
Makes about 4 cups icing suitable for use with Russian Piping Tips

1½ cups (12 ounces / 339 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ pounds / 681 grams confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon (0.30 ounces / 8 grams) meringue powder 
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream, if needed 

Sift the confectioners' sugar with the meringue powder and salt. Place the sifted ingredients in a mixer bowl. Add in the softened butter and mix on low speed until all the confectioners' sugar is moistened, then increase speed only slightly. Beating on higher speeds will incorporate air bubbles. Bubbles will cause breaks in the icing when decorating, causing unneeded headaches. Beat slowly. Add the vanilla extract and continue to beat gently until the icing is very smooth and creamy. 

To decorate as I have in these photos, separate the icing into 4 bowls. Leave one bowl white, and ensure there is just a little more in this white icing bowl than the others. To one bowl add yellow gel coloring to desired color, stirring with an icing spatula or table knife to mix well. Add orange gel color to another bowl and mix, then add green to another bowl and mix. 

Set out three pieces of plastic wrap, about a foot long and set them on a surface with the longer edge towards you. Scoop out about half the white icing onto the center of one piece of the plastic wrap and spread it to about a 6 x 8-inch rectangle. Down the center, perpendicular to you, place a small core of icing (I used orange). Lift one shorter edge of the plastic wrap to help lift the icing from one side to cover the center icing. Release the wrap so it is again lying flat and now lift the opposite side, bringing the icing up to meet over the top, encasing the center color. Wrap the plastic wrap all the way over, and roll to make a log. Twist the ends of the wrap to make a sausage shape. 

Repeat this with the other color combinations. Use the remaining orange colored icing to make the larger rectangle, and lay down a center in some of the yellow icing and wrap as above. For the third color combination, make the larger rectangle out of the remaining yellow, then lay a center of some of the green. Roll as above.

Reserve the remaining green icing and use it in an icing bag with a leaf tip.

To the remaining white icing in the bowl, stir in some of the whipping cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, as needed to make a spreadable icing, then use this to put on a very thin "skim coat" of icing to the top of the cake. Do not do this too long before piping the flowers. This icing will begin to form a crust. If the crust begins to form, the piped flowers will not adhere. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.