Tim Burton Birthday Cake

I finally got to make a Tim Burton style cake! I’m so glad to have had this opportunity. It features the main characters from Nightmare Before Christmas (Jack Skellington and Sally and Zero), Corpse Bride (Emily and Victor) and Frankenweenie from Frankenweenie.

I don’t have a long tutorial or post to make about this, but wanted to share close-ups of all my characters. All the characters were made by hand by me, hand painted, and shaded. The eyelashes on the ladies were made using the finest setting on my clay extruder. The 12″ x 18″ half-chocolate and half-vanilla sheet cake was covered with black chocolate buttercream and vanilla buttercream. My border was a number 18 Wilton tip.

Hope you enjoy!

img_7060img_7061img_7062img_7063img_7070nightmarecakecloseupnightmare

Our first community day

Yesterday we participated in our very first community day, Autumn Alive!, run by Quakertown Alive, a non-profit organization in our town. It was such a fun experience, and though I didn’t take man pictures, I thought it would be great to put my thoughts about it down into a blog post.

GATHERING MATERIALS

I got the idea of participating in Autumn Alive this time last year, but there were a couple problems with that idea. First, it was the weekend of my sister’s wedding. Second, we didn’t have anything prepared and would have not known anything about how to be a part of such an event. So I put it on the back burner for a while.

The next thing I had to do was make some investments. Using cake profits and money, I slowly started to take advantage of sales through VistaPrint for a sign, t-shirts, logo stickers, and business cards.

I also got to work early on my dummy cake to ensure that it would be done in plenty of time for the event. Here’s how it turned out:

AUTUMN CAKE.jpg

Next, we had to figure out how to package our items. We thought the most sanitary way to distribute would be to put in individual containers. I would set up and basically be ready to go. There are a lot of containers out there on Amazon and other food service websites. After a lot of research, we finally settled on ones that were a pretty good deal.

After that, of course, was a matter of also planning how I would present our booth. I also had made a photo book of my cakes from 2014 and 2015 to have right there on the table.

We had no idea what to expect, so I didn’t know how many cupcakes I should make… I decided on 50 of three of my best flavors: butter cake, chocolate cake, and pumpkin spice cake. I did the math of converting them to double recipes and even typed them up for my convenience. In the sake of being very professional, we also printed ingredient labels to put on every single cupcake.

PRODUCT PREP

I always like to make a time line of when to bake and prepare my goods. I decided on baking on Thursday and decoration on Friday. The first thing I did, however, to make it easy on myself, was to make my dry mixes. It’s sort of like making my own cake mix, except from scratch! Then all I need to do is finish with the wet ingredients:

I also decided to make a big batch of my favorite brownies, King Arthur Fudge Brownies. They are just so good! I know it’s always good to have more than one type of product on your table, and I figured maybe some people might be more interested in brownies. We had to print some ingredient labels very last-minute, and they looked so great when we were done.

When Thursday came, I woke up at 6 AM and got to work as soon as I woke up.


From there, it was a bit of a baking marathon. I only have two mixer bowls, so at one point I had to clean my bowl to make way for another batch in my mixer. Below are my 48 yellow cupcakes, ready to go into the oven. I only baked one batch in the oven at a time.

I put my cupcakes straight into their containers as soon as they were finished cooling off. I hoped that this would help keep them moist and prevent them from drying out too much:

That night, after the bowls had been washed and cleaned, I made three HUGE batches of buttercream: vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate. The next day, I decorated them right in their containers. This process went by surprisingly fast!

Then Friday came. We got up very early, ready to find our spot (number 51!). My daughter came along to help and so we could take her to her dance lesson, which is on the same street as the festival. She felt so important being one of our helpers. We also brought along my mom and a friend.

She loved setting up the cupcakes and making the table look nice. All she wanted to do was be of help, so I let her do her thing and it made her so happy.

Before the day started, I got to finally meet Amy from Amy’s Creative Cakes. We have been speaking via Facebook and she is just the sweetest! She is a serious business woman who knows the business inside and out. And though I am doing something similar (but different — all cake businesses are unique), she isn’t rude or dismissive of me. She liked my dummy cake and we had the most positive conversation. It was really a great start to the day. If you’re reading this, thank you so much, Amy!

REFLECTIONS ON THE DAY

So the big question is .. how did the day go? Well, at first we weren’t moving much product. There was a booth of cupcake decorating, which I am pretty sure was free. We had the idea of giving out some free samples, but we didn’t bring plates or utensils.

Buuut, my mom went for a walk and came back with both a new plate and a knife. She started cutting up napkins so that we could put little pieces of cake and brownies on the plate. And then we converted one of our price lists into a FREE SAMPLES sign. After that, things started moving along nicely!

I got to talk to a lot of people and tell them a little bit about what we do. Many people expressed that they do have the need for someone to make cakes or their favorite person or bakery had stopped making cakes.

I got a lot of positive feedback on my work. Even people who didn’t actually stop at the booth would stop and admire our dummy cake. Of course, they didn’t realize it was a dummy, but I have actually MADE a cake like this, so I don’t feel at all guilty about that. For those who actually did stop and ask about the cake, I was able to show them in my book the actual jack-o-lantern cake that I made for a customer last year.

I had a very nice conversation with a lady who just wants a quality, simple pound cake and I hope that she gets in touch with me! We spoke briefly about everybody’s favorite pound cake — STOCK’S of Philadelphia. While I can’t make a Stock’s, I can make a damn good pound cake! She liked my yellow cake, so we’ll see what happens.

I also did a consultation right on spot for a customer who expressed an interest in getting a cake. I encouraged her to come to the event and we could meet, talk, and she could try some cake. Her daughter loved looking through our picture album of pictures. We just have so many ideas that it is hard to choose!

The most popular flavor of the day was the pumpkin spice cupcakes. I sold a lot of those! People also really loved my cinnamon buttercream. And it was so simple to make, so I almost felt guilty receiving so much praise for it.

I can’t get through this post without mentioning a couple of flukes that we went through. First, I made WAY TOO MUCH CAKE. Way too much. And as the day wore on, I dropped my price a little bit, though that didn’t help all that much in moving products. And at one point, just to get people interested, I was just giving cake away. One lady was especially grateful for her free cake that I definitely had no regrets. She tried a piece of cake and was looking through my book, so I bagged her up a pumpkin cake with a card, and the smile on her face was worth a million bucks. I gave two boxes of extra cake to the Code Blue project, which is a non-profit for the homeless in our town. I’m so glad that the extras will hopefully not go to waste and go to someone who is hungry.

Second, we were in direct sun for most of the day. Since my cakes were packaged in little plastic containers, it made them practically like a little greenhouse. The chocolate was susceptible to melting. We ended up only keeping out a few of the cupcakes and putting the rest under the table. When people would buy a cupcake, we would pull from beneath the table, where the cupcakes were perfectly fine.

Third, I really should have collected email addresses so that I could email very interested people with my website, Facebook page, and Instagram page. They wouldn’t have to remember to like my page or worry about losing my business card. I had this idea, but didn’t get around to it.

But back to the more positive things. I’m so glad that my mom and friend came along, because they were of invaluable help to me. My mom has much more experience with selling, so it was great of her to give me tips and tricks on how to move product. And it took me a while, but I really got the whole spiel down: try a sample, here’s my card, here’s a book of my work.

And my daughter … Not to backtrack, but on the Friday before, they were discussing their weekends at school and she told her teacher that she was “going to dance class and selling cupcakes with mommy.” That makes me feel so happy. I feel like maybe she is proud of me in her own little way.

I’m really proud of how well I did talking to so many straight-up strangers. If you’ve known me since I was young, you would know that I was chronically shy, like I never wanted to be the person ordering pizza or Chinese-food shy. I’m not the best at it, but after so many years of pushing myself, I am able to do it.

We would love to return for Arts Alive in April, but with a different strategy, of course. We have different ideas of how much to make and how to collect information.

I have no idea of where this little business is going to go, but I know that we are having fun making cakes and extra spending cash while we are at it. We have dreams about what to do next and how to do it, and all we can do is try.

Below are some more photos from the day:

Thanks for reading!

Nichole

ANOTHER THANK YOU…

To my husband: Thank you to my husband, who tells me he is proud of me for trying and for putting this all together. And for setting up and breaking down and making our pretty price lists. 

To my mom: Thank you again to my mom and neighbor/friend for helping me on Saturday. Mom, you instilled such a good work ethic in me, not to mention a love of baking. And it would have been very hard to break down at 4 if you weren’t there to watch the little ones back at home. 

Annika: Nika, thank you for walking Rachel around since I couldn’t leave our booth. And for helping me break down and work the booth all day long. I’ll never forget how you planned your big trip around this event! I’m speechless. 

My father-in-law: Thank you so much for coming out! We wouldn’t have predicted that J would get stuck on a call for hours, so it was a big help that you could watch the little ones. In fact, thank you to you and mother-in-law for all the help this past month. It wasn’t an easy month, that’s for sure, but it was made easier with love. 

Rachel: Thank you to my beautiful daughter. All she wanted to do was help. She hung out from 7:30 am until 4:30 pm like a champ and not once did she get bored. She was the happiest kid ever when I let her wear an extra logo t-shirt that morning. 

My neighbors: Thank you to my neighbors who came out to the event and checked out the booth, hung out a little, and bought some cupcakes–thank you! It means a lot that you took time out of your weekend to support our little venture. 

And, of course, thank you for everybody who encouraged me to try and I was planning to do this. 

Minnie & Daisy Sheet Cake

I can’t believe it’s time for Ellie’s birthday again! I have been making her birthday cakes since she was one year old. Last year I made her a Minnie Mouse cake using a Wilton Mickey pan, and it turned out so great!

This year, I have been making a lot of sheet cakes and people are starting to take notice. So her mom, Rachel, wanted to try that this year. Something with Minnie and Daisy as ballerinas. She also showed me a picture of Ellie’s favorite Minnie Mouse toy for guidance on her outfit.

What I really want to focus on in this blog post is how I made the buttercream portion of my cake and how it all came together. I didn’t take a lot of progress pictures of my fondant Minnie and Daisy. I really have to do a blog post on how I make my characters at some point. I’m just usually in a rush, so I just try to get things done.

PLANNING

The first thing I did was make my sketch, of course!

With it being only a 9″ x 13″ quarter sheet cake, I was limited on the amount of space, so I had to come up with something that was designed well enough to fit everything that we wanted into the cake. Being limited on space actually pushes you to make a cleaner and better design. I came up with this after looking at some inspiration on Google. I saw something similar, but different, that was an edible image.

After that, it was a matter of finding a Minnie and Daisy that would fit my theme. I really love Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, and found a screen cap that became my basis for Daisy. For Minnie, I found a different picture on Google images. But it was very much inspired by Once Upon a Christmas. I just had to switch out skates for ballet shoes!

skating

After they were completed to my liking, I figured the most difficult part of my cake was done (boy, was I wrong!). But at least they looked good and were FINISHED.

I used my Tappit letter cutters in block lettering and big funky lettering to write our message. I made a big and small “4”. I could have tossed the small “4”, but I am glad I didn’t! I needed it later.


BUTTERCREAM

I made my favorite Toba Garrett’s decorator’s buttercream, which makes about five pounds of buttercream. I know that seems like an awful lot of buttercream for such a small cake, but I was going to fill it and wanted to do a good crumb coat. Plus, I get very paranoid about not having enough buttercream!

I wanted to show you how I sift my buttercream. First, I weight it. I needed three pounds of confectioner’s sugar.

Then I put as much powdered sugar into my huge sifter that I can fit. I cover it with one of these handy covers. They’re meant for picnics to keep insects off of your food, but using them for this has been a life saver! I get to sift quickly without powdered sugar flying all over the place. I make a big enough mess as it is!

To make that pink frame, I traced my pan onto a piece of paper. Then I figured out how big it could be to allow for my message and my characters. I used this as a guide to make a line out of fondant from my clay extruder so the lines around the frame would be just-right. Then I cut out my rectangle. After filling and crumb-coating my cake, I centered my guide on the cake and used my cake tester to draw a line around my piece of paper.

To make the process of doing a tricolor cake easier, I knew I wanted to start with applying all my buttercream with my number 10 tips. Luckily, I have a bunch of them from when I made a camouflage cake. It makes it so much easier, rather than having to clean them after each color. And then they’re ready if I need to use that color with that tip again.

The buttercream that I made comes out to about 9 cups of buttercream. I measured about 2.5 for the pink and 2.5 for the purple. I used AmeriColor pink (very small amount!) for the pink. And AmeriColor Violet, Wilton Purple and a dash of AmeriColor pink for the purple icing. The amounts and mixing of the colors are all a guessing game.

I used couplers this time so I could switch out the tips for the pink and purple borders with ease. I fill my bags by putting them in cups. The cups hold the bag open so I can add my buttercream easily. For years I didn’t do this, but I am sure glad that I do that now.

And, BONUS, it means I get to break out my McDonald’s Shrek cups, which bring me so much joy. I sealed them off with my bag ties. See more on how to fill your pastry bags easily here: http://www.yourcupofcake.com/2013/09/cupcake-piping-tutorial.html.

Next it was all about filling in. I traced the rectangle with white. Then I traced it with pink.

Then, trying to be neat, but knowing it would get smoothed, I filled in the pink area.

Then I filled in my white area.I used back and forth motions, trying to keep it even.

I tried to get them basically smoothed with my spatula, knowing I would go over them again later. Next, I went up and down the sides with my purple. I knew it would be too much, but when you take away the icing as you smooth, the result is really great (more on that later).

Above is what I would call the FUGLY STAGE. This cake with fugly for quite a while.

I smoothed it with a clean spatula. Then I went over it again with a clean plastic gift card. I scraped a lot of extra icing off. I was able to use salvage the extra buttercream for the bottom border. It’s so much easier to take away icing than it is to add icing!

This is how it looked when I was completely done smoothing it. Or at least I thought I was done.

I put it back into the fridge for a little while so that the buttercream could crust over. Then I took it out and began smoothing it with my Viva paper towel. Be careful to use the SMOOTH SIDE. 

I noticed that there were some spaces on the side that weren’t flush with the top of the cake, so I used my extra icing to fix those spaces. I also put on another layer of white and pink icing. I used every bit of white that I had!

And I had to start the smoothing process all over again. *Sad Face*

I got a bit of the case of perfectionism with this cake because Rachel is such a loyal customer! I wanted it to be perfect. I spent way too much time making it super smooth.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

When I was FINALLY finished fiddling with the buttercream, I added my fondant lines and adjusted them until they were correct. Then it was time to start in on the polka dots. Since I didn’t have a lot of space, I went with my smallest circle cutter. This part was just a bit tedious, but it was worth it in the end. I used my X-Acto knife to cut some of them in half for around the “frame” and around the edge.

I went around the inside edge first.

Then I started the middle, full dots and then the outside dots.

After that I wanted to add my words to the right side. I used a paper towel to help me keep my lines straight.

I didn’t end up using the large “4” because there just wasn’t enough space. I am glad I didn’t toss the small “4”!

I measured “ELLIE!” to make sure that I would place it correctly. I really should always do this.

I placed it as right justified as I could. Then I added the last of the letters. In retrospect, I would have nixed the exclamation point so that everything fit better. You live and you learn!

I switched out my number 10 round tips for my number 18 star tips for my borders. I tried something different than I usually do up top and did a sort of swirl-thing. Then for the bottom, since I was limited on space, I did a regular shell border.

I realize that I wasted my time doing the half circles around the outside edge since they were completely covered by my border. D’oh! Oh, well.

This (above) is how it looked when it was finished in my kitchen. I had to wait until the next day to take my good picture. I wait until the light is good in my dining room, and then I set up my Bake Drop by Sugar High, Inc. I find it so hard to take pictures of sheet cakes. I hate the shadows that I get when I take my pictures, but I don’t want to invest in photography equipment like reflectors… Not yet, anyway.

setup

Here’s how it turned out! I will always wish that I got a backdrop sooner, though we really didn’t have room in our old house.

Minnie and Daisy.jpg

For more on the techniques that I used in this blog post, I really suggest Corrie Rasmussen’s class, The Perfect Birthday Cake on Craftsy. I’ve developed my own style, I think, but a lot of the basic skills that I used are discussed in Corrie’s amazing class.

I am relieved to be finished my last client cake of the summer. It has been quite a humid one and I am eternally grateful to my husband for installing the air conditioner that helps cool our kitchen and dining room, where I do all of my work. It made a huge difference!

And apparently it really IS my year for sheet cakes because Rachel has booked another sheet cake for her son in November! I’m excited for the theme – dinosaurs – because I have yet to make a dinosaur cake.

Until then!
– Nichole

P.S. Here is what I have planned for the rest of the year:

  • Threadcakes 2016
  • My First Dummy Cake
  • My First Festival

90th Birthday drip cake 

 

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Our Inspiration

My friend’s grandmother has reached a HUGE milestone — 90 years! This was her two years ago — is she not beautiful? I cannot imagine being 90 years young! My friend and her mom wanted to surprise her with a special cake, something simple and elegant. Her grandmom is a fan of the card game of bridge, so that was one of our starting points. My friend’s thought was that we could incorporate a hand of cards. Our challenge was to incorporate cards while keeping things elegant and simple. I also knew she wanted chocolate and vanilla cake, whipped cream, and walnuts.

As always, I made a quick sketch of the order. This would guide me later and help me not forget anything. My friend approved!

sketch

RESEARCH (ATTEMPTS)

I started Googling about bridge; and, my friends, sometimes Google is not the answer! So I turned to Facebook. Someone always knows something or knows someone who is an expert, and they didn’t fail! My friend Jana knows a man who is an enthusiast. She messaged him and he gave two suggestions.

ETSY PROBLEMS

In bridge you get 13 cards. That’s a lot! I ordered cards from an authorized Etsy dealer of edible images. I have had good experiences, but this time was mixed. He just didn’t seem to know what I wanted. At first he sent me a HUGE hand of cards. He completely misunderstood me.

Then he didn’t give me a refund, but said if I wanted to start over, I would have to order another set. What I wanted small individual cards that I could arrange myself. I paid for the extra set because I wanted the cake to be just what she wanted.The second go around, he finally got it right — almost. He forgot a card. D’oh! So I had to make it myself.

MAKING THE CARDS

To make the cards, the first thing I did was mix some fondant with Tylose powder. I use LMF fondant.

Next, I cut out my cards with my X-Acto knife, wet them, and applied them to the fondant. Then I let them set up for a few minutes.

After that, I cut them out with my X-Acto knife.

Then I played around with their arrangement, in the proper order, of course.

Using simply water, I stuck them together. I used another piece of fondant in a thin rectange shape to reinforce them. Then I stuck in my toothpicks in the thick parts.

To make the “90”, I went to Microsoft Word, as usual. I printed out a huge 90 in one of my favorite fonts, Bernard MT Condensed. I make a guide by poking through my paper with a pin, then I take off the paper and use my X-Acto to cut out the number. I start with the holes first so that they don’t warp.

BAKING THE CAKE

For this cake, they wanted chocolate and vanilla. I used my favorite Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe and a yellow cake recipe by America’s Test Kitchen.

RECIPES:
Fluffy Yellow Cake   (No changes to the recipe)
Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake (One change: I use fresh, hot coffee instead of hot water)

We had originally agreed with doing whipped cream frosting, but with the temperatures being in the 90s (it’s July), and it being very humid, I decided that was not a good idea. I asked a friend who is a trained pastry chef, and she agreed. So we changed plans to my vanilla buttercream.

And for the buttercream, I used Toba Garrett’s fabulous recipe, as usual. I didn’t use meringue powder this time because I haven’t been digging the taste lately. And it does something weird to my buttercream.

I trimmed down my 8″ board.

For the filling, I made a nice dam and filled with about a cup of buttercream. And repeated with each layer.

Then I slathered on a bunch of buttercream.

I smoothed it with my metal Ateco cake smoother and popped it into the fridge.

To attach my cake to my cake board (which I covered in black fondant a few days before), I made a batch of stiff royal icing.

WALNUTS

I applied and smoothed on more buttercream to get it perfectly smooth and nicely covered. Then, I got out my walnuts for the lower edge.

I slathered on a thin layer of buttercream about 2 inches high from the bottom.

And this part was hard than expected. I had to try to apply the walnuts to the cake. I tipped the cake a bit and tried it that way, which helped. I have watched videos of people doing this and knew it would make a huge mess. And it definitely didn’t disappoint! The walnuts made my fondant weird and sort of oily, so I had to wipe it off with a clean, moist paper towel and hope that it looked okay.

GANACHE DRIPS

Next, it was ganache time! I made WAY TOO MUCH ganache. I used about 16 ounces of heavy cream and 16 ounces of Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips.I heated my heavy cream until it was JUST about boiling, poured it over my chocolate chips, swirled it, then covered it for five minutes.

After five minutes had passed (set a timer!), I whipped it together by hand with a wire whisk. Then more waiting: I put on the timer for 15 minutes.

Next it was time for the drip part. By some act of God, I had just seen on Instagram someone making a drip cake in a special way that I had never thought of! Using a small number 3 tip, which is just an open tip for letter writing, the artist made the drips down the side. They did this as opposed to pouring it on and letting the drips fall as they may.

After going around the entire cake twice, I then filled in the middle. I tried to make it nice and thick, because ganache is just delicious! Then I added my Tappit letters and my ribbon. I didn’t realize while I was doing it, but I started the ribbon on the RIGHT side of the cake. Ugh! I know I could have left it, but I wanted it to be perfect, so I put on a second layer of ribbon to hide the seam.

ADDING THE TOPPERS

I texted my friend this picture and a picture of the cards next to the 90. We agreed that the 90 in front of the cards would look better. It kind of obscured the cards, but just looked so much better. I know, I know, after all that work and frustration with Etsy. Oh, well! All that mattered was that it was a perfect hand. Surely someone might notice.

I had to reinforce the 90 with a little hot glue because the sticks came out (it wasn’t going to be eaten!), and I was done!

The next day when the lighting was good, I took my picture! I tried it from every angle, then I found this crooked angle by accident and was quite happy with it.

I love to end these posts with a picture of the celebration if I can, and here she is! Isn’t she wonderful?? They loved the cake and it had rave reviews from the guests and from the staff at the restaurant. Not much more I can ask for than that!

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Any questions? Please leave it in the comments. See you next time!

Nichole

Princess picnic sheet cake

It’s June! Which means it is time for another cake for little miss Lilly. I’ve made her birthday cake every year since her first birthday. This year, her mama wanted something on the simpler side, something like a sheet cake. Lilly couldn’t decide between Sofia the First and she really loves Frozen (I mean, who doesn’t??).

Sheet cakes get a bad rap. I mean, I know everybody probably thinks about what they see in supermarkets with the plain roses and hand lettering. Those kind of sheet cakes definitely have their place in the cake world (they’re so affordable!), but sheet cakes can be so much more than that!

Years ago, CorrieCakes really took sheet cakes to the next level. Corrie is one of my many cake heroes.  As soon as she came out with her class on the Craftsy platform, I just had to snatch it up so I could learn her secrets, tips, and tricks. It was worth every penny! Everything you see here can be learned in her class. I’ll share the link here: http://www.craftsy.com/instructors/corrie_rasmussen

With her amazing cakes in mind, I came up with my own original design. I wanted to make a picnic scene with a castle in the background. I also wanted to do simple princesses similar to the ones that I see on cards on Etsy all the time. So I made my sketch and hoped that my cousin would love it, and she did!

cakesketch

MAKING A HALF SHEET CAKE

The first thing you need to know about making a half sheet cake is that it takes 14 cups of batter. We chose two recipes:

Fluffy Yellow Cake   (No changes to the recipe)
Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake (One change: I use fresh, hot coffee instead of hot water)

Problem is, both of these recipes only make about six cups of batter. Soooo I got out my notebook and doubled the recipes. It’s always good to write down a new recipe when you are making changes so you aren’t scrambling when it comes time for baking. I used the extra batter to make round 8″ layers for another cake.

 

 

 

 

After it was baked, I gently patted down the slight dome with a clean towel.

And turned it out onto my large rack. I leveled the top a little bit.

MAKING THE PRINCESSES

Errr .. Well, technically, Elsa is a queen, but that’s neither here nor there. I found some adorable princess clip art on Etsy. Then I made all of my colors. I had fun by letting my friends on Facebook try to guess what princesses the mixes were. For the record, the top is Anna, bottom left is Sofia the First, and the bottom right is Elsa.

The first princess that I put together was Anna. Her vest was so tiny!

To make the rest of the princesses, I decided to roll out my fondant and get cutting:

 

After all the pieces were cut, I started layering and putting them together:

For Sofia’s dress details, I used edible beads made by Cake Boss. I used Wilton White for the shine in their eyes. All the drawn lines are made by using AmeriColor gourmet writers.

Then I made the castle using the same techniques, all learned from Corrie’s Craftsy:

I also made some side kicks like Olaf and Clover as well as things for their picnic:

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

To put it all together, I first made a quadruple batch of Toba Garrett’s Decorator’s Buttercream. The first thing I did was a healthy crumb coat. Then I divided out my buttercream and dyed them sky blue, leaf green, and white. My buttercream was slightly yellow from all that great butter, so I added some white and a touch of purple. The purple neutralizes the yellow!

To finish the cake, I drew the hill for the castle and the rest of the grass. Then I made a line for the sky. I used a number 10 and number 8 tip, which are the open round tips. Then I filled them in, going back and forth. After that, all I had to do was smooth out the buttercream with my spatula.

Then I turned my turntable and did the same for the sky.

The neatest way that I could figure out to ice the sides was to keep going with the tip. I barely had enough of my light blue! That’s what I truly hate about dying and estimating how much buttercream is needed.

To make it even smoother, I used a Viva paper towel after the the buttercream had “crusted”. The warmth from my hands helped get my buttercream extra-smooth. Don’t forget to use the smooth side of the paper towel!


It was slightly humid (thanks, Summer!), so I didn’t get too obsessive about getting my buttercream smooth. Plus, life is just too short for that. I didn’t bother too much with playing around with the sides of the cake. I knew that they would be covered by some piping and flowers. Here is how it looked when I was finished:

After that was smooth sailing. All I had to do was add my characters with a little bit of water. To add my message (“Happy Birthday Lilly”), which I had made with Tappit letter cutters, I used a piece of wax paper as a guide to make sure it didn’t get crooked.

After that, I added a border with a #16 star tip. Anything bigger would have been too big. I didn’t have very much room left on my board. Then, I added some sunflowers to the middle of each side and some swirls details, which is another reference to Frozen Fever (Anna’s birthday cake is decorated just like the sides of this cake).

Overall, I am so happy with the result! The beauty of a big 12″ x 18″ cake like this is that you can really tell a story through your picture. The finished cake features Sofia, Elsa, and Anna picnicking with Clover the Bunny and Olaf the snowman, complete with his own personal flurries. I asked my friends on Facebook for some suggestions for “princess picnic food” and tried to include as much as I could. They brought along: Chocolate cupcakes (Elsa and Anna LOVE chocolate), carrots for the animals, sandwiches (Anna loves sandwiches), fruit (bananas, watermelon and TINY grapes), as well as teapot with a surprise guest from another classic Disney film (Mrs. Potts!).

How did they fit it in that tiny basket? Maybe magic?

Oh, and I also made a couple of the tiny snowmen from Frozen Fever. I couldn’t resist!

closeup2frozen-sofiacake

If you go back to the very beginning of the post, you can see how similar it is to my original design that I had drawn up. I almost forgot about the picnic basket and DID forget about making a sun for the sky (whoops!). It completely slipped my mind!

Here she is with her special cake!

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My next cake is a three-tier red, white, and blue cake for a Fourth of July birthday party! I have almost everything ready to go to put it all together.

Have a great week, everybody! Thank you so much for reading. If you like it, share it!

Nichole

Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake

Hello!

I haven’t written a blog since my Bear Necessities post, and I thought it was about time I wrote one!

I feel like I have been making a lot of first birthday cakes lately, but I suppose that makes sense since so many of my customers, friends, and family are around my own age. This one was another special one for me because it was for a returning customer / cousin. And it’s one of my favorite themes! The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

Do you remember when this book came out? Because I do! I remember our librarian reading it to us and there was always a long list of kids waiting to take it out of the library. It is one of my children’s favorite books. And I have to admit, I love seeing all the different takes on this theme other cake decorators come up with.

My cousin sent me a ton of different images of Very Hungry Caterpillar cakes, and told me what she liked and didn’t like about each one. Then I came up with a few sketches and a plan.

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The first thing I had to do was make colors. I grabbed our copy of the book and quickly realized I would basically need ALL THE COLORS. Luckily, I had some extra fondant colors from other recent projects.

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Here are all the finished colors:

The very first thing I knew that I had to do was make the caterpillar. I used a wire to help give him structure and to keep with his shape. I swirled together light green, dark green, and yellow to make his varying colors:

After the caterpillar was completely  made, I added in some toothpicks so that I would have something to stick in the cake for support:

Then I stood him up on some styrofoam with added support under his head so it wouldn’t droop:

I made some 3D foods for the cake board, including the ice cream, lollipop and piece of chocolate cake. I also custom cut a number “1”, added small dots echoing the illustrations in the book, and then added a red boarder. Then I put a stick in so it would stand up later. These were the only things I had to make ahead of time (usually 2-3 weeks).

For the cake, we went with an 8″ and 6″ funfetti cake. All I did for this was double my favorite funfetti cake recipe by Sweetapolita. I made one change — I used all purpose flour instead of cake flour because I didn’t want it to be too delicate. I didn’t change the amount, either. Doubling the recipe allowed for just enough batter for two 8″ and two 6″ cake tins. After they cooled, I torted them so I could make elegant 4 layer cakes.

I covered a 12″ cake board in regular green fondant and let it dry a few days. I don’t put the ribbon on until last, so it doesn’t get dirty

After that, the Wednesday before the party, it was time to get started. I made a triple batch of vanilla buttercream (Toba Garrett’s Decorator’s Buttercream recipe) and a 1.5 batch of chocolate buttercream (Savory Sweet Life recipe– I omitted the almond extract). I filled and crumb coated my cakes and let them rest in the fridge for a bit. After that, I covered them in my white buttercream.

When it was time to put my cakes on the board, I carefully lifted my cake with my Wilton Cake Lifter and attached the cake to the board. I used hot glue between the boards. Since it would be traveling for over an hour (eeek!), I had to make sure it was steady.

This cake was two tiers, so I HAD to make dowel rods for support. I did six in the 8″ cake this time because it would be traveling over an hour.

Here are my cut dowel rods and my center rod.

I like my rods to come right to the surface or just below.

Next, I gave my buttercream another round of smoothing with my Viva paper towels. I have been doing this while the cakes are cool lately because they really crust over well in the refrigerator. After they warm up for a few minutes is the perfect time to get the cake even smoother with paper towels.

Then I just had to add some buttercream on the cake so they would stick together, and place my 6″ cake on top.

Then I measured my center dowel rod, sharpened it, rinsed it off, and inserted it down the center.

As you can see, after I placed my cake on top, there was a bit of a gap. But that can be fixed!

I simply use my tapered angled palette knife and little by little add buttercream around the cake. I added more buttercream to all of the cake to ensure that it looked perfectly white. I know I used my paper towels again. I wanted it to be smooth, but at the same time, I didn’t want to obsess.

After that, my cake went back in the fridge until the next day.

I decided the smartest way to go about this design was work from the bottom up.

We decided on the colorful circles to mimic the circles that Eric Carle illustrated the inside covers of the book. I got out all of my small circle cutters and held them up to the cake to decide which one would look the best, while also allowing room for the other decorations. Then I rolled out all my colors and cut all my circles. I could have done some math to find out exactly how many circles I needed, but I chose not to this time.

Then I placed them on randomly, like in the book. I really had to resist doing them in proper rainbow order, ROYGBIV.

Next, I printed out Liam’s name in one of my favorite fonts, Bernard MT Condensed, font size 150. I look at the ruler on the side of Word to see how many inches it is. Then I held it up to the cake to make sure it was a good size: not too big and not too small.

The way I designed the name was a happy accident. I had collected up my extra circles, balled them up, and was about to throw them away, but I really was intrigued by the way the colors looked mushed together. So I rolled the marbled ball out to see how it would look. I thought it looked a lot like the way Eric Carle makes his illustrations, so I decided to use it for Liam’s name. I also rolled out some red to make a background so it would really pop and have a lot of detail.



I pricked out the name with a pin, something I learned from Karolyn of Karoyln’s Kakes.

After the fondant was set and slightly dry, I cut the letters with a fresh X-Acto blade (currently using #11 blades). To keep everything centered correctly, I make an X on the front of my cake board — at least, when I know it is going to be covered with ribbon. I don’t do this if I am not going to be adding ribbon.

To attach, I lightly brushed the letters and placed them on the red, then cut around them with my knife. After that, I placed them on my cake and popped it back into the fridge again.



All that remained of my cutting by hand was the caterpillar’s food. I started by rolling out my fondant to let it set. I printed out my food and resized them to the correct side. I found them on Google images. Then, using my pin again, I made my shapes and cut them with my X-Acto knife. I used one of my round tips to make the “bite” hole in each one. For the detailing on the strawberry and watermelon, I made quick marks with my AmeriColor black gourmet writer.


All my finish foods, below.

It’s worth noting that I quickly and easily made little circles out of my red fondant for the cherry cake. Then I made a triangle for the top part of the pie. Then I made the crust.


By this time, they had set up enough, meaning they weren’t too soft and weren’t completely stiff. You need them soft enough to adhere to the side of your cake and stiff enough that they won’t warp in your hands. I lightly wet them with water to adhere them, but not so much that they were soaked. A very light moistening. I usually dip my brush in water and brush off the excess on some paper towels.


After that, I quickly added stems with tiny pieces of brown fondant rolled between my fingers. Then it was time for one of my favorite parts: I added the toppers and the 3D foods that I made ahead of time.

To get the ice cream, lollipop, and cake to stick, I just wet the bottom of the foods — not just moisten this time — really wet them. Then pressed them onto the board. Since the board is covered with fondant, it worked well because fondant sticks to fondant quite nicely.

The very last thing to do, as I mentioned before, was add my 5/8″ red ribbon. Some people like to use double-sided tape to do this, but I use hot glue.



The next day, when the sunlight was good in my dining room, I took my pics and I was done! I add my logo and website in Gimp and Paint, respectively. My backdrop is from the awesome Sugar High, Inc. I use natural light and no processing.

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I hope you learned a little something about the process of making a cake like this! As usual, if you have a question, just ask.

Nichole
6/11/16
PS-6/12/16. Here are some sweet pics from the party!

The Bear Necessities

Have you ever gotten an idea and just had to do it? It’s all you can think about, so you just have to get it out of your brain??

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That’s how it was for me when I saw the new 2016 version of Disney’s The Jungle Book. The visuals in this movie are simply stunning. They look like paintings, yet are so realistic at the same time.


The original Jungle Book has always been a favorite of mine. The songs, the story, the characters. And of course, there’s the Bare Necessities. This scene in the new movie is simply beautiful. When I saw the greens with the contrasting purple flowers I only could think one thing: that would be a beautiful cake!

I knew just how I would make my Jungle Book cake. A flat background with rough buttercream as paint. Purple flowers. Flowing water made with piping gel … But would it look right?

I knew that no one was going to order this cake. I always come up with ideas, but don’t get to make them. But I just read a blog recently ok cake decorating that said sometimes you can’t wait for an order. You just have to do it.

That very day, I started playing around with some fondant. Just to see if I could achieve the picture in my head.

And I liked the result. So I kept going.


Here I planned how I might make my board.

THE BACKGROUND

Below are my background progress pics. I cut two boards down to the size I wanted. Covered it with light blue fondant. Added brown trees and boulders. Then I added background trees and shading with black and brown petal dusts. I also made the sky a graduated blue by painting with blue and purple petal dusts.

For this project, I made a buttercream that was on the stiff side:

2 lbs of powdered sugar
2 sticks of butter
226 grams of vegetable shortening (Crisco)
4 tablespoons of heavy cream

Normally I add a lot of vanilla extract, too, but for this cake, I kept it out. I wanted to keep my buttercream as white as possible so that it would be easier to color. Plus, it would mostly be for painting the background, and not for taste.

I made 3 colors of varying green buttercream and painted with them with my angled spatula. I took a course in high school on oil painting, so I tried to use those skills. I decided to go in with some gel colors to add darker shadows.

Then I got my smallest star tip and added the purple flowers.

 



THE MODELING

The modeling for this was a tad rushed. But that’s okay.

When they were dry, I added hair, painted the fur. I improved upon Baloo’s snout and basically placed a new one right over the old one.


To keep his nose looking shiny, I painted it with vodka/corn syrup.

THE WATER

I thought about coloring my piping gel, but decided that since water is clear, so should my gel. Water doesn’t have a color. It reflects color. In the movie still, you can tell the water is green, as it is reflecting the colors of the jungle. So I dyed my fondant an olive green.


I used my entire Wilton Clear Piping gel to finish the cake! I used extra white buttercream to make the look of water breaking.

THE CAKE

I made a 10″ square cake and baked up my favorite chocolate chip cake. We ate it a few hours after I was done! No time like the present, am I right??

My daughter LOVES this cake and told me how good it is. Always wonderful to hear! I think that it is my kids’ favorite cake, too.


THE TAKEAWAY

I am so glad that I went for it and made my Jungle Book cake. It’s not exactly like the picture that I had in my head, but I am glad that I tried my ideas out! It was fun to paint with buttercream and play around with what it can do. I’m grateful that it is finished so that I can sleep better and not think about it anymore. I’m also glad that I won’t have the Bare Necessities stuck in my head for a little while! I’ll be sad when it’s completely gone.

I love this business/hobby so much! Already looking forward to my next custom cake.

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Nichole

Queen’s Cake Controversy??

Say it ain’t so!

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I thought I would make a quick post about this whole Nadiya Hussain Queen’s 90th birthday cake controversy. Some of you, my friends are probably like “what are you talking about?” Well, I follow a LOT of cake pages, so this has popped up a MILLION TIMES ON MY NEWSFEED!

I didn’t want to make a quick Facebook post that would get lost on Facebook world forever. I thought I would hop on my blog and make something a little more permanent and organized.

My first thought was: Wow, that cake is crooked. My second thought was: There is a story here.

It turns out that it was made by Nadiya Hussain, winner of the latest season of The Great British Bake Off.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/embed/video/1285008.html

If you watch this video, you can see how truly sweet this woman is. I can’t hate on her! And her cake looks DELICIOUS. She took such great care to get it level. What went wrong? Was it the fact that she didn’t dam her filling first (she did it second, what?), or maybe she didn’t use proper supports? I don’t know!

But it got me thinking — who determines who DESERVES to make a cake for the Queen of England? You always see the big cake pages (pages who have 15,000 fans or MORE) only post the most professional looking cakes because I guess no one wants to see a cake that’s less-than-perfect.

In the end, just like in business, who determines who gets to make the cake is THE CUSTOMER! This is a tough pill to swallow for some people. Hey, even me sometimes! But sometimes the underdog or the beginner gets to have a chance. The Queen chose Nadiya. Was it because she is a huge British Bake Off fan? Is it a political move because she is Muslim? Was this a public relations move? Who knows? Who cares? The Queen was the customer and she chose Nadiya.

The next thing I’m thinking about is COMFORT ZONE. Nadiya went well out of her comfort zone. She is a baker before a cake decorator.

But you want to know a little teensy secret? Some cakes are LIES … Meaning, there are a lot of cake decorators who use cake mixes and who don’t really like baking. They just want to decorate. But I’m going off on a tangent.

Nadiya went out of her comfort zone, which is something people MUST DO to grow. Great things happen outside of your comfort zone, as I heard someone say recently. However, is the national stage the right time to do it? When you know the news is going to be taking photos and it’s going to be plastered all over the place?

She was nervous; she couldn’t sleep the night before. I know that I couldn’t have, either! It’s great that she went out of her comfort zone. Was her choice of choosing a fondant-covered and tiered cake the best decision for this particular opportunity? Mmmm, probably not, but you know what? It was really brave of her! She got an idea and went for it!

And back to that “the cake is a lie” thing — sometimes the best decorated cakes are dry or not great, while a cake that is less-than-perfect-looking is absolutely delicious. Many cake decorators swear by box mixes. Then other people nail looks AND taste. Nadiya has the baking talent, and the most important aspect of cake is the taste. This is a wonderful starting point. For her, the sky is the limit!

Sources: 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3552099/Great-British-Bake-winner-Nadiya-Hussain-makes-cake-Queen-90th-Birthday.html

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/04/21/475007057/british-bake-off-winner-takes-on-the-toughest-judge-of-all-the-queen

Nichole

Everything You Wanted to Know About Pizza

And some things you didn’t. 

Since I got married in 2oo8, I have been cooking, cooking, cooking. Seriously, the cooking just doesn’t stop. In my early days, I was very dependent on allrecipes.com, which I still consider to be a wonderful resource, especially for those who are just starting out learning how to cook.

Something I always loved to eat was pizza. Ooey, gooey pizza made with delicious cheese and perfect sauce. At first, I started with the Mama Mary’s whole wheat pizza crusts. My memory is a little unclear, but I believe this is when I started making homemade pizza. These crusts were okay, but pretty flat. I love baking (as you may know by now!), so I decided that I wanted to try making my own pizza.

Pizza is a process. It’s not hard to make, but there is a lot of wait time. The crust is everything. And it’s a lot like bread making. If you want to learn how to make homemade bread without a bread maker, learning how to make pizza crust is a perfect place to start. Next thing you know, you’ll be wondering about homemade pretzels and all different sorts of breads.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

THE RECIPES

Like I said before, the place where I started was allrecipes.com. I found a recipe called “Jay’s Signature Pizza Crust”. Oh, man, is it good. It makes a very nice, soft crust that is hard at the bottom.

I used this recipe for many years. But what about whole wheat pizza, you ask? If you want to make your pizza healthier, you could swap out all or half of your flour for whole wheat flour. All we keep in this house is King Arthur Flour, so that is a good way to go. They make great whole wheat and even a “white” whole wheat.

But since then, my recipe has evolved just a little bit. My mom gifted me the King Arthur 200 Anniversary Baking Book. It’s an excellent resource on the history of the King Arthur company, pastries and breads, as well as cakes, pies, and pie crusts. It has an entire chapter devoted to pizza crusts and it doesn’t disappoint. I learned so many new factoids about pizza making in this book!

I mention King Arthur flour a lot on this blog — I swear they’re not paying me in free flour! Though that would be awesome.

At any rate, the recipe that I have ended up with lately is a bit of a mixture of the two. Through trial and error, I have come up with a pizza crust that I really love and enjoy. I make pizza crust so often that I have the recipe memorized. Cook books? They are in my head now.

SAUCE (OR is it called gravy?)
I haven’t done too much research on sauces. I have been using the same recipe since 2008 and I haven’t looked back. It is super simple and works well enough for me. It’s called Exquisite Pizza Sauce.

Sometimes when I am feeling lazy, I will use a pre-made pasta sauce, such as our favorite Bertolli pasta sauce. However, when I dump it on our crust and spread it around, you can see some separation between the water and the sauce. It makes the crust really runny.

There are also sauces available on the market that are specifically for pizza. We have used these before and they work much better than pasta sauces.

ACTIVATING YOUR YEAST
If you haven’t made a yeast dough of any kind, you  may be saying “activating my what now??”

Activating your yeast is making sure that your live yeast is active. “But my yeast says that it is active dry yeast, what gives?” Well, that is true, and your recipe may very well still work without activating your yeast, but it’s a fun step, and it’s always good to make sure your yeast is fully activated to get a good rise.

So here’s what you do: Get 1 and 3/4 cups of warm water of about 110° F (I don’t take the temperature of my water; I just ran the tap until I see steam coming off of it) and place it in a bowl. Then you add one tablespoon of white or brown sugar. Jay’s calls for brown; King Arthur calls for white. I don’t see much difference either way. Mix your sugar in so that it dissolves. Then you gently sprinkle 2 and 1/4 teaspoons on top of your warm water. And don’t move your bowl! And don’t mix your yeast in!

This is what it will look like at first:

After 5-8 minutes, it will look frothy like this:

“But Nichole, mine didn’t froth up! What shall I do! All those ingredients — wasted!”

Hey, it’s okay. Like I said before, if it doesn’t froth up, that’s fine. It’s ACTIVE dry yeast. No worries. It may not rise quite as nicely, but it will still work! Don’t give up now.

Then, as above, pour in 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO for short). King Arthur calls for 1/4 cup, while Jay’s calls for 2 tablespoons. I really like going crazy with the 1/4 cup because I really think it makes it taste so much better. Fat is good!

A little bit more about YEAST: In the picture above is my yeast that I buy in bulk from BJs. I store it in the fridge in a glass mason jar. You can also buy individual packets, which equal 2 and 1/4 teaspoons. Easy-peasey with the packets because you don’t have to measure anything at all.

But if you find that you enjoy making pizza, it pays to buy the small jar or the large bricks of yeast. But you have to store it in glass in the fridge. Perfect excuse for a mason jar.

Yeast Brands: I have used both Fleischmann’s and Red Star Active Dry Yeasts with great results.

NEXT: Add 1 tsp of salt. Because it’s tasty.

And grab your flour. Like I said, I use unbleached all-purpose flour by King Arthur. I use it for my pizza and my cakes. I buy it in bulk at BJ’s Wholesale club for $7 for 10 pounds. We go through a lot of flour in this house!

Add one cup of flour and mix it around. It will look all curdled and gross, like this:

About the Flour… This is where it gets tricky and requires some trial-and-error. Add too little flour and you have a sticky mess. Add too much flour and your dough is going to be ultra tough and won’t stretch very well. You want something pliable, soft, and yet not sticking to your hands.

The King Arthur Cookbook calls for a whopping 6+ CUPS OF FLOUR. Sheesh, that is a lot of flour. Maybe they’re weighing it, maybe they’re not. Maybe their climate is different than mine, but I doubt it. I usually weigh my ingredients, but not when making pizza. I usually add two more cups of flour, and mix, then see how it is. If it’s super sticky, I add a bit more. Still sticky? Add a bit more. You want to get it JUST at the point of not sticking to your hands.

When you get to a good point where you can create a ball with your flour, sprinkle some flour on your clean counter or work surface and dump your dough mixture out.

PRO TIP: RIGHT NOW, get a medium bowl and pour some EVOO into it. You’ll be thankful later.

Now, get kneading. Adding a little flour at a time, get your dough into a nice smooth ball. Remember, don’t add TOO much. You don’t want to make rubber,  yuck. It won’t roll well and will be a pain to work with.

This is usually a good point to stop.

Knead time:Many recipes call for 5-10 minutes of kneading. I believe this has to do with developing the gluten. It makes a light and airy crust. I only knead for a few minutes until it feels soft and pliable. If I have time, I will put on the timer and knead for 5-10 minutes. Other people use their bread mixer or kneed their dough in their mixer with the dough hook attachment. I have mostly used my hands!

Next, pick up that dough ball and dump into into the medium bowl that you already poured EVOO into. Aren’t you glad you did that already? Now you don’t have to dirty up your extra virgin olive oil container with your messy flour hands.

CLEANING YOUR HANDS: The best way to clean your now-doughy hands is to get some flour, put it in your hands, and rub The flour between your hands. This breaks up the dough on your hands. I do this over the sink. Then wash with warm soap and water.

WHAT TO DO NEXT ….
Is up to you. Are you using your dough today? Right now? Later today?

MAKING YOUR CRUST EARLY IN THE MORNING? If it’s really early (think 8-12 AM), and your’e not eating until 5-7 PM, you can put your dough in the fridge to rise all day. This is what I do most of the time.

To do this, cover your bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. I happen to favor Reynold’s Press and Seal wrap. If you’re using regular plastic wrap, be sure that your dough is well-oiled so it doesn’t stick to the plastic. When you’re ready to bake, take it out about an hour before so it can get room temp. My baking book says 15 minutes, but I found that is not nearly enough time for it to warm back up. 15 minutes, really? If it’s cold, it’s more difficult to get it to stretch out nicely. It will work, but it takes longer to really work it.

RIGHT NOW? Sure, you can use it right now if you are really in a rush, though it won’t rise nearly as nicely.

IN A FEW HOURS … This is probably the BEST WAY, but you really have to get your timing right. First, you cover your bowl with a towel and let it rise for an hour. THEN, you uncover it, punch it down, divide it in half, and let it rise again, uncovered, for an hour. Then you’re ready to use it. Some recipes will say “let rise in a warm, dry place.” Most of us don’t have proofing drawers, but you can use your oven (turned off!). I usually like to let my pizza rest on my stove top under my stove lights. They generate enough heat to get my pizza rising well.

NEXT WEEK? NEXT YEAR? Maybe you’re a super organized person and you’re making your batch well ahead of time. I have found that super fresh dough is the best. It rises into a very flaky crust with a hard bottom and doughy inside. It’s also easy to work with.

But sometimes life isn’t like that and you have to plan ahead. You can put your dough into freezer bags or an airtight container and throw it into the freezer. When you’re ready to use it, put it in the fridge overnight or for several hours. Then take it out of the bag and transfer it to a bowl for it to warm back up to room temperature.

This is what your dough will look like after a full rise (below). I get two crusts out of this recipe. I like to freeze half for the next week, which means I only make pizza dough every other week. I know I said I like it super fresh, but it’s nice to not have to make it EVERY week.

SAUCE: Here are some quick pictures of me making my sauce. I usually make it the same day. It’s a no-cook sauce, which is great for people who are in a rush (like myself).

I like using Hunt’s Tomato Paste because there aren’t any weird extra ingredients.

The recipe calls for 6 ounces of hot water, so all you need to do is fill your empty can with hot water and add it to your paste.


See the recipe, but you can add whatever you like to your sauce. Have pre-mixed Italian seasonings? Dump in a couple teaspoons of that, by all means? I like to add Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt, a little pepper, a teaspoon of sugar (or honey), basil, and oregano. If you like things spicy (like me), go ahead and add some red pepper flakes! But my family is super lame (sorry, kids), so I usually just add red pepper flakes on my pieces after my pizza is done baking.

Hallelujah! After all that hard work,  you are finally ready to make some friggin’ pizza!

I say friggin’ pizza, because I watch a lot of “Last Man on Earth”. Friggin’ Todd.

Anyway, a note about CHEESE. The more expensive and freshly shredded the cheese, the more delicious and absolutely freaking amazing your pizza will be. Pre-kids and pre-business when I had a lot of time and money to burn, I shredded my own cheese. But a wedge of cheese does NOT go far. I needed at least two, so it really added up. But, like I said, fresh cheese made for the best pizza ever.

Like mozzarella? Pick up a fresh ball of mozzarella! Here is a note about them: They will make your pizza SUPER WATERY because they contain a lot of water. Here is what helps: Rip your mozzarella ball apart and put it on a paper towel and roll it up for a while. The towel will help absorb some of the water. When you’re ready, spread the mozzarella far apart from each other on your pizza. Why? Because mozzarella spreads a lot! You’ll be surprised. It’s all a learning process, like I said before.

And if you don’t want to shred cheese, just buy your cheese pre-shredded. That’s the point that I am at now. There are some extra added ingredients that prevent your cheese from clumping up, but don’t sweat that too much. And if you are sweating it, then by all means, shred your own cheese. But watch your knuckles!

How much cheese do you need? About two cups per pizza. Sometimes if you put on a ton of cheese, it takes longer for your crust to cook because of all the added moisture. It’s happened to me before, so we keep it light.

PIZZA, ASSEMBLE! Flour your surface and roll out your dough. I like to use a non-stick rolling pin, NOT a wooden rolling pin. My pizza dough would always stick to it. The first time I used my fondant roller on pizza dough was a EUREKA moment. Or an “a-ha moment”, as Oprah would say.

Roll and pull. Try picking up your pizza and stretching it with your knuckles. Keep working it until it’s stretched.

Spray your pan and put your dough onto it. Stretch and form some more.

ABOUT THOSE PIZZA PANS .. Yes, I have notes about pizza pans. I use a Wilton pan with holes in it. It’s the Wilton “Perfect Results” pan. The holes assist in getting a crunchy and well-cooked crust. But don’t cut your pizza on it! You will RUIN this pan. You must transfer it to another surface. I transfer our pizzas to an old cookie sheet to cut it. Don’t cut it on a good cookie sheet, or you will ruin it and it won’t be good for baking cookies on anymore! You could also cut your pizzas on a large cutting board.

Other people like baking stones. I tried it and hated it because I found it impossible. When you use a stone, you put the stone in the oven to heat up for 15-20 minutes, then you make your pizza and have to try to slide it on the stone. Forget that noise! I couldn’t ever get it to work. I think that it would also be helpful to have a peel, which is a large paddle in which you can transfer your pizza to your stone. But that’s for you to discover. I like my Wilton pan!

OVEN TEMPERATURE. A lot of people will tell you this: home ovens just don’t get hot enough to make a proper pizza. And, hey, maybe that is true. I consider homemade pizza and take-out pizza to be two totally different things. Then there are BRICK OVEN PIZZAS, and they are heaven on earth, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find some of them at home.

Speaking of brick oven pizzas, PICCINI PIZZA IN OCEAN CITY, NEW JERSEY, is the most amaze-balls pizza that I have ever had. Though I wouldn’t turn down Bertuccis. Oh, wait, there’s also the Pizza Wagon Catering company. Oh, my, that stuff is out-of-this-world good. And you know they’re using the expensive cheese. Hint: Sometimes you can catch them at the Tyler Arboretum. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I like 400° to 450° Fahrenheit. I bake my pizza on the second to the bottom rack of my oven so the bottom of the crust gets crunchy and well-done. If you bake it too far up in the oven, your crust won’t get crunchy and your pizza will be soft and hard to hold. OR .. you can prick your pizza crust with a fork and pre-bake it for 5 minutes.


CORNMEAL
Another thing you can do is also to dust your pan with cornmeal. I know a lot of pizza places do this, and if your favorite place does this, feel free to try it yourself! I usually still spray, though I have done the cornmeal thing without spraying.

TOPPINGS
Next, top your pizza! This is where it gets fun. We’ve done all sorts of toppings. You can just do sauce and cheese; or sauce, cheese and veggies; or sauce, cheese, veggies and some meats…!

A note about veggies … Remember, some veggies have a lot of water. You are baking your pizza at 400-450 degrees, so it’s sort of hard to cook out all of that water. I like to slice my tomatoes and suck out a lot of the water with paper towels, which helps. One time, I cooked up some frozen spinach and then dabbed out a lot of the water.

Sometimes it helps to pre-bake if you know you are going to put on a ton of toppings. It’s all about preference.

Meats: It should go without saying that you should pre-cook your meats. I love taking some ground chicken, tossing it in Frank’s Red Hot, and adding it to my pizza. I enjoy my buffalo chicken pizza with some ranch for dipping. Mmmm.

Obviously, pepperoni doesn’t need pre-cooking.

DRIZZLE WITH OLIVE OIL
I used to watch a lot of Man Vs. Food, and on one episode, I saw him review a pizza shoppe where they drizzled their pizza with some olive oil before baking. I LOVE THAT. I have done it ever since. It gives the pizza a very nice earthy taste. See below.

RISE AGAIN
If you don’t have impatient and hungry kids breathing down your neck, it is a wonderful idea to let your pizza rise after you’ve put everything on it. I read this in the King Arthur Cookbook. See how much you learn from reading?? Anyway, all you do is let it sit for 15 minutes and see how the crusts puffs up after the resting period. After you bake it, it’s extra fluffy and crispy on the outside. It’s simply magical.

But most of the time, my kids don’t want to go for that!

Here is my pizza after the rise:


I know the difference is subtle, but believe me, it makes a difference! Some times it REALLY puffs up and the pizza is wonderful.

BAKING (finally!)
I like my pizza to look like it does below. I cook it for about 10-12 minutes or until the cheese starts to get a little browned. You may like it less cooked or even more cooked. Like I mentioned earlier, I put my pizza on the second to the bottom rack position in the oven. The very bottom position seems like it would be a little TOO close to the heat source in my oven. This way, the bottom of the pizza gets crispy fast and the cheese still melts. If you put it in the middle of the oven it might take longer to get the bottom of your pizza crispy and then your cheese will be overcooked. You certainly don’t want that!

CAN I BAKE TWO PIZZAS AT A TIME?
Short answer: NO.
Long answer: I have tried baking two pizzas at once before. I tried rotating my pizzas half-way through. Sometimes that works a little bit. But what really happens is the heat source gets blocked and it just doesn’t work well. Plus, opening your oven to rotate them lets out the heat, which is never good. You end up cooking your pizza for longer. Sometimes one turns out more cooked than the other.

So if you are making two pizzas out of your dough, it’s best to do it one at a time. Just like you only bake in the middle of the oven when baking cakes. It’s the same principle.

And if you have two ovens, I am totally jealous. You rock those two ovens and save a lot of time!

And there you have it, the perfect homemade pizza! Like I mentioned before, to prevent ruining our non-stick pan, I transfer our pizza to a cookie sheet and cut on that.

We LOVE our homemade, pizza. We really do. Last week we got take out as a “break” and it was horrible! The crust wasn’t nearly as flaky and soft on the insides as our favorite homemade creations.

Here is my recipe in summary:

Homemade Pizza Crust
Makes 2 pizzas or one REALLY thick pizza. Or make on a large cookie sheet for a Secilian pizza (but don’t cut on your cookie sheet).
Adapted from King Arthur 200th Anniversary Cookbook  (1992) and Jay’s Signature Pizza Crust

Ingredients:

1 3/4cup warm water (110° F)

2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon white sugar or brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 tsp OR 1/4 cup of olive oil

4+ cups of flour (approximately)

Making your dough

  • Place warm water in bowl. Dissolve sugar in the water. Sprinkle on the dry yeast and let proof for 8-10 minutes until frothy.
  • Add olive oil, salt, and a cup of flour. Mix. Add 2 more cups of flour. Mix until you form a nice ball of dough.
  • Oil a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Sprinkle flour on work surface. Knead your dough until it isn’t too sticky, but not too dry. Stop right when it loses its stickiness. Knead for 5-10 minutes.
  • Transfer to oiled bowl. Cover with towel for an hour.
  • After it has doubled in size, punch down and divide it in half.
  • Let sit, uncovered, in a warm, dry place for another hour.


Baking

  • Preheat oven to 400-450° Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes.
  •  Roll out half of your pizza dough and place on a well-sprayed pizza pan.
  • Top with favorite sauce, cheese, and other toppings. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
  • If time allows, let your pizza rest for 15 minutes to rise.
  • Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on how well done you like your pizza.

Another Minnie Cake!

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This past weekend, I got to make another take on a Minnie Mouse cake. My last one was something I came up with myself, but this one has been done a lot of times before. You only need to Google “Minnie Mouse cake” to see a million takes on this theme. But this cake was special to me because it was for my friend and former college roommate. She referred me for her own baby shower!

I had already had a cake lined up, but this cake was important to me, too, so I had to make it happen.

My friend and I are both pretty big Disney fans–though I would say her even more than me! So her friend was planning a very sweet light pink and gold Minnie Mouse themed party in celebration of her new baby girl who is on the way.

She and her husband are also Star Wars fans, hence the name Kennedy REY! I love the new character Rey, so I am all for it. (We are pretty much agreed that she’s Luke’s daughter, no?)

Anyway … The first thing to do was make THE perfect realistic bow out of gumpaste. I like Satin Ice gumpaste these days.

  

For my first attempt (above), I tried drying it on the pan that I would be using, but that failed miserably. I didn’t like how imperfect it looked. And it looked sad and droopy. 

So then I was DETERMINED to make a perfect bow. And I decided to dry it flat. It took about four tries (!!!), but I finally got it right. When it was dry, I cut very thin white fondant and added my dots. I tried to space them nice and uniformly. 

For the ears, I cut pretty thick circles out of black fondant and inserted toothpicks. I flattened the bottom so they would conform to the curve of the head. I was very careful to make sure the ears were the right size. If they’re too small or too big, they look weird. 

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An important element of this dress was making a ribbon in Disney font, actually called “Waltograph”. I download my fancy fonts for free from Dafont.com. It’s something I have done before and is always a real hit with people. It is relatively simple to do.

You have to rotate your words so that it is a mirror image. Then you trace your words onto parchment paper with a number 2 pencil. Next, you gently rub this onto your fondant, and be careful not to let it move! What you should have is a perfect copy of your special font! Next, I cut and re-arrange my fondant. That way, I don’t mess up my painting or writing over my letters. I have painted over it in the past using food coloring, but this time I tried using my favorite AmeriColor markers. And it worked beautifully! My customer was so happy that she said “that is on point!” Ha!


  

With my cakes all baked (for both cakes) and the decorations ready to go, including the cake boards, I made two HUGE batches of buttercream. I kept one plain and colored the rest. I was going to make them both light pink, but I ended up having to make two different pinks.

The first thing to do was fill and crumb coat. I barely had enough white saved! Guessing how much to color is so difficult at times.

Covering my 6″ dome is one of my favorite parts of making these cakes. You roll your fondant nice and big – always good to play it safe – moisten your dome, and cover your cake.

Then you smooth it out with a fondant smoother and get ready to cut it. And you can save any fondant that didn’t come into contact with the cake. 

To ensure that it’s perfectly covered, I like to wrap it around the bottom. It gives it a very clean look without having to add a border.

After my cake was out of the fridge for a few minutes, it was crusted over, yet soft enough that I could smooth it out some more with my Viva paper towels.

  

I added my dowel rods so that it wouldn’t sink, put on some buttercream to act as “glue”, and put the dome on top.


From there, I forgot to take pictures because I wanted to concentrate! All I had to do from there was cut my small Minnie Mouse heads, add the bows, and add the ears and bow. I wasn’t sure how best to get the bow to stick, but I had an idea to wet some black fondant and kind of wedge it in there. And that worked well!

I tried to cheat on my letters and take a short cut and that didn’t work at all! I tried to put on my white letters and paint them gold. I knew I should have painted them the night before, but with so much going on, I sort of forgot. No, I actually forgot.  I ended up having to take off the letters, paint them, and let them dry. I messed up my black so I rolled out some fondant very thin and re-covered it. Then I put my letters back on. Phew! Don’t take short cuts, ever!

My two older kids would not settle that night, and I was the only parent home, so I got a little flustered! My border isn’t what it has been lately, but that’s okay. No one cared except for me! I didn’t cover this cake board since the theme was not only Minnie Mouse, but pink and gold. So I kept it.

I love when customers send me photos and this is the darling display that was sent to me. Isn’t it so cute?

And my other cake turned out great, too! I am so glad that I didn’t turn down either of these orders. It was a tough week getting it all done because I am such a perfectionist and I can see every little flaw. But I made a plan and got it to work!

Here’s my other cake:

  
I learn a lesson with every cake and with this cake I re-learned a lesson once again: no short cuts!

Nichole