Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cake Decorating Is Just Fun!

My favorite thing about birthdays is celebrating the individual! It's the one day of the year that we celebrate the life we've been given...just like Christmas and Easter, one's birthday is most certainly an important event!

And to celebrate how special it is, we need CAKE!

My very special niece Calysta, is celebrating her 5th birthday. This summer her family spent a few days with us at the shore and then a couple of months later they traveled to Cancun, Mexico. Caly (and brother Cayden) experienced swimming with the dolphins and she hasn't stopped talking about it...she even kissed one! Thus the mermaid idea planted after her stay in the 'Mermaid Room' at the beach house!

It all begins with creating 'Flounder', Ariel's little fish friend. It is so much fun building characters that children recognize!

To create the 'seaweed', I cut strips of green gumpaste. In order to get the curly look I had to wrap them around something. The only thing I could find were some art markers I had. So after washing each with anti-bacterial soap and drying them really well, they made the perfect item to use for wrapping the 'seaweed'.

This is a little bit of everything. Starfish, a must for under sea adventure, seaweed, a small octopus, coral and an eel!

A blog story or two back, I promised my recipe for Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake and now I can proudly say... here it is!  It's a moist cake, almost a brownie texture. It's great for decorating with fondant or other heavier is by far The BEST
Texas Homestyle Chocolate Cake

Prep time: 20 min.  
Bake time: Approx. 20 min.
Don't forget to check out the (*) for TIPS at the bottom of the recipe!

9 X 11 X 2 baking pan, greased and floured*
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

I use a stand mixer. This can be done with a hand mixer, just takes a bit longer for the egg whites.

2 cups All-Purpose flour*
1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP. white granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed plus 2 heaping TBSP. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 cup (2 sticks at room temp.) UNSALTED butter*
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup UNsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 cup HOT strong black coffee
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use LouAna brand coconut oil in just about everything I bake, it's the least expensive and has the same beneficial properties as it's more expensive cousins)

2 eggs (seperated while still cold), set yolks aside to warm to room temp.
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 medium sized glass bowl chilled in the refrigerator (not the freezer)

1/2 cup buttermilk at room temp. (if you don't have any on hand, mix a 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 tbsp white or cider vinegar then let it stand for 10 min.)
the 2 eggs yolks at room temp. slightly beaten
2 tsp. PURE Vanilla Extract

If using a stand mixer, beat COLD egg whites and cream of tartar on highest speed with the whisk attachment for at least 10 minutes. If using a hand held mixer, beat on high until very stiff peaks form, this may take 15 min. When done, transfer to the chilled glass bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl sift together flour, sugars, soda and salt. Sift a minimum of 2 times, holding your sifter well above the bowl to incorporate more air, sifting 3 times is preferred. Set aside.

In a 2 qt. or larger saucepan, SLOWLY melt the butter. When the butter is completely melted, add your cocoa, cinnamon and hot coffee stirring constantly with a wire whisk until it's completely blended. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, egg yolks and vanilla.

Add the melted butter/cocoa mixture to the flour mixture and blend on low speed. As mixture begins to get thick, add the buttermilk mixture a little at a time until it's all blended. Continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes.

VERY GENTLY FOLD IN the chilled egg whites into the cake batter just until blended.

Pour batter into your prepared baking pan. The cake is ready right about the time you can SMELL it! This is the best tip ever for perfectly baked cakes. Using a knife or long skewer, test by poking it into the center of your cake. If it comes out clean or with just a crumb or two, it's done. If it comes out with batter, continue cooking in 5 minute intervals until done. This cake will have cracks in the top, this is normal and doesn't effect the flavor or decorating!

Place cake on a cooling rack for 1 hr.  If you used the parchment paper method...and after cake has completely cooled, invert it on the cooling rack to remove the parchment paper. Place cake back into baking pan.

* Baking Pan tip:  My preferred method is to spray a little cooking spray in the pan then line with a solid sheet of parchment paper, folding in the corners as you press it into the pan...thus cakes never stick and have perfect edges).

* Flour tip: measure flour by spooning it from the bag and gently into your measuring NOT shake it down to measure! Proper measurement depends on the air incorporated into the flour)
* Sugar tip: I prefer muscovado sugar for it's rich molasses flavor, you can use whatever you have on hand, light or dark, but the darker has more flavor.
* Butter tip: For easy breezy, place the already at room temp. butter in your saucepan on the burner that allows the heat to escape from the oven (this is usually the back right burner) while preparing the flour mixture. The heat from the oven is  enough to melt the butter without having to turn on a burner. You'll
never burn you butter this way!

Texas Homestyle Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup FINELY chopped pecans...get out your butcher knife and chop away, the finer the better!
1 3/4 sticks of room temp. butter...if using salted butter, omit additional salt.
Pinch of sea salt
6 TBSP whole milk
1 tsp. PURE Vanilla extract
4 Heaping TBSP UNsweetened cocoa powder
1 lb of confectioner's sugar
Melt butter in a 2 qt saucepan, add cocoa and stir till blended.  Add salt, milk and vanilla. Blend. SLOWLY add confectioner's sugar a bit at a time until well blended. Stir in pecans then pour over cooled cake.

This should probably be renamed at the 'Texas Shut 'Em Up Cake', because it's amazing how quiet the room gets while everyone's indulging in this incredibly rich delectable chocolate cake!

This is the easiest way to make white fondant look like water on a cake. Mix gel food coloring with clear vanilla extract and paint it on with a soft clean paintbrush. If you prefer another flavor simply add any clear extract to the gel color, such as almond extract, lemon or orange extract or even butter flavored extract. For smaller fondant (gumpaste) decorations, go ahead and blend in the food coloring to your fondant.

Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake and a Vanilla Sponge cake ready for the oven.

Vanilla Buttercream Icing and Chocolate Buttercream Icing. I could sit with a spoon and be VERY HAPPY!

The smaller cake was used for the 'rock' behind Ariel's back.


My two gorgeous niece's, Calysta, 5, (the birthday girl) and Camren, 3!

Cayden's baseball cake was a Vanilla Sponge Cake...moist and just the right amount of buttercream icing!

I've been informed by my great niece, Ms. Camren (pictured here), that she wants a Hello Kitty cake for her birthday in January, but she might change her mind!! I LOVE THESE CHILDREN SO MUCH!!

The mermaid cake was chocolate per Caly's request (she's the one showing us how a fish goes!). This is a Chocolate Texas Sheet cake baked into a 9 X 13 X 3 matter how you bake it, it's soooo good! We love the brownie like texture of this cake! The hint of cinnamon is what makes this one different from the rest~

Our friend Flounder was a must for the Ariel Mermaid Cake...The birthday girl couldn't wait to get her hands on Flounder! Glad she went home with mom and dad, she had more than enough energy to burn :o)

 The Starfish Family Portrait~

Specialty Birthday Cake ~ 
The black feathers melted into the background, but they're there!

Monday, June 11, 2012

'Brody's Farm' ~ Chocolate and Vanilla layered 3rd Birthday Cake

I knew when Lisa called about doing a 3rd Birthday cake for her son, Brody that it had to be special! Brody is the nephew of our girl, Rachel and We Love Rach!!  The fact is...Brody and his mom, Lisa and dad, Chad are pretty special too!
Lisa and I kind of passed ideas around and she told me Brody liked tractors. I'd never attempted farm implements in sugar art and my time was limited, we'd just come back from a 9 day vacation and I simply just didn't want to chance running short of time preparing this cake. So I decided to make Brody his very own farm, even made the sign leaning on a couple of hay stacks~

Though gumpaste isn't flavorful (little sweet, but not really tasty), the entire cake is edible...right down to the boards :o) I used spagetti to attach the heavier objects like the heads on the animals since the party was for toddlers...toothpicks are too risky.
I do believe the cake was a hit!


 I made the cakes with lot's of fresh eggs and real butter...Mmmm

Lisa requested a 1/2 Chocolate and 1/2 Vanilla sheet cake. She decided that a cake for 36 would be a good size and then, because she's one of the sweetest women I've met, she allowed me to get creative with Brody's cake.  She really didn't know what to expect, but I believe she was happy with the outcome!

I began with my tried and true Vanilla-Vanilla layer cake,  I've made this recipe several times and found it works really well for cakes that need to be moist but still firm enough to maintain the weight of fondant and sugar paste decorations.
 Here are a few of the key ingredients I included in these cakes (clockwise from top left) Buttercream Frosting, Dark Chocolate Ganache, Homemade Marshmallow fondant and real whipped cream~Just because:
The pink flowers are my plumerias that have been blooming like crazy! They are one of my favorites for their sweet fragrance. These are the flowers that make up Hawaiian lei's.

Here is a sample of the FABULOUS Chocolate cake recipe that I made some minor changes to and created what I consider to be one of my top 3 favorite chocolate recipes of all time! I'll be posting the recipe in my next blog post, so be sure to watch for it! This is one you'll want to try for yourself!!

Since I don't have a turntable for my cakes, I use a very large stainless steel bowl turned upside-down. I use caution when spinning the cake but so far this has worked just fine for me! Here I've stacked and crumb coated the cakes. I then place the cake in the fridge for about an hour to make sure the buttercream has firmed up enough that I can frost it further and/or place the fondant on with ease. I don't know if everyone does this, but it has worked well for me.

I did remember to photograph some of the process in making the farm animals, here's a few:


Coloring gumpaste to create Mr. Mole!

Gumpaste ladybugs and the beginning of bumble bees. Bumbles are some of my's the reason why: 
Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway. ~Mary Kay Ash

Flower the Cow, Pink Pig, Chicks, Bumble Bees, Mr. Mole and the ladybugs.
A very special thank you to Lorraine McKay and her tutorial help on YouTube, she also has videos under the name aine2! The precious sheep below is from one of her videos...he was too much fun to make and turned out absolutely adorable!!

Above: The fence rails         Below: The fence posts

I just had to blow this guy he too adorable or what?  Royal Icing and gumpaste, who would've guessed? I'm definitely going to have a make a herd of sheep!  Thanks to Lorraine McKay for the great tutorial~

Some buttercups~

And here's BRODY'S FARM CAKE! I was sure hoping he liked it!

What's a cake without the party, so I want to share just a few of the photos.
I had so much fun watching the kids bounce and laugh at Pump It Up! It was my first time to experience this really cool place.  If you've never been and want to throw an amazing kids party, this is the place! Over 2 1/2 hrs of fun in your very own private carpeted gym with the coolest, biggest and brightly colored blown up slides and jump on stuff you can imagine! Great for ANY AGE! There were guys as young as 18 months bouncing all over...all the way up to 'grown-up kids'! I don't know who had the most fun!!  Great party Lisa and Chad!!

Brody and mom, Lisa

Gammy, Rachel and Nanny
...I Love these ladies!

Oh, Mr. Mason!! What a cutie pie! Everytime you ask him What's up?...he nods his head back...18 months and just too precious!

 Birthday boy and the coolest kid on the block, Brody!! Dimples to die for, he's already a heartbreaker!  Sweetest and polite beyond his 3 years...So glad it was a Happy Birthday Brody!

The candle is on the cake and it's ready for the big moment!

Snack time before cake and presents!

Brody is very modest as well...he did great until he turned around and saw everyone staring at him!  Who wouldn't be a little intimidated? But didn't take long for the stage fright to vanish...Bring on the presents!! The photo below just made me laugh...the only thing you can see of Brody are those two little feet!! That was a BIG present!

I wanted to post this one because, for the first three or four gifts, Brody would take the tissue out of the bag or tear the wrapping paper off the gift and as he did, he would hand the trash to his mom. She would then pass it over Brody's head to the attendant to throw in the trash bag. Brody watched mom do this a few times then all of sudden that little arm just shot out to his right and he began handing it directly to the girl himself...he was looking at her here, but after a couple of gifts, that little arm just went out to the right and he never looked up at her again...he just knew she was going to take it! Maybe you just had to be there, but it was so fun to watch...I love a man who knows what he wants!!

Brody and mom, Lisa...think we were beginning to feel the long morning...jumping and running and the excitement of the day was catching up.  Brody had a busy birthday...Thanks to his mom and dad, it was a great one!



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day, May 13, 2012

Anna M. Jarvis's Mother's Day in 1908

After Anna Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honor of peace. In 1908, Anna petitioned the superintendent of the church where her Mother had spent over 20 years teaching Sunday School. Her request was honored, and on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother's Day celebration took place at Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia and a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The West Virginia event drew a congregation of 407 and Anna Jarvis arranged for white carnations—her Mother’s favorite flower—to adorn the patrons. Two carnations were given to every Mother in attendance. Today, white carnations are used to honor deceased Mothers, while pink or red carnations pay tribute to Mothers who are still alive. Andrew's Methodist Church exists to this day, and was incorporated into the International Mother’s Day Shrine in 1962.

Modern Celebration

When the United States congress approved Mother’s Day in 1914, they designated it for the second Sunday in May, and required that the President proclaim the Holiday every year shortly prior to its commencement. Typically a family in the United States will devote Mother’s Day to activities in honor of mom, whether playing games, going out to dinner, taking the weekend off or going on a walk in the park. Flowers are popular, dating back to the original celebration where Anna Jarvis (one of the initiators of the holiday) handed out carnations to the church-goers. It is also common to give Mother's Day card or chocolate candies on her special day.
In the United States Mother's Day continues to be highly commercialized.
  • The National Retail Foundation estimates that Mother's Day is a $16 Billion industry.
  • Google Trends shows a sharp spike in search traffic for Mother's Day on Mother's Day in the US and UK and the month leading up to it.
  • Florists see their highest sales in May.
  • US restaurants claim that it is the busiest day of the year.
  • Long distance telephone calls also peak on this day.
  • The US Postal Service experiences increased volume during the surrounding days.
  • According to Hallmark (via, 96% of American consumers take part in shopping on Mother's Day, while retailers report it as the second highest gift giving day of the year behind Christmas.
Taken from 'The History of Mother's Day'

I decided, rather at the last minute, that along with the 'store bought' gifts, I would make Mother's Day Cupcakes for the mom's in my life. Knowing it would take a good 24 hrs for gumpaste flowers to dry properly and I chose to improvise with paper flowers instead. This little experiment turned out well and gave me some great ideas for future cupcake toppers!

I did have a few gumpaste flowers on hand, just not enough to go around. Because it was Mother's Day and I wanted the boxes of cupcakes to look as pretty as the mom's we love, I really needed them to fit the mood of this special day. So after searching through my plethera of hobby supplies, I came up with the idea to make these white and pink peonies out of tissue and rhinestones. I just love it when an idea comes together...

Baking cups for cupcakes, they just give cupcakes a whole different appeal! There's just something extra special about they way they look.

I love the batter of my Vanilla~Vanilla Cupcakes! The rich flavor of vanilla beans and real butter adds something special to otherwise ordinary vanilla. I decided to throw in a dark chocolate, coconut cupcake for good's the one with the chocolate drop in the center.

It's amazing what one can do with Vanilla cupcakes, Vanilla Buttercream Frosting and a tissue paper~

Best of All...the mom's enjoyed them!

Simply Pretty in Pink!  It doesn't take much to turn ordinary into extraordinary!