Thursday, September 25, 2008

What could they be working on?


Yesterday I spent the day at the office studio of my video production company, Video Specialties. We are working on our next release, to be ready within about 2 months we hope. This is not one of the two instructional DVDs we have in progress. This is a "lagniappe" (or bonus) release. Can anybody guess what it might be? I will take all the correct guesses and put them into a hat for a drawing. The winner will get a free copy of this project. Put your thinking caps on and email or submit your guesses right here in the comment section at the bottom of this post!

Working hard, trusty Diet Coke at hand.

My hero, Todd. The best video guy out there!

I do not let many people see me with no makeup,
so don't show these pictures to anyone ok?

Tomorrow I am off to New York to teach ICES mini classes. Have a great weekend and I will check in with you guys next week!

Happy Caking,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I have fallen and I can't get out.

It sure did not take long for me to be sucked into the powerful vortex of blogging. I am rapidly learning that there is an exciting new world, a whole blogging culture out there, that I had no idea existed. My dear friend Jacque is a cake buddy of mine from way back. She has a gorgeous baking blog that has opened the floodgates for me. I am now addicted to reading baking and food blogs. One blog links to another, and before you know it, you have spent hours looking at beautiful food pics, saving recipes and reading the wonderful stories that accompany them.

I am also learning that the food photography is just as important as the recipes themselves. The photos on many of these sites rival those seen in magazines. I have wanted to improve my cake photography skills for years now. I have a nice camera my hubby bought me that I have no idea how to use. Well, I have been inspired. I have committed myself to learning how to use my camera properly, and I strive to take quality photos like I see out there on these beautiful blogs. So I have ordered a few books, a couple of DVDs, and am taking an online course now. My main interest is macro (close up) food and cake photography. But I hope to improve my picture taking skills overall.

So the other night I dug up a few cookies in my pantry and clicked a few photos, using the new skills I have learned so far. ( Which is not even the tip of the iceberg.) This a huge learning curve.

One of my favorite cookies, Fig Newtons. Best eaten cold. YUM!

Here is the exact same photo but lightened.
Which do you like better?

And a chocolate biscotti close up. I love the crumbs!

So what do you guys think of my cookie pictures?


I got an award !!

It is also a common practice in the blogosphere for people to pass different awards along to blogs that they like. Jacque was so sweet as to bestow the I Love You This Much award upon me. Thank you Jacque, you are the best! I would like to pass it along to the following blogs that I love:

Cakes, Kids, and a Lens: This is the blog of my BFF Heather. She blogs about the 3 big loves of her life: her kids, her cakes, and her photography.

Mata Mania: One of my very best friends on the planet, Carla, writes about her beautiful family. I only wish they didn't live so far away.

Amber's Delectable Delights: Amber shares easy and yummy food recipes that every busy family can enjoy, as well as showcasing her gorgeous photos.

GiGi Cakes: Stunning photos and recipes of delicious baked treats. Also the home of The Cake Slice Baking Club.

So that is it! Another obsession. Or two. Like I needed another one right? Thanks a lot, Jacque. (wink)


Tomorrow I am off to see my video production guys to work on our next release. It is not one of the 2 instructional DVDs we are working on. It is a lagniappe project. Hope to have it ready within the next 2 months. Hmmm.... wonder what it could be? Anybody wanna guess?

Happy caking everyone!


Friday, September 19, 2008

Cute Chocolate Cut Out Thingies

Yay for homework!

Two of our readers have sent in their chocolate favor projects, and I am excited to share them with you all.

Christie H. writes: While I haven't made individual favors, I've used a similar technique to cut out plaques for a few cakes. I've added photos of two of them. In the first one, I melted white chocolate, then swirled black candy coloring to get a marbled effect. I love the layered look of yours and will definitely be trying that in the future!

Very clever technique, don't you think?

Kim B. whipped out these beauties one evening after work for an office party. (Told ya no way she is a newbie.) Aren't they gorgeous? She used the Funky Tappit cutters for her monogram.

Now as for the rest of you, get going on your homework projects and send them in! You don't want to end up in confection detention!

Have a great weekend!


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back in the Saddle

The cake saddle that is.

It sure seems like it has been a while since I did any caking. I purposefully took most of the summer off to spend time with my kids, since D was going off to college. (sniff, sniff). We hung out a lot and went on a family vacation. I also needed to finish some long overdue house projects and yard work. But mysteriously, none of that got done. Hmm...wonder how that happened. Oh well, I'll get to it eventually.

Since I was refreshed and rejuvenated, I decided to upgrade my customer's simple small cake so I could make a design I had in my head. Well, the cake had other ideas. This cake made my hurricanoids flair. (In other words, it was a pain in my rear.)

First of all, it is not a good idea to have big ole honkin' chunks of cherries in a cake you know you are going to carve. I knew this was not a good idea going into it. But in my arrogance, I forged ahead. I was so cocky I even added more cherries than the recipe called for. I ain't a skeered of no cherries.

Then came time to carve. And it showed me who was boss. Even with my super sharp knife; it was a mess. Cherries came out in chunks, bringing precious cake along with it. Calling myself a few choice names, I proceeded on. I finally got the 2 tiers carved and patched up.

Then I scorched my first batch of cream while making the ganache to ice the cake with. After the do-over, I got them iced and let them set overnight to firm up.

The next day I got the bottom tier covered beautifully; but within 15 -30 minutes the fondant just started acting wonky. It was bulgy and kind of baggy and getting a lot of elephant skin along the bottom edges. It was morphing before my eyes! I have had this happen before on rare occasion, so I chalked it up to an "off" bucket of fondant. If I tried to take it off, I would have destroyed the cake. So I did what any good decorator would do in this case: uttered a few more choice words, and then I changed the design. The harlequin diamond pattern in fondant is a wonderful way to cover up boo boos or naughty acting fondant. So diamonds it was.

The original design was going to be somewhat musical. I was dying to use my new sheet music stencil I got at ICES. I got the upper tier covered and greased it down to get the corn starch off. (Cuz we all know I love my cornstarch, LOL). I was under an impending deadline and getting worried about finishing in time. For one nanosecond, my brain said, "Sharon, do not stencil on that freshly Crisco'd tier. It will not work." Obviously not having learned my lesson from the cherry fiasco, I blew myself off and proceeded to stencil. Folks, you cannot stencil with royal icing onto greasy fondant. You have to wait until it absorbs in. It was a smeary mess. Of course the black royal would not clean all the way off. It left a nice black stain. So I did what any self respecting decorator would do: after calling myself a new variety of very choice words, I changed the design. Hence the birth of the wacky black band around the top tier.

From there I just added the swags and the flowers I had made the night before. The cake no longer had a musical theme, but a gal has to do what a gal has to do. The customer loved it, so all is well that ends well.

Despite all my troubles, I thought it was kind of nice in the end.
And I very much love my array of fantasy flowers.

The filigree type flowers were made with cutters available here:

The trumpet like flowers were made with this petunia set:

The 2 white blossom flowers were made with the all in one rose cutter:

And I used various buttons from this mold for some of the flower centers:

The camouflage:

Moral of the story:

Listen to your gut;
never give up.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I Love it to the Core

For as long as I have been around the Internet cake world, it seems that I must be the only caker on the face of the planet that actually likes to use the heating core when baking my layers. Most bakers I know use the rose nail as a heating element in the center of the pans to help them bake evenly. But I did not have much success with those. Once I tried the heating core, I have never looked back.

I use my Wilton Cake Release (squirt bottle, not spray) to coat my pans, as well as in the inside and outside of the core, using a pastry brush. I absolutely LUV the Wilton Cake Release. My cakes never stick, it is easy to use, and the pans are easy to clean up afterwards. I tried homemade pan grease, but wasn't too fond of that either. Plus, I am always looking for ways to not have to make stuff. If I can find a product I like that prevents me from having to make something home made, I am a happy camper.

Fill your pans as usual after they and the core are prepped. Fill the core about half way with batter also.

Bake your cake as usual. The heating core will help the centers of the cake bake more quickly, keeping up with the edges (which bake faster than the middle). So the cake bakes more evenly across, and prevents dried out edges from occurring while waiting for the center to cook fully.

You will get a nice baked up cone of cake in the center. Take the pan out of the oven and let them cool for about 10 minutes (or follow your normal procedure.)

When you are ready to flip your cakes out of the pan, take the core out and set aside.

Then flip your cakes out to cool as you normally do. I suggest leaving the core to cool completely before you take the cake out. If I try to take it out while it is still warm, it breaks and some cake gets stuck in the metal core. To get the cake out of the core, just turn it over and shake really hard and it should pop out.

After your cakes are fully cooled and you are ready to fill your layers, place the core of cake right into the empty hole.

Level your cakes per usual.

You will hardly even be able to tell where the cake plug is. Fill and ice as usual.

Maybe you will choose to try this out. Who knows, I might even recruit a few of you over to the dark side. MWAHAHA.

Beautiful maraschinos for the cherry chocolate cake.

PS. Please note that you can now subscribe to email alerts to our blog. Use the form in the right upper hand column of this page to enroll. You will be notified via email when there is a new blog entry. Feel free to post a comment or send an email to let us know how we are doing.

Happy caking!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dodged a bullet named Gustav

Well that was fun. Not.

But it has been 3 years since we have had to evacuate, and this time there was no comparison to what we came home to. So I am not complaining. If Gusatv had not downgraded right before land fall, my beloved city of New Orleans and its surrounding areas would have take a major hit. Again.

But we had to go. You have to go if you are in the potential hit zone. Hurricanes are so unpredictable; they can change course on a dime, strengthen or weaken. You just never know what is going to happen until it happens. So you have to go.

My hubby is a hospital administrator, so he always has to stay at the hospital. In the past the boys and I have always gone there with him. But the Katrina experience was so awful, I vowed never to do that again. So for the first time, we separated for evacuation. I had reservations in Point Clear, AL. But by the time we left early Sunday morning, the interstates going east (and west) were shut down due to overloaded traffic. So we went north to the first place that had hotel rooms available. Little Rock. An 8 hour trip that took over 11 hours due to the outpouring of evacuees and contraflow. Bumper to bumper, 5 miles an hour, for nearly the first half of the trip. Not fun.

My oldest son D was truly my hurricane hero. I was so exhausted from having little sleep the 2 nights before I was unable to drive. D took over the wheel and got us there safely. He was truly the man of the family while we were gone. He kept little brother J occupied and happy, got him to eat (a real challenge), and just generally took care of us while we were gone. He again handled the drive home. (I was once again exhausted from lack of sleep the night before. The hotel lost power and we had no A/C, making for a fitful night's sleep.) The drive home was met with nearly non stop heavy rains and wind, but he handled it like a pro. We got a bit punch drunk on the way back. We were stir crazy in the hotel for 3 days (constant rain in LR made it hard to get out and do stuff.) We were repeating the same long drive we had made just 3 days before. So towards the last 3 hours we were rather goofy and delirious. We did coin a new term though:

Hurricanoids: (her-ack-in-oids) A medical condition to the posterior area of the body caused by sitting in 12 hours of bumper to bumper hurricane evacuation traffic.

My hurricane hero with his little brother at his high school graduation this past May.

We got home late last night. Thankfully our house did fine. I lost all my fridge and freezer food, but since I don't cook much, it wasn't much of a loss.(grin). Our wooden fence gate is trashed, and 2 ornamental trees in the back yard were uprooted. But my saddest loss is my iron arched trellis with pink rose vines. I am hoping when hubby gets home we will be able to salvage the plant.

My sister and I did a switch off last night, and I took in my 94 year old Aunt last night until her nursing home reopens. Those of you that knew me 3 years ago may remember my Katrina evacuation adventure with Aunt Ursula, my MIL, et al. But that's a really long story for another blog, LOL.
The lovely Ursula enjoying her canned soup.
(The grocery stores are wiped out). 94 years old and sharp as a tack.

So I have cleaned my fridge, am washing clothes and mopped the floor. Now we wait for the rain to stop so we can work in the yard, and the grocery stores to restock so we can go get food. But the gas station down the street is open, and the soda fountain is flowing with Diet Coke. So all is right with the world. I thank God for the minimal impact this storm had. It could have been so much worse. We are very grateful to Him for that.

I also want to thank you all for the outpouring of messages of concern, well wishes and prayers while we were gone. It is very much appreciated and means more to us than you can know.

So now I am going to nurse my hurricanoids with Diet Coke, and check out what Ike and Josephine are doing.