Sunday, November 05, 2006

Too much Halloween?

Short little post today for all of you who have left-over halloween goodies...

Take a good double handful of halloween chocolate bars (an assortment - no fun using all the same!) and coarsely chop them up. Toss them on a lined baking sheet (parchment works well) in a big pile and bake at about 300 until they're all melted.

Once this big gooey mess is cooled, chop or break it up into bite-sized pieces. Voila... toss it in the freezer for a month and you have started your christmas baking!!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hubris, and the Revenge of the Cake Gods...

Well I did it... I designed a cake beyond my abilities. I loved that cake.. it was going to be SUCH a feather in my cap! I sketched it out, and planned it out and all was good.

3 weeks before the event I get together with a couple of cake friends, and we had a lovely gumpaste afternoon! I had a bunch of petals made up and drying, just waiting for the finishing touch of assembly & colour.
2 weeks before the event I baked up a storm... baking enough cake for 250 generous servings, and almost all of the IMBC required too! That was one busy day!
The next day, I had a family emergency which resulted in a 4 day trip to British Columbia.

Coming back from that, I had a bunch of crap go down at work, which resulted in my not being able to take Friday off to work on the cake. Fortunately, my good friend Karey offered to come help with the cake I was now calling the "Monstrosity." I think that's the only thing that kept me sane at this point!

She showed up about 6pm on Friday evening and we got to work! By 4am every tier was filled, covered & fondanted. I airbrushed the colours, and Karey made the (non-flower) gumpaste accents. The biggest tier wouldn't fit in the fridge, but fortunately it was a cool night, so it spent the rest of the night in the back of Karey's van. At 9am Saturday, we got back at it, dowelling everything, colouring & assembling the flowers and a few other finishing touches. I nearly dropped the bottom tier when I tried to pick it up by myself, but fortunately, the counter caught it!

I should mention at this point in this little story, that the bottom tier was a 18" square of Toba's delicious (but VERY dense and heavy) Chocolate Fudge Cake (2 layers) with IMBC and fondant... that cake was HEAVY!!!! It was the bottom of what was supposed to be 6 tiers, but I get ahead of myself.
I should also explain that this cake was for a fundraiser that was being put on to benefit my cousin who has been fighting a terribly aggressive form of cancer for several years now. She's a sweet woman, with 4 kids, who just happens to be a dentist & a doctor (she just doesn't know how to stop!) In any case, this cake was my donation to the event. There were to be 250 people for dinner, and twice that for the dance afterwards. There was a performance by the 2 (from different years) Canadian Idol contestants from Caledonia (which is where this event was held), a live band, a silent auction, and a few other fun things. This cake was going to be high profile.

Well Karey and I wrapped up everything we could do by about 11am and she went on her way to go learn about tempering chocolate, and I went home to gather the rest of my equipment that I would need to take with me to assemble the cake. I had had enough stress from this cake by this point, but it appeared to be under control. We drove the 35 minutes to Caledonia without incident, my hubby dropped me & the cake off at the hall, and went to get the kids to his sister (who was sitting for us) and planning to be back to get me in an hour or so (little did we know!) (which would have been about 2pm.)

I will interject here again to mention that this event was full formal, and that I had to deliver the speech my mother was to deliver, except that she was still in BC, and it started at 6pm. Lets just fast forward here a bit to 4pm... the cake has fallen over 3 times at this point (yea, I caught it each time... the last one was close; if it had fallen away from me, instead of towards me, our little story would have ended right here.) I am a mess (both literally and emotionally!) and I can't think straight anymore. We took a trip to the booming metropolis of downtown Caledonia, looking for a cake dummy to replace a tier that had collapsed, and after 6 different stop, returned with a wire thing that neither I, nor the clerk at the store had any idea what it was supposed to be, but it would suffice.
I gave up on my lovely "waisted" tier, and replaced it with this wire thing covered in gold tulle. I attempted to cover the various bumps and dents from the falls, and then notice that the dang wire thing was sinking into the bottom tier! It wasn't sitting on the dowels properly! So I disassembled again, added a glass plate, and all was good. Right up until the top 4 tiers started listing badly again. I was out of dowels at this point, so my DH took a trip to the hardware store while I stood holding up the hex tier, not daring to let go. When he returned, we added an exposed dowel behind the ball tier, painted it gold, and at long last, left. It was after 5pm.

Showered, exhausted and fully gowned, (wearing my 2nd pair of nylong of the evening, as I had ripped 2 holes in the first pair), we returned to the hall... praying for a still-vertical cake! At this point, the cake gods seem to have taken pity on me. The lights were dim, the cake looked okay (and was still standing) and my cousin was enthralled. Mom's speech went fine, my cousin was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, and I will never again wear those gorgeous stiletto-heeled shoes (ouch!)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Buttercream... the Other Great Debate!

Sorry about the long hiatus... August is BUSY!!! I might as well admit it, right off the bat... the book has not seen the light of day for several weeks now (sometimes you need to put these things away for a while!)

In any case... as the result of some prodding by a dear friend of mine, I am writing about yet another touchy subject in the cake world (who knew there were so many?!?)... BUTTERCREAM.

There are many different icings which carry the name buttercream, many of which are neither creamy, nor contain any butter! Following is a brief description of a few groups, and my most definately biased opinion. There are plenty of other opinions out there, many of them completely dis-agreeing with me, so feel free to try them all and form your own!

***

Firstly, there is canned frosting. Containing no actual butter (and in it's place several things I cannot pronounce!) I do not consider it buttercream ('nuff said.)

***

Then there is the ubiquitous Wilton Icing - everyone is familiar with this frosting! Very sweet, slightly gritty (from the icing sugar) and usually containing a combination of shortening and butter or margarine (though I've seen variations that range from all-shortening to all-butter,) I think this is the first frosting we all learn to make. While popular with kids, many adults find this one far too sweet.
On the up side, it is quite easy to decorate with, and because it forms a slightly crunchy crust, you can make decorations and flowers ahead of time, and place them on the cake when you're ready. When it is made with all-shortening, it is quite stable, even in extreme heat.
While it has it's place, this is probably my least favourite of all the buttercreams.

***

Next, we have the boiling water & icing sugar based frostings such as the Whimsical Bakehouse recipe (great book by the way!) Not quite as sweet, but still usually contain more shortening than butter. The biggest perk to this type is that it pretty much eliminates the grittiness found in the first variety, as the icing sugar is dissolved when mixed with the boiling water.
Many grocery store cakes are made with a variation (usually containing no butter) of this type of icing.
The smoothness of this frosting is an improvement, but still not a type of icing I'm overly fond of.

***

The third category of buttercreams are the meringue buttercreams. They are the most complex to make (though still not exactly rocket science!!) and the most fiddly (cakes iced in these should be stored in the fridge, but served at room temperature,) but far and away are the best tasting! Generally containing egg whites (or some use yolks,) fresh unsalted butter and a cooked sugar syrup; they are smooth and rich, without the cloying sweetness found in many other icings.

Depending on your recipe, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour to make a batch of this ambrosia, but the time is well worth it. The flavours are far more sophisticated and adult-friendly than any other I've tried. Meringue buttercreams readily accept a range of flavour additions (try melted & cooled dark chocolate with a pinch of coffee... mmmm), though they can be difficult to tint if you want strong colours.
As you can probably guess, these are my favourite (and the only true, IMHO) buttercreams. When chilled, they are rock hard due to the high proportion of butter (which is helpful when decorating) but at room temperature are smooth and creamy.
Italian Meringue Buttercream and Swiss Meringue Buttercream are 2 of the most popular (though there are others!) and they differ primarily in the preparation techniques.

Some decorators have expressed concerns about the meringue buttercreams due to the fact that the egg whites are not usually brought up to a sufficient temperature to kill salmonella bacteria. Though an extremely rare occurance, it is a valid concern, and one that is easily eliminated by using a pasteruized egg product such as Simply Whites (or you can buy pasteurized eggs.)

I am also particularly fond of the glossy appearance of the meringue buttercreams... flowersbouquet cake
piped from this icing have a wonderful glow, (though it is more difficult a skill than piping with the basic frosting,) as well as the way it smooths onto a cake is just gorgeous.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Photographing Your Cakes


flash comparison
Originally uploaded by
Choc-a-holic.

I'm no expert with the camera, but I've been playing around a bit lately and discovered that a steady hand and natural light are SOOOOO much better for cakes than a flash!

The photo on the left was taken using the flash. The one on the right is the same cake, taken without the flash (but with VERY steady hands!!!) I used the basic auto settings on my digital camera for both (except I used the macro setting) and I have not altered these photos (except a little cropping!)

Note the beautiful translucence of the fondant on the right... that's gone on the left. In its place, you see all the flaws by the harsher light of the flash!

The colours on the right are much closer to reality than those on the left. Also, take a look at the cake plate... that's Mikasa cut crystal... looks pretty blah on the left, but look at it sparkle on the right!

One thing the flash photography does have going for it is that the shimmer from the pearl dust I used is much more visible on the left. On the right, it doesn't show at all on the ribbon roses or the swags. Granted, there wasn't much there so it was subtle, but it doesn't show up at all on the right.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Getting Legal


Anyone who makes cakes thinks about it at some point… maybe I could make a business of this. Maybe I could actually start paying for the hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars I have invested in this “hobby.” Either you’re getting requests from friends of friends, or little Sally’s Mom saw your daughter’s cake at her party and wants one for little Sally, or perhaps you have been selling them a little on the side, and you’re getting a little higher profile. Whatever your reasons, you want to sell cakes for money.

Realistically, if you don’t plaster a big sign on the front of your house, you don’t tick off your neighbors, and you don’t poison anyone, the odds of getting caught are fairly slim. As a home baker of non-hazardous (assuming you don’t bake meat pies, etc) products, you are very low on the list of kitchens to be inspected. Also, it is likely that the first time you get caught, you’ll be told to stop until such a time as you can be classified as a legal kitchen. However, honesty is usually the best policy, and many of the requirements are really a good idea to comply with in any case. So do what you think is right, and even if you decide not to go “legal” at this point, see what you can incorporate into your “business”!

So what now?

Well there is no short or universal answer. Unfortunately pretty much every township has different (and usually unclear) rules and by-laws which govern home baking. The trick is finding out who to even talk to in order to get a straight answer. That too can differ from one city to the next. So… set aside a few hours (and expect it to take a couple of sessions,) get out a pad of paper and a pen, and get comfortable with your phone. Pull out your phone book and start searching the government listings. You will need to deal with local government first, though you may also need to speak to provincial/state government as well.

HOWEVER, before you do that, do your homework and have some information at the ready… the last thing you want to do is have to wait on hold for another 20 minutes because you didn’t have the information in front of you!

Warning… this may not cover every question you will hear, but it’s a good start!!!

  • Your address (you’ll need this when talking to the zoning people!)
  • Do you own or rent (it’s usually illegal to sell goods out of a rented living space!)
  • How much business do you expect to do a week/ month? (Sometimes, if you are selling less than a certain number, they may tell you that you’re fine… IF you get this, make SURE you get the person’s name you spoke to, their title and department! Then if it should come back that they were wrong, you’ve at least got something to back up your claim! If you can get them to e-mail you and put it in writing… even better!!!)
  • What sorts of things will you sell? Cakes, cookies, other desserts, breads? Sometimes the rules are different (especially if you get into meat pies or other baking!)
  • Are you insured? Standard household insurance will likely not cover you if someone falls down on your icy sidewalk while picking up a cake, and DEFINITELY won’t cover you if someone get sick & sues you! Talk to your insurance agent.
  • If you have already applied for a business registration license (this is different and usually separate from having a legal kitchen!!!)
  • If you have taken any safe food handling courses (many municipalities or states/provinces offer these courses at a very low cost! It’s usually a good thing to do, even if you’re not “going legal” but will go a long way towards your goal of getting legal if that’s your aim!)

Things you will want to ask them:

  • Their name and position (and date & time of your call)
  • Am I allowed to advertise? What constitutes advertising? Business cards?
  • Am I allowed to put a sign on my house? Is there a maximum size?
  • What are the minimum requirements to operate a legal kitchen for the purpose of selling to the public? What is recommended?
  • Can I get that in writing? What by-law or regulation is this covered under?
  • How often do I need to be inspected to maintain legal status? What should I expect to happen during an inspection?
  • Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?

In order to have your kitchen certified “legal” you may have to have some or all of these requirements, but these are the most common (there may be others in your area… you need to ask!)

  • No pets… or at least a way to keep the pets out of your work area (some areas may require not pets in the household, regardless of any barriers!)
  • Food storage usually has to be a minimum height off the floor
  • Appropriate food storage facilities
  • Poisons are not stored with the same area as food (think ant traps, cleaning fluids, etc)
  • Two or three wash-up sinks (washing, rinsing, sanitizing)
  • Note; sometimes a dishwasher with a sanitizing rinse is considered an acceptable substitute for the 3-sink requirement)
  • Separate hand washing facilities on the same floor (usually in the washroom)
  • Anti-bacterial soap & disposable drying towels at that station
  • Separate storage areas for raw foods from prepared ones (yes, that generally means a 2nd fridge!)
  • Sometime a separate oven or range is required
  • Sometimes an entirely separate kitchen, with a separate entrance is required!

Now, departments you will likely have to talk to include:

  • Health department / inspector
  • Zoning By-law department
  • Business Licensing department

Other people you SHOULD talk to:

  • Your neighbors: tell them what you’re trying to do, and really hear their concerns. Assure them that you’ll continue to be a good neighbor. If someone next door has a really fussy baby that sleeps from 2-4, then try to avoid having people arrive during that time (but this is a business, if you can’t avoid it, at least ask your clients to keep it down if they’re arriving in that time frame.) Also, free goodies are a wonderful source of good will! If you’ve got a little cake left over, or bake a few extra cookies, share it around! Offer them coupons for a discount off your baking (neighbors can make good clients too!)
  • An accountant: if you are running a legitimate business, you will need to report your income at tax time. An accountant can tell you what documents and records you need to keep, deductions you may not have thought of, and other information that may help your business.
  • Your insurance agent: I said it before, but it’s important… if something business related happens, you won’t be covered, and even if something non-business related happens (like a fire or a break-in) you may negate your existing household insurance if they find out about your business and you didn’t tell them!

Other things you should consider:

  • Parking: is there a spot your clients can use without inconveniencing your neighbors? (Unless you plan to deliver every cake!)
  • General Safety: are our railings in good order? Is the walk-way clear of toys and obstacles? Have you cleared ice & snow from your sidewalk?
  • General Appearance: first impressions are a big deal in a business. Make sure the front of your house is tidy, and reasonably well maintained. Even a small hanging basket or a couple of flower pots can really perk up a yard. Can’t paint your whole house? A fresh coat of paint on the door your clients will be using can make all the difference!
  • Accessibility: can a disabled person get to you? This is not a huge problem, as you can always bring a cake out to the car for them, or meet them in a coffee shop for a consultation, but you should be aware of this and have back-up plans at the ready (looks MUCH more professional!)
  • Safety: if you have clients coming to your home, you need to be aware of your own security. It’s a sad sign of the times, but you often don’t really know who your clients are. If you’re concerned about safety, you may prefer to deliver all your cakes, or make sure someone else is home when a client comes to your house.
  • Educate yourself: do you know the basics of food safety? Do you know how cross-contamination happens? What items need to be refrigerated? How long can they safely be kept out? Additionally, what are the more common food allergens? Could they have come in contact with (or be contained in) any of your products? Especially if you use mixes or pre-made products, you need to know what’s in them. It’s up to your clients to tell you about food allergies (though it’s always a good idea to ask… you may jog their memory about a guest with allergies) but it’s up to you to know your products. It is okay to tell a client that you cannot accommodate their request if you are not confident, or you can tell them what precautions you are able to take, and let them make a decision. (I recommend as a minimum running every clean item you will use through the dishwasher again with no other dishes in it, then inspecting each one for food that was not removed. A peanut allergy can be fatal, and can be triggered by miniscule traces of peanut contamination. If you can, keep a set of utensils & bowls that are not used with any kind of nut – ever. I usually tell clients that mine is not a nut-free home, but I take the above precautions. It’s then up to them if they want to place an order with me, or find someone who can guarantee a nut-free environment.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Organizing Your Cakes

Quick poll here... hands up everyone who has a pile of photos, scraps of paper with names & phone numbers, and only a vague idea whether or not you're even making money on any given cake?

Up until fairly recently, I was in the same boat. I did have (most) of my photos in a scrapbook, and I had actually managed to tame the scrapheap of paper into one pile. When I put my website together, I got a LITTLE better with the photos (they're all in one place!) but created a new problem. A client would call me wanting exactly the same cake as I had produced before, and what was the price? ... ... ... uh oh ... I don't remember what I charged!! And I had no idea if it was enough or too little to even cover my costs! Or they had been at a party and had one of my cakes, and wanted the same flavour... UH OH!! What recipe did I use?!?

A dear friend of mine (thanks Judy!) had the solution! She has a binder, filled with page protectors. Each page protector contains everything she needs to know about each of her cakes. As well, she keeps a master list of all the cakes. Judy knows EXACTLY what she charged for each cake, and how long ago that was!

Each cake pouch should contain:
- all contact info for the client.. name, address, phone number, e-mail, etc
- how they heard about you
- date & time required
- delivered or pick-up (and where to deliver it to)
- what you charged
- who & what event the cake was for (be specific... Carol's son George's 12th birthday which is actually on the 14th though the cake is for the 12th)
- how many servings
- size & shape of pans you used (even if you carved the cakes!)
- what recipes you used, how many batches, any modifications, any issues, etc
- what colours you used (specific again... what brand, approx how much, etc.)
- A PHOTO OF THE FINISHED CAKE (or several if the back is interesting too!)
- customer comments
- notes about what you would do differently, or things that really worked for you
- notes about the weather / humidity, etc if they might be an issue.
- especially for large cakes (though it's not a bad idea for any cake!) a copy of your contract, and a record of the deposit paid (how much, cash or cheque, cheque number, date received, etc)
- any sketches you made, any sources of inspiration, swatches of fabric, reference to a page in a book or magazine, anything!
** and on the topic of "sources of inspiration"... make sure any time you save a photo of someone else's work, record the cake artist's name & web site! You definately want to be able to give them credit for the inspiration, and you may want to contact them at some point! My experience is that many decorators are happy to give you a few tips on reproducing a certain technique (especially if you're in a different part of the country or world that you're not competing against them with their own style!)

Your master sheet should be a relatively simple list:
* name or number of the cake (I name each one, but I've alse started assigning them numbers for ease of reference)
* client's name
* date of the cake
* any critical notes (like NEVER bake for this person again! LOL! Seriously though... just critical notes... the details will be in the pouch, remember?)
* how much you charged (dollar value, free, just costs, whatever!)

You may find over time that there are WAY too many "FREE" cakes (yes... record them too!) If that's the case (and you're trying to make a business of your hobby) then you should re-evalutate your answer the next time someone wants something for nothing!

Of course, if you're handy with spreadsheets, that's an even better way to track your info, but make sure you have hard copies organized as above (or whatever works for you!) 'CAUSE CRASHES HAPPEN!!!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fondant Comparison... a group of Ontario cake decorators got together this weekend, and we compared fondants. Below is the results!

Wilton ($35/5lb = $77/5kg)
taste was truly offensive.. "is this really supposed to be a food product?"
workability was very nice… moves well around curves & corners, but does not stretch & sag VERDICT: great for decorations, not appropriate for items intended to be eaten

Chocopan ($55 for 5kg)
tastes like white chocolate
incredibly soft… MAJOR sagging!
VERDICT: definitely not for decorations! would be very dfficult to work with due to softness… taste was a big plus if you like white chocolate

Virgin Ice ($28/5kg)
initially okay taste, but has an odd chemical aftertaste
texture is somewhat spongy and tended to shrink back after rolling… also tended to crack & tear like a marshmallow over corners
VERDICT: could use it for some simple decorations if I had it on hand, but wouldn't go out and buy it

Pettinice ($28/5kg)
initially okay taste, but has an odd chemical aftertaste
texture is somewhat spongy and tended to shrink back after rolling… also tended to crack & tear like a marshmallow over corners
VERDICT: could use it for some simple decorations if I had it on hand, but wouldn't go out and buy it

Mill Lane ($35 for 5kg)
Taste was pleasant and comparable to McCall's
Workability of one batch was good… VERY firm to begin with, and a number of hard little nuggets which had to be picked out, but corners nicely and hold it's shape fairly well (not too much sag) while still providing enough stretch
VERDICT: a good all-around fondant… comparable to McCalls overall, personal preference whether you prefer a firmer or softer fondant
NOTE: we also had samples form another batch which was compared to chewing gum… extremely soft
Note: we also sampled the Chocolate ML… beautifully dark chocolate colour… very nice taste, workability was good, but we also had reports of inconsistent texture from one batch to another

McCall's ($32/5kg)
taste was different than, but comparable to ML… personal preference as to which is better
like ML, there is a MAJOR variation between the samples we tested… the small package sample was so soft as to be un-useable… the larger package was softer than ML, but much more workable than the first sample. Substantially better than Virgin Ice and Pettinice in terms of workability
VERDICT: while we were concerned about the drastic variations between batches, it would come down to personal preference between this one and Mill Lane… this is still a softer overall fondant than Mill Lane

MMF (approx $13/5kg)
taste was okay, but extremely sweet
holds it's shape reasonably well, but cracks & rips badly over sharp corners
VERDICT: very inexpensive to make, a little more workable than scratch, but scratch tastes much better.

Scratch (Toba Garette's recipe) (approx $12/5kg)
taste was very nice (most popular)
workablilty was not great… was not at all forgiving on corners
VERDICT: very inexpensive to make, tastes better than MMF, but not quite as workable.. Would benefit from being mixed with a commercial fondant for workability
NOTE: some of us intend to play with the recipe a bit to try to improve workability
NOTE: as per conversation… this is no more difficult than MMF to make, but much better tasting!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The great debate... Scratch vs. Mix

There is a rift in the world of cake artists. There are the scrach bakers, and there are the mix-based bakers. There are a few brave souls who bake on both sides, but most of us stay in one camp or another.

There are some very goods arguments on both sides, and in the end, I believe it comes down to what you are comfortable with, and what your customers prefer.

I bake from scratch, but that's what works for me. I will eat a mix cake (and enjoy it!) but I prefer a good scratch cake, hands down.

In Favour of Mix:
****************
* consistent results... commercially made cake mixes contain many ingredients to stabilize and maintain freshness which results in a more consistent result.
* inexpensive... you can often purchase cake mixes at a lesser cost than buying the individual ingredients.
* customer preference... many people have grown up on boxed-mix cakes and they prefer that which is familiar. My own husband is happier when I dig out a mix to make his birthday cake!
* can customize flavours... by adding any number of ingredients to a mix, you can "doctor" it up to change the density of the cake, alter the flavour or extend it to fill a slightly larger pan.

Book Recommendation: Complete Cake Mix Magic (Jill Snider)
-----------------------------------------------------------------
(review by a friend of mine...) AMAZING, I like it much better than the Cake Mix Doctor....colour pages and pictures and receipes for everything and same idea here all start with a cake mix, I have made a few of the bundt cake one....so tasty!

In Favour of Scratch:
*******************
* flavour... not every scratch recipe is better than a mix... but the ones that are; well there's no comparison!
* control over ingredients... read the side of a cake-mix box some time... I can't even pronounce some of the ingredients... much less understand what they do to someone who consumes them! Many people are more conscious about what they eat... whether due to allergies, or just general concern about their long-term health. When you bake from scratch, you know exactly what you put into that cake!
*unique-ness... while you can "doctor" up a mix to customize the flavour, there's nothing like tweaking a recipe to make it your own!

Book Recommendation: The Cake Bible (Rose Levy Berenbaum)
------------------------------------------------------------------
My fave recipe book for scratch cakes & fillings & frostings!!! If you bake from scratch, you NEED this one!! And the best part is that she explains a little of WHY each recpie works, and what makes it similar or different from other ones! You get a little chemistry lesson (which you can ignore if you want... it's in a separate section at the end of each recipe) with each recipe! It really gives me the confident to play with and tweak the recipes to suit what I want, because I KNOW what each ingredient does.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Fondant Follies

Fondant (or sugarpaste as it is known in the UK)... decorators love it for the smooth porcelain finish and wonderful modelling capabilities. But when it comes to eating it... well that's another story!

There is at least one major manufacturer of cake decorating supplies which makes a truly in-edible version of sugarpaste. Unfortunately, a large number of decorators use it, not realizing that there are alternatives.

There are several manufacturers whick make some very tasty versions... my personal favourite is Mill Lane brand available at www.creativecutters.com in both the USA & Canada. I have also heard good things about Chocopan, which is based on white chocolate (but is a little pricey.)

If you want to make your own, there are several good recipes out there, there's one in Toba Garrette's book which I've used with good results. I don't find that the homemade versions are quite as workable as the commercial ones, but I may not have found the right one yet!

I would be remiss if I did not mention Marshmallow Fondant (MMF for short.) Similar to homemade in flavour and cost (which is substantially less than the commercial varieties) it is MUCH sweeter, due to having about 1/3 again as much sugar as scratch recipes. Many people believe it to be easier to make, but in reality, you only save one small step (mix gelatin into water...)

Most recipes I've seen list the glycerine as optional... I would not leave it out... that's what gives you the stretch to make it really workable... in fact I often double the required glycerine!

Whenever I work with rolled fondant, I always roll it approximately 1/4" thick... any thinner and it become much less forgiving! I also provide a substantial layer of buttercream underneath for those who don't wish to eat the sugarpaste

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Parchment Paper.. the baker's security blanket!

As per Wikipedia...
Cooking parchment (also parchment paper, kitchen parchment, greaseproof paper and cooking paper) refers to a form of silicone-impregnated paper used as a substitute for parchment in cooking. The silicone renders it grease- and moisture-resistant as well as relatively heat-resistant. A common use is to eliminate the need to grease cookie sheets and the like allowing very rapid turn-around of batches of cookies in a commercial bakery. It can also be folded to make moisture-proof packages in which food items are cooked or steamed.

A few things I've learned about cooking parchment

1. Use it. Use it every time. It's SOOO not worth taking the chance that you needed it and didn't use it. Just use it!

2. It's washable and re-useable... many, many times. I just wash mine in the sink with the other dishes and rinse well. Make sure you dry it flat 'cause curled edges are no fun.

3. Store them IN YOUR PANS!!! You'll never have to search for it, it's always stored flat and safe, and nobody needs ANOTHER storage thingie in their kitchen.

4. Buy a roll, take some time while watching TV one evening and just cut one out for EVERY pan you own. Repeat every couple of years, or when you buy a new pan! The shape should be SLIGHTLY smaller than the base of your pan (you don't want it up the sides at all... go back & trim if necessary.)

5. Do not replace it with waxed paper. Especially when using Sugarveil (but that's another coversation!) Waxed paper looks cheaper, but you can't re-use it. Waxed paper is just that... waxed. Do you REALLY want to add WAX to your cake ingredients?

6. Did I mention you should REALLY use it?!? LOL For most cakes, just the bottom is fine (I never bother with using it on the sides of a cake)

7. TO USE PARCHMENT:
...a) grease your pan however you like.
...b) insert parchment into base.
...c) Grease the parchment.
...d) Flour the whole thing (unless you're using a grease with flour in it)
...e) Fill as usual.
...f) Sing the praises of Choc while releasing your cake from the pan without trouble.
...g) repeat.

8. If you're baking another batch of cake right away, wipe off any crumbs and re-use it. You don't have to wash it if it's going right back into the oven (you don't want the water there anyhow) HOWEVER... please don't store it away un-washed... ICK!!! LOL

You can also use it to roll out pastry, bake cookies on... it's a wonderful thing!

Friday, April 14, 2006

First Contact...

So it's been a week since I started working on this grand idea. My book outline has blossomed to an 18 page bullet-point list and I have put out the first few feelers to some well known bakers and cake artists to see if I can quote them or get some feedback from them. Of course we're just starting into wedding cake season, so anyone who will be willing to give me some feedback will not be able to look at anything until at least September (which is good... gives me some time to actually have something to show them!!) but at least I can gauge who would be willing!

It's also been long enough for me to realize I haven't introduced myself!

SO... my name is Melissa Capyk. I am in my 30s and am married with 2 kids (that's my youngest asleep in his wagon in my avatar). Cake decorating became my latest obsession about three or four years ago, and almost a hundred cakes later, I still love it (which is a good thing, because I have built up quite a collection of equipment!) I have a day job, so making cakes has always been just a side business for me, much as I would love to do this full-time. In my university years, I sculpted and painted, so you can see in much of my cake-work that I like to make cakes that don't look like cake! I also make polymer-clay custom cake toppers when called upon, and I have dabbled in marzipan and pulled sugar work. Some day I hope to create a line of custom, one-of-a-kind cake plates, but one major project at a time!

At this point I have no training in web design so my site (www.itsyourdaycakes.com) is pretty basic, and a few things don't work the way I'd like, but I am about to rectify that as I will be taking a web design course at a local college in a few weeks.

Up until about a year ago, I had been decorating in a sort of vacuum... no contact with any other cake decorators except through my ever-expanding collection of books and magazines. One day while searching the net for something cake-related, I happend upon www.cakecentral.com and discovered a whole community of cake people! It's an amazing resource; full of wonderful, helpful cake artists. The only down-side is that it is so large, and so choc-full of American resources that as a Canadian can be difficult and/or expensive to access.

Along came my new friend Paul, who set up a Canadian-centred site: www.CakesCanada.com Over time I talked myself into the role of one of the moderators on the site. While there are not as many resources as CakeCentral, this site fill a different niche. The classes and stores mentioned are all Canadian, as are most of our members. It's a smaller community of the cake-obsessed, and many of us have met in person through either our DoS (Day of Sharing) or other local cake activities.

When I want to see what's new in cake-related stuff on-line, I like to check out my fellow blogger Lisa's site: http://cakefun.blogspot.com. Eventually I spent enough time there (and posted enough pictures in her www.Flickr.com group) that she asked me to become a contributor, so you'll see the occasional (much less long-winded) post from me there too!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

So what's this all about?

I've been decorating cakes for a few years. It's my passion and my creative outlet!

Through conversations I've had with other cake artists, and my own experiences, I've come to realize that there is a big void when it comes to comprehensive information about the business side of making cakes. There are hundreds of fabulous books about cake decorating... some how-to, some purely for inspiration, some recipes, and many combinations of all three. What there aren't much of are books about the tricks and pitfalls of making a living at decorating cakes.

That's where I come in.

I'm writing a book to fill that void. It covers the whole gamut of the business of cake... from deciding whether to open a home-based business or open a storefront, to other things you can add on to your business. There will be a few basic recipes that I love, but the book is about the steps and decisions you will need to make in order to have a successful cake business; no matter the size!
The web is a massive source of information, and one I intend to use. I will be passing along tips and tricks along with general conversations about the process of this book in my posts.

This is where you come in.

Got something that really works for you? Some tip or technique or tool or idea? Is there something you don't know that you'd really like to (cake-related of course!) I'D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Anything you submit here may be used (with credit given of course) in the book, but will also be available to anyone who reads this blog!

There are several great resources on-line (which I will discuss soon!) and hopefully this blog will become another one!