Friday, December 25, 2009

A Very Merry Christmas!

I love Christmas. I love the lights, decorations, festivities, spirit, parties and present. But most of all, I love the food. I jumped at the chance to attend a gingerbread house decorating party. Interactive, crafty, festive and food really doesn't get more Christmassy than this. 

The hosts built small "gingerbread" houses using graham crackers and royal icing ahead of time. Tables were lined with all sorts of gingerbread home decor -- marshmallows, coconut, cereal, candy canes, M&Ms, Nerds, sprinkles, chocolate chips, gum drops, licorice, etc etc. Party goers grabbed a house and a spot at the table and went to work. 

I went for a peppermint winder wonderland, using coconut for a snow effect and then grabbed anything red and/or white and went to town.

My friend Liz had some issues when half of her roof fell off. We slopped some royal icing on that thing, stuck the roof back in place, and were good to go. 

She ended up with what we called "the gingerbread funhouse", complete with a real gingerbread reindeer on the side. 

I took a walk around the room to check out the other creations. I really the unintentional icing effect the dripping royal icing had on this house. 

And I'll admit, I stole the idea of the candy cane heart from this house.

This larger house was dubbed "the log cabin".

And I loved this little snowman with his reese's cup hat.

Mid-way through my house construction, I looked around the room to see about two dozen grown adults completely focused on decorating little graham cracker houses. I do believe this was the very definition of good clean fun. Well, maybe not so clean...I'll bet the hostesses are still finding royal icing all over their house. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Assorted Cakes

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to update my blog more often (ie more than once every 2 months). I figured why wait until January? I'm getting started on my goals early this time of year. Plus, posting on the blog seems a lot easier than getting on the treadmill....

It's hard to believe that pastry school ended 3 months ago. It's something that I wanted for so long, and had so much fun doing, but it ended much too quickly. I've missed learning something new each class, but I've tried my best to continue making new things. Fortunately, my ever supportive friends love sweets, and I've had no shortage of orders. 

One of my favorites thus far has been the Ghostbusters cake. A friend had a Ghostbusters themed birthday and gave me complete freedom with the cake. After going through at least a dozen ideas, I decided on the classic Ghostbusters logo.

I had a few issues with getting the fondant just right on this one -- the frosting underneath was not completely even and smooth, and it showed! I also had a few temperature issues once the cake was covered. The top shelf of my fridge seems to be too cold and the fondant was sweating like crazy. 

I had a surprise party to attend the same day as the Ghostbusters birthday, and decided to make a cake as my gift to the birthday girl. She's a fan of mint and chocolate, so I made a chocolate cake with a Junior Mint filling -- Junior Mints mixed in to vanilla buttercream (amazing). The design was simple, a white cake with a black band and black fondant roses.

The surprise cake came out beautifully, but I started to panic as the Ghostbusters cake developed more issues.  In addition to the sweating, the unevenness of the icing below the fondant caused a massive air bubble in the back of the cake. Despite my efforts to pop the bubble and release the air, it wouldn't go away. Instead, it rotated around to the front of the cake. I made an executive decision to swap cakes. I removed the flowers from the surprise cake and gently transferred the Ghostbusters logo over. The Junior Mint cake went to the Ghostbusters party and the birthday girl got a box of cupcakes from Blissful Bites

I was frustrated after the Ghostbusters fiasco. My previous fondant experiences were all successful, but this one was such a disaster that I decided to take a break from completely covered cakes. I received a last minute order for a Softball themed birthday cake, and was all to happy to keep it simple. 

The cake itself was chocolate, with a chocolate raspberry cream cheese filling. The text saying "I'm getting fat off this cake" makes me think it went over well! I crumb-coated with the chocolate raspberry but did the final coat with a vaniall buttercream. The softball diamond, plates, bat, and ball are all made with fondant and the dirt is crushed up nuts.  Simple, cute, and the birthday girl loved it!

It was easy in school when things went wrong -- just start over. The ingredients were always there and it was always just another learning experience. It's been a lot more frustrating when things go wrong since -- the ingredients are expensive and not always on hand, and paying customers aren't really interested in a learning experience. I have a feeling there are many disasters waiting for me down the road, all I can do is take it one cake at a time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crixa Cakes - A Berkeley Treat

I'm kicking myself for not having known about this place when I lived in Berkeley. Although, it would have been a very dangerous discovery. I'm somewhat thankful to have the perilous Bay Bridge standing between myself and Crixa Cakes

Crixa Cakes are beautiful, but I've grown to be wary of beautiful pastries. Too many times I've suffered the disappointment of biting into a stunning piece of cake only to find that it is dry and flavorless. Crixa Cakes is particularly special because their pastries are both gorgeous AND delicious. Not an easy feat.

I arrived around 4:30 pm and the selection was still pretty decent. The decision making process was a tough one, but I went with a slice of Tiramisu and a natural velvet cupcake. My fellow pastry lover had the Jamaican rum chocolate mousse cake and a mango tea.

The Tiramisu: Espresso soaked sponge cake with brandied mascarpone cream, dusted with cocoa. This cake was rich, but that didn't stop me from finishing it in about 30 seconds. The mascarpone cream was incredible and layered in the perfect ratio to the cake. 

The Jamaican Rum Chocolate Mousse Cake: Two layers of chocolate sponge cake soaked with fragrant Jamaican rum and two layers of bittersweet chocolate mousse. I tend to steer clear of alcoholic desserts because they are usually too strong, but the rum level in the cake was just right. Enough to taste, not so much as to make you feel as though you just took a shot. 

The Natural Velvet Cupcake: Velvety chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting. If ever a cake were described as "velvet", this would be the one. Rich, yet smooth. And complimented perfectly by the rosette of vanilla buttercream on top.

I am already looking forward to my next trip to Crixa Cakes, and the more time I spend on the website, the longer my to-try list forest cake, Budapest coffee cake, carmela, chocolate orange mousse cake, fresh ginger cake, lemon cream cake....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Baking

I attended a Holiday Cookie Exchange last year and enjoyed it so much I decided to host my own this year. As the hostess, I had to come up with a pretty special cookie. I decided to combine a few different recipes and make a couple alterations of my own for the perfect cookie exchange treat.

I started with a recipe for chocolate covered marshmallow cookies from Tartelette. I'm not big on short bread, so I opted for my favorite chocolate cookie recipe, the Thomas Keller Oreo

I flavored half of the marshmallow filling with mint extract, and half with cocoa powder. 

Once topped with marshmallow, the cookies need to sit for 2 hours. Then, they are dipped in a chocolate glaze.

While dipping over 100 cookies, I started wondering why I picked such a complicated treat. Would it have been so bad just to pop some pre-made dough into the oven?

To finish it off, I topped the mint cookies were candy can crumbs. The perfect holiday treat!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A weekend trip to Boston, via cake

I received an email from my friend -- "I need a cake for my mom's bday. She likes lighthouses, and pretty much any flavor." 

What an ideal scenario, I got to make a cake I've been wanting to try out and play around with fun seaside themed decorations.

Ever since I tasted Tracy's cookies and cream cake, I've been craving another. I am completely obsessed with the Thomas Keller oreo, so I used his recipe to make the cookies, then crumbled them into an Italian buttercream. Combined with a devil's food cake, this was heaven on a plate for an oreo lover.

Fondant seaside themed decor

The top of the cake...I used flower candy molds to make some of the shells, and just twisted some fondant for the others. 

Front view

Side view

Back view

Inside shot -- YUM!

Cake carnage

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Bittersweet Day - Graduation

Quite cliche -- but-- have the past 6 months really gone by SO quickly? This year I've moved, left my job, traveled alone to France, adjusted to a life of unemployment...and through all of that, the one constant I've had is pastry school. And now it's over. The end of this chapter is bittersweet. While I am so happy to have fulfilled this longtime dream, I started missing school before it was even over. The entire experience has been amazing: making something new every day, having all the ingredients right there waiting for me, messing up and having it be ok, and of course, getting to know and work alongside each of my incredibly unique and creative classmates.

And now off into the world of pastry we go, hoping that school has prepared us for the fast-paced life of the kitchen. Going from night classes to early morning bakery hours has proven to be an interesting adjustment for me, as well as the crazy speed of the work. I never thought I was slow until I saw how quickly some of these people do things! The main shock for me has been the physical aspect of the work. Tante Marie is a small school, so we make things in small batches. Working in production, I've had to lift so crazy heavy things and my back is already letting me know how it feels about that. It's only been 2 weeks, and I'm nostalgic for my pastry school days... 

In the week leading up to our graduation, we each worked on a final project to display (and eat!) at the ceremony. 

My California wedding cake -- orange sponge cake with blood orange buttercream and meyer lemon buttercream

Becky's tart shop -- a variety of fresh fruit and chocolate tarts

Vikki's Napa Valley Cake -- hands down one of my absoulte favorites!

Liz's Tropical wedding cake -- white cake with a coconut pineapple filling and pineapple buttercream

Pei-Yee's flavors of the Pacific Rim

Sieba's rose cake -- 70 handmade fondant roses, she's insane!

Maureen's flavors of the Mediterranean

Vanessa's tea infused wedding cake

Sasha's croquembouche

Nancy's Nanette cake, inspired by her business card

Nicole's picnic in the Tart

Ray's tiramisu celebration cake

Deb's Bay Area harvest

My sampler plate...yes I ate it all!