Photo by Jennifer Melo
Here it is! Topped simply with a unicorn figurine and a fondant rainbow anchored by fondant clouds, my niece Aliya’s birthday cake was easy peasy and very simple in design. My sister Suzy made the pretty fondant clouds at top by rolling little balls of fondant, placing them together and then wrapping them in a thin piece of fondant. Then she cut slits in the top and I pushed the fondant rainbow into the cloud base.
To make the rainbow, I rolled thin tubes of coloured fondant and placed them together, then I wrapped them around a tea cup on the counter. To avoid slouching and make it hold its shape, I left the rainbow on the counter to dry overnight.
Photo by Jennifer Melo
I covered a three-layer rainbow bit cake with fondant dyed in a cloud blue colour. I was pleased with the smooth fondant finish I achieved with this cake. There were no cracks or unsightly lumps or bumps. My strategy for a smooth fondant finish worked well. My brother-in-law Jav and I kneaded the fondant well to get rid of dryness that’d show cracks. Then I rolled the fondant thick enough to smooth any bumps but thin enough so the weight of the excess fondant wont crack the finish. I didn’t measure its thickness but I’d estimate it was about 1/4″ thick.
Photo by Jennifer Melo
Using a 12″ round tip, I piped clouds by squeezing out big balls of icing, moving the tip a bit and then placing another ball of icing next to the previous to sort of squish into it and cover any peaks. I found this technique worked best when I positioned the piping bag at a 45-degree angle to the cake surface.
I piped a large pearl border at the base of the cake and then piped clouds over it in random clusters.
Photo by Jennifer Melo
I used clear vanilla extract to avoid further yellowing the frosting but still, the fluffy buttercream icing wasn’t white enough for my liking. You can really see the difference in colour when you compare the fondant clouds at top to the piped clouds all around.
If anyone had advice for achieving a pure white icing, I’d love to hear it.
Black diamonds add drama to this masquerade cake
While plans are underway to make my niece Aliya’s unicorn birthday cake, I thought I’d show you what I made for last year’s creation.
It was a masquerade-themed party so I was excited about the opportunity to get creative. I volunteered to make the cake and when I asked my sister Suzy about the colour scheme for the party, she said there’d be all sorts of colours so I was free to choose a colour palette at whim.
Masquerade parties are fun!
I got some inspiration from masquerade masks and opted for jewel tones. I bought some peacock and pheasant feathers at Walmart and the cheapest plastic mask I could use as a form at the dollar store.
I was super excited to go a little nuts with design but I wasn’t too happy with the fondant I used for this cake. It was a new brand (sorry, I can’t remember which one) and it wasn’t as stretchy as other fondants I’ve used. And see the cracks in the purple fondant? I probably should’ve kneaded it more before rolling it out because it looks too dry.
Making a fondant mask
I used a cat-eye mask template I found online to make the fondant mask. I cut the fondant to the shape of the template and to give it the dimension of a real mask, I lay it on the mask I bought at the dollar store, lined with plastic wrap to keep the fondant clean. Like so:
I wanted the fondant to dry a bit so the mask would hold its shape but I’d later learn that was a bad idea and I should’ve wrapped it tightly with plastic wrap.
Because when fondant dries, it’s fragile and prone to cracks.
When I got to Suzy’s house, I was happy to see that she went all out with the decorations (so fun!) and my cake looked like it fit right in with party decor. See?
I stacked the cakes and went to work on adding the finishing touches: the teal mask and the feathers. But when I picked up the fondant mask and tried to attach it to the cake, it cracked right in half along the nose bridge.
Luckily, I brought some extra fondant and put it to use by adding an extra piece of it to cover the crack and extend up, sticking the mask to the cake.
What do you think? Would you have known that middle nose piece wasn’t part of the original design if I hadn’t spilled the beans?
Photo by Jennifer Melo
It’s national cupcake week (Sept 16-22, 2013) so eat a cupcake and share the love.
Update: I probably should’ve mentioned earlier that this glorious week-long celebration of cupcakes takes place the U.K., but I’m Canadian and Her Majesty is the Head of State here in Canada so it’s all good, right? Right? Yeah, I think you can go ahead and finish eating that cupcake, Canucks.
Hollow and empty, just like my fragile heart after my 4th failed attempt at making macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo
Eff you, macarons! I mean, really. What the hell’s your problem?
I tried undermixing the batter and you went all lumpy on me. So then I might’ve slightly overmixed the batter and you got all flat and footless.
I tried two recipes, various cooking times and four attempts now. I was patient and understanding, and you cracked or got all hollow and empty inside. Don’t even get me started on your inconsistency issues. I’ve tried my best, but you’re a high-maintenance pain in my ass! And now you got me feeling all hollow and empty inside, too. It’s contagious. You see?
There. I said it.
stubborn as a mule, a glutton for punishment?, persistent and totally NOT a quitter, I might give you another try. Annabelle and Rose told me not to give up on you. Yah, that’s right. The girls and I have been talking. Rose called you “tough buggers” but if you keep up this trouble with me, I’ll have other, less-than-ladylike adjectives to describe you, macarons.
Yes, we seriously need to spend some time apart.
I’m hanging up my apron now and will calm down with a glass of wine and an episode of Big Brother.
You can sit on the cooling rack and think about what you’ve done. Don’t even look at me.
I really hoped the third time I made macarons, I’d have learned from my mistakes and mastered the French dessert, no problem. Sadly, that was not the case.
I was close to getting it right this time, but cracking and cooking time were big bullies.
I used Martha Stewart’s Parisian Macarons recipe again. I figured that it’s better to stick to a familiar recipe and gain experience with it rather than trying a new one. Everything was going so well.
The egg whites were nice and foamy…
Foamy egg whites. Photo by Jennifer Melo
The egg whites and sugar whipped to a stiff peak stage like this…
Stiff peak stage. Stop here. Photo by Jennifer Melo
But then I doubted myself and thought I needed to keep beating the meringue so I think I took it past stiff-peak stage…
Mixture is just starting to separate. Photo by Jennifer Melo
So I stopped here (uh oh! Did I go too far?) and then I folded in the dry ingredients until the batter mixed to a soft oatmeal consistency, like this…
Soft oatmeal consistency Photo by Jennifer Melo
When I piped shells, I thought I had achieved the right batter consistency. It was soft enough to lose any peaks and settle into an even circle after tapping the cookie sheet on the counter a few times.
Piping green macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo
But the drying time took WAY longer than expected. The recipe suggested leaving the macarons out to dry for about 15 minutes. But after three hours on a humid summer day, my macarons were still wet and they didn’t pass the “touch test”.
The touch test is when you lightly touch the macaron — if the batter doesn’t stick to your finger, the macarons are dry and ready for the oven.
So I left them out to dry overnight and baked them the next day. I lined one cookie sheet with parchment paper and the other with a silicone baking mat.
Dry macarons on a baking mat. Photo by Jennifer Melo
Dry macarons on parchment paper. Photo by Jennifer Melo
I saw better cooking results with the baking mat but those macarons cracked. The macarons on the parchment paper didn’t crack but they were overcooked, flat and footless.
The bottom of a macaron should have a ruffled edge, called “feet.”
The recipe calls for a baking time of 15 minutes. Because I piped the macarons a little larger this time, I experimented with cooking time, leaving the parchment-paper-lined sheet in the oven for 17 minutes and the baking-mat-lined sheet baked for exactly 15 minutes.
Cracked macarons with three survivors. Photo by Jennifer Melo
I got decent results with the 15 minute-cooking time but I think some shells were undercooked because they stuck to the mat.
17 minutes was a tad too long because the macarons on the parchment paper were slightly overcooked.
Parchment paper (left) vs. baking mat (right). Photo by Jennifer Melo
But both were cooked through. See?
Macaron cooking time tested. Photo by Jennifer Melo
So once again, this batch of macarons was plagued with inconsistent results. There were a few good shells but the rest were cracked or flat and footless. Boo! Hiss.
Remember when I mentioned in my last post that this recipe instructs to leave your oven door ajar? Here’s how “ajar” my oven door was while baking and now I think it’s probably too wide open. The hinge on my oven door doesn’t stop short of this width on its own. A recipe reviewer mentioned using a mixing spoon to prop the door open just a crack. I hadn’t thought of that. But maybe that would’ve been just the trick I needed to keep the macarons from sticking to the baking mat.
Oven jar too ajar for this recipe? Photo by Jennifer Melo
I’m thinking of jumping back over to the original recipe I started my macaron-making adventures with. I seemed to be closer to achieving good results with it and now that I’ve gained experience and learned some lessons, I just might master macaron-making next time. Wishful thinking?