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Pretty Bakes Blog

Cake decorating basics for pretty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats

10 things to check out at Pretty Bakes Blog today

Sure, I might’ve I dreamt about code all night and fought a fierce CSS battle in my nightmares but I won the war because would you look at that?! Pretty Bakes Blog is finally live and customized. Woot! Woot!

I’m going to celebrate by eating a chocolate cupcake but before I do that, I thought I’d give you a little tour to help you feel right at home here. Let’s start with the core categories.

Ready? Let’s go!

10 things to check out at Pretty Bakes Blog today

1. Cakes

marble layer cake

My love of baking started with cakes and you can bet I’ll be updating the cakes category with tales of more cakes I’ve made in the past five years or so — plus the ones I’m working on now.

Birthday cakes are probably my specialty so check the cakes section for ideas the next time you’re planning to make a birthday cake.

2. Cookies

I’m sure it’s the Cookie Monster’s favourite section on Pretty Bakes Blog and it might be yours too if you like a good cookie. And who doesn’t, really? Cookies are great baking projects for novice cookie decorators like me because they can be more low-maintenance than full cakes. Great. Now me want cookie. Let’s pick up the pace, shall we?

3. Tips and tricks

Tips and tricks is the breeding ground for lessons I learn as I experiment with baking and cake-decorating techniques. This is where I’ll put handy reference-style stuff like how to level cake.

4. Rolling pins

I collected a bunch of cool quotes about cake, cupcakes and just about anything sweet and then I made some exclusive photos for you to share. I’ll be rolling out more rolling “pins” — tee hee! — every now and then but for now, you can choose from nine nifty things to pin now.

Just remember to spread the link love by mentioning prettybakesblog.com in your caption fields and then we’ll be bosom buddies and lifelong pals.

5. Email updates

Don’t want to miss a single post? I’m flattered! Sign up to get every Pretty Bakes Blog post by email by entering your email address and clicking Subscribe in the sidebar widget.

Confirm your subscription via the email that was sent to your account and we’re ready to roll.

6. RSS

Would you rather read Pretty Bakes Blog post via your favourite feed reader? No problem. Add the Pretty Bakes Blog feed to your reader today.

7. Social media bar

Do you prefer Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or RSS? All of the above, maybe? Follow me and I’ll probably follow you.

8. Royal icing consistency screw-ups

I just keep on making cake-decorating mistakes but I always learn from them. Find out what I learned about royal icing consistency problem before you decorate cookies. I’ve included this article in your welcome tour because it’s a good reference post. But I’m totally biased so don’t just take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.

9. How to level a cake

I shared my secrets in How to level a cake? 3 ways. Why? Because I learned you need a strong foundation for prettier cake decorating. This is another good reference post that’ll give you a taste of what you can expect to find at Pretty Bakes Blog.

10. My 404 page — also known as the dreaded “Page Not Found” page

It’s not so pretty but I’ve written a message you might enjoy if you, too, like U2. I’m not going to send you directly to it because that’s bad for my search engine rankings, so I’ll show you a photo of it here and you can click to see larger image.

404-4-U2-fans

Whoever successfully helps me to get rid of the quotation mark weirdness that’s driving me up the wall gets a personalized rolling “pin”. And my eternal gratitude. Things I’ve tried: Deleting and retyping the quotation marks in the both the text and WYSIWYG editors. Using TextEdit to strip out code. Rewriting to remove as many contractions as I possibly could. 🙂

Who am I? That’s a secret I’ll never tell – I kid, I joke. And if you’ve never watched an episode of Gossip Girl, you haven’t the foggiest idea about what I just wrote there. I’m Jen Melo, cake-decorating amateur and your new blogging friend.

Now about that cupcake…

Watercolour cake turned fresco

watercolour cake

Watercolour cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

My watercolour cake is inspired by Rosie’s most beautiful Pastel Swirl Cake over at Sweetapolita. For my cake, I used a thick-consistency buttercream and topped it with chocolate sprinkles. I had so much fun with it, I wanna try it again.

Thinner icing next time

Maybe next time I’ll use a thin-consistency icing and keep it more goopy as Rosie recommends in her video tutorial. The colours would probably blend more and the buttercream would be easier to work with.

I found that the buttercream crusted over fast so I had to work quickly. I kind of like the chalky appearance that makes it look a bit more like a fresco than a watercolour painting, don’tcha think?

Nature’s colour palette

My colour inspiration comes from nature. Blue for sky, yellow for sun and green for grass.

Inside, there’s a triple-layer, dense and moist marble cake with buttercream icing. Wanna see? Of course you do! Here it is.

marble layer cake

Inside my watercolour cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Also, check out my seven-second video clip to see its evolution.

What do you think? Should I try a redo and goop it up more? What colours do you recommend?

Cute Easter bunny cookies

Easter-bunny-face-cookiesAfter struggling with several royal icing issues, I was happy to have a few bunny cookies with relatively smooth surfaces. Their faces are so cute, they distract you from my decorating mistakes.

You didn’t notice them at first, did you?

I learned that I should’ve used  a “boo-boo stick” to push down peaks and smooth the icing while it was wet. What the heck’s a boo-boo stick, you ask? First, you should know that I didn’t just make up this device. It really exists! You can buy a boo-boo stick at karenscookies.net. Or you can use a toothpick, a scribe or another modelling tool.

The pink icing I used to pipe the ears and nose was too thick. The ears, in particular, could’ve really used some work with a boo-boo stick.

Royal icing tests my patience. And I failed the test.

I set the cookies to dry overnight but I had places to go, people to see, and cookies to decorate, so after about 14 hours of drying time, I tried to draw on a cookie with an edible-ink marker and I learned something new.

What happens if you try to decorate cookies before royal icing dries completely? You crack the smooth surface and your marker sinks into the icing like this…

Oops! I poked a hole in the icing. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Oops! I poked a hole in the icing. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Womp, womp.

breeding-bunny-cookies

Lessons learned

  1. Use a boo-boo-stick to smooth any lumps, bumps and peaks while the royal icing is wet.
  2. Wait at least 24 hours before trying to decorate. The humidity in your decorating environment, royal icing consistency and how thick you layer on the icing can influence drying time. My cookies needed about 32 hours to dry completely.
  3. Use a light touch if you’re using food colouring markers in case the icing isn’t as dry as you suspect it is. The top layers may appear dry to the touch but a little pressure can reveal soft royal icing below the surface.
  4. Get your royal icing consistency right.

Double chocolate cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles

Rainbow sprinkles on chocolate cupcakes

Double chocolate cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles. Photo by Jennifer Melo

A colourful mix of sprinkles has magical powers. It makes me instantly happy and makes me feel like a kid again.

So when a sugar craving hits, remember that there’s nothing quite like a chocolate cupcake topped with Nutella frosting and a colourful spray of rainbow sprinkles. It’s a fast, easy and delicious way to get your dessert fix.

Just look at this pic. Doesn’t it make you feel happy?

Royal icing consistency problems

Royal icing is a royal pain in my butt.

I should’ve done more research before I filled my piping bag because if I did, I would’ve followed sweetsugarbelle’s advice re: getting the right royal icing consistency.

The right royal icing consistency

The perfect piping consistency is thick like toothpaste but still has enough “flow” so that it doesn’t break when you pipe lines. When mixed, a spoonful of it should gently plop back into the bowl.

But I was too eager to get decorating so I sort of winged it. Bad idea.

At first, my piping consistency was a bit too thick.

royal icing piping consistency

This royal icing consistency was a tad too thick for piping. Photo by Jennifer Melo

My flooding consistency was also too thick at first, and then too thin, and then too thick again. See what I mean? Royal. Pain.

When royal icing consistency goes wrong

If you make your mixture too thick, you lose control because your hands tremble as you try to pipe a smooth line of spackle-like icing. Make it too thin and it’ll unpredictably spread, lose its shape or leak and drip over the edges of your cookies.

royal icing flooding consistency

My royal icing flooding consistency was a tad too thick here, and then I made it too thin. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Leave royal icing out and uncovered for too long and it’ll go hard as a rock (so don’t delay clean-up when you’re done decorating).

Choosing a royal icing recipe

Many royal icing recipes call for raw egg whites but because I have young nieces and I don’t want to endanger them with the risk of salmonella, I tried a water and sugar-based royal icing recipe. But after making several batches of thin royal icing that didn’t hold its shape well, I decided to try a meringue powder recipe.

And I’m happy to report that I got much better results with the meringue powder method. I used joyofbaking.com’s royal icing recipe. Using 1/2 cup of water gave me a stiff piping consistency that could’ve used a bit more water for perfect piping flow. The recipe is good. My inexperience and insufficient research is to blame for my poor results.

It’s not all bad

The great thing about royal icing is you can easily change its consistency. Add powdered sugar to thicken it or water to thin it.

The trouble is knowing when it’s the right consistency for your needs and I need lots of practice to master this.

Patience is your friend

In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t take the time to research more before starting to decorate. I suspect it’s a mixture of excitement and an urgency to get things done.

Once I’ve filled a piping bag, I’m reluctant to start over again so I sort of give up, doing my best to work with what I’ve got. And then it’s back to do more research to find out what I could do to get better results next time.

Royal icing is a high-maintenance icing for decorating newbies like me but it’s an essential for decorating cookies and it looks great when things go right. So I’m committed to correcting my royal icing problems.

To fix my royal icing consistency problems, I did some more research and created this chart and thought I’d share it with you.

Symptoms of royal icing problems

Problem Probable Cause
Icing breaks while piping Icing is too thick.
Icing drips off cookie and/or doesn’t hold shape when piped Icing is too thin.
Bumpy surface Icing’s too thick. Use an “oops” stick to smooth icing when it’s still wet.
Curdled strangeness Grease got into in the icing. Use squeaky clean bowls and spoons. Wipe bowls and utensils with vinegar or another food-safe, grease-cutting agent of your choosing.
Bubbles in surface Icing didn’t settle. Let your icing settle in an air-tight bowl or container for about an hour before use. Stir icing gently, tip the bowl and use a spatula to gently press bubbles out of the mix. Inspect cookies and pop bubbles with a toothpick or scribe when the icing’s wet.

What else I learned about royal icing

  1. Royal icing takes about 24 hours to dry — longer if you’re in a humid environment, if your flood icing was on the thin side, and/or if your icing’s layered on thickly.
  2. Cutting the icing with a knife helps you to determine whether or not you have the right consistency. Some cookie decorators swear by the 10-second rule while others like the 20-second rule. Here’s how it works: Cut the icing with a butter knife, remove the knife from the bowl and start counting. By the time you get to 10 – 20, the icing should have just settled and smoothed over so that line you created with the knife disappears. I’m SO trying this method from now on.
  3. Watch Sweet SugarBelle’s videos on piping and flooding consistency icing BEFORE I fill my piping bag or piping bottle. 🙂

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