Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Review - Party Cakes (Part Two)

Title:       Party Cakes
Subtitle:    Delightful Little Treats for Special Occasions
Author(s):   Mich Turner
Publisher:   Universe Publishing
Published:   November 2007
Format:      Hardcover, 160 pages

Cake projects are only half of this book. If you are able to tear yourself away from these projects, you will find yourself lost once more in the recipe sections. We begin our review at the aptly named ‘delicious treats’ section.

In a similar fashion to the decorated cakes, each recipe is introduced with a full page, full colour photograph of the finished product. Before we get to the recipe, we see a small blurb from the author. Generally, this is a short description and/or comments on the recipe’s suitability for use in decorated cakes.

The author has included a nice range of recipes. There are tropical/summertime recipes such as ‘Lime and Coconut’ and ‘Vanilla with Fresh Raspberries’ and chocolate recipes such as ‘Chocolate and Almond’ and ‘Chocca Mocca Pecan.’ There are also recipes for cheesecakes and cookies. The cookie recipes include brown sugar cookies, Lebkuchen and a gingerbread house.

You will also find a few recipes for edible gifts such as truffles (white chocolate and pineapple, and, rum and raisin), rocky road, shortbread, and some Christmas desert accompaniments such as hard sauce (a form of brandy cream) and liqueur custard. These look delicious. I will definitely be making the hard sauce this year!

Assuming you have not read it already, the final section I will be reviewing is the techniques section. This section contains the instructions for the techniques that are common to the projects located in the first part of this book. These include:
  • cutting small cakes from larger cakes;
  • making piping bags;
  • using the flooding technique to make butterflies for the ‘Sugar Candy’ cake;
  • covering cakes with chocolate plastique, sugar paste, fondant and marzipan;
  • the method for and yield from cutting small cakes from larger ones;
  • two tier cake stacking; and,
  • methods for tempering chocolate to create chocolate scrolls, fans and curls.

In this section, you will find recipes for buttercream, chocolate plastique, petal paste and modelling paste, and royal icing (piping and flooding). It is worth mentioning that the buttercream recipes listed in this book are not decorator’s buttercream recipes (i.e. for figure/flower piping etc). They are recipes for eating and therefore include flavours such as lemon curd, espresso, and, chocolate ganache.

One thing you quickly notice about this book is that the author puts taste first. There are numerous comments on flavour where the author remarks on which flavours and fillings works well together as well as provides appropriate warnings on what to avoid.

Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time for each project because they look deceptively easy. Whilst they employ simple techniques, they can be quite fiddly, especially when piping rows of pearls, as they have to be spaced evenly and of a uniform size (dependant on the design). In my mind, the hardest techniques in this book are those required to create the gorgeous sugar paste polar bears, rabbits, elephants, teddy bears and farmyard animal heads (duck, sheep and pig). As long as you have plenty of patience, a beginner/intermediate decorator should have no problems creating each of these projects.

Over all this is a lovely book, for both beginners and seasoned decorators alike. These simple, yet elegant cakes are inspirational. It is good to find a book dedicated to small single serve cakes. Whilst I love cupcakes, I must admit I am starting to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cupcake decorating books that have flooded the market in recent times. There is only one true cupcake project in this book!

If you are a lover of cupcakes, you could easily modify the majority of the projects to suit cupcakes, for example, a Japanese themed cupcake spread would look gorgeous with sprawling cherry blossoms piped across the tops of adjoining cupcakes. The ‘Bollywood’ design would look absolutely amazing on cupcakes, especially if you were to use gold cupcake wrappers.

If you love Mitch Turner’s style look at the little Venice cake company website - You will notice a number of cakes from this book in the gallery as well as other inspirational designs.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review - Party Cakes (Part One)

Title:       Party Cakes
Subtitle:    Delightful Little Treats for Special Occasions
Author(s):   Mich Turner
Publisher:   Universe Publishing
Published:   November 2007
Format:      Hardcover, 160 pages

Party Cakes is an interesting book, both in terms of content and layout. It strikes me as half cake decorating project book and half recipe book. There are distinct boundaries between the decorated cakes (projects), recipes for cakes and slices, and the decorating techniques sections. I find this organisation refreshing, because the reader is not ‘bored’ with techniques and recipes before being inspired by fantastic party cake projects.

Even though this is not a particularly large book, I will be dividing this review into two parts. Part one will cover the first part of the book i.e. the beautiful cake designs, whilst part two will cover the recipes and decorating techniques.

This review begins with the aptly named ‘Decorated Delights’ section of this book. This section contains the instructions for creating each of the miniature cakes featured in this book. Each cake is introduced with a full page, full colour photograph of the finished product. These photographs are gorgeous, even my eyeballs were drooling. They are bright, cheerful and beautifully composed.

If you manage to get past the introductory page for a given project, you will find a couple of lines outlining the project. In this outline, the author may make suggestions for how to present the project, the occasions for which it is suited as well as recommendations for cake and frosting flavours.

For each project, the author provides a full list of the materials required. For the most part the materials are not hard to source, or overly expensive. You will need to go to a cake-decorating store to purchase such items as colour dusts, fondant, sugar paste, modelling tools and cutters. Where required, the author provides templates for each project. These are located in the final section of the book.

The instructions provided for each project are informative and where extra information is required, reference general techniques covered in the latter part of this book, for example how to cover a cake in marzipan. Colour photographs supply further information for techniques that are unique to a given project and require further explanation.

From a technique point of view, the author incorporates a variety of simple decorating techniques to create stunning results. You will not find any fancy piping skills in this book, only simple dots and lines piped using a number 1.5 or larger round nozzle. In addition to these simple piping skills, the author does make use of flooding to create butterfly wings for one of the projects (gum paste or fondant could easily be used as an alternative).

A number of the projects included in this book, require the reader to create decorations using modelling pastes. For the most part, these projects require the reader to use cutters to create primroses, hearts, miniature apple blossoms, roses, lilies, leaves and holly. Where animals are required, the user has to create them by hand. These are polar bears, rabbits, elephants, teddy bears and farmyard animal heads (duck, sheep and pig). Whilst the author provides instructions for each of these figures, it would have been nice if further elaboration was provided, especially regarding the relative sizes for each piece. Thankfully, the photographs are of sufficient quality to show the each of the different pieces used and how they fit together to create each figure.

In addition to modelling and piping techniques already discussed, the author also introduces the reader to the following:
  • simple painting using lustre dust suspended in dipping alcohol;
  • colour dusts mixed with cocoa butter;
  • tempering chocolate and the creation of chocolate scrolls, fans and curls;
  • covering cakes with chocolate plastique, sugar paste, fondant and marzipan;
  • the method for and yield from cutting small cakes from larger ones; and,
  • two tier cake stacking.

Aside from the use of ribbons to enhance the look of the finished projects and the dowles used to hold the tiered cakes together, all of the decorations are completely edible. I am a big fan of this, especially when you are catering for a party with children or intoxicated adults.

When I think of the projects in the first part of this book, the first thing that springs into my mind is how simple, yet elegant the designs are. Whether intentional or not, the projects contained in this book are excellent examples of the old saying "less is more." Good examples of this are the ‘Monochrome Lace’, ‘Cherry Blossom’ and ‘Apple Blossom Bear’ projects.

The ‘Monochrome Lace’ cake, featured on the front of this book, is a 5cm round cake that is covered in marzipan and white sugar paste. A small black ribbon circles the base of the cake, and a simple black lace pattern decorates the top and sides of the cake. The lace pattern is piped using black royal icing. Whilst this is technically an easy piece, it is quite fiddly. In order for this cake to look its best, the decorator needs to ensure that the pearls are even and spaced correctly.

The ‘Cherry Blossom’ cake is my favourite cakes in the book. It is slightly larger than most because it has two tiers (5cm and 7.5cm). This is a great example of how one simple design, carried across multiple tiers can produce a stunning and elegant design. I am a big fan of this. It simplifies planning/design because you do not have to design multiple tiers and the make sure that they tie together and complement each other. Whilst it requires a significant amount of piping, I would say that this is a much easier project than the ‘Monochrome Lace’, because it is a natural pattern as opposed to geometric. With a natural pattern, if something is bigger or smaller than it should be, or if it is a bit wonky, that is fine. Nature is not perfect, unlike geometry.

The ‘Apple Blossom Bear’ cakes are too cute. They would steal the show at any baby shower, christening or first birthday. The key to this design is its simplicity. Each cake is made from a 5cm square cake that is covered in white sugar paste and adorned with small white sugar paste flowers that are made using 3cm and 5cm flower plunger-cutters. Small apple green leaves are hand piped to embellish the flowers. A matching green ribbon wraps the bottom of each cake to act as a boarder. The full-page glossy photo for this project shows seven individual cakes, three of which have teddy bear topper on top whilst the remaining four have additional flowers. This looks lovely. By having these two separate designs, you are able to highlight both the cuteness of the teddy bears and the delicateness of the flowers. If you were to have a teddy bear on top of each cake, I fear that people would fail to notice just how gorgeous these little white flowers are.

I could go on for ages discussing the projects in this book. The ‘Bollywood’ cakes are so vibrant and cheerful as are the ‘Coconut butterflies’. The ‘Christmas CanapĂ© Collection’, ‘Little Venice Lace’ and the ‘Tricolour Chocolate Rose’ cakes look ever so chic/exclusive. The ‘Sleeping Polar Bear’, ‘Bunny Building Block’ and ‘Elephant Polka Dot’ are too cute to eat. These are just some of the projects that you will find in this book, there just as many still to explore that are just as elegant and/or vibrant.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My 30th Birthday/New Year Cake – Part One

No matter how many times you tell yourself that turning 30 is the same as turning 29, it is not. Perhaps it is everyone else’s expectations that make it different. We live in a small apartment, so having a party is not really an option, especially on New Year’s Eve. We normally attend a New Year’s Eve party thrown by our friends. I am very lucky they normally put some candles on a cake and wish me a happy birthday.

This year I have decided to make my own birthday/New Year cake to take to the party. I was in two minds whether to make a chocolate mud cake, or go with something lighter. New Years Eve in Australia is normally a sweaty affair. Temperatures are normally in the high thirty degrees. For this reason, I have decided against a heavy mud cake and chosen a more summery cake. The recipe for the cake was adapted from the ‘lime and coconut’ cake recipe from Mich Turner’s book Fantastic Party Cakes.

Due to ingredient availability, I had to make a few substitutions. Instead of using a block of creamed coconut as per the original recipe, I opted for tinned coconut cream. To be honest, I have never seen a block of creamed coconut. As a work around, I skimmed the congealed coconut cream from an unshaken tin, and substituted it gram for gram for the original ingredient. I also omitted the 2 tablespoons of milk included in the original recipe assuming that the coconut cream would have added enough liquid to the batter.

Another substitution that I needed to make due to ingredient availability was to use white caster sugar instead of golden caster sugar. I see golden caster sugar used in many recipes, however for some reason none of the supermarkets in my area stock it. Is there a great difference between the two?

The final change to the cake recipe was baking the cake in a small round cake tin as opposed to two sandwich tins, which appeared to double the cooking time. My adapted recipe is as follows:

Coconut Cake

200g unsalted butter, softened
200g white caster sugar
200g self-raising flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
100g coconut cream, skimmed from the to of an unshaken tin

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius (fan forced).
2. Measure the cake ingredients into a large bowl and whisk until you have a smooth batter (I used my food processor).
3. Pour the batter into a small lined cake tin (7"/18cm) and cover with a piece of baking paper to stop the top of the cake from browning too quickly.
4. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes until risen, light golden and the cake springs back when pressed.

The resulting cake is quite dense, however it is moist and has a very light flavour. To be honest, the flavour is so light, that it is hard to tell what it is. I am not sure how much of the coconut taste I have lost by substituting coconut cream for creamed coconut. Should I have added some coconut essence, or desiccated/shredded coconut?

I am glad I decided to make a test cake, before making my actual birthday cake. Overall, I am quite happy with how the cake turned out. I covered the test cake in a plain buttercream icing. I am planning to use a combination of lemon and lime buttercream on the final cake.

I took the time to practise my decorating skills. I am quite rusty. Covering a cake in buttercream is not as easy as it seems. My edges were far from crisp and the sides far from smooth. I also attempted to pipe some buttercream roses. These were a disaster. Perhaps it was the heat (36 degrees Celsius), or the buttercream itself - I had used a frosting buttercream recipe (100%), rather than a decorator’s buttercream. Either way, I will make the buttercream roses for the cake ahead of schedule. I am sure the resident nom-monster will have no problems eating those that are not of a sufficient standard to make it onto the final cake.

Here are a couple of photos:

Smoothing buttercream is not as easy as it looks!

The petal edges are a bit jagged :(

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