RECIPE: Strawberry Reduction


strawberry dream cake tagged

A couple of my most clever cake friends, let’s call them “Falyssa” and “Fesley,” have been telling me for ages to take a stab at making strawberry reduction to incorporate into my buttercream. Recently, Falyssa sat down with me (well. virtually) and walked me through exactly how she does this. With her permission, I am now sharing it with you (with a few minor tweaks that worked for me). Trust me, you NEED to make this. Continue reading

Kelli’s Red Velvet Cream Cheese Cake.

I was so honored to be asked by Kelli to make her 40th birthday cake. She told me that every year, throughout her entire adult life, her birthday began with the ringing of her phone and the sound of her mom’s voice bringing birthday wishes. The day ended with her VERY favorite cake in the whole world, her mom’s red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.  Every birthday, same tradition: start the day with a birthday wake-up call, end the day with mom’s red velvet.

People don’t usually order their own cakes, but Kelli lost her mom last year.  And she didn’t just lose her mom – it was as though she had lost her best friend.  They had that kind of “mother-daughter” thing that most of us can only dream about.  (I’m so lucky and blessed that I have a similar thing with my mom.)
In the spirit of keeping important traditions alive (and she didn’t say this, but also, since it’s not every day that you turn 40), Kelli decided to find herself the perfect red velvet/cream cheese birthday cake this year.  I don’t know about the perfect part, but I know I was honored and terrified to attempt to “fill in” for her mom.  I kept it simple using the rosette method from the brilliant “i am baker” tutorial which you can find here.
I don’t usually include this much personal story with my cakes, but Kelli gave me her permission to share a couple lines from a follow-up note she sent me.  I think this sums things up.
“Peggy, I just cut the cake and was flooded with emotion. It is really amazing how God works. You made a cake so much like my mom’s. Your icing is just like hers! The icing was great (cake, too)!  It was delicious! Thanks for making my birthday special.”
Talk about being flooded with emotion! Who would have ever thought that making cakes could be this fulfilling?
Oven’s on – I’ll be back soon!

~ Peggy

Molly Turns 13 (with a tree branch themed cake)! (Click photos to enlarge.)

 Last year for my little girl’s 12th birthday, she wanted a “simple” chocolate cake. I felt awful at the idea of making her a “plain Jane” cake when every other cake I was working on back then was getting 20 hours worth of attention… each! This year, as her 13th birthday approached, I encouraged her to dream up something BIG that we could do to celebrate this landmark occasion. But she didn’t want me to have to slave over a hot turntable all week, so she kept insisting she just wanted plain chocolate again. “Nothing fancy; don’t go to any trouble, Momma.” She couldn’t be coaxed. But no, I wasn’t having that. I can’t recall my 13th birthday, and I certainly can’t recall the cake (if I even had one?). No indeed! We were going to make a memory, by God. And we did!  We had a beautiful birthday weekend.  So many things about it were wonderful, cake or no cake. Uh, but yes, we did have cake.

When she couldn’t decide what she wanted, I decided to surprise her by using one of her most cherished possessions as the inspiration for her cake: a serving tray with bare tree branches silhouetted against a brown background that was given to her as a gift by someone she adores. I put the cake together in about three or four evenings, working at least 2 nights until the wee hours of the morning (3 a.m.-ish). But it was all worthwhile. She loved her cake and the look on her face when it was finished was PRICELESS. (But then, who doesn’t love their own birthday cake?)  Double chocolate chip cake, whipped hazelnut-infused butter cream filling and icing, covered in chocolate ganache, and decorated with homemade MMF.  Thanks to my wonderful caking friend, Lisa Randolph-Gant, for the fantasy flower tutorial earlier this week.  I couldn’t have made these floppy “scrap book”-look flowers without her.  

Sorry for the long post, but on a final note, I think karma gave us one last little gift tonight (Sunday evening, April 17, 2011), as right this VERY moment, my cake (fine, Molly’s cake) is the #1 “most saved” cake of the day on the home page of Cake Central (only my favorite website in the world).  I know it’s shameful to be proud, but the #1 spot on Cake Central is a spot typically reserved only for my biggest cake heroes. Awesome!

Birthday girl with her cake.

Birthday girl cutting top of cake.  
Yes, that was cake for 50, and yes, the entire cake has been EATEN!!

Rocker Girl Birthday Cake! (Click photos to enlarge.)

This cake was based on the “Rocker Girl” party decor and invitations. I was asked to include the heart with wings and the guitar, so I kicked it up a notch and decided to make those two elements the superstars of this confection.  Cake was WASC filled with a whipped butter cream that was lightly infused with caramel, but was iced in a more traditional “crusting” butter cream. The pink stars (and pink several flowers) were covered with edible pink disco dust (one of my favorite things in the WORLD).  
Happy birthday, Charlie! Nobody “parties like a rockstar” better than a bunch of 7 year old girls!

Chocolate Ruffle Cake (click photos to enlarge)!

Everyone knows tip 104.  The 104 has been around for 100 years.  My grandmother (God rest her soul) favored the 104 when she baked cakes in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I, however, do NOT like butter cream roses, and therefore, have never needed the 104 (and have never pretended to be handy with it).  Until now. 
Thanks to this fantastic video tutorial, I finally found a use for it.  You can watch the tutorial here:
The tutorial suggests you make your ruffles with a Swiss or Italian Meringue butter cream, but I used a traditional chocolate crusting butter cream and it worked like a charm.  Just bagged it up, and ta da!  About 20 minutes later, cake was finished and I called it a day.  (Click cake photo for a larger, better view.)

Also, don’t you adore my square “milk glass” cake plate?  Thanks to my wonderful, thoughtful friend, Debra, for dropping it by for no reason at all – just as a little “happy” – just because she’s a doll.  The only thing happier than this gorgeous cake plate, is this chocolate ruffle cake sitting perfectly upon it!

Dr. Seuss "Cat in the Hat"-themed cake (click photos to enlarge).

I really wanted to slap some whimsy on this Dr. Seuss-themed cake via making it a topsy turvy, but alas, I was too chicken. The last time I tried one of “those” cakes (insert sneer and rolled eyes), I made a terrible mess. I WILL conquer that technique in the near future, though. That’s a Promise with a capital P – and I don’t use the “p” word lightly, much less capitalized. Cake was WASC with vanilla buttercream filling/icing. All accents were fondant. As always, everything was 100% edible. The idea of all the blue, obviously, was that the fish was supposed to be splashing around in water – but I think I got a little carried away.  A bit of blue overkill perhaps?  Other requests for the design included a fish on top, red and white striped bottom tier, and a funky candle on top.

I was also asked to “try” to make the fish hold the candle!  Hehe at how cute that would have been, but try as I may, I just couldn’t work that part out. 🙁  Thanks to CC’ers “meghanb” for the candle inspiration and “KarolynAndrea” for the curly Q inspiration. Also, a big shout out and thanks to cake artist Fran McGregor for the fish design and the roly poly border design on the top tier. Yes, I’m confessing that although I put it all together, most of the ideas for this cake were flat-out stolen.  
Jake’s mom was kind enough to share some photos of the big party with us. I love love love what she did with the table seen here:
She was also kind enough to let me nab some pictures of the birthday boy on his big day. His pictures were so adorable I couldn’t pick just one.  Happy birthday Jake!


Chocolate on chocolate with chocolate ganache. (Click photos to enlarge pictures.)

I had my first reason to use ganache last week:  a chocolate butter cream on “chocolate chocolate-chip” cake to be decorated in pastel colors.  I didn’t want to toss fondant on top of chocolate buttercream because I’ve done that before and it’s messy – so I decided to finish my cake in buttercream, cover that with ganache, then cover the ganache with fondant.  Oh man, this was a decorator’s dream.  So simple, so fast, so pain free.  After my practice cake, I did the “real” cake – my Barney cake (pictures to follow this post).  Here’s photos of the practice cake (that I didn’t bother to smooth).  This cake was a bit too rich for my liking, but my little girl, Molly, age 12, almost went out of her mind over it.  hehehe @ her!

Chocolate Roses (click photos to enlarge)!

I’m pretty much in love with the Wilton 1M cake decorating tip.  Even a “beginner” (aka me) can make icing look fabulous with this thing.  This magical tip can make cupcakes look like ice cream cones and Christmas trees, it can make butter cream look like smooth satiny ruffles (look for photos and a “how to” link on that in an upcoming blog post), it can make perfect zigzags, roses, stars, and drop flowers.  It can stuff an egg, fill a puff pastry, or top a cheesecake or pudding or trifle with a fat, perfect dollop of whipped heavy creme.  You can add a border to cake that looks like a feather boa, a splash of water, a snowflake.  Ohhhh the possibilities!  All I can say is this:  if you decorate cakes, this bad boy can make your life so much easier. Get one NOW.  I mean it, stop reading.  Go!

Once you have your shiny new tip in hand, couple it with this brilliant tutorial (from the fantastic “I am mommy” blog) to ice a perfectly elegant cake in butter cream roses:  

Here’s my version, which I whipped up, first try, in about 15 minutes.  TOTAL.  Voila!

Presley’s Little Mermaid Cake

Sometimes things just don’t come easy… making you more grateful when they manage to finally come together.  I struggled with this cake and feel like I just barely pulled it off.  A long-time family friend of ours, Ashley, asked me to make a “Little Mermaid” cake for her 4 year old daughter and showed me the party plates.  She didn’t care what I did – which, as you all know by now, thrills me way more than anything cake-related should.  Along with the obvious (Ariel, Founder, and Sebastian), I knew I wanted to do a brown octopus arm on the bottom of the cake (see photo below).  I also knew I wanted to do a silly little baby octopus in some shade of lavender.  I had great aspirations for this cake, but alas, everything that could have gone wrong seemingly did.  More parts broke on this cake than my last dozen cakes combined.  On top of that, poor Ariel isn’t “right” (but she’s a lot better than my trial run Arial who had a strange resemblance to a gorilla).  I put my fingers into the finished butter cream at least 4 times while decorating this cake.  But even with all the “oops” moments, I still loved doing the fondant work for it.  [Note to any potential “beach-themed” cake makers:  SAND GOES LAST.]  Cake is WASC with whipped vanilla bean filling and icing, all details are fondant and are completely edible – except the shish-ka-bab stick holding up the “Happy Birthday Presley” sign.  I’ve gotten into the habit of watching the movies my cakes are based on as a means of research, so Molly and I watched The Little Mermaid together.  Neither of us really remembered seeing it before and it was sweet to take a trip back in time.  No wonder this movie is such a classic.  For little reasons like this and countless others, I get so much more out of my cake-making than anyone knows.