Monday, 2 September 2013

Keep calm and bake cakes

I have this poster on my notebook at work. It's a great daily reminder about how to live.

I'm the first to admit, though, that keeping calm is sometimes the hard part. I've enjoyed a busy weekend of baking. Father's Day yesterday meant that I got to make banana cake with chocolate ganache for one family and sour cream lemon tart for the other, along with the masterpiece that I had been planning for weeks as an early birthday present for my baking buddy.

Although the process is still quite challenging and time-consuming for me, I do enjoy planning, baking, assembling and decorating cakes (or cupcakes). I can assure you that I won't be going into the cake decorating business - at least not any time soon! However, my arsenal of baking toys and slowing-growing repertoire of skills means that I am starting to be more ambitious in my attempts to make something that looks as good as it tastes. I thought about my notebook as I was carving and stacking a cake on Friday night. What advice did I really need to remember right now?

My plan for this weekend was to create a handbag cake resembling something along the lines of the cover of the Planet Cake decorating book and this step-by-step tutorial. I think I came close(ish).

Someone commented that it reminded them of all the birthday cakes she'd made her kids years ago. I may or may not have raised an eyebrow or two at this point and asked about her use of fondant and creating 3D modelled cakes. "Oh no, they weren't anything like that, but it's all the same kind of thing." Sure it is.

Red leather handbag cake

Leather textured back

Finishing touches

Keep calm and bake cakes: Advice to self

  • Use the revolving cake turntable you bought. It's there to make your life easier and you always regret not getting it out of the cupboard while you're halfway through the process of twisting the cake board around on the kitchen bench to line up roughly where you want it.
  • It takes a truckload of buttercream to cover a whole cake, especially if it has layers. That's usually a little bit more than you think you'll need.
  • You can sometimes get away with applying a crumb layer of buttercream like you're smoothing concrete. For all other times, remember how you were taught to apply buttercream properly (ie, not like concrete).
  • Do anything that requires attention to detail in natural daylight, just like a top professional cake decorator told you to. This is not always practical advice, though ...
  • Take the same professional cake decorator's advice and turn flaws into features. You're probably the only one who knows why certain decorations have been placed where they are.
  • You're going to be busy for a while, so set aside twice as long as you think you'll need, make good coffee, crank the music up and enjoy it.
  • You'll always find red or black fondant stains somewhere on your face hours after using it, so check a mirror occasionally.
  • No matter how much you make by hand from scratch, the first thing people will notice (and comment on) when you show them photos of your masterpiece is the two pieces of liquorice you bought at the last minute to accessorise.
  • Even though it may not turn out looking how you imagined it might, it will still (hopefully) taste good.

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