Sunday, September 26, 2010

Welcome to the (Sugar) Jungle

Doesn't my post title make you think of this?:

As much as I love Guns n' Roses, this post isn't about them (it's a baking blog!). One of the more exciting units at school was definitely our Sugar 2 section. We finally got a chance to pull, blow, and pour sugar into really beautiful, delicate items.

My sugar flowers I made


The downside of this is that sugar is hot. Like really hot. We cook it to 329 degrees and then cool it down (but not too cool) before we start working with it. Even with the rubber gloves on, our hands were completely roasted. After two straight weeks of this, my hands were just completely swollen and covered in blisters. You kind of forget all about that though when you see how pretty your sugar work turns out.

That's the thing about sugar - the wow factor is high. Due to the amount of skill, tools, and space you need, sugar work is not the type of stuff the average home baker is making in their kitchen.


Angry monkey

For the culmination of the unit, as a class we made a giant sugar showpiece. We chose the theme "jungle" and all divided and conquered. Some people were assigned making the animals out of blown sugar, some people poured the base (a mammoth task given the size of the showpiece), others made the trees and leaves. My job was to pull sugar flowers. It's a time-consuming process, pulling one petal at a time and cutting it off the sugar, letting them harden, and then attaching them all together.

The final result was really cool looking. I loved the monkeys my classmates made, and the waterfall was really beautiful. Overall, we worked really well to pull this off, and I think it was a major success.

Final product

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ambitious Baking: Tiered Cakes

I absolutely love the challenge of making fondant-covered cakes, even though my skill set in that arena is still pretty lacking. Every year our family friends host a massive beer pong tournament. It's really something you can't believe unless you see it for yourself. Every team agonizes over team name and comes decked out in matching uniforms.

Front View

I had a clear vision of the cake I wanted to make for this party. There's almost a 100 guests that attend this party, so it had to be big. I decided on a three-tiered cake with Solo "cups" made out of fondant mixed with a natural gum so they would dry hard overnight. I used real Solo cups to draw a template and mold the cups. There were 30 teams that participated, so I piped every team name on a fondant plaque that was then put on the back and sides of the cake. The letter piping was the last thing I did, and by the time I got to the last team, my hand was shaking.

Side View - Handwriting was a little shaky

The cake flavors were chocolate cake with cookies and cream buttercream (10"), white cake with passion fruit buttercream (8"), and banana cake with white chocolate buttercream (6"). Despite the massive quantity of cake, it was pretty much demolished at the end of the night. The cutting of the cake went down around midnight, many rounds into the tournament, so it should have come as no surprise that I sliced my hand while divvying up the cake. Luckily it wasn't too deep, and nothing that 5 Band-Aids and another Bud Light could not fix.

Back of the cake

The party happened to coincide with the beer pong commissioner's birthday, so I made a miniature birthday cake. I did a white covering with black polka dots and a pink glittery bow. Thankfully, my friend Vica came to visit just in the nick of time. When she arrived at my house, I was thoroughly in the weeds (chef talk for "in major s***") and didn't think I would finish on time to make it to the party with a completed cake, much less the tiny birthday cake too. Vica stepped in and made an awesome pastry assistant, helping me out with the finishing touches on both cakes.

I have no idea how cake designers transport their cakes without any damage. We had a short 10 minute drive to the party, and my cake arrived with many cracks (albeit they were only noticeable to me). We had a kind of rough drive there, with me sitting in the trunk of the Explorer and my mom driving, us yelling at each other the entire time. She probably could have driven a teensy bit smoother, but at least I know that when I need a delivery person for my future business, we already had the test run (fail). My mom has many skills, but apparently smooth driving is not one of them.

This cake was only 4"

I'm already looking forward to next year's tournament (the 5th annual!), but think I'm going to go easier on the desserts so I can rest up pre-tournament and maybe go further (my partner Morgan & I had a pretty abysmal showing).

Me & a few of my friend at the tournament

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