No Cake Pictures Please, Sherpa Series Volume 1

Consider me your wedding cake sherpa.  Most likely, you haven’t done this before, and I have, over and over again.  Let me guide you through what are possibly some of your more pressing questions about selecting and designing a wedding cake.

When you’re first getting started, you’re going to want to look at a lot of wedding cakes.  This is great.  It helps you become informed on what is out there, recent trends, what can be done in cake so far, and maybe it helps expand your ideas of what you want your wedding aesthetic to be.  It makes it easier for a designer to talk with you and understand what you like and what you don’t.  And sometimes what you don’t is way more important than what you do.

When you come in for a consult with me, I really want you to be informed, but not settled on any one design.  Because what we do is custom.  We ask the right questions, listen very carefuly to your answers, look at the amazing photos you bring of your dress, invites, flowers, colors or even an amazing pinterest board.  Or for that matter, anything at all that you love, fabric, interior design, a gorgeous iron panel or sculpture.  Design inspiration can come from anything at all.  Just keep it in mind when you’re walking around in the world and you’ll see inspiration everywhere.

What we don’t do, is look at photos of other cakes.  Our superpower is storytelling through our cakes.  Each cake represents the client they were made for and works to tie together all the details of your day, becoming a centerpiece that encapsulates the celebration.  Its our policy not to copy others work.  That wouldn’t be custom, now would it?  It wouldn’t be unique to just you.  It wouldn’t be yours.  And when you put photos of beautiful cakes on the table, its almost impossible to move away and create something new.  Being able to discuss the details you like helps us to incorporate things you’ve seen and fallen in love with, while at the same time making something new, and taking cakes to a place they haven’t yet been.  Images of other cakes are limiting to the creative process… and that’s what this is, a process.  Throwing ideas out there, some good, some not so, but all leading us to the place when you look at the draft sketch and say “that’s my cake!”

 All cake designers are different.  We have different techniques, aesthetics, artistic signatures.  We are so many things, but we are not copy machines.  Even if we took on that complete recreation, it would still be different, funneled through each of our own processes and artistic eye, and will never be an exact replica.  If you’re madly in love with a design you see, contact that baker. I know they will be thrilled to make it for you and honored that you loved itso much you sought them out.

So please do continue researching, but pretty please avoid bringing cake images from other designers to your consult or sending them via email.  Don’t you want your story told?

 

Sugar Flowers vs. Real Flowers for Wedding Cakes

Wedding season is approaching and with it, our email box is full of inquiries for wedding cakes.  Yay! We love making wedding cakes and take our responsibility to create something beautiful and memorable for each client very seriously.  This year, I’m noticing a trend.  Its not new, but its definitely feeling like its picking up some steam lately.    Several brides are asking for plain cakes that they say their florists will decorate with real flowers.

As a professional cake artist with 14 years of experience, I’ve learned many things over the years. I know that brides see photos all over Pinterest or other sites, read magazine articles featuring money saving tips that include the use of real flowers.  Just because its printed by a magazine, doesn’t mean that they consulted experts to find out if these are good ideas or not.  But I’m hear for you, and I know that sugar flowers are premium priced.  I’d like to tell you why…

Wedding cakes are works of art.  They are a unification of many of the details of the wedding day.  They are a symbolic sweet bite shared by the couple, and they are a memory highlight of an amazing day.  But they are also food.  Unless organic flowers have been ordered, flowers are grown with pesticides.  They are not intended for consumption, and so no one really worries about anything but keeping them beautiful, perfect, and insect bite free.  And like with strawberries, the pesticides get absorbed into the flower.  No amount of cold water washing is going to rinse it away. Its inside and out. And those pesticides should not ever be touching your cake, never mind having the stems that soak up all the nasty stuff, stabbed inside your beautiful cake and served to your friends and family.

Some flowers, like roses and pansies and lavender and marigolds are edible in themselves.  This is good, so long as they are grown to be used as food.  But there is a whole other category of flowers that just by themselves are toxic or even poisonous.  Some of these include Ranunculus, Sweetpea,  Calla Lily, Hyacinth, Oleander, Hydrangea and Lily of the Valley.  And more…  Some florists may go to lengths to wrap the stems, but this is also labor intensive and costly. And no amount of wrapping will make me feel comfortable that no toxic liquids are not seeping out and making guests ill.  As the baker, that is my responsibility no matter who places the flowers on the cake.

Next are mites…  little tiny bugs that can embed themselves in between the petals.  Don’t want them on the cake or the plate either.

And finally, to look beautiful for the 4-5 hours your wedding cake sits out as centerpiece to your wedding, flowers need water.  Water is the nemesis of cake.  It can ruin a beautiful fondant application, drip down hand painting, and generally speaking just ruin a wedding cake.  So you have limp flowers after 5 hours when it comes time to cut the cake and take pictures, or you have bulky water receptacles that create ugly holes in the cake and can ruin it.

This is exactly why the art of sugar flowers was developed. To have gorgeous life-like floral arrangements to beautify any wedding cake.  And yes, sugar flowers can be costly.  They are made by hand, petal by petal and pulled together with time and tape.  They are fragile and delicate.  And a showstopper. Sugar flowers are some of the highest level of skills a designer can have, and each adds their own signature to them.

I want each client to have a unique cake that represents them, and the creative use of sugar florals is one of the ways I can do this.  And if you’re going to consider paying a florist for organic flowers, or to individually protect the cake from each stem, why not consider availing yourself of the talents of your designer of choice to create a truly unique wedding cake, inspired by you and created by the cake artist? If cost is the main consideration there are ways of featuring less flowers but in a dynamic way where the cake still has a lot of presence, even if its not drenched in flowers.  Or we can work with other mediums to create unique florals that are not as time consuming and therefore more budget friendly.  Promise, we can figure out a unique visual that will make your cake even more special because it was created with you in mind. And, if by chance you’re the kind of couple that likes to have keepsakes, if properly handled, your sugar flowers can last a lifetime.   Can’t say that for real flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Chocolate Show

big-chocoalte-showAlways wanted to know how to make our amazing chocolate chip cookies?  Want to take them over the top?  Fill them with cookie butter and make a sandwich cookie.

big-chocoalte-show-2On this past Saturday afternoon I showed lucky attendees of the brand new Big Chocolate Show all my tips and tricks for making what I think are the perfect chocolate chip cookies.  And here is the recipe for you to  make them at home.
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What is my idea of the perfect chocolate chip cookie?  For me its substantial, crunchy and chewy and most importantly packed with a whole lot of great chocolate.  For  this one we used Valrhona Caraibe, a 66% dark chocolate.  I use the pieces whole, so that when the cookie bakes I get shards of chocolate spread throughout.

Its very important to chill the dough fully before baking, mostly to control spread, but there is also a bit of flavor melding going on there that really improves the overall taste.  You can scoop them, chill and bake immediately, or you you can resist, you can freeze the raw scooped dough and bake them whenever you want fresh cookies.  (or sometimes sneak the raw cookie dough to snack on)

You’ll also want to make sure the butter is melted and cooled.  Hot butter added to the sugar will change the spread too.  Baking from frozen will take longer than from chilled so don’t be surprised if yours take a bit longer than the estimated times.  big-chocoalte-show-3

After the cookies have cooled, I make the cookie butter and pipe mounds of it onto an upturned cookie, and top with another.  We use a meringue buttercream at the shop, but the recipe below is for an American Buttercream.  Either way will be great, but the American version will be a bit sweeter.

Its a good idea to chill them a bit to set, but them bring them back to room temperature to enjoy.

Happy Baking!

Sugar Couture’s   Chocolate Chip Cookie   

Yield 20 1 oz cookies

 

Ingredients:

¾ cup (6 oz) white sugar

¾ cup (4.5 oz) brown sugar

6 oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 1/5 cups (11 oz) All purpose flour

¾ tst salt

½ tsp baking powder

½ t baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

1 yolk

1 cup (5 oz) high quality chocolate pieces or chips

 

Instructions:

 

  1. Melt butter and set aside to cool down.
  2. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream cooled butter with white and brown sugar
  4. Add egg and then yolk to the creamed butter and sugar.   Add vanilla and mix to combine
  5. Stop the machine and add half the flour mixture. Mix to combine.   Repeat with the remaining flour mixture.
  6. Stir in chocolate pieces by hand.
  7. Scoop cookies with one ounce pastry scoop. Alternately you can use a table spoon to portion or roll into a log, chill and cut even 1/3” rounds.
  8. Its best to refrigerate the portioned cookies overnight. You can also freeze them at this stage in a single layer on a sheet tray. Once fully frozen you can place them in a zip lock bag and keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to bake them.
  9. TO BAKE: Pre heat oven to 325 degrees. Place cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets with at least 3 inches between them. Place in preheated oven and bake for 16-20 minutes, until cookies are golden brown around the edges and still a little soft in the centers. Move to a rack to cool.

 

 

 

Buttercream

3/4 pound soft butter

1 pound powdered sugar

2Tbs heavy cream

1 t vanilla

 

  1. Beat soft butter in the bowl of standing mixer until homogenous.
  2. Turn mixer off and add powdered sugar.
  3. Add cream and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes.

 

Cookie Butter Buttercream

5 freshly baked chocolate chip cookies

3 T canola oil
1 recipe buttercream

 

  1. Process cookies in a food processor or blender until crumbly. Add enough oil to form a paste. If necessary warm water can be added in 1tbs increments to form a paste.
  2. Mix into buttercream
  3. Pipe into the center of baked and cooled cookie and top with a second cookie.
  4. Chill to set. Remove to room temperature to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun with Conversation Hearts

Inspired by a request from Tasting Table for a Valentine’s Day piece, we came up with these super fun ways to use those conversation hearts in new creative ways to spice up sugar cookies.

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The heart flower cookies are inspired by a little image my mom used to draw everywhere, a small delicate flower comprised of 4 connected hearts which formed the petals.  Four smaller hearts made up the centers and single leaf.   I translated this into a cookie and though it would be fun to use the Sweetheart candies as the smaller center hearts and leaf.    There are two other versions as well, a heart and a lip version.

Chocolate Chili Sugar Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour

1.3 cup cocoa powder

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp chili powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs brown sugar

10 Tbs unsalted butter

3 egg yolks

1 Tbs Vanilla extract

The extra punch of the chili powder really brings the chocolate alive.  If you’re making them for kids, it can be easily omitted or replaced with cinnamon.

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder baking powder, chili powder and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place the butter, brown sugar and powder sugar.  Cream with a paddle on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Mix in the yolks one at a time.  Mix in the vanilla.

Add flour/coco mix in two additions, mixing on low speed just to combine.  Divide the dough in half and place each half between two pieces of parchment.  Roll the dough between the parchment to about ¼” thick.  Repeat with the remaining half.  Refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Using a template and xacto knife or a cookie cutter,  cut cookies from the chilled dough and place them on parchment lined cookie sheets with about a 1/2” of space between the cookies.  Bake for approximately 12 minutes until the tops are no longer shiny.   Cool completely.

Makes 15 large cookies or 20 medium ones.

 

Royal Icing

1 pound confectioners sugar

3 egg whites

1 tsp lemon juice

Beat egg whites with whisk attachment on medium speed in a standing mixer until soft peaks form.

Change to the paddle attachment, and add the sifted sugar in small amounts at low speed, until incorporated.

Add lemon juice and beat on medium sped until icing holds its shape. Cover with plastic wrap at all times until ready to use.

TO DECORATE THEM:

Heart Flowers

After your cookie dough has been rolled and chilled, use the template to cut out the cookies.  Print the template out and with scissors, cut about 1/4” around the entire shape.  Cut the chilled dough with an Xacto knife or sharp pearing knife.

Bake the cold cookies in a 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes, turning the sheet tray once during the bake time.

While the cookies are cooling, Make the royal icing with a flood consistency.  Color as desired.  I used a super light baby pink and a for the stem, I mixed some leaf green and brown colors to get a more interesting green.  Place the icing in a piping bag with a number 1 or 2 tip.

Reprint the template and cut out one of the heart petals.   Lying it on the cooled cookie, trace the outline with a number 2 pencil.  With the pink icing, trace the outline you just made, holding the tip about 1/2” above the surface of the cookie.  Allow this to dry while outlining the remaining cookies.

Pour the Sweetheart candies onto a tray with the text facing up so it will be easier to select your favorites.

Using the same, or a larger piping tip fill in the centers of the petals with royal icing. Use the piping tip or toothpick to push the icing into the form.

Place the candies, text up in the center of each petal, with the point facing the center.

Pipe a single green line from the petal, to the bottom of the stem of the cookie.  Place one green Sweetheart in the middle to form the  leaf.

Allow cookies to dry completely for at least 3 hours up to overnight.
Using a lip cutter, or  template, cut the cookies from the rolled and chilled dough.

Bake the cold cookies in a 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes, turning the sheet tray once during the bake time.

While the cookies are cooling, make the royal icing with a flood consistency.  Color as desired.  I used a very dark red .  Place the icing in a piping bag with a number 1 or 2 tip.

Pipe an outline of the lips, including the middle line and let this dry to set about 7 minutes, or while you’re piping the rest of the cookies.

With the same or larger sized tip, pipe icing in between the form you’ve piped to fill it. Use the piping tip or toothpick to push the icing into the form.

While the icing is still wet, sprinkle the  red sanding sugar over the cookie, and place the single Sweetheart candy in place.

Allow cookies to dry completely for at least 3 hours up to overnight.

Autism Speaks Celebrity Chef Gala

It was beyond flattering to be asked to participate in this years Autism Speaks Celebrity Chef Gala at the beautiful Cipriani Wall Street.

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The level of talent gathered in this room was enough to make anyone chef star struck. Each team of chef and pastry chef cooked for one table of 10 guests, donating their time, talent and ingredients to make a one of a kind dining experience and raise a lot of cash for a great cause.  Look really close and you’ll see Ted Allen, the evening’s host at the first table, Chef Morimoto making sushi at the second…

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Crazy how I ended up front and center in the class photo!

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The dining room was lined with guest tables, prep tables and 52 ovens all going at once to create a one of a kind event, with chefs cooking table side just for you.

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I was paired with Chef Andrew Zimmerman  of Sepia in Chicago.  The smell in the air was amazing.  He cooked, we waited….

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And finally, I was up…  plating my Pumpkin Fig Cheesecake, adorned with 24K gold leaves.  There may or may not have been a request for second helpings…. can a chef ever ask for a better compliment?

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And never wanting to send people away empty handed, we made these beautiful gift boxes filled with Concorde grape chocolates, macerated figs chocolates, smoked peanut butter cookies, pecan pralines and orange sugar cookies so the sweetness could last and last.

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And I couldn’t have done it without the support and talent of my lovely friend and fellow chef Anina Schulman!

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Looking forward to 2015, and dreaming of what I’ll make then…

3 Day Cake class in New York City

Just announced today! Come and play with sugar with me and 5 brilliant cake artists and instructors at this three day, three cake class, April 10, 11 and 12, 2015, hosted by the NYC Cake Decorators Meetup.

Instructors are paired in teams of two, Patti Paige of Baked Ideas & Kate Sullivan of Cake Power, Ron Ben-Israel & Elisa Strauss of Confetti Cakes and Toba Garret and Me, to teach three fun New York City themed cake projects. Students will spend one day with each set of instructors and complete a total of three cake projects during that time.

Register now for your chance to learn from the best cake talents New York City has to offer and have a blast doing it. Contact nyccakedecorators@hotmail.com for more info and to register. See you there!NYCCDM A NY State of Mind1

Fashion inspired wedding cake…

Some brides know exactly what they want, (and in some cases what they don’t) and sometimes they throw out a few key words that help guide you to the new place.   Both are good, but the latter requires a few more smart questions.

That’s one of the reasons I love Pinterest.  I gather all kinds of beautiful images knowing one day I’ll need a new place to start.  Pinterest creatively rescues me.  I don’t look at other’s cakes though.  That’s the rule.  All the inspiration has to come from a totally different mediums.  Fashion is a never ending supply of pretty.

I’m in love with this dress.  I wish I could wear it to work, but flour would really ruin the sparkle.  Maybe I should get a new job…

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Based on all this loveliness, I created a three tier  wedding cake for a celebration at the Ace Hotel.  Delicate gold flouncy flowers, edible gold glitter and sequins, which in the wrong combination could be way over the top, but here, placing them in the center and softening from the center out, they created a soft, glamorous focal point.  evy (7 of 12)

Extravagant Wedding Cakes

Tara and Travis were married last summer.  As a long time client of mine, it was a privilege to get to make their wedding cake.  They are an amazing couple and they had a celebration that suited them to a T.   No ordinary wedding cake would do…   their showstopper featured their dog Piko.

Because not everyone likes to cut into their best furry friend, we set him on a “leather” bed cake.  And he had to be dressed for the occasion, only a black smoking jacket would do. A pipe completed his ensemble.   As a final personal touch to the couple, the board held two 45 records representing music that holds meaning for them and their relationship.  It was a fun cake to make, and one I’m super proud of.  I thought it was pretty terrific when their wedding and cake were featured on the Green Wedding Shoes blog, but this past Sunday, the cake was featured in the Style section of the New York Times, in an article that heralds the return of the extravagant wedding cake.

Piko is rather well travelled…brooklyn-wedding-17

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photography: Matt Miller from Our Labor of Love

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Charles James, the Met Gala and Vogue…

Vogue called and asked me to play Barbie!

In honor of the Met Gala’s tribute to the iconic designer Charles James, Vogue asked me and 5 other amazing cake designers to dress Barbie in some of his most stunning couture gowns. They assigned me his Clover Gown.  It was perfect for cake.  And such a fun project I couldn’t wait to dive in.

To start, I did some research on the clover dress and found additional images of front, back and close ups of the bodice that I used to make templates.  Barbie is 11.5 inches, so that was the sizing I used to make the templates.

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The Ultra Rich Butter cake was baked and filled with layers passion fruit buttercream and chilled until firm.

 

carvedI covered Barbie in plastic wrap to keep her clean through the cake carving, and inserted her into the middle of the chilled cake.  Using the templates and Barbie’s shape as guidelines, I carved the cake into the basic shape of the dress.  Three layers of buttercream were added, chilling the cake to set in between until I had a smooth surface.

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Using the original templates I made patterns for the dress.  I mixed half fondant and half gumpaste  to give the fondant enough strength to be lifted and applied to the cake without pulling out of shape.  I colored that an ivory to match the photos of the gown.  Using the patterns, I cut out 4 pieces to make up the skirt and applied them at the seam points.  At this time, once the buttercream was covered with the fondant/gumpaste mixture, I cut off the protective plastic wrap that covered Barbie from the waste up.
without black I cut out the back and front of the bodice and applied them directly to the body of the doll, joining it at the seams with the skirt.

 

I then painted the entire dress with luster dust to give it the shimmer of the original fabric.  Again, using the original templates as patterns, I cut out the black focal detail and applied them on top of the skirt.  Barbie was dressed and could finally put her arms down!  Being a model is tough work!

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Click here to see the finished piece, and here to visit vogue.com for the full story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nintendo AND Disney AND Cake

I’ve adored all things Disney since my first trip to Orlando in 1975. So when the lovely Jarita from Nintendo World called about a cake for a Disney event, I was honored to get to bring them both to life in cake. I’ve worked with Nintendo world before on Luigi’s 30th birthday cake and Zelda’s anniversary shield.  They are such fun projects to create based on much adored characters and images.  The special event this past weekend was the launch of Disney Magical World.  The game is set around a castle, not unlike Cinderella’s castle in Disney World, so of course the cake had to be a castle!  I couldn’t wait to get started.

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Two weeks went into creating this castle cake that sat 27″ tall at the highest spire, and 22 inches wide at the base.

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Spires were made from cereal treats and the rest of this baby was all cake.  And we even managed to get a hidden Mickey in there.

I’m not usually around for the ceremony, but thought it would be fun to come back to help them cut the cake for the hundreds of fans that waited in line from 10am.  When we arrived, we were so excited to see that G Hannelius from the Disney show Dog with a Blog was there to cut the cake!

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And after building it up for so carefully for so long, we took it down piece by piece… without a moment of sadness or regret.  Our cakes are delicious and made to be eaten.

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Can’t wait to see what’s next from Nintendo.

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