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.

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)

The Art of Floral Wedding Cakes

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I was introduced to sugar flowers on a Food Network special more than a dozen years ago.  This was before pastry school, before cakes and Sugar Couture, back in a time when I would bounce from creative project to creative project.  My patient husband Jay recalls this time by how it affected him, like for example that time when I was making glass mosaics and he had tiny shards of glass stuck in his socks for months.

After I saw that program, I thought what I usually do… “I can do that”, and immediately ran out to buy my first sugar flower making supplies at the only place I knew of at the time, New York Cake and Bake.  Armed with more a brochure than book, I started to teach myself how to make beautiful flowers out of gumpaste, a sugar dough that dries firm.  I then promptly put them down and didn’t return to them until pastry school.    But then I was hooked.  As Sugar Couture grew, I had more and more requests for these fragile beauties.  People were impressed with their lifelike quality, delicate petals, and their impressive statement on the wedding cakes I made.

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Sugar flowers are some of the most time consuming things I make for my cakes.  The centers are made and dried for days.  The gumpaste is rolled out and each petal is individually cut out, sometimes veined for texture, attached, and left to dry. Depending on the amount of petals and flower form, this can take days, with drying in between.  When they are set, they are dusted with color to give them depth and life, and that color is set with steam.  And then when they are complete, they are terrifyingly delicate.  They can break and chip at the gentlest touch.  They are subject to the weather and have to be kept humidity and heat free to stay beautiful.  This might explain a bit about the price points of of these works of art.

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From time to time I’ll have a client consider real flowers, mostly for budgetary reasons.  I do understand this, but real flowers are rarely a way to go.  Many flowers are toxic, and because of that should not be placed on food. And for the flowers that are not toxic, they can be grown with pesticides that are not used for food, so if you’re going to go that route, organic is the only way.

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There are some flowers that are actually edible, roses, pansies, violets, and these are fine, but you’re limited in the design and use of them because you should never stick a flower stem into a cake. And last but not least, flowers need water to stay beautiful for long periods of time.  Water is the nemesis of cake.  So those flowers that were beautiful when they were first put on, will wilt and slump and when you’re ready for the cake’s photo op, the flowers are long past their prime.  I’ve heard stories from photographer friends who’ve seen the real flowers wilt over the progression of the celebration, their weight tearing the fondant down with them, and ruining the entire cake.    This is the reason the art of sugar flowers was born,  to  solve all these issues and more.  And even better, if you’re the kind of person that likes to keep mementos, the flowers can be removed from the cake, stored and arranged on floral foam with a little desiccant (those packets that come with new shoes), under glass, to keep them beautiful indefinitely.

If budget is a factor, consider a few smaller bunches rather than full on drape or wrap.  Or a single large statement bloom can be all you need to keep all eyes on your cake, and all your guests talking about it for months to come.

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Erick and Elena… or my pick for wedding cake of the year

With Thanksgiving only moments away, I started thinking about 2013 as a whole, and all the work I’ve been privileged to create.  I get to be a part of so many special moments because of what I’m lucky to do as a cake designer.  I’m often surprised by which cakes resonate with the world at large, but I’ll tell you this year, for me, it was this wedding cake.

Erick and Elena have been clients for a while now… his 40th birthday cake, their engagement cake. Every single cake I make is important to me and with it I hope to build a relationship with every client.  When I’m blessed to have them come back over and over, I feel a special responsibility to surpass their expectations. That creates some sleepless nights, and a few mini panic attacks here and there, but they always subside with the completion of the project.  Sunday nights are good sleeping nights for me.

Eric and Elena really created an over the top gorgeous wedding.  Their reception was held at the Mandarin Oriental, with 300 of their closest friends and family.  They nailed all the details, monogramed napkins, stunning florals, and favors from Sugar Couture featuring I Love NY cookies and matching mugs, in bags printed with their wedding monogram.

 I Love NY Cookies

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And, because it was also Erick’s parents anniversary, the bride and groom surprised them with an anniversary cake, which was a modernized version of their original wedding cake from so many years ago.  Not kidding, the original had pink package bows… you know the kind you buy at the drugstore?  Yeah, those were the decoration.  So we updated with sugar bows, pink swags and shimmer.

Seven tiers of strawberry champagne cake with strawberry buttercream.   Covered in white fondant, the cake was a canvas for the 550 hand made sugar flowers that covered it.  Garden roses, peonies, heritage roses, and orchids all lightly dusted with a blush pink to match the wedding colors.  And the final detail was the hand piping of the pattern from their invitations.  So many hours of work and love went into this baby.  We assembled it in three pieces for transport and then put it together on site.  How amazing to see the cake table in the middle of the room, and the cake as a centerpiece with New York itself as the background.

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For a bit of the beauty, take a look at their video teaser by Robert and Kathleen Photographers.

 

I’m in love with this cake. Its a beautiful mix of my cake style and traditional wedding cake style. Its  the tallest cake I’ve made to date, and most definitely the most sugar flowers. So now to start thinking about how to top it in 2014.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Lego Marvel Super Heroes Cake

If you haven’t heard from me in the last couple of weeks… this is why.  A showstopper cake for today’s launch of the new Lego Marvel Super Heroes game.  Our scene features Sand Central Station, inspired directly from the game.   Four feet long, 32 inches wide and 2 feet tall, the location was the perfect setting for Hulk, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Loki, Black Widow, Spiderman and Thor to save us all from Dr. Doom.   Weighing in at approximately 70 pounds this cake would easily feed 180 and took more than 70 hours to create.

 

lego marvel cake

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Couldn’t have don it without the support and talents of  Lauren Nisenson, and my Chief of Operations, my husband Jay, who always makes me look good.

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And a special shout out to the front door staff at the Bryant Park Hotel, who went above and beyond to make sure our super heroes made it up to the 24th floor.

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A Sneaker Cake, and So Much More

To me it’s a sneaker cake.  I’ve made it before, I’ll likely make it again.  When I repeat cakes its easy to get a little jaded.  Sneaker cakes are very popular and it’s one I’m very comfortable making.

deshawn's sneaker cake

 To Deshwan and his family this was more than just a sneaker cake.   Remember, I make memories, (delicious ones at that)  and  just in case I had forgotten this for a moment, I was quickly reminded.  Deshawn and his family had been planning this party for his younger brother who was newly engaged and moving to California.   So many emotions wrapped up in the event, and a lot of that was transferred into the cake.  They wanted it to be just right, to be something he would love, and his sneaker collection was the inspiration.   Since it was a going away party, I suggested adding some edible photos to the display that made it more personal.   The idea excited Deshawn and he started sending me tons of photos.  I work hard on every cake I make, but I feel a deep sense of privilege and obligation when I’m acutely aware that what I’m making has so much meaning wrapped up into it.

I don’t often get to do my own deliveries.   So I often miss seeing the reaction when a client first set eyes on their cake.  So much goes into their planning… time, thought and money.  So many hopes are invested in what this custom cake creation will actually be.   They think they know what it will be like, but there is always a special magic when the cake comes to life for them.  When I delivered this cake everyone gathered round, taking photos while it was still in the box.  I reached out to shake their hands and was hugged instead.   Mom had tears in her eyes.   My cake, my sneaker cake that I had made before, brought her to tears.   This is why I love making cakes.  I’m honored that I was able to be a part of their joy… of their history, and helped them make a sweet memory.  And so happy I was there to see it.