Sunday, January 13, 2013

Alex and Andy's Wedding, Part 2!

The groom's cake post!  The couple wanted their groom's cake to have a crawfish boil theme from the get-go--the groom is from Louisiana.  I think my favorite part of that meeting was when they started to explain to me what a crawfish boil was, and I was able to hold up my hand and say, "oh, I know--I lived in Louisiana." They looked relieved not to have to try to explain this concept:

The groom's cake!
They sent me several inspiration photos, and this was the end result!  They were specific on a few design points that I needed to be sure to hit:

1) They wanted the cake, itself, to look like a stockpot
2) They wanted the crawfish, red potatoes, and corn on the cob to be inside and around the pot
3) They wanted the board covered in newspaper (a very nice touch, actually--I wish I'd thought of it first)
4) As a last-minute addition, the bride wanted a Coors Light beer can on the side (made of something edible--I suggested just putting an actual Coors Light on there, but she was not down with that)


I started work on this cake the Tuesday before the wedding (which was on a Saturday).  I had to begin with making my fondant, as I planned to make all the crawfish, potatoes, and corn with it, as well as covering the stock pot with it.  I think I ended up making 7 batches?  To be fair, I made slightly smaller batches of some, so I could color it as I made it.

It is a complete PAIN to try to color fondant a deep color (like red) once it's gotten to the finished fondant texture (basically like Play-Doh).  You have to add the color, knead it in, add MORE color, repeat the kneading...it's messy, to say the least, and even more so when you have to get a deep color.  The fondant gets to a certain point that you've added so much food color (even using concentrated gel color) that the fondant texture starts to suffer from the additional liquid you're adding.  So, the upside to making your own is that you can add food coloring to the recipe, cutting back on the need to...well, knead.  :-)

I ended up making white, gray, and red to start, but ended up making a couple batches more of each when I was worried I might not have enough.  Next time, I'll just err on the side of caution and go for the bigger batch.  In the end, I had enough, but not a ton left over, so I did OK on my amounts.

The next day, I got started with the sculpting.  The more I thought about it, the more I worried about the weight of the pieces piled on the cake if they were all solid fondant through and through.  So, having never done this before, but knowing that other people did it, I turned to Rice Krispies treats (RCTs).  Of the four major elements I needed to make, I figured the corn on the cob and the beer can would both be pretty good candidates for this.

The corn, I made a ton of bases for--I wasn't sure how wide I'd want them.  They were just basic cylinders the I trimmed the ends of (to make sure they were nice and flat), then added frosting, as seen here!


The frosting is the adhesive for the fondant to stick to, and to also help fill in the gaps inherent to the RCTs.  I wanted the end of the corn to be nice and flat and smooth.  Since I knew I'd be adding the kernels to the main "body" of the corn, I didn't bother trying to cover the whole base in fondant--just the ends.


Learn from my fail: this may have partially been due to my fondant being a bit soft (when I take it, I tend to go easy on the powdered sugar--you can always knead some in, but if you add too much from the get to, it can make it difficult to work with).  I wanted to cover the endcaps of the corn, then let them dry a bit so they'd be easier to handle.  So I covered all of them on one end, then flipped them over and covered the other end, then let them sit on my table, like shown above (though with both ends covered).  But when i went to pick a few of them up to start the kernel-covering process, more than a couple had decided to stick to the table, ripping the fondant.  Luckily, I'd made plenty.

So, next time, lots more powdered sugar for them to sit on, and maybe a bit stiffer with the fondant.

Moving on, it was time to start adding kernels!  I'd done some poking around on the internet to see how others had tackled making corn on the cob.  More than a few just formed a cylinder of fondant or gumpaste, then took a veining tool (or similar) and scored lines to denote "kernels."  Efficient, yes, but I didn't like the look.  I was thinking the I might roll a bunch of tiny balls and press them together on the corn cob to get the more realistic look--definitely would get me the look I wanted, but holy heck would it have taken a long time.  Enter one particularly brilliant Cake Central poster who had recommended to another person making corn that they use a pearl former--basically a silicone mold that forms fondant into strings of pearls.

It worked PERFECTLY--though still labor-intensive, it saved me all sort of time in not only forming the fondant into equally sized balls, but having them be connected in an easy to attach string.  Here's a shot of some corn, in progress!


I attached the strings of kernels with a bit of gumpaste dissolved in water (edible glue), and kind of smooshed them together as I added new rows.  Once I had a few rows added, I also gently pressed teh tops to flatten them a bit and smoosh them together a bit more to give them a kernel-y appearance.  I was happy with the results!

Then it was time to move on to the beer can--I needed to cover it in fondant so it could get nice and hardened to add the logo closer to the wedding day.  I again started with cylinders of similar size (I made a few, varying the length and width a bit).


The RCT cylinders then got covered in a thin layer of buttercream, which I smoothed out as best I could before rolling the can in a length of fondant and using fondant-smoothers to make it as nice and smooth as possible.  The rolling (as opposed to draping) does leave a seam, but I just made sure that was facing the "back."  


I think the best result was the one that ended up getting two layers of fondant--it helped give it a bit of bulk, which helped it look more in-proportion, and also gave the surface a smoother look.  Once they were all dry, I finished the can off with a top that I gave a lip and pop-tab to.  The whole thing got a coat of silver airbrush spray, and the top of the can got painted in silver edible paint, to give it an even more metallic appearance.  

The logo was simply a buttercream transfer.  Find the logo online, flip it so it's backwards, and size it to the size you need.  Tape that down on a cake board, and tape a piece of wax paper over it.  Then all you basically do is trace the image in the right colors.  Applying a buttercream transfer to a flat surface is much, much easier--you would basically freeze the completed image solid, apply it to the flat surface, and peel the paper away, leaving behind an edible facsimile of your character or logo.  For a round surface, like this can, I've found a method that works for me.  I gently applied the finished image (at room temperature) to the surface of the can--you just press gently enough to make sure it adheres to the surface, then stick the can (or cake, if you're doing this on a cake) into the fridge or freezer to firm up.  Once it's been in there awhile, gently peel away the paper and the image should stay behind!  

Now, of this cake, I thought the actual cake, itself, would be the easiest part.  I wanted to make sure to support it properly, as it would be somewhat taller than normal, and then would have the added weight of the decorations on top of it.  I decided to build what was essentially a two-tier cake, where both "tiers" were the same size.  So, inside the cake, there are two layers, separated by a cake board, with supporting dowels--the normal thing you'd do for any tiered cake.  That part was no problem!  

Then I decided to cover the cake in ganache, rather than buttercream--I'd read that, for fondant, this is sometimes better as ganache is sturdier, so I thought I'd give it a try, as the cake had ganache as a filling, also.  This could have been Mistake #1.  I covered the cake with the ganache, then sat it in the fridge to firm up before adding the fondant over that.  When I went to cover the cake, the ganache was very firm (good) but not very tacky (bad--the fondant needs something to stick to, or the weight of it will pull and eventually tear the fondant).  So I decided to brush the cake with a very, very light coat of water.  Mistake #2, I think.

Water can, in small amounts, be a good fondant adhesive, as what it essentially does it break the fondant down and make it sticky.  In small amounts, that's great to add accent pieces and the like.  But too MUCH water will make the fondant break down completely.  This is why a fridge with condensation problems is not necessarily a good place to store a cake with fondant pieces.

So I covered the cake, and decided to leave it out for the night so the fondant could harden.  the interior was just ganache (nothing perishable), and the bakery has been a good temperature with winter, so I felt this was the best course of action.  I noticed a bit of wrinkling and bulging of the fondant, but decided to see what could be done about it once the fondant was more set up the next day.

I went home for the night and woke up the next morning, all worried about the slight bulging I'd seen the night before.  I decided to head in to the bakery really early, deciding it was better to have time and not need it than vice-versa.  I didn't take a picture of what I came in to, but I wish I had.  The fondant hadn't set up--not one bit.  It actually had bulged MORE and started breaking at the corners of the cake and basically falling down the cake.  ACK!

I went into damage control mode, and decided to strip the fondant from the cake and recover it with the extra fondant I luckily had.  I stripped the fondant, and found that, underneath, the fondant was extremely wet and sticky.  The water coating, I though, must have been too much.

So I scraped all the sticky nastiness from the surface of the cake, gave it a light coat of fresh ganache, recovered the cake with fondant, and set it aside to let it set up.  I had about 5 hours to the wedding, so I felt good on my time (though I had a consult coming in that day, which put the pressure on a bit).

As the groom's cake sat out, I addressed the bride's cake, placing all the petals and whatnot.  Every now and then, I would glance over at the groom's cake, and I wasn't liking what I saw.  The good/awful thing about doing cakes, wedding cakes in particular, I think, is that I've turned into my own worst critic.  I will spot flaws no one else else can see--it's not that they're not there, it's just that I'm more trained to see those, rather than seeing just the big picture of the cake.  So as I'm looking at this groom's cake, I see from the way the light is hitting it very slight imperfections that I KNOW are going to turn into bulges.  The thing is that the ganache, itself was not bulging--it was the fondant bunching up in this weird way I've never seen before.

As a couple more hours went by, the problem only got more noticeable, and the fondant STILL wasn't setting up.  Mistake #3, I think, was the softness of my fondant.  It just didn't have enough powdered sugar to set up, I think.  I finally got to the point that I had to make a snap decision--leave the fondant and hope for the best (knowing the cake would be sitting out hours more once it got to the venue) or strip it again and use buttercream, instead.  The couple hadn't specified wanting fondant on the groom's cake--I just used it, thinking it would be best.

I stripped the cake for a SECOND time (at this point, employees who came near me to "watch" what I was doing--as they sometimes do--was getting a death glare and an very terse, "I don't want an audience right now, and I don't want to talk about what's going on with this cake right now").  My consultation was tasting their cake at this point, and seemed to be in some huge rush--their entire consult took 10 minutes.  I don't know that I booked the cake (which is probably for the best--they seemed to just want a sheet cake, rather than a "wedding" cake--something my bosses don't like me spending my time on), but I was so glad for how fast they were done.

Once they were gone, I made a gray buttercream, and set about icing the cake.  Buttercream can sometimes be a complete pain, especially when it's colored and the weather is cold--I've noticed those two factors can lead it to be full of air bubbles and hard to smooth out.  Luck was on my side, though, and it smoothed out nicely with very little effort on my part--thank god.  I blasted it with silver airbrush color to give it a metallic shimmer, and applied fondant handles, and a fondant "lip" around the top to complete the look (and help hold in the decorations). 

I decided to place all the decorations on-site--I didn't feel like tempting fate too much by the end of that day.  So I packed all the corn, crawfish, potatoes, etc. into boxes and headed out for delivery.  Aside from the crazy obstacle course path, delivery was uneventful, and everything ended up looking great.  All in all, for a cake that had NO idea what I was doing, it went as well as could be expected, and I learned some good lessons for next time, which is all I can really ask for!

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