Sketches with Paint

So I thought I'd share a little bit about my process of coming up with a design for a cake. I generally just use the "Paint" program on my computer to come up with a few rough ideas of designs. This next cake I'm working on is actually for my friend Kelly's doll club. It's the 20th anniversary of the club. And it's acually her cake we're doing...I'm just helping her out on whatever she needs. :)

Originally we had planned to do a "mad hatter" style cake, but due to time constraints we decided just to go with a standard 3 tier cake, but with the same type of designs on it.... So you've never heard of a mad hatter cake?? Well basically its constructed to look like the cake tiers are all falling apart. Each layer is slanted at an angle to give it that effect. Below are some of my original sketches for the mad hatter design based on our original color scheme:

So, again, we decided not to do the mad hatter style and we also changed the color scheme a bit. And after I showed her some of the above designs, she decided on a basic pattern she liked and I ran with it from there. Below are the designs I came up with after that:

In the end, we combined a couple of the designs and came up with a final sketch of what the cake will look like. The diamonds and dots shown will be made out of fondant, but the rest of the icing will be done using buttercream. Here's the final sketch:

We'll be putting the cake together next week, as the anniversary party is Thursday, September 20th. If you're interested in learing about the doll club, just click on the following link: http://www.flyingphoebe.com/

Wish us luck!!


The Wedding Cake

Yes, my very first wedding cake. Was I nervous?? Umm.. just a little. Especially since I was under a bit of a time crunch and I didn't have free reign of what the cake was going to look like (which is tough for me since I'm a total control freak). And the bride-to-be, Tiffany, had a specific photo of a cake that she loved and wanted me to duplicate. Once I found that out I was REALLY nervous about it turning out exactly like the picture.

In the original picture it showed gumpaste flowers all around the cake. I, of course, have never taken any cake decorating classes let alone have any clue how to make gumpaste flowers. But I knew it was what she wanted so I made it my determination to learn a new skill so she could have a cake she would love... Welp, here goes nothin'!

Before I continue, I'd like to take a second out to thank my friend Kelly for all of her help on this cake. Without her this cake would have NEVER made it. Seriously... You'll see as this post goes on that we were running really late, but she was there with me every step of the way, helping in any way she could (including keeping me from freaking out as the clock ticked away).

Kelly, I really can't thank you enough. You are just SO awesome! I am so blessed to have you as a friend.

Ok, back to the cake...

So our first task was to tackle the flowers. A few days ahead of time I practiced on a few at home just trying to get a feel for it. The best way to explain gumpaste is that it's a clay-like texture when moist, but dries hard (and fast). So I learned you can't really play with it for too long before it starts drying and cracking. Well after experimenting with a few, I created a template out of cardboard to use when cutting the shapes out of the "dough". We were unable to find a cutter that we liked in the short amount of time we had, so designing my own was really the only option. So the night before the wedding I had alread baked half of the cakes. (And at this point, I should stop and tell you there was originally supposed to be four tiers on the cake, but I'll get to that later.) Basically making a four tier cake requires baking 8 cakes, or 2 cakes for each tier. So when I got to Kelly's house after work on Friday night (since she offered to use her kitchen) we began baking the other half of the cakes and working on the flowers. We were off to a great start. The flowers were coming along as we had formed sort of an assembly line between the two of us. She was cutting, I was molding, then she would switch out the dry ones for the wet ones, and I would poke holes to run the wires through.... it was a pretty efficient little system we had going. However, although we seemed to be working as quick as we possibly could, we were still up until 2 am finishing the flowers. The picture you see here is one I took the next morning and is only a very tiny portion of all the flowers and leaves we did.

Ok.. next morning... back to work. By Saturday morning we had all of the flowers ready to go and all of the cakes were baked and cooled. Time to move on to the filling and icing. Tiffany had chosen a strawberry filling so a few days ahead of time I spent a good hour hulling and washing 16lbs of fresh strawberries. *We realized later that it ended up to be a little bit over-kill and had some filling leftover. I actually ended up over-estimating the amount of filling needed and under-estimating the amount of icing needed. So a few extra trips to the store were necessary. But hey, I never said I was a professional. But just to make a long story short, making pounds and pounds of filling and icing took longer than I had originally anticipated and I began to really stress out as I watched the minutes (and hours) tick by.

At this point I should let you know that while we were in Livermore preparing the cake, the wedding was due to begin at 7:30pm in Riverbank. So I knew I had at least an hour of travel time, not to mention a few extra moments to stack the cake together once I got to the reception. And both the wedding and reception were being held at the same place, so there was no opportunity for me to sneak in unnoticed.

Ok.. back on track...Mintues and hours ticking away.... By this point of my story I can't even reference a time frame for you because its all just a blur now. So to catch you up to speed I'll just let you know that by now we had all of the cakes torted, filled and iced and all the flowers and leaves attached. It was at this point when disaster struck. As you can see in the picture on the right, this was what the cake was supposed to look like when complete. And by now I had the bottom 2 tiers separated from the top to tiers for easy transport. Well..... The 2nd cake from the bottom (I have it circled) decided to start falling apart. I had been watching it and noticed that it had cracked in half at the point where we pushed in the pillars, and it was slowly starting to slide off the edge. And, in a total panic, I came to the conclusion that no matter how much I prayed, it was just NOT going to make it all the way out to Riverbank without completely falling apart. It was then that we just decided to cut our losses and take off that entire layer of cake. So by now I was about ready to just break down a cry. We had been working on it for SO long and to have it fall apart at the last minute was just heartbreaking. But, I sucked it up and continued on. So the plan now was to make it in to a 3 tier cake with no separation in between.

And finally, after hours and hours of work, I was finally leaving the house with what was left of the cake. By now it was already 7:30 and I knew the wedding was just about to start. (My original plan was to get there at 6:30... so yeah, just a tad late) And as Murphy's Law would have it, I hit really bad traffic in Tracy and ended up making a wrong turn once I got in to Riverbank, which only further delayed my arrival. Finally, I got in touch with the groom's mom who helped guide me in. By the time I arrived it was 8:45 and I felt like everyone had just been standing around waiting on me to cut the cake. So as I pulled up I ran in with the cake (literally), stacked up the rest of the layers and ran it outside to the cake table. And just as I was putting the topper on, the bride and groom began to walk over to cut it and luckily I was able to snap one quick shot...Whew! You know, it's amazing how many hours of work are spent creating a cake and it's demolished in a matter of minutes. (maybe I need to take up a new hobby?) But all-in-all I think she was really happy with it and everyone else seemed to like it too. So ta-da! Here it is... the final product:

(the picture isn't all that great, but you get the idea)

I do have to say it was definitely a learning experience for me. And needless to say, by the end of the night I was completely exhausted. It was by far the most work I've ever put in to a cake, and probably the most stress too! But it was absolutely worth it and I look forward to my next project!

Congrats to Tiffany & Peter! May God bless you with a long, happy marriage!


A History

As of now, I have been decorating cakes for about a year. It's been a wild ride so far. I have to say I definitely have a deeper appreciation for professionals now that I have done a few myself. It's only now that I understand why they charge hundreds of dollars for their cakes. Without ever doing one yourself you never realize how many countless hours actually go in to preparing a cake. And with that, here's a little history on my cake journey up to now.

Heather's Baby Shower
My first cake ever was for Heather's baby shower in August 2006. She was having a little girl and wanted to do a cowboy theme. So I said..giddy up! I don't know where the idea came from, or why I thought I could even do a large cake, but after reading articles, tips, and tricks via the web, I thought I was ready to take on the task (thought being the key word). So I jumped in head first with the ambition to make a beautiful 3 tier cake. I had all these great ideas of the different designs and patterns I could put on the cake. But, unfortunately, one after the other, each idea failed. As the day went on I began to learn that chocolate cake crumbs are visible even through colored icing, 100 degree weather (with no AC working inside) is not a good match for buttercream, transferring frozen icing images from wax paper to the cake isn't as easy as it looks, and sometimes... when you're really running late... you just have to hand over the piping bag and let your husband put the dots on while you finally jump in the shower. I also found it interesting trying to transport a fully stacked 3 tier cake on a glass stand with a pedestal foot ... strategic placement required... Luckily I had the help of Michael. He drove while I tried to balance the cake from Dublin to Livermore. Needless to say, by the time we got there I was completely exhausted, had orange and blue icing all over me, and couldn't wait to sit down and relax. It was definitely an interesting experience, but I was completely hooked and couldn't wait to do it again!

Joe & Cyndi's Baby Shower
Cake number two was a baby shower cake for Joe and Cyndi in November 2006. The theme was "Curious George" for their little girl on the way. So, naturally, the obvious colors were red and yellow. Unfortunately, no matter how much coloring I put in I swear it still looked pink! But this time I decided not to try any fancy designs or anything. Intead, I kept it simple. Which worked out for the most part, aside from the almost-red icing. And once again, it was a balancing act over to the party... Michael drove and I held the fully stacked cake over my lap (again, with the glass pedestal stand). Once we got there I felt bad because it seemed a little plain. But soon after I found out someone had bought a really cute Curious George candle set. You can't really see it all that well in this picture, but it was a plastic figurine and then a few candles. We stuck the candles in and lit them....but what to sing?? I'd never been to a baby/bridal shower where there were candles in the cake, so we just wished them well and they blew out the candles. For an added "curious" touch, I made the cake itself a banana cake to go with the theme. What would a monkey party be without a little banana??

Britney's Bridal Shower
My third cake was for Britney's bridal shower. Now this time I decided to put the cake together AT the house as opposed to trying to carry it over completely finished. So, as usual, I baked the cakes the day before and got all the stuff ready to go. I packed it all up and headed over to the house. This cake actually went together a lot smoother. One thing that really helped was by doing a white cake with buttercream filling. This way, with the white cake, crumbs don't quite show up as much. And having the filling be the same as the icing makes it easy because you have to be less acurate on your calulations on how much to make. I did have a few problems with the black icing, but overall it went pretty well. AND by doing it at the house where the party was being hosted I didn't have to worry about showing up late! Woo-hoo! Oh.. one other great thing.. After finishing the cake I realized that we had nothing to put on the top. But thanks to her grandmother, Marie, who has a beautiful backyard garden, we were able to walk outside and pick some fresh roses that matched wonderfully with the cake. My favorite one, that you can't see in this picture, was a lavender rose that was on the other side of the cake. Still to this day, this seems to be everyone's favorite cake.

Betty's 50th Birthday
On to cake number four. By this time it was June 2007 and had been about 7 months since my last cake, so I was definitely ready make one again. This time the cake was for my Mother-in-law, Betty. It was her 50th birthday and we decided to throw her a big bash... but it was a surprise so she didn't know anything about it...well.. at least we had hoped. The theme was Betty Boop and I couldn't wait! For her cake I made a devil's food chocolate cake with a strawberry mousse filling (which, by the way turned out really great). While shopping online for party supplies I came across this adorable cake topper. It was a Betty Boop figurine sitting in a martini glass. And it was actually an ornament so she could keep it and hang it on their tree at Christmas! This, of course, was perfect for her since she is obsessed with Christmas time like me. :) Anyhoo... I again decided to put the cake together there at the house which worked great, except, I was once again battling the heat. You can kind of see in the picture that by the time I snapped this shot it was so hot the cake had started to melt and was leaning to the side. And again I had the problem with getting the icing really red. It still turned out pink, but it gets to the point where if you put anymore coloring in people are going to end up with red mouths and it actually changes the consistency of the icing. So I gave up and stuck with the hot pink. One new thing I learned that works REALLY well was doing a "crumb coating". This works especially well on chocoalte cakes (like this one) so that you don't get any crumbs in your icing. Basically how it works is you thin out a small portion of your icing and do an initial layer on the cake. This one will pick up all the loose crumbs, but it won't matter because you'll be going back over it a second time. After the first "crumb coat" layer is on I stick it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to harden up. This technique is really great and saves you (well, me) a lot of stress and worry later on. At that point, the only thing I was worried about was the cake melting!

Josh & Jordan's 6th Birthday
Ok, so by my fifth cake I was getting kinda bored with doing 3 tier cakes and wanted to try something different. This next one I did was for our friend's twin boys' birthday in July 2007. They are big-time baseball fans, so I thought, what other kind of cake would two 6 year olds want besides a baseball cake?? Although in all honesty, my oringinal design had a few different types of sports balls in there (like football & basketball), but I decided to keep it simple and not stress about multiple themes. So I centered it around just baseball instead. As you can see in the picture, the bottom part is supposed to represent the baseball diamond. I actually made the baselines using brown sugar so that it looked like dirt. Then the baseball shaped cake went on top. I made the round shape of the ball by baking it in a glass pyrex bowl. Who knew?? So when we went to cut the cake, I took off the ball for just the twins to have and cut up the bottom round for the rest of the guests. Oh.. and this time instead of using the cake stand with the footed pedestal, I put it on a flat cake plate. Whew! That worked SO much better. Talk about easy transport!

Andy's Good Luck
Tired of reading yet? Well here comes cake #6. Don't worry, only two more to go after this. So as I go along in my cake-making journey I try to be a little more adventurous with each cake. This time the cake was for my co-worker, Andy, who is in the Air Force Reserve. In July 2007 he was about to be deployed to Iraq, so we threw him a little "We'll miss you/Good luck" party at the office, and I, of course, volunteered to make the cake. As the theme was patriotic I decided to go with obvious colors of red, white and blue. And see the red icing??? Yes! I finally got the icing the right shade of red I wanted! The cake was 2 tiers with a star cake on top and a 14 inch round on bottom. This, by the way, may not look like it, but it is a LOT of cake. The star cake actually took the longest to decorate. I used a star tip to pipe the icing over the entire cake which took about an hour and a half. The banner along the bottom of the cake was quick, but it was hot so it started to melt by the time I got to work. I also got a little creative with the inside of the cake. I tried to do both the top star cake and the bottom round, but ran out of coloring. But I managed to dye the cake batter half-red and half-blue, so when you cut in to the cake you see the red, white and blue inside. ...Clever, eh? It's funny because I remember once the cakes came out of the oven they reminded me of playdough for some reason. But I think it definitely added a special touch. While I'm here, I do want to wish Andy good luck and we look forward to his safe return home next February.

Ellie & Tiffany's Baby Shower
The next cake I did was for Ellie and Tiffany's baby shower. They were both due within a few weeks of eachother, so we decided to do a joint shower with a hawaiian theme. And with that I had the idea of doing a mountain with a waterfall coming down and running on to a beach. Well, for the most part it came out as planned. In my original sketch I had a little tiki hit on the beach, but I got half way through it and ran out of time. So I scrapped that idea and left the beach as-is. The main bottom square layer of cake is acutally 2 9x13in cakes pushed together to form one big layer. One side of the cake was white and the other was strawberry. Both had buttercream filling and icing. The mountain took the longest to decorate. I used a grass tip to get the effect you see for both the grass and the flowing waterfall. And the beach actually has some brown sugar on top to make it look more like sand. And boy, was this a heavy cake! And again, although it may not look like it, it was a LOT of cake. But after a few rounds of people coming by, pretty much all of it was eaten. Which, of course, I was really glad about because I always have all of the cake tops left over from leveling out the cakes. Although Michael and I usually have no problem taking care of the leftover cake tops and icing. And trust me... there was tons left over! This cake actually created the biggest mess I've ever made since I've been decorating cakes. My entire kitchen and dining room area was completely destroyed! And that's definitely always the fun part... coming home after the party and having to clean it all up. There was one point where I was just putting the finishing touches on and Donnie came in and couldn't beleive the mess. Really, his look said it all. Eventually he got some words out and said, "Look at this place!?!"... hahaha.... ahh, the joys of cake decorating. It's only now that I wish I would have taken a picture of the mess!

Joey's 9th Birthday
Ok, last one and then we're all caught up. This is cake number eight. Now this cake was for the older brother of the twins I had done the baseball cake for. He was having a luau themed birthday party, so I decided a surfer cake would be very fitting. It was really great not having to get the blue icing all nice and neat. I was able to swirl it all around to look like waves. The acutal "wave" part of the cake... well, let's just say that's a different story. Basically underneath it was a small section of cake. The only problem was that it was so thin, it slowly started to slide off the edge. At one point, while I was still at home, it completely fell off and I had to salvage it by adding more icing and running toothpicks down the center to try to get it to stay on. Needless to say by the time they were ready to cut the cake you could already see the icing start to crack. While the kids were singing happy birthday, I was praying that it would at least hold up until the end of the song. Then I could finally take it apart! Luckily it did and I was totally relieved. By the way, the surfboard is also made out of cake and all the icing is buttercream.
So there you go... all caught up. Look forward to my next post! :)