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Wendy DeBord

Tales of a Cake Decorator

74 posts in this topic

Hi, I am a pastry chef that does a lot of cakes, I don't have a digital camera and my scanner is in hiding so I can't post pictures here but if any one is interested you can look at my website. It has about 60 cakes on it. I haven't add any new ones for a while, but they still may be interesting to someone. Here is the link

http://groups.msn.com/MarilynsCakes


check out my baking and pastry books at the Pastrymama1 shop on www.Half.ebay.com

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Marilyn, how cool; as I looked at those cakes, I thought,"Oooh, I like that one best"--then I'd see the next one and thought,"But I like those flowers," and finally resigned myself to the fact that those are some lovely jewels of cakes. Flowers are my favorite decor on cakes, simply because I love them so...but this is an enlightening web. I love eG :wub:

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Hey all,

Been lurking for a while, but posting for the first time.  I'm a cake person too -- I prefer the term "sugar artist" to "cake decorator"

Are you Keith Ryder?? Just want to say that I've been an admirer of your work since I stumbled into your site last year. My computer's acting up at the moment and can't seem to access your site. I just noticed you have a rolled fondant and gumpaste for sale too. Would you care to share some info on that, since there's been some questions asked on what fondant to buy?


Edited by TP(M'sia) (log)

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Hi, I am a pastry chef that does a lot of cakes, I don't have a digital camera and my scanner is in hiding so I can't post pictures here but if any one is interested you can look at my website.  It has about 60 cakes on it.  I haven't add any new ones for a while, but they still may be interesting to someone.  Here is the link

http://groups.msn.com/MarilynsCakes

Great cakes! I love the springs.

I notice that you use a lot of gumpaste over buttercream. I have been afraid to do that because I think that the buttercream would release too much moisture into the gumpaste and dissolve it. Is this an unreasonable fear of mine?


Edited by fiftydollars (log)

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Lucy

Thanks for the kind words! It means so much more to me, coming from my peers!

You all know what goes into this stuff and can appreciate it more.

Hey, I love my clients, but they kinda just don't get it. They ask me stuff like,

"How did you find a cake pan shaped like a brain?" <sigh>

Anyway, to answer your questions:

My clients are generally really involved in the whole cake design because they are paying big bucks for it. I do have a few clients who know me and say, "This is the theme...whatever you do will be wonderful." I LOVE those people! I do my best work for them, because they give me free reign to do whatever I want. That's when I try out new techniques and ideas. The only drawback is I tend to undercharge them because when I do something new I spend more time on it than I'd originally estimated.

In the case of the Prada purse, this guy was a regular client and he knew exactly what he wanted. He brought the purse in and said, "Do this purse." and I said "OK, what flavor and how

big?" and that was that.

Most clients, however, don't actually KNOW what they want. At first, this kind of annoyed me, but now I like it, because I've learned to tell them what they want. Even better, I can sell them stuff

that I want to do, and dissuade them from getting something I DON'T want to do. For instance, in the case of the Cranium cake, the client originally wanted me to do 6 stacked game boxes. Cranium makes 6 different games, and they were going to give me the games so that I could replicate them in cake. Well, I really didn't want to do something as boring and tedious as game boxes.....I wanted to do something DIFFERENT. I always want to do something different. I get bored easily. Boxes=boring. So I said to the client......it's for your Christmas party right? Why

don't I sculpt your brain logo and have the characters dancing around it? I could even put Santa hats on them! It would be fun and festive! And the client says, "Oh! What a cool idea....ok!"

And that was that. Most people don't even THINK of the stuff that seems to occur to me naturally,

so I always make sure I spew my opinion to them. They seem to like it. Personal service by someone who actually cares.....doesn't happen very often these days!

One time, some women came in to order a cake for a friend of theirs who got a trip to France for her birthday. They were giving her a party and they wanted me to do a cake in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. I really didn't want to do the Eiffel Tower, because I don't really enjoy doing buildings very much, and they didn't need a very large cake either....it was just going to feed a few people. So I suggested a "french themed" cake, and I thought it would be a much more fun idea to put a french painter in front of an easel painting a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Next to him,

on a picnic blanket would be a loaf of French bread, cheese, and a bottle of wine. They loved it.

Here's a pic......(all decorations done in plastic chocolate)

french.jpg

As far as my clients reactions......that usually comes when they SEE the cake; sometimes I'm there to see them when they see it.....sometimes I'm not. Depends on the circumstances. I will say that one of the best parts of my job is getting positive feedback from them. A lot of them will call and thank me, and some send thank you notes. I love those people. But then, there are the people who are royal pains in the ass the whole way through, and usurp your time, or call every day to make changes or just be generally annoying. High maintenance people....ugh! Nine times out of ten, it's these same people who say absolutely NOTHING to me after the cake has been delivered, and my heart and soul has gone into it. The only way I can tell they liked it, is when

they call me again to order another cake. I figure if they're ordering from me again, they must

like me, but they never say anything. You'd think they'd at least say "thank you" for all the time

I spend coddling them! :angry: But, they give me money, so I guess it's ok.

I never stick around long enough to see them cut it! When I'm working on a cake, and I start to

get in the mode of "why am I doing this? They're just going to eat it in a fraction of the time it took me to put it all together...what's the point?"....I put it out of my mind. I like to think I'm delivering a piece of art and they are going to install it somewhere.....never mind if it's their stomachs....!

When I was in pastry school and my instructor noticed that I was spending WAY TOO MUCH TIME

decorating cakes (I was obsessing), he said to me, "You've spent 45 minutes decorating that cake....you see that cake over there?" (He pointed to a cake a fellow student had done....not as lovely, but he did it in half the time) "Remember, it all comes out the same in the end anyway.....if you know what I mean." At first I didn't get it....but then the lightbulb went on.

So sometimes if I find myself getting a little too anal-retentive about details, I remember what he

said. Keeps it all in perspective. It is just food, anyway!

:wub: Annie

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:blush: Thanks for the compliments. As far as the gumpaste flowers on a buttercream covered cake, I have never had a problem with them breaking down or dissolving. I have left cakes for two days in the walk-in and they were fine. I think maybe you are thinking of royal icing, it will break down from "grease" and moisture if left for a long time (days) on a cake.

I think it is so interesting to see all of the work that you are all doing, It is inspiring to be able to talk to others with the same obsessions as me. I look forward to getting to work so I can visit this site and learn something new.


check out my baking and pastry books at the Pastrymama1 shop on www.Half.ebay.com

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.(all decorations done in plastic chocolate)

Annie

Ooh laa lah, your french cake is gorgeous! I've only attempted chocolate clay (same as plastic?) once, and that was using dark chocolate.

i7496.jpg

My questions would be...

1) Did you use any internal supports for your guy and easel? Or is the plastic strong enough without the need of any supports?

2) What do you use to color white chocolate plastic? Powder, gel colors? Afraid my knowledge of chocolate work is about zero. :sad:

Marilyn

Thanks so much for sharing your site too. I especially love your very whimsical dotty chocolate-wrapped cake. Must attempt that. Any pointers would be appreciated.

As I'm posting this, I just realized that Wendy has just posted some more eye candies....must go look....<<<jumping for joy>>>


TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Wendy,

Regarding Scott Woolley, I never worked for him, but studied sugarcraft with him. He is such an incredible inspiration to me, and I was lucky enough to tell him so...this was a number of years ago when I still lived in NY/NJ/CT. I've had people complain that my flowers look "too real", that they don't look like sugar. Duh. Right now my work is strictly my own, as I have a one-year-old son. There are a number of new people in the Chicago area whose work has raised the bar here--there is a woman in a western suburb, who shall remain nameless, who had a corner on the market for a while. Luckily, people are having the opportunity for more choices.

I'd love to post a pix or two but I can't figure it out.

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It's one thing to do a cake that people think looks wonderful,-but it's far better when they taste it and their blown away more by the taste! Thats my favorite thing to hear and something that always supprises people....that something that looks great also tastes great. That's what makes me unqiue (all of us contributing here) we're not just ' cake artists' but we are pastry chefs. I never want something to look better then it tastes-it has to deliver both!

Wendy, I don't have an iota of doubt to the taste of your creations! I only wish I could sample it! The planning was excellent; that you managed to hold the theme of handbags together so well. It must have thrilled many a guest!

I'm afraid, the part on being a pastry chef, is where I differ from most of you. I'm just a homebaker who's passionate about "cake art". Of course, I do strive that one day, the taste of my cakes will lift people to heights too. I'm sure eGullet will play a huge part in helping me towards that goal.

Thank you, y'all!


TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Are you Keith Ryder?? Just want to say that I've been an admirer of your work since I stumbled into your site last year. My computer's acting up at the moment and can't seem to access your site. I just noticed you have a rolled fondant and gumpaste for sale too. Would you care to share some info on that, since there's been some questions asked on what fondant to buy?

Gosh, thanks. Yeah, that's me.

I'd worked may way through pretty much all of the commercial fondants out there. I was never completely satisfied with any of them, and invariably whenever I got used to a brand, they'd change their formulation and screw it all up. So I started making my own -- that gave me the freedom to get the texture and flavor the way I wanted them. And since it was a lot cheaper to make than to buy (even wholesale), I started using it in my classes. Then after trying commercial brands, students were asking if they could buy a little fondant off me because they liked mine better. So I started packaging and selling it. So far the orders have been few enough that I and my 20-quart Hobart can keep up with them while still allowing me to do other stuff. I think if someone got wind and inquired about buying a pallet, I'd pass out. :shock:

Kinda the same story for the gum paste mix. I used a scratch recipe for my own work, but taught with CK mix because it's less intimidating for beginner students. For the advanced students, I used to share my recipe and use my gp, and they all liked the texture and workability much better. So I converted the recipe to a dry mix, and now that's all I use -- much easier than the original recipe.


B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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Wendy

I am a HUGE believer in the fact that if a cake doesn't taste good, then I haven't done my job right. Customers will buy a beautiful cake on eye appeal the first time, but they won't come back the second time if it tastes like crap. Believe me, my cakes are quite yummy. I love it when people call me up later to tell me how much they enjoyed eating it. It's like getting double compliments.....one for the looks and another for the taste. I STILL don't like being around when they cut it though. When one pulls an "all-nighter" to make an elaborate cake, it's just too depressing to watch 'em "kill" it in a fraction of the time.

In fact, taste "issues" are a determining factor in what I will and won't do for a customer. I do

NOT want a reputation of being a pastry chef that makes yukky cakes. When you get into the business of sculpting cakes, there are "engineering factors" to consider. You don't want to sculpt

a cake that is too fragile, soft or crumbly.......it's got to have some substance to support itself

depending on what shape you are sculpting. Cakes that have the consistency of pound cake are the best for sculpture work. I always tell people upfront that sculpted cakes limit their flavor and

filling choices. If taste is the main reason they are ordering a cake, I usually steer them away from doing sculpted, and tell them they can have whatever flavor they like if we approach the decoration differently. Surprisingly, I have a lot of clients that really are just chiefly concerned

with the looks of the thing. They are sort of in a society where "one upping" each other is the name of the game. If Joe orders a sculpted tortoise, then John comes in and orders an elephant.

I see that all the time. Now I'm not saying my sculpted cakes taste terrible.......not at all. They're quite good actually........but they're not as exciting or delicate tasting as cakes I can do that AREN'T sculpted.

bkeith and everyone

I use commercially made fondants because I go through SO MUCH of it. I don't have time to make my own. Pettinice is the one I use mostly. It's ok. I'm used to it's "behavior" so I just

make the best of it.. In fact, I find that working with stuff that isn't exactly "easy" to use, challenges me and I don't panic when I lose my "security blanket". If my supplier subs in a different brand of fondant......I just.......you know, deal.

TP

Chocolate Clay, Plastic Chocolate, or Modeling Chocolate......all the same thing. I like to call it modeling chocolate personally. Plastic doesn't sound very yummy, and neither does "clay".

When I explain things to my clients.....I don't like to use words that are "unappetizing".

Regarding supports in my "french dude".....

he is mounted on a bamboo skewer so he won't fall over. The skewer also supports some of his weight, so he won't "sink" into the cake as it warms up.

If you look closely at the bottom of the easel you can see that I've wrapped modeling chocolate around skewers to form the supports in it.

If you use a lot of modeling chocolate, it can be very heavy.....many times, supports are needed.

It all depends on what you're doing. For me, almost every cake is something new. There are a few popular designs that I've done time and time again that I can do in my sleep (for instance, Polly Schoonmaker's Whimsy Tilted Cake.......who here HASN'T been asked to do that one?).

I'm SO BORED with that one already!

But most of the time, each cake I do is so unique it has it's own set of challenges, and so far I've been successful with them.

Regarding what I use to color my white modeling chocolate:

Pretty much anything.....powder, liquid, gel, paste.......it all works. Since the white chocolate has

already "seized" with the addition of corn syrup, you don't need to worry about adding liquid to it and having the chocolate get all weird on you. It's already weird! :raz:

Now, of course, you know adding liquid to anything will make it "looser" (for lack of a better word?), so I don't use it much. I don't want to mess with the consistency of my modeling chocolate or it becomes hard to work with. When I need a deep color, like red or black, I add a combination of powder and gel paste to get the color I need, without either drying or softening the chocolate too much.

When I melt down plain white chocolate for piping or writing or whatever, I use only powdered color because any other kind of color would seize it.

I really have a pet peeve about powder though.......I think it should be as easy to come by as any other kind of food coloring, and it isn't. My suppliers don't carry it, and I either have to make a 2 hour trip to Seattle to get it or order it online. What a hassle!

What I REALLY like about powdered color is that it doesn't seem to impart that off taste that other colors seem to.....especially when you're using a lot of it.

And now, today's picture......

This is a cake I did for Tom Douglas, when his first restaurant, The Dahlia Lounge in Seattle celebrated its 5th anniversary. I used the decor from the original location (the Dahlia Lounge

moved across the street to roomier digs since then) as a theme for the cake design. He had

fish lamps all over his restaurant, the walls were red, and the borders on the cake were

recreations of the wall trim.

dahlia2.jpg

I have a thing about doing fish. I LOVE doing fish!!!!!

:wub: Annie

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BKeith

Thank you for the info on your fondant and gumpaste. I can't find any commercial fondant anywhere in M'sia, so I make my own; still in the process of finding the right "tweak". It'll be too costly to get it online because of its weight/shipping costs.

Annie and Wendy and others

If you're going to post your cakes on a regular basis here, you'll be making a lot of people like myself very very happy :raz: . Love the fish cake, Annie...very artsy. :wub: You should have stuck around to see the red mouths and teeth!! Many thanks for your very pertinent tips on chocolate modelling.

Tracy K.

I pm'ed you on how to post images...did you receive it? Would love to see more cakes, cakes, cakes.


Edited by TP(M'sia) (log)

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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I can't find any commercial fondant anywhere in M'sia, so I make my own; still in the process of finding the right "tweak". It'll be too costly to get it online because of its weight/shipping costs.

TP - I saw at Cold Storage. Two brands in fact. I think they're from the US. Didn't really scrutinize them coz I'm no cake decorator (let alone a cake artist :raz: ). If my memory serves me right, one box has 'rolled fondant' and the other has 'ready to use fondat' written on front of box. This is the cold storage at KLCC, but usually all the stores carries the same things (unless they run out of it) .

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We have alot of interesting sub-topics flowing in and out here.......I don't know about any of you but I'm starting to have a hard time following up with a topic or question. So can we start a new thread when we have a new topic, please?

I think brands of rolling fondant and gum paste are very interesting and important to old timers and newbies since some are much easier to work with then others. So lets look to that as a seperate issue.

I'd also love to talk more about chocolate plastic, clay, modeling choc. . I work with it alot and would love to have more discussion on it, tricks, recipes, photos, etc....

I have to run to work (new job sort of) so if anyone has a moment please feel free to start other related threads, otherwise I will asap.

P.S. Keith, I'm sorry, I'm not as familar with your work as others, any chance you'd post a link to your work? I'm delighted you've joined our conversation.....and I look forward to learning more about you and your work.

Tracy do you need further help on posting photos? I can't wait to see your work!

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P.S. Keith, I'm sorry, I'm not as familar with your work as others, any chance you'd post a link to your work? I'm delighted you've joined our conversation.....and I look forward to learning more about you and your work.

No need to be sorry -- I'm still the new kid. :wink:

Here's my cake website, seriously in need of an update: BCakes by BKeith

I've got some new photos to put up but never seem to find the time to do regular updates. I've also gotten bad about not photographing everything I do. I really need to get past that. I have a few really cool orders coming up -- so with luck I'll have a bunch of new photos and the inspiration to get them online.


B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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I am almost embarrassed to throw myself in here. I am late on this one, I missed the subjected when it started.

At any rate all these cakes are beautiful :wub:

I love the tips and secrets because baking cakes is very close to my heart. I have a big fan club here in Ohio especially my goddaughter.

Let me share some of her the tales she has proclaimed about her "Auntie Lydia" (aka Celenes)

Background info. she's 8 years old.

She attended a wedding and went to look at a wedding cake and when she came back to the table she proclaimed "the cake is leaning if my "Auntie Lydia" had made this cake it would have looked better.

Recently she was at the grocery store in none other than the bakery department where they were working on a Hello Kitty cake and she proclaimed, my "Auntie Lydia" would have done a much better job on that cake, do you want here to come up here and teach you?

So with that kind of press I believe I am the greatest :laugh: Not really at all.

I recently secured my first wedding cake job and I must say I am slightly overwhelmed but I know in the end it will be fine. Don't work I plan to do a test run before the actually date. I'm not that confident!!

I hope I can insert some of my work in this message. Maybe not I just realized I don't know how. Stay tuned for pictures.


Believe, Laugh, Love

Lydia (aka celenes)

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Keeping My fingers cross that this works....

i7551.jpg

Yippeee I did it!!! Here is one of my signature cakes, very simple but quite elegant from a taste prespective.

More to come.


Edited by celenes (log)

Believe, Laugh, Love

Lydia (aka celenes)

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NICE Work and site BKeith!

Got a question right off the bat. On your wedding cake page....on the left side of your page you have stacked presents cake.....well I'd love to know (if you'll share?) how you did the second to the top box that has cirlces on it as the pattern? I've never seen that done before, cool. Did you notice my thread on edible printers.....have you ever played with that, seems like it's something that would interest you also......because of your use of pattern in your cakes?

Celenes keep trying, your very close to getting it. You can edit your post endlessly to practice (with-in a 24 hour period), also you can use the preview post button to see if you've got it right before posting.

Do we have any more decorators/artists here? I know Chefette does amazing work (as does Steve). She did this 3d pastillage snow scene that's to die for. I tried to imitate it and fell way short. You can click on the link to their website under Steve's signature.....check out the eye candy there!

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NICE Work and site BKeith!

Got a question right off the bat. On your wedding cake page....on the left side of your page you have stacked presents cake.....well I'd love to know (if you'll share?) how you did the second to the top box that has cirlces on it as the pattern? I've never seen that done before, cool. Did you notice my thread on edible printers.....have you ever played with that, seems like it's something that would interest you also......because of your use of pattern in your cakes?

Thanks much -- it keeps me busy. :wink:

For the circle pattern, I used the top (rounded edge, not cutting edge) of a round cutter -- one of the set from Ateco. Dipped it in thinned food color, then touched it on the cake like a rubber stamp. I think if I had to do it again, instead of thinning paste color, I'd start with a liquid color and add powdered color to it to get more of an acrylic paint consistency. The thin, watercolory stuff worked pretty well, but I had dip into the color for each stamp, and had to re-stamp several circles because the color just didn't stick well to the metal.

I've used the pre-printed frosting sheets from time to time -- usually when someone convinces me to do a child's birthday cake and just has to have Barney or Pooh or some other copyrighted character. I've had someone print up a photograph onto a sheet from time to time as well, but never bought the equipment myself because it just never seemed cost-effective for as much as I'd use it. I think with all the fun directions brides are willing to go with wedding cakes these days, I could have a lot of fun with one of the machines that prints directly onto the cakes, but they're a little spendy for my budget. I'll have to ask Santa for one.


B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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once I learn something I can't be stopped :laugh:

O.k. here's a few more for your viewing pleasure. One thing to make not of about me, I am a very simplistic decorator. I haven't gotten into the more exquisite designs yet but the more and diverse clients I get , I am sure I'll expand my horizons.

i7562.jpg

A piece of Lemon Heaven

i7563.jpg

Spring Flower (one of my hot sellers at Easter)

i7561.jpg

The finishing touch, you would be amazed how many people inquire about what's in the box.


Believe, Laugh, Love

Lydia (aka celenes)

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I'm a decorator (cake artist?) as well. In fact, decorating has pretty much driven my pastry path; the challenge was making it taste good. I still have problems using gum paste and wires and fondant b/c of the taste issues, but people love it and believe it or not, a lot of people were eating gum paste shards at a bridal show a few months ago and saying how good they tasted!

I tried to upload my pics, but they were too large, so here's a link to my web site:

http://www.geocities.com/mkfradin/

Sorry if it's not click through; I'm not great at the internet. For those of you in the Chicago area, I had a nice write up in the April edition of CHicago magazine (at the very back in the restaurant section) with a professional (!!) photograph of a daffodil basket cake.

I love seeing everyone's work; it's so inspiring--but also pretty humbling!

Marjorie

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Great work everyone....have enjoyed seeing the pictures. I guess I have to figure out how to post some pics. Been meaning to join in earlier...

Annie

Ok, so cakes are my "thing"... my "specialty".....but please please don't call me a "cake decorator". Makes me sound like I work at Safeway or something. I really prefer "pastry chef"....it took me a lot of sweat and tears to be able to feel I could call myself that, so that's what I prefer

Can really relate..even at some very upscale places and you hear

"Oh, the cake lady is here :hmmm:"

I wanted to do something DIFFERENT. I always want to do something different. I get bored easily.
Ditto, gosh it takes all the fun and creativity out of it.
hang out in my kitchen.....so I can hide. I'm a lousy self-promoter
Double ditto!

Annie, do you ever make decorated sheet cakes??!! I have had some people ask, I make it a point to never do unless I am using that as part of my overall design.

Do you get a lot of requests for miniature decorated cakes for weddings etc

Wendy Great setup with the purses. The larger purses are stunning.

I totally agree

I never want something to look better then it tastes-it has to deliver both!
Although we "eat" with our eyes first, the follow up taste must be terrific if not, what a terrible let down for clients and you alike! Like Annie said, some designs are limited by the type of cake you can use but in no way are you compromising on taste and quality.

Keith Your work is always a pleasure to look at. Like you and others, I make my own fondant because I can control the texture and taste better and I use a lot of it.

Marilyn Great work, I love your miniatures!

TP,Celenes and everyone else, great work !


Portia

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I can only show detail pictures of my cakes...my photos have too many pixels. Here are a few to show what I like to do with flowers:

i7699.jpg

This one shows one of the ways I disguised the insipid plastic pillars...

i7698.jpg

And this is the base of the same cake; I used a styrofoam wedge covered in royal icing to add the Lambeth details.

i7701.jpg

I like to use foamcore as bases for the cakes. The wedge above sat on double layered (i.e., glued together) half-inch foam core that was covered in royal icing. I think there is more strength gluing two together than using the thicker foam core.

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Well..hope this works...Done for a tea party

i7704.jpg


Portia

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i7703.jpg Another one...Red Hat society..purple & red theme!

Portia

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      The topping is 3C sugar, 1/4C lemon juice, the zest off of those lemons, 1tsp baking powder, 6 eggs and 2C coconut.
       
      What can I do to firm it up a bit, so that it stays put once I cut the bars? Would cornstarch or tapioca flour do it?
       

    • By Daily Gullet Staff
      by David Ross

      I was pushing my shopping cart through the aisles of Yoke’s Supermarket on a recent “Fresh Friday,” when a spritely-sounding young woman announced over the public address system, “Attention shoppers, attention shoppers, two minutes until the next Cakewalk, two minutes.” Frozen with suspense and the anticipation of winning one of Yoke’s chocolate crème de menthe cakes, I stood pat on the number 36 yellow flower pasted on the floor in front of me. I wasn’t going to budge off that number 36 -- I wanted a cake. While I waited to hear my number called, I was overcome with a sense of nervous anxiety --the same emotion I had felt as a young boy waiting to win a cake when I was seven years old. I wondered why a boyhood fascination with winning a cake still left me with such a deep, lasting hunger some 47 years after I first danced a Cakewalk.

      What was it that tugged at my heart, telling me to delve deeper into the meaning of the Cakewalk? Why did I sense that there was an underlying truth I hadn’t discovered as a child? The only way I could unveil the mystique behind my relationship with this odd little dance to win a cake would lie in retracing the footsteps of my childhood, setting forth on a quest to discover the history of the Cakewalk.

      + + +
      We moved to Salem, Oregon from The Dalles, in the Summer of 1964, when my Father, Edgar Ross, accepted a position at the Oregon Department of Agriculture in the Commodity Commissions Bureau. My parents settled on a ranch-style, three-bedroom home on the corner of Ward Drive and 46th Avenue in the new community of “Jan Ree” Gardens. Our lot was bordered by new homes on two sides and to the East was a field of Blue Lake bush beans that would soon be consumed by the encroaching development. Mother and Father shared a few details about our new home. It had a second bathroom, a wood-paneled living room and an unfinished family room that my father promised would have a metal wood stove. But they kept one little secret from my sister and me until we were a block from our final destination on the day we drove to Salem -- our new house was next door to the grade school. I didn’t know whether to feel good or sick at the thought of living next door to the school where I would spend the next five years.

      Hayesville Elementary School was typical of the architecture of grade schools built in the early 1960’s-an L-shaped, non-descript building painted in drab green and grey. The assembly room, cafeteria and administrative offices anchored the building with the classrooms jutting out from the principal’s office. I started the school year in Mrs. Rhonda Sample’s second grade class. She was young, blond and attractive, totally unlike the spinster vision I had of the teacher that awaited me at my new school. The highlight of the school year was the annual “Open House at Hayesville.” Students showcased their talents, dazzling parents with displays of frogs and snakes in aquariums, samples of cursive writing on paper chains hung over the blackboard and paper mache busts of historic American figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Mothers and fathers could take a tour of the gleaming, stainless steel kitchen where Mrs. Fox prepared our hot lunches each day-warm, billowing cinnamon rolls dripping with powdered sugar frosting and her buttery, oven-fried chicken. But the most anticipated event of Open House at Hayesville was the annual Cakewalk Raffle -- a silly fun dance around the classroom. The winner won a cake and the proceeds went to fund other activities at school.

      We cut footprints out of colored construction paper and pasted them in a large circle on the spotless, pink vinyl-tiled floor. Each “foot” was given a number from one to twenty. Red, white and blue streamers were tacked on the outer walls and then brought to the center of the ceiling to define the center point of the cakewalk circle. When the room was ready, Mrs. Sample turned on the lights and opened the door, welcoming a parade of Mother’s who pranced into the room carrying Tupperware cake caddies, Pyrex baking dishes, glass cake domes and disposable aluminum trays coddling their precious cake creations.

      Three long tables were placed against the wall and covered with proper linen tablecloths. The tables served as the stage upon which the cakes would strut their stuff. The chorus line of cakes went on and on through the annals of cakedom-Chiffon, Angel Food, Devils Food, Sponge Cake, Pound Cake, Marble Cakes, Chocolate Torts and Jelly Rolls. There were cakes garnished with coconut, dusted with nonpareils, frosted with peanut butter, sprinkled with peppermints, and dotted with spiced gum drops. I entered the Cakewalk over and over until I won, seemingly always at the end of the evening when very few of the best cakes were left on the table. While Mother’s “Burnt Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting” was good, it would be a total embarrassment in front of ones classmates for a kid to choose the cake made by his mother. No, should I win the Cakewalk and should it still be available, I would choose the Spiced Praline Crunch Cake made by Bernie Bennett’s Mother.

      The historical importance of the Cakewalk wasn’t a part of Mrs. Sample’s second-grade curriculum at Hayesville in 1964. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we were insulated from the racial struggles of the South at that time. I was a young white boy in a middle-class American family. I led the colorful life of a kid, yet I lived in a country that saw only shades of black and white.

      Only three years before my second grade, in the Spring of 1961 the Freedom Riders set out on a campaign to test the Supreme Court Ruling that upheld the segregation of blacks and whites at bus depots, waiting rooms, lunch counters and restrooms throughout the South. The Freedom Riders were met with ignorance and violence. African-Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountain I drank from. I never knew.
      + + + The Cakewalk played an important role in the history of America -- a long-forgotten chapter that tells the story of the struggles forced upon the enslaved, who in spite of their burdens rose above the oppression of race and found a new form of the expression of freedom.

      The seeds of the Cakewalk were sown in the segregated deep South sometime around 1850, as a parody of the way plantation owners escorted their ladies into a formal ball. The women wore long, ruffled dresses of silk and glass beads with long, white gloves that reached above the elbow. The gentlemen were outfitted with top hats and tail coats. Couples pranced and paraded into lavishly decorated ballrooms, arm-in-arm in high-stepping fashion, marching into the center of the party, often to the music played by a banjo-strumming fiddler who worked in the fields.

      The winner of the dance contest sometimes won a cake presented by the master of the house, leading many to think this is where the name the “Cakewalk” comes from.

      African-American slaves who watched the proceedings took the dance on as their own in the yards outside their shacks, mocking what they saw as the frivolous customs of the plantation owners. According to the oral histories of slaves and their descendants, the Cakewalk was a marriage of traditional African tribal dances and rhythms combined with the dance steps of the upper classes. When the land barons and ladies saw the slaves dance, they missed the satirical element entirely, but the popularity of the Cakewalk had been established among the elite and it now transcended the boundaries of class.

      Wealthy farmers went on to sponsor competitions between plantations and the dance moved to large cities in the South and then to the East where it became a staple of traveling minstrel shows and ultimately to Vaudeville, the lights of Broadway and throughout Europe.

      On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation with these humble words, “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Inspired by the renewed freedom gifted to them through Emancipation, a freedom that allowed them to express themselves openly through dance and music, African-Americans led a creative revival that would usher in new forms of dance and music that had never before been seen or heard. The artistic contributions of former slaves and their descendants would forever change the creative landscape in America.


      From this humble beginning in the sweltering, humid heat and back-breaking work of picking cotton, African-American artists penned the notes of a new from of music called ragtime that would eventually evolve into jazz. It was the Cakewalk, unintentionally and ironically, that crossed the bounds of race and class status as it burst into the popular consciousness of America By the 1890’s, African-American actors, dancers and musicians had started forming their own production companies and staged versions of the Cakewalk became all the rage.

      Scott Joplin, (1867-1917), was an early musical pioneer of the Cakewalk style of music. Known as the “King of Ragtime,” Joplin wrote and performed in the style of rag—a combination of dance and marching music entwined with the “ragged” rhythms and soul of African music. One of Joplin’s most famous pieces was “The Ragtime Dance,” (published in 1902), that included a Cakewalk:

      “Turn left and do the “Cakewalk Prance, Turn the other way and do the “Slow drag, Now take your lady to the World’s Fair and do the ragtime dance. Cakewalk soft and sweetly, be sure your steps done neatly.”

      The vaudeville team of Mr. Egbert Williams and Mr. George Walker were two of the first African-Americans to take their musical show on the road in a grand scale. Crowds packed into The New York theatre in 1903 for 53 stunning performances of song and Cakewalk dances in William’s and Walker’s new production “In Dahomey” -- the first all-black musical to be performed on a grand scale in a major Broadway venue. After its raging success in America, “In Dahomey” crossed the Atlantic, performing for seven months of standing-room-only audiences at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London before returning to New York.

      By the turn of the century, Americans were moving off farms and into towns and cities in record numbers. Ragtime music transformed into a new genre called “Jazz,” with emerging talents like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington playing at the Cotton Club in New York.

      By 1930, the public fascination with dance theatre began to fade as America was lured by the intrigue of other forms of entertainment like talking motion pictures. But the early concepts and the heritage established by the Cakewalk endured throughout the twentieth century and into the 21st, namely, as a contest to raise money at church socials and school functions. The Cakewalk also delivered new words into the American vocabulary-“take the cake,” and “it’s a real cakewalk,” are terms used to refer to something that is “the best,” or a job easily done. Cakewalk software is a cutting-edge firm today that produces award-winning digital audio and recording software to the music industry.

      + + +
      I’m nearing my 54th birthday in November, some 46 years removed from my second-grade class. I had been lost until that Cakewalk at Yoke’s, yet now I’m found. I’ve learned a lesson in respect through the Cakewalk -- a lesson that taught me how emancipation allowed the enslaved to express themselves through music and dance. A lesson that freedom is an unalienable right bestowed upon all Americans. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the place that this little ditty we call the Cakewalk plays in the history of America, opening our eyes to a world that was color blind.

      I found my personal truth in the Cakewalk -- a truth far richer and deeper than the dreams of a boy winning a cake.

      * * *
      David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food and reviews restaurants. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team.
    • By JohnT
      I have been asked to make Chinese Bow Tie desserts for a function. However, I have never made them, but using Mr Google, there are a number of different recipes out there. Does anybody have a decent recipe which is tried and tested? - these are for deep-fried pastry which are then soaked in sugar syrup.
    • By shain
      Makes 40 cookies, 2 loaves. 
       
      50-60 g very aromatic olive oil
      80 g honey 
      120 to 150 g sugar (I use 120 because I like it only gently sweet) 
      2 eggs
      2 teaspoons of fine lemon zest, from apx 1 lemon 
      230 g flour 
      1 teaspoon salt 
      1 teaspoon baking powder 
      75 g lightly toasted peeled pistachios
      50 g lightly toasted almonds (you can replace some with pine nuts) 
      Optional: a little rosemary or anise seed
      Optional: more olive oil for brushing
       
      Heat oven to 170 deg C.
      In mixer (or by hand), mix oil, honey, sugar, lemon, egg and if desired, the optional spices - until uniform. 
      Separately mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. 
      Add flour mixture to mixer bowel with liquids and fold until uniform. Dough will be sticky and quite stiff. Don't knead or over mix. 
      Add nuts and fold until well dispersed. 
      On a parchment lined baking tray, create two even loaves of dough. 
      With moist hands, shape each to be rectangular and somewhat flat - apx 2cm heigh, 6cm wide and 25cm long. 
      Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden and baked throughout, yet somewhat soft and sliceable. Rotate pan if needed for even baking. 
      Remove from tray and let chill slightly or completely. 
      Using a sharp serrated knife, gently slice to thin 1/2 cm thick cookies. Each loaf should yield 20 slices. 
      Lay slices on tray and bake for 10 minutes. Flip and bake for another 10-15 minutes until complelty dry and lightly golden. 
      Brush with extra olive oil, if desired. This will and more olive flavor. 
      Let chill completely before removing from tray. 
      Cookies keep well in a closed container and are best served with desert wines or herbal tea. 
       
        
    • By Tennessee Cowboy
      I'd like help from anyone on making the best Pistachio Ice cream.  This forum is a continuation of a conversation I started in my "introduction" post, which you can see at 
      I recently made Pistachio ice cream using the Jeni's Ice Cream Cookbook.  I love Pistachio ice cream, so I've launched an experiment to find the best recipe.  I am going to try two basic approaches:  The Modernist Cookbook gelato, which uses no cream at all, and ice cream; I'm also experimenting with two brands of pistachio paste and starting with pistachios and no paste.  Lisa Shock and other People who commented on the earlier thread said that the key is to start with the best Pistachio Paste. &nbsp;  
      Any advice is appreciated.  Here is where I am now:  I purchased a brand of pistachio paste through nuts.com named "Love 'n Bake."  When it arrived, it was 1/2 pistachios and 1/2 sugar and olive oil.   I purchased a second batch through Amazon from FiddleyFarms; it is 100% pistachios.  I bought raw pistachios through nuts.com.  The only raw ones were from California.  If anyone has advice on using the MC recipe or on best approaches to ice cream with this ingredient I'd appreciate them.  I will report progress on my experiment in this forum.
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