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Demo: Topsy-turvy cake


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I finally got an interesting project to demo and a working camera all at the same time. People ask me all the time how I do the topsy-turvy Mad Hatterish cakes on my site and how on earth I get them to the customer site without a disaster. I know there are lots of folks out there doing lopsided cakes and using various forms of construction, but this particular method is what I came up with to suit my needs.

Some background. First thing to know is that I HATE setting up cakes on site. When I'm working in my own place, if I happen to drop a dollop of icing or drizzle some chocolate on the table, it's no big deal. Just clean up and keep going. But at a reception site you have to work on a table that's already dressed, and the extra pressure of trying to work super clean to avoid mussing the tablecloth pretty much guarantees that I'm going to leave a spot dead center in front of the cake. So my preference by far is to assemble the entire cake at home, drive it to the site, walk it in, set it down, and disappear. I can't always do it -- separations are a problem, and some cakes are just too darned heavy to carry by myself once they're all assembled -- but most of the cakes I do arrive with no assembly required. The fact that I'm a big guy and can carry a 150+ serving cake all assembled sure helps in that regard.

This particular cake wasn't for a wedding, but rather a birthday party. The youngster's parents rented out a movie theatre for a private showing of the new "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" movie, and wanted the cake to be reminiscent of the movie. Since this was opening weekend of the film, I obviously wasn't able to see it in advance, so I had to rely on some stills from the movie website.

So, wacky cake for 100. Here we go:

First, for the topsy-turvy cakes, I like them tall, and I like them to taper such that the base of each tier is smaller than the top of the tier. That helps to add to the appearance of instability. For each tier, then, I bake 3 2" layers in graduating sizes. This is a 3-tier cake, and the sizes I'm using are 6-7-8, 8-9-10, 10-11-12. I.e., the top tier consists of a 6" layer, a 7" layer, and an 8" layer, etc. I think the proportions work well when the largest layer of one tier is the same size as the smallest layer of the tier it sits on. (The 6-7-8 top tier sits on top of the 8-9-10 middle tier which sits on the 10-11-12 base tier). Make sense? Base tier is chocolate, and the middle and top are white.

OK, here they all are, tops leveled, wrapped up, and ready for a chill before torting:

01.jpg

The 10" and 11" layers of the base tier get torted as normal:

02.jpg

Then assembled with a buttercream filling. I'm taking a hint from chefpeon here and building this part of the tier upside down (thanks, Annie!). I used to stack the smallest, then the middle, then the largest layers, which makes for some floppy edges to deal with. This way things stay where you want them until it's time to trim and clean up. I don't place the 10" layer dead-center onto the 11" layer on purpose. The slant that lends helps with the illusion:

03a.jpg

The 12" layer gets torted at an angle. I don't worry about super precision here since imperfect angles just add to the effect. I just hold the knife at the top edge on one side and aim for the opposite corner:

04.jpg

Here's a slightly better shot showing the cut angle:

04a.jpg

When I fill and reassemble this layer, I rotate one of the pieces so that the thicker sides are together:

05.jpg

Everyone goes back in to chill a bit and set up the buttercream. Then remove both pieces, flip the 10-11 part to put the 10" part on the bottom, slap on some more buttercream, and place the angled 12" layer on top:

06.jpg

(top secret recipes hanging on the fridge -- no peeking!)

I use a sharp knife to clean up the sides a bit and get rid of any corners sticking out, then give the whole thing a crumb coat and stick it back into the fridge:

07.jpg

Here are all three tiers assembled, cleaned up, and crumbcoated:

08.jpg

OK, big secret number one. The topsy-turvy thing is an optical illusion. Each tier is actually sitting on a flat surface, just like a regular wedding cake. The question is, then, now that we've made all these angled cake tops, how do we come up with a a flat surface to set the next tier on? Start cutting, baby. This is the 10-11-12 tier. On it will sit the 8-9-10 tier, so I need to make an 8" round flat spot. I take a cake cardboard (or pan or, in this case, cheesecake pan insert) and set it on the tier where I want the next tier to sit:

09.jpg

I then cut vertically into the cake, all the way around the circle:

10.jpg

Next, place the knife in horizontally at the lowest spot of the circle you've just cut, and move it side to side (extracting and reinserting as necessary so you're not trying to cut with the back of the blade). Then remove the chunk of cake you've just freed from its moorings:

11a.jpg

Spread buttercream over the now naked surfaces and re-chill. (Note to self: next time no matter how late it is and how tired you are, don't just try to slap icing onto a freshly cut chocolate cake unless you really DO want crumbs in the icing :angry: ). After it's chilled, I'll use my impeccably clean hands to finish the smoothing (thanks again, Annie):

12.jpg

OK, here are all three tiers. Two have been modified to create a shelf for the next tier up. Obviously, the top tier doesn't need this since it's the top. The modified tiers always make me think of a baseball stadium:

13a.jpg

Now cover with fondant. In this case they're all green because I was going for the look of the inside of the chocolate factory, with the rolling green hills, chocolate river, and candy plants. Typically I'll use 3 different colors, then mix and match those colors for accent pieces:

14.jpg

Prep the board. I use 1/2" foam board for pretty much all my bases. Lightweight, strong, and easy to cut with a utility knife to the size and shape I want. Here it is, covered in green foil:

15.jpg

I also use foam board instead of cake circles as a base for each tier. For this, I use the 3/16" thickness. Plenty sturdy to hold a tier - even up to 20" or more -- and WAY less likely to flex or collapse than cardboard cake circles.

For any cake that's 2 tiers or more (and for some cakes that are only one tier), I like to put feet on the board. Trying to get my fingers under a cake board with a heavy cake on it is no fun. The feet give me room to get under there so I can pick it up. For a wedding cake, it also gives you space to tuck the stems of flowers and greenery for a nice finishing effect:

16.jpg

(Want to know where I got those cute little plastic feet that I hot-glued onto the bottom of the board? Keep reading...)

This is my favorite assembly method for tiered cakes. It's called the Single Plate System from Bakery Crafts. The legs fit very snugly into the fittings on the bottom of the plate, and the whole assembly pushes down into the supporting tier to make a very stable platform for the next tier to sit on. The legs are 9" long, so they're a good height if you're doing separations. Most of my cakes are stacked, though, so I cut them:

17.jpg

When I'm stacking a cake, I like to remove the ring around each of the fittings in the bottom side of the plate. It lets the assembly push down into the supporting cake without displacing any more cake than we have to. That ring look familiar? That's what I use for feet under the base. I always wind up freeing up more of them than I use on any given cake, so I've now got a bucket full of them. Maybe I should start selling them. :laugh:

18.jpg

After removing the rings, place the plate atop the tier it's going to sit on and pretty gently to mark where the legs will go. This will help later to line up the legs and make sure they're going in straight. Also gives you a place to measure the height of the tier:

19.jpg

I use a hemming ruler to measure the height and mark my legs for cutting. Just stick it straight in to the cake where one of the leg marks is, slide the little marker thingy down to the top of the cake, and extract. I usually then subtract another 1/8" to make sure the plate will sit snug on top of the cake and not sit up at all. In this case the height of the cake came to exactly 5 inches. I'll let you believe that I planned and executed perfectly to make that happen if you like:

20.jpg

The hemming ruler goes through the dishwasher with no ill effects, by the way.

Cut the legs to the measurement you need. I use my adorable little battery-powered circular saw -- my dad would be so proud (sniff). If you don't have one, you can use a hacksaw:

21.jpg

Make sure to clean off any residual plastic oogies left by the saw, and WASH THE LEGS THOROUGHLY. Don't want to leave little plastic bits in the cake. Ick. As added protection, I make sure the cut end is the one that gets inserted into the plate, just in case. Stick the legs firmly into the plate, and your assembly is ready to go into the cake:

22.jpg

Line up the leg bases with the marks in the cake and press gently but firmly to insert the little "table" all the way into the supporting cake.

Big secret number two: Carpet tape. I get the "high traffic area" 2-inch wide stuff. A couple strips go down onto the base, and the bottom tier is stuck down. Then a couple strips go on top of each plate before the next tier gets placed on. Do make sure to start peeling the backing from one corner before sticking it down. It's much easier than trying to peel it once it's on the plate:

23a.jpg

Note that when I inserted the plate assembly, I mucked up the fondant on the inner vertical part of the stadium. That's going to be hidden by the next tier, so it doesn't worry me too much. In order to get the plate as snug as possible into that curve, you almost have to do a little damage.

Here are all three tiers stacked and ready for decoration. I like to turn the tiers so that each one looks lopsided, but the overall effect is balanced. I decided it would be easier to get the chocolate waterfalls in place as I was stacking rather than trying to fit them in after the fact. There's another on that you can't see emanating from a pool on the top tier going down the back side to the middle tier:

24.jpg

For a border, I usually make a bunch of balls of rolled fondant of varying sizes. These are then placed at the base of each tier such that the largest ball sits at the highest spot of the supporting tier, and they graduate down so that the smallest ball is at the lowest spot. Helps add to the illusion. This time, though I wanted the peppermint stick effect, so I made snakes of rolled fondant in red and white, thinner at the ends and thicker in the middle (like a snake that's just had a meal!), then twisted them together and wrapped around the base of each tier, fattest part at the high side of the supporting tier, thinner parts at the low side.

Here's the finished product after decoration and delivery. I made a bunch of odd trees, mushrooms, bushes, pumpkins, vines, and stepping stones from colored modeling chocolate. Same for the spouts that the chocolate is gushing from. I decided that the waterfalls looked too flat, so I went back and painted more chocolate onto the surface to make it look more like it was flowing. The lighting on the photo isn't terrific because it was in a movie theatre where the lights are always somewhat dimmed.

25.jpg

B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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This is fantastic - I've been thinking about making an attempt at this for some time; I think what you have put together here is fantastic.

I do have a question though - I have never purchased one of these cakes, or even been at a celebration where this style of cake was presented - So, my question is, what is the appropriate way to cut/serve this?

</Oggi>

"coffee should be black as Hell, strong as death and sweet as love" - Turkish Proverb

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Brilliant! Thank you! I had always wondered how those were done and why they didn't topple over. And now I know the trick :biggrin: Now I just have to gather my courage and try it...

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I do have a question though - I have never purchased one of these cakes, or even been at a celebration where this style of cake was presented - So, my question is, what is the appropriate way to cut/serve this?

Kinda depends on how wacky and varied you want the slices to be. You can certainly just cut it straight (the smaller tiers, anyway) and get some odd-shaped pieces, some 4" tall and some up to 6" tall. What I suggest, though is that the server make a horizontal cut a little below the top, starting at the low side. Cut up odd-shaped top piece into things that approach a normal serving size. Then you're left with the remains of the tier which are regular cake height, just with slopings sides. Cut that as you would a regular cake tier of its size and let people pick which type of slice they want.

B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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Oh you are awesome!!! I don't have time to read it all right now--but I'm gonna tell all my cake buddies on all my boards you've got this over here, Keith--thank you so much!!!

I've actually made a coupla these cakes from your instructions that have circled the internet.

This is very gracious of you. Thanks bunches!!!

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Thank you so much BKeith!

If you don't mind, could you provide a link to your source for purchasing those cakes plates? Do you have any "tricks" for getting your legs evenly cut? I've always struggled with that......even though I measure correctly....... the width of the saw add's confusion........ and sometimes I my cut seems to be angled.

Do you like the double sided tape for holding your tiers together better then a center dowel when your transporting cakes?

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Wow! Very cool! I'd always wondered how these are put together, and after Anne's post, I'm doubly curious as to how she does it!

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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...The hemming ruler goes through the dishwasher with no ill effects, by the way...

...Cut the legs to the measurement you need.  I use my adorable little battery-powered circular saw -- my dad would be so proud (sniff).  If you don't have one, you can use a hacksaw...

... Big secret number two:  Carpet tape...

Hemming ruler!!! Pure genius!! I insert & mark a dowel, remove it, clean it off so I can cut it without making a big mess. Chances are I wiped the mark off--grr--Hemming ruler--I love it!

And I'm gonna find a little circular saw too, when I'm shopping for the carpet tape.

Make sure to clean off any residual plastic oogies left by the saw,

:laugh: plastic oogies :laugh:

Note that when I inserted the plate assembly, I mucked up the fondant on the inner vertical part of the stadium.  That's going to be hidden by the next tier, so it doesn't worry me too much.  In order to get the plate as snug as possible into that curve, you almost have to do a little damage.

Many many cake buddies are really digging this demo!!! I got to translate 'mucked up the fondant' for my dear Chilean friend--basically told her to substitute the m in mucked for an f--poof goes the language barrier. :laugh:

Fantastic demo, dude.

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Wonderful pictures, wonderful work. I'd seen pictures of Colette Peters' upsydownsy teapots, etc., but it was so nice to see step-by-step from a REAL PERSON who is willing to share all the ways and means.

Just marvelous. And I love all your innovative tools. Where would we be without power saws?

And "plastic oogies"-----I see that you, too, graduated from the Annie Wilkes School of Cake Design. :laugh:

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Thanks so much for this demo! I'm sure that the plastic dowels attached to the cake plate really add to the stability of the cake. Do you think using wooden dowels with a cardboard round would be too unstable?

Edited by freddurf (log)
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Wendy says:

If you don't mind, could you provide a link to your source for purchasing those cakes plates? Do you have any "tricks" for getting your legs evenly cut? I've always struggled with that......even though I measure correctly....... the width of the saw add's confusion........ and sometimes I my cut seems to be angled.

The plates and legs are from Bakery Crafts (www.bakerycrafts.com). Wholesale accounts only. They're a little tough to find in cake shops as far as I can tell. I stocked them in my storefront, but I don't know of many other cake shops that do. I guess I should stock up and put them up for sale on my website.

No real tricks for evenly cutting the legs, unfortunately. Since the saw is light, I find I can hold it still and move the leg across the blade. Hold the leg tight against the flat plate on the bottom of the saw, then bring it toward the blade. The little markings on the legs every 1/2" helps. Even when I'm not cutting directly on one of them, I can still use the marking as a guide for keeping the

same angle through the cut.

Do you like the double sided tape for holding your tiers together better then a center dowel when your transporting cakes?

I like the tape MUCH better. For one, I'm not really big on putting wooden dowels in my cakes. For one thing, I can taste the woody flavor they impart if they've been in there a while. For another, even though I've not experienced it personally, I've been told of cases where the wooden dowels left in a cake for a few days absorbed moisture from the cake and started to mildew. Plus, since the plates are plastic, I'd have to drill holes in each one if I wanted to drive a dowel down through the whole cake. I didn't point it out earlier, but if you look closely at the top side of one of the plates, you'll see a little plastic knob sticking up. That punctures the board of the cake that goes on top of it, and the combination of that and the tape makes a very sturdy cake.

Annie says:

the way you go about doing a "topsy turvy" or a "Polly" as I call it, is so completely different than the way I do it! Very interesting indeed.

Maybe next time I do one, I'll photograph it so you can see what I do. Share techniques and all that

I'd love to see that (but then, I'm your number one fan!). I know there are lots of ways to do this. I've seen a handout that Colette did on her tilted cakes, and much as I'm awed by the finished product, she uses a LOT of wooden dowels. Not my favorite technique, but each to his or her own.

K8 says:

Hemming ruler!!! Pure genius!! I insert & mark a dowel, remove it, clean it off so I can cut it without making a big mess. Chances are I wiped the mark off--grr--Hemming ruler--I love it!

I'd love to claim that as my own original idea, but I can't. I learned that from Earlene Moore a couple years ago.

And I'm gonna find a little circular saw too, when I'm shopping for the carpet tape

Good luck with that. I got mine years ago, and since then I never see them in stores. A few of my students have come back to me saying that they've asked, but the big home improvement stores just don't carry them any more.

I've found them online here

, but the first time I did it, it took me a while (search the power tool collection for the term "VersaPak" -- that's the batteries it uses). Of course, you can't buy it online direct from B&D.

Maybe if cake folks all over the country keep pestering their local Home Depots, they'll start carrying the darned things again.

Racheld says:

Wonderful pictures, wonderful work. I'd seen pictures of Colette Peters' upsydownsy teapots, etc., but it was so nice to see step-by-step from a REAL PERSON who is willing to share all the ways and means.

But, but... Colette IS a real person. Just existing on a higher plane than folks like me. :raz:

And "plastic oogies"-----I see that you, too, graduated from the Annie Wilkes School of Cake Design.

Man, I love it when people get my offbeat references. :laugh:

Freddurf says:

I'm sure that the plastic dowels attached to the cake plate really add to the stability of the cake. Do you think using wooden dowels with a cardboard round would be too unstable?

Sure. It's all in what you're used to and how you handle it. Wooden dowels, plastic dowels, drinking straws, etc. will all work as supports. But if I were using any of those, I'd want to use something as a side-to-side stabilizer (dowel driven through the middle, etc.) for transport. Or stack the cake on site. And I wouldn't be nearly so cavalier about setting the complete cake in the back of my SUV and hopping on the DC Beltway to deliver it.

For some sculpted cakes I use a steel pipe attached to a flange which is bolted to a wooden board for this sort of support. Cover it all with contact paper to keep it away from the cake, drill holes in each cake and board, and slide them down onto the pipe. In that case, I'll use straws for vertical support, and let the steel pipe be my side-to-side stability.

B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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Awesome demo and an awesome cake! LOVE it! Thanks so much.

I'm curious... what type of buttercream do you use? I saw Annie's tip on smoothing the icing with clean hands after chilling and I forgot to ask her what type she uses. (Hello, Annie, are you out there?) I'm assuming this smoothing trick will only work with the meringue buttercreams, not the so-called "American" buttercreams.

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What an amazing demo -- thanks so much for your generosity!! I'd love to attempt one of these (someday.......).

I too would love to hear how others achieve the same effect with different techniques. Whimsical Bakehouse achieves a tilty effect without reshaping the cake layers, but by varying the depth of the filling (one deep end, one shallow end). Keith's method looks more stable to me.

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Thank you so much for this demonstration. Though I just do cakes as a hobby I have thought it would be fun to attempt one of these and now I know how. I just finished my son's wedding cake which turned out really great. I used hemming ruler to mark a straight line on the cake so guess my ideas are right up their with the pros. :raz:

I have learned so much from this forum so thank you again.

GO

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I'd love to see that (but then, I'm your number one fan!). I know there are lots of ways to do this. I've seen a handout that Colette did on her tilted cakes, and much as I'm awed by the finished product, she uses a LOT of wooden dowels. Not my favorite technique, but each to his or her own.

Funny you should mention that! I just recently shelled out some dough for Colette's book, "Cakes to Dream On" (not her best cakes in my opinion). I read her instructions regarding assembling the topsy turvy type cakes and I just dropped my jaw when I saw all those dowels.....TOTAL overkill and completely unnecessary!

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bkieth, once again I am awestruck! Ever since I saw you demo at an ICES Convention years ago, I have been a fan. Your talent has just amazed me. I am happy to find that you contribute to this site and with so much generosity. Thank you for doing this demo for people like me who need to SEE things not just read them. Once again, you are outstanding. Well done ~~ :rolleyes:

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I second.

Thank you so much for doing this...it is really helpful to "visual" people like me. BTW, your chocolate cake is too die for!!! Perfect in texture...now I'm wishing my cakes would turn out as great as yours...hmmm, maybe in a million years.

Wilma
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I'm curious... what type of buttercream do you use?  I saw Annie's tip on smoothing the icing with clean hands after chilling and I forgot to ask her what type she uses.  (Hello, Annie, are you out there?)  I'm assuming this smoothing trick will only work with the meringue buttercreams, not the so-called "American" buttercreams.

You're right - it is a cooked buttercream. Sort of a cross between standard French (yolks only) and Italian meringue (whites only). I use whole eggs it's based on the Cupcake Cafe buttercream (recipe in this thread). I can't imagine the hand smoothing trick would work on a shortening-powdered sugar icing.

heavenlybakes says:

Thank you so much for doing this...it is really helpful to "visual" people like me. BTW, your chocolate cake is too die for!!! Perfect in texture...now I'm wishing my cakes would turn out as great as yours...hmmm, maybe in a million years.

Heh. Sometimes it feels like I've been doing this for a million years. Usually Friday nights around 2:00 am. :wacko:

And thanks to everyone for all the nice comments! :wub:

ICES Convention next week, and I usually come home jazzed from that. I'll try to focus that momentum into getting a couple more demos done during the slow slow slow month of August.

B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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  • 5 months later...
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      Lookin' like a flowerpot! Mmmmmm......look at all those cake scraps on the table. Yep, a few went in my mouth (quality control you know) but the rest went into the garbage......Next it's time to put a layer of buttercream on there, for extra smoothy goodness:

      I snapped the pic with one hand as I was holding the pastry bag in the other. Not easy. I like to use the giant pastry bag with the giant tip for applying icing....makes for less work later.

      Ok, here's a pic for folks that wanted to see that "paint masker thingy" in action. Tried to snap a pic myself, but just couldn't muster up the co-ordination. Luckily, Amber, the front deli counter girl, took a pic for me. I hadn't meant for her to include ME in the pic (Gawd!) but I wanted more of a close up of Mr. Smoothing Tool. Oh well, you take what you can get. See that I have my sketch on the reach-in behind me....along with all my other wacky magnets. Hey, I like to decorate my workspace.....Notice I hold the "pint masker thingy" by the bottom when I am smoothing the sides. If I don't, and hold it by the handle, it tends to kind of bend. I hold it by the handle when I go across the top. See how nice and smooth?:

      Now it's really starting to look like a flowerpot. But wait! It's upside down! Why is that, you ask? Because it's easier to carve and ice that way, and most importantly, much easier to apply the fondant. Into the walk-in it goes, to firm up. Now for the second pot:

      This is going to be the bottom flowerpot. It's going to be larger, and a slightly different shape than the top flowerpot. I baked off 2 10 inch rounds and 1 8 inch round for this one. I only ended up using half the 8 inch round, as you can see. I have the saran wrap underneath the cake and on top of the board, so it will be easier to flip over later. Here it is all carved out.....mmm....more cake scraps.....into the garbage they go.....

      Below, here it is, with a layer of buttercream. I didn't use the "paint masker thingy" on this one because of the curvature of the cake. I just piped the icing on and then smoothed it out with my offset spatula as best I could. After I refrigerate it, I will do the final smoothing.

      So now I'm waiting for my pots to set up. Time to do some other stuff, like:

      "Cuiz" my chocolate cookies to make the "dirt" for my pots. And......

      start dusting my flowers and leaves with luster dust to add a little depth and realism to them. For this project I just made "whimsical flowers" in that they really aren't any particular flower....they're just cartoonish and colorful. Well, the roses are, well, roses.....gotta have a few roses. In the background there, you can see sort of how I did the gumpaste umbrella. I happened to have a dessert cup at home that was well suited for it. I filled out the top with gumpaste and added "ribs" with gumpaste, then put some saran on the top of that and put a gumpaste disk on it. I then cut out the rounded parts between the ribs.....and voila....umbrella! This was the first thing I made because I wanted it to have the maximum amount of drying time. Now if I were really smart, I would have made not one, but two or even three umbrellas because stuff always breaks. Always. No matter how careful you are. Especially in a commercial kitchen.....not only do you have to worry about yourself but everyone else too. I make more flowers than I need because I always manage to break quite a few. But, as it was, I only made one umbrella since I was so cocky and sure of myself. Turns out I was lucky......this time! Ok, time to roll out some terra cotta colored fondant!

      Dust the table liberally with cornstarch and roll away. I've done this so much I can just eyeball how much fondant I'll need to cover a certain sized cake. When rolling out fondant, waste no time from the time you're done rolling til you get it on the cake, because it starts drying out right away. Drying out means yukky little cracks, and me no likey little cracks! So I race to walk-in, retrieve cake, and cover it quickly.

      Then I take my trusty little pizza wheel and cut the excess away. This excess will get kneaded back into the remainder of my fondant so that I'll have enough to cover the other pot. So I take the rounded pot out of the walk-in, and, after washing my hands like a surgeon, I use the warmth of my hands to smooth the buttercream out so I have a perfect surface on which to cover with fondant. I tried using latex gloves for doing smoothing, but they are too much of a barrier to my body warmth. I need that warmth to lightly soften the buttercream for the proper smoothing. And here we have a nice smooth surface for the fondant:

      Into the reach-in it goes to set up while I roll out my fondant.......and here it is covered, with the excess trimmed away. Notice that I trimmed off my plastic wrap quite a bit before I covered it. Otherwise I would have gotten into a wrestling match with it and the fondant.

      So back into the walk-in they go to stay firm while I take me a little breaky:

      This is the view out the back door of the kitchen. We look over the Kai-Tai Lagoon and the Olympic Mountains. Unfortunately you can't see the Olympics in this picture because it's cloudy. But man, on a clear day......it's outstanding. Off to the right, beyond the trellis thing, is a large garden full of culinary things....a la Chez Panisse. We've got rosemary, bay, basil, fennel, oregano, chervil,onions, squashes (in the fall), thyme, decorative flowers, arugula, and more. Whenever we need herbs....just go out back. We get most of our produce from local farmers who come to our back door. One of the things I LOVE about Tinytown. It really beats the in-city large mass produce vendors. As I look out the back door, I sip on a latte that I made myself from our aging and undependable espresso machine. Luckily, today, I managed to pull a pretty good shot. Ok, break time over! Back to work! My next step is to turn my pots over. I will turn the larger pot over first. I slip my offset spatula underneath the saran wrap and lift the cake off, and set it aside on the table. An important thing to note: If I'd used a mousse, curd, or jam filling, I wouldn't have been able to do this so easily. With a refrigerated buttercream filling, the cake doesn't flex at all as I lift it. I managed to nick a little of my polyfoil covering with my spat when I went to lift the cake. Nuts. Oh well, I'll cover that with a flower later. I melt some white chocolate and smear some in the center of my board. I need to anchor the bottom pot so it doesn't slip around.

      I flip the bottom pot over, place it on top of my melted white chocolate, make sure it's centered, and peel the saran wrap off.

      My next step is to mark where I'm going to place my top pot, then insert straws within that area to support the weight of it. I decided to place the top pot slightly off center, and traced a circle with my paring knife to mark it. For most cake supports I use straws. They're easy to cut to fit, cheap, and they work. The only time I use wooden dowels is when there is an UNGODLY amount of weight or a weird center of gravity involved. I used to use regular heavy duty bar straws, until I discovered.......bubble tea straws! They are super heavy duty and very large.....they have to be for people to suck up that lovely bubble tea. I don't really think that fad is going to catch on here much in the states, but as long as I can get the straws I'm happy. I get them from an asian novelty wholesaler in Seattle. I think it's Viet-Wah, but can't remember for sure.

      Anyway, I insert the straw, mark it with my thumb where it's flush with the top of the cake, then pull the straw out and cut it. I use that straw as a measure to cut the rest of my straws. In this case I will use 5. One in the center and four around.

      Now I'm all ready to place the top pot on......oh, wait, except for a swirl of buttercream on top of the straws to anchor it a bit. Next, I use my melted white chocolate to adhere an appropriately sized round cardboard on the bottom of my top pot.

      Once that's set, I flip over the top pot, and place it on my bottom pot.

      Voila! Now, I really have to make sure that the top pot won't slide around, so I stick a few bamboo skewers down through the middle and through the cardboard til it hits the bottom board. I use the side of my needlenose pliers to pound the skewer down through. Now starts my very favorite part of this whole thing.....details! I figured that using my silicone lace impression molds will make great detailing on the pots. Here's the one I'm going to use to detail the bottom pot:

      I dust the inside of the mold with cornstarch........then roll out a quick piece of fondant, and roughly press it in:

      Then I place the top piece of the silicone impression on top, and roll it like crazy with a rolling pin. With the top part of the impression still in place, I pull off as much of the excess as I can.

      Then I remove the top piece, and pull all the ragged edges back in......

      Then I brush a little water on the back of the piece, and adhere it to the pot. I keep making them until the pattern has gone all the way 'round.

      I use a different lace mold to make a pattern on the top pot. Now it's time to do the rims. When I did the lace impressions around the pots, I used fondant, because I needed the stretchability of it to conform easily to the shape of the pot. A little stretchiness in this case is good. But when it's time to do the rims, I don't want ANY stretching going on whatsoever.....I want uniformly thick and perfectly straight strips, so for this I'm going to use modeling chocolate, which of course has been colored the same color as the fondant. See the neato embossing on my strip? I found that little embossing wheel at Seattle Pottery Supply, believe it or not, and it was cheap too. The embossers are interchangeable and it came with about 10 different patterns! I rolled out my strip, then embossed the pattern twice (one next to the other) then used my pizza wheel to cut nice straight even edges. I made two top strips and two bottom strips....the bottom strips are just plain.

      And here are the pots with all their details.....

      These guys are going into the walk-in for a while while I work on the other details. Gotta make the baby! First I start with a styrofoam core. The reason for this is for stability and less weight. There was a time in my career when I thought I shouldn't use ANYTHING that wasn't edible, but talk about making life hard. I've made things out of solid modeling chocolate, but they were very heavy and hard to support. Then over the years, I realized that people really don't eat the decorations anyway (except for a few overzealous kids), so I decided to reduce my chocolate expenses and weight by using styrofoam to bulk things out more and more. I pat out a disk of flesh colored modeling chocolate, and place my styrofoam ball in the middle.

      Then I bring the edges up around the ball and squeeze the chocolate together so that no seams show. I stick a couple of skewers in it so that I can hold it in one hand and model it with the other. Then I manipulate it in my surgeon-scrubbed hands to model the face, add a little nose, eyes, mouth, ears, hair and of course, a dimple. The baby head needs to go somewhere while I work on other stuff.....oh, here's a good place.....right in the edge of my equipment box.

      I've been so good about taking pictures at nearly every step! But here's where I fail you.......when I get "in the zone"......meaning that I'm so intent on my little details....I sort of forget about the camera! Here's what I did in between this picture and the next two:
      *made the baby's shoulders and neck and arms out of modeling chocolate
      *sprinkled my cookie dirt inside the pots
      *dusted the centers of my flowers with luster and color, made the calyx's (sp?) and mounted *them on my green skewers
      *rolled modeling chocolate onto a skewer to form the umbrella stem
      *made the bottom banner and wrote on it
      *made the baby's flower bonnet
      I modeled the baby's neck and shoulders, then stuck that right on the top pot. Then I cut the skewers that are coming out of his head to the right length and pushed it down through the neck and shoulders.

      I placed the arms and formed the hands. I stuck my umbrella stem through the arm and down into the cake so there would be adequate support......but darn, I wasn't watching carefully, and the skewer came out of the side of the pot because my angle was a bit off. Oh well, I'll cover that up with a leaf. At least you can see where the umbrella stem is on the skewer. On top of the umbrella stem is a little half dome of modeling chocolate, to support the gumpaste umbrella. I dab a bit of melted white chocolate on that, and stick the umbrella on top. Now all I have to do is place my flowers, mount the banner, and put his little bonnet on.

      And here we have the finished product. It's sort of hard to read the banner....it says, "May Showers Bring Adorable Flowers". One thing I always seem to to do.....I'll shoot the picture of my finished cake and I'm always tired.....so I'm too lazy to find a good backdrop. Then I curse myself later when there's that yukky kitcheny background. God, in one picture I took, my cake had a dirty mop bucket behind it! All I can say is, thank god for Photoshop......I can always "fix" it later.
      It took me 8 hours to put this together and that's not counting all the prep I did the whole week prior. I don't think a whole lot of people realize the time that goes into this stuff.....and it's also why you don't see it very often.
      Anyway, the girl that's getting the baby shower has NO IDEA this is coming. Surprising her is going to be the best part!
      Fast forward to the next day. My boss's wife and I are bringing the box inside the house, then removing the cake from the box. Kids are dancing around us....."is that a CAKE? Is that a CAKE?" People gather round, and the girl who's getting the shower sees it and starts crying. She gives me a big hug and says "I don't know how to thank you!" I told her she just did.
      The shower went on, presents were opened, food was eaten, champagne was sipped.......and then.....it was time......the part that the kids almost couldn't wait for.....time to eat cake! Which of course, means, time to cut cake. And guess who gets to do it. Yep. Me. I don't have to cut my own cakes very often, and that's a good thing. Usually I'm nowhere in the vicinity when my cakes are cut and consumed.....I have only the memory of a photograph and my labor. This time I also do the deconstructing.....and I gotta say it was bittersweet. Especially since knowing it took me 8 hours to build it and only 15 minutes to take it apart. May I say.......wah? Yes. Wah. Luckily I'd had a couple glasses of Mumm's so my "pain" was numbed a bit.......
      Hope you all have enjoyed this bit of cake sculpting. Now back to our regular programming.......
    • By Nn, M.D.
      I'm very excited to share with you all a recipe that I developed for a double crust apple pie.  I had been inspired a few weeks ago to come up with a series of 3-ingredient recipes that would focus on technique and flavor but still be simple enough for the unseasoned chef.  I decided to make an apple pie as a challenge to myself--never having made one before--and as a way to show those who might find pastry intimidating how easy and adaptable it can be.
       
      Basic Shortcrust Pastry
      Ingredients:
      - 300g flour
      - 227g salted butter, cold
      - 2 lemons, zested with juice reserved
       
      1. Cut butter into small chunks.  Beat butter, zest of the 2 lemons, and flour together with an electric mixer OR combine with pastry blender OR rub together with fingers OR blitz in a food processor until it resembles sand.
      2. Add just enough water to bring the mix together into a dough (about 20g for me).  You'll know your pastry is ready when you can press it together and it stays in one piece.
      3. Divide dough in two and wrap tightly with plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
      4. When ready to use, roll out each portion to 13 inches in diameter. (I do this between two sheets of parchment paper.  Don't worry too much if the parchment sticks to the pastry. I periodically placed mine in the freezer to help keep everything cold, and the butter will separate from the parchment when frozen.)
      5. Take 1 portion of rolled dough and place it in a 9-inch tart tin with a removable bottom.  Gently press into the sides to ensure even coverage.  Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Freeze the other portion of dough in-between the parchment pieces.
       
      Apple Filling (and Assembly)
      - 1 kg apples (I used about 7 apples for this recipe.)
      - 220g dark brown sugar, divided
      - 1 egg, separated
       
      Making the apple butter: 
      1. Cut and core 500g of your apples, but do not peel.  Add cut apples, juice of the one lemon, about 100g or so of water, and 170g of sugar to a large saucepan.
      2. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cover.  Let the apples cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
      3. Remove from heat and blend until smooth.
      4. Return puree to saucepan and simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for an hour.  Color should deepen and the mixture should thicken slightly, but do not allow it to scorch.
      5. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cool.
       
      Apple filling:
      1. Peel, quarter, and core the remaining 500g of apples. Slice on a mandolin to about 1/8th inch thickness. Place sliced apples in a large bowl of cold water while slicing remaining apples.
      2. Once apples are sliced, drain water and add the juice from the remaining lemon, as well as the remaining 50g of sugar, over the apples. Stir to coat.
       
         
       
      Assembly:
      1. Remove pie base from the freezer.  Dock with a fork and brush on egg white.  Place back in the freezer and allow to set for for about 5-10 minutes.
      2. Pour the entire recipe of apple butter into the pie base and even out with an offset spatula.
      3. Arrange apple slices over the apple butter.
      4. Remove remaining pie dough from the freezer and cut designs in while still cold. Transfer to the surface of the pie and seal overhanging edges.  Trim excess dough.
      5. Brush top pastry with egg yolk (beaten with any remaining egg white) and bake in a 365˚F oven for 60-70 minutes.  Crust should be shiny and golden brown.
      6. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from tin.
       
      Some notes:
      The reason for using salted butter is I think the flavor incorporates a little better into the mix than if I were to use unsalted butter and added salt.  That being said, you could do that instead, though your recipe would then have 7 ingredients The addition of apple butter here takes the place of the normal apple pie filling, which is usually thickened with cornstarch and is typically quite sweet.  By using the apple butter, I push the flavor of apple forward beyond what you would find in a typically apple pie.  Also, the apple butter acts as a glue of sorts so that my slices are always clean, so no need to resort to adding thickeners or extra sweeteners. I'm always looking for a way around blind baking, and using an egg white seal has worked out very well for me. The egg white creates a water-tight layer between the crust and the filling, so no matter how wet my filling is, the crust will always bake crispy and won't get soggy for as long as the pie is around. Feel free to change this up as you see fit.  Obviously you can spices to this (I recommend cinnamon, clove, and cardamom) but the beauty of this pie is that it's really not necessary.  Although at first blush it may seem one-noted, the harmony between the flaky, almost savory crust and the bright and refreshing filling is one that doesn't need any help, in my honest opinion.  

       
      So there you have it! My 6-ingredient apple pie, sure to become a go-to for me, and hopefully for you as well!
       
    • By ResearchBunny
      Posted 6 hours ago Dear EGulleters,
      ResearchBunny here. I've just found you today. I've been lolling in bed with a bad cold, lost voice, wads of tissues, pillows, bedding around me. I spent all of yesterday binge-watching Season 2 of Zumbo's Just Desserts on Netflix from beginning to grand finale. I have been a hardcore devotee of Rose Levy Beranbaum since the beginning of my baking passion -- after learning that she wrote her master's thesis comparing the textural differences in cake crumb when using bleached versus unbleached flour. I sit up and pay attention to that level of serious and precision! While Beranbaum did study for a short while at a French pastry school, she hasn't taken on the challenge of writing recipes for entremets style cakes. That is, multi-layer desserts with cake, mousse, gelatin, nougatine or dacquoise layers all embedded in one form embellished with ice cream, granita, chocolate, coulis. After watching hours of the Zumbo contest, I became curious about the experience of designing these cakes. Some of the offered desserts struck me as far too busy, others were delightful combinations. I was surprised that a few contestants were eliminated when their offerings were considered too simple or, too sophisticated. So I'd like to hear from you about your suggestions for learning more about how to make entremets. And also, what you think about the show. And/or Zumbo.
      Many thanks.
      RB
      ps. The show sparked a fantasy entremet for my cold. Consider a fluffy matzo ball exterior, with interior layers of carrot, celery, a chicken mince, and a gelatin of dilled chicken broth at its heart!
    • By TexasMBA02
      After batting about .500 with my previous approach to macarons, I came across Pierre Herme's base recipe online.  After two flawless batches of macarons, I've been re-energized to continue to work at mastering them.  Specifically, I want to try more of his recipes.  My conundrum is that he has, as far as I can tell, two macaron cookbooks and I don't know which one I should get.  I can't tell if one is just an updated version of the other or a reissue or what the differences really are.  I was hoping somebody had some insight.  I have searched online and haven't seen both books referenced in the same context or contrasted at all.
       
      This one appears to be older.

       
      And this one appears to be the newer of the two.

       
      Any insight would be helpful.
       
      Thanks,
       
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