Tuesday, January 24, 2012

R2 D2 Cake: My first cake carving

My husband Trae loves Star Wars. That's okay, because I am a huge fan as well. With the special edition blu-ray boxed set of all six Star Wars movies, or also the perfect birthday present ever, this year my husband got a Star Wars themed birthday party.

Our awesome neighbors carried their 50 inch flat screen down to the hall to our apartment. We set up a Mos Eisley Catina up in the kitchen with Star Wars glasses I purchased at TJ Max as well as a Java the Hut station to help guests stay awake during the movie marathon. We also had a snack table with Star Wars themed (or fun named) food, such as Alderaan Ash, Lando Lays, Leia buns with Han burgers, X-wings (chicken wings), and Vader Tots.

Yet, the star of the show was the R2-D2 cake. I started with a standard 9x13 cake pan and two nine inch rounds. I used my trusty Better Crocker recipe and doubled it; the kitchen-aid did wonderfully well mixing a doubled batter. (I feel a little more in love with the kitchen-aid after that.) I cooked the cakes according to the directions and let them cool thoroughly. Normally I will fudge on cooling time and ice cakes when the cake is still warmish, but I didn't want to screw up the cake so I waited. After the cakes were completely cooled, I used a R2 D2 popcorn bucket from Disney as my model and nervously cut the cakes. 

The hubby devouring R2's popcorn entrails while at Disney MGM. 

I ended up cutting the rectangular cake in half; a round cake was cut in half to make the head portion of R2 D2. To make the legs, I cut three rectangular pieces about two inches wide. Two pieces laid up against the cake and the third piece was used to cut two isosceles trapezoid, or a small top with slanted sides and bigger bottom. (I had to google the proper name of that shape!) The little quarter moon was made from the a portion of the left over circle that made his head.

I used one of my circle cookie cutters and placed only half of it on the cake to make a half-moon. I realize now I could have just made one half moon circle shape with my cookie cutter and cut it in half to get the curved top portion of the leg, but yeah, you live and learn. After cutting all the pieces, I colored the fondant pieces: gray/silver, blue, red, and brown. I did this all the night before the party.

The day of the party, I ended up running out of time and had to rush through decorating, but over all, I am still happy with the droid. I covered the whole thing in white canned icing. (Any flavor will do as long as it
is white.) 

I then used my popcorn bucket as my model to free hand the fondant pieces. I would suggest having a print out or reference when making an R2 cake; it really helps get the proportions right. As a time saver, I covered the whole top portion of the head in the gray fondant, which was a scary because I had never covered a large amount of cake before. I did find having a food scraper with a flat edge helped keep the fondant smooth, even though the flat side of a knife would have done the same thing. 

I added a thin strip of gray fondant to the bottom of the head to give R2 more depth, but also to hide my uneven fondant work. Since this was my first time covering a large portion of a cake, the edges were not exactly Charm City Cakes quality. I focused on one section of the body at a time, which was time consuming, but allowed me to have the most accurate proportions. 

The round dot is the bottom of a Hersey's kiss.
 A lot of the detail was also traced into the icing with a knife. A good portion of R2's body is white, and by adding the line detail into the white icing, the cake really did pop.  

The last close up shows the time crunch I felt because some of the fondant pieces were cut a little slanted. If you work with fondant, make sure you have time to let it stiffen back up. Since I was running out of time, the fondant ended up getting warm and super stretchy. The line would be straight, but then by the time I placed it on the cake, it would magically be off. Yet, the birthday boy nor the guests minded the few messed up lines.  Overall, I was very surprised at how easy craving a cake was. I have made a golden snitch before, but that didn't seem like a challenge. I think as long as you have a game plan devised, shaping and carving cakes should not be intimidating. I promise that this is not "a trap" and you "shouldn't have a bad feeling about this!" I hope this post helps to inspire you to make your own R2 D2 cake. May the force be with you and your cake decorating!

The birthday boy
The cake maker. Note the Star Wars inspired hair
Happy movie watchers!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My favorite decorating tool

I have a bad habit of buying all these fancy decorating kits. One such kit was a Wilton gum paste set, which has come in handy and is fun to play with. Yet, even with all my fancy tools, I tend to go back to my favorite decorating tool: a plastic knife. Not a fancy one, but pretty much the plastic knife you can get at any fast food restaurant or buy in bulk.

Fancy, right?  I like using the plastic ones better than real knives because they are lighter and a little more flexible. The serrated edge helps make texture while the opposite flat side helps smooth out areas. The bottom of the knife can smooth out tight tiny spaces and the very tip top can make lines in to follow when piping detail. While it might be hard to see the ordinary plastic knife as a culinary master tool, you need to try it. I decoated this Wall-E cake with nothing but a piping bags full of icing, the plastic knife,  and (newly purchased, cheap) tweezers to place sprinkles. 

Note the lines in Wall-e's tire tread feet (?) and extended arm; I was able to make straight lines because I make an outline for them with the top of the knife. The bulk of the yellow was smoothed by the flat side of the knife. To keep the gray from bleeding into his fingers, I was able to use the top of the knife to extract errant gray icing, which is another great use for the knife. The knife can scrap any mistakes off without damaging the cake or any of the decorations. A paper towel makes the knife easy to wipe off so you do not have to stop and wash it if you are using multiple colors in your cake decorating. I find with some other tools that you cannot simple wipe off the excess icing and continue on, but that you have to wash it to get all the icing off.

So next time you are at the grocery store, pick up a cheap box of plastic knives and test out their decorating power!

Rainbow Connection

I am a child at heart. I love anything Disney, fuzzy, or colorful. When the new Muppet movie came out, I was at the theater opening day. I loved the cheesy plot, the new songs mixed with the classics, and of course, the Muppets themselves.

Ever since the movie came out, I have been humming Rainbow Connection to myself, and it was that song that inspired my latest creation.

 The circles are thimble cookies, which is a fancy name for mini sugar cookies. I adapted a Food Network recipe in order to get the taste and workability with the dough. The my recipe calls for:
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) room temp. butter cut into pieces (I sliced then cubed my pieces, which was probably just extra work. I would just slice the butter thinly)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (Most likely when I make this recipe again I will just use the whole eggs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I just eyeball it) 
  • 1/2 or so of almond extract. (Just add to your taste preference or any other flavored extract. Peppermint would be delicious!) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Food coloring (If you want to!)
Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until a fairly smooth consistency. With the mixer on a low speed, slowly add the rest of the ingredients. I like to add the liquids first, which gives the flour something to absorb and stick to. I also add my flour in 1/4 cup intervals to prevent a cloud of flour puffing up from the mixer.

After adding all the ingredients and making sure your batter is to your taste, separate the batter into sections in individual containers: one container for each color you plan on mixing. I separated mine into four sections. Hint: Use old containers. If it is a favorite or snazzy container, don't use it. You will most likely dye the container the color of the dough! I save cool whip containers, butter containers, etc for this very reason. Make sure your coloring is food grade. In this coloring process, I used the drops because I didn't want to miss with the gel.

After you mix up the colors, the batter needs to be chilled. I put my batter in the middle of wax paper (and no worries if the batter is sticky), then "smooshed" it down into a disk, wrapping it in the wax paper as I went.



I let it chill for about an hour. Five minutes before taking the dough out, I preheated the to 350 degrees F. The dough needs to be rolled out to about 1/4 inch thinkness on a fairly heavily floured area so it can be cut. The dough tended to stick to the roller, so I floured the top of the dough and used the wax paper it was wrapped in as a buffer between dough and roller. Before cutting, the cookie cutter needs to be rimmed in flour so the dough doesn't stick. I also had to work quickly, because if the dough got too warm, it did not want to cut very well. I cut my dough into two sizes: very small and medium. 

Be ready to make a mess.

The smaller circles took five minutes to bake, whereas the bigger circles took about eight to ten. Make sure you keep a semi-close eye on the cookies, because being so thin and tiny, they tend to brown quickly.

Note the cookie at the top right: A little too much browning to look cute on the cake.
After making the cookies, I followed the Betty Crocker yellow cake recipe. You can use your favorite cake recipe or favorite box mix; just make sure you make two 8 or 9 inch circle cakes or squares. You will not get the same cute pop effect on a flat rectangle cake. For icing, I used a can. I wanted to make my own; however, with butter about five bucks for four sticks right now, the can stuff was cheaper and it is tasty too! I used plain vanilla, but again, pick your favorite flavor!

After icing the cake, the fun stuff begins: decorating!! I separated my cookies by size and color to make seeing what I had to work with easier. 

Just have fun; put the circles in any pattern you want. If you have children, they will have a blast decorating with cookies. Don't over think the placement because this cake is whimiscal!

After placing your cookies, pop in The Muppets Take Manhattan, get a tall glass of milk, a large slice of cake, and ENJOY! 

Monday, January 2, 2012


I love to sing, badly and out of tune, in my kitchen. My husband is delightful and does not complain when I belt out Broadway tunes that would bring the house down (and not in the good way!)

I also love to listen to the lyrics, watch movies, or read books to get inspired when I bake. Disney movies tend to be the heart of a lot of my decorating inspiration. My most impressive feats, however, come from Harry Potter. My mother and I were cake legends at a local bookstore for making Harry Potter cakes for midnight parties. To share pictures, I will have to go old school and convert negatives to a cd!

I want to share my love of singing out of tune and baking in this blog. I will give you my recipe inspirations, detailed instructions, and tips on decorating. So tune up the volume and preheat the oven! We have a kitchen concert to put on!