Glory

I’m sorry that I haven’t kept a regular schedule of putting up regular blog posts; full-time job gets in the way, and cakes are rushed out of the house that I find myself inclined to post them on my Facebook page by default.

But I had to blog about my first royal icing and piping class experience. It was fun, the atmosphere was heartwarming and conducive, and most of all, there was much to learn from this class.

Months ago, there were classes by Kelvin Chua of vinism sugar art, announced by Glorious Delights. I knew vinism sugarart for a while now as I started cake decorating – not only was Kelvin another talented Malaysian sugar artist, but his work with royal icing was so beautiful, it reminded me of the conventional way of cake decorating – lots of piping etc. I had minimal experience with piping royal icing, and my skills with piping buttercream was not up to scratch – hot hands does not help! So it was decided, I shall attend one of his classes. Upon looking at the classes, I was very keen with all of them. So keen, that I would have paid to go to all of his classes, but no. I held on tight to my wallet, my money, and most of all, my sanity. Each class looked very majestic and beautiful in its own way, that I found it extremely hard to choose as back then I didn’t know what techniques would be more suited to me.

What do I pick?!?!

I decided to go with the “Glory” class as I found the visual for the cake stunning and I was keen to learn the steps involved in creating this masterpiece. Finally the day came, and deep down I was nervous but excited to find out what I was gonna learn and meeting both Kelvin and Tutin. Tutin, the host for Kelvin’s class at Glorious Delights, greeted me with such warmth and kindness that you felt at ease instantly. Her little studio was such a cosy setup, next to her house. The studio was admittedly beautiful  – I was excited to feel what it would be if I had a studio away from the premises of a house where I can store all my cake decorating tools, without invading the entire household with it. Kelvin was a character – a great teacher without a doubt, but you could say his “vinisms” were laughable and humorous. He doesn’t care about sharp edges on a cake, he says – because he can’t achieve them himself. And he will tell you to speed up where necessary. And when he has demonstrated what we will be working on, he says “bye bye” as a gesture to head back and reproduce what he said. He fills the class with humour, and I couldn’t be happier being in the class with eight ladies who laughed and were more than happy to joke around with Kelvin. What made me happier was meeting Grace from Grace of Cakes – her face just lit up when Tutin told her I was the face behind Van Goh Cakes, and it is a comforting thing to know that people just says they love your work etc, bit of a confident boost methinks.

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Blank canvas… Here Kelvin, no sharp edges!

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Learning one of the many techniques of piping – this was before the X-rated joke was thrown in haha!

Photobomb love when I'm trying to concentrate, LOL. From left to right: Hannah, Kelvin, Grace, Tutin

Photobomb love when I’m trying to concentrate, LOL. From left to right: Hannah, Kelvin, Grace, Tutin

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Kelvin working his magic on some of our pieces

I loved how the class was stretched out over two days, which gave us a chance to understand the techniques properly. And for once, I could experience what it’s like to leave a class on time! Piping with royal icing, I’ve learned, involves a lot of practice. It saddens me that not many cake decorators showcase this skill anymore, which to me is a fine handmade art and once mastered, you can adopt a style that suits you. I know I’m beginning to love the beauty it brings and I look forward to making a masterpiece of my own, creating my style and one day including it in my repertoire.

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With the master! Thanks for a great class

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All the ‘cocks 😉

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All of us burst into laughter as Tutin was getting excited snapping with my camera. “Ooooo” she says. LOL

Some of them have been back for Kelvin’s class, year after year. I now know why, and I think I’m about to do the same thing. Gotta save up for his class now!

The Pirate’s Bounty

I was very excited with this project. I have not made many cakes for men or boys, and when I was asked for a birthday cake for a four-year-old boy, I had to do it. Betty had a clear idea as to how the cake should look, and we went back and forth with the designs. It is very comforting when a customer provides you with swatches and mood boards as to how she would like the cake to go with the entire set up of the party or event. But the best part about it, is being able to make the suggestion of the cake with the ideas in your head and having the customer trust your instincts and judgement with the cake design. It’s a little confidence boost I must say 🙂

Betty specified the cake is to have a pirate theme, and so my thoughts literally sailed. There was definitely going to be a pirate ship cake topper, and I suggested a pirate’s map, a cake tier decorated like a barrel, and lastly a treasure chest at the bottom.

I remembered a few months ago when I came across McGreevy Cakes’ ship cake topper, and I instantly gravitated towards pictures of it as inspiration (link: http://www.mcgreevycakes.com/2014/02/20/3310/). Shawna created such a stunning piece that I thought I’d give it a good go (even though it’ll be no where as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ly awesome as hers). I had been through a week where I just could not bring myself to do any work, and I was procrastinating making this ship topper. Somewhere in me just told me I had to do it, and so I did – it doesn’t have as much detail in it as I would have liked, but you could look at it and say it’s a pirate ship 🙂

PicMonkey ship topper

Have I told you how much I love modelling chocolate? As much fondant can be very versatile which I used because I didn’t have enough modelling chocolate, modelling chocolate works so well in such circumstances as I needed parts of it to be firm yet allows me time to work on it without drying and cracking up on me.  In this particular project, I find that it takes up the colour of the luster so beautifully as well, which reminds me to find a new project to work with only modelling chocolate. I didn’t have wafer paper to make the sails, so I made do with using rice paper which worked a treat. I used black colour gel to paint the letter J and the skull, something tells me that I may have painted on the wrong side – the matte, or the shiny side?

And with this project finished, I have leftover paper to play with wafer paper flowers which is trending at the moment; modern wedding cakes adorned with this thin and almost translucent beauties, and it is a breath of fresh air in comparison to gum paste flowers which I still love.

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Loving the Old English font on the letter J – who knew it’ll be easy to write without stencils!

I was going to go for a cake tier with a map draped over it, but after much thought and little experience with icing sheets and edible images, I decided not to proceed with it. Instead, I decided to airbrush the tier to make it look like aged paper and then draw elements of a pirate’s map. This was the exciting part of the cake – you start to brainstorm as to what do you draw on a map. And I have a little guide hehe:

  • Always have an “X” that marks the spot – like come on, there’s the whole point we have a map, to find the ultimate bounty!
  • You will need an impressive ship, that’s the whole point of a pirate’s map yeah?
  • Have islands, big and small. And have coconut trees drawn on those islands
  • You need big and scary sea monsters that will terrorize your pirate ship
  • You need whirlpools
  • You will need a compass, you don’t want to turn the wrong way now do you?
  • And you need dolphins. Like cute dolphins. Every sea has a silver lining, in this case, fun loving dolphins.

pirate map tier

The second barrel tier was made with fairly thick pieces of fondant to mimic wood. Texturing the wooden pieces was crucial in making the wood look realistic, and I achieved that with pasta cutter, knife, a dresden tool. I was excited to be using my Dinky Doodle airbrush for this project to give it a more realistic look, and it is by far an impressive tier that I ever made.

The treasure chest was made by covering red fondant over the cake which many people shudder, then applying black strips of fondant as the frame of the chest. Gold studs were made with dry brushing gold lister to black fondant chips. To add depth, I added black and brown petal dust to provide dark and almost Pirate of the Carribean mood. This gave me a new found respect for petal dust in cake decorating – it’s such a learning curve and I can’t wait to use it more often in the future.

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By the time the cake was completed, it was a massive cake to carry. In fact, I was worried sick that I’ll drop it. I did have chocolate gold coins to embellish the chest tier which I constantly reminded myself to bring it with me before I left home, but silly me completely forgot about it when I reached the venue! Nevertheless, Betty was very pleased with it, and it gives us cake decorators great satisfaction when you’ve delivered on the cake design and they said you’ve nailed it. And I think the boys may have given it a thumbs up when they saw the cake too!

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With each cake that you make, you find yourself learning a bit more each time, and I surely learned so much on this project. I make a mental note to myself to know what are the learning outcomes that I have achieved, and it gives me a sense of gratification when I have mastered the techniques.

I learned that an airbrush can be your friend once you’ve mastered it, it’s all in the control of the pressure. And petal dusts are an important tool for a cake decorator, you definitely do not want to be without it.

The Japanese BFG

Remember my Chanel bag cake for my friend last year? This year, I had to make something better, and I had no idea what she wanted. What better way to know than to ask her myself. Her response? “I want a Totoro Cake” and she provided a few photos of a mini figurine she had.

Who is Totoro?

My head goes into drive as to how I would make it. I only know the existence of this animated character but have never watched the movie. I think he’s like a BFG from the Roald Dahl book, just fluffier, and it is an animal. After looking at some images, character cakes like Totoro don’t scare me as much as it did a year ago, simply because I know it does not require a complicated internal structure.

I, have never, ever, watched this movie before. I knew of its existence, but it never grabbed me. Not until now! He does look like a more adorable BFG I think 🙂

In order to create his shape, I would make him as I did with my Minion months ago – a double barrel cake, and then carve to create this almost oval shape. And the rest will be to create detail on his face and body, and I think I’m he’ll look perfect.

I usually search on Google for any cake project if it was made into a cake, and I did the same for this Totoro project. There were a few that I found to be my source of inspiration, but the one that grabbed me the most was the one from Mike McCarey from Mike’s Amazing Cakes which I referred to often because Google did not have a lot of photos of Totoro in the movie which was rather inconvenient (if you looked up Totoro on Google, there is a lot of images that are not from the film, and I struggled to make sure there is some resemblance to the character in the film.

Looks like the animated character I think! Cake by Mike McCarey of Mike’s Amazing Cakes

My friend requested that the cake needs to be packed with flavour as well, and so I went with my white chocolate and banana mud cake which I wrote about in a previous blog post. Without going into much detail, I’ll post some photos for you to look at and you can see the progress of this edible Totoro goodness!

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The cake was stacked to double-barrel height – I used the white chocolate banana mud cake with peanut butter ganache as in the previous post 🙂

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All ganached and ready to be dressed in grey fondant

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Cake scraps!

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Cake carving time – I needed this photo to know what I’m doing with this cake, plus I had my housemate cast her eyes over to see if I got the right shape

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Fondant is on! And I’ve textured the cake board with some scrunched up foil.

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Totoro’ leaf hat – I placed it on a sheet of aluminium foil that has been scrunched and not laying flat on the bench. This gives the leaf some movement

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I added some colour to the leaf with some petal dust – This gives it some texture and doesn’t look so flat

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Making the umbrella – to be honest, I should have measured each point of the umbrella correctly to make it look uniform. But I can assure you the final effect looks great!

 

After a week’s worth of work, I finally got to present this to my friend at her birthday dinner.  She was in awe, and surprisingly some other guests at the restaurant caught a glimpse of the cake as it was brought out they had to sneak a few photos. Hehe!

PicMonkey totoro night

 

It’s an amazing process as a cake decorator that you know what you’re doing is leading towards a really awesome masterpiece. Character cakes are really fun to make, and the challenge is always to replicate how to really look. Did she recognise it? Indeed she did, and I hope you think it looks the same too!

 

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Totoro – I liken it to the anime version of the BFG, mild and caring 🙂

White Chocolate Banana Mud Cake

I can now, breathe a deep sigh of relief, now that this cake project is done and dusted.

Simply because I had no where to look for this recipe in the first place.

I had difficulty finding a tried and tested recipe to make a banana flavoured cake that can withhold carving for a 3D cake (if you stick around, you’ll know what I mean when I have another post coming up). I was watching Masterchef Australia a couple of weeks ago where team America on the episode served up a Peanut Butter Mousse with Grilled Banana and Maple Bacon Crumb. It was to represent the infamous Elvis Presley Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich inspired dessert. If they can serve it as a dessert, surely I can serve it as a cake! After deliberating with the housemate, I decided to have a banana cake that will go gorgeously (or so I think) with a peanut butter ganache. As for the bacon, well…. I’ve never entertained the idea of bacon with anything sweet. Not even maple and bacon pancakes, ever.

I don’t have a repertoire of cake recipes yet, so I rely on the Internet for them. I didn’t consider the idea of a regular banana cake because I did not know if it will handle carving or not.  Hence the idea of a mud cake as such. There seems to be a recipe that’s going around for a White Chocolate and Banana Mud Cake which people seem to like a lot, because it’s moist as well, and so I decided to give it a go. I was apprehensive to try the recipe out, and I sat down with this recipe plus a regular white chocolate mud cake recipe to see if there’s anything that I had to adjust. The noise in my head was loud, with thoughts like:

This cake must be predominantly banana flavoured, white chocolate must not overpower the flavour!

Will the cake rise? How do I adjust the plain flour and self-raising flour compositions?

I cringed, simply because I had never adjusted recipes or created a recipe of my own. But it was an experience to adjust the amounts, and I think the cake turned out to be really moist, with a  great banana flavour that takes a few days to develop. The downside? It ended up with a fairly big dome on top, and I put it down to the self-raising flour, as there was no raising agents added to my batter. The temperature was not a factor, I think, for the dome on the cake as it was at a low-ish temperature of 125 degrees Celcius, fan-forced oven.

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Lovely golden brown, but if only it didn’t rise that much

The peanut butter ganache was less difficult in working out proportions, my aim for this ganache was to ensure that the peanut butter does not affect the integrity of the ganache. The idea of peanut butter ganache first appeared when I came across a Facebook post by Rudy Martinez from Man Bakes Cake where he used Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips. I didn’t have Reese’s and I thought it to be pricey given Reese’s is not readily available in Australia other than American specialty stores. So I made up dark chocolate ganache as how I would make it, then added 100g of peanut butter. I could not taste the peanut butter, so I added another 100g to it and it tasted divine I was happy with the consistency of it at the end – after all, the ganache has to be of “peanut butter consistency” for spreading onto the cake. Get it? Get it?

I am putting my own twist on this mud cake recipe and the peanut butter ganache, and I hope you find the same joy as I did eating making it.  And if you do find a better alteration to the recipe I do hope you will share it with me. Forgive me if I have not provided enough information for my recipes, am happy to help you out whichever way possible!

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Pardon the mess, but as you can see I have the banana + egg + vanilla mixture in the bowl on the left, and the dry ingredients in the right bowl

White Chocolate and Banana Mud Cake (adapted from http://www.bestrecipes.com.au/recipe/white-chocolate-and-banana-mud-cake-L1342.html; source unknown)

250g unsalted butter

250g white chocolate – I use white cooking chocolate from the supermarket

160g water

225g caster sugar

260g plain flour

150g self-raising flour (I used 160g and found that it creates a high dome – reduced the amount so that it is more level)

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

3 large bananas

1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 120 degrees Celcius fan-forced; feel free to use conventional settings but you may want to increase by 20 degrees Celcius.
  2. Melt butter with the water in a saucepan at low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the white chocolate and mix until all the white chocolate has melted. Stir it every now and then to prevent the chocolate from catching at the bottom of the saucepan. Once all the chocolate has melted and well mixed through the mixture, take the pan off the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. Mash bananas, eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl until it has a paste-like consistency.
  4. Add the flours into another separate bowl. Add sugar in and mixed until well combined – this also helps to “sift” the flours, I do not usually sift my flour, but whatever you’re comfortable with.
  5. When the chocolate mixture has cooled a little, add it into the bowl of flour and sugar mixture. Then add the eggs and banana and mix well with a whisk.
  6. Pour into prepared tins and cook for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the tin and the temperature of the oven.
  7. Cake is cooked when the skewer comes out clean and the the top has a springy golden brown colour crust

Peanut Butter Ganache

600g dark chocolate (you may use compound chocolate if you like)

300mL cream (thickened cream is okay in this case)

200g peanut butter

  1. Heat cream in a saucepan until boiling. You will notice the cream will start to bubble up but not to the point that it boils over too!
  2. Let the cream cool a little, then pour over the dark chocolate in a microwaveable bowl. Let the dark chocolate “steep” in the hot cream to ensure it melts.
  3. Using a spatula, mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate has completely melted into the cream. If there are noticeable solid lumps in the ganache, the chocolate has not melted and you may put it back in the microwave for 20 seconds to ensure the chocolate has melted.
  4. Add the peanut butter in at this stage and mix it until well combined. Leave ganache to cool and set overnight before using on the cake.

Note:  If you think the taste of the dark chocolate may be overpowering, feel free to use milk chocolate or white chocolate for a sweeter offering, bearing in mind that you may have to reduce the amount of cream so that the ganache can still set hard – always remember to use the ratio of 2.5:1 of milk chocolate to cream for milk chocolate ganache; and 3:1 of white chocolate to cream for white chocolate, in these cases you may need to use less than one part cream to compensate for the addition of peanut butter.

Or if you can’t be bothered with a cake, why not try out Nigella’s recipe for a real Elvis Presley’s Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich!

Cake Photography Continued

Hi everyone!

I thought I’d take the time to give a shoutout to Louise from Learn Cake Decorating Online  for her handy video on how to photograph your cake with a white background.

In my last photography blog post Through The Lens, I mentioned how some cake decorators photograph their cakes with this white background that makes the cakes have such an ethereal quality to them?

Aside from the fact that the cake looks bloody amazing, the background works so well with this cake!

Rachel from Flower and Fondant – amazing photography, but the cake is so exquisite as well!

Emma from Emma-Lee Cake Design and another beauty of hers – with a white background too

Love it or hate it, there is a place for it in cake photography. Today, Louise posted a blog post with a video explaining how to achieve this shot – and you don’t need a fancy set up to achieve a blowout of the background. And she showcases a beautiful Jemima Puddleduck that will be featured in next month’s tutorial of Learn Cake Decorating Online! Can’t wait for that.

 

I recently did a similar style of photography on a cake, and I had slightly different settings to what was in the video but it looked beautiful too!

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I hope mine is just as pretty! Loving the light that goes through the flowers to give it an almost translucent effect.

To read more about this blog post click here to be amazed by how you can do the same!

Happy photographing your cakes!

Cakeriffic Competition

Once again, I’ve entered a cake competition. But this time, I’m glad that I didn’t have to carry this piece onto a plane and worry about it being destroyed in transit. All I had to do was to transport it into my car and take a forty minute drive to Caulfield Racecourse, where the Cakeriffic expo will be held for the second time, drop my cake and make any last-minute fixes, and head home.

The Cakeriffic Contemporary Cake Decorating Competition for the beginner’s category had a theme of “100 Years of Red Cross”. I instantly shied away from the theme because I had no idea on how to approach the theme. But I warmed up to it and realised that I needed a creative challenge, and so I decided to sign up for the competition, to which they changed the conditions afterwards that it does not have to be true to the theme.

Where do I start?

I needed “Pinspiration” – Pinterest was not of great source to me, in fact I still don’t quite know how to fully utilise Pinterest properly, so any suggestions welcomed! I used Uncle Google to search for images and ideas. The Australian Red Cross had a website celebrating their centenary, and it provided a history of their past achievements since World War I. After a few hours and weeks of browsing through, I have my mood board if you would call it that!

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My mood board, or inspiration board. I loved this!

And the result? Ta-daa!

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The Four Walls of Red Cross History

The Australian Red Cross has so much to tell over the last 100 years that I wanted to include as much as I can. I knew immediately that I could not possibly achieve it with a round cake, and a square cake would allow me to provide me with more surface area to work with.

As if four inches of height isn’t a nightmare to cover for a square cake usually, I opted for an eight inch tall cake, which made matters worse. As a general rule for covering cakes with fondant, you would roll out fondant to the exact width and length of the cake so you know you have enough covering the whole cake. In this case, I was very extremely  silly enough to bother trying when I knew it would have been a monumental task and the fondant will rip. And it did, twice. I ended up cursing in my head, having a oh-my-god-why-did-I-even-think-of-doing-such-an-impossible-task moment. With minimal resistance, I covered the cake with fondant panels where I cover the cakes with panels cut to size. Much easier, less stressful, and I get my sharp edges.

I wanted two side panels of the cake to have lettering. One of them would be titled 100 years of the Australian Red Cross, and the other opposite side of the cake would have the seven principles that Red Cross operates by. If I thought Clixstix alphabet cutters were a nightmare, I have yet to meet my worst enemy.  I had trouble with my new FMM Tappit alphabet cutters because I broke off the letter “n” from the strip (my brute force did not help at all!), and that meant trying to get “n” out was not easy. And it’s not even a week old!!! I could not use “u” and have invert it because it didn’t look right.  But I’ve come to learn that the fondant must be rolled out thinly, and when I mean thin, I mean reeeeeeeeaaal thin. And the acupuncture needle is your best friend. Next was to attach the letters onto the cake which meant that I had to make sure they are arranged on a straight line. In doing so, a lot of masking tape was used and rulers were used.

As for the other two, I changed a lot of the design over the weeks. As much as I wanted to use the airbrush to draw and create a lot of designs, I chose to have more words, but hand-painted onto the cake to give it a more organic look. I included a few other decorative themes like the First Aid Kit logo, the blood shaped like a tear drop for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, and the membership pin that was once used for the recruitment of new members in the 50’s I believe. One panel was to document the first 50 years of Red Cross, and the opposite panel was the 50 years thereafter.

To tie all the panels together, I found this design by Anthony Grima, from Anthony Grima Designs who came up with this really modern and graphic design as part of Red Cross’s Workplace Giving Program. I loved the idea of leaves on branches intertwined to form a network, which I thought would work well in connecting all the panels together. I drew inspiration with the colour scheme,  and some leaves were painted.

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As for the toppers? That was from a photo of volunteers who formed a giant red cross and red crescent at the Sydney Opera House – grand idea, and I replaced it with little blossoms instead. The effect came out beautiful, but I would have attached the blossoms before they became rock hard in hindsight.

Lastly, what cake will be without a teddy bear? This teddy bear was based on Trauma Teddies that I learned were given to little kiddies during traumatic events, and I had a colleague bring a collection of her children’s teddies for me to look at. This was made based on one of them, and would you imagine that a teddy bear should be the easiest to execute – uh uh. I struggled trying to make it cute. But I do think my little bear is very cute too, do you agree?

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Trauma Teddy – “cute” version

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Trauma Teddy – the real, Red Cross-endorsed version

It was such a journey and it made me appreciate all the hard work and effort the Red Cross has brought to this country. And I had a drive to capture all that history onto a cake as such, I hope everyone liked it at the show. And I hope the Australian Red Cross notices this cake too!

Through The Lens

I had the urge to write about this post, simply because I wanted to share my experiences being a cake decorator. I have learned not only do I decorate cakes so that it looks beautiful and a masterpiece, but how do I capture it through a camera lens so that it looks beautiful and desirable, and for potential customers. It has been a big learning curve so far, looking at my photos when I first started and what I could produce now.

When I started Van Goh Cakes, I had my trusty little Canon G1X. I have been eyeing a DSLR camera prior to, but did not have the confidence to commit to it without the skills. During my fairly poor attempt in researching for a camera that a friend of mine, Adam, suggested I get the Canon G1X. The camera served me well for my personal use, and produced SLR-like quality photos which I really like (thanks Adam!). My earlier photos demonstrated little skills and comprehensive understanding of photography.

It was only after introduced to a course with Frank Selmo from How to Photograph Your Cake, that I learned the basics of photography. Aperture, ISO, shutter speed soon became common lingo when I started taking photos. I was now more confident in using the manual settings on my Canon and experimented more with differing settings.

Now, I do find that the Canon has limitations – as much as it “does the job”, it does not do a lot of close up shots perfectly – I often find myself using the macro settings a lot, especially with cakes where there are a lot of fine and little details that I would like the camera to capture. So now, I have a new camera (love my gadgets!), presenting to you my uber cool Nikon D5300! I must admit this time around I did not do any research, went to JB Hifi and had it purchased with the help of Adam again – feels good to have a friend who is camera and photography savvy! Since then, I have found the photos to be uber beautiful, and it focuses on the details that I want yay!

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My new baby!

 

I guess I really need to learn more about showcasing a cake. I love cake studios that provides such beautiful shots of their cakes…. Let me find you some examples:

1. Faye Cahill from Faye Cahill Cake Designs – her cakes speaks volumes as it is without needing an elaborate backdrop/setting. All it needs is a neutral background, and some awesome cake stands!

 

 

2. Kara from Kara’s Couture Cakes – she wrote a blog post about the importance of photography herself, and has demonstrated different backgrounds for her beautiful creations. To read the blog post, it’s titled Photographing Your Cakes To Look Awesome

3. Lori from The Caketress – what I love about her cakes is that they are paired with almost editorial/Vogue-ish shots in such great settings. And she looks so haute couture herself too that the pairing is just perfect.

4. Emma-Lee from Emma-Lee Cake Designs – I learned a photography tip from her through the Australian Cake Decorating Network forum, and I noticed it has been a growing trend of taking photos of the cake with a luminescent background, it has such an ethereal quality about it 🙂

5. Brenda from Sugar High Inc. – Her figurines and cakes look beautiful, because she has such great backdrops (which by the way, are for sale) that goes so well with them. Some other amazing cake decorators have featured her backdrops on their portfolio too.

 

I tried a few techniques of my own in the last year, some produce mediocre results, and some just fell absolutely flat. Reason?
1. Natural lighting is just waaaay too important for a good photo. Taking photos of a cake in the dark is just not worth the effort whatsoever.
2. The little unit I live in has absolutely no beautiful corner where I could take organic and beautiful shots of the cake in a setting, but I am aiming to work on that. Eventually.

So any suggestions would be helpful, pop over to my Facebook page, have a good look at my photos (but not too close, ok?) and see what would you suggest. With cake comes happiness, so eat lots of it!

Do You Mahjong?

For the biggest part of my childhood life, mahjong was a weekly social event for my family. It usually involves a session after lunch, that may stretch into the night, interspersed with dinner with my grandmother, my aunt’s family, and my own family. My brother picked it up at quite a young age, and I, got dragged into learning it too soon after. He always had a good eye for tiles, and would often win games between my cousin and I.

For my brother’s birthday this year, I thought this may be a great source of inspiration for his birthday cake. I immediately knew that the colour of the back of the mahjong tiles had to be gold, to remind him of the mahjong set that he has not played with since my aunt purchased for him in Hong Kong and is in my mum’s possession in Malaysia. To start, I struggled to find what would be the best way to create a replica of the mahjong tiles. And then I realized that the only way to do so is to make a mould of each of the mahjong tiles, and to do so I remembered watching Verusca Walker’s tutorial on Learn Cake Decorating Online on how to make molds – done!

I did not follow all the steps on making the mold, because heaven forbids, if anything happened to the real mahjong tiles that I had, I’d be in a lot of trouble with my family! I am sure some families keep mahjong sets as somewhat of an heirloom, and I did my best in avoiding any damages made to the set that I had. So instead of forcing the whole tile into a blob of unused fondant, I rolled out fondant “tiles” enough to grab hold of the indents and detail on each character, and I let them harden up. Once they become firm to use, I can then make an impression on the cut-up mahjong tiles. Oh wait, I just made impression moulds!

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My impression moulds! Notice the detail left on them 🙂

The mahjong tiles were made with white fondant with CMC powder so that it hardens faster. I eyeballed when I was cutting them into individual tiles, ending up in tiles of different sizes – should have followed the exact dimensions and carefully measured them, dang it! Mahjong tiles, I have come to learn over the years, come in different thicknesses depending on how the owner likes to hold it in his or her hands. Mine were fairly thick for this cake project, which gives it plenty of room to paint on the colour at the back of the fondant tiles. Once they have been cut into individual tiles, I pressed the impression moulds firmly onto each tile so that it leaves the imprint that I need to paint on later. And all there is to it is to use gel colours watered down with vodka to paint in the indentations left behind by the molds to create the characters. Do they look alike to you?

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Can you tell them apart?

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They look like the real mahjong tiles, I think

I placed a birthday message on the cake with more confidence this time, with a big thank you to Karen from Lick The Bowl, who showcased a quick video tutorial on how to use Tappits and how to arrange lettering on a cake. I found it to be very useful and it definitely saved me a lot of time, so thank you to the Australian Cake Decorating Network for organizing it!

After I had the cake, and later on the tiles and the birthday message, I thought it lacked something. It needed a burst of colour, and it occurred to me that “real” mahjong games need chips for it to feel that you’re playing. Without further ado, I went on to cut fondant “chips” – probably the easiest part of making the cake. The different colours denote different denominations when playing, and I had the chips marked with an indentation and painted gold. All that’s left was to assemble the components on the cake, and it was ready!

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“Chips” were made to give the cake a burst of colours

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Colourful!

Cakes like these are meant to impress and evoke memories, and my brother was impressed with it, I hope. And I hope that you may find some techniques useful in this blog post.

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Who Am I?

I intended to write a blurb a few months ago, introducing myself and how Van Goh Cakes came about on this blog but never got around to it. And for the fear that I might sound narcissistic. It was not until I was approached by Rolaine from the Australian Cake Decorating Network this week who wanted to feature me in their June newsletter to their members that I almost hyperventilated in excitement. The deadline given was a Friday; it was a Wednesday when I was asked, I pondered on how do I showcase myself, my love for cake decorating, and the business and not sound dreary and boring at the same time?

So allow me to reintroduce myself and Van Goh Cakes with this blurb that I wrote for the newsletter:

“By stroke of luck, cake decorating found me – a dear friend casually asked me to make her wedding cake a couple of years ago, and I freaked out. I had no idea how to decorate a cake, and set the silly idea aside. Few months after, I was introduced to Buddy from Cake Boss by my boss at work. As I watched episode after episode, I was hooked more and more. The idea of cake decorating intrigued me, so I took the plunge and signed up for a Wilton course in 2013. Since then, the art of cake decorating drew me in, I bought more books, tools and ingredients, wanting to create more. My creative juices flowed with the endless possibilities I could make with buttercream, with later introduction to ganache and fondant.

Friends and family suggested I should consider selling cakes professionally, and after enrolling a course with Louise Vansleve on Start Your Cake Business, Van Goh Cakes was born in August 2013. I picked Van Goh Cakes because of how my name Vincent Goh often rhymes with the great Van Gogh, and quoting a friend, “every mouthful is a work of art”.

I did not make my friend’s cake because it was too risky to bring a wedding cake all the way to Hong Kong, but I am blessed to have made some amazing cakes so far. I hope to gain more skills, and hopefully open my own cake studio one day.”

Thank you once again to the Australian Cake Decorating Network for allowing me to have my little segment of fame, I was pleased with myself when I saw it in the email tonight 🙂

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What’s your flava?

Do you have a recollection of the best cake you ever ate?

And if you do, what flavour was it?

In my cake business, it is an ernest pursuit to discover new flavours for cakes for clients. What flavours go well with the cake and the pairing buttercream or ganache. Because it leaves the long-lasting impression of how the cake tasted at the birthday or the wedding that people will remember.

My latest discovery would be lemon curd. I have only ever tasted lemon curd in desserts, but never knew to put it in  a cake. Which was why I decided I needed to try it to experience the flavour, after noticing some cake business offer lemon curd as a filling in cakes. I happened to have a dessert at a restaurant not too long ago, and the lemon curd in the dessert proved to be a citrus-y hit. The lemon tang is obvious, but what a velvety and smooth feel it has on the palate.

Naturally, I had to research and try making my own lemon curd. The best reference I had was from Stephanie Jaworski Joy of Baking. And the recipe is so simple – sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, and butter. I did a double batch of this because I didn’t think it’ll be enough for cake. I made a batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream/SMBC (as I have shared in my previous blog) with 5 egg whites (it wasn’t enough, you’ll see why), and Lord what a joy to make SMBC during the cooler climates now in Melbourne. I had some leftover cake in the freezer (wonder how it got in there?) and let my not-so pretty shows you how I went 🙂

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Filling and torting each layer. I pretty much piped a string of buttercream around the rim of each cake layer, then filled the middle with lemon curd. I thought it was a good idea to pipe more buttercream on top of the lemon curd, not regretting it now 😛

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Lemon curd should not ooze out, I got a little overzealous in adding lemon curd and buttercream! Whoopsies!

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The finished cake – please note this was for personal consumption, NOT for an order! I didn’t have enough SMBC as you can see, it’s lacking in some areas, otherwise I would have had more to cover the cake. Not the most visually exciting cake one would have seen but it’s a test cake so 🙂

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My slice – it was too good that I had to have it for breakfast! I know I’m guilty for that, uh huh Drool with the oozing lemon curd from the cake yum!

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Cross section of the cake. I told you it wasn’t pretty!

The cake was an indulgent treat – the vanilla cake provided sweetness, the SMBC offered mild sweetness and buttery goodness, and the lemon curd offsets the overall sweetness. I could not help myself to second servings (granted that I haven’t eaten a lot of cakes since Van Goh Cakes, yes!) and this would be a great idea for an afternoon tea delight. Sadly, the lemon curd keeps for a week, so the cake has a much shorter shelf life. But if it tastes soooooooo good, I don’t think that it’ll be a problem!

I’ve added a video from Joy of Baking, with adapted methods from the website. Hope you’ll give it a go, or if you’re not up for it, my cakes can be made to have lemon curd. Enjoy!

Lemon Curd Recipe (from Joy of Baking)

      • 6 large eggs
      • 300g caster sugar
      • 160ml fresh lemon juice (I used 6 lemons)
      • 120g unsalted butter, room temperature
      • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  1. Make sure lemons are kept at room temperature so that they provide more juice. I have them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.
  2. Grate the zest of the 6 lemons using a fine grater.
  3. In a stainless steel bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and lemon juice until well mixed. I did it a little differently to Joy of Baking’s instructions and placed the lemon juice in the mixture at this stage.
  4. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (or reaches 160 degrees F or 70 degrees C).
  5. Remove the bowl from heat and pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps – you will notice there is a lot of solid residues from cooked egg that you don’t want in your lemon curd at the end 🙂
  6. Cut the butter into small pieces and stir into the strained mixture until the butter has melted.
  7. Let it cool, and the lemon curd will thicken as it goes.
  8. Cover the surface of the lemon curd with Glad Wrap and refrigerate.

 

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Can’t wait to dig in!

It’s Just Butter and Sugar!

Buttercream – one’s joy when eating cakes. When you eat cakes, you want to have an awesome, sickly sweet frosting, that goes oh so well with the cake its adorned in. One of my earlier pursuits in cake decorating was to do with making buttercream because not only did I want to learn how to pipe with them, but also to make them taste great at the same time.

I remember my earlier years as a young child when I’d look forward to my birthday cakes because mum would buy me a cake with beautifully piped frosting on the cake – at that time, I had no idea what type of buttercream it was. But it was oh so memorable, sadly I don’t think I have photos of it. When mum bakes cakes to eat at home, it often is just the cake and there’s no frosting/buttercream to it, because she believes the icing takes away the true flavour of the cake. Plus the fact that it is very sweet too which she is not a fan of.

When I started making cakes with buttercream, the one frosting that I usually made was the American-style buttercream that is often piped onto cupcakes, and some cakes. I only learned it’s known as the American buttercream recently as well, because I was soon to find out there’s other styles of buttercream as well 🙂

I found this buttercream to be sickly sweet, that sometimes I feel the sugar has seeped into my teeth and “rotted my teeth from the inside”. I also noticed many people would scrape it off (I had a lot of health conscious people around me in my lifetime, haha!) because they could not have it too sweet. The same applied to the cakes that I made when I did my course with Wilton. Not only did the buttercream had oodles of sweet offerings, but it also left with a greasy mouthfeel that I often disliked with this buttercream.

The American buttercream with vegetable shortening in place of butter had the advantage of sustaining warmer weathers and you won’t have a cake that’s “melting”, and you could get creative with piping as the vegetable shortening has a higher melting point and so it doesn’t melt in the piping bag as you laboriously embellish it with scrolls and leaf patterns. But it did not excite me as much as with butter-based buttercreams, and by popular demand, I’ve ditched it!

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Shortening-based buttercreams do take colours well and stands up in the heat – but I’m not a big fan of its taste, adding butter flavour makes it taste very chemical-ish and loses the authenticity real buttercream offers gluttons like me!

My biggest shortcomings with buttercream is that I could never achieve the right colour when I want to decorate them. Butter is after all yellow, and so there is always the yellow tint that we have to deal with. Tried buttercream recipes that uses 50/50 of shortening and buttercream, to no success.

It was not until when I tried cupcakes from The Joy Cupcakes did I feel a revelation was coming. The buttercream piped onto the cupcakes was smooth, buttery and not too sweet, which was what I wanted. And hence the quest started in searching for a recipe for this buttercream. After several searches on the Internet, I was racking my brains and finally came across Rosie’s blog called Sweetapolita that introduced me to that long-dreamed for buttercream: Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

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Whipping meringue – it may be the most relaxing part of the process, but gosh it makes the loudest noise in the house at high speed!

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My first experiment with SMBC! How does it look?

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a matter of whipping up a meringue, and adding butter to it to create this buttery and velvety buttercream. It has a smoother mouthfeel because the sugar is dissolved into the egg whites, and hence it’s not granular. Since that blog, and following that recipe and Martha Stewart’s recipe, I wanted to come up with a recipe that I can remember; I’m bad at remembering recipes, and I don’t have family recipes to follow, so I had to come up with a formula. Now, I have a foolproof formula: one part egg whites, two parts sugar (I use granulated sugar, you could always use caster sugar), and two parts butter. You could use more butter to have a more beautiful and luscious buttercream, but that will also mean it’ll be prone to melting due to butter’s lower melting point.

I have adapted Sweetapolita’s recipe and I will make notes on what I found useful

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Egg Whites from 5 eggs – they usually weigh approximately 30g, so it will be about 150g
300g granulated sugar
300g unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons (10ml) vanilla extract

1. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease – I personally haven’t had issues when I skipped this step, but please do feel free to do so if you feel more comfortable doing so
2. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F/70°C, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot (or when the mixture does not feel granular in your hands)
3. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so – if it’s still not cool, stop whipping and let it cool down at room temperature). Don’t add the butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
3. Switch over to paddle attachment (I left the whisk attachment on with no problems) and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth).
-If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.

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Adding vanilla extract, and it’s almost there! Yummmmmmm

I hope you haven’t fell asleep reading this post, I hope you’ve found this post useful and I shall write more about it next time!

My First Wedding Cake Project

Since I’ve started Van Goh Cakes, the vision of my cake business would range widely from birthday cakes, up to wedding cakes. I like the idea of wedding cakes, not only because you get this sense of bewilderment and excitement from the designs you see on magazines and photos look beautiful – flowers, piping, stenciling yadda yadda yadda, but it is also the centre piece of most wedding receptions. Recently, I find that most weddings do not hold wedding cakes as the highlight of the wedding, but merely a sweet treat after a nice meal at the reception. What are your thoughts? Do contemporary cakes make a statement as much as it used to back in the day?

I was very excited when I was approached to have a cake for a wedding in April. I could not contain my excitement when I secured the order with Sue. She was recommended to me by an ex-colleague which goes to show the power of word of mouth advertising. The best part of this order was she gave me free reign on the design of the cake. Her brief to me was to provide the colours purple, cream, ivory and gold. Going by the photos of cakes she gave me, I had a better idea of incorporating those colours and gave her my pitch – gold little blossoms on a ivory cake, with a purple ribbon. She said good to go, and so I went to execute my idea.

Most of the time I have a reference and I would have an idea of a cake in my head. I should draw them out, but I’m no good at drawing. I used to love drawing when I was younger, but I never really honed on it. Now, here I am struggling in my late 20s trying to draw a proper shape of a cake haha.

Anyway, just to illustrate how I went about with the cake, I started off making little blossoms for the cake as I would know that would be the most time-consuming process of getting this cake done. I rolled out gumpaste in the pasta machine, up to number three so it’s thin enough. I then use my little blossoms ejectors to pump out those little blossoms in different sizes. Once they’re done, I left them to dry out for a day so that it hardens up before I added gold luster dust to them.

As the next two days went, the Melbourne weather decided that we needed humidity, and my oh my, was it the most painful thing ever! My little blossoms were soft to touch, some even “wilting” from the moisture in the air. Painting them individually was a difficult chore as it is because they were not only small and hard to manipulate with my fingers, but also they were going soft in my hands. I persevered, and I got there in the end.

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White to gold… they look beautiful in all shades of gold

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Blossoms waiting to dry

There has been many misconceptions of using gold luster dust on cake creations – whilst many would deem it is inedible, the matter of fact is they are usually labelled non-toxic. There are a few brands out there that are not suitable for eating, and in this case I picked the two brands that would not be a problem if ingested – Caroline’s and Rolkem. Sue wanted a few shades of gold and I was more than happy to offer the gold dusts that I had!

My inventory of gold dusts

My inventory of gold dusts

While the flowers were drying, I had my yummy white chocolate mud cake baked. White chocolate ganache was made, cake was layered and filled with ganache the next day, and then covered with ivory-coloured fondant . For those who are reading and would like to know what cake decorators do, humidity and cake decorating do not go hand in hand! The weather that week was making the fondant become sticky, so covering the cake and smoothing was taking longer than it should. But I got there in the end, most excitingly I was happy to have achieved the sharp edges on the cake in this humidity that I did a little dance (LOL).

Ivory coloured fondant

Ivory coloured fondant

Love it when I reach this stage!

Love it when I reach this stage!

Next step was to add the gold blossoms and the purple ribbons. The gold blossoms were arranged and stuck on with edible glue, and I made little centres on them with some royal icing. Some of the bigger blossoms had pearl dragees instead. I was trying out different shades of purple ribbon on the cake, when Miss Lynn mentioned that the ribbon was too narrow (it was 10mm wide). Oops. My next instinct was to put two ribbons together and wrapped around the cake, and what happened next was a stroke of genius. What amazed me was the two ribbons of different tones worked so well together! So I asked Sue on her opinion and she left it to me, and so I proceeded with sticking them on. Finally, it’s all done!

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Cake all finished – now for the fancy photography 🙂

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I’m still learning my lighting – the backdrop didn’t work for this picture, and so I opted for something else…

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Aha! Looks better now!

I’m pleased that Sue enjoyed it, but most of all she and her guests loved the flavour of the cake. Thank you again Sue for letting me have a professional shot of the cake at the venue with thanks to Blastoff Photography (which was my first, yiiippppeeeee!). I look forward to my second wedding cake, which I’ll share my story later on 🙂

 

Thank you Blastoff Photography!

Humble Beginnings

*Sniff*…

I’m recovering from a sinus infection at the moment, the body is getting feverish every now and then, but thank goodness I’m getting the opportunity to rest and recover, and hopefully I’m better by next week. I haven’t done anything useful today, so I thought I’d share with you a little about the beginnings of my cake decorating journey.

My closest friends and family knows that I love baking cakes. But the one thing that never crossed my mind was to decorate them – back then, I hardly ever have frosting on my cakes because it was deemed too sweet. It was only with the introduction of Buddy Valastro, The Cake Boss, that I started to watch his work and have a slow appreciation for cake decorating. It was also then that I started to develop a keen interest on it.

After much thought, and also with the pressure from my dear friend who mentioned that I should make her wedding cake, it was then I decided that I should start learning how to decorate cakes. Who would have thought this hobby would have become what it is today. So, I signed up for the Wilton Cake Decorating classes with a cake shop in Somerville called Crafty Cakes.

My first course was an eye-opener – little did I realize there was so much to cake decorating. But most of all, all the gadgets and nifty tools you get for making cakes would keep you in a shop all day (and buying the whole shop too!). Sue, the Wilton instructor, was such a patient and pleasant lady showing us how to colour buttercream, make buttercream, putting it on a cake, and simple decorations using different piping tips etc.

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Week 1: Learning how to use a piping bag, and trying to learn pressure control. Smile!

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Week 2: We had to bake our own cake, then bring it to the class to be torted, covered, and then we choose what we wanna do with the colours. I chose the cupcake design, but also tried piping with mixed colours in the bag. Not the best colour combo!

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Week 3: Learning how to pipe different designs on cupcakes, quite a lengthy process but glad this is what I came up with. Still not happy with my colours, in my defence I had limited colours to play with 😦

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Week 4: Finally! My final piece. We could either follow the designs in the book or go freestyle. I kinda went freestyle, especially with the colours. Aren’t they lovely?

 

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Notice the glitter on the Wilton roses? Yeah I did that!

It has been a year since I finished this course, and still there’s so much to learn. I had so much fun experimenting with colours and just tapping into my creative side. Reflecting on the course, I admit that the one thing since and still is my pursuit is to perfect the best buttercream for piping. As much as American buttercream (which is simply vegetable shortening, icing sugar/powdered sugar, vanilla extract, bit of water/milk to adjust the stiffness buttercream) is heat stable and perfect to work with because it takes on any colour, my friends have commented on the flavour of the buttercream with vegetable shortening in it. It’s not the most palatable buttercream as it leaves an unpleasant mouthfeel as well, personally speaking. Since then, I have discovered a different type of buttercream. But I’ll keep that conversation for next time 🙂