Baking

Valentine’s Day Mini Cake #3: From Russia with Love

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Ah, Russian piping tips. One of those things that’s supposed to make your life easier, but takes some getting used to. In my opinion anyway. They’ve been everywhere for a while now, and I’ve actually been gifted a set. Twice. By the same person. That’s how long it was in between. I tried using the first set once about a couple of years ago. The tips came with a note that mentioned a website with a recipe for an American buttercream that was supposed to be the appropriate stiffness. That was the key, from what I had read. You needed to have a very stiff buttercream in order for the tips to work. So I used the recommended recipe, tried to pipe some flowers, and got just some big blobs of frosting. They were shapeless. I tried adding more powdered sugar to the frosting. Still nothing. I chilled the piping bag in the fridge, and I was finally able to get some kind of shape out of it, but it still wasn’t looking right, so I gave up on them, and just left the flowers off that cake.

I stayed away from the Russian piping tips after that. There were so many other avenues to venture down with cake decorating, so many new techniques or things I hadn’t tried, I just didn’t feel the need to revisit that chapter of my life. Until this Christmas, when my mother gave me another set of Russian piping tips. I thought about trying my hand at the snowflake tips that came with the set, but then I saw a cake from the White Flower Cake Shoppe where they had covered the entire cake in flowers piped with a Russian piping tip, and then added bigger flowers on the top and around the base. You can check out that cake here. It was beautiful, and a more interesting way to use the tips than I had been seeing elsewhere. I was gearing up to make this series of mini cakes, and I thought it would be a cute and effective way to decorate one of them.

My original plan was to pipe some roses and maybe some mums ahead of time, and then transfer them onto the cake. I don’t really know how to pipe buttercream flowers. I don’t have any experience with it, unless you count rosettes, or my previous attempt with the Russian tips, which I don’t. The main reason for my lack of knowledge is a lack of interest. I’m usually trying to think outside the box when it comes to cake decorating. Don’t get me wrong. Buttercream flowers are beautiful, and I’ve seen some really original designs using them, it’s just not something I’ve had the desire to try. However, I interviewed for a cake decorating position last month and they of course asked me to pipe flowers and write something on a cake (which is another thing I haven’t done much of). Since that experience, I’ve realized that if I do decide I want to pursue a job as a cake decorator in someone else’s business, I’m going to need to get over myself and learn the basics. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my first mini cake post, I was struggling to get all four cakes done. In the end I decided, in the interest of time, and my sanity, to just do one large flower on top.

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But first, I needed to master the art of the Russian piping tips. I went with a different American buttercream recipe this time. I started with the Life, Love and Sugar Vanilla Buttercream, but used much less liquid to make sure it would be stiff. This recipe uses half shortening, half butter, which I thought would be helpful in making a more stable buttercream. I actually used the Russian tips on a different mini cake first, with an even stiffer buttercream (more sugar, less liquid) but realized some of the flowers didn’t want to adhere, and there was some tearing at the edges, so I made this buttercream a bit smoother by using less powered sugar and slightly more liquid. That worked much much better. But, it still took A LOT of practice to get the hang of, and even once I felt like I had it down, I still had a lot of mistakes that needed to be scraped off and redone. The biggest issue was that sometimes the middle of the flower didn’t adhere to the crumb coat, so I’d end up with a flower with a hole in the middle. The other problem was that my hand would start to warm up the frosting in the bag and my flowers would start to lose  definition. When that happened I’d have to stick the piping  bag in the fridge for ten minutes or so, take a break, and then start up again. I started by doing one full round around the base of the cake. Then did another round above that, placing the second round of flowers slightly off from the bottom row so that they nestled in between the flowers below them. I repeated the whole way up until I reached the top. Then I did one round right on the edge, and then filled in the top. Even with the need to stop and start to let the frosting chill, the whole process didn’t take too long, and I think the effect is very pretty. My only other note is that I wish I had done a second coat of frosting over the whole cake because you can see cake through the flowers in some places.

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The last step was for me to pipe my one big flower on top. I had a piping tip in my set of Russian tips that looked similar to the one White Flower Cake Shoppe sells to recreate their signature flowers. They also offer a class on how to pipe those flowers. I have not taken that class. What I learned from this experience is that I need to. LOL. Something I thought would be simple was anything but. For starters, I had no idea about the placement of the petals, and I sort of just went in there and started piping willy nilly. I also had trouble with the petals just falling over. The buttercream that had worked so well for the other tip, did not seem right for this petal tip. In a panic, I just kept adding petals and hoped they’d look ruffly, sort of like a peony. Any of the petals that had fallen over, I gently lifted with a knife, and flipped back up onto the other petals. Then I used a grass tip and a bit of yellow frosting to pipe a center into the flower. I added some leaves around the flower and decided to call it a day.

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Overall, I think it came out okay. I’m not thrilled with it, but as with anything, I’m sure there’s a learning curve. What’s important is it was delicious! I didn’t eat this one, but I’ve had the cake and frosting before and it got rave reviews from those who did get to eat it. The cake was the Liv for Cake vanilla cake that has become my go to vanilla cake. I filled it with the Cake Paper Party Swiss meringue buttercream (also a staple), and some store-bought (blasphemy!) raspberry jam. I’m not making my own jam, people. 😉

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