Baking, cake decorating

Fanciful Forest Fun

The image of a forest always has a sense of wonderment attached to it. Countless stories from fairy tales to great literary works are set in the woods because of the magic there. It’s a place that can be both delightful and spooky, and I wanted to bring a little bit of each of those elements to my woodland cakescape.

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I used a recipe from The Scran Line for the cake roll, brushed it with Amoretti toasted marshmallow syrup, and filled it with a Ding Dong Cake filling (ermine buttercream). Then I started out by trying to make a wood grain buttercream wrap using a wood grain painter’s tool. I have done this successfully before, but for some reason this time the wood grain just didn’t show through. So after wrapping the cake, I used a clay carving tool to carve some wood grain lines in, let it firm up in the fridge, and then filled in with the darker brown buttercream. Then I just scrape, scrape, scraped until the grain showed through. Problem solved.

My rocks are hunks of cake carved into rock-like shapes and coated with gray buttercream. After they firmed up in the fridge, I lightly dabbed on some white and black edible paint to give them more dimension.

The little red mushrooms are also from The Scran Line and are just piped buttercream frozen and then pieced together. I painted mine with a mixture of petal dust and vodka, instead of using red buttercream.

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Of course this is where things went sideways because, as always, I got too caught up in what I was doing and forgot to keep taking progress pictures, so you’ll have to accept my descriptions only. I cut blades of grass from wafer paper and painted them front and back with vodka and gel color, and set them aside to dry. I crumbled up chocolate cake scraps from my rock carving to make dirt. And I microwaved some cake batter dyed green to make moss. I assembled this all on my cake board, and then melted some isomalt to make my spider webs.

For the spider webs, I draped a SilPat over a roll of paper towel to create a downward curve, then I stuck a butter knife in my melted isomalt and used it to drizzle the isomalt onto the SilPat, first in vertical lines, and then horizontally across my vertical lines to make a web. After the webs cooled I had to carefully peel them up and gently break off the gloopy bits. Then I arranged them on the cake.

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The spider is make out of sprinkles, a trick I learned from my friend Charra, @charrajf. It took a bit of time and patience, but I managed to get the sprinkles in place without too much swearing. My attempt at a sprinkle dragon fly was a bit easier, but not quite as effective. I gave him some isomalt wings. I also took a few isomalt drips and placed them on the mushrooms for a dew drop look, and scattered some chocolate rocks around my forest floor.

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So that, my friends, is the story of my little woodland cakescape. Let me know what you think or if you have any questions. Also accepting short short stories on what this spider and dragon fly are up to.

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Baking

Sweetie Pie Honey Bunch

I’m one of those crazy people who have a million different nicknames for their pets, and rarely ever use their actual names. I’ve always been that way with pets. Currently I call my dog Watson things like Baba Booey, Pikachu, and Sweetie P. So when I was trying to think of something clever to do with the tiny little strawberry jelly cookies I picked up at Aldi’s, of course my mind jumped to turning them into little heart shaped pies and using them to spell out my love for my pooch.

This was a super quick but terribly fun little cake to decorate. First, I spatula-ed on some pink and white buttercream, and smoothed it out with my Cake Safe, The Quad, scraper, to give it a soft, watercolor effect. Then I spread some white and pink lines of buttercream next to each other on a piece of cling wrap, rolled it up, and stuck it in a piping bag. Using a 6B tip, I piped a border around the cake top, and chilled the whole thing overnight.

The next day, I used a 4 tip and some tan buttercream to pipe diagonal lines onto my cookies to make a lattice top for my “pies.” I set those aside and used my set of small alphabet cookie cutters to gently press each letter of the word ‘sweetie’ into my buttercream. I pressed just firmly enough to leave the outline of each letter behind. Then I used a carving tool to carve out a slight indentation through the whole of each letter.

Once my letters were done, I used my Cake Katana to fill in each letter with sprinkles. This sprinkle mix was from a mystery bag from Fancy Sprinkles, so it did not come with a name. I didn’t want the whole cake to be pastel, so I appreciated the bright pops of color in this mix.

Then I grabbed my “pies,” slapped one on the front and a pile on top, and bing, bang, boom…it was done. I have a hard time appreciating simplicity in my own work. Not that this is by any means simplistic, but it’s definitely less involved and complicated than most of my cakes these days. Finding my cake identity is still a struggle for me. Can I be both complicatedly intricate and more pared down? Is that duality allowed in the cake world? And if it is, do I even want to play both sides? Deep thoughts spurred on by this little sweetie.

Let me know in the comments which you enjoy seeing and reading about more!

Baking

Dance Party!

So a few weeks ago my friend invited me to a dance party she said she was holding in a space at her church. She was planning to play Just Dance videos and have everyone at the party dance along. Of course I said yes, and offered to bring a cake. What I didn’t do, was ask any follow up questions, so when I arrived at the church and followed the loud music, I was a little surprised to walk into a darkened room with a few older chaperones sitting in the back and a pack of children and teenagers dancing along to a worship song. Apparently what my friend hadn’t told me, was that this dance party was for the youth group she helps out with.

After my initial surprise (and my thought that I had accidentally stumbled into some kind of youth program practice), the Just Dance videos started up again, and I joined in the fun, with a little help from my inhaler. And then, we got to eat cake! A delicious Slutty Brownie Cake to be exact. Of course, given the nature of this Dance Party, I neglected to tell the guests the name of the cake, but they all seemed to enjoy it at any rate. Four layers of delicious chocolate cake, with chocolate fudge sauce, chocolate chip cookie dough frosting, and cookies and cream buttercream filling, covered in a salted caramel condensed milk buttercream that is absolute heaven. This cake was inspired by my go-to last minute snack recipe, Slutty Brownies, a recipe I originally came across on The Londoner. One layer of cookie dough, one layer of Oreos, and one layer of brownie batter baked until still a bit gooey inside. It is the ultimate indulgence and one I felt compelled to turn into a cake. Both the original Slutty Brownies and the Slutty Brownie Cake are total crowd pleasers. There is no caramel in the original Slutty Brownies, but I wanted to add a little something extra to really put the cake over the top, and the salted caramel condensed milk buttercream really did the trick.

The design inspiration was from Killa Cakes. Whenever I see their brightly colored cakes I think “dance party.” This is also a great design for when you want something a bit less challenging. Just pick a few colors and a few different piping tips and have at it. I used leftover buttercream from the freezer that was already colored, so it was extra easy for me. The shards are made from candy melts that I melted down, spread on aluminum foil, and then cut with a sharp knife. And then I threw on (quite literally) some Bakery Bling Sugar Glitter and some silver Wilton sanding sugar for sparkle. Pretty simple and pretty delicious if I do say so myself.

Recipes used:

American Mud Cake by Cake Paper Party

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting by Two Sisters Crafting

Chocolate Sauce from Momofuku Milk Bar

Caramel Condensed Milk Buttercream from Cupcake Savvy’s Kitchen

Cookies and cream buttercream was a random leftover American buttercream from the freezer with crushed Oreos and a tablespoon of black cocoa powder mixed in for added Oreo flavor.

Baking

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

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Well here they are after many trials and tribulations: my Baby Shark themed cake pops (by the way, I am never getting that song out of my head). I actually struggled with whether or not to even do a write up on these because I felt like I was so far out of my element, but I finally decided  I might as well.

I have never made cake pops before, but for some reason I thought, of course I can make shaped, detailed cake pops replicating a popular children’s animated video having never even made basic cake pops before. I don’t know if it’s a good trait or a bad one, but I have a habit of just assuming I’ll be able to do things perfectly on the first try without any previous experience. I just dive right in (pun intended).

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Which is exactly what I did here. Making the cake component of the cake pops was actually super easy. I was using cake scraps and leftover American buttercream from the freezer. I defrosted four different kinds of cake and a ton of buttercream thinking I’d make all different flavored cake pops. I started with scraps of Tessa Huff’s cherry chip cake and one leftover layer of the chocolate cake from Liv for Cake. I crumbled them up together, then beat it with a paddle attachment to break them up a bit more and get them fully incorporated with each other. Honestly, the cake mixture was so moist I probably didn’t even need to mix any buttercream in, but that seemed boring so I mixed in a tiny bit of vanilla buttercream.

Then I started shaping the mixture into my shark shapes. I made them pretty basic to start, kind of a long teardrop shape. Then I did shorter, rounder teardrops for my fish. I had so much of the cherry chocolate cake mixture, and was I only making 16 pops, so I ended up making them all the same flavor, so all my other cake scraps went back in the freezer. Then I refrigerated the shapes overnight because I planned to dip them the next day.

The next morning, I pulled my cake  out of the fridge and shaped them more carefully, adding more of a snout and smoothing them out a bit before dipping. I had big problems dipping straight out of the fridge. The biggest lesson learned here is your cake pop can’t be too cold, and your candy melts can’t be too hot. Either way and you’ll get cracking. Once I got the hang of it, I dipped each shark once entirely in white, then dipped just the top half in another color and let the excess run down its back and off the tail end. This created a slight ridge down the back, but I think this made them look more shark-like. After the second dip I let them harden, then attached the fins and eyeballs, etc with additional melted candy melts. The fins were all cut from candy melts. I used the bigger end of a piping tip to cut the curved edges. One annoyance here was that candy melts are a smaller size now so the ones I had already were a bigger, better size for this, but the ones I just bought were smaller. The smaller size probably helps when you’re melting them down, but not so much when you’re trying to use them for shark fins.

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Then it came time to dip the fish. With these, I had new problems. I still don’t know what went wrong, but when I dipped them, the orange candy melts kept bubbling up and making them look like they had welts all over their bodies. I don’t know if I thinned out my melts too much or not enough, or if my cake was too moist, but I didn’t have time to mess with them more so I just went with it.

I used candy eyes for the eyes and orange heart sprinkles for the fish fins. The fish mouths and Grandma Shark’s glasses are ‘O’ sprinkles (Michael’s carries packs of sprinkles where the whole pack is one letter). Mommy Shark’s lips are a pink heart sprinkle, and Grandpa Shark has white sprinkle eyebrows and mustache (I think he might be my favorite). The nostrils and eyelashes are painted on with black Edible Art Paint.

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Now, I might have gone a little overboard with my cake pop holder. I think I spent around $27 just on supplies for the box, and yet, the end result is underwhelming. I have to admit, I’m a little embarrassed by my work on this box, but it was for a children’s party so I guess it’s okay if it’s a little juvenile. It’s a regular cardboard box underneath, covered with foam sheets and foam stickers from Michael’s and Walmart. I cut X’s in the box top with an X-acto knife then pushed the pop sticks through. I wanted them at all different heights, but they were so top heavy they kept falling over, even when they were pushed all the way down. I ended up filling the bottom of the box with all the rice we had in the house (which was a lot more than I would have thought), so I could push the sticks into the rice and keep them from shifting around. Then I filled the top in with blue Easter grass.

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This was a fun challenge for me despite all the frustrations, but it was so far outside my comfort zone, and outside my usual aesthetic, I don’t know if this is a road I’ll be going down in the future. I thought they tasted really good though. I don’t usually eat cake pops, but these were very fudge-like and not too sweet inside so it balanced out the sweetness of the candy coating.

 

Baking

This is Not a Cake

One of my greatest disappointments in life is that I seem to be surrounded by people who don’t love cake. I LOVE cake. I think it’s safe to say that cake is a significant part of my life. I wanted this blog to be a celebration of many different kinds of making, because I do have a variety of creative interests, but let’s face it, I keep coming back to the cake.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares my obsession. My boyfriend could take it or leave it. My boyfriend’s son doesn’t care for it at all. And recently, my mother started telling me she thinks she’s maybe not a “cake person” after all. This was concerning for two reasons. One, a person who doesn’t love cake must have something seriously wrong with them. And two, her birthday was coming up, so just what the hell was I supposed to make for her?

Oftentimes, I just ignore said person’s protestations, convinced that I make cakes that are so delicious, no one can resist their temptations. But sometimes, I actually try to please them. I’ve done cheesecakes, doughnuts, and cookie cake for these non-cake persons in the past, but this time I wanted to come up with something different.

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As you know from my last post, (yes I’m assuming you’ve read all of my posts), I’ve had meringue on the brain for awhile now, so I thought immediately thought: pavlova. But my second thought was “how can I make it as decorative as I would any other cake?” And somehow I came up with a tree stump. Yeah, no clue there, but it gave me a chance to make meringue mushrooms, so it was a no brainer.

I had it all planned out; I’d do three chocolate meringue discs, and stack them with a chocolate mousse and a blood orange curd, then I’d make some meringue pieces to create roots, and surround the whole thing with delightful little meringue mushrooms and buttercream violets. Then I remembered my mother was on a restricted diet due to some health issues, and both chocolate and citrus were out. After some debating, and running a few more ingredients by her, (pineapple also out), I landed on a regular vanilla meringue with an ermine buttercream and fresh blueberries. Since the meringue would be white, I decided it would be a birch tree stump.

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I made the meringue mushrooms a couple weeks ahead of time, when I made the meringue cookies I used to cover my pear cake, using a Swiss meringue recipe from the Cake Blog. I piped them using a round piping tip. For the mushroom caps, I piped dome shapes, moving my tip in a circular motion when releasing pressure, and then moving the piping tip off to the side to try to avoid creating a point on top. I did still get a bit of the point on all of them, so I just dipped my finger in some water and gently smoothed the tops. For the stems, I just piped kiss shapes, but a little more elongated. You do want the points on these. After baking and cooling, I stored the caps and stems separately in an airtight container with parchment paper between the layers.

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The day before I needed the mushrooms, I poked a hole in the bottom of each cap with a toothpick, making sure the holes were big enough to fit the tips of the stems in so that the caps sit well on top. Then I melted some brown candy melts (chocolate would work well too, and taste better, but I had the candy melts on hand), smeared the melted candy melts on the bottom of each cap, and dragged a toothpick in lines through the melted candy to create the gills on the bottom of the mushrooms.

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I dipped the tip of a stem in the candy melts as well, then inserted the tip into the hole of the mushroom cap. It’s pretty simple, but effective. I dusted the tops of the mushrooms with cocoa powder before using them.

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Next came the meringue discs for the pavlova stack, and the pieces to make the tree roots. I traced a 7 inch circle onto a piece of paper, then placed it under my Silpat mat, so I could keep my discs a consistent size. I also traced out a few tree root shapes onto a piece of paper, making them two inches wide at the base and three inches tall, so that I could place these under my Silpat mats as well, using them as a template for my roots.

I used this meringue recipe, and then piped two disc shapes onto one of my Silpat mats, starting in the center of the circle and spiraling out. I built up the sides a little and smoothed out the middles so there would be room for the fillings. For my last disc, I piped a spiral again, but left it all one thickness, and did not smooth it, so that the spiral would resemble tree rings. Then I piped three roots facing one direction, flipped my template, and piped three roots facing the other direction. I knew that the roots would bake flat on one side, so I wanted to make matching pairs that I would be able to sandwich together to create a full root.

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My last step before baking, was to take a toothpick dipped in brown food coloring and run it through the sides of the discs and the tops of the roots to create a birch bark effect. Then I popped it in the oven. I did not follow the same baking directions as were listed in the recipe I linked. They were baking small meringues, and mine were a bit larger, so I ended up looking at a few different recipes for baking times and temperatures and kind of combining all of them. I baked on a convection oven setting, preheated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and then dropped to 210 right after putting the meringues in the oven. I baked the small pieces for about an hour and 10 minutes, the discs for about an hour and a half. Then I turned the oven off, but left the discs in the oven until the next day. This really helped keep them from cracking, and kept them nice and dry.

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I piped my violets ahead of time with an American buttercream, using a flower nail and parchment squares with a petal tip, piping two shorter, fatter petals on top, then three longer, skinnier petals on the bottom half, and then piping two dots of yellow in the center. I piped the violet leaves with a larger petal tip, moving the tip as I piped to create a ruffled edge. Then I refrigerated both the flowers and leaves until firm, and kept them in the freezer until I needed them.

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Most pavlovas have whipped cream on them, but I wanted something more stable, that could also be used to attach the meringue pieces together, so I made an ermine buttercream. To me, an ermine buttercream is very whipped-cream-esque as it’s less sweet than most other buttercreams and has a lighter feel to it as well.  To assemble the pavlova, I placed one disc on a 12 inch cake board, filled it with ermine buttercream and blueberries, topped with the next disc, more ermine and blueberries, and then placed the spiral disc on the very top. I put the rest of my ermine in a piping bag with a round tip and piped some frosting in between my root pieces, sandwiching them together. Then I ran some frosting down the back and bottom of each and attached it to my stump, spacing each of them out around the pavlova. I had three total roots.

Next I grabbed my green American buttercream and piped stems up the sides of the pavlova stump. This is a little tricky because the sides of the pavlova are not flat, and there are gaps between each layer. I piped in some ermine where I knew I wanted stems to be, and used that to flatten out the sides a little before piping the stems. Then I used a bit more of the green buttercream to attach my violet flowers and leaves. After that, I stuck my mushrooms around the stump, piped some more ermine around the mushrooms and roots, and sprinkled some crushed Oreo dirt onto the extra ermine.

I love a good pavlova, and this one was no exception. The crisp crunch of the meringue, the creamy goodness of whipped cream (or in this case, ermine buttercream), and the bright pop of fresh fruit is delicious, and, I’ll admit, a pleasant change from my usual dessert of choice: cake. I won’t be giving up cakes any time soon, but I may have to start working some variety into my desserts every now and then.

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Baking

Snow Day!

As I sit here writing this, I’m watching the snow fall outside and hoping it’ll be enough for me to stay home tomorrow. Yes, I’m an adult, and no, I don’t have a terrible job, but I still feel that little thrill of excitement every time I get a Snow Day. Who doesn’t love getting a free day off? That wonderful feeling when you think you have to get up and go to work and then someone tells you, forget it, you’re staying home in your pj’s and eating snacks instead. I always have my fingers crossed for at least one per year. This year I haven’t had any. And it’s already March!

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So I thought this pretty little snowstorm was the perfect time to finally sit down and write about my Snow Day cake. Probably one of the reasons my fondness for snow days hasn’t been slowly killed by the onset of adulthood is that I don’t usually have to shovel. Our driveway is very small, and whenever it is necessary to shovel, either my boyfriend takes care of it, or, if we wait long enough, the company that plows our street and clears the sidewalks will also snow blow the driveways (I know, I’m lucky). So how did I end up making a snow shovel cake? Well, when I mentioned to my boyfriend that I wanted to make a winter themed cake, he said it should have a snow day theme. Not opposed to the idea, I asked what that would include, and he said, “shoveling.” At first I just laughed, and kept trying to come up with ideas, but this image kept popping into my head of a shovel sticking out of a snow bank, on top of a cake. And thus an idea was born.

I started with the blade of the shovel (And yes, I just googled terminology for the parts of a shovel). First, I took a handful of fondant and colored it a bright red, which took forever, and also stained my hands pink because I didn’t have any latex gloves. Then I flattened the fondant out into a rectangle, about as long as I wanted the blade to be, and twice as wide. I knew I would be sculpting it, so I didn’t bother to roll it out flat, I just used my fingers to flatten it down as much as I could.

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Next, I got myself a wooden skewer like you would use for making kabobs. I placed the skewer in the middle of one half of the rectangle of fondant, then folded the fondant over the skewer, keeping the skewer in the center, leaving a few inches of the pointed end of the skewer sticking out the bottom, so I would be able to stick it into the cake later. Using my fingers, I pushed down on the fondant to get it to stick together, then pushed the fondant in towards the skewer. I really had to work with the fondant here because it does not want to stick to the wood. I read something online about wetting the skewer slightly to get the fondant to stick. I didn’t find that I needed to go that far, but if you are having trouble, that is an option you can try. All this squeezing and pushing is going to misshape your shovel blade, so once you feel like your fondant is secure enough on the skewer, you’ll need to start reshaping your blade. I have a set of Wilton fondant tools and I mostly used the one with a ball at each end. Not sure if there’s a name for it or not, but I used the to create the grooves that you find in a shovel, and to smooth out other parts of the blade. I made the bottom edge of thinner than the top edge, then cut off any excess and used that to shape and build up the top edge and the section around the skewer, which would act as the shaft of the shovel. When I was finally happy with the shape of the blade, I bent it slightly up at the bottom edge, and left it to dry on a piece of foam with some rolls of paper towel under the bottom edge to keep it curved while it dried. I left it that way overnight. You might want to leave it longer than that, so the fondant will harden more, but as usual, I left everything to the last minute, so I was rushing.

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The next morning, I started adding brown candy clay to the skewer to create the shaft of the shovel. I found the candy clay to be even trickier to attach to the wood of the skewer, but with time and a little patience, I was able to get it on there pretty well. I covered all the way from where the shaft meets the blade, up and over the top end of the skewer. Now, when it came to smoothing out the candy clay, I had to be very careful not to pull it back off the skewer. I tried rolling it between my palms, but that didn’t really work, so I used the fondant tool with the two balls again and ran it gently along the candy clay until it was as smooth as I could make it.

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The last piece of the shovel is the handle. I rolled a piece of the red fondant between my palms to create a snake shape that was skinnier at the ends than it was in the middle, then I pulled the ends of the snake shape around and stuck them together, creating a handle shape. I left the handle off of the shovel until after it was on the cake, because I knew it would be a bit fragile where it attached to the shaft.

Now, on to the cake itself. I used a white mocha cake recipe from Cake Paper Party. And, you guys, this is the most deliciously flavored cake ever, hands down. So good. I baked it in three 6 inch tins. Then I filled and frosted it with a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream, also from Cake Paper Party. And I sprinkled some of the cinnamon streusel from Liv for Cake’s Spice Cake recipe in between each layer for a little added texture.

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Once my cake was assembled and I had frosted it smoothly, I took my trusty ice cream scoop and scooped some more of the buttercream on top. I did one scoop on one side and two scoops on the other, and used a small offset spatula to smooth the scoops out into two piles of “snow,” one bigger than the other, with a sort of valley down the middle. After shaping them, I took my bench scraper around the outside of the cake again, to smooth out any lumps I had inadvertently added to the top edge of the cake. At this point, I noticed that the two lumps looked a bit like uneven boobs, but I trusted in my vision, and kept working.

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To create an even smoother surface, and a more snowy texture, I took a sieve and some powdered sugar and liberally sprinkled the surface of the cake, then used my fingers to pat the sugar down into the frosting a bit. I waited for about ten or fifteen minutes to see if the powdered sugar would be absorbed by the frosting at all (it wasn’t), then sprinkled another layer of powdered sugar, and left that layer untouched.

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After I had my snow in place, I pushed the point of the skewer into the cake, positioning the shovel in between the two snow banks. I went in at a slight angle with the front of the shovel facing the smaller of the two banks. I very gently and carefully coaxed the shovel further down until the edge of the blade was buried a tiny bit in the frosting. I had to fix the candy clay at the top of the shaft a little, but I was then able to stick my shovel handle on to the candy clay to finish off my Snow Day cake.

This has got to be one of my favorite cakes so far, and the idea came about in such an odd way. I don’t know what occasion it would be perfect for, but who needs an occasion? I say just make this the next time you’re expecting snow.

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Baking

Shamrock Shakin’ it Up

There is a magical time that comes but once a year, when a jolly old soul delivers special treats to all the good little boys and girls around the world. Or at least the United States, Canada, and Ireland. No silly, I’m not talking about Santa Claus delivering toys, I’m talking about Uncle O’Grimacey delivering McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes. I don’t know what it’s like in Canada or Ireland, but here in America, as soon as February rolls around, people start searching the internet to discover when they can get their sweet, green milkshake fix.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar, or haven’t put two and two together yet, a Shamrock Shake is a minty vanilla milkshake McDonald’s puts out for a limited time each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, (Oh, and Uncle O’Grimacey is Grimace’s green, furry Irish Uncle created to market said milkshake). If you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of sampling this nectar of the St. Patrick’s Day gods, then you are missing out. Shamrock Shakes are a delight. So much so, that I decided I had to try to put that deliciousness into a cake.

First off, I’ll give you the low down on how I went about getting the flavor profile. The Shamrock Shake is mint flavored, but the mint is not overpowering. It’s definitely an equal blend of vanilla and mint, so I wanted to be careful about how much mint I used. I decided to stick with a vanilla cake, and used my go-to from Liv for Cake. I wanted to infuse a simple syrup with mint as well, but needed it to be subtle, so I took a handful of fresh mint, crushed it a bit in my hands, and then tossed it in with the water and sugar while making the simple syrup. I use a base recipe for simple syrup you can find here. After finishing the syrup, I added a dash of vanilla extract as well, to try to maintain that balance.

After brushing the vanilla mint simple syrup onto my cake layers, I used a peppermint white chocolate ganache to fill them. To make the ganache, I heated 5 ounces of cream over low heat until it was steaming (stir as you heat), then I poured it over 10 ounces of white chocolate chips in a heat-safe bowl, let it sit for about five minutes, then whisked until all the chips were melted. If it doesn’t melt the whole way you may need to pop it in the microwave and heat at half power for 10-15 seconds at a time, whisking in between, until you get it completely smooth. For the peppermint flavor, I used peppermint oil from LorAnn. This was my first time using peppermint oil instead of peppermint extract, and I knew the flavor was much more concentrated so I was a bit cautious about adding it. I dropped from the bottle into a spoon first, to avoid pouring too much at once, then poured a drop at a time from the spoon. I stirred thoroughly and tasted in between additions until I got a flavor that was enough, without being too much. Very Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I would love to give you an exact amount, but I lost count, and everyone’s drops are likely to be different sizes (plus everyone has different tastes), so I’m not sure giving you a specific number would help anyway. I believe I used around 7 drops. I would just do the same thing I did, and taste as you go.

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To give a counterbalance to the peppermint ganache, and sort of mimic the whipped cream on the top of the Shamrock Shake, I made a vanilla Ermine buttercream. Ermine buttercream is made by cooking a sort of pudding made out of flour, sugar, and milk, cooling it down, and then beating it into some butter. I find the taste very similar to whipped cream; light, fluffy, and not too sweet. I’m still trying to find the perfect Ermine recipe. This time I went with one from The Tough Cookie. It had a good stable texture and piped better than others I’ve tried (Ermine buttercream tends to be a bit softer), but the taste was much more buttery to me. Once it was balanced with the sweeter ganache, though, I appreciated it.

I think the combination of the vanilla cake, vanilla mint simple syrup, peppermint white chocolate ganache, and vanilla Ermine buttercream really nailed the taste of the Shamrock Shake, but I also wanted the cake to look like a Shamrock Shake. I baked my cake in four 4 inch round cake pans, then split each one into two layers. I only used 4 layers for this cake, so I’ve got some in my freezer for a rainy day. Once I stacked, filled, and crumb coated my cake with the ganache, I let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to firm up. The next morning, I tried my hand at cake carving. I’ll preface this by saying, I have never carved a cake before. I am no expert, but I’ll share my technique with you anyway. I used a serrated knife and my cake turntable, and slowly worked my way around the cake, basically shaving off the outer edges at an angle. I wanted the base of the cake to be smaller than the top, just like a cup is.

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I worked VERY slowly, and took off only a tiny bit at a time, because you can always take off more, but you can’t really put any back. I also knew I’d have to stop myself at some point, or I would obsess over slight differences from one side to another. I would have liked to have carved it a little narrower, so the proportions would be more accurate, but I felt like I was losing too much cake. I wanted it to look good, but I still wanted a decent amount of cake on there, so I had to settle for a cup that was a bit wider and squatter than the real deal.

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After I was semi-satisfied with the shape, I tinted about half of my buttercream mint green and put that in a piping bag. Then I took a little less than half of the white buttercream that was left and put that in a piping bag as well. I did not use piping tips for these, just snipped off the tips of the bags and used them to pipe frosting onto the cake. A Shamrock Shake has a bit of a swirly mix of white and mint green, so I piped green around and up the cake, leaving some gaps here and there. Then I filled in with the white. You don’t really want stripes here, so you have to make sure you’re breaking up your rounds a bit.

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After piping the buttercream on the sides, I used a bench scraper to slowly smooth out the sides. I had to play with this a little as I went. Anytime it was looking too stripey, I used the bench scraper or a knife to smear the two colors together a bit more, then started smoothing again.

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Once I was happy with the sides of the cake, I smoothed the top edge over the top of the cake, and got ready to finish it off with my “whipped cream” swirl. I took an ice cream scoop and scooped some of the remaining white buttercream on top of the cake and created a bit of a mound, smoothing it out with an offset spatula.

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I did this so I could get some height to my whipped cream topping without having to pipe a lot in the middle. Then, using a 1M piping tip, I filled a bag with the rest of the buttercream, and piped around the mound I had made until I got to the top.

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Please excuse the vacuum cleaner and the horrible back lighting.  I’m still getting the hang of these in-progress photos. 🙂

I wiggled the bag a little as I piped to create a ruffled look, like what you would get from a can of whipped cream. Last but not least, I plopped a maraschino cherry on top, and stuck a McDonald’s straw in at a jaunty angle.

It was so much fun to recreate this super cool treat and I think Uncle O’Grimacey would approve. Let me know what you think of this cake, or just of Shamrock Shakes in general, in the comments. Share that Shamrock love!

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Baking

My Adventures with Goldenrod Pastries’ Peach Coffee Cake

Baking is about making connections. Like bringing a loaf of fresh-baked bread to a neighbor. Baking a cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Or baking a favorite family recipe, maybe something passed down generation to generation, or maybe just something connected to your heritage.

I was reminded of this while listening to the inclusive baking episode of Flour Hour recently. In it, Angela Garbacz of Goldenrod Pastries, describes her Polish grandmother’s peach coffee cake, and what it felt like to finally be allowed to learn how to make it alongside her. The cake, which features a yeasted dough, canned peaches, and a sweet crumb topping, sounded delicious, and since Angela’s grandmother was Polish, and she mentioned that the recipe seemed to have Eastern European roots, the idea of trying my hand at it really stuck in my head.

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I grew up baking with my maternal grandmother, who was famous for her Christmas cookies, but I don’t have any memories of baking with my father’s mother. I don’t actually remember much about her at all, except that she wore wigs and smoked cigarettes. My father had a falling out with his family when I was about five or six, and I never saw them again after that, so I never got the chance to make much of a connection with my paternal grandmother. Besides the wigs and the chain-smoking, all I really know about her is that she was Polish. My father’s grandparents on both sides emigrated from Poland to the United States, so my father was Polish through and through, and quite proud of it. He loved Polish food, but my mother wasn’t really a cook (and also not Polish), so our introduction to Polish food didn’t extend past Hillshire Farms kielbasa and Mrs. T’s pierogies.

But after listening Angela’s episode of Flour Hour, I looked up the video she mentioned she’d filmed that featured the recipe for her peach coffee cake. It’s available on her blog. The video is beautifully done and includes all the measurements and ingredients, but it is definitely more of a story than a tutorial. Which is fine, Goldenrod Pastries is a bakery and Angela’s main purpose is not to provide recipes to the masses. I just want to warn everyone ahead of time that the video will not give you all the information you need, but if you know enough about baking, you can fill in the blanks. I thought it felt a little like a Technical Challenge from “The Great British Baking Show,” where the contestants get an overview of the recipe, but no clues as to the details, like oven temperature or bake times.

My first step was to watch the video (obviously), and then pause it frequently so I could write down the ingredients, and some of the technique. I won’t write everything out here so that you can also have the fun of watching the video, but I will give you a little insight as to the decisions I made from there.

After mixing the dough, Angela kneads it and then lets it rise. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with yeasted dough and kneading, so I have no clue how well I did with that, but I kneaded it in the bowl for a bit and then covered it and placed it in a warm area. I googled some similar recipes and most had you let the dough rise for about an hour, so that’s what I did. Once the dough had risen, I punched it down, rolled it out, and then placed it in a sheet pan. Most of the recipes online were for a 13″ x 9″ pan, but the one in the video looked much bigger, so I used my biggest sheet pan: 17″ x 11″. This seemed to be correct for the amount of dough.

The next decision was oven temperature. The recipes I was comparing varied. Some said 350 degrees F, some said 375. Rather than take a chance, I took a screenshot of the video on my phone and zoomed in until I could see the oven temperature, which looked to be 350 degrees F.

Then came the biggest question mark for me: time. Other recipes were in the 30-45 minute range, but they were also for much smaller size pans, so I wasn’t quite sure which way to go. I checked it at 30 minutes, but was worried it wasn’t done, and ended up baking it for 40 minutes, which was a mistake. The bottom was way too brown, but even with that problem the coffee cake was AH-mazing. The cake is tender and pillow-y and the peaches make the crumb topping gooey underneath, while it still maintains its crunch on top. I used Nielsen Massey’s Tahitian vanilla extract in the crumb topping and I think it was a perfect choice for the light flavor of this coffee cake.

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Unfortunately, I had decided to make this on a Saturday night. Late on a Saturday night. I was the only one who ate any and there was a lot left over. We ate some Sunday morning, but it was a bit soggy and had lost some of its appeal. I decided (as I was eating it Sunday morning), that I would try it again the next weekend, but cut the recipe in half and make it first thing in the morning.

So on President’s Day morning the next week, I woke up, made my dough and let it rise for an hour, just as I had the week before. But this time, after an hour, it hadn’t risen at all. I moved it to a warmer location, and left it for a longer time, but still nothing. I didn’t want the recipe to fail completely, so I decided to toss that dough, and start over, thinking that maybe my yeast was no good.

Second time around, my yeast never foamed, so I tossed that, and started a third time. This time, my yeast foamed beautifully so I moved on, finished my dough, set it in the warmest area in my house, left it for an hour, and…it still hadn’t risen. I left it another thirty minutes, and it still looked the same. I gave up at that point and continued with the recipe anyway, but it was nowhere near as good as the weekend before. There was no height to it, and it was very bread-y. Luckily it still tasted the same, so it didn’t stop me from eating it, but I was disappointed. It was just so good the first time around!

The whole thing reminded me why I don’t usually mess around with yeast, but I haven’t given up yet. This recipe is too good to never have again, plus it did make me feel a connection to my past, however tenuous. I may not have ever made this with my grandmother, and I don’t even know if it’s something she would have made, but I imagine it could be. And if not my grandmother, maybe her mother. It has the feel of a vintage recipe, and perhaps the beauty of not knowing a part of your history, is that you can imagine it however you’d like it to be.

I thought about not writing this post at all, since I had had such a flub, but I thought I’d share my experience anyway. There’s still a story in every failure, and who knows? Maybe someone out there has some suggestions for me on what I could be doing wrong. If this sparked your interest, give it a go, and let me know in the comments what worked for you and what didn’t. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Baking

New Year’s Eve Party Hat Cake

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Happy New Year! Okay, not quite yet. I’m not ready for Christmas to be over and I even have a few gifts left to give, but I wanted to share this festive New Year’s Eve Party Hat Cake in time for you to make one for your New Year’s celebrations. I don’t normally do much for New Year’s, but this year I’m heading up to New York City to spend it with one of my best friends. We won’t be ringing in the New Year in Times Square (not a fan of crowds or freezing my butt off), but I’m sure we’ll have fun catching up.

I had big plans for this cake. Bigger than the cake turned out to be, in fact. I was originally going to put two party hats on top, using two different style ice cream cones, but I ultimately decided the cake was not big enough to use both, so I kept it simple with the traditional cone shaped party hat, and plenty of sprinkles. The cake itself is a vanilla cake from Liv for Cake, with a tangy Meyer lemon cream from Food52 and fresh raspberries inside. The frosting is an American buttercream from Martha Stewart. I thought this was a nice, bright flavor combination, perfect to start off a fresh new year.

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Before I started assembling my cake, I wanted to cut out the fondant pieces that would become the metallic fringes around the base of the party hat. I did not do this in advance, so I wanted to do it before anything else, so the pieces would at least have a chance to dry a little bit. You could do this step a few days prior to give them even more time to dry. I rolled out my fondant fairly thin, and then used a rolling pastry cutter to cut it into strips, then I cut across the other way so that I had a lot of little rectangles.

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I actually ended up with too many, but that’s better than not having enough, right? Once you have your rectangles cut, you want to pick them up and pinch them into what I’m calling seagull shapes. Set these aside on a piece of parchment paper while you assemble your cake.

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After stacking and filling the cake, I did a quick crumb coat with the buttercream, and stuck it in the fridge to chill. I then took the remaining buttercream and added 2 ounces of Wilton sprinkles, one pack of gold and white sprinkles, and one pack of silver and white sprinkles. These were in the Christmas baking section of Michael’s and were 70% off. Score! You want to gently fold the sprinkles in, so you don’t break them up. Mixing the sprinkles into the frosting, instead of applying to the cake after frosting, gives a nice embedded look, where the sprinkles will be flush with the outside of the cake.

Once I had the sprinkles mixed in thoroughly, I did my final coat with an offset spatula and a bench scraper to smooth. Now, when your smoothing your frosting, the sprinkles will sometimes catch on your scraper and drag, creating little dents and dings in your frosting. You can fill these back in and smooth again until you’re happy with it. I don’t think it needs to be perfect here anyway, but if you use a lighter touch with the bench scraper, that helps prevent too much dragging. I chose to leave my top edge rough and highlight it with gold, but you could smooth it out if you’re not a fan of the perfectly imperfect.

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After I was happy with my final frosting coating, I popped the cake back in the fridge while working on the party hat. First, I used some leftover frosting to coat the ice cream cone and then that went in the fridge as well to firm up just a bit while I cut out my fondant numbers for the 2019 on the hat. I have a set of alphabet and number cutters I purchased at Walmart a few years back. Mine are about 1 inch high and fit pretty well on my cone. IMG_5673

I put the numbers onto my frosted ice cream cone, then I rolled the cone in black sanding sugar. You need to be a little bit careful doing this, especially around the numbers. I sprinkled and patted them in around the numbers instead of rolling that part. Once your cone is coated thoroughly, you can ever so gently lift it up and place it on top of your cake.

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This is a bit tricky and you will get some black sanding sugar on the top of your cake, but as long as your cake is chilled, you can get the sugar off. I used a slightly dampened Q-tip and just touched it to the grains of sugar and was able to lift them off.

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Next, I piped some frosting around the base of the cone, it will not want to stick to your sanding sugar so you’ll have to play around with it. It doesn’t have to look pretty because at this point, you’re going to start covering it with your fringe.

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Put your fringe pieces on, making sure they point in different directions and cover all of the frosting you just applied. Now back in the fridge to chill it up again.

Once it’s had a little time to firm up again, you can start painting. I used Sweet Sticks Edible Art Paint in Honey Gold.

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This product is great because you can use it straight from the bottle, no need to mix it with anything. Using a paint brush, I just painted it carefully onto my fringe, my 2019 numbers, and used it to highlight the rough edge around the top of the cake. You may need to take breaks so that you can firm it up in the fridge again if the frosting is getting too soft to paint.

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Now, at this point, you could call it quits, and it would be perfect just the way it is, but, if you can get your hands on some 24 karat edible gold leaf, you can take it to the next level. I had two small squares of it leftover. It comes in tiny pieces of folded up paper.

If you fold back one side, just a bit, so you don’t get the whole square at once, you can press it lightly to your cake surface and then use a dry brush to pat it down onto the cake. This is a process that takes some getting used to, but it is something anyone can do. I chose to let mine curve out from the party hat and then down one side, but you can do whatever looks good to you.

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Now it’s time to party! I hope you have a magical New Year’s Eve, and I’ll see you in 2019!

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Baking

Buffalo Plaid Christmas Swag Cake Tutorial

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As I’m writing this we are officially one week away from Christmas, and I cannot wait. Christmas is one of my absolute favorite holidays (isn’t it everyone’s?), and I am doing my best to to live the Christmas life 24/7. Decorations, music, movies. When I don’t have Hallmark Christmas movies on the TV, I’m watching the holiday season of Nailed It, or The Great British Baking Show Holidays (also on my list: the Christmas episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, ’cause my other favorite holiday is Halloween, of course). And in an effort to bring this holiday spirit into my own baking, I decided I needed to make a very merry Christmas-y treat to share with you all.

I am so in love with this cake, you guys. Inspired by Alana Jones-Mann’s buttercream wreath bundt cake and my love of buffalo plaid everything, this eggnog and cranberry cake is not only pretty spiffy looking, but also amazingly delicious. I used the Liv for Cake Spiked Eggnog Cake (minus the rum), and used the cream cheese frosting with nutmeg recipe that accompanies it, but instead of just filling it with frosting, I decided I needed a little tart with my sweet, and made a cranberry curd filling that I pulled from David Tanis’s Cranberry Curd Tart on NYT Cooking. These two flavors together are everything.  I highly recommend all three recipes.

IMG_5532Now, on to the decorations, I mean, that’s the best part of Christmas anyway, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s the presents. Either way, I think you’ll like this tutorial. I did have a hard time remembering to stop and take progress photos, and you’ll have to excuse the poor quality of those photos, but they get the point across.

Just for a little background, I had three 6-inch layers of cake. I spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting on top of the first layer, piped a dam of frosting around the edge, then filled the middle with the cranberry curd, and repeated that between the second and third layer. Immediately after filling and stacking, I quickly smoothed the excess around the outside and popped the whole thing in the fridge for about ten minutes, just to firm up my frosting dams. I was a little concerned they’d get too soft, and I didn’t want my curd to seep out. I don’t know if that was a necessary step, but it seemed to help set the whole structure. Then I did my crumb coat, chilled it again, and then smoothed on my final layer of frosting. I left a little texture in my final coat, as this cake has a bit of a rustic feel to it.

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I let my cake sit in the fridge overnight and finished it the next morning. You want the frosting to be firm enough to not be tacky, but not completely hard because you want a little something for the dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg to grab onto, so I let it sit out at room temperature for about fifteen or twenty minutes before starting my buffalo plaid. I mixed together equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg for sprinkling. You’ll also need a strainer, like the one in my picture, and three strips of parchment paper about 1 inch wide. If you have a paper trimmer, it comes in handy here for getting your strips straight.

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To start, you’re going to lay your three strips evenly spaced across your cake vertically. They won’t stick, but carefully, smooth them out as much as possible. Make sure there is no chance of a sudden breeze coming through, or your strips will go flying. Then put your cinnamon nutmeg mixture in your strainer and gently dust it evenly over your cake. You don’t want to go too heavy at this point, because some areas of your plaid are going to get hit twice with the cinnamon and nutmeg and you want to be sure you can see a difference between those spots, and the spots that only get one dusting. Once you have a light, even layer, carefully lift off your strips, and you should see three clear lines of frosting.

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Clean off your parchment strips, and turn your cake a quarter turn. Now lay your strips down again, perpendicular to your first set, and lightly dust over the cake a second time.

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Again, you want to be careful about going too heavy here because you’ll lose the differentiation between squares. You can see I had this problem in a couple of areas, but, with the rustic vibe this cake has going, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Plus, some of it will get covered up with your Christmas greenery swag. Once you’ve done your second dusting, lift off your parchment strips, and unveil the beautiful plaid beneath.

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Now it’s time to pipe your greenery. I stuck the cake back in the fridge while I colored my frosting, to keep it nice and chilled. I did not use the cream cheese frosting for this, as it would be too soft for piping. Instead, I used some Tiffany blue American Buttercream frosting left over from another cake. I divided it up into four bowls, and added some additional food coloring to get four different shades of green. I played around with different amounts of blue, yellow, brown, and sometimes orange, to make sure I had an array of shades that would play well off of each other. I used a grass tip and a small round tip for two of the colors, then I made my own leaf tips in two different sizes by snipping a narrow triangle into the corner of two different plastic baggies.

Once you have your piping bags filled, you can start piping. I started from where I wanted the ends of my swag to fall, and I began with the two different pine needle style greens. For the dark green, I used the grass tip, pressing down lightly, to make contact with the surface of the cake, and then dragging parallel to the cake, and letting the buttercream fall when I released. I then moved behind the first stroke, and started a new stroke, overlapping the first. I repeated this a few times for each branch.

For the lighter green pine needles, I used a small round tip and piped short strokes for the needles, starting from what would be the center of the branch and piping out. Then I piped the stem down the middle. IMG_5485

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When you first start piping on your greenery, you may have some difficulties getting the buttercream to stick to the areas with cinnamon and nutmeg. You kind of have to just do your best, and play around with it a little bit. Once you have some branches on, you’ll start layering, and it will become easier.

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After getting some of your pine needles piped on, you can start adding some leaves into the mix. I would pipe a couple leaves onto a napkin or something first to get a feel for how the leaf shape comes out, then move to your cake. Work on building up your layers from the ends, and then you can slowly start to work your way towards the middle of your swag. You want it to gently taper off from center to ends. And remember, any time you get a weird or wobbly part, you can just pipe some more greenery over it. It’s very forgiving that way.

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The last step for me, was to add some sugared cranberries. Personally, I liked it with them concentrated towards the middle, and then more sporadic towards the ends, but you could space them more evenly, if you so desire. I agonized a little over how many to add, but I think I got it right in the end.

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And there you have it. I really love the way this cake looks, and I hope you do too. Let me know if you try this out, I’d love to hear how it goes. Now, on to that Sabrina holiday special!

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