Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fondant Fun!

So I was asked (a little while ago) to make some cupcakes for a friend's mother's milestone birthday, which is now coming up next month (how time flies!). I am both excited and nervous about this, as her request involves a few things I haven't tried to do/make before:

1. Red Velvet cupcakes - both the mixture; and the complementary cream cheese icing.
2. A cake (sounds silly, but I prefer cupcakes over a cake and generally steer clear!) - which will be going on top of a cake stand with the red velvet cupcakes below...
3. (This one is probably self-inflicted) Use Fondant.

Wanting to do the best I possibly can for my friend, I decided that I needed to practice making these things first, just to make sure I actually can make Red Velvet cupcakes, along with the icing, and ice an entire cake using fondant...

I walked into a nearby cake shop and upon looking intently at the thousands of items related to baking, icing, and fondant, looking clearly perplexed and in need of assistance, a lady came up to me and offered some. I said, "Hi! I'm looking to start working with fondant, but have no equipment or fondant. I have this in mind. What do you think?" To which I explained as best as I could my intentions for the cake/cupcake order...

I left the shop feeling positive, with red fondant, white fondant, a couple of cutters, a cake board, and a head full of information about what I needed to do next.

I will admit, that YouTube has become my best friend for the moment. There are so many videos on cake decorating and using fondant! I probably spent far too much time researching techniques, and looking up different Red Velvet recipes, but I now feel confident that I can do this, and I can do this well.

With cornflour, I dusted my kitchen bench ready to start making some flowers!

This is (or something similar to) what I had in mind for the cupcakes:

Pretty. Simple. Elegant, and Red.

Probably without the hearts, though... But maybe with leaves instead!

This is  *drum roll*  my first fondant experiment:

I rolled the red fondant out onto my cornflour'd bench top, and began pressing my new flower mould press into it. Once I had them all cut out and on baking paper to dry, I used a pastry brush (I know, not the most elegant thing to use, but it still worked alright) to brush off the excess cornflour :)

To make them slightly rounded, I put them into the container of a packet of 12 plastic ping pong balls that I bought at a $2 shop on my way back from the cake shop...

Which I thought worked brilliantly!

Then with a damp cotton tip, I moistened the middles of the flowers,
and pressed a silver cachous into each of them.

Meanwhile, in my new red silicone cupcake moulds, I had a batch of vanilla cupcakes (experimenting with Red Velvet cupcakes will come later - it's fondant day today) baking.

Using 'Apple Green' colouring paste, leftover from a green and blue #1 cake I made earlier this year for church, I coloured some white fondant so that I could add leaves to my flowers.

Using the littlest of my 3 leaf cutters, I cut out so many leaves! It occurred to me that even a little bit of fondant can go a very long way! I had more than enough.

Later in the day, when the cupcakes had cooled down, and the fondant flowers were dry enough to start decorating (or I was just impatient by then), icing had just been mixed and piped onto the cupcakes, and I began to create the flowers on top!

I am so glad these turned out as well as they did for my first time using fondant! I couldn't decide whether I should use no leaves, two leaves, or three leaves on the cupcakes (still deciding, really, but leaning towards either three leaves or no leaves). My son has informed me that all I needed to do different was add a little 'line' on the leaves to make them 'look more real'. Good to know!

This little experiment has certainly given me a boost of cake-decorating confidence, and I am even more excited about recreating these next month!

... Except with more red, velvet, cream, and cheese of course ;)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Surf's up!

On our way back from our week off, visiting family in Jindabyne last week, we made our regular stop-off at 'Cathy's Lolly Shack' in Cooma. There, I spotted some cute little penguin gummy lollies! I couldn't help but imagine potential cupcake icings I could make with them when we got home...

This movie immediately came to mind:

I started by icing the cupcakes with yellow buttercream icing. Using some of the left over yellow 'sanding sugar' from when I made magic cupcakes for church a couple of months ago, I then (funnily enough) made 'sand' for a cupcake 'beach'...

Then with blue buttercream icing, I attempted to make a 'wave' (in my mind it looked better, but for a first attempt I was pretty happy)... Cutting a chocolate melt in half, I placed it towards the 'end' of the wave to be a 'surfboard', which I squeezed fudge frosting on top of, and hoped for the best that it helped the little penguin lollies stay in place!

A bit of fiddling, but, ta-da! Surfing penguin cupcakes!

Makes me want to go to the beach! ... Or just watch the movie :)

Friday, 23 November 2012

What to do when someone dies...

Though she had been telling us for years that she was 'about to die', my husband's grandmother finally (no pun intended) lived up to her word. She was a loving and generous -if occasionally abrasive- lady, who had spent the past decade that I knew her (and according to my husband, the previous decade as well) forecasting her demise each year. The preparation helped, although my husband had joked to her when we were down just two weeks before, "Don't be ridiculous; if someone wanted to bury you, they'd need to hit you with the shovel first, otherwise you'd probably outlive them" ... Guess who feels like Mr Silly now?

We took a week off work to travel to family, share fond memories, help with funeral arrangements, begin the 'what happens to all of her stuff now?' period, and drink wine.

It was somewhat strange to stay in the same house our family has stayed in each holiday, but, without her there... Sadly, it meant that we had no one to feed our children breakfast in the morning while we stayed in bed, but on a positive note, Foxtel had not been disconnected yet, and so Cartoon Network was aired most mornings... FTW.

It was a couple of days into our trip, and the funeral was a smooth success. Memories were shared and laughter was had... Back at the house, we began the process of working out what was to be kept, and what was going to be given away.

As it happened, the adults of the family wandered through the house one afternoon to see what goes to who's home, and what goes elsewhere... It was at this time that wardrobes were opened, and a foreign sense of 'style' was humourously cat-walked up and down the hallway.

Now... I'm a sucker for not wanting things to be thrown away, and if the alternative option is convincing my poor husband that we absolutely needed it, must have it, and should bring it back with us to Sydney and give it a home kind of thing... Then so it shall be.

I thought it would only be right, then, to showcase some of these items brought back with us ;)

*insert drum roll*

The first hat, because it's hot pink! And the second, just in case the Russian mafia decide to offer me a job :)

I've always wanted a spy trench coat and bear shawl... Still waiting, though, as this shawl is apparently made of fox.

Reuben quite often states that in the battle between pragmatism and sentimentality, he favours pragmatism; but I most certainly think he is happy with these fine pieces of attire that I have just acquired...

And now with them all together:

Lets face it... I would be stunning if I lived in the 50s!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

The busyness of life recently has unfortunately put a pause in my creativity. I baked cupcakes the other day, hoping to be even a little bit creative, but couldn't even be bothered icing them!

Today, I was incredibly determined to un-pause it, and because Christmas is 'right around the corner' (less than 6 weeks away to be exact-ish), I forced myself to get creative and make some Christmas cards...

Out of Christmas cards... (and wrapping paper).

I'd had this idea last year (to make for this year), but in a moment of ruthless de-cluttering a few months ago, I threw last year's unused Christmas stuff out. <mental palm to the forehead>

So I got some more :)

This is what I started with (I quite obviously went with a blue theme):

- Ribbon
- Christmas cards
- Cardboard (not pictured, because I couldn't find it quickly enough)
- Wrapping paper
- Baubles
- Scissors, glue, etc.

First, I cut my cardboards in half, and folded them..... Hmmm... Now what?

So, I got a knife...

... Aaaaand I made two roughly spaced out incisions at the bottom of the card to thread ribbon through to make a bow on the front... What else do you do when you don't know what to do or where to start?

Hopefully next time, though, I will remember that I need to thread the ribbon upside down if I want it to be the right way around... Makes total sense :)

I was getting the hang of it now... Cutting, pasting, not thinking too much about symmetry and just going with whatever I felt like doing at the time. It was so refreshing having that freedom! And so easy :)

These cards are as simple as bits and pieces cut out of cards and wrapping paper, stuck onto cardboard in whatever way I felt like at the time... They're fairly easy to recreate multiple times, or to do something completely different with each. Like slicing a Christmas card into strips and rearranging them onto a new card.

Whoever said that scrap bits of cardboard don't come in handy, hasn't had blank areas of DIY Christmas cards to fill. 

Of course, what were really scrap pieces of card and paper went into the recycling bin... I'm not that enthusiastic about keeping rubbish!

Now... You may have noticed, in my 'equipment' list, there were baubles... What might they be for, you ask??

Place settings of course!

I haven't quite finished them, but here's a rough idea of what they will look like (I've used blu-tac to stick this one together as I might thread some small silver ribbon through the top or something, which will be much easier to do before it's all glued together):

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!! Yay!!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

My terrible, unstoppable cycle of anger...

The sun rose, and the new day was full of promise and a lack of storms from the night before... Birds sang optimistically. Children happily watched cartoons on the couch. My husband made French Toast with cinnamon, sugar and jam, and even brought some to me in bed.

All was right with the world.

I got up, and as I greeted my loving family, I casually glanced out the back door to survey the damage of the storm... A couple of puddles, and a few clothes that the wind had no doubt blown onto the ground.

Wait. A few clothes on the ground?
The dog treats clothes on the ground as a gift from the very heavens!

It was like slow-motion horror. "Noooooooooooooooo!" came the guttural cry as I began my well-known and experienced roller coaster ride of intense emotions that look a little something like this:

1) Sudden anxiety seeing a piece of clothing lying on the ground outside, but, still having a little bit of hope that Deefa hadn't got to it yet and there's still time for a mad rescue mission.

2) Unbelievable anger because it was too late- the item had been ripped, torn, partially eaten, and pieces of it scattered over the yard...

          Which automatically rolls into:

3) Physical rage because of what the dog had done (and because I had again failed to rescue another beloved item of clothing). This phase includes stomping around the house, slamming doors, yelling, cursing, and occasionally using the 'F' word (Oh my, I am not perfect after all).

4) Tightening the day's schedule so that I feel in control again, starting with turning the TV off, and making completely irrational rules that honestly don't last beyond my little 'episode'. E.G. "He is never ever coming inside ever again" or "He's going to starve from now on because I'm not feeding him"!

5) Heartbreak after calming down and realising (again) what's been damaged/eaten. With this comes intense sadness, and through tears, grief, and gritted teeth, I tidy and clean (perhaps in an attempt to regain control over something)...

6) Guilt from the things I had screamed and cursed in my anger; and the way I had behaved for the few minutes prior to this new phase (including yelling at my husband, telling him that it's all his fault because he wanted the f*%*^#g dog)

7) Buy something on eBay to make me feel better about myself/the situation, which also allows me time to work out whether I can face the neighbours again after what they'd just heard/witnessed......

The problem with this last phase is that I usually have absolutely no idea what I want to buy!! Which totally sucked, because I really wanted to be excited about something after what had just happened and after the crazy emotional roller-coaster that I had just stepped off (in only a few minutes!)

And, lastly...

8) Eat chocolate.

Which (annoyingly, but not surprisingly) does absolutely nothing to benefit my internal wish of having a smaller waistline... Leading to this cycle being repeated from Phase #4 - making completely irrational new rules that I can never keep, and usually forget.

Oh well... Diet can start when we take the dog back and ask for a refund.

Friday, 9 November 2012

On the tip of his tongue!

Discovering some chalk this week while I was tidying up, I decided to surprise the kids with a spontaneous creative afternoon:

Chalk drawings on our front porch!

While I was looking at the photos I took of them, I couldn't help but notice the amount of times Jonathan had his tongue poking right out! I think I used to poke my tongue out a bit as I was growing up... You know, while I was deeply concentrating on something super important or something...

But this... This is just ridiculous!

I seriously don't think he can poke his tongue out any further than this:

It certainly does look like he was in deep, deep concentration
drawing whatever it was he was supposed to be drawing :)

... I think it's a squirrel.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Back to church!

Click here to see this photo and information better!

Yesterday, our church hosted 'Back To Church Sunday' - a day for people who had maybe gone to church before, but due to life's busy interruptions may not have gone for a little while... Or maybe a decade or so. When my husband mentioned it was our 10-year-anniversary early next year, I came to truly appreciate how quickly time can disappear!

So, to welcome people back to church...

... I made cupcakes!

My attempt to a) trace the cross used for the 'Back to Church Sunday' flyer, and b) combine and melt two different colours of chocolate; looked a bit like this...

Because nothing says "Welcome back" like chocolate!

After many, many minutes of meticulous piping, a wave of inspiration (though my husband says "insanity") washed over me and I decided to try and capture the idea of re-creation/new life by making fondant butterflies, that I folded and placed on cooling wire, then I drizzled some remaining melted chocolate over once I had traced enough crosses!

I'm finding it easier to make chocolate decorations to go on top of cupcakes... Using baking paper, a snap-lock bag with a small hole in a corner, and a sheet of paper with an image of what you want to trace is all you need. The stencil helps keep the chocolate images consistent... Hopefully no one comes up with the idea of a "chocolate printer", as then I'll be out of a job because of delicious technology.

My husband playing with our new digital camera,
obsessed with being 'artistic'.
I spent a fair amount of time making the icing for these cupcakes. Dropping tiny amounts of alternate colourings (pink & blue) into the mixture, aiming for the exact purple of the flyer cross... I think I came pretty close! But... Again, I had underestimated how much icing I would need, so my second (slightly rushed) batch of icing was more of a "yeah, that's close enough" kind of purple.

I probably spent far too much time organising the 'display' of the cupcakes onto their platters, with the fondant butterflies placed around the edges of each, in between the cupcakes... But I guess that's all part of the fun of creating! :)

I enjoy baking, and I enjoy church.
And I especially enjoy when I get to combine the two!