Tuesday, July 17, 2012

70 Years in the Pocket

This was the cake that almost did me in.  Literally.  I almost quit cake decorating because of this cake.  I have to thank my sister, my brother-in-law and my five year old nephew for pulling me through.

Let's start at the beginning . . . . .

My dad was turning 70 in June and we were planning a big surprise party for him.  Of course I had to make an awesome cake!  And I had the perfect idea.  This is our pool table:

Our present for my dad was to get the pool table re-felted. (Is that a word?)  Anyways, I thought it would be really cool to make a pool table cake.  And a pool table is just a rectangle right?  So how hard could it be?

Day One: Friday, June 8:
Since the party was a surprise, we figured I shouldn't make the cake at my house.  My dad might wonder why it was so ginormous.  So I lugged all of my cake stuff (which is a lot of stuff!) over to my sister's house.

The first order of business was to bake the cakes.  I had to make two 11x13 chocolate cakes and I only had one pan.

While the cakes were baking, I started on the modeling chocolate.  This would later be rolled out and cut into pieces to make the brown outer sides of the pool table.  I was most nervous about this because I have had mixed results when working with modeling chocolate and I didn't really have a back up plan.

Modeling chocolate is a a very simple recipe.  You just melt some chocolate (or in this case, Wilton candy melts) and then you add corn syrup.  But too often mine has resulted in a large oozing pile of crumbly chocolate and oiliness.

But this time, I learned the secret from the Sugar Sweet Cakes and Treats Blog. (Go here for the tutorial).  The secret is that you only stir the mixture about 6 times.  Over-stirring makes it too oily.  Basically you are just folding over the chocolate a few times.  Then you spread it out on the wax paper and let it sit.

Modeling chocolate
Once that was done, I turned to the next step.  Of course no pool table cake would be complete without pool balls.  So I decided to make them out of cake pops.  There is more than one way to make these, but fortunately my friend Janine has a baby cakes machine.

You pour the batter in and in about two minutes they are done!  One batch makes at least 70 cake pops.  My nephew Peter always asks me if he can help me make my cakes.  And finally he was able to!

Peter and the cake pops.
While we were making these, we were discussing which numbers go with which colors on the pool balls.  Suddenly, Peter started rattling off which ones were which . . . one is yellow, two is blue, etc.  I checked the list I had gotten off the internet and he was RIGHT!  The things that kid knows.  Seriously.

Cooked cake pops.
So far everything had gone fairly smoothly.  And this is where the trouble started.  I was going to dip the cake pops into melted Wilton candy melts to make them look like the pool balls.  Only I had never done this before - and my first attempts were disasters.  If you look behind the styrofoam in this picture, you will see several yellow cake pops lying on the cutting board.  Those were my first failed ones.

What I discovered is that once you dip the lollipop sticks into the melted candy and then into the cake pop, you have to freeze them.  The candy doesn't harden quickly enough for you to dip the whole thing immediately into the candy.

Finally I had finished all the cake pops.  I also made some without the lollipop sticks to put on the actual cake.

Next I turned back to the cake itself.  I put the two sheet cakes next to each other and began working on the brownies.  The plan was to use brownies as the raised edge of the table.  They would then be covered in frosting and modeling chocolate (hopefully!) and wouldn't be seen.  Great idea.

But not so easy to implement.  My first batch of brownies was way way way too thin.  It simply would not have worked for what I wanted them to do.  It was getting very late and I was frustrated.  My niece and nephew were in bed and my sister was lying on her bed, very sick.

My sister got out several boxes of brownie mix, encouraging me to just make another batch, this time using two mixes.  So I did.

Then I started a batch of frosting.  I had brought enough ingredients to make 3 batches, figuring that would be all I needed.  I had already dumped my box of 1lb powdered sugar into the mixer when I realized I had put in 7 tablespoons of milk in instead of 7 teaspoons.  For those of you who don't realize what a colossal mistake that was - I would have had to triple the recipe.  It would have killed the mixer.  I burst into tears.

So basically my sister and I were both crying, sitting on her bed watching The Office until my brother-in-law got home from work.  He tried to cheer us up, but let me tell you, this was a tough job.  I don't remember everything that happened, but I was on the floor crying because the stupid cake just wasn't working.

At this point, this is the amount of cake and brownie mixes I have used:

Tower of Grief
Now it was around 2 am.  Aaron told me to go home and get some sleep, then try to attack the cake again the next day.  So I put everything away and sadly drove home, convinced the cake was going to be a complete disaster.

(Turns out I wasn't the only one.  My mom and sister later told me that when they saw the cake at this point, they thought it was not very good.  But that's only because they didn't know what my vision was.  And they thought the finished product was awesome.)

The sad looking cake.  :(
Day 2: Saturday, June 9.

A new day and a fresh start!  I got to my sister's house early and got to work.  My nephew was thrilled that the cake wasn't done because he got to help some more.

It was time for the big test - was the modeling chocolate going to work?  If not, I was up the creek.  While I was working on building up the cake with brownies, Peter started kneading the chocolate to make it soft enough to roll out.

Peter hard at work.
Fortunately, the chocolate worked!!!  Peter would squeeze the chocolate until he thought it was soft enough and then I would check it.  He basically had chocolate hands afterwards but he really helped a lot by kneading all that chocolate.  He thought it was a blast!

Squeezing with all his might.
Ok, so now I'm feeling a little better because the chocolate was going to work.  Also, my second attempt at the brownies was much better.  I cut them up and built up the edge of the cake.  Then I had to frost the brownies.  This might have been easier if I had more frosting, but due to my error the night before, I had to be careful how much I used.

Brownie edge
Once the brownies were frosted, I began rolling out the chocolate, cutting it into pieces and adding it to the sides of the cake.  At this point, I had to go work for Those Funny Little People.  I didn't get back until fairly late.  So now I'm in a time crunch - the party is tomorrow and I have to be at church at 8:15 for worship team practice.  The cake has to come with me so that I can hide it so Dad won't see it.

I finished the chocolate siding and then I used a round cutter to cut the holes for the pockets.  This was harder than it looked because some of the brownies did not want to be cut.

Modeling chocolate added, 
Making a mess cutting out the pockets.

Meanwhile, it's getting later and later and I haven't finished the cake pops yet.  I had done all the solid colors, but I needed the stripes done.  So Aaron bravely helped me by dipping the cake pops in white chocolate to make the effect of striped balls.  THANKS AARON!!!!

Day 3: Sunday, June 10. 
(Not sure exactly what point this happened . . .)

I was busy cutting out black fondant to make the pockets, and then adding them to the cake.

Next I piped the gold onto the corners of the "pool table."  I piped a black edge around the top and added gold dots.

Aaron had finished dipping the cake pops, but I still had to add the numbers.  I pasted a little white fondant circle on with gum paste and then piped the numbers on using black icing mixed with piping gel.

Finished cake pops!
I still had to arrange the pool balls on the cake.  These cake pops have a piece of spaghetti in them instead of a lollipop or toothpick.  That way they stick on the cake but if someone accidentally eats it, the spaghetti doesn't spear them in the mouth.

Pool balls
So now it's almost 7 am, I haven't slept, I need a shower and the cake isn't finished.  I quickly make a cue stick and little chalks out of fondant and modeling chocolate.  Then I pipe the words, 70 Years in the Pocket, add the pool balls and all the other accessories and I'm finally done!!!

Pool Table Cake
Little chalk sitting on the edge of the table

And yet, the battle was not quite won.  I still had to get the cake to church for the party.  (Cue suspenseful music).  I gathered a bunch of my stuff and went home, worried that my parents would be up and wondering why I hadn't come home.  Fortunately, I was able to sneak in before they got up.  I took a shower, got ready and went back to get the cake.

I have a small car and there are no flat surfaces anywhere.  So I piled up some books on the back seat in an attempt to make it level and my sister stuffed some sleeping bags in to keep it from falling off the seat.  Those were the longest ten minutes of my life.  But we made it to the church in one piece.

Later I found out my dad almost went into the room where the cake was hiding.  Close call!  My nephew had said something to my dad about what Aunt Joy was making, but caught himself and said, but I can't tell you even if you want to know!  So Dad knew I was making a cake, but he didn't know about the surprise party.  Phew!

I was completely exhausted, but when I set up the cake with the cake pops behind it, it looked awesome!

The boys are ready to eat some cake!

You can't tell I stayed up all night, right?
Dad ready to cut the cake.
(Notice all the cake pops have disappeared at this point.)

Adding the candles.
70 candles

Blowing out the candles
So Dad was completely surprised and the cake tasted great.  Time for me to go home and take a nap.

The final presentation
Whew - this post was almost as exhausting to write as it was to make the cake!

Just a few shoutouts - thanks Amy for encouraging me even when you were feeling horrible.  Thanks Peter for being a cheerful helper who thought the cake looked awesome at every stage.  And thanks Aaron for getting me off the floor and ready to try again, for staying up all night with me and for helping me with the cake pops.

I couldn't have done it without you guys. 

Happy 70th Birthday Dad!!!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chapter 11 (Not the bankruptcy kind)

A friend of mine recently asked about the process I use when making a cake.  Well, it all starts when someone asks me to make a cake!  Usually they have an idea of what they want the cake to look like or a particular theme they have in mind.  Then I search the internet for ideas using their theme and either try to copy a cake, merge different parts from several cakes together into a new design or create my own.

This was not the case with this particular cake.  My mother's friend Carola wanted a cake for her daughter's 11th birthday.  But she did not have anything specific in mind.  She told me that Jazzy likes books and plays the violin.  Hm, so violin shaped book?  Nah.  I decided to use my trusty book pan again, but what to put on it?

I started off with a violin on the right hand side of the book.

I free-handed this.  Not great, but passable.
 After the black outline was done, I added brown icing for the wood parts and white strings.

It's kind of hard to see all the detail in this picture

Now I needed to add some words on the left page.  Jazzy was turning 11, so this is what popped into my head:

My icing-writing is getting pretty good!  Of course I added the piping gel to the frosting before piping the words.

Next I got out my box of sugar flowers.  Now I really don't like making the sugar flowers all that much because it just takes so much time.  But it was really awesome just being able to pick the flowers out of the box and put them on the cake.  That, I like.

Pre-made roses, carnations and lilies.

Then I added a few more finishing touches (yay leaves!) and the cake was ready to go!

The Adventure of Jazzy: Chapter 11
 I heard the family thought the cake was great!  Happy Birthday Jazzy!