Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Baking Vortex

It all started innocently enough.

I have always been a lover of cookbooks, so in July of 2008 I decided to go all out for my nephew Cam's 13th birthday by baking these monsterous double chocolate covered cupcakes. I got the idea as well as the recipe from one of my beautiful cookbooks. I literally have about fifty of them in all shapes and sizes. The topics range from Cupcakes to Cake Decorating, from Baking to Fondant. I'll admit it. I'm a pushover for a great looking cookbook.

Now I think it's important for me to mention that I come from a large family of chronic chocoholics, including my parents and their parents and their parents before them.......and my sister and brother-in-law....and my niece and two nephews, and all of my aunts, cousins and uncles too. I am convinced that we have chocolate running through our veins, not blood. I'm serious. Growing up in my family, if someone dropped a dish and said, "Oh Fudge", everyone came running into the kitchen yelling, "Where?"

My many visits to South Carolina to see my Aunt Grace and her family always ended by baking something that contained chocolate. On one of my trips, after experimenting with several recipes from one of my aunt's well-worn and highly coveted cookbooks, I found it stashed away in my suitcase when I arrived home. The inscription says it all.....

Growing up, I avoided cooking or baking anything alongside my mother, unless you want to count a Creme Brule that had to be made for me to receive my Girl Scout Cooking Badge. My mother, being a bit of a control freak perfectionist, found it difficult to allow me to make mistakes, so she almost always did it herself. Actually, the Cooking Badge should have gone to her instead. I have always wondered, just how important is it to stir a sauce clockwise instead of counterclockwise?? Is it true that it can actually reverse the earth's rotation? Well according to my mother forty years ago, if I didn't stir it the "correct" way, could. So, for the most part my cooking and baking skills were honed while my parents were out of the house. Fudge was my specialty. Still is.

I recently took an Adult Education Course in Cake Decorating at a local high school. It was a very basic course, but enticed me with just enough information to whet my appetite for more. I got "the bug". I gathered up all of my cookbooks and researched the internet. I spent hours and hours looking at pictures of cakes, cupcakes, frostings and fondant. I have taped every episode of Ace of Cakes, Amazing Wedding Cakes and Food Network Challenge and I continue to soak it all in. I frequent web sites and baking blogs to study techniques. And while I constantly test recipes and attempt to mimic even the most difficult designs, my ultimate goal is to create my own original "niche". My co-workers are my taste testers. They tell me what tastes good and what tastes great. The best preparation for me in this new venture was to purchase this book at Barnes & Nobles on the science of baking.

Looks so easy, right? Mix ingredients together, bake it, take it out of the oven and presto.......magically it's done....but how does it happen?? What makes the cake rise?? What makes a cake fall flat??? I always wondered why so many recipes instruct you to cream the butter and sugar together first. Well, now I know. Do you?? This book explains the science behind it. I'm hopeful that each explanation will help me to become a better baker.

So now I am in this up to my neck. But I am enjoying it. It has provided me with another creative outlet and I am finding it quite challenging. It started with one person ordering cupcakes from me and now, it has almost taken on a life of its own. I work from referrals and since I already have a full-time job, I can usually only handle one or two orders a week.

For my sister Kathy's birthday this year, I surprised her by making a Purse Cake. This entire cake is edible. I read books, I looked at hundreds of online photos.......

I started by sketching it out....

then baking and stacking ...

...and frosting them .

...then I hand-carved it,

...and covered it with white fondant.

The "leather" bands are fondant which was stained with brown food coloring and vodka. I used the same technique for the "handles" which are made of gumpaste. I used a fork tine to punch "stitch holes".

I made a paste of gold dust food coloring and vodka and painted the purse "hardware".


She loved it.


Minka said...

I bet she loved it. It looks great and tasted, too, probably. Well done!

About that stirring thing: I wondered the other day why the Earth is moving differently! I guess a cook or two must have been stirring the sauce in the wrong direction! Geez, somebody should have taught hem!

Anonymous said...

OH WOW!!! I am so impressed!

My mom is so great! But my memories of your baking experience in the south are much different than yours.... I remember a REALLY hard cake that the dog wouldn't even sample! You've come a long way baby!

I bet it was yummy! Lucky Kathy! WE NEED SAMPLES! DO you send samples??

Love, Marg

Anonymous said...

I come from a family of chocoholics too. Funny, every poor soul that married into is not. God forbid a yellow or white cake is served at any gathering....we all protest loudly and the poor hostess is stuck with a lot of leftovers. It's just not the same.

Anyway, your purse cake turned out fabulous! Gives me ideas for my daughter's birthday. I'm not sure about the fondant though. I enjoy working with it but don't care for the flavor and texture of it. Maybe that's the chocoholic coming out in me though. ;^)