Monday, October 15, 2012

My First Wedding Cake

Hello my dear friends!

I have to start with some reasoning for the long break...may be that will soften things a little bit. Despite my random posts, I still continue baking, however, I wasn't finding time to tell you about it. As I had mentioned before, I love my hobby. I get excited about every single cake I make, and don't mind the sleepless nights, only so I can see a happy face and a smile when I reveal it. It has been a while since I posted anything here, but I had great events happening during that time and want to tell you about one of them - my first wedding cake.

A while back, a physician who I work with (I work in the Radiology department of the best hospital in MI), asked me if I had made a wedding cake and if I was willing to make his daughter's wedding cake. What an honor was that for me! A wedding cake? Of course I am willing to make it! So, I said yes. I was sooo excited, so it took me some time to realize...a wedding cake...this is such a huge responsibility! And how do I do it successfully? I am one of those people who jumps at an opportunity and make things work, rather than thinking about it to the point when I decide that I can't do it. I know that I can do anything if I really wanted to, so I just do it. It is usually really hard, but it has always worked for me so far.

So...I met with Matt and Christina (the groom and bride to be), and had a discussion about the wedding cake. What a nice couple! I immediately felt a connection with both. You know, that feeling when you meet someone and you realize that you like them without knowing anything about that person. Matt and Christina told me that they are designing their wedding in the colors of their invitation, tangerine and turquoise, and those were the colors they wanted for the cake. I put some sketches together and sent them my drawings of different designs. After pictures and some discussions we decided that the cake would be made of different height turquoise squares of cake, with tangerine applique of the tree on the side. Christina mentioned that the flowers of the wedding will be hydrangeas and calla lilies, and she wanted those incorporated into the cake too. During our conversation she mentioned LED lights, and I immediately thought I can raise some of the branches of the tree and hang LED lights and sugar crystals on them. It was a plan! Now onto to realizing it...

I knew I had to plan in advance and plan well. I was going to make a cake for 250 people, where the cake would be the only desert, so I needed to plan for bigger pieces. The only desert....right? Huh? My cake? It has to be outstanding in taste! And then....what if I got sick before the wedding? What if something happened to me and I didn't have anyone to rely on to ask them to step in for me...I just prayed that everything went well. I must be there for this couple no matter what, and need to do a great job not for myself, but for them. I can't let them down.

Time for some planning...Cake stand, cake supports, separator plates, pads, batter amounts, pans...crazy! I read, and read, and read about how to succeed in making a wedding cake. I was planning to have 8 layers of cake with several small raisers in between some of the layers, or almost 3 ft tall cake. I am sure people thought I was crazy to do that for my very first wedding cake, but I knew I can do it. Do you already picture a huge cake, slowly sliding to the side and finally smashing on the floor into pieces, right in the middle of a dance floor of a wedding with a couple of hundred people staring at it? This was my vision until the end, one of my greatest fears. Hmmm, and if that happened, imagine having to go to back to work after that wedding, in a place where the dad is the Chair of the department....I definitely did not want to be that person. As much as I was trying to keep quiet, everyone at work already knew that I was making the cake.Well, it was all up to me now.

Professional bakers typically offer cake samples, so why wouldn't I, if I was striving to perform as close to a professional as possible. I made 5 different flavors, packed them and took them to work, so that dad can take the samples home. And oh my! I saw Christina's picture on Facebook the next day, and I thought "That was it! I screwed up!" Some of the directional decorations on the small cakes had run down and fallen off to the side. My heart sank. I was hoping that they at least liked the taste of what I offered. Well, they did.

Here is where I probably need to mention that I have made a lot of different recipes. I have found that there is a significant difference between what my European friends like, and what the American standard of a good cake is. In short, Europeans like their cakes with very little butter or oil and moisturized with syrups cake layers, while the American cake is baked with lots of butter or oil to make it moist. I made both types, just to be on the safe side. Christina and Matt selected a chocolate cake with whipped cream and caramel filling. It took a few batches to come up with the right chocolate cake that was moist, not overly sweet, chocolatey enough, but not too rich, bouncy and tasty. And as to the filling, who doesn't like caramel and whipped cream?

Advanced preparation was going to be key for me, so I started making my sugar flowers weeks in advance. A couple of weeks before the wedding I had hydrangea flowers all over my house. But, I loved the way they were turning out, I was very happy with how things were coming along. 

I had purchased everything I needed except the cake stand. I looked, and looked, and found that there aren't that many choices (or I wasn't finding them) that I liked. The stands didn't look sturdy enough to bear the weight of such a large cake. I needed help to come up with a stand that would hold the weight of my cake, be stylish, and not too busy to take away from the cake design. I asked my husband for help with it. I knew exactly what I wanted, now I had to make sure I restated that to him to make sure he makes what I want. It wasn't without re-doing some things, but after it was all done, I was happy with the final product. It was for sure that this stand will hold a cake this big. 

Closer to the wedding the number of guests was reduced and I had to tweak the design to adjust the number of servings. Still over 200 servings though. My accounting skills came in much do I need of the cake batter, sugar, butter, cocoa, chocolate, eggs, etc.? I came right on! I was so proud of myself.

A weekend before the weeding...I was planning to start making the fondant, buttercream, and some of the other things that can be prepared in advance without compromising quality. Guess what? I got sick!.... I couldn't let that happen. Thankfully it wasn't anything else but my allergies. Quick fix, whew!

I made silicone leaf mold from a real
hydrangea leaf that I picked from my garden 
....and a hydrangea veiner to
use for the flowers too
So, all was fine again, but when do I start baking so that I can put the cake together, ice it, cover with fondant and have time to decorate it while keeping it as fresh as possible? And....plan for time to fix any misshaps. All by myself? It was so much measuring and baking on that Thursday that by the time I was done I could tell you the recipe in my sleep and could probably measure without the scale. On Friday all cakes were iced with buttercream, waiting in the fridge to be covered in fondant and put together into two big pieces so we can transport them to the venue. I have a fridge (one of the three) that I use exclusively for cakes and it is located on the lower level of our house. Do I need to say how many times I went up and down those stairs in those two days? Excellent exercise! And just so you know, I was literally running up and down without any effort.

Calla lily centers ready to color
Dollar Store foam sheets come in
handy when you have
to make many calla lilies.
I planned having three 10 in square cakes, each 4 in tall, assembled as one of the layers, in addition to two 12 in ones assembled as another layer of the final cake, added to a single 16 in, a single 8 in, and a 6 in square top. The 12 in cakes were put together and refrigerated! I assembled the three 10 in cakes separated with wooden dowels to support each layer, and as my husband was helping me put this piece in the fridge, the cakes shifted! All three layers almost fell apart! I am so glad it happened at home. The wooden dowels were sturdy enough to bear the weight, but were not wide enough to provide stability. I had chosen to use the wooden ones instead of the plastic cake dowels I bought, as the plastic would have basically taken out 4 servings per layer (28 in total), which would have messed up my total servings count. Well, I had to use the big dowels now and had to make extra cake so I can have enough servings for all guests!

At this point (late Friday afternoon), I was freaking out and very scared about how all this will turn out! I didn't have time for much experimenting and had to come up with a solution very quickly! I decided that I would take out two 4 in cake layers and make three separate cakes in addition to the big one. I'd rather change the design and make it safe than having my initial fear become a reality. Thanks to my husband who was helping me keep my sanity that day! I wouldn't have done all the lifting without him either. One person can't possibly make this large wedding cake alone!

One of the toppers I made
I was able to match the colors of the fondant very, very closely to the invitation, and was very pleased with that. However, I committed to make the fondant from marshmellows so that it is a little tastier than the store bought one, and it did not turn out to be as smooth as I wished. I had cut out tree branches in advance and let them dry so I can later attach to the cake. I am just going to say that not all of them worked as intended. I had also made the topper (a couple of them by now) and let that dry, so it was ready to just put on top of the cake at the venue.

It was Saturday now, and after three hours of sleep (I had trouble sleeping that night as you might imagine!), time was flying by faster than ever. By now I was hurrying to match the tree pieces on the two separate pieces of the cake without having it all assembled, and so nervous that my hands were shaking and couldn't do anything right. Thanks to my lovely husband (yet again I have to admit), for all of his help! I couldn't have done it without him!

The lower half of the cake was on the stand, with a long wooden rod in the middle for stability and the other half in the cake box, that I received as a gift from a bunch of lovely Bulgarian friends this summer (thank you girls! it worked perfectly!). I had 15 minutes to get ready and to head to the venue for the cake set up (we were invited to the wedding too). I usually need a lot more time than that to get ready, but....I managed.

Cakes were loaded into the van and ready to go! And did I think of taking pictures? Of course not! I was a nervous wreck!

After 50 pounds of powdered sugar, 48 sticks of butter, 25 doses of chocolate cake and a couple of sleepless nights we arrived with the cake at Pine Lake Country Club and started setting it up. I pulled out the two boxes of small LED lights (battery operated, lasting 8 hrs, according to the boxes) that I was going to put on the cake and started twisting them to light up. Guess how many of them worked? 6-7 out of the 24! Of course! Of course! And d..., next morning when we were cleaning up the van, quite a few of those suckers were glowing! To my further surprise, now when I was writing this post, I happened to check the boxes, and viola! A whole other bunch of them were still lit up! That's 2 weeks after the wedding!!!! Why not when I needed them? Well, fix with what you have and go on!

Mmmm...homemade buttercream!
It was now time for the guests to start coming and I didn't have any pictures of the entire assembled cake. I did my best....and I wish I had more time for that, but...lesson learned. The professional photographers took some pictures later....Click here for Arising Images blog, where they posted some pictures of Matt and Christina. You will also see the amazing work these photographers do.

It was now after cocktail hour, after all guests settled at their tables, and after I had already received positive feedback about the cake, and I still couldn't relax. It wasn't until after staff took that cake out of the dance floor to cut it when I finally started settling back. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I also heard from a few people that they loved the taste too (including the Dad of the bride), so I was happy.

I could go home and get some rest finally. And oh boy, was it hard going down the stairs to the lower level the next day....So many muscles (that I didn't know I had) were aching on Sunday, but it actually felt really really good. I was filled with sense of accomplishment, some warm, genuine, sincere and beautiful feeling that grabbed me the day I met Matt and Christina and I stuck with me to the last minute at the wedding. Thanks to the family for the honor and the opportunity to work on something so important as the wedding cake!

All this is perhaps an everyday happening for some people, and is probably not so important for others, but it was very special for me. I had a great experience and was filled with very good feelings that hopefully I was able to describe so well that they reached you through the lines of this post. I have learned a lot during the process. Despite the snags along the way I enjoyed every single minute of the planning, baking and revealing the cake. May be because it was my first, or may be because I got too excited about this cake, but I felt like I had to share all of these feelings with everyone. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience as much as I did while making the cake! And here are some pictures of it....

The cake set up at the venue

Sugar flowers

And the lights...

I will continue to share with all of you all the love I put into each and everyone of my cakes. I always hope that my work will make more and more people happy. That's what makes me happy in return. Thank you again for stopping by!

See you soon!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tangled - Rapunzel Birthday Cake

I just finished a couple of cakes, and while I love all of the ones I've done (I'll post the latest in "My Work"), I want to share the Rapunzel cake.  It was a one on which I spent the most time, and am really happy with the way it turned out. In other words, that is the one I want to brag most about...

A few weeks ago little Christina's mother reached out to me to ask if I would make a cake for Christina's 4th birthday.  Of course I didn't pass the opportunity, so we started discussing what cake she wants.  It was then when she asked if I know who Rapunzel is. I have to admit, I had not seen the movie, but I agreed to make a Rapunzel themed cake. While discussing the details, I learned that the little girl is very observant and detail oriented, and is questioning anything that is not the same as in the Disney movie. In addition to this, during our conversation I found out that the dad is an artist (and working as a sculptor)! Talk about pressure! What did I get myself into! But... I love being challenged, so I was determined to make a beautiful cake, even without a professional training.

First, I had to see the movie, so thanks to my second daughter Nikol for sharing her DVD, I was able to see Disney's version of this beautiful story. I saw it once, but then went back over and over again to look for the details of all the things that I had to make out of fondant - the pan, Pascal, the brush, the lanterns, and of course, the tower and Rapunzel. I loved all the colors and characters, but now, how do I make all of it out of sugar? I am glad I started early...those took me some time. For someone who never learned this art, I think I did fairly well. And I wouldn't have done so well if it wasn't for my lovely daughter Natali, who once again, helped with drawing Rapunzel. She also helped with air brushing, shades, flower cutting, etc.

I didn't decide on the final design until the last minute. I had something different in mind first, but after some discussion and advise from my construction engineer (hubby), it was decided that I need a very sturdy base that will not only hold a heavy load of two cakes, but also will look good.

I made Pascal, the lanterns, the brush, and the pan and started thinking about how to actually put all of them on the cake. I knew I wanted to make everything as realistic as possible, so my plan was to have candles lit up inside the lanterns. I tried it and looked really cool, but I was concerned with safety, as the cake was for a 4 yr old and another 12 young princessess. While browsing the local craft store with my daughter, and while she was teasing me for spending too long in there, she came across those small, battery operated lights that supposedly stay lit for 8 hr, plus, no open flames! It was the perfect solution for my cake! I was so excited. I knew that the lanterns will be hanging in the air just like in the movie. So, it was onto making the cake!

Everything worked very well from there on. The cakes turned out nicely, very tasty, and all of the details were coming out as I expected. Only, I had planned to make the crown too, but ran out of time. I had the stones made out of clear sugar, made the circle for the base of the crown and didn't have time to finish it. I guess I just think I can do things much faster than I actually do them. Anyway, it was time to deliver the cake and I hadn't taken any pictures... Even my new tripod didn't help...but I guess you probably are used to the quality of my pictures by now, so I hope you will forgive me until I learn how to do better :)!

I had so much fun making this cake, I hope the birthday girl liked it as much as I do, and her guests found it as tasty as I think it is.
Thank you to her parents for allowing me to make her a cake, but also thank you for visiting. I enjoyed sharing my experience with you and am hoping you would be back soon for more of my beautilicious stories.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Birthday Car Cake

Hello again! Yes, I has been a while. I've wanted to share many things during the last month, but was very busy. Really, I am not just saying it. There were many holidays and many reasons for me to bake, and I did....

In this post I want to show you something I made for my husband's birthday. It is a cake of course....and it is a blast from the past.

For those of you that don't know, "Moskvich" was a very popular Russian car in Bulgaria 20 or so years ago. There were many families who didn't own a car, and of those who did, most could only afford a Moskvich (there weren't many other choices anyway, and many, if not all, were cars from the Soviet Union). This should tell you that at that time, for a teenager to have a car to drive was a luxury. Hubby was one of those  privileged to drive his parent's Moskvich wherever and whenever he wants. At that time, 10+ yrs old, the car already needed frequent repairs. A trip to the Black Sea (some 350-400 kilometers) required special preparation (just to make sure you will get there). A popular feature of the Moskvich was its logo "AZLK", which translated in Bulgarian meant "Oh, why did I buy you?".

I will not deny that it was fun to drive in it. And not because it was comfortable, but because we had the freedom to go anywhere. Our group of friends was big and since my husband was the only one who had a car, you can only imagine how many people has this car seen and how many places it has been to. Only if the poor car could talk... No wonder why it was a favorite to many. It is worth mentioning that not only Valentin was exploiting it...his older brother learned how to drive using the Moskvich, then it was my husband's turn, and even I drove it when I was training. And let me tell had to have special skills to be able to drive one of those...No hydraulics, "very sophisticated" for which you needed some extra strength to push, otherwise you may not be able to stop. There were many other "features", but I wont go into that.

The car was slow, ok. In my opinion, it was designed for the elderly. However, my husband and his brother were so into cars and speeding, that the poor car was probably so sorry it ended up with this family. The two brothers were so wild that since there was nothing else to drive but the Moskvich, they were trying to make it drive like a Ferrari. It has been many times when they have raced with it, that it often felt like the pistons will fly out of from under the hood. May be because their dad didn't find out how his sons drove the car until later, and may be because if something went wrong, it was always fixed before dad came home, his family owned this car for more than 30 years. The cake brought so many memories back, so I let Valentin paint the Moskvich one more time...

Now about the cake...this was my first attempt to make a car, and it is obvious I would not make it into a collision shop! I was not happy with the result, but I know that some of you were waiting to see it, so I decided to share it anyway. Not to mention the picture quality... I hope you will bare with me until I get better. And lastly, please disregard the "support" underneath, I couldn't figure out how to make it stand on the tires only.

Thank you very much for checking my blog. I hope this brings good memories for some, and for those who are too young to know the old times, or have never had the privilege to ride in a Moskvich, I hope it is interesting to learn how I grew up (oops that shows how old I am).

Now let me go clean all that blue paint from everywhere in the house....:)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Little Artist Birthday Cake

To all Bulgarians March 1st is known as Baba Marta day, the day when we share "marteniza", the symbol of spring, health, and new beginning. Also on this day, my youngest nephew's was born. Mihail loves to paint, draw, and enjoys anything that has to do with art or gardening. My daughter Natali shares Mihail's love for art, so several years ago she started a painting of my sister and my little nephew that she never finished. Recently, when Mihail visited us, he saw the picture and ever since he keeps asking when will the picture be finished. Well, this past week that time came. I guess it is true when they say, an artist has to have an inspiration. 

Since I made the 101 Dalmations cake for my 3 yr old niece (her most favorite movie) a couple of weeks ago and she said she wanted a Winnie the Pooh cake, I thought I should do a better job for her brother's birthday. I wasn't sure how exactly to impress him, but decided that I have to combine the Baba Marta holiday with his hobbies. I had also recently bought an air brush that Natali was dying to try, so my idea of an artist's cake was born. I asked Natali to draw a picture for the cake and I was going to take care of the rest. 

The cake was made of chocolate layers with vanilla milk cream, and mixed with whipped cream filling. To sweeten it a little more, I added caramelized almonds. Well, since this was my next try for a tasty recipe, the filling turned out to be a little too runny. I put the cake together and ... it was not cool. Filling was running and the cake did not hold a shape at all. I didn't have time to fix it though, and it was too tasty to throw I had to make it work. I figured I had to cover the sloping edges somehow, and that was done by throwing some colored "artist's rags" on top. A snow drop and а crocus symbolized the upcoming spring (and my nephew's love for plants and flowers). I made marteniza of fondant, and it was time for the artist's touches. A brush, a color tube and the artist's easel were created from sugar and waffles. The "canvas" was made out of two waffle layers "glued" together with Nutella and covered with fondant. Since Natali wanted to test the air brush, she promised to have a picture for the cake at the end of the day (I had no idea what she had in mind). I was amazed when I came home from work...she had painted an actual picture of Mihail and Geri to put on the cake! I was impressed! 

We put the cake together, but don't think we were all done. The easel was not strong enough to hold the heavy canvas and broke right when I was getting ready to take the first picture. When the picture fell, it broke some of the extremely fragile marteniza strings and left brown streaks on the white "cloth" that covered the cake. After some fussing around, the cake was ready....

Well, I think my nephew liked it. He wants to have all the cake they are going into a parcel overseas.

Thanks for joining me in sharing the making of this fun cake!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winnie the Pooh Cake

As I had mentioned earlier, this turned out to be a busy month for me (baking), considering that I do it in my spare time. I have been baking pretty much every weekend and sometimes during the week also. However, it is a pleasure to put a smile on someone's face, not to mention sweeten their day too.

This past week a little boy for whom I made my first big cake turned one and based on some clues from the family, I came up with a design for a Winnie the Pooh cake (may be I can get away with showing this cake to my niece also).

My idea was to model the grown up boy Niki from fondant as a continuation of the theme from the baby shower cake and create a scene where he interacts with the characters from the movie (I always have bigger ideas than I can create).

First, it took me a lot longer than I thought it would to make the fondant figurines (with some being made twice), and then, fondant was just not sticking as I wanted it to. I ran out of time and couldn't finish the details that I wanted to put on the figurines, which of course changed some of my plans. My perfectionism was killing me at this point (this quality of mine doesn't always work in my favor), but I guess I got the idea across. I was pretty pleased with the way the colors turned out, and was lucky enough to  have my daughter help with adding color details and shades.

The cake consisted of vanilla layers with Raffaello filling. I usually read a number of recipes and at the end take several ideas to come up with a recipe that I think will taste delicious. People haven't told me that they hated any of the cakes I made, and I hope it is not because "it's a cake after all" type of thing...

This experiment turned out to be quite tasty. The filling was a creamy coconut filling, light and fluffy with almond and waffle crunch.

I have interesting ideas for the upcoming cake orders, I hope I can re-create them to look and taste as interesting as they are in my head.

Thank you for looking at my sweets!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Niece's Birthday

Well, I have to admit, I was thinking I would be much more regular on my blog, but once my 10+ hrs work day at work is over, it is really hard to concentrate on putting something together for the blog. Not to mention that I have to bake it first before I brag about it. I think this is enough of complaining and time to share my weekend baking with you....

Today, thousands of miles away, my 3 yr old niece celebrated her birthday! Since I can't celebrate with her, I decided to make her a cake, and not just a cake, but one, decorated based on her favorite movie - the "101 Dalmatians". I made chocolate cake with creme brule filling and of course covered with fondant. Cake was moistened with squeezed fresh orange juice to give the chocolatey layers fresh and fruity flavor.

I had made the cake in advance and was hoping to decorate on the weekend, but a friend of mine invited us for Saturday night dinner, and I had to take the cake there (otherwise, we would have ended up eating the whole thing :)). That meant that I had to decorate it in a very short time. While not exactly what I expected, it turned out ok. My idea was to have many more dalmatians interacting, but couldn't make them fast enough.

Let me tell you how the birthday girl liked it....

When I saw her today to wish her "Happy Birthday" and showed her a picture of the cake, she (very tired after a day filled with lots of emotions, lack of sleep, and a big party) said: "Mommy....I wanted a Winnie the Pooh cake :((((" How did auntie not know??? I love her!

Now, only if I can find the time to take my pictures during the day... For now, please excuse the quality, as not only I can only take them at night and using artificial light, but also don't know enough about how to take good pictures either. 

Happy Birthday Geri!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day and Честит Трифон Зарезан!

I hope your day is filled with love and happiness!

Happy Trifon Zarezan to those Bulgarians who celebrate the wine holiday and those named Valentin, Valia, etc.!!!