Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Fishy business... a birthday cake for a fisherman

Our wonderful head of office has a birthday coming up. He is good at lots of things but particularly good at fishing, and spends a lot of time up at the lakes, trout fishing. So in thinking of a theme for a birthday cake, I knew it had to involve fish in some way, shape or form.

At first I wondered if I could do a cake in the shape of a fish. I've seen some really impressive ones on the interwebs, But doing a really good fish would take a culinary airbrush to get the colours right, and I don't have that kind of equipment. So I decided to do a fisherman, surrounded by a tackle box and a few fish, and a little pond in front of him with a fish still in it.

This was a simpler plan than a cake shaped like a fish, but still quite complex for me, because I haven't had much experience in doing figure modelling. As the name of my blog suggests, I'm mostly a cupcaker. But I like a challenge so I decided to go for it. Fisherman ahoy!
How do you make a fisherman? Well ... you start at the boots and work upwards.
I was at a disadvantage here because my last experience with fishing was when I was approximately nine years old (I had a great time until we actually caught something, when I became very distressed for the fish, and never went near fishing again). So I had little idea what fishermen (let alone Josh) actually wore on their expeditions. 
I guessed gumboots and started with that. I had some chocolate-flavoured, dark brown fondant so I used that, reasoning it was close enough to black.

For most of this figure, I mixed magic stuff called tylose powder into the fondant. This makes the fondant dry harder. You don't need a lot, you just sprinkle about half a teaspoon for each walnut-sized piece of fondant. You can get tylose powder from cake decorating shops. 

Next I needed to make a fashion decision. What should Josh be wearing? Again I had no idea but I thought I'd give him shorts and a tank top. So I needed some legs - specifically, the bit of leg from mid-calf to mid-thigh. I tried to indent the knee and shape the legs a bit. 

I stuck the legs to the gumboots. They looked surprisingly leglike!

It was time to create some shorts. I had a grey-blue fondant already coloured which I thought looked quite workmanlike. I had no idea how to get started. In the end I made a sort of oblong shape, flattened both long sides, and cut a triangle out of the middle of one side. 

In the meantime, I stuck lollipop sticks down through the middle of the legs and gumboots. I would need this structure to make the fisherman stand up. 

The shorts were very plain. I put some indentations where the fly and pockets should be, and a thin band of fondant for the waistline, then slid them carefully onto the sticks. 

The attaching of the separate pieces onto each other via the sticks was quite challenging. As I wanted each piece to be slightly malleable still (so that I could push the edges together and adjust the shapes a bit) they were prone to being compressed vertically when the sticks were pushed into them. A couple of times I had to remodel them to repair the compression. I also used some water to stick the pieces together. You can see a bit of the water glistening around the tops of the boots in this pic. 

Next came the tank top. I really wanted khaki, but my colour blending skills are poor at best. I had green and asked Mr Cupcake if I mixed some black in, would I get khaki? He felt I may get purple, which indicated to me that his colour blending skills may be worse than mine. I didn't risk it and stuck with green.

As you see I made the tank top a bit too thin. It was hard to get the shape right. I made the neckline with a circle cutter, and rolled and cut a tiny square for a pocket. Do tanks have pockets??

This is what he looked like from the back. At this stage, feeling the shorts were too plain, I added some pockets. These are the same as on the tank above - tiny oblongs of fondant, cut with a knife, with strips at the top for an overfold. I used a needle to prick stitch marks around the edges. 

I made a teardrop shaped piece of ivory fondant for the chest and neck and moulded it into place by hand, connecting it to the tank top with moistened edges and a toothpick that would provide a straight line between the tank, the chest, neck and head.

Separately I made a head and hat from two half spheres, one of flesh coloured and one of brown fondant. I cut a small circle of rolled brown fondant for the brim of the hat, and stuck the three parts together with drops of water. I did some hand shaping of the hat and the brim, and stuck on a tiny oval ball for the nose.
I let the Josh man dry and then I stood him up and you know what? His arms were wrong. Completely. They sort of curved downward awkwardly and were all wrinkly where they bent inward. 
Desperate measures were required to save the situation. 
I made some new arms and this time I was more careful. I tried to make the arms forward-rotating rather than bent out sideways. This time I was happier with the arms. 
So at this point I modelled some little fishies. 

To mark the scales, I needed something tiny and curved. This miniature glass from my shadow box collection of small small tings fitted the bill perfectly. 

After the fishies had dried hard, I experimented with colouring. I painted them with liquid colouring - I use gel colour for mixing into fondant, but liquid colour for painting because the gel stuff is too intense and sticky and doesn't dry when painted onto a shape. 

Mr Cupcake saw these and commented that they looked more like carp than trout. Admittedly the colour was very orange. 

I ended up going over it with a darker colour - orange with some green mixed in - which got me a dark brown, more appropriate to trout. Then the trout got eyeballs which were tiny balls of white fondant, and I dotted pupils with an edible pen.

This was how the tackle box started off. I cut out a solid piece of white fondant with a metal cutter, then rolled out some orange fondant and covered the white oblong. 

I added a white lid and an orange handle and clasp and the tackle box was finished. 

I confess I didn't even attempt a fishing line, trout net or flies. I just couldn't see how to do them on this kind of scale, Anyone out there with ideas, let me know!

I was buoyed (see what I did there?) with the success of my tackle box so I started on a bucket to put some fishes in. However this didn't go so well. I couldn't get the shape right, I tried moulding it around things (like in this pic) and I tried a few other things but I wasn't happy, so eventually I abandoned it. 

There was a bit of a gap between the figure modelling and the actual cake decorating. The great thing about fondant figures is that they keep really well so you can make them in advance if you want - in this case there was a couple of weeks between making the fisherman and making the cake for him to stand on. The only thing you need to be careful about - well, there are a couple of things: don't get them wet or keep them in a very humid environment, as they will soften; and don't leave them in sunlight as the colours may fade. 

Anyway - the cake. I made a gluten free chocolate mud cake and ganached the surface smooth (for detailed instructions, see here). 

Another cake view of the ganache surface. Needs to be smooth as possible. 

I missed out some pics here, sorry. First up I rolled out some white fondant and hand cut it into an uneven 'pond' shape (the shape of the blue pond in this pic). I stuck that white shape direct onto the ganache, where I wanted the pond to be, and dusted its top with cornflour. Then I covered the whole cake with a light green fondant and smoothed it off and trimmed it around the base. 
So then I had a green cake with a slightly raised area where it had white fondant underneath. Next step was to cut away the green fondant over the white bit, so that I was left with a white 'pond' with a raised green edge. Then I filled it with a mixture of clear and blue edible candy gels. 

Mixing the gels made it possible to get some swirling colour variation in the water. 

This is a detail of the finished pond, complete with a fish popping up and a couple of recent catches on the edge of the pond. 

The fish are shiny because I sprayed them with edible food glaze. I only remembered to do this at a late stage, when the fish was already in the pond, so I had to do it in situ, using a very wonky shield of baking paper to prevent spraying the green surface at the same time. I was able to remove the other fish from the cake surface and spray them and then put them back on. 

This cake needed to be transported and the figure wasn't stable enough to withstand it so I packed it carefully in its plastic container like this, for assembly at work. 

Note, I have already positioned the figure on the cake and used toothpicks to provide an anchor - they are stuck halfway into the underside of the gumboots, and have made holes in the cake surface. You can also see around the holes the indentation of the edges of the gumboots. 
I took off any fishes that I thought might accidentally slide or move. 

When assembled, the view from above was this: 

You can see how the fisherman's arms are better than before. 

For the face, I put simple features on with an edible pen and brushed the cheeks with some rose petal dust. 

This was the end result. 

Happy birthday Josh ... here's hoping you get some great catches up in the lakes this year!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Moustache cake pops for Movember!

As a woman, it's difficult to contribute to Movember in an obvious way. While all my men friends have the option of showing their support for charity by growing a moustache for the month of November, I can only marvel at their hairy efforts and sponsor them to look ever more moustachioed and Magnum-like.
HOWEVER, this year the lovely Amy found some moustache-shaped moulds, so I could do Movember with the best of the boys, via a cake pop.

This is the pack the 'Munchstache' moulds came in...

... And this is what the pack looks like with a moustache cake pop contributing to the model's look.

Even more impressive than the one in the original picture - well, larger and more fulsome anyway!!

While the moulds provided a few different shapes, it was also necessary to make the moustaches in several different colours. I went for dark brown ('the Italianate'), blonde ('the Californian') and red ('the Scotsman').

Here, I model 'the Scotsman' which is possibly the colour my mo would grow (if I was a boy).
Several of my male friends have been a bit surprised to find that their mo's have grown in a bit gingery even if their hair colour is light brown or blond.

Here I model 'the Italianate'. I think you'll agree it's rather super.

I tried to persuade Mr Cupcake to be my model but he said he didn't want to be on the blog this time. I think he may have been a bit embarrassed about being a moustache model.

Making these cake pops was challenging. While the moulds look wonderful, they were difficult to get the cake pop mixture out of because they were closed over at the top so you couldn't push them out from above. The decoration lines on the top of the mould are meant to be used as the second stage, to be pressed into the mixture when it has already been stamped - this tends to work better on biscuit doughs so was not as useful to cake pop making sadly.
Also, the shape of the moustaches was difficult to work with because they were heavy in relation to their length, and have their weakest bit in the centre, so they tended to break in half easily.

This is me trying to get a mo out of its mould. I had to run a sharp knife around the edges and coax it out gently - I also dusted the top of the mixture from which I was stamping the shapes, with icing sugar, so that it wouldn't stick in the mould.

It took some hand shaping at the edges to repair the knife damage.

Here is a mo that has come nicely out of its mould. The mixture had to be refrigerated, stamped quickly and then refrigerated again before dipping.

This is a blond mo being dipped in melt mixture.

For a bit of detail on the melt mix and using it to dip cake pops, have a look here.

To make the mo's more realistic I pulled the dipping fork over the smooth surface of the pops, to create a 'hairy', swirly effect.

Soon some red mo's were added ... I combined red, brown and yellow melts to get this colour. To be perfectly honest I wasn't 100% happy with the colour.

When you have done enough mo's of one colour you can scrape the still-hot mixture into a sandwich bag and leave it to cool down and harden in the bag. You can store it and use it again. Check that it hasn't got any stray cake pop crumbs in it though. That can mess things up for you bigtime.

With the chocky ones - sorry, the 'Italianates' - instead of putting lines on them with the dipping fork, I sprinkled them with chocky sprinkles. This looked appropriately hairy.

The mo's were apt to break in half during the dipping process. However, the melt mixture is very sticky and as long as the two halves were placed together in the proper shape, they would stick together into one piece again. With this one, you can just see how I have put some extra melt mixture on it to stick the two halves together.

Three different takes on 'the Californian'. A good mo for the beach. Accessorise with tight shorts and well developed biceps.

Three takes on 'the Italianate'. Also good for the beach, but better accessorised with chest hair and gold chains.

Top to bottom: the French Acrobat; the Merv Hughes; the Chopper.

Happy Movember everyone and don't forget to make a donation to your participating moustachioed friends!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Torta di Riso - Italian cakes made of rice

I have good memories of rice pudding. I always think of it as an English thing, but I had an amazing French version years ago which was incredible, very decadent - you basically put a small amount of rice in the oven with a ton of cream and sugar and cook it slowly for hours. I really wish I still had that recipe.
HOWEVER, I don't, and it's ages since I've eaten rice pudding, and the only rice pudding I've even seen recently has been the tinned stuff in the supermarket (or as I prefer to call it, the Evil Empire). 
So I thought I would give this recipe for Torta di Riso a go. The name just means 'rice cake' but it's only pretending to be a cake - it's a fair dinkum rice pudding with a bit of egg in it that allows it to be moulded and stand up prettily instead of slopping around. 

I found the recipe in a book by a New Zealand author, Julie Le Clerc, called Little Cafe Cakes. The book is ten years old now but I got it only recently (thanks, downsizing Mum). 

I'll give the credit to Julie, but I'm pretty sure this is a stock standard recipe with the possible exception of the lemon flavour. The interwebs tells me that torta di riso is a traditional sweet that originated in Torano, Bedizzano and Mirteto, small villages in the Massa Carrara province of Italy - it's described simply as a cake made from milk and rice. 

Torta di Riso recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup arborio rice (risotto rice)
3 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup castor sugar
zest and juice of one lemon
ground almonds (for dusting cake tins)

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease the cake pans, muffin trays or whatever you'd like to use, and dust them with ground almonds. (To be sure of a good unmoulding, cut some baking paper circles and line the bottom of each mould with them - it seems like extra work but you'll thank me for the tip). 
Warm the milk in a saucepan, making sure it doesn't boil over. In another, heavy-based saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the rice, stirring for a few minutes until well coated. 
Add the hot milk to the rice and simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent it from sticking, until the rice is tender and the milk has been absorbed. This will take about 20 minutes. 

As you can see in this pic, the texture thickens just like a risotto - in fact, at this stage it is a risotto - just made with milk instead of stock. And just like a risotto, as the texture thickens you need to check whether the rice is cooked through. 
When you have a thick texture like this, try a few grains of rice. If they're still chewy, add a bit more milk and cook until it's absorbed. 
At this stage take it off the heat and cool it down. I wanted to do this quickly so I spread it on a plate and put it in the freezer for ten minutes. 

Zest the lemon, then slice it and juice it (here is a fairly unnecessary pic of a lemon being zested). Chop the zest finely. 

Beat the eggs with the sugar in a mixing bowl, with an electric beater, until they are thick and pale and hold the ribbon. Then gently fold the cooled rice, the zest and the lemon juice into the egg mixture.

When it's well combined, spoon it into the prepared pans and bake for 15 minutes. I used some French friand tins that look very cute but are absolutely vicious because they have such sharp edges that I have cut myself a few times when washing them out. Those Frenchies!!

It should be slightly browned and springy to the touch when cooked. 

Cool before removing from the tins. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the tins before upending them onto a plate or rack. Peel the baking paper carefully off the top. 

I thought these looked a bit plain so I fancied them up a bit. I used a smidge of glace icing (just icing sugar and lemon juice in this case) to spread a little circle on the tops of the puddings, and then heaped some longer pieces of lemon zest on top. 
I had dredged these lemon zest pieces in beaten egg white, then castor sugar, to try to candy them - this would have worked beautifully if I'd done them eight hours earlier and dried them properly, but by using them straightaway they never crisped up - oh well. FA NIENTE. (doesn't matter). 

Spero che queste ti piace moltissimo!
(Hope you like 'em!)