Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cake Wrecks

My daughter, Paula told me about this great blog, and I have laughed and laughed as I've viewed it. It is called "Cake Wrecks" and it is pictures of so-called professional cakes that have gone wrong, along with humorous commentary. So, for a good laugh,visit and if you see a cake that belongs there, send it in, even if it's your own. None of us cake decorators are perfect, and we've all had cakes that didn't turn out exactly as we had planned...let's admit it. Anway, enjoy the blog...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It's Fall and Halloween Time...

I love this time of year, with the leaves changing colors and Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. People want interesting cakes for Halloween also. The lastest cake I did was a coffin cake. I found a picture similar to this one on the internet, except changed the colors to a dark chocolate. I have found that I can get a really dark chocolate, resembling black, using Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa. I used to use black piping jel for outlining or when I needed black, but it tasted nasty and was difficult to use. Now I use buttercream made from the dark cocoa for all of my black. Tastes great, and handles much easier too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Here's your sign...

Yesterday we delivered a wedding cake and we chuckled at some of the comments we were getting. First, as I was assembling the cake, the wedding coordinator (that's another subject for a blog post) looked at the cake and said, "Why do you need to put those plastic dowels in the cake?" the cake won't fall, so the tiers won't sink into the ones they're stacked on, so the cake stays level...a strange comment I thought to come from a wedding coordinator who must know something about wedding cakes. Next, I was putting the finishing touches on the cake and a gal from the bridal party comes over, stands in back of me and looks directly at the cake and asks, "Is this the wedding cake?" I kid you was all I could do to keep my mouth closed and not reply... I could have said, "Oh my gosh, I brought the wrong cake. This is the birthday cake. The wedding cake is at the little boy's house down the road," or "No, this is the wedding gown, the bride is wearing the wedding cake." I was so proud of myself for not saying anything. Last of all, a young girl was watching as I was putting on the borders at the back of the cake, and she asked, "Would you like me to spin the cake?" I replied, "No thank you, it would mess up the tablecloth." I'm afraid some people forget to think before each of them..."Here's your sign"...wear it proudly.

Another Cheyenne Canon Inn cake delivery

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cakes and Pets

While my children were young, they did not have dogs or cats as pets. Instead, we had goldfish and, our favorite, turtles. There was a reason for and cat hairs do not combine well with cakes, especially wedding cakes. When I got too busy for all of the orders I was getting, I went looking for someone I could refer my customers to. So I found this one lady, went over to meet her, to check out her work and her home, and decided that she was a safe bet as a referral. To my horror, the first customer I referred her to for a wedding cake (a friend) called after the wedding and asked me not to refer any more customers to her as they had cat hairs in the wedding cake. I apologized profusely, but at that point, there was nothing I could do. I had not seen any cats when I went to check her out. Needless to say, I did not refer this lady, or anyone else, to anyone ever again. I just told them I was too busy.

Another time, a customer picked up a full sheet cake the night before to take to work in the morning. It was, of course, in a box. She put the box on the kitchen counter. That night, her cat decided to climb up and sit on the box, which destroyed the cake. She called me up in tears the next morning. I told her to bring the cake over and I would repair it as much as I could. Of course, it was not the same cake as I had given her the night before.

My latest run in with a pet was the wedding cake delivery I had last Saturday. The family had a pit bull. First of all, I was met at the table by this dog, and had to ask that someone take him outside while I was setting up the cake. Then I was informed that the dog would be inside (where the cake was set up) while everyone was at the ceremony. I did not know whether the cake would survive the pit bull or not. I just made sure that I took a picture of the cake before leaving, and I let them know that I was not responsible for anything that happened to the cake after I left. I'm not sure what they did to protect the cake, but apparently, it survived as the bride said she was happy with the cake. By the way, this was an interesting cake...check out the picture. The "black" fondant strips were made with the special dark ccocoa, and the red strips were airbrushed so that the back of the strips were still white where they touched the cake. The top had large silver dragees, which I found out have been the scrutiny of law suits. So I had the customer sign a release form before I left the delivery site.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fresh vs. Silk Flowers on Wedding Cakes

When discussing the topic of flowers on wedding cakes, both silk and fresh flowers have their advantages, but I always prefer the finished look of fresh flowers on a cake. The flowers the bride chooses for her cake can "make or break" the look of the cake. Also, a very simple, everyday cake can be brought to life with just the right flowers. The main advantage of using silk flowers on a cake is that the flowers can be arranged on the cake way ahead of time vs. fresh flowers should be arranged on the cake just prior to the reception. When using ivy as greenery on a cake, I always use silk ivy, because fresh ivy just does not do what you want it to when laying it on the cake. Silk ivy is wired so can be shaped and formed to fit the cake. This is probably the only time when I combine both silk and fresh flowers/greenery. Most of the time, the flowers are just pushed directly into the cake and then removed before the cake is cut. This does not present a problem. If, however, you are using some exotic flower/greenery for the first time and you do not know much about its characteristics, please check first to make sure the flower is not poisonous...not good for the bride or groom to die on their honeymoon!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The best pan coating...

I've used various types of pan coatings...the best still remains my own concoction. I've used Crisco with flour, butter with flour, straight Crisco or butter, Baker's joy (which is basically flour and shortening together in a spray can...very expensive), and a special pan coating purchased at a cake supply store. One day, while shopping for the pan coating at my favorite cake supply store in Phoenix, I could not find it, so I asked the sales person if they had any. She told me that they were sold out, and then she gave me this helpful information. She said that she shouldn't be telling me this, but I could make my own pan coating very easily...just combine equal amounts of oil and flour. Mix it thoroughly in a small container, and spread it on your pans. I've used it ever since. I mix it up in a small plastic container--about 1/2 cup or so of each, and stir it thoroughly before each use. The best thing to apply it with is a foam craft brush that you get at someplace like Joann or Michael's. I just keep that handy by the pan coating in a plastic bag. Spread it on your pans liberally and your cakes, breads, muffins, etc. should pop out perfectly each time. When baking my brownies or carrot cake, I additionally place parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, but for anything else, I use only the pan coating. It is by far less expensive than anything you can buy, and works like a charm.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cake Mix or Recipe from scratch

One of Tom's friends left a comment on my blog asking about recipes I use for my cakes. When I took my original cake decorating classes 30 years ago, the decorator who taught us also taught us that the best recipe we could use was a Duncan Hines cake mix. I have tried other cake recipes and mixes, and have always gone back to the same. I use Duncan Hines exclusively for all of my basic cakes. Of course, here in Colorado I have to follow directions for high altitudes. Not only does Duncan Hines have the best tasting cake, but it also has the best texture, and I have found that it also rises higher and it is moister than other recipes. Again, I always bake my cakes at 325 degrees instead of 350 degrees. By using Duncan Hines cake mixes, I can also keep the cost down for my customers. There is one of my cakes that I always do from scratch and that is my carrot cake...for that I use the recipe in Mrs. Field's Cookie Book, adjusting it a little for high altitudes. It is very moist and very dense, but is extremely rich and wonderful with cream cheese frosting. Many of my fillings are made from scratch, as well as my brownies and cookies, but your best bet for your basic cake is Duncan Hines.

3/9/15 Update: Several years have past since I wrote this post. I've changed a few of my recipes. I still use Duncan Hines cake mixes, but just as a base for some of my cakes, with other ingredients added. Also, I use a different carrot cake recipe now that is outstanding. Here is a link to my favorite carrot cake recipe on the blog:
Here is the link to the best chocolate cake recipe, using a Duncan Hines cake mix as the base ingredient:

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Rolls baked on silicone treated parchment liners
Rolls removed when golden brown to butter tops

Many people think that they have to bake items until they are brown, hard, and overdone. It makes me crazy!! First of all, I always bake my cakes at 325 degrees instead of the 350 degrees that it says on the package. This makes for a moister cake. Yes, you have to bake it a few minutes longer, but your cake is done when you insert a toothpick and it just barely comes out clean, and when you can touch it in the center and it will just barely bounce back. Chocolate cakes usually take a few minutes longer than other flavors. DO NOT bake cakes so long that they become dry and hard around the edges. They should be soft and moist. Also, why do some people think they have to bake cookies until they are hard as a rock, and almost burned on the bottom? Cookies should be gently crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Mrs. Fields recommends baking most of her cookies at 300 degrees, instead of 350 or 375. Also, you should almost always remove the cookies from the oven after the MINIMUM amount of time listed. If necessary, you can leave them on the pan for a couple of minutes to finished baking, but usually you can just remove them from the pan and put on a cooling rack or directly on a clean counter to cool. The cookies may look barely set when you remove them from the oven. Do not let your cookies get too brown. They should just barely be golden on the bottom. Same with rolls or cinnamon rolls. I usually bake my dinner rolls for 25 minutes instead of the recommended 30 minutes--they should be a nice even golden brown on top and barely brown on the bottom, not dark brown. They will be softer and moister. Also, remember that everyone's oven may be a little different. Before you start using your oven, you should test the temperature so you know how hot it is, and then adjust your baking temperature accordingly. Using silicone treated parchment paper also helps to bake your items more evenly.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Does my family get tired of cakes?

Well, I suppose that depends on who you're talking about. My husband will eat anything, as long as it's laying around--that includes cake scraps, or any other cake I may have around at the time. My son in law probably will eat most of my cakes also. However, when my kids were younger, we all got a bit tired of eating cakes, myself included. Birthdays were a treat for both the kids and myself, as I would take them to Marie Calendar's and let them choose any pie they wanted. So the treat to me was that I didn't even have to do any baking--imagine that. It wasn't that they didn't like my cakes; it was just that there were always so many around that we just needed something else. When my two sons were teenagers, their friends would come over expecting to find cake scraps left over after I had finished a wedding cake. One time a friend came over asking for cake scraps, and I had just dumped them into my large garbage sack in my baking kitchen. That didn't seem to make a difference to him. He went to the garbage sack, dug them out, and proceeded to eat. I believe only a teenage boy would do that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dowels...wooden or plastic?

Wilton plastic dowel rods

Wooden and plastic dowel rods
When constructing a wedding cake, dowel rods must be inserted into each tier to support the tiers that are stacked above it. Until a few years ago, the decorator always used wooden dowel rods, because they were the only ones available. Several years ago, Wilton came out with hollow plastic dowel rods that I find work much better than wooden dowels...they add more support and are easier to work with. The white plastic dowels are 12 inches long and come in a package of 4. The plastic is quite thin, so they can be cut easily with a small knife or saw, just like you would cut the wooden dowels. After cutting, I like to sand the ends smooth with a piece of sandpaper. Because the diameter of the plastic dowels is much wider than the wooden dowels, they add greater support, even though cake still comes up the center of each since they are hollow. Wooden dowels also have a tendency to tilt, whereas the plastic ones aren't as likely to have that problem. Here are some hints to make sure that your tiers are level when inserting the dowels.
  • Cut the dowels for each tier separately. The tiers, even though on the same wedding cake, may be slightly different in thickness, which can make a difference.
  • Be certain that all dowels for each tier are exactly the same height, after sanding the ends.
  • Always insert the dowels around the edges of your cake plate or board, never in the center. If the cake settles too much, the cake will be balancing on the center dowel, and may tilt to one side.
  • Cut your dowels only slightly below the top of cake, since there is always a chance that the cake will settle a bit.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

General guidelines when designing a wedding cake

All tiers 10 inches
6" - 8" - 12"
6" - 8" - 10" - 12"
6" - 10" - 14"

There are a few basic guidelines a bride should follow when designing her wedding cake. Often, the decorator designing your cake will fail to let you know these things.
  1. If your cake has all tiers directly above each other, either with or without separations, your tiers should have at least 4 inches difference in the diameters. This will not only make the cake look nicer, because of the proportions, but will make the cake more stable. The possible exception to this rule is when you have a smaller cake, the top 2 tiers may have only a 2 inch difference in diameter. (For example, 6"- 8"-12".) The cake would still look nicer if the proportions were 6"- 10" - 14".
  2. If the tiers are staggered and on separate pedestals, the above rule does not apply. You may have any amount diameter difference between the tiers, or all of the tiers may even be the same.
  3. When delivering your cake, the tiers must all be transported separately. Depending on whether or not you have separations between the tiers, the decorator may need extra time at the reception site to assemble the cake, including adding borders and details.
  4. The top tier of your wedding cake is traditionally saved for the first anniversary. This is normally included in the cost of your cake. Most decorators should give you the option of paying for and serving the top tier at the reception and offering a free tier that is ordered prior to the first anniversary, so it will be fresh.
  5. Be sure to ask your decorator which items are included in the cost--delivery, floral arrangement, fountain, mirror, extra decorations, etc.
  6. Stay away from dark icing colors on your wedding cake. They will bleed onto the background icing and also give your guests funny colored teeth. Also, the more color used in the icing, the more bitter the taste. The most beautiful, elegant cakes are iced and decorated all in white or ivory, with color detail brought in with ribbon or flowers.
  7. Be sure your table is large enough and/or the correct shape for your cake design. Also, be sure an electrical outlet and extension cord, if necessary, are available if your cake design includes such things as a fountain or lights.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The hardest thing about moving...

When we were anticipating and preparing for our move to Colorado, we were excited. Even though the circumstances around our move were not the best, we were excited about starting out again "fresh." And that we business with no other job, no home, not knowing where in Colorado Springs we would end up, and having to start my cake business all over again. When we were packing up the house to move, I was fine, until...I had to start packing up my baking kitchen. Not only did I not realize how much I had to pack, but I was leaving MY KITCHEN. I had designed this baking kitchen myself. We had filled in the covered patio to make the kitchen, and we built another one. The kitchen was separate from the rest of the home and I could lock the rest of the family out if I needed to. Inside, I had a double oven, double large industrial size sinks with racks above for drying pans,etc., an extra refrigerator, and lots and lots of cabinet and counter space. Beside my oven, were 10 shelves of cooling racks that I could slide in and out. Then, to the left of them, I had vertical slots that fit all of my various sizes and shapes of cake pans. I had enough cabinet space to store all of my supplies, equipment, and books. When I started packing up the kitchen, the tears began to fall. I knew I would probably never have another kitchen like this one, and it had been my dream. So, now three years later, my business is just beginning to grow again, I make do with baking in my regular kitchen, and most of my decorating equipment is stored in cupboards in the garage. My kitchen is quite workable, even though I still have only one oven. When the time comes that I need more than that and when I have the money to do so, I will again have a double oven, even though I may never again have my dream kitchen.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

To fill or not to fill...

Raspberry Fudge cake
Chocolate mint mousse cake Chocolate Lover's cake
Slicing the layers and adding a filling can turn any cake into an elegant dessert instead of "just a cake." Even the so called self-proclaimed non-cake lover may change his mind with the first bite. Several different flavors and ingredients can be used to fill cakes. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Fudge or fudge nut
  • Cream cheese
  • Mousse--strawberry, raspberry, chocolate, chocolate mint, peanut butter to name a few
  • Fruit fillings--strawberry (best when using fresh strawberries in season), raspberry, lemon, cherry
  • Bavarian creme
  • Whipped cream--vanilla or chocolate
My specialty cakes always have some kind of yummy filling between the layers. For example my raspberry fudge cake has a layer of fudge filling between layers of raspberry filling in a moist chocolate cake, iced in a delicious buttercream and covered with hand-shaved chocolate curls...yumm! Another is the banana split layers of yellow cake with layers of whipped cream with pineapple, fresh strawberries, and bananas, iced with whipped cream and sprinkled with nuts and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Makes you hungry, doesn't it? Next time, try adding a filling to your cake and wait for the compliments!!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

My method of cake decorating...

When I learned how to decorate cakes 30 years ago, I leaned from a man at the little nearby cake shop in Glendale, who was a great decorator. He taught the Kellar method of cake decorating vs. the Wilton method. I do not think that this method still exists. One of the main differences between the two methods is the way of making icing roses. The Wilton method teaches making roses on a flower nail. I make roses on a wooden dowel, and remove them with a pair of pointed scissors. It is ten times faster and easier than using the flower nail. I'm sure there are other things that I do differently too. Wilton has always had a monopoly on the cake decorating business---doesn't mean they're always the best.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Some of my favorite kitchen tools...

A few of my favorite tools that I would have a difficult time doing without:
  • KitchenAid Mixer: I love my KitchenAids. I actually have 3--two of the K45 (tilt-head) models and one of the larger K5S (bowl lift) models. At one time I had four, but one died from over-use. I still have the bowl that I use when I need an extra one. Some of my friends swear by their Bosch mixers, but for what I do, for all of my mixing and cooking/baking needs, I wouldn't use anything except a KitchenAid. I prefer my tilt-head models because I think they are easier to use, but I use my bowl lift model when I need a little more power and a larger bowl.
  • Pampered Chef silicone scrapers: I have several--classic scrapers, skinny scrapers, and mix 'n scraper. They are heavy-duty. The heads won't crack, stain, or melt, and handles will not separate from the heads (which makes them easier to clean and more sanitary). They are much more flexible than the old traditional rubber scrapers, and you can use them for mixing or stirring things on the stove.
  • Pampered Chef Handy Scraper: I use this to divide my bread doughs, as well as clean off my counter tops.
  • Pampered Chef Bamboo Spoons: They come in a set of three different sizes. These are very sturdy and you can use them to mix or cook on stove top. They are easy to clean-just pop in the dishwasher.
  • Heavy aluminum bun pans and pan liners: I have six of the half size. You can usually purchase them at Sam's or Costco in the 2-pack. I use these for making my rolls, cinnamon rolls, cookies, desserts, candies, appetizers, etc., etc. I always use silicone treated parchment pan liners when using my pans. Using the pan liners makes the clean up allot easier and helps your products to bake more evenly. My pans are as shiny today as when I purchased them about 20 years ago...because I use the pan liners. You can also re-use the liners if whatever you baked is not too messy...just wipe them off.
  • Stainless steel cookie scoops: I have 2 sizes--one small and one a bit larger. These are a must for quick cookie baking and uniform size.
  • Cake saw: I use this for slicing off the rounded tops from my cakes to make them level, and for splitting the layers when I add fillings. It is serrated and much longer than a regular knife, making it easy to use on larger cake layers.
  • Silicone pasty brush: I have 3 of these. They are much better than the old bristle brushes, because they are more flexible and much easier to clean, making them more sanitary. You can just toss them in the dishwasher.
  • Heavy-duty aluminum cake pans: I have many of various shapes, sizes, and quantities. I only use the heavy-duty pans. Your cakes will bake more evenly, and turn out moister. You can make your own pan coating by combining equal amounts of oil and flour. Stir until smooth and stir before each use. Store in cupboard and spread on cake pans with a foam craft brush.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Which icing do you prefer?

When considering icing for your wedding cake, you normally have three options:
  • Buttercream
  • Whipped Cream
  • Fondant

Cream cheese frosting is not really an option here, as it will not hold its shape well enough to decorate with.

Buttercream icing is my preferred choice. It holds up well in most temperatures, is easy to work with, especially when creating details, it tastes great, and is easy to cut and serve. It also tints well, with paste color, or airbrush.

Whipped cream icings can be made with a stabilized whipped cream or a non-dairy whipped topping. It is easy to spread on the cake, and makes for a smooth finish. Some customers like it better because it is not as sweet as the buttercream and has a lighter texture. It is difficult to do detail work with whipped cream icing; it should mainly be used for borders. It also needs to stay cool, so it should not be left for long periods without refrigeration. It too is easy to cut and serve, but does not always tint well.

Fondant is quickly becoming the icing of choice for wedding cakes. It gives that smooth porcelain finish that looks great in pictures and holds up well in most temperatures, but it does have several negatives. It is more difficult to work with; therefore it usually costs more. It can also be difficult to cut and serve. The traditional fondant tastes pretty nasty. I have found a fondant recipe, made with marshmallows, that is much easier to work with, tastes much better, and is a little easier to cut. The fondant is rolled out (like pie dough) and carefully placed over the cake which has been frosted with a generous layer of buttercream. So, if your guests still don't like the taste of this fondant, they can always peel it off and still have the delicious buttercream underneath. Fondant covered cakes should not be refrigerated if you want to keep their "perfect" finish.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wedding cakes vs. party cakes...

I have always enjoyed designing and decorating wedding cakes more than party cakes. There are several reasons why.
  1. When I have finished a wedding cake, I feel as I have created a masterpiece. I love being part of the whole wedding scene, and being able to design a cake that is perfect for the bride.
  2. There is usually less clean-up with wedding cakes because you don't have all of the different colors to worry about.
  3. There is hardly any profit in decorating party cakes. On the other hand, with wedding cakes, you can charge by the serving instead of by the cake. Customers are willing to pay more for wedding cakes because there is much more work involved.

When you are first starting to build a cake business, you almost have to decorate party cakes also, in order to build your business. When customers see and taste your work with party cakes, then they will know that you can also design wedding cakes. Taking pictures and keeping a good album of the cakes you have created is important so that your customers can see the work you have done.

High altitudes and baking do not always "mix" well!

Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

I never thought it would be as difficult as it sometimes is to change my ways of baking because of high altitudes. We lived in Glendale, AZ for about 25 years and baking was pretty just followed the directions in the recipe. Then we moved to Colorado, and I had to change the way I baked my cakes and brownies. My husband didn't seem to mind, because the more I experimented, the more he got to eat my mistakes. We both in my baking techniques, and my husband in his waistline. After over 2 years of experimenting with my brownie recipe, I finally got the adjustments right, so that the middle of the brownies didn't sink to the bottom of the pan. I make several different varieties of brownies. My husband's favorite is raspberry cream cheese swirl with cream cheese frosting. Here is the recipe for just the basic brownies:


Yield: Makes 9x13 pan

1 ½ cups butter, melted
2 ¾ cups sugar
1 T. vanilla
6 eggs
1 ¾ cups flour, unsifted
1 cup cocoa
½ t. baking powder
¾ t. salt
1 T. water
1 cup chocolate chips

Prepare as directed for regular brownies, except change to above amounts for ingredients. Also, do not grease sides of pan. Bottom only! Bake at 350° for approximately 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, and center is firm to the touch. Run knife around outside of brownies before removing from pan.

I recently traveled to San Diego to make a wedding cake for a friend as a wedding gift. I forgot how nice it was to bake at sea level. Oh well, it still isn't enough to make me want to leave Colorado!