Threadcakes pt 1 (painting fondant)

27 Jul

*FYI, I wrote this blog post last week, and for some reason it never posted! Sorry it’s way overdue! ;)

I’ve spent the past few weeks with food colouring-stained hands, a sore neck and the determination to create something to be proud of. I have spent many hours hunched over small pieces of fondant with a tiny sewing needle and my smallest paintbrush hoping that I didn’t screw anything up. I also spent many hours pacing in my kitchen and taking breaks to prevent myself from going insane. That is what my life turns into when I am given a long eriod of time to work on a cake. Usually I have to make and decorate a cake withing a few days, but with this cake, I spent many hours on the decorations before I even thought about baking the actual cake. I spent tons of time planning, making stencils, marking fondant, mixing “paint”, painting fondant, colouring in fondant etc. Here’s what it took to make my 2011 entry for Threadcakes.

First, I had my dad print off 3 copies of the design “Captain Obvious” and cut out the elements. I cut out each individual letter for the title, the speech bubbles, the four squares, and the superhero and his cape seperately.

I then rolled out white fondant, and using a super sharp exacto knife, I cut around the paper to get my fondant pieces.

Once all these were cut out I started with the speech bubbles. I placed the paper cut-out on top of the fondant and used a sewing needle to poke along the letters so that when I lifted the paper I just had to connect the dots.

Pretty much perfect right? I mixed gel food colouring and vodka to get an almost ink like substance. The only problem was that I thought the mixture smelled like garlic for some reason, but nobody else could smell it. hmmm… Anyway, remember when I said I *just* had to connect the dots? Well, words were easy, shapes were a LOT harder.

That was one of the easier ones, I must admit, but it was tricky nonetheless.

This was my favourite part: Captain Obvious himself, the main graphic on the shirt. It was a lot of fun, but the muscles kinda creeped me out a bit. To give you an idea how hard it was, here is a picture of the top, right square of the cake right before I painted it along with the needle for size reference. Can you make out what it is?

It’s an airplane with the superhero flying above it. Here’s a picture of the pieces in black and white to compare it to.

By far, the worst part was the top, left square just because of the extent of the detail. I worked on it over the space of three days because I was getting so frustrated! When it was all done though, I go to colour everything in which was really fun.

I started with the speech bubbles because I had to use red royal icing to go over the words that were supposed to be red. When I made the bubbles to begin with, I was referring to a black and white photo, so I had no idea words were red. oops! Then, I painted all the yellow parts…

all the red parts…

all the blue parts…

I then painted the hero’s skin, the grass and tree. Once that was done, I assembled the cake and placed the fondant pieces on top.

Cool huh?

For the entry, we had to take pictures cutting into and eating the cake (to prove it’s edible?) and I entrusted my dad with this task.

Too bad he didn’t let me make sure I looked alright first. This is what I look like after finishing a super intricate cake at 11pm at night…

Not cute. :p Oh well, at least I got some delicious cake, the recipe for which will soon follow. Don’t forget to “like” my entry, and you can even post comments on the entries now which is cool. :)

http://www.threadcakes.com/entries/view/1094

Craziness and M.C. Escher

4 Jul

When I was a kid I would send hours flipping through books around the house either reading them or recreating the drawings via freehand or tracing. I particularly loved drawing characters from Disney books or Rugrats due to their simplicity. At one point I remember challenging myself by spending a day drawing skeletons from my mum’s nursing books. Then there was my dad’s M.C. Escher book. I spent lots of time looking at the pictures and illusions but I never once tried to recreate one because they were seemingly too complex. I just couldn’t grasp how a person could come up with such intricate designs, and I went back to drawing my cartoons.

At the end of the school year I was provided the opportunity to do an art project for my senior inquiry class in relationship to fractals, chaos theory and entropy. The first thing that came to mind was cookies, and the second was M.C. Escher. I came home an immediately got out that beloved M.C. Escher book and picked my design. I also did some research online, and found some interesting Escher quotes. My favourites:

“I don’t use drugs, my dreams are frightening enough.”

“Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible. I think it’s in my basement… let me go upstairs and check.”

“We adore chaos because we love to produce order.”

Yeah, he was definitely a strange but brilliant man. After some research I decided to make fractal cookies but long story short, it was an epic fail that costed me many hours of painstaking work (I’ll post that disaster later). I then picked a new pattern and a new plan: a fractal cake.  I rolled out a piece of fondant and cut around my pan to get a circle.

Then, I began to trace the design onto parchment paper which took me a few hours.

Once that was done I then laid the paper on top of the fondant and began one of the most difficult cakes I’ve ever attempted. this is where many of you may realize just how much work I put into my cakes, and you may begin to appreciate them that much more. In order to make sure he design was as close to perfect as possible, I took a sewing needle and poked holes through the parchment paper into the fondant along the lines. I then took an edible ink pen and traced the line, and coloured the fish. All. Night. Long.

 

 

 

It was definitely a time-consuming process, but as I kept going it kept getting better…

and better…

Until finally, I had covered the whole piece of fondant!

I remember starting the whole process at 6pm after dinner, and going to bed, at midnight without putting the whole cake together. When I woke up the next morning, two hours before school started, and began to assemble the cake. The first think I noticed was that my fondant was bigger than my cake. So, I had to trim the excess which meant trimming hours of the most painstaking work.

After doing this, I began assembling the cake.

I took the top of the cake off to level it out. I didn’t even bother filling the inside figuring I didn’t have nearly enough time.

I then started to frost the cake just as the sun came up.

Once it was sufficiently covered, I placed the fondant on top. I then piped more frosting around the top and bottom edge with a star tip.

I then got ready for school, and carried it in my lap the entire drive there, and it miraculously survived!

I should be starting my cake for the Threadcakes competition either this week or next week. I still think I might end up doing two, but right now I’m just really excited about the first one! I can’t wait to see how it turns out and see if you all like it! For now, I’m keeping the design a secret, but all will soon be revealed. :)

 

Goodbye to Childhood

24 Jun

It’s the summer before I start college, and I feel like I’m having a midlife crisis. I spent this past week working at the preschool I have been an intern at for the past year, and today I finally had to say goodbye. I have grown so attached to those children, those teachers, the classroom, and everything associated with being there. It had become such a huge part of my life, had made me realize that I want to become a preschool teacher, and helped me on the track to changing my major from psychology to early elementary education. It was my last tie to high school since I had started there as an intern for a child development class and it was my final goodbye to that experience. I finally felt the permanence of graduation, the gravity of the situation I now find myself. I feel like I’m moving all over again like I did so often throughout my childhood- Felixstowe, England to Bonneuil Matours, France to Simi Valley, California to Beaverton, Oregon. I’m saying goodbye to everyone who has supported me over the past four years and looking towards an uncertain future filled with people and places that I will undoubtedly become attached to. Though I understand that I’m not moving across the country or even out-of-state, I will be moving away from the only people who have been there every step of the way. They were there for me when I didn’t know anyone in town, and had to say goodbye to the same people, the same houses, the same schools, the same towns.  I have to live apart from my parents. While I always pictured myself in a faraway state (like Texas) figuring I had moved a lot and could handle it, I overlooked the fact that I have never liked moving far away, and that I really hate goodbyes. Truth be told, I could never really picture myself, a liberal, gun-hating, agnostic in Texas. Then again, I never pictured myself enrolling at a Catholic University that I only applied to because I got a shortened application in the mail. don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of starting fresh, just as much as I love routine. I’m extremely excited to begin college and to see where my future leads. I wouldn’t be disappointed if I ended up at that same preschool in four years time, whether it be to stop by and say hi or to start a full-time career. All I can do now is wait, dream, and enjoy my own kitchen while I can.

During my senior camping trip, we made french toast on one of the mornings, and I decided I needed to make it once I got home. I had attempted french toast many times in the past, but had never been able to get the consistency right. I realized no, that what I needed was a batter thickened with cream to give it a more custard-y texture, and some seasoning. I made some for breakfast last week using milk, eggs, and bread like before but I also added some heavy cream, vanilla extract, and nutmeg for a richer version. I also took out the sugar I had previously been adding, but I might experiment with a teaspoon of brown sugar next time or a sprinkling of powdered sugar after cooking.

I put one egg, 1/4 cup milk, 3 Tablespoons of heavy whipping cream, a couple pinches of nutmeg, and about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract in a shallow dish.

I combined with a fork until completely combined.

I placed my first piece of bread into the mixture for 30 seconds before flipping it over in the dish. I left it in the dish to soak for five minutes.

While the second piece of bread was soaking I melted some butter in a pan over medium-low heat.

Once the pan was heated, I carefully added my two pieces of bread.

I let these brown on both sides until cooked, 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the bread and heat of the pan.

I chose to eat mine plain, but french toast is always great with some warm syrup. If you have any berries you could also microwave some maple syrup and berries together and mash together to form a delicious topping too.

All I know is that I can see myself making this quite a few times over the next few months. :)

AP Stats almost killed me, but I drowned my sorrows in these brownies.

18 Jun

Once in a while a recipe makes a serious impression on me. Recipes get stuck in my head all the time, and I usually make them, feel satisfied and move on. This time though, I made these brownies within days of finding the recipe even though it was during AP testing week. No really, I took my AP Statistics exam, came home, and made brownies without skipping a beat. The super sweet taste was a nice way to wake up my haggard brain and let me momentarily forget the sense of failure associated with that horrible, horrible exam. My parents, sister, and I devoured them in two or three days, and I’ve been craving them ever since.

The best part about these brownies is that it requires no cracking of eggs, careful measuring of leaveners or melting of chocolate. I usually love intricate recipes as I’m quite methodical when I step into my kitchen, but this is the perfect recipe for those days that my brain is reduced to mush. Make them for someone studying for an exam, someone who passed an exam they spent months stressing over, or even better: make them for someone who feels like they failed an exam they spent months stressing over. It will make them feel better for a short while. I know I did.

One box of chocolate cake mix, one can of evaporated milk, one stick of butter and…..

One package of caramels. My stroke of genius was getting my favourites, Reisens, which are chocolate caramels covered in chocolate. These replaced the caramels and chocolate chips in the original recipe, and streamlined the process. Now that’s only 4 ingredients. You could always add more, like coconut (which I did), chopped nuts, dried fruit, M&M’s, oats, or maybe ramen if you are a college student.

Combine the cake mix and milk in a bowl. Next time I make these, and there will be a next time, I think I’ll use half the amount of evaporated milk and use regular milk for the rest.  I might even leave out the evaporated milk from the brownie completely and use all regular milk to reduce the sweetness.

Next, melt some butter in a bowl.

Add this to the cake mix and milk and combine. Side note: It’s particularly helpful having a sous chef (aka older sister) to help you slowly pour melted butter so that you can get a good action shot. Thanks Em! :)

The mixture will be thick like cookie dough, not like brownie batter. You’ll want to combine the main ingredients before you add the special ingredients of your choosing.

Once it’s combined, cut the dough in half and press half into a greased baking dish. I made sure to make a lip around te edge for that melted caramel-y goodness that was soon to be added. Put this in the oven to get all good and cooked.

While that’s cooking, put a bowl of the caramels and some more evaporated milk on a pot of boiling water. You need to use evaporated milk here to get the correct texture. I used the double boiler method, but you may be able to get away with microwaving this if you are extremely careful, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Then, when your caramel is completely melted, take it off the heat and try not to eat spoonfuls of it…

Your bottom half of the brownie is nice and firm and cooked now, and ready for some caramel love.

See how that edge prevents the caramel from touching the sides? this helps make the cutting and cleaning process much easier! On a clean surface (like a cutting board) you’ll need to roll out the other half of the dough into a shape roughly the size and shape of your dish.

Carefully place it on top of the caramel. If any gaps remain, just se any leftover dough from your mixing bowl to patch up the holes.

Once it’s cooked you come to the hardest part: The waiting. You need to let this cool to room temperature and then put it in a fridge so that the caramel can become chewy rather than runny. I highly recommend licking the caramel bowl/spoon to help make it through these difficult hours. Yes, HOURS. :(

Once the brownies have cooled, or your patience has reached its end, carefully cut the brownies and share with people you love.

Just make sure you REALLY love those people, because you may end p wishing you hadn’t shared at all. ;)

 

The original recipe came from Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond) and you can find it here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/05/knock-you-naked-brownies/

Here’s my version with tweaks:

Post-AP Stats Caramel Brownies

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • ⅓ cups Evaporated Milk (or, if you don’t like sugar, try regular milk)
  • ½ cups Evaporated Milk (don’t substitute regular milk here!)
  • ½ cups Butter
  • 1 package Chocolate Caramels (or regular caramels + chocolate chips)

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix cake mix, 1/3 cup milk, and melted butter. Stir until combined. Mixture will be as thick as cookie dough.

Press half the mixture into a well-greased 9 x 9 inch square baking pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and set aside.

In a double boiler (or a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water) melt caramels with additional 1/2 cup evaporated milk. When melted and combined, pour over brownie base.

Turn out remaining brownie dough on work surface. Use your hands to press it into a large square the same size at the pan. Set it on top of the caramel and chocolate chips.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Lots of Rambling Text

15 Jun

Where do I start?

Since we last talked I have been busier than I have ever been. I had my last few weeks of school which were jam-packed with stress, tears, and hugs. After finishing school on June 2nd, I came back bright and early on the 3rd for a breakfast and the senior assembly. I received a cord for NHS earlier that week, and at the assembly I received a cord for completing my Human Services career pathway, a stole for the Honors Diploma I earned, and an award from the Child Development Department at the school which I had no idea I was getting. After that madness I went home to pack and bake a batch of insanely good “Monster Cookies” for my friends and I for our senior camping trip. After a few days filled with sunburns, late nights, s’mores, bug bites, eating gumbo on the beach, and lots of time spent enjoying each other’s company I cam home in time for graduation! The day before graduation I went out with my besties to find a dress and we discovered lavender lemonade which I’m dying to make. I went to my favourite Thai place for dinner before graduation with my parents and neighbours, and then we got stuck in the biggest traffic jam of the century which prompted us to take an alternate route which allowed me to get to the Chiles Center about 15 mins before the ceremony was going to start. After graduation I went to grad night where we partied it up until about 4:30am. After spending the next day sleeping/sleepwalking I had a few days to make a cake for a friend’s grad party. I ended up making a cake, 18 whoopie pies, and 20 cake pops in the shape of graduation hats.  That weekend (last weekend) I went grad party-hopping and enjoyed some more good food, and got to spend time with some great people. Monday felt like my first real day of summer vacation and I spent most of the day doing chores and watching reruns on tv. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing my optometrist for my yearly checkup where he dilated my eyes which completely blurred my vision and required me to wear sunglasses indoors for 4 hours. I still managed to help a friend clean her room (I think? Couldn’t really see well!) and then I came home and waited for my vision to come back fully. Today I spent the day with my mum in downtown Hillsboro where we went in all their antique stores and had lunch. Unfortunately I did not find a cake stand with a cover, a functioning vintage camera, or candy jars like I had hoped. It was really fun though, and we ended the day with a stop at Burgerville for some delicious fried asparagus spears which I absolutely LOVE. Anyway, the long and short of it is, I have been busy, and now I will not be as busy. This weekend I have a day of work and a grad party, and next week I work for 4 hours a day, but other than that, The whole summer is at my disposal. My mind is a whirlwind of recipes, images of food I had recently that I want to recreate, the smell of the Garam Masala I bought the other day to make a curry, and the plans for many trips to the Farmer’s market for fresh produce. Tomorrow I shall get some blog posts lined up as I have just transferred over 500 photos from my camera to my laptop just for the blog. The only problem is, Where do I start? :)

I’m Still Alive…Barely

25 May

Since I last blogged, I’ve accumulated hundreds of food pictures in my camera of everyting from caramel-filled brownies to alien sugar cookies, birthday mocktails to hot cross buns, tesselation cookies to a fractal cake. Why, you might ask, have I been AWOL for the past few weeks? The long and short of it is that I am going insane with the stress of final projects, graduation and trying to find a job. Have no fear, once I graduate I shall be back in that kitchen as often as I like, not a care in the world for a few months at least. I already have plans to visit the farmer’s market for fresh produce and to go berry picking for some desserts I am dying to make so I can’t wait to get to it.

Another big project I have in mind is to enter the Threadcakes contest for my second time. Threadcakes is a contest put on by the t-shirt company Threadless. All cakes must be based on a Threadless shirt design which is great because there are thousands of wacky designs to choose from! So last summer I entered my interpretation of a shirt design called “A Vehicle Built For Dreams”. I chose it not only because it was beautiful, but because I really wanted a pair of TOMS shoes. (This was before everyone started wearing them…)

While I did not win, I was mentioned in one of my favourite blogs “Cake Wrecks” in a “Sunday Sweets” post about really amazing cakes (since all other cake wreck posts are about cake wrecks) which was enough to make me feel like a winner. :)

This year we can start submitting cakes June 13th, so I’m frantically trying o pick a design. I might even end up doing a couple instead of just one since I’m having trouble picking. Another thing I decided was to ask all of you to vote, and I will use the results to help my decision on what to make. I have a few that I really like that I’ll post below, but feel free to go here and look for something else. Keep in mind I’ll be doing a 2D design and I specialize in handpainting. ;)

“Storytellers” Because I’m a book geek, because I love the fact that there’s a sparkly Edward book, comatose Sleeping Beauty and a Little Mermaid book, because I am a sucker for adorableness…I love this! :)

“Peacock at Night” I’m thinking of doing this on white fondant and making the feathers colourful.

“It’s So Simple” If you look carefully, those are all letters. See it? Mind Blown? Now imagine this on 12 mini cakes.

“Captain Obvious” I love this because it’s colourfull, satirical and I think it’d be a great challenge. :)

If you want to see a bigger, better quality photo to better judge which you want to see in cake form, search the titles on the Threadless website. 

Happy Voting! :)

Coq au Vin a.k.a. Photo Fail

1 May

Just a quick post before I get to some homework and scholarship applications…I am still working on sorting out that Epic Fail post, and I guess you can say this was a little bi of an epic fail. You see, this was an absolutely delicious dinner, but I was so eager to eat it that I neglected to take a picture of the final product. So you just have to picture it, or go take a look at Ree’s amazing photos at Pioneer Woman. Other than missing pictures, this dish was perfect and seriously tasty…may have something to do with the fact that everything is cooked in a healthy dose of wine? ;)

Why is bacon so delicious and photogenic? Start with four slices of THICK bacon. The kind you get from the deli, not the wimpy stuff sold shrink-wrapped in the cheese section. Trust me on this one. Cut the bacon into small pieces, and then fry it up.

When it’s starting to get a little crispy, put it in a small bowl and set aside. Leave all that extra bacon fat in the pan, we’ll use it later. Yum!

Now, dice a large onion (Ree used half, but my family loves onions, so I used a whole Walla Walla onion). Then, grab three carrots and wash, peel, and roughly chop them. Basically once they are peeled, take the top off, and the cut them lengthwise into quarters, and then roughly chop these. I added celery to mine for added veggie power, and I just chopped those up into small pieces as well.

These looks like a ton, but remember, everything cooks down to practically nothing, so you want a lot to be able to still taste them.

I used chicken thighs from the deli, but you can used anything you have already: chicken breasts, a whole chicken cut up, or even drumsticks. I forgot to trim off the excess fat on these before I salted and peppered them, so I had to trim them, and then re-season them. See, this is almost an epic fail! :)

I used 6 thighs, so I cooked them in two batches. I mixed olive oil in the pan with the bacon fat to cook them, until they were browned on the outside. The insides cook in the oven, so don’t overcook them!

The chicken should look like this when you take it out of the pan. Put it into a baking dish and set aside while you do the next batch.

When both batches are done, layer them in your baking dish and sprinkle on the bacon.

In the same pan (remove some of the oil/fat if there is too much) cook the vegetables until the onions are translucent. Remove them with a slotted spoon to drain off any excess oil and sprinkle on the chicken and bacon

Turn the heat down and add 2 cups of red wine to the pan using a spoon to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to dislodge any browned bits of deliciousness. Let the wine simmer for a few minutes as you stir it, and then pour straight on to the chicken.

This is the last picture I took of the chicken and veggies unfortunately. I put on the glass lid, stuck it in the oven for an hour and a half.

I then cooked up a package of egg noodles and then promptly forgot my camera even existed. Basically what happened was I put noodles in big, deep bowls, and then placed the chicken on top and spooned extra sauce and veggies on top. My parents and I then consumed the delicious food, leaving no leftovers. It was that good.

You seriously need to try it, and also go look at Ree’s pictures at her blog to see how amazing the final product is!

You’ll notice in her recipe she uses mushrooms which is traditionally how you make coq au vin, but neither my mum nor I like mushrooms. I also only used one clove of garlic with the veggies but again, that’s a personal taste thing.

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/08/coq-au-vin/

The Pioneer Woman’s Coq au Vin (with some changes)

Ingredients

  • 4 slices Bacon, Cut Into Small Pieces
  • 6 chicken thighs, trimmed
  • 1 whole Medium Onion, Diced
  • 3 Carrots, Washed, Peeled, And Roughly Chopped
  • 1 clove Garlic, Minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 cups Burgundy Wine
  • 1/2 pound Pasta (egg Noodles Or Fettucini)
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste

Preparation Instructions

Saute bacon pieces in a large skillet over medium low heat until fat is rendered. Remove bacon from the skillet and set aside. Increase heat to medium.

Salt fat site of chicken pieces, then place chicken, fat side down, in skillet and cook in bacon grease until both sides are nice and golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside in a 2-quart baking dish, skin side up.

Saute onions, carrots, celery and garlic in bacon grease until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Remove from grease with slotted spoon and set aside.

Layer the bacon pieces and vegetable mixture in pan with chicken.

Drain grease from the large skillet, then place over medium heat. Pour in 2 cups Burgundy wine, using a wire whisk to scrape loose all the burned/brown bits. Lightly salt liquid and allow to cook for 3 minutes. Pour over chicken and vegetables. Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.

Cook pasta until al dente and drain.

Serve chicken in a pasta bowl with noodles spooning juice from baking dish over the top of everything.

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