What fondant do you use?
It depends…I have two recipes I use. I’ve found both on Cake Central’s website. One is a marshmallow base fondant and the other is a cooked gelatin base. The marshmallow is super quick to use, a little stickier, a little softer, but tastes great! It’s called Rhonda’s Ultimate MMF…click here. The only change I made in her recipe is I don’t use the lemon juice, only the extract, and I boost the vanilla extract to compensate for that and use 2tbsp of corn syrup.
The other gelatin base fondant is amazing to work with…not sticky, sets well on the cake and lasts for a while. It’s a bit more labor intensive to make, so you have to have the ingredients and a bit of time…but it’s worth it! Click here for Michele Foster’s Fondant. The only change I made to her recipe was to use whatever milk I have on hand. I hardly ever have cream in the house, and the recipe works just as good with regular milk.
If you want to make black fondant, I’ve used this recipe before and it worked great! Use 16oz marshmallows and 2lbs powdered sugar. If you want to make red or black without adding chocolate, then use Americolor Super Red or Black and add it right to the marshmallows after you’ve melted them.
Remember a few things for any fondant recipe…Let the fondant rest after you make it for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight), use cornstarch to roll it out (not powdered sugar), and cover a chilled cake that you’ve spritzed with water or a 50/50 water-corn syrup combo…and have fun!
How do I get cornstarch off my fondant?!
There are three ways I’ve found that work. I usually use Crisco and rub a small amount evenly over the entire surface with my fingers. Then, I go back over it with a really smooth clean towel or tissue and buff it out to leave a satin-like surface. I’ve found tissue works great because it’s so smooth and soft and leaves a great finish.
The second way is vodka. I’ll use a small paint brush on flowers, decorations, etc to get rid of the cornstarch. The alcohol evaporates to leave a very clean finish.
The third way is to take another piece of fondant (from the left overs) and put a ball in your fingers and buff the cake with the fondant. It works really well to remove any left over cornstarch and buffs the surface a bit.
What’s modeling chocolate? – do you have a recipe?
Modeling chocolate is my preferred decoration medium because it cuts so beautifully, is quick to make, hardens to hold it’s shape (as long as it’s thick enough), and tastes amazing…better than fondant! I never use it to cover a cake (that’s what fondant is for) because it’s too firm and hard to smooth without tearing. But it’s perfect for most decorations after you cover your cake in fondant!
Basically it’s a mixture of chocolate and corn syrup. There are two recipes…one for using real chocolate (click here) and one for using Wilton candy melts (click here). For darker color candy melts (like black, red, purple) I use a .15 multiplier for corn syrup to candy melts. So, if you have 10oz of candy melts, multiply that by .15 and you’ll need 1.5oz of corn syrup in it (by weight). For lighter candy melts (like pink, yellow) use a .21 multiplier. Now, after you add your corn syrup to your candy melts, only give it like 20 slow stirs…maybe 25. Don’t over mix. Let it sit out like I do on my class for an hour, then knead it till it’s smooth…a minute or two. Wrap it up and let it sit overnight before using it on your cakes or as decor. Modeling chocolate naturally hardens as it cools, so if you’re rolling it out and it’s firm and cool, it can crack a bit. Just make sure before you roll it, it’s nice and warm and soft so you won’t have those issues. You also can’t get it super thin like you can with fondant…due to that reason of cooling then cracking. Also, the more you knead it and play with it, the more cracked/broken it can become. So, try kneading it to begin with just to warm it, then get it rolled out and cut out quickly.
I mix my fondant/modeling chocolate in all different ratios…there’s not set amount. The more fondant, the thinner you can roll it and the more elastic/stretchy it is. The more modeling chocolate, the less elastic, but more stable and easier to cut since it won’t stretch as much. So, you’ll have to play with it. But, adding fondant does help to smooth out the modeling chocolate. You can also try adding a little crisco to the modeling chocolate and see if that helps!
Here is a video (click here) for making it…it can be a little tricky because it seizes…but that’s okay! Once it cools and hardens slightly you can knead it together like play doh. Make sure when you’re mixing your candy melts/chocolate and corn syrup you mix very slowly and only 30-40 turns of the spatula…don’t overmix! A little trick…after I mix the chocolate and corn syrup together, I pour it out on wax paper or saran wrap, and dab it once or twice with a paper towel because sometime it releases wax (if you’re using candy melts and if you over-mix it slightly). After it begins to firm up (but is not completely hard…say 1 hour + later), I begin kneading it and getting it really smooth. It’s easier to do that when it’s not 100% hard and you can incorporate the wax and chocolate together! Then, when you store it away, it’ll be ready to go. All you have to do is just warm it up by kneading it on the counter for a bit.
I’ve recently found that you can use regular gel colors (Wilton or Americolor) when making modeling chocolate, in order to color it…but you have to add it to the corn syrup first – NOT the chocolate!! You need to mix it into the corn syrup, then, add that mixture to your melted chocolate. It works perfectly! If you want to color the modeling chocolate AFTER you’ve made it, then you can use regular gel colors too…the more concentrated the better. Because the chocolate has already seized, it won’t seize again when adding standard gel colors. If you want to color the chocolate BEFORE you add the corn syrup, then you have to use candy/chocolate colors. But, I always recommend coloring it after so there’s no issues and it’ll save you from buying a ton of candy colors!
NOTE: If you want to color or paint or write on something you’ve made from modeling chocolate, you have to use candy colors…or gel colors made for chocolate. The standard Americolor or Wilton gel colors will just bead up on the modeling chocolate. So, make sure if you intend to paint on it or write on it, you get the right colors or pens! :) Also, you can use luster dusts mixed with vodka or PME luster spray on modeling chocolate to get gold finishes.
EDITED 5/15/2013: I added a single, thorough, post about modeling chocolate…see it HERE.
What’s ganache? – when do you use it?
I LOVE ganache! The flavor is beautiful! Basically ganache is the inside of a truffle…the better the chocolate you use, the better tasting the ganache is. I buy the pound plus bar from Trader Joe’s. I think you get 17.5 oz for $5. It’s imported chocolate from Belgium and is smooth and beautiful! To make ganache, you use 1 part heavy cream to 2 parts dark chocolate (over 53% cacao). So, for every 2 oz of chocolate you use, add 1 oz of heavy cream…or for every 2 cups of dark chocolate, you use 1 cup of heavy cream. If you’re using couture white chocolate (at least 25% cacao) then the ratio is 3 parts chocolate to 1 part heavy cream.
To make it, simply heat up the cream in a microwave safe bowl (don’t boil it). In another bowl, measure out your chocolate and make sure it’s in tiny chips/pieces. Add the hot cream to the tiny chocolate pieces and let sit for a minute. Slowly begin wisking/stirring until the chocolate is melted, incorporated and smooth. Let sit at room temp until you have the desired consistency for spreading on a cake or crumb coating a cake before fondant. You want the consistency to be like smooth peanut butter or tooth paste. Once it sets up overnight, it creates a beautiful firm shell on your cake that makes it super easy to apply fondant. Make sure you brush on a 50/50 corn syrup-water mixture so the fondant will stick to it!
Click here for a few videos that you might find helpful!
EDITED 5/15/2013: I did a post called, “How much ganache do I need?”. See it HERE.
What buttercream do you use?
Again, I have two recipes! I guess all great things come in two?! I LOVE my Swiss-meringue recipe. I use the SMBC (Swiss Meringue Buttercream) for pretty much everything. I used to use it for a crumb coat on all my cakes, but have since switched over to ganache. So, it’s not very often I use it as a crumb coat now…mainly always as a filling!! YUM!
Here are the quantities:
5 oz pasterized egg whites
10 oz sugar
12.5oz unsalted butter
3 Tbsp vanilla
It’s a 1 : 2 : 2.5 ratio that works out beautifully! The mixing method is the same on all Swiss-Meringue Buttercreams, so click “here” on how to make it. This video explains everything beautifully!
I also use a powdered sugar based frosting when I’m in a hurry and making cupcakes!! I don’t usually use this for cakes as it’s not as stable as the SMBC. It is NOT a crusting buttercream because there’s too much yummy fat in it! Here it is:
1 lb unsalted butter at room temp – whip for 10 min on high
1 – 7oz jar of marshmallow cream – whip until incorporated
1 lb powdered sugar – whip on high for 5 min
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (add a tbsp at a time until right consistency) – whip on high for 5 minutes
3 Tbsp vanilla – whip until incorporated.
This makes a really light amazing buttercream. You can add more heavy whipping cream (the liquid, not actual whipped cream) if you want, depending upon the consistency you’re looking for.
*You can also throw in a block of room temp or softened cream cheese at the end to make it even more yummy! – remember to use full fat cream cheese and not let it whip too long or it can curdle it.
EDITED on 5/15/2013: I did a post called, “How much buttercream do I need?” to help you know how much to make for your cake project. See it HERE.
What cake recipes do you use?
Unfortunately I keep just a few to myself because I’ve spent soo many hours trying recipes out, tweaking them and testing them. BUT, I have shared a few amazing recipes…here is a link:
A good place to look for recipes is food.com and foodnetwork.com. Search for whatever cake flavor you want, and click on “most popular” and you’ll get some wonderful recipes!
If you need a great vanilla cake recipe that is good for carving, try this one:
Mermaid Vanilla Butter Cake
How do you support/stack your cakes?
If I’m making a tall tier/double height cake, I will only stack 4 layers high before I add support and a cake board. I use cardboard circles or foam core for the base of all my cakes. After I stack 3-4 layers of cake (or half the height of the final cake), I place bubble straws into the cake in a circular pattern with one in the middle. Then, add a little frosting, melted chocolate or royal icing on top of the straws and place a cake plate on top and continue stacking. Easy! If it’s just a regular height cake (up to 5″h) I don’t use any internal support. If you want more info, I did a post about bubble straws…you can see it HERE.
Better to use more straws than less! – a good rule of thumb is use how ever many straws as the diameter of your cake. A six inch cake needs 6 bubble straws. You can find them at Bed Bath & Beyond, grocery stores, Asian stores. I love bubble straws because they don’t displace the cake like dowels, no worries of splinters (from wooden dowels), easy to cut and store.
How do you paint on your cakes?
I use Americolor or Wilton gel colors. Mix them like acrylic paint to get the right consistency…but use vodka instead of water. You need to use an alcohol base medium to thin…never water! Water will make your fondant sticky whereas vodka won’t…the alcohol evaporates leaving the paint to dry nicely. No worries about the alcohol being left…it’s okay for kids!
NOTE: If you want to color or paint or write on something you’ve made from modeling chocolate, you have to use candy colors…or gel colors made for chocolate. The standard Americolor or Wilton gel colors will just bead up on the modeling chocolate. So, make sure if you intend to paint on it or write on it, you get the right colors or pens made for chocolate!
How do you take such nice pictures?
Here’s a post on my DYI photo booth (click here). The trick is that no matter the camera, try not to use a flash! Try to get up against a window, or outside in a covered area. Also, get some photo editing software to help boost the lighting levels and sharpen the pics a bit. I use Photoshop Elements 7.0.
What is your process in building a cake?
After baking my cakes, I remove them from the oven and press any dome down with a wet paper towel thus making the cakes nice and flat. See pics at bottom of THIS post. I then turn the cakes out onto a wire cooling rack and let them cool for 5-10 min. or so. Usually, not longer. I wrap them (still warm) up in plastic wrap (I love using Glad “Press and Seal” because it doesn’t shrink and change the shape of the cake but still seals in all that moisture) and place them in my freezer. I let them sit in there at least over night or up to two weeks. I’ve done some experimenting with this…honestly, every cake I’ve frozen was more moist than the non-frozen one! So, that’s why I do it. And, being a busy mommy, it helps a lot with planning ahead! I usually don’t have 2 or 3 solid days to work on a cake. I have to work in a small spurts!
Once frozen and I’m ready to start decorating, I put them in my fridge with a light weight on them (usually a book or something weighing at least a pound) to help them settle as they un-thaw. This helps with bulges. You can also use a cookie sheet with a few pounds of something on it. After they’ve sat another 10-12 hours un-thawing, I take them out, torte the layers while they’re nice and cold (cut them in half to give me two layers of cake) and begin stacking my cake. I weigh out each layer of frosting. I place my first cake layer on a board, then on the scale. I add my frosting and weigh it out to see how much works with that cake. Usually it’s about 4 oz for a 6″ cake and 6 oz for an 8″cake. I use SMBC (see recipe above) so, I’m not sure how it weighs compared with other types of frosting. You might have to experiment with that yourself…but I like a lot of frosting! I then add my next layer of cake, put it back on the scale and measure out my frosting again so it’s the same as the first layer. I do this up to 4 layers of cake or 5 thin layers of cake. If I need anymore (for a tall or double height cake), I add bubble straws and another board…then continue to stack my layers. Once the cake is stacked, I place it back in the fridge for 30 min or so until it firms up and put a small weight to the top to help it settle/smoosh a bit if necessary. I do this because when you add fondant to the cake, you’re adding a few pounds to it depending upon the size of the cake. If you can get it to settle under that weight, you won’t get buldges in your fondant. Once it’s sat in the fridge for a bit (sometimes overnight depending upon my schedule), I take the cake out and I carve the bulges/edges off the cake all the way around to make it nice and straight and to make sure it’s about 1/8″ in from the cake board…so that when I put the crumb coat on, there’s at least 1/8″ thick coat of ganache/buttercream on it. Then I add my crumb coat (ganache or buttercream). Once the crumb coat is on and it’s nice and smooth, it goes back in the fridge to firm up…sometimes for only 30 min. and sometimes overnight – again, depending upon this busy mom’s schedule. At this point, if it’s a buttercream covered cake, I cover it in fondant right from the fridge because I want sharp corners and the SMBC is nice and hard from the fridge. However, you have to be quick because the fondant will get tacky. If it’s a ganache covered cake (which I almost use exclusively), I let it sit out for a good hour then cover it in fondant and begin decorating it. I want it to not be super cold, but closer to room temp so I have time to smooth the fondant and play with the edges to get them nice and sharp. Then, decorate as usual!
What program do you use to design your cakes?
I am a commercial interior designer who specializes in Dental Office design. Yes…it’s a funny niche’ but I love it! :) I use AutoCAD for my profession so I use it for my cakes too! Unfortunately coloring things in AutoCAD doesn’t work that well, so I create a PDF of my drawings and import them into Photoshop Elements to color them in and add additional notes/fonts if necessary. AutoCAD is a very expensive program, so I wouldn’t recommend it for cake decorating. If you already use it/have it, awesome! If not, there are other options out there that don’t cost $1000 to purchase…including Photoshop and Illustrator.