Monday, February 27, 2012

My Daughter's Cookie Monster Birthday Cake

It has almost been a month since my daughter's birthday party and I am just now getting this typed up.  I swear I am such a procrastinator.  Wanna know the proof?  I am typing this up when I should be doing homework, yep I'm that bad...but anyway, this isn't about me is it?  This is about the birth and the serious deformity of a beloved children's character all in the form of cake.

Here are some step by step pictures on how Cookie Monster was constructed, and what to make sure that you do not do that I did if you plan to replicate this!

We started out with two layers, a 10" and an 8".
I stacked the 8" round on top of the 10" off center so that the "backside" of the cake was flush and trimmed out a crescent shaped chunk that would later be Cookie's feet.  I did a base crumb coat of white buttercream.

  I then baked up the body portion using the Wilton Wonder Mold pan, and then stacked it up on top of the 8" round and crumb coated it as well.  I also drove a sharpened 3/8" dowel down through the top for structure and to help hold the head that will be molded rice cereal treat.

Make note of the cake cutoffs on the plate in the background, those trimmings will come in handy later, don't throw them out!
I then took and made rice cereal treat and using a 1qt glass pyrex bowl, molded the top and bottom of cookie monster's head.  Once they firmed up I put them on top of dowel that was left sticking up from the cake.

Sorry for the fridge pictures, it was a late night and I was just rushing to get this done!

This is where I skipped a major step that I never fully understood before...most people say to put royal icing over your rice cereal treats, or cover with fondant/gumpaste to help it stay together and in shape.  Well I didn't, but please TRUST ME when I say, do yourself the favor of using the royal icing or fondant/gumpaste....I will explain that lesson a little more later.

Using the bits of cereal treat that was trimmed out for the mouth and left over from molding the two halves, I made arms and secured them in place with icing and toothpicks.  I then used the bits of cake that was trimmed and built out the "neck" and then covered the whole cake with blue icing.  This does not need to be perfect because you will be piping hair all over anyway.  

This is about where I was in dire pain, I had a pinched nerve in my back that was killing me every step I took, and I was just pushing through the pain just trying to get it done, so I missed a few steps picture wise.  I trimmed out some black fondant for the mouth.  I molded two round white gumpaste eyes and using a small icing tip cut out two black pupils for them making sure that I attached them crooked like Cookie's, and then mounted them on some toothpicks.  (a trick I used to getting both eyeballs the same size was weighing out the pieces of paste on my kitchen scale).

I then began the tedious task of using the Wilton "Grass" tip (#234)  and proceeded to pipe hair all over the cake, covering every little nook and cranny.  It was very tedious and time consuming.  I found that filling up your bag with a lot of icing wasn't always the best idea as it tended to get too soft from the heat of my hands, but I welcomed the breaks, or at least I should say my HANDS welcomed the breaks!

But it was SO worth all the work, and he turned out super awesome!  I used some premade cookies to accentuate him and again, sorry for the fridge picture!  I was going to take the "perfect" picture at my daughters party once it was set up, and well this is where the royal icing comment from earlier comes into play....

First a little background knowledge, my poor daughter woke up with a 102 fever the day of her birthday.  She wasn't feeling sick any other way and was still running around crazy so we gave her some medicine and she chugged down some juice (maybe too much juice) and was already feeling a million times cooler.  We embarked to the park and were joking about all the funny looks my husband was getting with cookie monster on his lap.  Well long story short, my daughter got carsick, I was going as fast as I safely could to get to the park so when we arrived it was pretty much tend to her, the cake was placed on a picnic bench and since I was more worried about her I didn't immediately get a picture.  

I wish I had because the humidity was pretty high that day, and I found humidity and cereal treat don't mix well and it began to soften.  Poor Cookie was losing parts of his mouth, and soon enough looked as though he was going to lose his head!  It was as if he had leprosy, he was falling apart worse than a zombie haha! SO to avoid all that blue icing going everywhere and the horror of a "rolling cookie monster head" I preemptively removed it.  I felt the queen of hearts in Alice in Wonderland, but figured it was going to have to go anyway when we cut the cake, so it really wasn't a huge deal.  

If I had used the royal icing, or covered it in fondant/gumpaste and let it harden up, I never would have had this problem.  You live and learn I guess!  He at least was still delicious and everyone loved it.  My daughter had an awesome day and we got to spend a few hours with close friends and family eating some good food and cake, that is what a party is all about!  (I was also relieved it happened to a cake I made for myself, it's always good to use yourself as a guinea pig when you try new ideas!)

You can probably use this method to make Elmo, or a few other sesame street characters, or anything with the same body structure, just don't forget that royal icing or fondant/gumpaste!


Check out my website! Party Cakes By Steph

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Do Custom Cakes Cost So Much?

 Why Do Custom Cakes Cost So Much?

What I am posting below may be long, but in light of all these shows on TV that make it look so easy to make cakes without any mention of cost, it's an eye opener to anyone looking to order a custom made cake.
It is just flour, water, sugar, eggs and a little flavoring, right?

Not quite, there is tons more to it than just the basic ingredients.
There are so many different elements that go into creating your custom cake. The ingredients are only a small part of that. Lets go over it more in detail.
In a basic 3 tier cake that serves 120-150 people there at least a dozen or two of eggs depending on the recipe, 5 pounds of flour, half a cup of vanilla, several pounds of butter, and all different types of flavorings be it chocolates, fruit, nuts and much much more. The filling and buttercream icing may contain 3 or 4 or more pounds of butter, another dozen or more of egg whites and several pounds of sugar plus the chocolate or fruit to flavor it. Then if you have fondant add 5-8 more pounds of sugar, and also the flavoring.
Now you must keep in mind the equipment needed to make your custom cake. Yes there are the basics in just about every kitchen such as a mixer, mixing bowl, spoon etc but not every home baker has a set of tiered cake pans in all the different shapes and sizes. When you think about all the different shapes of pans, there are the basic sheet cakes that have 4 different sizes, then there are the round, square, oval, hexagon, heart, flower and paisley pans and just about each shape comes in a 6 in, 8 in, 10 in, 12 in, 14 in, 16 in and 18 in and some even have a 20 in. Now when you think about making a cake, cakes that are not a basic sheet cake require more than one level of cake for each tier. therefore the baker must either spend double the time baking as most only have 1 pan of each size or they must buy atleast 2 of every size and shape pan. Cake baking pans are NOT cheap a basic 10 inch round pan can easily cost over $25 and for the better quality ones even $40 each. Also each cake requires different tools that are needed to decorate the cake. Some require fondant therefore need a large good quality rolling pin, if your cake has buttercream details each detail requires a special tip to make that specific detail. Each color of buttercream requires a piping bag. If you want fondant details then there must be all different kinds of fondant cutters, if you want gumpaste flowers then there is a completely different set of tools for gumpaste. It is not suprising to see a baker spend several thousands of dollars just for tools to make some of the more basic designs of cakes. Then there are all of the spatulas to smooth icing with. Now there are the cake boards that hold your cake. the bigger the cake the thicker and bigger the board the more expensive it is. Also there are boards under each tier that is in a multi tier cake and also a heavy multi tier cake requires some sort of support system just as a 2 story house so there are the dowels used. Then the box to move your cake and keep it covered from dust and dirt in the air.
Carved and sculpted cakes that are cut and shaped to look like an actual shape or item that there is not a special pan to make must use even more ingredients to make a larger cake in order to have enough cake to carve the shape that you want.
There is the bakers time to speak on the phone with your or meet you in person to talk about what type of cake you want.  The bakers time and gas in going to several different stores to buy the products to make your cake so you get a fresh cake and also to different stores to get tools that they make need to buy specially for your cake.
In addition there is the cake decorators time to bake and create your custom designed cake, his or her experience, and possibly tons of money spent in testing and perfecting their recipes so you have a great tasting cake. As well as countless hours taking workshops to learn new techniques.
You are paying for the decorators baking and decorating experience in using recipes that are tasty but can stand up to the weight of a large tier cake, their experience in the structural engineering of your support systems, the artistry of the decorations put into your cake, and sculpting skills in creating toppers, flowers, characters etc to decorate your cake with. Some flowers can take up to 4 hours to create just 1 gumpaste flower.
You are not just paying for the ingredients put into making your cake you are paying for the skills and time of the cake decorator. The decorator may have a family and children just as many of you do but will spend several hours of their day doing very time consuming jobs of making special custom sculpted decorations for your cake.  
Consider also that just the smallest simple cake usually takes 8-10 hours from start to finish or longer and up. The more elaborate cakes or more difficult designs can take 24 to even 48 hours or more to make every detail of your cake. It is a wonder that cakes dont cost more than they do.
Think about it... if you go to buy a wedding dress you can spend a couple hundred on a simple dress that is the lower quality fabric with no designs on it. Or you can buy a more expensive dress that has lace, sequins, silk, bead work etc. the more detailed the dress the more it cost due to the time and things needed to make it. It is the same with a cake.
When you really break down what you are paying for your cake compared to how much the actual food items cost to make your cake. Take the difference that is left for the tools, time shopping for your items, time mixing, baking, cooling, decorating and adding the special details to your cake. many times it isnt even minimum wage when broken down by how many hours was actually spent on your cake. Would you want to do your job and get paid hardly anything for all of the time that you took away from your family to do your job??
Just a thought... if you get together 20 or 25 of your very close friends and family and took them out to a nice restaurant for a special dinner, would you expect to pay any less than $3-$6 per serving for a special desert?  25 people at $5 per desert is $125 and that is for a basic desert that many other people in the restaurant are eating also not a custom decorated desert that is made special for your event.
Just a thought for those that think custom cakes cost too much...

"But I can got to (insert local grocery here), and get a sheet cake for half that price?"  That is fine, you get what you are paying for.  Most grocery bakeries do not bake their cake goods on site, they are ordered in frozen.  Their icing is ordered in pre-made in buckets.  Their decorators are expected to pump so many cakes out per day, making time spent on your order details minimal.  Ordering a custom cake from custom baker means your order is baked fresh, your icing is made fresh, with fresh ingredients (no artificial flavors).  Not to mention the personal attention to your wants and needs. 

I found the above a long time ago and wanted to re-post this. This is one of the most stressful parts of my job, because I know I never charge enough.  I do not consider myself a cake decorator, I am a "cake artist".  My medium is cake and icing.  I have over $1000+ (it keeps growing) invested in my tools and equipment. You can ask my husband, I am typically up until at least 2-3am the day before working on my cakes.  I typically do not charge nearly enough to cover my hours (usually day) of labor (from start to finish of baking a basic cake).  I just recently wrote a check for $180 for classes to take to further learn and hone my skills, and that doesn't include my hotel (they are in Orlando) and food for the two days.  I pour myself into every cake I do, and I beat myself up over every imperfection that the customer never sees.  I lose sleep over whether they are going to like their product.  If you are looking for quantity, then maybe I am not the baker for you.  If you are however looking for quality, then I can help you out.  Just please understand that I am not just making you any cake, I am making you YOUR cake, and YOURS alone.  I am here to make your day special, regardless of the occasion. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nutella Mocha Hazelnut Filling and Buttercream Recipes!

Yesterday I boasted about my cupcakes I just made and had people inquiring to the recipe's.  Well friends I have no problems sharing them, as I myself rely on most of the ones I keep tinkering with solely because someone else in fact was kind enough to share it with me.  So it seems only fitting to pay it forward!

Nutella Mocha Hazelnut Filling


Nutella (small container)
2 packages of cream cheese (softened to room temp)
1 package single serve instant coffee (I used Taster's Choice hazelnut flavor)
1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (optional)


Bring 2 packages of cream cheese to room temperature.  Mix on high speed (preferably in stand mixer) until smooth and fluffy.  Scrape sides and add a small container of Nutella to the cream cheese mixture, mixing slowly at first.  Add package of instant coffee and increase mixing speed and mix until fluffy.  Add optional toasted hazelnuts to mixture by folding them in with a spatula.

Refrigerate in a covered container until ready to use.

Nutella Mocha Buttercream


2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
4 cups confectioners (powdered, or icing) sugar (16oz box or 1lb bag)
5 Tbls of milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup of Nutella
1/2 teaspoon salt ( use 1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)

1 package single serve instant coffee (I used Taster's Choice hazelnut flavor)


Place butter in a large mixing bowl, on medium speed cream until fluffy.  Add 2 cups confectioners sugar, salt, 3 tbls milk, coffee and vanilla.  Continuing on medium speed, beat until mixture is smooth. Add remaining 2 cups of confectioners sugar and remaining 2 tbls milk, beating until frosting is of a good thick spreading consistency.  Fold the Nutella into the buttercream until there are no more streaks.

*Makes about 3-1/2 cups of icing*

Now if you have to ask about the caloric content of either, then I suggest you don't because you won't like the answer, but these two used together with a devil's food or other rich chocolate cake, it is pure indulgence, and in my eyes, so worth it!  Then again that could also be why I could really stand to hit the gym! haha!

Hope everyone enjoys and if you do try it, let me know how it works out?  Did you add or subtract anything?  Most of all what do you think of it? I have only used it for a cupcake so far, but use of it in a cake is imminent.  I will report back with my findings and hopefully some reviews!

Have a great night everyone, enjoy your Friday!

Check out my website! Party Cakes By Steph

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes!!

Last night I went searching to try a new recipe for a cake filling.  I have a cake order this weekend, and chocolate is the requested flavor.  I knew I wanted something that would just meld with the chocolate, yet not be sickeningly sweet at the same time.  I wanted it to have almost a Nutella flavor.  

That relevation started on a grand google search and I found a couple recipes for Nutella buttercream, and a couple for a Nutella filling.  Let me tell you something, there is nothing better then taking someone else's recipe and then playing up its weak points, or just simply tailoring it to your own tastes.  I like to call them my Frankenstein recipes! 

I made up the Nutella filling first, and it was just missing something, so I added a single packet of instant hazelnut coffee.  OH MY STARS!!!  It came out awesome, I could eat it straight out of the bowl!  I then moved onto the icing.  This recipe did not call for any salt, and you could tell as it was sickeningly sweet, so I added a dash of salt, and another packet of instant hazelnut coffee.  (I used the little coffee singles you can get in the little packets)  

I baked up a batch of jumbo devil's food cupcakes and filled them with the filling and topped it off with the buttercream and have been afraid to try them!  I know it sounds silly, but I wasn't too happy with the frosting so I was timid about letting myself down since I had psyched myself up with the filling.  I needed a guinea pig.  I looked at them all day and as soon as Tony got home, I made him eat one.  These are not your average sized cupcake either, these are eat with a fork and probably share cupcakes.   He absolutely loved it, and actually ate the whole thing!  I was so excited, and of course now that my guinea pig says they are good, I had to follow.  

I literally bit into the best chocolate, coffee, hazelnut goodness ever!  I cannot wait to use this filling and icing this weekend.  Oh and for family and friends, there is still about 8 of these gooey goodness's left in the fridge, holla if yall want one!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Never seen myself as a "blogger"...but alast away we go!

I have recently had people asking me just how is it that you made that cake?  It's not an easy process as recent TV shows make it look.  The process for a home based decorator greatly differs from those that have a store front business, or the bakeries they show on TV.  The typically do not have access to the grandeur of a commercial kitchen, nor do they have assistants that can help them in creating a one of a kind display for you.  Now I don't envy someone who actually owns a storefront, a lot of overhead is involved to be able to create their masterpieces!  In that respect I will just stick with my little galley kitchen and pokey electric oven, and yes to all those asking, is where you will truly see how it is I made that cake.  I hope to be able to give everyone some insight into the process that is creating your masterpiece.

I am fairly new to the game in cake decorating, I still have a lot of skills to hone and learn, every one of my cakes is a learning experience.  In turn I find myself loving the next one I do even more.  I had a brief on the job learning of decorating cakes about 10 years ago and it started my bug.  After that I dabbled in a few cakes here and there, and even did a massive wedding cake that swore me off of them almost still.  (Yes that is what I said, I am AFRAID of wedding cakes!)  I then kept challenging myself, and quickly discovered my years of art direction in school was not put to waste.  I was a hobbyist for the longest time, but in November lost my job of over 8 years, that is one of the motivating factors in breaking out and jumping in with both feet.  It is time for me to persue something more for myself and my family, and since I have been unable to find employment, now is as good a time as ever.

In the next coming months I am going to be challenging myself and getting myself more out there.  I had so much fun with the last cake I did, even if spraying the airbrush in my kitchen caused my AC filter to turn orange lol.  It was still worth it.  Even more so to hear that the little boy was ecstatic to see it, and my cake made his day.  That is why I do what I do.  I want your cake to be yours and yours alone, made fresh and with the best tasting ingredients I can get.  That is the difference you get by choosing a decorator like myself verses your local bakery.  (Not knocking your retail decorators, they are talented and doing what they are mandated to do and are limited to the store they are employed)  But you won't get your typical "sheetcake" made from frozen cake and bucket icing from me :) 

So I will leave you with this, I may be buried in schoolwork, busy being a stay at home mom (and wife) to my sweet baby girl and her daddy, I am also here to make your cake for you and make your event the best it can be.  Just make sure it is on a small enough scale it will fit in refrigerator and a small focus sedan! (We all gotta start out somewhere lol)