Friday, December 11, 2009

Snowman Cake - Cake Decoration with Fondant Icing: A Step by Step Guide

I personally think fondant is too cloyingly sweet, but there are 2 things that must be said in its defense - one, that kids seem to absolutely love it and two, it is the easiest way to decorate a cake, especially for those just venturing into cake decoration.

Being very pliable, you can roll it, mould it and shape it any which way you want to. But what exactly is fondant? It is essentially a mixture of water, sugar and gelatin. I always buy ready-to-roll fondant, but you can even make it yourself.

So, roll your sleeves and lets get decorating with fondant. Follow the first 7 steps from my previous post and then proceed as follows:

Knead a ball of the fondant with your hands till it feels soft and pliable, much like moulding clay/play doh. Use corn starch if needed. Line your work space with some parchment paper. Roll it with a rolling pin, using some corn flour for dusting should it get too sticky.

Invert the parchment paper over the cake and then slowly peel it off. Careful here, as the fondant does tend to tear easily.

BTW, do ensure that your parchment paper is free of any creases, for they will get transferred onto the icing. I learnt it the hard way!

Smooth the fondant with your hands, starting at the centre and moving outwards and on to the sides of the cake. Should any air bubbles form, use a toothpick to remove them. Trim off the excess fondant hanging from the sides of the cake. Don't worry about the creases, smooth them over with your fingertips (do dab them with corn starch as and how required).

Let it sit on the cake for about an hour or two, then decorate as desired.

Isn't he cute? I just gave him a muffler and even though his trademark black hat is mising, he seems all set to Jingle at Priyanka's Christmas Event!

Oh, and if you must know, I missed my blog's first anniversary which was in November but fortunately, the Snowman comes just in time for my 100th post!

Should you need any ideas for any Christmas cakes and cookies, do take a look at my Christmas Stocking Cake , the Yule Log and the Holiday Lights Cookie Tree.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Decorating a birthday cake: Step By Step Tutorial

After I posted my cake pictures here, I had quite a few mails with questions on decorating cakes. So, this is my attempt at answering all your questions - by outlining the things I do when I decorate birthday cakes. I am no expert and though I have tried my best to explain the process, do take the time to take a look at the links - those are phenomenal sources of information! Please bear with me if some steps appear too basic and do feel free to ask me for clarifications, if any.

There is great pleasure and satisfaction in being able to decorate your child's birthday cake. Every single year, when I am decorating my daughter's birthday cake, I tell everyone willing to listen to remind me never to do it again - it is quite tiring and very messy. But when the cake is all done, I have this stupid grin on my face and I make several trips to the fridge to stare at the decorated cake and vow to do it all over again!

So where do you begin?

1. Decide on the theme: believe me, once the theme is is decided, everything else falls into place quite easily. I always refer to these sites for inspiration. Depending on my daughter's preference, we zero-in on the theme.

2. Get an estimate of the number of children. I don't understand cake estimates in terms of "how many kilos". It never works for me. So what I do is eye-ball the no. of cake slices based on the size of the cake pan. For eg: an 10" square cake pan is good to feed about 18-20 kids. Do remember, we are talking of kids here who never hesitate to ask for second helpings, so you want to be generous in your estimate.

3. Now, based on the theme and the size of the cake, decide on the final design of the cake. If you want to cut the cake into any particular shape (as in this particular cake), then based on the size of your pan(s), cut the shape out on a newspaper a couple of times - till the time you are satisfied with the look of the design.

4. Pre-preparation: Before you've even baked the cake, get the basic material ready. To be able to comfortably decorate a cake, you need a good cake board. Most of the times, I buy my cake board from some bake store, but it is very easy to make your own as well. Just get a sturdy cardboard, cut it to the requisite size and cover it with foil. Ideally, your cake board should be an inch wider than the cake on all sides (mine wasn't, in this case)

Also buy all the supplies you would need to ice the cake. To me, an undecorated cake is like a canvas - before I have even baked the cake, I have a pretty good idea of what design elements I am going to have on the cake (like flowers or boulders or trees in this case), based on which I make sure that I have all the requisite things like piping tips, piping bags, icing colours and other cake toppers before I start decorating the cake. There is nothing more irritating than realising at the last minute that you don't have something ready at hand.

A word on piping tips: I think the following tips should be more than sufficient for starters: round tips in at least 2 sizes, the star tip, the basketweave tip and a drop flower tip. You can find further details here; my first ever set of piping tips came not from any speciality store but from a supermarket - and it did the job very well.

Piping bags: I prefer to use the plastic disposable ones - there is less washing up to do once you've finished decorating the cake; you can make your own with parchment paper. My friend saves the plastic milk bags to make hers. Watch this video to know more.

5. Prepare the Frosting: I normally use buttercream for my cakes and I use butter, not shortening, for making my icing. True, butter is a lot difficult to work with, especially in humid/hot places but somehow, I prefer the taste of butter over shortening and I cannot bring myself to use eggs in preparing the frosting. Take a peek here and find which one suits you the most.

6. Preparing your cake:
a. Leveling: Cakes tend to dome or crack during the baking process and before you start icing your cake, you need to level your cake. First, take your cake off the pan and allow it to cool completely - I allow the cake to cool for at least 3 hours. Then, level the cake by slicing the dome with a knife or with a cake leveler. Though I have never tried it, dental floss apparently is excellent for this.

The easiest way? First, slice the dome with a knife - don't fret if it is not perfect. Just like a coin, a cake too has two sides - just flip the cake over - now, you have that perfect straight surface to work on!

b. Filling: Take the height and the taste of your cake up a few notches by sandwiching two layers of cake with some jam or mousse or fruit or some buttercream. Again, slice your cake with a serrated knife or a cake leveler or dental floss, add the filling of your choice and then sandwich with the leveled side on top. Leave the cake in the fridge for an hour before proceeding to the next step.

c. Patterning: Secure the desired pattern with toothpicks or quilting pins (do remember how many you've used!) and cut along the edges. Then arrange the patterns on the cake board for the desired shape. I used an 8" square cake for the straight lines of the cake and an 9" round cake for the curved part. (I used my butter cake recipe for the cake, it is perfect for an 8" cake, for the 9" one, I increased the quantities a bit).

7. Crumb coat your cake: Think painting the walls of a house: you need to level the surface, fill in any holes and then apply a base coat. That is exactly what a crumb coat does - fills in any gaps, especially when you sandwich the cake layers and most importantly, keeps those loose crumbs together. And it comes in particularly handy to "glue" the cake blocks in a a patterned cake like this one.

To crumb coat your cake, apply a thin layer of icing all over the cake and put it in the fridge for about an hour.

You will not believe me, but you are now 70% done. The back breaking part is now nearly done, what follows now is the fun part!

8. Decorate your cake: Apply a generous layer of the frosting all over your cake and smooth it with your spatula. If you are using butter, getting a smooth flawless surface is going to be a little challenging.

Here are 3 things you could do: cool the cake in the fridge for about 15 mins, then place some parchment paper on top and quickly smooth over with the back of a flat plate. Or dip your spatula in hot water and quickly run over the cake.

Or ignore it. I do. Ignore it, that is. For, as you unleash your creativity, the uneveness that you see at this stage will disappear. Trust me on this!

Here's what I did to decorate the cake (sorry no step by step pictures here as I was really engrossed in putting everything together!):

Actually dragged a Thomas engine along the cake to give me the track lines.

Then, I piped the train tracks using tip#4 and tip#47. Put honey stars (crushed) to complete the look of the train track.

Piped grass on the edges (obviously, to hide the imperfections there!) using tip#233. Added flowers using a flower press to add colour to the cake.

Added boulders here n there. To get the marbled effect, take a piece of white fondant, and add some dots of brown colour. Then knead it for a few minutes, you will see the marbling as you knead.

Cut the tunnel out using the remaining bit of the round cake and secured it on the cake using toothpicks.

This is the final look:

Yes, I know that this is a rather long post. And thank you for reading through, I do hope this helps you in decorating your cakes!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Achari Arbi

This is a recipe that just happened.

I actually wanted to make arbi this way which incidentally is my favourite way of making arbi; however, the when I set out to make it, I realised that I had run out of ajwain. There wasn't enough time to make the tangy arbi either, but I was craving a slightly tangy taste and made this achari arbi on the spur of the moment.

And we just loved it! It is ridiculously easy to put together and very delicious.


Pressure cook the arbi (I need 3 whistles). Peel and cut into bite - sized pieces. Let the arbi cool completely.

Heat oil and pop in some curry leaves, followed by about 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder. Add the arbi and stir fry on high flame for about 5 mins so that the arbi is slightly crisp on the outside.

Now add about 2 tsps of achari masala (any brand is OK, I use Shaan's Achari Meat Masala), some black salt and chopped green chillies. Stir till the arbi is evenly coated by the masala.

Serve hot with some dal and rotis/rice.

We liked it so much that the following day I made it again; this time, I fried the arbi till it was crisper on the outside. And instead of serving it with rotis/rice, we had it as a starter - it was delicious!

I think even potatoes and paneer should be yum in a similar stir fry, will keep you posted if and when I make it with either of the two!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Basic White Bread

Bread Alone (by Judith Ryan Hendricks) was a book that I had never heard of before. When the book club chose this book for November, I skimmed through the reviews on the net and decided, before I'd even read the first line in the book, that I wasn't going to like it.

31 year old Wyn, married to a upwardly mobile executive David, leads a life of leisure and luxury. Till the day when David announces that the seven year old marriage seems to cage him and wants out of it.

Stunned and devastated, Wyn moves to Seattle, where her best friend lives. As she fritters away most of her time at a nearby bakery - cafe, the aroma of freshly baked bread re-kindles her own love of bread baking. Many years ago, as a teenager, Wyn had spent a summer in Toulouse baking bread. The desire to pursue her passion is irresistible and for a paltry amount of $8 an hour, she starts working at the bakery and begins life anew in Seattle.

Somewhere down the road, she re-discovers herself and what she would like to do with her life and in the process, comes to terms with the people and other issues in her life.

Surprisingly, though, I rather enjoyed reading Bread Alone.

Yes, it is an out and out chic-lit. Yes, the plot is familiar and the ending is rather expected. And yes, sometimes, the story seems to simply drag its feet.

Yet, something worked for me and that something is the way Judith Hendricks has built the characters in the novel. More than anything else, I really liked her for coming up with a protagonist like Wyn. She wallows in self pity when her husband dumps her, clutches at the straws in the naive hope that he will come grovelling back to her, throws away her self respect when she tries to desperately seduce him, behaves petulantly when her mother decides to re-marry. In other words, here is a protagonist who is seriously flawed but has the courage to accept it and therefore, comes across as very real, as very human.

The other thing that I loved was the way bread was woven through the fabric of the story - the aroma of freshly baked bread literally wafted through the pages of the novel. No surprise then that I just had to bake a loaf!

I've just started baking bread; however, Wyn's method of halving the yeast and thereby doubling the rising time intrigued me. I followed the 'plain old bread' recipe from the novel, but halved it.


bread flour - 3.5 cups
warm water - 1 cup ( I used 1 cup and about 2 tbsps)
active dry yeast - 1.5 tsp
sugar - 2 tsps
salt - 1.5 tsp


Stir the yeast and the sugar in 3 bsps of water and let it sit for about 15-20 mins.
Put the flour in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the water and the yeast mixture and begin kneading.
When it clumps together, turn it onto the kitchen counter and knead for a further 10 - 12 mins, adding some flour if needed.

Finally, add in the salt ("because salt strengthens the gluten and makes the dough fight you") and knead for a few minutes more.

Oil a large (glass) bowl, turn the dough over in the oil so that the entire surface is oiled, cover it with a damp tea cloth and leave it to rise.

I left my dough out for 2 hours and then put it in the fridge overnight. Next morning, I let it rise for about 4 hrs after which I turned it on the kitchen counter and punched out all the air and kneaded it for a few minutes. Shaped it into a loaf, put it into the tin and left it to rise.

After about 3 hrs ( I lost track of time here), lightly glaze the top with some water and bake it at 200 deg C for about 30 mins or till the top is browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped from below.

The bread was awesome - it smelt heavenly, there was no trace of any yeast scent. If you've never baked before, go ahead now and bake a loaf, this is truly worth the effort!

It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!

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