August 28, 2011 § 3 Comments
So, if you know me from anywhere else on the internet then you already know, but last week we celebrated my friend Angela’s birthday with a little Firefly-themed shindig! And it was awesome! In fact, it was shiny.
If you have no idea what Firefly is, then go forth and watch it. All of it. Then come back. We’ll wait.
…awesome, isn’t it?
It was very much a laid-back, small scale event for us—Chinese take-out, fresh fruit (strawberries!), cake, and party games while Firefly played on the TV.
My big project, which was a surprise for Angela, was a doll cake based on the fluffy ball dress that Kaylee wears in the episode ‘Shindig’!
She’s a vanilla sponge cake, carved into shape and then filled and covered with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. The doll came from the dollar store, and once upon a time she was a mermaid with really terrible hair–she came with a ponytail, so other than a ring of hair around the top of her head she was bald! I colored the bald spot with a brown marker, then used a hot glue gun to glue her hair into place (carefully covering her scalp). Then I trimmed her hair, cutting off the ugly matted fresh-from-the-box curls and making it the right length for Kaylee.
While I was gluing things I also glued all of the doll’s joints, and forced one of her arms to one side and glued it in place so that she could have a pose that didn’t look like a stiff-armed zombie! In fact I was so busy gluing and icing things that I didn’t take a single progress picture, but you’d rather look at more pictures of the finished cake, right? I thought so!
I didn’t time my cake decorating, but I estimate that I spent about an hour and a half piping the ruffles onto her skirt, then another hour and a half altering the doll and decorating her bodice (the single most time consuming part of the doll? getting icing onto her torso and making it smooth!). I know that I worked on the cake from about 4pm until 8pm, and I watched all of Wall-E while I did the bodice. My favorite part was making the ruffles–they were so fun! I could have piped ruffles for hours.
My hand was definitely hurting the next day, but it was worth it!
Birthday girl & cake!
There were also chocolate cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese icing, complete with parasols (another reference to the Firefly character Kaylee)…
Angela made a gorgeous Inara in her sari!
I decided to portray a character who doesn’t actually appear in the show–“Ma Cobb”. In the Firefly episode ‘The Message’, Jayne Cobb, the rough-around-the-edges-and-he-is-entirely-made-of-edges tough guy, gets a package from his mother containing a very cunning hat:
Imagining the tough old salt-of-the-earth woman who would raise a son like Jayne and send him a hat like that tickles my funny bone, and that is the truth. It was also easy! I just filled my apron pockets with orange yarn (and yes, I have this yarn specifically for the Jayne hats that I will get around to knitting sometime) and wore a ratty straw hat. I also borrowed a toy rifle. And I got to take pictures with llamas! A win all around.
And Jenn came as Jayne! …Mostly because it meant she got to carry around a big knife.
The party games were excellent–we played a game that I think some people call ‘Who am I?’, but which we call the ‘pieces of paper with names on the forehead game’. Most people play it as a mixer, with everyone milling around, but I prefer our version–everyone wrote a name, then gave it to the person next to them, who put it on their forehead without looking at it. Then everyone got three questions (‘either or’ questions, like ‘am I male or female?’, or ‘yes and no’ questions, like ‘am I from an awesome TV show about cowboys in space that was cruelly canceled after one perfect season?’) and a chance to guess their identity, and we went around the table like that. When someone figured out who they were, the person on the other side of them would give them a new identity and we just kept going. Most people figured out who they were within two or three rounds…in fact, most people had figured out two identities before I managed to guess my first! (I was Bambi. Thanks, Z!)
We also played ‘the sentence game’, which we sometimes explain to people as ‘Pictionary Telephone’–it involves each player having a stack of paper, writing a sentence, then passing the stack to the left, where the next person reads the sentence, draws a picture illustrating it, then passes to the left again, where the next person looks at the picture and writes down what they think the sentence might be. At the end everyone goes through their stack and hilarity never fails to ensue, especially when people add their own special interpretations…
Best party ever?
Best party ever.
August 14, 2011 § 3 Comments
I know that this comes as a shock, but I’m still alive! I’ve been very busy and working some overtime, though, so my craft projects and baking have been on the back burner. Just to prove that I’m still here, though, I wanted to show you my last two baking projects! I don’t have any in-progress pictures for you, but I still want to tell you all about them and give you links to the recipes I used, because they are delicious.
These are chocolate cupcakes with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which I made for lunch at my parents’ church this weekend. They are (I’m going to do it!) divine. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is my new favorite thing in the world–light and fluffy and smooth and delicious without being kick-you-in-the-face, I-feel-a-tooth-ache-coming-on super-sweet. I’m looking forward to doing a whole cake with this frosting! I bet it goes on like a dream.
To make the SMB (Swiss Meringue Buttercream) I followed the recipe for Salted Caramel Swiss Buttercream that’s used as the filling for this amazing cake from Sweetapolita (probably the prettiest baking blog that I follow!). The recipe calls for caramel sauce. I had never made caramel before, and I was completely terrified, but it went perfectly. Actually it probably helped that I was terrified and paranoid, because I didn’t leave my cooking sugar alone for a minute and I watched it like a hawk (I did do things like put ingredients away, rinse bowls, wipe the counter, and so on, but I always had one eye on the stove and I was back to swirl it gently every thirty seconds or so, as per instructions). With the caramel left to cool I moved on to the rest of the recipe (note: it really look a long time to cool, because I left it in the pan and didn’t think to move it to another bowl until later. I ended up putting it in the fridge to help the cooling process along before adding it to the frosting).
I continued following Sweetapolita’s instructions for the SMB, referring not only to the recipe for the Caramel SMB but also to her awesome post Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified and to DyannBakes’ tutorial video on 1:2:3 Swiss Meringue Buttercream–between all three I felt really confident that I knew what I was doing! And everything went smoothly and perfectly until I thoughtlessly put my finishing buttercream in the fridge before icing the cupcakes and left it there long enough to harden. Oops. I had to wait for it to come back to room temperature and whip it again (using the whisk on the stand mixer–with just the paddle it was separating a little and not coming back to full fluffiness).
Guys, the buttercream is stupendous.
Unfortunately, eating frosting with a spoon is generally frowned upon and I needed a socially acceptable vehicle for my buttercream. I made chocolate cupcakes, using the recipe found on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box. I have several chocolate cake recipes bookmarked and saved in my recipe folder, and I keep promising to try them out soon…but when it comes down to it I always seem to make this one. It’s chocolatey, moist, quick, easy, and I have a system for making it with minimal dirtying-of-dishes-or-utensils (one bowl, one 1.5 tsp measuring spoon, one 3/4c measuring cup, one 4c measuring cup, and the beaters for the handheld mixer–that’s it).
Aren’t they pretty? This is one of my favorite ways to ice a cupcake, and because it has a low profile it’s perfect for my cupcake carrier (which isn’t tall enough for lofty swirls of frosting, my other favorite style). You’ve probably seen tutorials for this elsewhere on the internet (once I discovered it I realized that I was seeing it everywhere!), but in case you haven’t it’s really easy–just use an Open Star (Wilton 1M) icing tip, start in the center of your cupcake, and make a swirl. It’s that simple. And if you’re a visual learner like I am, then you can watch this video over at Glorious Treats!
My other recent baking experiment was an Oreo cake for my mom’s birthday–she loves Oreos, so I crammed 2.5 packages of Oreos into this cake. No joke. It was intense.
It was a chocolate cake full of Oreos–an entire package of Oreos, chopped into fourths (alternatively, you could hit the package with a rolling pin a few times before you open it!) and split between two 9in cake pans. Then I poured the batter over the cookies. Guess what chocolate cake recipe it was? It was Hershey’s. Surprise!
I baked the cake in advance and froze it, something that I’m doing more and more frequently–I love to bake cakes, and I love to ice cakes, but once I bake a cake I’m kind of done for the day, I don’t want to come back after the cake has chilled and do more things. It’s a lot more fun when it’s split over more than one day! So later I made this Oreo buttercream from My Baking Addiction, and this Oreo filling from Beantown Baker, except that I didn’t have all of the ingredients and I may have, ahem, ad libbed a bit.
It was all delicious, but all of it at once was…well…completely and totally overwhelming. My family loves sugar and loves chocolate and we have a special talent for clearing our dessert plates, but no one was able to finish an entire piece of this cake! It actually lasted almost two days–remarkable, in this house!
I loved the Oreos in the chocolate cake, though, and honestly I think that would have been enough–next time I’ll just make Oreo-filled chocolate cake, layer it with fresh whipped cream, dust it with crumbled Oreo, and call it a day!