A Little Firefly Shindig – with cake!

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’!

Jewel Staite as Kaylee in the Firefly episode 'Shindig'

Ta-da!

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!

So elegant!

 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:

"Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything."

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.

Fact: If you take pictures with llamas, the llama will steal the show.

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!)

Melody figured out that she was 'Nathan Fillion' almost immediately!

It took Angela a little while longer to figure out that she was Moya from Farscape, but she got it eventually!

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…

Llamas are knitting while they plan the deaths of their enemies!

Best party ever?

Best party ever.

Wonderland Tutorials: Queen of Hearts PB&(s)J

July 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

I was going to start posting my Wonderland party tutorials tomorrow, but decided at the last minute that I wanted to put this one up today (you’ll find out why at the bottom of the post).  It’s really a very simple project that hardly merits a tutorial (she said self-deprecatingly)–in fact it’s so simple that I will use hardly any words at all–but I’m a visual learner and I like to see how things are put together, so there you go.

Besides, I wanted a sandwich.

You will need: Bread (I used round flat bread because there was no regular bread in the house), peanut butter, strawberry jam, and two heart-shaped cookie cutters, one small enough to fit inside the other.

…and there you have it. A peanut butter & (strawberry) jelly sandwich fit for the Queen of Hearts.

Of course, the same concept works very well with other cut out shapes, too, like this:

Happy Canada Day!

Arsenic & Old Lace: A Halloween Party

October 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween–I love candy! and costumes! and pumpkins! and weird folklore and traditions!  It is a match made in holiday heaven.

Last year I helped my friend Angela with her Halloween Murder Mystery party, and it was so much fun that we decided to throw another Halloween party this year.

Because we are grown-ups, and we need all of the excuses to wear costumes that we can get.

For our theme I chose one of my favorite Halloween movies, Arsenic & Old Lace

If you haven’t seen this movie, then run out and get it right now. You have two days until Halloween is over! You won’t be sorry.

The party was a candy potluck–guests brought a bag of their favorite candy to add to the table, and there were treat bags to be filled and taken home–but there were a few more treats for the lace-draped buffet table as well…

Green mad scientist punch, sparkling grape juice, pumpkin soup….

Sugar cookies, s’mores on sticks, mummified baby fingers (okay, okay, they were just pigs in a blanket, and you can’t even see them because I forgot to take the towel off of the basket)

Poisoned apple with caramel sauce and toppings–marshmallows, toffee bits, and chopped almonds

Gingerbread cupcakes with marshmallow filling, served with whipped cream

And, not quite in theme, an experiment in cookies honoring Día de los Muertos:

What will you be for Halloween?  I was Salome, and St. John the Baptist was my date for the evening:

How to make…stained glass cookies (sort of)

October 15, 2010 § 12 Comments

I’m afraid that this isn’t going to be a very good tutorial, because my methods were mostly an experiment in what Does Not Work (hint: getting your icing wrong Does Not Work).  But the end result was still pretty!  So perhaps if I tell you all about what I did wrong you’ll be able to do something even prettier.

First I made sugar cookies. From a package, because I am a cheater.  Then I made icing from these directions at i am baker and managed to get them wrong. My icing was much too thin, and I used an icing tip that was too big, and the long and the short of it is that my cookies had a rather thicker layer of icing that they were supposed to, and this layer of icing never hardened.

My plan for the cookies was to copy the enchanted rose as it appears in the wonderful stained glass prologue of Beauty and the Beast

Specifically, I wanted my cookies to look like this:

I had a few ideas about how to copy the image onto my cookies…and they all failed. Because my icing was soft and more like a glaze than icing and the outer crust cracked like a frozen lake if I touched it.  What to do?

In the end I did what I do best: I improvised.  I eyeballed.  I looked at the picture, and back at my cookie, and back at the picture, and back at my cookie, and I free-handed roses onto my cookies in black icing (with the small tip that I should have been using all along, and which much, much thicker icing this time).

I did my best, but I still ended up with some of the ugliest roses in the history of everything–see the lower right hand corner of this picture for evidence–

My lines were shaky and lumpy, my piping sloppy, and my cookies, frankly, looked abysmal.  I managed to fix a few mistakes by gently picking out bits of black icing after it had dried, but the real saving grace for these cookies?

The decorating gel.  You can buy it in your local craft or baking goods store in a multitude of colors.  It’s clear. It’s vibrant. After it sits it doesn’t harden like royal icing but it does firm up enough to handle touching or stacking (although if you’re stacking your cookies in a tin for a gift, or if you made them in advance for an event and they’ll be stacked for a while, I’d separate them with pieces of wax or parchment paper to keep crumbs from sticking to the decorating gel).  And suddenly that imperfect piping isn’t even noticeable–the bright colors of the decorating gel made even the ugliest of my ugly roses look good.

Application was simple–I just squeezed a bit of decorating gel into each section of the cookies (not too much! it will spread pretty thin, and you can always add more if you need to–if you put on too much it will flood into other sections) and gently spread it to the edges and into the corners with a toothpick.

A little time consuming, but easy, and the results were so worth it!

If you look closely, you’ll see that I used two shades of decorating gel–both pink and red–to give the rose depth.  There wasn’t a science to this, although I tried to focus the pink on the center of the rose and use it on the curled edges of the petals, while I used more red at the bottom of the rose. But it breaks up the color and gives some of the variation that you see in the window.

You can also see the black mark left by a line of icing that I picked off to improve the look of the rose–that smudge was a lot less noticeable in person, I promise!

I also broke up the bright blue background with bits of purple, and some of the cookies had a border of pink and purple, in an effort to match my original concept.

Was this project time-consuming and tedious?

Well, yes. But so pretty!

Would you do it again?

Absolutely, although I would really try to get my icing right next time.

Were they too pretty to eat?

Um, no. In my world, no cookie is too pretty to eat. That’s why I take pictures.

They were delicious!

How to make…a fondant rose

October 13, 2010 § 3 Comments

The rose looks complex, but it’s really very simple to make! Here is how I did it:

First, most of opening speech from the last two tutorials still applies: I used Wilton’s fondant in white, and Wilton’s icing coloring to tint it.  This time you won’t need anything but your fondant, your coloring, and your hands (and a knife, briefly, at the very end). It’s also a good idea to have a container with a lid or a zip-lock bag handy for any fondant that you aren’t using, because it will dry out if you leave it exposed for more than a few minutes.  It’s also important to make sure that your hands and your work surface are clean and completely free of lint or crumbs–any bit of dust will stick to your fondant and look vile.

Start by coloring your fondant–you’ll want a bigger piece than you used for your books, but not too much bigger.  You can use any color you like, but I chose pink because the enchanted rose in the film is pink (and because the coloring was handy).  I thought that the shade was a little bright, though, so I added just a drop of blue coloring to tone it down.  Once your color is worked into your fondant, pinch off a tiny piece–

Roll this piece into a short, fat snake, then gently flatten one end and roll it again to form your inner petal.  The rest of the rose will be built around this–

Pinch off another small piece of fondant (you are remembering to put the lid back on your fondant in between petals, right? if you don’t then it will start to get dry before you’re finished!) and make a petal shape by rolling it into a ball, setting it on your work surface, and gently flattening one side.  You want a rounded triangle shape that’s thicker at the base and thinner on the outer edges–

Gently wrap this petal around your center, letting the wider edge curve back–if the outer edge of your petal flops over instead of curving gently then the fondant is too thin. Just peel it off and start over with a slightly thicker petal–

…wash, rinse, repeat.  You’ll want to start making your petals a little bigger, and just keep adding them around the center until your rose is as big as you want it to be–

Now, if you have your cupcakes ready to go then you could stick this rose into a cloud of frosting and be ready to party, but I made my roses about a week in advance and they needed to sit in a container all that time (I left the lid off so that they would harden and be easier to handle when I put them on the cupcakes).  So I trimmed the bottom of the rose to give it a flat surface–

And voila! You have everything you need for the tops of your cupcakes.

…but what about the rest of the cupcake, you ask?  Be watching for tutorials on fancy cupcake wrappers!

How to make…an open book out of fondant

October 12, 2010 § 8 Comments

My second fondant decoration was an open book!  I really loved this one–

And here is how they were made:

First let’s flashback to the last tutorial, because all of this still applies–I used Wilton’s fondant in white, and Wilton’s icing coloring to tint it.  Other useful and necessary items: A rolling pin, toothpicks, a cutting board, and a sharp knife.  It’s also a good idea to have a container with a lid or a zip-lock bag handy for any fondant that you aren’t using, because it will dry out if you leave it exposed for more than a few minutes.  It’s also important to make sure that your hands and your work surface are clean and completely free of lint or crumbs–any bit of dust will stick to your fondant and look vile (especially against the white).

Your first step is (shockingly) a lot like the first step in making the closed book–just take a piece of fondant and shape it into a rectangle.  Make it thinner and larger than your last rectangle–

Lay your fondant rectangle on your very clean work surface, and gently use the back of your knife to make a deep crease in the middle–this forms the spine of the book.  Don’t go too deep! Halfway should be about right.

Then gently press the crease open and smooth the edges to get a nice curve–I used the flat of my knife for this, but you can also just shape it with your fingers.  You want the curve to be highest near the middle of the book and to slope down towards the edges.  The shape you’re looking for is a bit like a mustache, or an upper lip–

All of that shaping may have made your rectangle less distinct, so you might want to trim the sides to make them even

Now it’s time to trim the edges of the pages–you don’t want to cut straight down for this.  Instead, hold your knife at a slight angle and trim the edges so that they have a slant–

Now that you have your basic shape you’re ready to make the lines for the pages!  This is the same method that you used in the last tutorial–just use a gentle sawing motion with your knife to make shallow cuts on the slanted edges.

You can even cut a little deeper into the corners and curl them up slightly–I thought that the result was really cute–

Use the tip of your knife to draw lines on the top and bottom of the book–they should start at the center and go out, following the curve of the upper edge–

Set this piece of fondant aside, and add color to a smaller piece of fondant to use for your book cover, just as you did in the last tutorial.  This time you just roll out the colored fondant, set the pages that you made on top, and trim the cover to size around them (leaving just a bit of space, so that the cover shows around the edge).

Turn the book over and use a toothpick to make two grooves for the spine–gently rub the toothpick back and forth to get a distinct mark–

Also, try not to make nail marks in your fondant.  Ahem.

Turn your book back over–I put mine on top of two toothpicks, to help it keep its shape–

And you’re done!  If you leave your book out in a container with no lid the fondant will harden, making it easier to handle when you’re ready to set it on your cupcake.

(Thank you to Angela for taking these pictures!)

How to make…a closed book out of fondant

October 11, 2010 § 9 Comments

For my Beauty and the Beast celebration I decided to experiment with something new to me and use fondant.  It was easy! although I kept leaving nail-marks in the fondant…but my childhood dedication to the art of Play-Doh has finally paid off.  I made three kinds of decorations, inspired by two of the things that strike me as most important in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and which happen to be two of my favorite things in the world: Roses and books.

The first is a closed book, and this is how it was made:

I used Wilton’s fondant in white, and Wilton’s icing coloring to tint it.  Other useful and necessary items: A rolling pin, toothpicks, a cutting board, and a sharp knife.  It’s also a good idea to have a container with a lid or a zip-lock bag handy for any fondant that you aren’t using, because it will dry out if you leave it exposed for more than a few minutes.  It’s also important to make sure that your hands and your work surface are clean and completely free of lint or crumbs–any bit of dust will stick to your fondant and look vile (especially against the white).

The first step is to shape a piece of white fondant into a thick rectangle for the body of the book–exact dimensions aren’t particularly important, and it doesn’t need to have sharp corners or perfectly flat sides, just squish into shape–

With your knife, make shallow cuts along three of the sides to give the appearance of pages–I got the cleanest cuts when I used a gentle sawing motion (rather than just dragging the knife across).

Set your pages aside for the moment, and get a fresh piece of fondant and your icing coloring.  You can use any color you like–I used blue because in the film the cover of Belle’s favorite book is blue (…and it is my favorite color. And we already had it in the house).

Use a toothpick to put a little coloring on your fondant–you will not need very much.  Just dip the tip of the toothpick into the coloring once and smear it on the fondant and you will have plenty–you can always continue to add color if you decide that you want it to be darker (although I found that the more color you add, the stickier and more obnoxious your fondant will get).

Work the color into the fondant with your hands–it will stain your fingers temporarily (see my dainty pink hands? that was from tinting the fondant for the roses!) so if you’re a hand model then you may want to wear disposable gloves, or buy pre-colored fondant.  I found that the best way to minimize staining was to fold the fondant over the coloring, and to keep folding until most of the color was incorporated–

Once the color was worked in a bit I switched to rolling the fondant between my palms until I was satisfied that the color was uniform (not marbled or spotty).  Then I rolled it out–

Oops.

Peel the fondant off of your rolling pin and lay it out on your cutting board.  You don’t want your book cover to be too thin, or it will be difficult to work with–the regulation 1/8 of an inch is about right, but there’s no need to worry about being exact (…I hope that no one ever crouches over their table with a ruler because of me. I don’t believe in being exact, as a rule. Ha ha). Set the white fondant pages that you made earlier on your blue fondant and use them as a guide for cutting the cover of the book to size–

You want to make sure that the resulting strip of fondant is the right length to wrap around your pages, so you’ll use the same trick that you doubtless use to cut wrapping paper (when I was little I thought that my mother invented the wrapping paper trick, and I thought that she was the cleverest person in the world. I was right, she is, but not because she came up with the wrapping paper trick).  Just roll your pages over to get the combined length of endpage, spine, endpage, and then trim the last edge to fit–

And then fold it around your pages

Use a clean toothpick to make a crease on each side of the spine, pressing the spine flat as you do so

You could stop here and have a recognizably book-shaped lump of fondant, but I added four more grooves on the spine of the book–

Rather than just pressing the toothpick into the fondant, I rubbed it back and forth gently for a more distinct mark.

And there it is! A tiny book:

Isn’t it darling?

 

(Thank you to Angel for taking the pictures!)

 

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