Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cake Decorating 101

I had the opportunity a couple weekends ago to sit in on a friend, Mr. T, baking a couple cakes and cupcakes for his friends and co workers. I offered to lick the bowl help out but was pretty useless as far as cake decorating went. So I just watched and snapped a couple photos.

The whole process took a couple days - when I visited the first day, he had already kneaded colour into some fondant, then rolled and cut out several pretty flowers. While the fondant was still pliable, he'd pressed the flowers together, turned up a couple petals for a 3D effect, and also adorned a couple with tiny silver dragees.

The flowers, I was told, was to adorn a number of cupcakes (above, before and after), which had been trimmed and filled with a sweet, rich chocolate buttercream, shown below (correct Mr T? my memory is hazy).

To adhere the flowers to the cupcakes (he left a couple unfilled), he prepared a swiss buttercream. He likes using a swiss buttercream as the result is more silky and less cloying or rich. As I watched him, I was reminded of school where Chef Patrice described meringues: Italian, Swiss, and French. It also reminded me of BCITs "marshmallow" lab session. The processes all combine sugar and egg whites, however the French meringue combines sugar with slightly beaten egg whites until desired stiffness. The Swiss meringue is essentially the same, but the process is completed over a simmering water bath, then finished off the heat to thicken. This results in meringues used for pavlova, as well as nougat candies. The Italian meringue differs from either of the above in that it combines a sugar syrup, instead of granular sugar, with the egg whites. This makes for desserts like torrone. 

I watched Mr T finish up the Swiss buttercream by removing it from the water bath, but continuing to whip it in a mixer while slowly incorporating butter and nutella (love nutella!). Incidentally, he found that the butter and the egg white mixture was thickening up too much, so he brought out the blow torch to warm things up a bit. Again, as I told Mr T, watching him handle the blowtorch, I was reminded of hurting times when I worked in an open dessert station in a restaurant and had been too tired / weary / fed up to operate the torch properly. There were many times that I had to to curse (from burning myself with the blowtorch), but because of the open kitchen, couldn`t. Good times? Not so much. But obviously memorable.

It was a nice process and it was fantastic to see Mr T in action. I am really impressed by the fact that he is mostly self-taught. Personally, I could never have the dedication to make cupcakes. Firstly, I never knew quite as many people to share them with (people I know are bordering on diabetes and / or general unhealthy diets. I don't want to have that on my conscience. :p). And thus I would never ingest a whole batch of cupcakes myself (as M doesn't take to sweets quite as fondly as I do. And finally, I just don't have the patience or the purpose to make them. But. I must say that I am feeling really inspired by the evening of cupcakes. I even doodled some cake / cupcake ideas that weekend.

This was just the first session! I'll post the cakes he was making in another entry.

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