Winter Weddings

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It might seem odd to be talking about winter weddings in February, but winter is still with us for another six weeks (give or take until March 20th), and it’s inspiration is abounding in the bakery. As well as the fact that it is very common now-a-days for couples to be engaged 9 months or more, so this might help inspire those planning a winter wedding.

What makes a wedding cake ‘winter’? First and foremost, ‘cool’   colors (not as in ‘that’s cool’, but as in a ‘cool color pallette’, usually   blue based as opposed to red (warm) based).

Winter cakes can be a combination of white on white or white on ivory with no other colors. This makes an elegant, refined statement.   To clarify all pattern, flowers, ribbon (etc) are all ‘white’.

A variation on this is to use silver, icy blues and/or bling; very particular metalic’s can work as the metalic evokes the sense of something being covered in ice.

Like making a color picture into black and white to completely change the feel and look, most cake designs can be ‘winterized’.

June ‘Favors’

Gifts. Sharing of joy. Reinforcing a memory with something tangible,  something for the eye to savor, the hands to hold, and, when edible, for the mouth to delight in.

Ideas? Here are some that we offer and have done in the past.

Heart shaped shortbread cookies, pecan, citrus, traditional Scottish – tuxedo style ( half dipped in chocolate), with a corsage ( gumpaste flower) or monogrammed.

Cake truffles – a twist on the iconic truffle, decadent and rich, elegantly packaged in individual boxes, tied with your custom ribbon.

Springerles – this ancestral cookie was first known to be made over 1,000 years ago. Like the French breads and Venetian pastries, these delicious, not too sweet cookies are beautiful and unique. Enjoy them in traditional anis, citrus and classic vanilla flavors. Packaged, they are sure to wow their receivers.

Hand Decorated Cookies – Create your custom look or theme on these delicious butter- sugar cookies. These tender and tasty cookies are just the right balance for your icing design.

Cake Pops- from bride and grooms to your colors and swirl. Monogrammed or subtle, they are fun and a fan favorite!

These are just some ideas to spark your imagination!

May Blossoms

It’s May! Happy Mother’s Day!
The flowers are in full bloom ~ though without any scent as they are made of gumpaste in the bakery. With Mother’s Day and Weddings, we are in full spring mode. We make all of our gumpaste flowers in house, and what a great irony; I have a brown thumb!  I know my father and grandmothers are watching down on me laughing, because despite myself, I have finally learned all these different types of flowers 🙂 .
cherry blossoms
Just as a gardener plans the layout for the beds before getting seeds to germinate, we plan how much time it will take to make the flowers, how far in advance to start, assemble, and decorate. While I would never dare to say that our flowers can compare our flowers to the exquisite ones grown in gardens and along byways around the world, I am awfully impressed with what my team’s hands can do! (And the more we do, the more impressed I am by Mother Nature!)
The different sugar flowers take different amounts of time, need different amounts of patience, tenderness and finesse (yes, it does sound like I’m raising a child, but trust me it does relate!). For example, peonies are a favorite flower, and one of the most expensive for us to produce, as they literally have to be made over days! Where as Daisies, Cherry Blossoms, and Cala Lilies all equally lovely and delicate, yet more independent – not so in need of our hands, and therefore can be more budget friendly.
Roses are by far one of our most popular flowers, and just as in real life, the art is not only in the formation of the flower, but also in the finesse of the color / hand painting of each part. As no two flowers are alike, so too do we customize each flower for the special person receiving it.

April Showers

“April Showers” as the beginning of the rhyme goes is not limited to the spring rain. Rather in the bakery, we are having ‘showers’ all the time. Bridal showers, baby showers, engagement parties, graduation celebrations …. Occasion cakes are always a fun centerpiece, but sometimes it’s nice to do something a little different and a little more personal –   individually sized treats. They look lovely on a plate, blow your guests away, and can add to a lot of variety.

A vary fast easy way to make a personal ‘spring dessert’ is to purchase a store bought Sara Lee poundcake, some berries, and your frosting (your favorite flavor and brand). Lay a few pieces of the pound cake out on a cutting board. With a small cookie cutter in theme with your celebration, cut out the pieces of the poundcake (a small square or round cutter are always perfect too). One thing to consider is whether or not you want your guests to be able to pick up the bite with their hands or need a proper plate and fork. The size and shape of cookie cutter will dictate if it needs a fork or if it is finger friendly; the cake will break if too big or too awkward to hold. Then, with a spoon put some of the frosting into a ziploc bag and push it down into one of the bottom corners. Fold the bag over so it’s shut and snip the bottom end where the frosting is squeezed to. Now, simply pipe the frosting into little dollops onto the cake cut-outs. Add a berry on top to finish! It’s sure to impress!

If you’re not a fan of store bought frosting, an easy alternative is Chantilly cream, and here’s how you make it. *It can be made ahead and stored in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days – or until someone eats it 🙂 .

Chantilly Cream: Take 1 pint of whipping cream, whipped with a little powdered sugar until you’ve reached the sweetness desired. I suggest starting with a quarter cup of powdered sugar at a time for a half pint of cream.

Cut Cut-outs

Another idea that is simple to execute is if you take ribbon – it could be a customized ribbon with initials or the date , or regular ribbon – and add it around an undecorated cookie. It adds a dash of color and panache to a simple and delicious treat!

Cookies with ribbon

My favorite Spring dessert : Berry Filled Angel Food Cake. A fast and easy dessert if not from scratch. Buy a store-made Angel Food Cake. Cut the top half off (holding the knife horizontally). Set aside on a clean plate – you’ll need it again. With one tablespoon, hollow out a ditch or tunnel throughout the center of the cake, leaving a ½” wall on either side. What you’re doing is making a moat around the inside of the cake, so that it will hold all the delicious berries.

In a separate bowl, wash and dry about two pints of berries. If using strawberries, slice them before adding to the bowl. Add a little sugar if the berries aren’t fully sweet. Then gently toss with Chantilly cream . (*Recipe above. Set aside about 3 Tablespoons full for the finishing panache). Now, take your cream-berry mixture and spoon it evenly into the moat. Take your top piece of cake that has been resting on the plate and carefully place it back on top. A strong but gentle hand is needed here.

Now add your reserved Chantilly cream by drizzling it. Then  sprinkle the berries over it for that finishing touch.

Filled Angel Cake

Keep chilled until ready to slice and serve. Enjoy!

March – Easter Treats

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The thawing of winter and blooming of spring is a time that always goes by so fast. Yesterday it was Christmas and winter.  Tomorrow it’s Easter (depending on the year it’s here before you blink), and spring! The ground thaws and creatures come out of hibernation…

In the bakery, chocolates, bunnies and marzipan chicks are hatching up everywhere!

Easter is one of my most favorite seasons — and I love to make it special.

Here are some thoughts for you:

Dress your table up for the occasion! Get inspiration from the outdoors; cut some fresh flowers and leaves, strewing them along the center of the table. Remember to keep in mind that you want eye-height field of vision clear, so that conversation is not stunted by people not seeing you through tall and bulky table settings. You can add, just remember to have it spaced. Also, the narrower the better -you need for plates! 🙂

Want to show off some of your easter eggs? Nestle them in the greenery, or onto candle sticks (in place of the candle). Inexpensive Easter garlands can be found at any craft store and many grocery stores; if you take them apart you can use them as napkin ties or around chairs. For a more sophisticated look or to keep it from feeling too busy, try to stick with one base color (maybe two if it’s white and green, for example), and have 3 or 4 accent colors that just give the punctation to the decor. It’s the hint of color and whimsy that just make it fun!

My fun and relatively painless Easter dessert is decorated Sugar cookies! They are always a hit, and are fabulous to bake and/or decorate with kids (big and small). Just get out the cookie cutters, sprinkles, and icing! These can also be set out on the table top and become a conversation starter for groups who don’t know each other well. Display them on a “silver tray” until time for dessert!

My personal favorite Easter decorating activity is dying the Easter eggs. This could possibly be because it means there will be an Easter Egg Hunt, which is so much fun to watch with little ones!

We used to make our own dye – I found it much easier to maintain, cost effective, and my girls enjoyed the challenge with the colors.

To make the dye:

1 tsp food coloring, (the McCormicks in the little squeeze bottle from your grocer’s shelf)

1 tablespoon white vinegar,

½ cup hot water. (This is the amount you need per color for the dye).

Tips for boiling your eggs:

Start with cold eggs sitting in a pot of cold water. Bring to slow boil then broil for 5 minutes.

Let cool down in the water and then dry.

Now your ready to dip and decorate to your hearts desire!

Happy Easter!

High Tea Part II

Setting the Mood

Tea is all about being a break in the day, having a nosh in the afternoon to hold you over until dinner (which was about 8-9pm), but also a respite from the stress of the day. A break for the spirit, if you will, to renourish, and then, back in the fray! So to that end, you can not have a proper tea in the middle of chaos with things scattered everywhere, or for a perfect picture, one of my daughter’s room’ when they were unkempt teenagers. Clothes scattered everywhere, books tossed about in an organized manner only known to them, empty glasses held hostage from the kitchen… See? Not the relaxing, soul refreshing environment for a proper high tea.

Ambience
A clean, bright space, for me, is a wonderful way to have high tea. Clean, kept, the chairs empty, with pillows fluffled, just waiting for your guests to sit in. For some reason cheerful plants or fresh flowers always add to the feeling of tea. When I’m really awake I always think it’s fun to have a plant of lavender out when serving tea with lavender as an ingredient.

Music
Music, softly playing, is just another layer in high tea. Now the type of music is a bit key. Somehow rap does not qualify. I always suggest for tea picking music that is not highly lyrical; your mind often wonders listening to the lyrics instead of the conversation or the wanderings of your own mind ( at least for me). Some of my favorite choices: Enya, Keiko Matsu, Yanni, and Wynton Marsala. My advise: anything that lowers your blood pressure or heart rate!

Tea, Treats & Sweets

Etiquette
How to properly serve the tea.
Now that all your food is prepared, your scones are warm in the oven or wrapped in a towel, mini quiches are about to finish cooking in the oven, and the hour to serve tea has arrived. You have two routes you can go. If you wish and have many pots for hot water, brew the tea in each individually (which is how it is done in swanky High Teas), or you can be a little uncouth and use one pot of hot water and put tea bags in everyone’s cup and brew it there. Generally I choose the latter, as I don’t have a plethora of tea kettles, so just ensure there is an extra plate on the table for the tea bags when it is time to take them out; then remove the plate. However, like the food, having a selection of teas to choose from, in my opinion, rules the day. I always like to include a selection of offerings that are caffeinated and decaf, more fruity and sweet, or more earthy and herby. In the spirit of accommodating your guests, it’s wonderful to have the tea selection with descriptions on an individual menu card,which can double as your guests’ ‘tea favor’. Another tip: for those new to ‘tea drinking’ – young and old alike-, hot chocolate is a wonderful alternative offering (as coffee is simply not to be had).

When pouring the hot water, always pour for your guests, standing on their right side. All tea drinkers have their preference of what they like with their tea, ranging from warmed milk or cream, lemon or sugar, so having this range already prepared and on the table is an option, or serve these items on a round tray after the tea is poured; this makes your guests feel thought of and cared. And that is precisely what tea is about!

Now, all that is left is to sit back (well, sitting mostly straight), and enjoy! It’s a delightful time of conversation and friendship. Enjoy your cups of tea, perhaps trying a different tea with each course- whatever you choose. Enjoy the natural un-rushed pace of tea; it is one of life’s little luxuries and you’ll find you don’t have to leave home to find it!

High Tea (Part I)

High Tea Part I

Tomorrow my daughter and I are hosting a high tea for some of our friends. I decided to use this blog to give some thoughts about proper high teas. As a strong believer and lover of tea, this is one of the things I am most looking forward to once we have our storefront.

One of my favorite aspects of tea is that it can never be rushed and that it is done in such a way as to make you (each and everyone), feel special. Whether in the dressing of the table, the variety of selection or the fact that someone is serving you; what makes it special, particularly with today’s hectic schedules and societies general rush, is that someone takes the time to have it with you.

 Now here are some thoughts for you to consider when hosting your next tea: 

Presentation :  In the spirit of making you feel special, setting of the table is key. And there’s no reason to break the bank on it. Mismatch different coffee saucers you have and use them as plates (remember, everything is in small portions, with a variety of different choices). Or go to a thrift / antique store; often they have vintage, yet reasonably priced platters and plates.

The table is set

Need a table cloth? For my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday she had a ‘teddy & tea’ party; I took a solid plastic pink picnic table cloth that I bought at Walmart. Then to add the party theme I sponge painted white teddy bears around the border and down the middle. Viola; a custom table cloth 🙂 . Other times I have used some of my favorite (clean) dish towels and set them as runners down the center of the table, which works perfectly for having the pot of tea and small plates of treats. Other options which work well – a part from handed down or thrift store linen cloths – are quilts, or sheets tied at the legs with bows or simply cut fabric.

Try and anticipate what your guests will need. People often want milk or lemon, and or sugar with their tea. So, have a small pitcher of warm milk (you don’t want it curdling, as well as it blends better) all ready to go. Have the wedges of lemon sliced and strainer ready to catch those pesky seeds. If the lemon is not used toss it in a zip-top plastic bag and it will keep in the fridge for at least a few days. For a refreshing change drop one in your water glass as a way to give a zesty zip to it!

Now, you may be reading this and thinking I do not want to have to clean up all those extra dishes. Spare yourself; there are no shortcuts to a really good tea, and unfortunately conserving space in the dishwasher was not a priority for the British. So, my advice? Don’t think about it until it’s over. 🙂 Tea is well worth the effort and plastic is not an option!

The Food: As tea is the spirit of ‘feeling special’ and indulged, having a variety of tasty treats plays a direct part in producing the charm. As a rule of thumb, I stick to a minimum of threes. Three savory sandwiches or mini quiches  (and remember we’re talking small portions; nothing is served more than 2 bite size), one or two varieties of scones with topping options, and three sweet desserts- truffles don’t count.

The food, kept on a ‘buffett side table’ until each course was ready to be enjoyed!

Try to keep in mind the flavors used in your selection; remember, we’re not trying to give anyone indigestion. Portions are a mini, or two bite size, as tea is a nibbling affair and was designed to hold you over until dinner, which was served at 8pm or 9pm. Scones should always be served with a type of jam (traditionally a berry jam) and clotted cream, which is found at any reasonably good grocery store these days, usually where cut cheese is.  You can also add a lemon curd and orange marmalade if you would like to be truly authentic.

A Basket of Scones,

For the dessert sweets, try to think of what you want to pair with the tea being offered

. Everything eaten is to highlight the tea being drunk, so having a rich decadent brownie might not necessarily be the best choice, as it might overpower your taste buds for the tea. (Even then that depends on the recipe, supposing you have a dark and spice blended brownie it could be lovely).

Part II : The Tea itself , as well as Fashion, Music & Proper “Tea” Etiquette

Fantasy Floral Cake

This blog is about one of our most recent cakes, and our grandest to date. Im calling it the floral fantasy cake. Not only the tallest, it’s height measuring over 6feet tall, it can serve approximately 500, and has over 500 sugar (gum paste) flowers on it. It is a testimony on planning, as we were balancing all of our other equally important orders! Having a fabulous team is vital!!!

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This cake was all about team work, playing to each others strength, and being able to have a vision. In the cake world, there is only so much that can be done in advance, which thankfully sugar flowers qualify! However, I really have to give it to my team, as some of those flowers take days before you get one complete, as you have to account for drying times and the stages involved in firming and assembling.

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The variety of flowers which went on this cake were the Southern Magnolia, Cattelyia Orchid, full Rose, Tulip, Stephanotis, Sweet Pea, and Cala Lily, Lily of the Valley and many leaves. The volume was daunting, but we just kept at it until we got to what we needed. Below are some pictures of the bins carefully packed that were used to store and transport our treasures.

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Due to the sheer weight of the cake and the design, we chose to stack the cake at the venue, doing our research on which cake structure design would work best for us! And voila, here it is! Yea Cake Stackers!

Happy Easter!

It’s Good Friday, and we’re in glorious spring weather here! Having lived a significant portion of my life below the equator where Easter is in fall, I never fail to appreciate the significance, beauty, and connection of spring and Easter.

That energy, color, and spirit is hatching in our kitchen as well! Easter cakes are being stacked and decorated, we have had rows of chicks hatching to adorn cupcakes, pies are in the oven…. And of course, chocolate’s everywhere! I have to say, the modeled chicks, bunnies, and lambs are my absolute favorite though. (We have such talented staff!)

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I wanted to share a few tips on how to make more festive any sweet treat you might be serving on your Easter table more festive! Regardless of whether it’s homemade or purchased from a store, you can always make it perfect for your table.

*Adorn with Easter Candy. Truly my favorite go-to easy adornment, thanks to talented factory makers, candies are so luminescent and pretty. Jelly Beans are luminescent and bright, bringing instant cheer to any plate, cupcake, or cake.

Use your peeps. If you stick a toothpick ⅔ up the way of a peep, you now have a holder and can use that to place into any cupcake or cake. (Kids particularly love this look).

The plastic or natural colored green excelsior found in most craft stores, generally used in the bottom of Easter baskets, is a great way to add color either around the plate of your dessert or along the table as part of your decor. (*Note while this substance is not edible, though I saw one edible band this year – try to avoid having it touch actual food. If in doubt, this idea is not for you.).

Pastel colored chocolate eggs again are a beautiful addition, sprinkled among a plate of cookies, or among your table display.

We love to hear your Easter stories! So please feel free to share and have a delightful Easter!!

PS – A note for the days after Easter: remember, save any Easter chocolate not consumed – if there is any – it’s great chocolate; you can melt it down in the microwave or stove top – just  chop it up and use it in fudge, brownies, cake or ganache to drizzle over fresh strawberries! If you don’t what to melt, the chocolate bunnies make the best chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies!

Secrets Revealed: How To Make Simple, Fast, & Easy Fondant Roses

The title is the perfect summary for this blog, and for today’s western world, and contains the three most coveted words: simple, fast, and easy. Three words one might not associate with beautiful fondant roses.  Now, to be clear, fondant roses can be elaborate, beautiful works of art. While I know some cake artists will argue that they can make their flower’s rival the natural rose, I will not. I can only endeavor to resemble.

But, now I am going to tell & show you in true blog fashion how you can make your own easy rose. You can make it as big or as small as you like. The only tools you need are:

  • fondant, this can purchased at Michaels, Walmart or a decorating supply company. It is sold in varying packaging, remember 4 oz will yield about 20 roses w/  nine petals.
  • shortening, (aka crisco)
  • a knife – a clean kitchen knife will do just fine; or a clean utility knife designated for food use only.

First, fondant: it does not like humidity and dries out very quickly. I usually break apart a nice handful of fondant and cover the rest with plastic wrap and stick it in a zip tip bag until I need it again.

When the fondant first comes out it is typically very firm and not pliable like you may have been expecting. That’s ok. It’s revivable. All it needs is some shortening – crisco works great. I generally add a finger-ful at a time, kneading it in, which is about a tablespoon or less. You want the fondant to be playable, smooth, not tearing or cracking when you play with it, like silly putty.

Once it is nice and happy roll it into a thin log (if your log is too long, remove the excess and cover it with plastic wrap).  I suggest the diameter of the log be about an inch. *Note: the larger the rose you want the bigger the diameter should be.

  

Now, take your knife and slice even pieces – you want at least 8 pieces, but I suggest cutting many more. Lay out all your pieces on a non-stick clean surface (a silpat works great) and cover with plastic wrap.

Next take one piece and squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. I rub a half moon shape with my forefinger against the fondant, so the outer edges are thinner and petal shaped.

 To form the center take your first petal and using the top right edge (if you’re left-handed the top left edge), make a cone shape by crossing down and over.

That is your center. 

(Personal note: don’t judge your center till you’ve completed your first rose. Then you can look back and decide if you like it or not. Also, practice makes perfect)

For the starter petals, one at a time repeat the above step in thinning and smoothing out the petal. Then cup the bottom and left side of the petal it around the base and cone, only slightly taller than the tip of the cone.  Leave one side with a thin flap (this is where you next petal will start).

Generally after the first 3 petals, you have a rose bud.

Add more petals, a fuller flower. As you rotate the bud adding petals, try to make it so that the petal intersections do not align in every ‘layer’ of petals. As your rose grows and is getting more full,  thin out the outer petals all the more when forming, so that they are larger, thinner, andmore delicate.  *Note: This is when your inner artist comes out, depending if you want a more open rose, formal rose, closed rose, etc.

Make the rose as big as you like. I’m making a medium size. Once you are finished, sit back and ooh & ahh over your handy work!

Let the roses dry on a bumpy soft surface – like an egg crate or foam cushion, somewhere where it can be upright and soft enough for the petals to dry in their shape. To save your fondant, simple group all discarded pieces with any fondant put to the side, re knead it together to make a cohesive ball (you will most likely need to add shortening), and then wrap with plastic wrap and store in a zip-tie bag or air-free container.

Now, you may be thinking, that is not fast, easy and simple. Well, for one, my instructions are in the baby step. Secondly, do another couple of roses and you will see they come together much faster and much easier! Simple and by you! Perfect to adorn your next special dessert!!