Saturday, June 5, 2010

Wedding Cake Triumph

Making my own wedding cake, or rather, convincing Rachel to make a wedding cake to my specifications, seemed like a brilliant idea six months ago. Rachel is a talented baker, and we are both capable, determined and creative people. How hard could it be? When I discovered that pansies were a little hard to sugar, being way too big for their own good, I was mildly shaken. When I first started playing around with paint on the fondant I was a little unsure of my ability to turn gloppy gel coloring and melty fondant in something pretty. But the worst was the fondant. Turns out that fondant can be hard. Literally and figuratively. After spending an afternoon standing on a chair and pushing on a glob of green sugar with all of my might, all the while not seeing it move at all, I was downright worried.

Then came a the miracle of hydrogenated vegetable oil. Yes, crisco might give you cancer, but none the less, my grandmother was on to something. It makes fondant soft and pliable. So Rachel made a delicious cake and covered it with perfectly smooth white fondant. We also figured out how to attach candied flowers to the cake and I practiced my painting technique. The final cake will be two tiers that each have some components of the practice cake, and now I am happily sure that the wedding cake will be tasty and beautiful.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Candied flowers

After months of winter, blossoming spring flowers make me happy. My favorites are the ones that remind me of home and smell good. I'm a simple girl. As it happens those flowers, violets, pansies and lilacs, also tend to be edible. Further more lilacs are my favorite flowers, violets run rampant in the park down the street, and pansies are on my wedding dress. So a plan was born to make candied flowers to decorate my wedding cake. Easier said than done apparently, but I'm working on it. Here's what I've learned so far.

The first step: superfine sugar. While I was satisfied to finally learn what caster sugar is (superfine sugar, in between granulated and confectioner's sugar in size), I was disappointed to find that the grocery store didn't have any. So I followed some internet advice and tried to make superfine sugar from granulated sugar in a food processor. And much to my surprise it worked! Actually it almost worked too well. Be warned, its also possible to make confectioner's sugar in the food processor.

More internet advice - colored sugar! This changes the look of the candied flowers a bit, since you don't get the standard opaque sugar coat, but I think its a good idea for darker flowers. I added Wilton gel food coloring (in violet!) mixed in some gin (because it evaporates well and tastes delicious) to the food processor and voila! Sort of. I actually added too much gin and made damp purple sugar, but it was easy enough to warm it up in the microwave until the alcohol evaporated.

Step two: get the sugar to stick using egg white glue. Beat some egg white until it has no chunks and apply and even coat to a dry, pretty flower. I had good luck with painting the egg white on, and also with dipping the flower into the egg white and blotting off the excess.

Next just dip the eggy flower into the sugar, making sure it is fully covered. Shake off extra sugar and lay it out on waxed paper. You now have to wait for the flowers to dry. Though you may read online that drying can be sped up in a low heated over, DON'T DO IT! You run the risk of cooking the flower, egg, sugar mix into a syrupy planty crispy-ness that sticks to waxed paper. And that is sad.

I'll keep you updated on the progress. Hopefully I actually end up with enough flowers to decorate a cake with!

Monday, February 15, 2010


I recently discovered a way to combine two of my favorite things: creative projects and booze. Not drinking while working on projects; that sometimes has unexpected consequences. No, since this fall Mike and I have been creating booze in the form of cordials. For those that might be fuzzy on the definition of a cordial (I really only thought of them as things that old ladies drink in olden times Prince Edward Island), it's just an infused liquor with syrup added for sweetness. Traditional recipes involve a lot of fruit and flowers (my great grandmother made dandelion and raspberry cordials), but you can in theory put anything in alcohol, let it sit to add favor, sweeten and viola! The whole cordial assembly line began with my desire for limoncello, which I loved when I was in Italy. I found and more or less followed the recipe here:

The end result was delicious, but took a long time to get to. The thing about cordials is that they are addicting. You set them to infusing and then you have to wait for weeks or months to appreciate them. My natural impulse was to make more and experiment in the mean time. Thus our first creations, Chitters and Persephone were born.

Seeds from 3.5 pomegranates, mashed
10 thin-ish slices of ginger
1.75 liters vodka

sit with stirring for 10 days

filter, once coarse, twice fine

add cooled simple syrup (4 cups water, 2 cups sugar)

mellow 1 week

fine filter into bottles

1 vanilla bean, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
80 hazelnuts, chopped
20 cloves, smashed
10 allspice berries, smashed
1.5 nutmegs (is this a word?), chopped
1.75 liters vodka, brita filtered
0.25 liters brandy

sit with shaking for 3 weeks

filter twice, one coarse, one fine

add cooled simple syrup (4 cups water, 2 cups sugar)

mellow 1 week

fine filter into bottles

Notes: Ideally you would use a 70% grain alcohol like Everclear, which has no flavor, but brita filtering (we did it 5 times) cheap vodka does improve the flavor some.

Infusing for longer isn't always better. Fruits get mushy and hard to filter out, the pomegranate definitely didn't need more than 10 days.

Letting the simple syrup cool before you add it means that it will stay clear in solution, apparently when it is added warm cloudiness can form.

The most time consuming part of the project is actually filtering everything through coffee filters to get out all of the particles. We weren't patient enough with the Persephone, and a bit has fallen out since it was bottled. That one was our least favorite; the ginger flavor was surprisingly subtle and I think we'll add more next time. The Chitters, the ingredients of which were inspired by Italian nut liquors and the name coming from everyone's favorite squirrel, turned out excellent. Though I would probably put in less cloves, allspice and nutmeg in the future.

If you are interested in cordial making, you'll need some supplies:

2 liter, well sealed glass jars
a mortar and pestle
a nut grinder (we love the nut grinder!)
a microplane zester
lots of funnels
a stand alone coffee filter
paper coffee filters
lots of bottles (I like the flip-top kind, so I buy things in those bottles and save them, but this place has some great ones:

and of course, pretty little glasses from which to enjoy the end product!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Baby Blanket

The idea here is that I like having projects to work on, I get ideas for projects a lot, but I generally don't work on them enough to actually finish them. So after being inspired by some blogging friends, I thought maybe having the goal of blog posts to push me would make me more productive. Oh, don't worry, I won't work too hard. I still plan on having plenty of lay around and do nothing time in my life. A girl can dream of having it all: laziness and a sense of fulfillment .

And see? Its already working. I finally finished the baby blanket for baby Jack! Only 4 months after the baby shower, 2 months after the birth, and 1 month after christmas. But better late than never. I originally had the idea in Scotland over the summer. While in the country with the second highest number of sheep Per capita (after New Zealand) we saw a lot of beautiful wool products and, well, a lot of sheep. Specifically we drove around a lot of sheep on tiny one lane roads in the Highlands. The times we narrowly missed hitting one were the only times I was distracted from the amazing scenery. I was particularly struck by the colors. The heather was in bloom so the mountains were covered in many shades of green and purple. The roadsides were lined with bright orange lilies (if anyone knows what these are, let me know, they were everywhere!), and the rowan trees were fruiting with deep red berries. So, as soon as I got home I bought yarn in those colors and I went to work. I did the bulk of the blanket, about 30 inches by 30 inches, in double crochet. The idea was to Loch blue in the foreground, followed by rowan, ferns and heather. Poofy sheep would then go in the middle. My favorite part of the baby blanket my grandmother made for me, which I inventively named Bunny, was a raised plush rabbit tail. So I cut the sheep out of white fleece and sowed them on. After several failed attempts to embroider cute but realistic sheep faces, I finally settled on simple knot eyes, floppy ears and outlines of legs. Finally, to coordinate with the white and black of the sheep I did a border in grey. I did two rows of single stitches around the blanket then chained 4 and single stitched into every 3rd stitch. Viola, first goal accomplished!