Learning to make Macarons…

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In February, I decided all of a sudden that I wanted to make Macarons.  You know, trying to expand my skills in cakes and cookies aren’t enough.  But this little cookie sandwich’s reputation for being finicky, yet delicious intrigued me.  What really put this need over the edge was my 6 year old niece went to a children’s macaron class.  I was totally jealous.  So off I went!

Now most people, when they start something new, try a basic recipe first.  You know, get the hang of it. Well not me.  I wish I thought with such logic as it would save me a few failures along the way.  But my over confidence in my ability to follow directions and the thought that if someone else can do it, surely I can too, makes me start with whatever catches my eye.  Macarons were no different.  So when I saw on Pinterest a recipe for cookie dough macarons, I had to start with that recipe!

Well, I will save you the suspense, the first batch FAILED.  The macaron shells looked fine, but the feet had gotten large and deflated out, the center of the cookie was hollow, and the cookie was under-cooked.  They looked pretty good, but I couldn’t even get them off the silpat.

I was totally disappointed, but I tried again the next day.  This time, I cooked them a little longer and experimented with some different sizes. They turned out a little better.  They had only a small hollow pocket, the I could get them off the silpat, and could pick them up and fill them without them crumbling.  The feet were still all over the place, but I was excited at the progress.

When both my sister-in-law and my niece took some more baking classes, I decided I wanted to go to one too.  And the macaron one was my first choice.  There is a pasty shop in Broad Ripple called the Gallery Pastry Shop.  If you are in central Indiana and want to take a baking class, this is the place.  Chef Ben is super nice and very patient with his students.  My mom signed up for the class with me and we went at the beginning of March.

Outside of going and physically learning how to make macarons, we learned so much more.  Those little tips and tricks of the trade that increase your success that you usually can’t get from a recipe.  And really, there is nothing better than making something with a chef by your side to tell you want to look for and if you are on the right track.  As for our macarons, I think Mom and I had the best ones in the class! I did the purple ones and she did the peach ones.  We of course then mixed and matched!

Now that I was schooled in some macaron making, I couldn’t wait to try our my new skills at home.   I had to wait a few weeks as I had my son’s birthday party to get through and a kitchen remodel going on, but I finally got to it this week.

I first made the fillings.  Chef Ben told us that they thicken up nicely overnight and it was best to make the filling a day ahead of time.  We learned in the class to make a chocolate ganache. I knew that it was only cream and chocolate, yet again, seeing it in person and have portions, made it easy to recreate.  Also, Chef Ben went into talking about the different kinds of chocolate, the percentages cocoa, and some of the science of cooking with different chocolates… super helpful!  While in the class, we also asked if he would give us the recipe for the salted caramel. Chef Ben wrote it down and we all took a picture. I had never made caramel, but it proved to be easy enough and I avoided burning myself, so that is a plus.

Macaron filling

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Ganache Filling

After I made the filling, I went ahead and made the macaron shells.  My plan was to put them in the fridge and fill the next day, which ended up working out nicely.   I followed the basic recipe and made sure to read through my notes from the class.  The end result was they turned out!!!  They got a little brown on top, but I think that will be solved by moving my rack down a little bit.  There was no hollowness, no sticking to the parchment, and they had the right texture.  PUMPED. Of course I had to fill one just so I could test them out.

The next day, I filled half with the salted caramel and half with the chocolate ganache.

Needless to say, I had to try one of each again (twice).  I left a few at home and brought the rest to work to ensure I didn’t eat the whole batch.  I am excited to be on the right path and can’t wait to make more.

Clara

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Avengers Cupcakes

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Hello!  So today my oldest is turning five…..FIVE!  I can’t believe it.  This past weekend we had his birthday parties (yes, plural).  We have had a pretty hectic couple weeks leading up to this weekend and making anything has been a challenge.  The day before my son’s birthday, my kitchen was getting new granite, sink, faucet, and stove top.  While I had high hopes for at least my sink to be hooked back up, it didn’t happen.  Luckily I had prepared for that and got started earlier in the week on my cupcakes.  They turned out wonderful and no one complained about being at a party in a mid-renovation kitchen!

Since I had to plan for a kid party and the family party (and keeping in mind the kitchen), I went the with all cupcakes.  It was less stress and easier to plan out so that they remained fresh.  Earlier in the week, I printed off the templates that I had been saving and got to work making icing.  Royal icing only takes a second to whip up, but getting the colors and consistency right takes FOREVER.  So my goal on night one was just making the colors and having my templates ready.  The next day, I was ready to get started.  I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to tackle each design, and as it turns out, I changed the way I did each one after the first one.  I started with Iron Man and the Hulk fist.

For Iron Man, I started with the eyes.  This is not how the eyes ended up, but it was more to make sure I had the right placement and spacing.  While the eyes dried, I outlined and filled in the red icing.  After letting the red icing sit for a bit, I filled in the yellow mask. For the Hulk fists, I did pieces of the hand that didn’t touch first. Once they dry a little bit, maybe 20 minutes, I did other parts of the hand.  The drying time allows for the lines in the hand to hold and show the details of the hand and gives it some dimension.  I let these ones be for the night before adding anymore.

For the Captain America shield, I started with the red rings.  After some drying time, I then added the white ring.  While those dried, I started prepping for the center.  Since I didn’t want to freehand the white star on the blue, I used another template to just do the stars.  I let everything dry overnight to make sure it was nice and firm.

 

The next day, I was able to finish everything off.  For the Captain America shields, I carefully pealed off the stars from the template.  I added the blue icing to the center of the shields and then immediately dropped a white star in the center. They were done and left to dry.

Captain America Cupcake Toppers

Captain America Shield Royal Icing Toppers

For the Iron Man and Hulk toppers, I piped black icing to complete the design using a tip-less bag cut with a small hole.  After that dried, I was able to go back and add the white eyes to Iron Man.

Avenger Cupcake Toppers

Avenger Royal Icing Toppers

I baked the cupcakes the night before my kitchen was to be ripped apart.  I waited to make the buttercream the morning of the parties since I like fresh buttercream and I would only be dirtying my kitchen-aid mixer.  I put together the cupcakes right before each party, the kid party in the morning and the adult party in the afternoon.  The royal icing soaks up the moisture from the buttercream and I like them to be as sturdy as possible.

Avenger Cupcakes 2

Avengers Cupcakes

They really turned out adorable and my son was thanking me before they were even finished.  This was our second year having an Avengers party, so I was happy we got to try something a little different than last year.

Avenger Cupcakes 3

Avengers Cupcakes

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Clara

 

Elephant First Birthday

Today (look at that timeliness!), I delivered an order for a first birthday that will be happening tomorrow.  The theme is blue and grey elephants.  Such a classic and sweet theme for a first birthday or a baby shower.  This is one of my first orders for someone that I do not know at all.  I have taken orders from friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and friends’ family members, but this was a co-worker of my friend who had the Lumberjack Party. She texted to see if I was interested.  After confirming that her co-worker knew that I do this on the side in-between taxes and kids and was not a professional, I agreed.  Like all orders that involve royal icing, this project spanned a couple days.

I baked the cookies on Valentine’s Day after our annual V-Day dinner outing to Taco Bell. Romantic, right?  The next day, my momma came over and wanted to help.  So I put her to work flooding cookies.  We had a nice assembly line going.  I would do the outline, and she would flood the icing.  It made that process go quickly which was a good thing since I wanted them to dry a bit before adding some details.

I was able to add the eyes, tail, and little white feet on later in the night when the icing had hardened a touch.  I waited until the next morning to add the ears since I was free-handing them and, wanted to be able to adjust the icing with my scribe while not messing up the base layer of icing. The ears were dry by the time I got home and the cookies were able to be packaged.  I packaged the cookies in little treat bags and sealed them with my food saver.  The topper touch was my mom.  She brought paper when she came to help me flood the cookies and had everything cut and ready to go for me.

elephant-cookies

Wrapped Elephant Sugar Cookies

elephant-cookies-packaged

Elephant Sugar Cookies Wrapped with Toppers

For the cupcake toppers, I printed a template for the shape of elephant I wanted and the size of heart I wanted for the ear.  I am not sure why I decided to template these ears and not the ones on the cookies, I just did.  Maybe because the cupcakes are going to be viewed as a group and having them look uniform appeals to me.  I put wax paper over my templates and made the toppers out of royal icing.  Once the heart and elephant were dry, I glued the hearts onto the elephants with a little royal icing.  The eyes I had made with leftover royal icing from another project when I made sprinkles.

elephant-cupcake-toppers

Royal Icing Elephant Toppers

Since royal icing needs drying time, I did all things that required royal icing first.  Then it was on to cupcakes. These were simple white cupcakes with vanilla buttercream using my favorite buttercream recipe. While I made the icing and cupcakes last night, I waited until this morning to pipe it on and add the toppers.  The royal icing will absorb some moisture from the buttercream and become a little more fragile and soft.  This is great for biting into one but not for transport. I already had the icing and tips ready to go, so the process only took a couple minutes.

elephant-cupcakes

Elephant Cupcakes

The last thing I worked on last night was the smash cake.  The smash cake was a small, two layer, 4″ round with vanilla buttercream.  I kept the design simple and added an extra cupcake topper to a stick to be the center piece. It was a nice way to tie everything together.

elephant-smash-cake

Elephant Smash Cake

Everything turned out great and coordinated really well.  I hope this little boy has a wonderful birthday tomorrow.  He has lots of goodies to celebrate!

elephant-party

Grey and Blue Elephant First Birthday 

Clara

 

Lumberjack Party

Last weekend, the kids and I had a lumberjack first birthday to attend for my best friend’s son.  I was of course commissioned to do the cake, but I always am from her!  I have been helping make her kids goodies since before I made goodies for anyone else.  I am not even sure why I let her pay me because I would do it for free just like I always have, but she insists.  Maybe she is hoping I will quit my job and bake cakes so that when she convinces her hubs that she can quit hers, she can come drink wine with me in my kitchen.  Hey, we can all have dreams, right?

It is February, so the plan was dress like a lumberjack in your fleece, eat chili, snuggle up outside under some blankets, and roast some marshmallows.  Well, turns out it was 65 degrees and sunny outside…in February…CRAZY!  We still ate chili and did turn on the fire for the kids to make a smore, but mostly, the kids played on the swing set and the adults talked.

To go with her lumberjack/outdoor theme, she wanted a bear cake and a smash cake of any kind.  We tacked on the cookies later when I found this cute buffalo plaid stencil to try my new air brush kit my sister got me for Christmas. I started with the cookies a few days before the party.  They took a couple days to complete for drying time.  I baked them on one day, iced the red the next, did the stencil on the third, and then the white icing on the fourth day.  I wanted to make sure the red royal icing was really dry before I laid a stencil on it.  I am still not sure at what point royal icing is deemed dry, but since I can only work on these things at night, I just go with the next day.

This is when I wish I had a projector or a KopyKake to help with the design on top.  Trying to freehand is really hard.  My momma told me maybe I should find a projector solution to put on my Christmas list….and I agree!  Anyway, we did with what we had and I did different designs on different cookies.  Here is the name and lumberjack up close.

Once I had the whole lot of them done, I made sure they were good and dry before I individually packed them for the party.

lumberjack-cookies

Lumberjack Party Cookies

wrapped-cookies

Wrapped Lumberjack Cookies

Now that the cookies were done, onto the cakes!  Both cakes were fairly easy to assemble. The bear cake took one 10″ round, one 6″ round, and two 4″ rounds.  The setup looked like this:

bear-cake-1

Bear Cake Setup

Once stacked, I frosted the light brown color first on the nose and ear areas.  Then, with my “hair” tip, I added the brown fur to the rest of the bear head.  All that was left was the little bit of black detail for the eyes, nose and mouth.  It was a simple but cute design.

bear-cake-2

Bear Cake

The last thing was the smash cake.  My friend wanted something simple that her son could break into during the party.  I was pondering what to do as I was staring at all the extra icing I had from the bear cake.  Then it hit me…  Lumberjack…Lumber…Stump.  And better yet, it used nearly all the same colors as the bear.  Win Win.  The smash cake was a two layer 4″ cake.  I frosted the whole cake brown and messed the sides with a fork and toothpick to try and mimic bark.  I added the light brown “rings” on top to resemble the cut wood.  At that point, I wasn’t convinced that there was no question that the cake was a stump.  So I added roots and some grass to the bottom which I think helped.

stump-cake

Tree Stump Smash Cake

The whole set was fun to do and my friend loved it.  Doing kids parties are my favorite for the themes alone.  I have another one this weekend, so look out for that post next week.  I am OFFICIALLY caught up.  YAY ME!

Clara

 

Royal Icing Sprinkles

I had a couple posts that used royal icing such as my Paw Patrol Cookies and Shopkins Cupcakes.  Inevitably, when using royal icing, you have left over icing.  Royal icing always seems to go farther than you think, and whipping up royal icing colors and consistencies is no easy task.  That being said, I hate throwing away the left over icing.  Well, good news, you can make sprinkles, or other fun creations, out of royal icing.  Once dry, they basically keep forever in an air tight container and they can come in handy for future projects.  With the Shopkins party and the Paw Patrol party only a week apart, I had a lot of extra icing to use up.  I saw the idea on Instagram as people were done making their large Christmas orders.  It really is simple and takes nearly no time.  First was the Paw Patrol leftovers.  I decided to make just regular sprinkles, some eyeballs, and the PAW letters for future Paw Patrol shield cookies.

For the sprinkles, I drew straight lines and let dry over night.  Once dry, I took my knife to them and cut little sprinkles. They are a little larger than the sprinkles you would get at the store, but I didn’t care and I know some kids that won’t either!

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Left over royal icing sprinkles

After the Shopkins cupcakes, I had some pretty pink colors so I made these roses.  They form quickly with a small open star tip by the dozens.  With some leftover white icing, I mixed up some green for leaves to match.

These went nicely on valentines cookies that the kids and I worked on later.  So the next time you have to whip up a tiny bit of black for an eyeball or a tiny bit of green for a leaf, you can save yourself some time by using left over icing creations.

Clara

Shopkins Cupcakes

Shopkins.  I had no idea what a Shopkin was until my 3 year old went to a Shopkin birthday party late last year. A couple months later, and you can’t escape them!   They are everywhere and they seam to appeal to a wide age range of young girls.  So by the time a close friend of mine asked if I could help with her daughters Shopkin birthday treat, I at least knew what they were!

She asked me to do the treats the week of the party, so cupcakes were the obvious answer on a few days notice.  So I started that same night on the cupcake toppers since I knew they would need a night of drying time to complete them. The thing with royal icing toppers, or cookies for that matter, they don’t take a up a lot of actual man hours, but you have to plan on the drying time.  If there are multiple layers of icing, they may take multiple nights to complete, but that time only adds up to about an hour or two for a couple dozen.  Once I had my template ready, I put it under some wax paper and did the first layer.  This is what night one looked like.

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Shopkins Cupcake Topper in Progress

I started with the eyeballs putting down the white, then pink, then black, and finishing with the white dot all in succession.  You want to do them all at once, one eyeball set at a time, so that the top colors meld into the bottom ones to look like one surface.  While the eyes were drying, I then did the outline of the blue icing top and filled in two layers that were not touching.  I let everything sit for about a half hour and then went back and did the yellow body.  Once that sat for a half hour, I finished with the other two blue icing layers and the little arms.  I decided that was enough for the night and would finish the rest the next day.

On the following night, I added the feet, crown, bow, sprinkles, and face. With everything very dry from the night below, I didn’t have to worry about messing up the base layer or pushing through the icing crust that was forming as I added the details.

Once the toppers where completely dry, I peeled them off the wax paper and put them in an air tight container until the day of the party.  Since the party was at 3pm, I baked the cupcakes that morning.  After letting them cool, I whipped up some buttercream in the coordinating pink color and topped them with the Shopkins toppers.

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Shopkins Cupcakes

They turned out great and were super cute.  I love doing the little cupcake toppers as they add something special to an otherwise simple cupcake.  I have some more coming up and can’t wait to get started!

Clara

 

Dinosaur Cake

My very first cake of 2017, was for a friend and former coworker.   She asked if I could make a dinosaur cake for her little boy, Owen.  Owen wanted a blue dinosaur with green accents and made out of chocolate cake. Easy enough!  She had sent me some examples off of Pinterest of dinosaur cakes she liked made of both cake and cupcakes. Outside of Owen’s requirements, she was pretty much giving me free reign.  None of the pictures quite spoke to me so I started looking at pictures myself.  I wanted a version of a dinosaur that I could make out of one batch of cake since that was about what she needed. I ended up merging a couple different designs that I saw into this cake design.  Believe it or not, this is made of two 8″ round cakes.

dino1

Chocolate Cake Rounds

One of the rounds made up the main body.  It was cut straight down the middle and set on the flat ends.  The other round was cut into various shapes to make the rest of dinosaur. I wish I would have taken a picture of the template but I did keep it for future reference, so maybe next time.  You can kind of gather by the picture below the set up though.  The tail was an outer crescent of the cake, and the rest went toward the head, neck, and feet. There was very, very little scrap left which is was I was going for.

dino2

Dinosaur cake setup using two 8″ rounds

Once I had the structure of the cake complete, I started icing using a star tip.  I like using the star tip for cakes like this because it is really hard to get smooth icing on cakes with a lot of pieces and crevices and I refuse to use fondant. I started by icing all of the blue first leaving a space for the eyes and nostrils.  Then I filled in the eyes and nostrils and touched up any blue around those areas.

dino3

Blue Dinosaur in Progress

Last, I printed a template for a diamond shape and used it under wax paper to make some green chocolate scales.  When I am going to be sticking an accent into a cake, I like to use chocolate since it is much sturdier than royal icing and will withstand being pushed into the icing and cake.

dino5

Blue Dinosaur Cake

The green added a nice touch and a pop of color.  Way to go Owen.  The cake turned out really cute and I think he liked it, even though he was too shy to say so. I am glad I kept all the templates because I see myself making this one again with all the little boys in my life.

Clara