Monday, July 23, 2012

My First Foray into Fondant!

What an exciting weekend!

It all began when I got the ambitious idea to make my son's cake for his second birthday party in October. I found this adorable Elmo cake on the net and decided that there was no reason for me to shell out another $80 for a fancy fondant cake like I did for the last party, by golly...I'm making it myself! Ambitious, no?

Ambitious, and quite the undertaking. The cake I found it a three tiered masterpiece, covered in...DUM DUM DAAAAAAHHHHHH...fondant.

This is what I knew about fondant as of last week:

1. My mom, the cake decorator, wouldn't touch the stuff. She's old school, royal icing all the way!
2. Fondant tastes funny
3. Fondant instantly makes a cake more expensive
4. Fondant looks AMAZING on all those Food Network Cake Challenge Shows...NO WAY I can pull that off at home.

Well, I decided if I'm going to make my son's cake, I needed practice. We were planning on hosting my mother in law's birthday celebration at our house on Sunday anyways, so why not just start my practice with that! I decided that if the fondant failed, I'd just rip it of and ice it in butter cream. No harm, no foul.

I did a lot of research on the net in the week leading up to the party and grabbed a few basic fondant items from the local craft store. I purchased a box of Wilton's fondant, a large fondant rolling pin, some circle cutters, and a fondant smoother and I was ready to go.

I chose to do a simple white cake from my big, red, Betty Crocker's Cookbook. I went with the "Silver White Cake".

2 1/2 Cups Cake Flour
1 2/3 Cups Sugar
2/3 Cups Shortening
1 1/4 Cups Milk
3 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla or Almond Extract (When given the choice, I ALWAYS use Almond)
5 Large Egg Whites

My preference for almond extract over vanilla goes back to my childhood. My grandmother and my mother always used the same Christmas cookie recipe with one difference, Mom used vanilla extract, Grandma used almond. I loved both cookies...but there was always something about Grandma's that had me revisiting that cookie plate at Christmas. Once I was of the age where making Christmas cookies became important to me, I asked my grandma if she did something different than my mom...her answer, almond extract. From that day on, I was an almond extract convert!

Friday night rolled around, my son is in bed, time to bake the cakes! I gathered up my ingredients and got to work.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and greased up a couple 8 inch round cake pans. I also lined the bottoms of the pans with some parchment paper, which makes getting the cakes out of the pans SUPER easy!

I mixed all the ingredients except the egg whites in my stand mixer on low for about 30 seconds (scraping bowl), then on high speed for another 2 minutes (again, scraping bowl).Then I beat in the egg whites, on high, for an additional 2 minutes before pouring into my pans.

I baked for about 25 minutes or so, until the cake sprung back when touched, and cooled for a few minutes on the rack before turning the cakes out to cool completely.

Once cooled, I wrapped the cakes in plastic wrap and threw them into the freezer for the night.

Saturday evening, once the little guy was in bed, it was time to get this cake together! I started by making my vanilla butter cream. I found this recipe on the Food Network's website, and I've found that making a batch and a half usually works pretty well.

Don't you just love my messy kitchen!?

Now it was time to assemble my masterpiece! I leveled off my cakes and gave them a healthy layer of butter cream between the cake layers and slapped on a coat on top of everything.

This is when I ripped open my package of fondant and went to work. I read that fondant will take on some of the flavor of the butter cream, but flavoring the fondant itself is also a good idea. If you are going to flavor fondant (and you want to keep it white), you'll want to use a clear flavoring. Wilton does make a clear vanilla extract, but I still had some almond extract on hand, so I poked a hole into my fondant, poured a little in and kneaded it like it was dough for a while...a long while. If I keep this up I'm gonna have some nice pipes!

Once my fondant was flavored, and kneaded enough to be rolled, I dusted my rolling surface with some powdered sugar and got to rolling. I needed to get the fondant rolled out to an 18 inch diameter. Once we were all rolled out, it was the moment of truth...getting this stuff on my cake.

I managed to get it onto the cake without tearing it...but I don't think I cut off the excess quickly enough, as I wound up with this:

I was a little disappointed, but I planned on decorating the cake with more fondant cut outs, so I figured I'd just cover up all the creases!

The little instruction booklet that came with the fondant said that I should wait 2-3 hours before I started decorating the cake....crap! It was already almost 9:00PM and I wanted to get to bed sometime before midnight. So, I started on the next part of my project and figured that would just need to be good enough!

In the event that my cake bombed, I wanted to have some backup came in the form of cupcakes...from a mix. In my defense, I did whip up a nice batch of cream cheese frosting (Thanks again Heather from SprinkleBakes) and tinted it pink, my mother in law's favorite color!

My kitchen was a freakin' mess!

Now it was time to decorate the cake! I tinted the fondant pink with some decorator's gel color and donned some gloves to knead in the color. I was really impressed by how well the color worked into the fondant (just like on TV)!

I used my circle cutters to cut out some decorations and applied the cut outs to the cake by brushing the back of the cut outs with water. This is where I employed some camouflage and covered up the creases in the white fondant!

I planned on decorating the cupcakes the next day and it was after 10:00PM, so I needed a break! I had an "only in Wisconsin" moment and washed down some cake scraps and butter cream with a beer. Don't turn up your was DELICIOUS!

The next day (after enjoying a blissful 20 minutes of extra sleep while my husband fed Fox his breakfast), I put everything together! Drum roll Please.....

Not only did it look tasted great too! The almond extract reminded me of my Grandma's Christmas cookies and the birthday girl was tickled...wait for it...PINK! The other party guests loved the cake (and cupcakes), and there was only one piece left once the party ended!!

Final Verdict: I'm no longer afraid of fondant!! I know what I need to do next time to clean up some of my boo-boos. First, I will be sure to roll the fondant a little thinner, and second, I need to trim the fondant as soon as I put it on the cake to avoid creasing.

I plan to make another cake in a few weeks to hone my chops...but I will bring about another bread posting soon! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Challah Back Girl

I'm back, and I've brought bread!

This weekend I sought out to make Challah. Challah is a special Jewish braided bread eaten on Sabbath and holidays. I chose to make the three-braid variation (there is also a 6 braid variation in my text book). I was excited for this recipe because I've seen Challa on Food Network before, but I've never eaten or made it.

As always, I quartered the recipe:

Bread Flour 21oz
Instant Dry Yeast 0.25oz (which happens to be one packet!)
Water 8oz
Egg Yolks 4oz (this worked out to about 6 egg yolks)
Vegetable Oil 2oz
Sugar 2oz
Salt 0.4oz
Bread Flour for dusting
Yolks Only Egg Wash (equal parts egg yolk, milk and a dash of salt)

The flour and yeast are mixed in one bowl, and the remaining ingredients are put into the mixer bowl, then I added the flour yeast mixture to the wet ingredients and mixed on low for 4 minutes, then increased the speed to medium for another 4 minutes with the dough hook attachment. The dough was firm and smooth, not sticky (thank goodness)!

My lovely dough went into my rising bowl to bulk ferment for an hour.I covered the dough ball loosely with some saran wrap and went to fold some more laundry and load the dishwasher.

After an hour, I gave the dough a gentle fold and divided it into 156g pieces. This was tricky, add a little, take a little away...I'm super anal retentive and a pharmacy technician. I wanted each piece to be exactly 156g, so this might take you considerably less time than it took me!

Then the dough pieces needed to be pre-shaped into small oblongs.

To make a small oblong, you press the dough out into a small rectangle with your fingertips, then bring the left and right ends to the middle, pressing to seal. Next, you fold the top half to the middle, press again, and bring the whole top to the bottom, sealing with the heal of your hand. Then you just go a little Play-doh on your dough and roll it into a chubby little roll about 3 inches long.

Now, we rest...again. Cover lightly with a tea towel and go take a walk for about 10 minutes.

Once rested, fold the dough oblongs over into thirds and start to make your ropes!

This was fun, but harder than you think! The dough ropes tend to spring back and shrink...once I would roll one out to a foot long and set it aside to start on the next one, I would look back and have a 10 inch rope, so make them longer than what you really need!

The directions didn't say to do this, I just thought it looked cleaner, so I hacked off the ends with my dough blade to make everything even...again, anal retentive!

Now to braid the bread. I lightly dusted my dough ropes in flour to keep them dry for braiding. You would think that you would pinch the dough together at the top and braid like you would hair, from root to tip. Nope! We start braiding in the middle, flip the braid around and finish the braid, pinching the ends to seal.

I put the dough braids onto a parchment lined baking sheet and gave them a light little brushing of egg wash and let the braids proof, covered about one hour. I've found the best way to proof dough is to start up my oven at about 100 degrees for a few minutes, then shut it off and put the dough in to proof. This way the dough stays nice and lukewarm and doesn't get too cold in my air conditioned kitchen!

Once proofed, I added another careful brushing of egg wash and threw these beauties into a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. I took them out once they were a lovely shiny, dark golden brown. And...a shocker! I actually let the bread cool completely before slicing! Check it out:

I was so pleased to have this turn out so well!! This is probably the crowning jewel of my blogging baked goods! The bread was perfect! Nice little pockets on the inside, tasty and a beautiful color!

Final verdict, I will be making this again! We toasted some up with butter and garlic and had it with lasagna for dinner and loved it! I think this would also make a fantastic french toast!