My cake student regularly ask me whether I watch Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes on TV. I don't watch either show, to be honest. From the snippets I've seen here and there, it seems they are more concerned with looks than with taste. That may or may not be the case, but that is how it comes across on TV. And again, with those cake competition shows while they're impressive to look at, and I'm amazed by their creativity, I'm not really sure I'd want to eat any of those cakes.
What really turned me off to watching Duff was when I saw he used pre-packaged fondant. That's fine for him, but I've tasted those fondants and they're definitely not yummy. I prefer to make my own. It's easier, less expensive and you can tailor the taste to the particular cake that you're making. However, as a Wilton Method cake decorating instructor I do use the Wilton fondant in class. It's easier to work with than homemade and can be flavored in a variety of ways that make it more palatable. Outside of class however, it's always homemade.
For me, a cake is ultimately meant to be eaten. Taste is my first and foremost concern. Is the cake moist? Is the filling a good match for the cake? Is the frosting appropriate for the target audience? Children generally like sweeter frostings so a more traditional butter-based buttercream would be fitting. Adults, on the other hand seem to prefer less sweet, more elegant frostings like Italian meringue buttercream, white chocolate cream cheese or chocolate caramel ganache.
So what are some of my favorite flavor combinations? A lot of things go really well with my white chocolate cream cheese frosting including chocolate cake, pumpkin cake (to die for!!!!) and lemon cake. I love a classic buttercream on a chocolate cake. It's so unexpected. I like to use unusual fillings like pineapple or pecan praline. In a lot of my kids cakes I use an Oreo filling. Kids seem to really love it. I also like to mix a good quality jam with buttercream and use that for filling. They sweet-tart taste can help make a cake feel less heavy and more refreshing. A raspberry jam-buttercream mixture is wonderful in both chocolate cake and lemon cake. Ultimately a filling should add moisture and a little flavor kick to your cake.
How a cake looks however, is a close second to taste so I'm always looking to try new things and expand my skill set. Both the cakes featured in this post gave me a chance to try something new. The first, was a stacked cake for my friend Karen, aka my Evil Twin for her birthday. The inspiration came from the evite her husband sent out that featured had chili pepper lights. It was a Latin-themed party so I decided to go with the chili pepper theme on her cake. A quick trip to my favorite hardware store, Barnes Ace Hardware turned up a chili pepper cookie cutter. I used that cutter to cute out red chili peppers in a mixture of gum paste and fondant. During a girls night my friend Paige gave them a little "shimmer" with some pearl dust. I used those to decorate the 2-tier chocolate cake, attaching them to a green fondant vine I wrapped around the cake like ribbon. I'm really happy with how it turned out.
However, it wasn't perfect! Ssssh, don't tell! The two tiers of cake have different colors of frosting. It was the same frosting on the top and bottom, but the frosting for the bottom tier was whipped longer and hence got lighter in color and fluffier. So while yes, I made a boo boo sometimes if you don't admit to the boo boo you can play it off as intentional.
The butterfly cake was for a sweet girl named Eva who was turning 8. She wanted blue and butterflies. That was pretty much all the direction her Mom gave me. Sometimes clients are very specific with their desires and sometimes they let me use my creativity. For her cake I again stopped by Barnes Ace Hardware for a butterfly cookie cutter. I made a few different colors of fondant and marbled them together for the butterflies. I wanted them to look more fanciful than realistic. After cutting them out I formed them and propped them up on the edge of a cookie sheet so they would maintain their shame. They turned out so pretty that I wanted to use all of them! I opted to put the cake off-center on the board so that I had enough room to use all the butterflies as well as write a message to the birthday girl. Was that in my original plan? Nope. I had planned to cascade the butterflies across the top and down the sides of the cake. But this worked beautifully and I'm happy with how it turned out.
It's a gorgeous Fall day in Michigan. Time to whip up some pumpkin white chocolate muffins!