Vin’s birthday meal + dessert all rolled in one

Happy birthday to my amazing husband!!!  We got this party started when I surprised Vin with a custom Intramural Zombie Hunting League shirt, complete with his nickname, fave number, and plenty of fake blood all over the tee.  It should be a staple in any respectable zombie enthusiast’s collection.  And I took him to a shooting range to shoot .22 caliber rifles.  It was really fun; we’re both better shots than we expected and I have the target sheets to prove it!  I don’t see myself joining the NRA any time soon, but I’d really like to do it again (.22s are fine with me but Vin wants something bigger with a painful recoil  haha)  After getting all amped up @ the shooting range, I took Vin out to lunch @ Old Homestead.  He has a steak blog where he gives thorough reviews of NYC steakhouses, and he requested this place for his birthday dinner.  Since Vin’s been on a red meat binge, he gave me the perfect idea for what to make for his birthday cake…

I’m pretty freaking proud of myself of myself for not only planning this thoroughly, but that the actual outcome vs. expectations matched pretty damn well.  I wrote out all the things I needed (2 different cakes, different-colored icings, and LOTS of fondant) and divvied this project into phases: baking the cakes, making a crapload of white frosting (always good to have extra white icing on hand), rolling the fondant, shaping the cake and the fondant, and the “sides” (more on this later).

My ghetto fabulous microwaved cake in a plastic container

Knowing this was a very ambitious and elaborate cake (seriously, when have I NOT given myself a baking challenge?  😉 I allowed myself to use box mix.  I know, I know… it’s against my principles but this time I’m focusing primarily on aesthetics and it’s not like it’ll taste completely like @ss, but time is of the essence.  I used two kinds of cake mix: strawberry, since it was already pink and the perfect color for “medium” cooked steak; and white for the side of mashed potatoes since one needs a “starch” with one’s “steak”  =)  Since the oven was preoccupied with the strawberry cake pan, I decided to only use part of the white cake mix and “bake” it in the microwave.  I’ve said before that my oven is insanely hot and food cooks very quickly in there, but cake in the microwave?  Less than 7 minutes.  I sh*t you not.  I used one of those quart-size Chinese soup containers; if you tried nuking cake in a mug, I’m sure it would be done in half the time.  This was the first time I ever tried zapping cake mix, and it was pretty cool.  The cake was light and dry (I used less liquid on purpose) and spongey… perfect for “mashed potatoes.”  I probably won’t microwave a cake again, but I do admit it WAS neat.  And I’m sure kids would like it; besides, microwave cakes are WAY better than those Tastybake lightbulb ovens!

What a fine piece of raw meat! I’m a fantastic butcher, if I do say so myself =)

While the cakes were cooling, I made about 2 quarts of frosting.  Butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla… easy!  I then sketched out a porterhouse steak on a sheet of blank paper, giving attention to that “T” bone that splits the filet and short loin.  I cut the “bone” part out and used my template to shape the strawberry cake into the meat.  I used this sample of white Fondarific fondant and rolled it out to cut the “T” bone.  Since the steak… cake… whichever… was so thick, I needed to do this twice to roll out 2 bone layers.  After putting the fondant bone and the cake together, it pretty much looked like a steak: a huge, raw yet fluffy piece of steak… that looked like the continent of Africa.  hahaha

Amateur hour with fondant is officially over.  I graduated with flying colors with the completion of Vin’s cake =) Last week I tested the waters with store bought Wilton fondant and made those silly flowers and branches.  I’m not a fan of that fondant; it tasted like chalk and dried up pretty quickly.  Not the most fun stuff to use or eat.  The Fondarific stuff didn’t taste bad @ all, but I didn’t have enough to cover the rest of the cake so I researched recipes for homemade fondant.  Needless to say, I found something that actually doesn’t taste like flavor-free Tums and was pretty great to work with.  I kneaded 2 shades of brown: one for the cooked meat part and a lighter tan for the outside of the bone and a strip of flavorful fat section along the side.

A 35 oz. porterhouse

My hand mixed, gel food coloring paint palette on cake board. It looks like watercolor.  Cézanne would be so proud.

I mixed a shade of frosting that was similar to outer “meat” fondant layer and dirty iced the cake. I rolled out the fondant, cut out the shape of the bone, set the rolled fondant on the cake and trimmed the excess.  With the lighter tan fondant, I pieced out a strip for the fat along the left side of the cake, and then cut out the shape of the bone and laid it over the white fondant bone section.  The fondant fit like perfectly matching puzzle pieces and held up so well… I was so freaking psyched!  (This fondant part turned to be easier than I thought it would be but I didn’t want to jinx myself with a happy little booty shake till I was completely finished… knowing me, I’d knock over the cake or something just as catastrophic haha)

I think I’m most happiest about how the bone came out… (see last pic)

Since I didn’t have clean paintbrushes, I painted brown gel coloring on the bone with my fingertips and a toothpick.  I used a chopstick to make “grill” indentations and painstakingly dabbed black gel coloring with a lollipop stick to make the grill marks.  After shading the edges with brown gel and sprinkling “salt and pepper” (sugar sprinkles that looked exactly like sea salt and black pepper), I thought it was semi-believable as a cooked steak, or @ least a plastic-looking steak.  haha  Just imagine all the awesomely incredible damage I could do if I just had an airbrush machine and how realistic it would look then….  muahahahaaaa

By the time I left the steak alone and cleaned up the kitchen, I think the sun came up.  The side dishes were a cinch in comparison and I had already prepped most of it, so I got a few hours of sleep before finishing the components @ Vin’s parents’ house.   I crumbled up the microwaved white cake and mixed it with some white frosting for my mashed potatoes.  I realize I could have just plopped dollops of white frosting on the plate for the mashed potatoes, but I wanted it to actually be edible (or maybe I’m just the only person that would never ever eat 10 spoonfuls of frosting plain).  The consistency of the cake crumb mixture was just right and the flavor was not too sweet @ all.  There was some yellow fondant leftover from last weekend so I lightened a tiny piece of it to shape into a small pat of butter.  I took the rest of the remaining Fondarific fondant and kneaded a shade of green for the green beans.   While Vin and I caught up on “Game of Thrones” (AMAZING show with brilliant characters… if I had time to read I’d check out the books, for sure), I half-consciously formed the beans since most of my attention was on the TV show.  I can totally make fondant green beans in my sleep now, just like little frosting roses.  haha   Yes, I know, the vegetable portion size is very small in comparison to the amount of steak (I weighed it and it would have been about a 35 oz steak!), but really… who would want to eat (fondant) beans when you could have steak (cake)?  My thoughts exactly  =)

Green beans and mashed potatoes with butter

The full steak dinner… and yes, I know the fork and knife are set backwards.

I transferred the steak onto a huge dish and plated the mashed potatoes and beans around it.  Vin took pics of his own cake once I was finished, and I snapped a few shots with his camera while he sliced it.  The effect was JUST what I wanted.  Everyone was like, “Ohhh, it looks like it’s medium rare inside!” and Vin said that when he cut into it, he forgot it was really a cake and thought, “Why is this steak so soft?”  The chocolate frosting and the fondant blended in so well with the strawberry cake that if you did glance @ it quickly, it did look like a piece of sliced meat with the pink center and cooked outer layer.  It looks even better when the “meat” was cut away from the bone so you could see the fondant inside… as if it was a real steak and not just a solid piece of cake.  I had a small bite and the cake tasted pretty good, especially with the homemade fondant and chocolate frosting.

Vin cutting his medium rare birthday steak/cake =)

I’m just so incredibly thrilled this was a hit.  I wanted to do something really, really special for my husband’s birthday, and if he’s happy, I’m happy!  Originally Vin wanted robot cake pops, but I think this was a much better request.  And, I’m very surprised and impressed that not once did I get frustrated or annoyed that something went wrong b/c everything went as planned.  I mean, I don’t think I could have done a better job given my current “experience” @ this point.  Now, what awesome cake could I possibly make for Vin’s next birthday?  =P

Happy birthday again, baby!  I love you soooo much!  <3

The “meat” separated from the “bone”… I think the bone looks pretty realistic, don’t you?

Save on Party Favors @ Beau-coup.com

 

Close up of my fondant flowers

I took last weekend off to visit my cousin in DC and we indulged in Viet food and ogled watched “Thor.”  Both activities were quite awesome.  =)  And since the silly “Rapture” didn’t happen this weekend (or, I just wasn’t taken), I baked salted caramel & candied bacon brownies.  Because it was a relatively easy order (OK, OK… so “easy” is subjective; I meant I didn’t really have to use the big stand mixer for this one since I had made the caramel frosting in advance and brownies require manual wooden spoon stirring), I did a quickie personal project afterward =)  It’s not like I have extra free time; I did 3 loads of laundry in-between baking and playing with food coloring (see below)… it was just that I didn’t feel like dusting or vacuuming.  haha

Candied bacon & salted caramel brownies

After I cooked, candied and chopped the bacon, frosted the caramel icing, and sprinkled pink Hawaiian sea salt on the brownies, I neatly packaged the brownies in a pink cake box.  The in-between steps required a lot of hand-washing since I was running up and down the stairs loading/unloading the washer/dryer and getting cocoa or bacon grease on clothes would be the end of the world (pun!).  But since this really didn’t require a lot of time or agonizing decorating compared to my other baking projects, I wanted to try a simple fondant design.

The entire random design

I had seen cherry blossoms on fondant cakes, and it seemed pretty and easy enough, so I did a haphazard riff on buds/blooms/branches on fondant.  While I caught up on “The Office” (man, it’s not the same without Steve Carrell) and “SNL” (I have newfound respect for Justin Timberlake), I alternated from kneading little individual balls of brown, green, yellow and white fondant with scrubbing my hands raw before touching the laundry.   It’s not like I have ADD (@ least I don’t think I do?), but I just need to do something with my hands sometimes.  And due to the aggravation of my adoring husband, I can’t really sit still for long. This was just a way to wind down while still being productive or I would have gone to bed wired, still thinking about my mile long “to do” list.  This was just practice, I guess.  I don’t really have proper tools for fondant yet… just a rolling pin and a couple shape cutouts of circles and leaves.  I shaped the branches by hand (they looked like worms) and punched out green leaves with metal cutters.  The odd experimental flowers were made from circles I formed into buds or had taken a knife to and cut tiny slices out of to look like four-petaled blooms.  To make them look more “unique”, I put a blue sugar bead as the pistil.  The finished design didn’t look half bad for an entirely-fondant decoration… maybe next time I’ll actually try decorating this on layered cakes (or stacked boxes that will end up LOOKING like cakes).

Stay tuned for next week’s baking adventure: Vin’s birthday cake  <3

 

LA Lakers cupcakes (Excuse the smudge on the gold cupcake on the left... it was too big for its own good and the edge of the container hit it. Boo.)

One of my orders this past weekend was for LA Lakers-themed chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and player numbers in white fondant.  The frosting was a bit testy; cream cheese frosting is a little melty and soft to begin with, and the addition of food coloring made it a little more melty.  This whole good vs. evil battle I have with taste vs. texture of frosting is getting out of hand; I prefer it hard and stiff (twss) but I don’t want it to taste gross (another twss).  There may forever be imbalance in the Force since I tend to sacrifice consistency for taste b/c really… no one wants a mouthful of shortening or tongue-numbing amounts of sugar with their cake, no matter how good it looks.

Artest, Brown, Bynum, Barnes, Blake and Caracter in cupcake form

On the plus side, I think I’m getting used to working with fondant.  I rolled it out to the ideal thickness for the cupcakes and punched out the players’ numbers with cookie cutters.  However, I had plastic ones, which aren’t as sharp as metal cutters, so I spent some time smoothing out the edges and shaping the fondant numbers with one of the best all-purpose tools (a toothpick) to make them look super clean and perfectly cut.

Number 24 in all its glory

Anyway, this was what I came up with with the request given.  Since Mr. Bryant was the guy’s favorite, I put #24 on a cupcake with BOTH purple and gold frosting and gave it some sparkle with sugar crystals.  Kobe, you’re such a diva with all that bling.  =P

Last Mother’s Day I made two small vanilla cakes for Vin’s mom and decorated them with some of the first frosting roses I’ve ever made.  I remember one had chocolate frosting with pink roses cascading down the side, and the other had white vanilla frosting with lavender roses.  I didn’t take any pictures @ the time b/c I considered it to be practice and didn’t think I’d really continue decorating cakes and baking.  Oh well.  I guess if anyone orders a wedding cake from me in the near future, I can make basic tiers with borders and *drumroll please* cascading roses.  Because I haven’t tried anything else.  haha

It’s weird to think that a year has passed since I took up this hobby.  I don’t feel like I’m significantly better @ it since I haven’t really had a chance to practice or learn any new techniques, and to be honest I really don’t think I’ll ever have the time to ever take legit cake decorating classes.  I guess being meticulous and adventurous helps make the baking look and taste good.  And having a photographer for a husband and a studio in the basement isn’t a bad thing, either.  But I do strive to make things that are slightly out of the ordinary or challenge myself to make things outside of the cake mix box, so to speak.  Being that it’s Mother’s Day, I had to make something special for Vin’s mom that was better than last year’s cakes.  (Unfortunately my mom is too far away to get the same gift; the best I could do was have flowers sent  =(  Boo.)  With my current work schedule and still being tired/achy, I didn’t have time to construct a cake masterpiece.  So I thought, what could I do that’s relatively simple yet still be spectacular? What am I good @? Cupcakes… frosting roses… I’ll make huge rose cupcakes!

 

um, I guess I went overboard...

I made some chocolate cupcakes… well, 96 chocolate cupcakes to be exact, since I also had to fulfill another Mother’s Day order and had another request for Lakers-themed cupcakes (and I always bake extra).  It was a pretty big baking weekend for me, but it felt good diving headfirst into the deep end again.  It made me feel “normal” again.  That and baking in wedge heels = I was back in business.  (I used to bake and decorate barefoot but spending hours flat on my feet really hurt and I’ve since worn 4″-heeled wedge shoes to put less weight on the balls on my feet… b/c wearing sneakers would simply be too obvious of a solution  =)

I crushed some chocolate, graham cracker and pretzels in the food processor to simulate “dirt” in the planter for my mother-in-law’s baked gift.  And I was going to make green fondant leaves to put it instead of green icing since I figured, hey, might as well go big or go home (wait…). Unfortunately, the rest of my awesome plan didn’t work out so well.  I kneaded green food coloring for the fondant leaves to put around the pot, but everything else took so long that the fondant started drying out before I could place it where I wanted.  And then I couldn’t get the perfect frosting flavor + consistency (again, the balance between taste and stiffness drove me up the wall) so my icing flowers came out a little softer than I liked.  And then I didn’t put enough stabilizing sticks in the planter so the cupcakes didn’t stay on the pot.  My original plan to put 6 roses in the pot surrounded by fondant leaves turned out to be a disaster b/c I was out of time (had to make a delivery for a customer and head to the T house for dinner), I was THIS close to smashing the clay pot since this really shouldn’t have been this difficult.  So with Vin’s assistance, we ended up with one single rose cupcake in a planter as a quick fix.

Et voila…

Single rose cupcake in flower pot

Here’s to constantly one-upping myself all the time…  this may kill me if I keep it up.  haha

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and grandma, too!  <3