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Monday, April 30, 2012

Flower Basket Cake Pop

Here we go; I guess I'm getting sucked into the cake pop phenomenon! What can I say; they're way festive, relatively quick, and an excellent way to practice various cake techniques (in this case, basketweave) on a small surface (not an entire cake). The pop can be made using the Rice Krispy Treat (RKT) method, or the basic cake ball pop recipe. As you can see, I used RKTs. I only needed to make 12, so I split the standard RKT recipe in half (2 cups of mini marshmallows melted with 2-3 tablespoons of butter, a scant teaspoon of vanilla stirred in, and 3 cups of Rice Krispies mixed in once the mixture is removed from heat). Press it into a greased 11 3/4 x 7 1/2" pan, and cut it into 12 rectangles. Here's one of them…
 …which yields a ball this size. Tear the RKT into bits on a waxed paper surface, butter your hands, and roll the pieces into a ball. Really press it down tight so the ball is very dense.
 Press the ball against the waxed paper surface…
 …and form a flat side (the top).
 Melt some chocolate (like Guittard Melt n' Mold Chocolates), dip the tip of a 4" lollipop stick into it, and stick it into the bottom of the basket shape. Push it almost all the way to the other end (but not all the way through; hold your finger over the tip, and you'll feel the stick coming before it pokes through). Melt chocolate or candy and dip the pop according to the RKT pop recipe.
 This is an ideal tip for small basketweave: Magic Tip #45 (it's serrated on both sides).
 You may want to refer to my step-by-step basketweave instructions. The method for the flower basket cake pop is the same; just a lot smaller. Load a piping bag with melted chocolate or candy (or medium consistency royal icing, like I did), and pipe a line from the point where the stick meets the basket's bottom to the basket's edge.
 This should look familiar, if you've done basketweave before. The main challenge is not letting your fingers get in the way. Be sure to have a Styrofoam block handy so you can push the pop's stick into it if you need to rest your hands, reload the bag, etc. (and so you'll have someplace to set the pop to dry when you're done).
 Continue piping the basketweave all the way around…
 …until you're back where you started. Do your best to keep the vertical spokes of the basket truly vertical (mine tended to angle one way or the other; it was a constant battle).
 Switch the tip to a star tip #16, and pipe a shell border around the basket's edge.
 Load up another piping bag with green royal icing (or melted candy) and a leaf tip #68. Pipe a few leaves
 …and while they're still wet push a few flowers into them. You could use royal icing flowers you've pre-made, or a few Daisy Sprinkles. I'm definitely going to revisit this idea next Easter, and swap out the flowers for jelly beans!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lily of the Valley

My apologies for the brevity of this post; we just walked in the door from a weekend road trip and my self-imposed deadline of midnight is less than 20 minutes away! Forgive me also for demonstrating on a pracice board and not something edible (an abomination, in my book). I wanted to show you an idea I’ve been thinking about; a variation of the lily of the valley that’s sort of a mashup of the instructions given in the Wilton book “Decorating Cakes: an Idea and Reference Book” and the photo in the Ateco publication, “Cake Decorating Reference Manual.” The tips you’ll need are leaf tip #69 or #70, round tip #2 (or #3), and fluted tip #80. 
 Start with a bag of green buttercream fitted with tip #69. Pipe an extended leaf.
 Switch to tip #2. Add as many short stems as you can fit, with the beginning of the stem on the center vein and the end of the stem at the edge of the leaf. Pipe a bead down the center of the elongated leaf, if you really want to add dimension to the center vein.
 This part is a bit tricky, and warrants practice on parchment paper (or a practice board) before attempting the maneuver on a cake. With a piping bag of white buttercream fitted with the fluted tip, pipe a small, bell-shaped flower at the outer edge of one of the short stems where it ends at the outer edge of the leaf. This is done by moving the fluted tip in a “C” formation, while piping slowly and carefully. You may need to touch your finger to a dusting pouch filled with a 50/50 mix of powdered sugar and cornstarch and then gently tap the corners of the bell into place.
 Repeat until each short stem has a bell. As you can imagine, these look really lovely in groups; the Wilton book even went so far as to have a pair of swans on the cake demonstrating the lily of the valley! I might be inspired to copy that…

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Basic Cake Ball Pop Recipe

Making cake pops in the basic ball shape is one of the easiest things you can do; it would appear that decorating them is where the potential exists to lose your mind! For the pop itself, the only things you need are cake and icing (of the creamy variety). These are the tops off three 6" cakes that I leveled (a standard box of cake mix fills three 6" pans perfectly). 
You'll also need a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper. 
Make sure your hands are extremely clean, and start by breaking up the cake into tiny pieces; no large chunks should remain.
Now, stir in some frosting. It seems most cake pop recipes recommend more frosting than is necessary. You can always start with a small amount and add more as needed. If you start with too much frosting and wind up with a creamy mess you can't form into balls, the only solution would be to add more cake. I used maybe two small spatula dips worth of frosting for this project.
 Stir it around as best you can, but if you're like me you'll eventually abandon the spatula and use your hands. I heard this concoction referred to as a "slurry" of frosting and cake, which is pretty accurate.
 Scoop out some of the mixture; one, two, or three tablespoonfuls, depending on what size pops you're going for. I used two.
 After squeezing the mixture tightly and rolling it between my hands, here's the first ball. It should be firm and dense; not at all likely to fall apart at the slightest provocation. Remember, it needs to hold up to having a stick shoved into it, and to being dunked in melted candy or chocolate. Make it solid!
 Place the balls on the cookie sheet, and then chill them in the refrigerator for about two hours.
Before you remove the balls from the fridge, get ready for the next step: coating them and decorating them. I'm only dipping these in chocolate and covering them with toffee chips, so I picked up a bag of Heath English Toffee Bits (you can find these near the chocolate chips on the baking aisle), and I melted half a bag of Guittard Melt N' Mold pieces (melt in the microwave; stir after :30 increments until smooth). The only other items needed are a Styrofoam block and lollipop sticks (from the candy/cake decorating aisle at the craft store). 
Dip a stick in the melted chocolate…
…and push it straight into the pop. Cover your finger over the opposite end; you'll feel the stick coming and will know when to stop pushing (you don't want the stick to come out the other side). 
When the chocolate at the base of the stick is dry, the pop is ready to be dipped in the chocolate. 
Make sure the edge of the container holding the chocolate is clean. 
Dip the pop in at an angle to just over where the stick meets the cake; this will help anchor the cake to the stick. 
Tap the stick against the edge of the container to shake off the excess chocolate. Don't take too long doing this step; the cold of the pop will cause the chocolate to start hardening rapidly.
Sprinkle the toffee bits (or whatever topping you're using) over the pop until it's thoroughly coated. 
Push the stick into the Styrofoam block. Don't chill these particular pops in the refrigerator; toffee bits have a tendency to get gummy. However, at this point with most pops you would want to chill them in the fridge for about 10 minutes (no longer or the cake will shrink and the chocolate will crack). 
Wrap the pops in plastic wrap, or any sort of lollipop sleeve (available in the same part of the store where you found the sticks). Store (hoard?) them in a cool place until ready to serve, give away, or keep for yourself.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Piping with Leaf Tips

Few tips are as versatile as leaf tips. Generally, they're taped to a point, which then appears to have a notch cut out of it.
This notch forms the center vein of the leaf. No matter what sort of icing you're piping leaves with (royal or buttercream), you'll want the consistency thin enough so the sides of the leaf on either side of the notch will fuse together as you pull the tip away. I just can't bring myself to show you what the end result looks like with icing that's too thick; I don't do ugly on this blog. Believe me, you'll know a do-over leaf when you see one. If your icing isn't smooth and creamy, add a dab of piping gel. Start small; a half-teaspoon of piping gel for half a cup of icing, or thereabouts. The icing I used for these leaves (Wilton's Ready-to-Use Decorator Icing) started so thick I actually gave it a few seconds in the microwave just so I could get it malleable enough to stir in the piping gel. Using an Ateco tip #69, I piped a few of the most basic leaves. They're all made by holding the tip parallel to the surface, more or less. Start by squeezing firmly, then decreasing pressure as you draw the tip away from the base to form this first leaf: 
 Stop pressure when the leaf is fairly triangular, and pull the tip away. You can clean up any rough edges with the back of your fingernail, or by tapering a cleaner point by touching your finger against a dusting pouch filled with a 50/50 mix of powdered sugar and cornstarch and then gently tapping the sides of the point into place. Here's a ruffled variation, made in the same way but by slightly waving the tip up and down as you draw it away from the base of the leaf:
 This is a good choice for when you need a really thick leaf (like as a base to hold royal icing flowers on a cake). It's made almost the same as the leaf above, except use a back-and-forth sawing motion with the tip instead of up-and-down.
 This elongated leaf is the base for the lily of the valley, which I'll try to do a demo of soon. There's something fairly generic and tropical about it; it would probably look right in a themed cake for everything from a jungle to a swamp. It's made in the same way as the first leaf, except for (obviously) the distance between the base and the tip is significantly extended; when the tip is as long as you need, stop pressure and pull the tip away.
 Here's an example of a simple border that can be piped with a leaf tip. It's basically the same hand motion you use for a shell border; move the tip slightly away from you, then boomerang it back over itself. Pull the tip away so each ruffle ends in a small tail. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
This side view shows you about the distance between each ruffle. 
Here's a ridiculously thick ruffle, made using the same sawing motion as the second ruffled leaf above; just done to the extreme. This border would please folks who like a little cake with their icing. (P.S. I've seen this method used for piping pot leaves; just stop sawing back-and-forth when the leaf is the length you want and pull the tip away to form the pointed end…)
Don't forget; you can also use leaf tips to pipe flowers, like the tiger lily; the full instructions are here
One other tip you can use for piping leaves is the Wilton tip #352, which is basically all notch. To form the center vein…
 …place one point of the tip on or just above the surface, with the other point at a slight angle to it. Give it a squeeze, and that upper point forms the center vein.
 This is just a small sampling of the leaves you can pipe; many more to come!