Newcastle, NSW, Australia
I’m a former industrial chemist, and after deciding on a career change while at home with my two young children, I’m now a qualified pastry chef. In 2009 I started taking some classes in cake decorating and other pastry-related cookery, and taught myself many more decorating techniques from books and internet resources. In 2010 I started a pastry apprenticeship, studying Retail Baking (Cake & Pastry) Certificate III at TAFE, which I completed with Distinction in 2012. I completed my apprenticeship in December 2013, and am now working as a full time Pastry chef and Cake Decorator at 'Exquisite Cakes by Lennert' in Cessnock, NSW.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Next Project...

I have officially started work on my next major cake decorating project. My parents celebrate forty years of marriage in around two weeks, and I offered a while back to make them a cake for their anniversary. They aren’t big anniversary celebrators, but even though they aren’t having a party or doing anything special, I offered to make them a cake anyway because I knew I’d be finished my beginner course by then and it would give me some extra practice. After all, it’s far more rewarding to decorate a real cake for a real occasion than to practise on a dummy then scrape it all into the garbage.

All I’ve done so far is make up a new batch of flower paste. The paste we made in class was basically made from royal icing mix with a bit of cellogen and copha added, but today I used the recipe from my cake decorating book. This recipe used icing sugar, egg white, copha, gelatine and glucose. It’s supposed to have gum tragacanth in it, but we were told in class that cellogen is a cheaper substitute, so I hope it works! The mixture was incredibly dry at first, but I was determined to see if it could be kneaded together before I added any more liquid. I couldn’t believe it… with enough time and elbow grease, the bowl of crumbly white stuff actually came together into a stiff but pliable dough.

I also decided tonight that I had better start keeping proper records of how much things are costing me to make, and how long they are taking me to do. I’m hoping to turn my cake decorating into a hobby-scale home business, so I want to get myself into the habit of costing jobs as I go, even if I’m not being paid to do them. Tonight I made a dozen rose centres from the pink paste that I have left over from my class cake as the first stage of determining my costs. I know, it’s going to be slow and painstaking, but hey, how else are you supposed to figure out what to charge and how much money you’re making!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Rohan!

I've finished Rohan's birthday cake... I know, it looks a little sad backing up from the fully iced and decorated cake I did in my class, but it's what the birthday boy wanted. The cream cheese icing turned out fairly soft, so I didn't end up trying to do any piping. I took the photo as soon as I finished putting on the walnuts, because I had visions of the beautifully crusted sides sliding off if the cake stayed out of the fridge any longer than it had to. But even so, it held up better than expected and it tasted incredible.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Rohan for all the support he's given me as my life enters this new chapter. From looking after the kids while I'm at classes and keeping them out of my hair when I'm working on cakes, to rescuing me from meltdowns and helping me come up with alternative ideas when things haven't gone according to plan, he's been there for me. Money has been tight lately, but Rohan has still encouraged me to follow my dream. Happy Birthday, my wonderful husband... love you heaps.

Fourth & Final Beginner Class

Ta-da!!! My beginner course is over and the cake is finished. Marilyn was impressed with my finished cake... she even asked me if I was actually making it for someone!  The arrangement might have been a little ambitious for a first attempt at wiring sugar flowers, but if you don’t look at it too closely, you won’t notice all the chipped petal edges and calyxes with points busted off. A valuable tip from Marilyn… yes, for realism, the fuller the flower the more the calyxes should be curled back, but until you’ve had more practice at wiring, just stick them down!

The arrangement is more ‘open’ than I wanted it to be, but I was putting the flowers as close together as I could manage without them knocking together too much. Apparently I used thicker wire for the roses than I was supposed to, so it was difficult to adjust the positions once they were taped together. After a bit of investigation I found that it was the instructions for making roses in my cake decorating book that said to use 18 gauge wire. According to Marilyn I was supposed to have used 22 gauge… oops.

All in all, the class was an enjoyable experience and a good introduction to cake decorating. It was making the roses that got me hooked… there was something amazing about watching a flat cut-out piece of icing come to life in my hands. Marilyn has talked about doing some Christmas themed classes next term, so I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for the next course catalogue. Now, could someone please pass me a knife?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Carrot Cake

I'm taking a brief time-out from focussing on my course and baking a carrot cake today for Rohan's birthday tomorrow, using the recipe from my cake decorating book. When I asked him a while ago what he wanted for his birthday cake, he replied without hesitation... carrot cake with cream cheese icing. No complaints from me, it's one of my all-time favourite cakes too! I think I'll coat the whole cake with icing and press chopped walnuts around the outside, then if there's enough icing left, I'll see what I can do with some piping.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Almost There...

It worked!!! After all the stressing about what to pipe on my cake and almost giving up doing anything but a shell border (I would rather have put my gorgeous roses on a plain cake than a piped one if the piping was going to be crappy), piping the fine pink lines over the white scrolls worked perfectly. Only one note to self: if doing star nozzle work first then putting leftovers through a fine nozzle, thin down the icing! My hands were aching so much from having to squeeze the piping bag so hard that by the end of the border, I could only do three or four loops at a time without taking a break.


I picked out the best pair of wings and the best body for each of the three butterfly sizes and "glued" them onto the cake with some cellogen glue mixed with a little icing sugar. Once they were dry, I very nervously piped the antennae directly onto the cake. So all the piping was finished last night, and today I dusted and steamed the rest of the flowers and leaves that I made during the week... everything is now ready for tomorrow night. I'm sorry the photo is a little glary, but I had to use the flash. I normally don't, but it was such a dreary, overcast day today that there wasn't enough light, and the ones without the flash looked like they were taken in a dungeon.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Still More Homework

I’m slowly working my way through everything I need to get done before the final session of my beginner course on Tuesday. I’ve made another dozen roses and a few more leaves since finishing the last lot (they still need to be dusted and steamed), which should give me plenty to play with for flower arranging. I also spent a bit of time practicing my piping and figuring out how I’m actually going to decorate my cake.

My original design idea was to have two hearts on one side of the cake and a flower spray wrapping around the other side and trailing over the front (a potential Valentine or engagement cake). I found a great video on You Tube for piping a scroll border, and I thought of using the scroll idea to make hearts. I did really well with piping the scrolls freehand, but as soon as I tried to follow the outline of the heart, it just didn’t happen for me. I briefly toyed with the idea of doing the actual border from the video, but after a couple of pathetic attempts, I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to practise.

I really wanted to do something with the scrolls because it’s about the fanciest thing I’ve managed to successfully pipe so far, and it was actually Rohan’s idea to make butterflies from back-to-back scrolls. I’m still not confident enough to pipe them directly onto the cake, so Rohan whipped up a template for me (he’s better with computer graphics stuff then me!) and I’ve piped eight sets of wings and four bodies for each of three different sizes.

One more touch of fanciness that I’m hoping I can pull off successfully is piping over the shell border and outlining the butterfly wings with the fine nozzle and a deeper pink icing. On one of my many inspiration-seeking random searches for cake images, I’ve seen quite a few cakes that have shell borders with scallops piped over them in a contrasting colour, and I absolutely love the effect. I’ll end up with the soft pink fondant background, a white shell border and butterfly wings, and the darker pink over-piping for extra contrast. Here’s hoping it all comes together!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Done and Dusted!

I've just finished a marathon petal-dusting and steaming session to completely finish off the first 12 roses and 18 leaves for my class cake. I brushed the leaves with moss green and blended aubergine around the edges, and then I coloured the edges of the rose petals with plum. I couldn’t believe the transformation... what a difference a bit of shading with a little petal dust makes! I thought my roses looked good before, now they look absolutely amazing and more life-like than ever!

 
I’d tried a bit of dusting on a couple of my practice roses and leaves and had steamed them over the kettle, but for a mass steaming session I thought I’d better put a saucepan of water on the stove. After a bit of experimenting, the best way I found to do it was to have the water at a rolling boil with the lid on, which gave me a decent jet from the steam vent. Yet another transformation, the dried flower paste goes from looking flat and chalky to a glossy, porcelain-like finish. They don’t keep much of the gloss once the steam dries, but they still look beautiful. All-in-all, I couldn’t be happier with my first batch of completed roses and leaves. For a beginner, I think they look AWESOME!!!

Let's try that again...

I decided to take the plunge and re-cover my cake last night. The covering job I did in class was terrible, and I had also since decided that a pale pink fondant would have looked nicer with my roses than putting them on a stark white background. I kneaded an extra 100g or so of icing sugar into the kilo of Orchard fondant that I still had left, and coloured it a super-soft baby pink.

Then I had hassles with the fondant sticking to the bench when rolling, even though I had dusted with icing sugar. I gathered it all up and rolled it out again, using more icing sugar then the first time, but a big patch in the middle still flatly refused to lift off the bench. In the end I got around it by rolling out the fondant about half-way, and folding back first one side then the other, and sprinkling extra icing sugar under the middle section. Finally, success!


The firmer fondant was definitely easier to lift up and over the cake. There were still a few tiny stretch marks (nothing that a bit more practice won’t fix, I hope!), and being done at home in my own clean kitchen rather than in a high school science classroom, there were no dust issues. Oh, and I also cut my fingernails super-short to avoid digging them into the icing. Overall it looks a thousand percent better than it did before… I’m so stoked with how well my roses are turning out, I just couldn’t have lived with putting them on such a crappy looking cake.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Third Beginner Class

In last night’s class, we covered our cakes with fondant. Marilyn got us use two layers of fondant instead of marzipan then fondant, because “some people don’t like marzipan.” Personally I don’t mind marzipan, and I will be using it in future, unless the cake is for a customer that doesn’t want it. In keeping with my ‘homemade tastes best’ philosophy I also plan to make all of my own icings, but for the purpose of the class, I bought the Orchard ready to roll icing.

 
Now I’ve never covered a cake in fondant before, but I’ve watched several videos on You Tube, and to me the Orchard icing seemed WAY too soft. It was impossible to move the rolled icing onto the cake without it pulling and stretching under its own weight, and the finished result wasn’t the greatest. The photo doesn't really show it that well, but it's full of dust specks, fingernail scratches and ‘stretch marks.’ And looking at it again this morning in natural daylight, it looks even worse than I thought it was. I’m so disappointed with it, I’m seriously considering covering it again with another layer.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Roses Galore!

I’ve now made a dozen roses with the pink flower paste that I coloured last week, half each with my two different sized cutters. With each cutter, I’ve made two each of bud, medium, and full roses. Before I made these ones, I revisited the Expert Village ‘How To Make Sugar Gum Paste Flowers’ demonstration series on You Tube and decided to use this method, as the arrangement of the petals are more like that of a real rose than the ‘quick rose’ method we were shown in class. (And yes, the tripod makes the WORLD of difference!)


I’m still getting better at making roses with every batch I do. Even the few little mistakes I’ve made aren’t overly noticeable, and it’s all part of the learning curve to figure out what I did wrong and make sure I do it better next time. The main thing is that I’m absolutely loving making them, and the more I make and the more confident I feel, the more I figure out my own little ‘ways’ of doing things. I also have a grooved rolling pin now, so I had a bit of a play with making a few leaves today too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Colour Mixing

Last night’s project was to do a little experimenting with colour mixing. The eight colour Wilton set that I bought before I made Cameron’s birthday cake has red, yellow, blue, green, purple, pink, ivory and black gels. The colours are all very ‘pure’ and not the greatest for realistic looking flowers, but that’s what colour wheels are for! I should (theoretically, at least!) be able to mix any colour of the rainbow from that basic set.

First up was my little ball of bright green paste. I went out and nabbed a couple of rose leaves from the garden to use as a colour reference, and my first thought was to add some black to darken it. I only added a tiny dot to see what would happen, and although it didn’t darken a great deal, it definitely took the candy-brightness out of the colour. Next I added a little blue, which definitely brought it to a far more natural looking ‘rose-leaf-ish’ green. Overall it was still too light a shade, but at least I know that the colour combination works, so it’s a good starting point.

Next up was to colour the bulk paste for the rest of my roses. Now, anyone that knows me well enough would know that I’m a sucker for pink roses, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer that I’ll be making pink roses for my cake. Once again, the Wilton colours are too ‘pure’ and I don’t particularly want ‘fairy floss pink,’ so my idea was to use mostly pink with a little purple and red to take it more towards a plum-pink.

I took about two thirds of my remaining uncoloured paste, and made what turned out to be a brilliant guesstimate of how much pink gel to add. Once I had it kneaded through enough to see that it was spot-on for the depth of colour I wanted, I added a little purple. The purple did a similar thing to the pink as the black did to the green, taking away some of the brightness and turning it into more of a dusty pink. A touch of red (and a LOT of kneading!) then brought it to the colour I had in mind.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More Homework

I made three more ‘practise’ roses last night. I used my smaller cutter for the ones I made in class, so I still had the three bigger cones left. If I was happy with the first roses I made, then I was STOKED with the second group! I’ve watched a few different instructional videos on You Tube for how to make sugar roses in the lead-up to doing this course, and they all had slightly different methods. For these three roses, I basically ‘went my own way’ using a bunch of different hints from different sources, and managed to turn out (in my opinion, at least) some pretty impressive looking roses. I just wish I could take a photo that would do them justice… somehow I think I’m going to have to dig out the tripod.


Marilyn thought my flower paste seemed a bit soft the other night, so I’ve been dusting with a LOT of cornflour so far. I’m happy enough now with my rose-making ability that I’m done practising, so I’ve kneaded some extra icing sugar and a little more cellogen into the rest of my paste to firm it up a bit, and the next roses I make will be destined to adorn my finished cake.

Leaves, on the other hand, still need some more work. I didn’t like the way we were shown in class compared to other methods I’ve seen, so I’m not trying them again until I go back to Cupid’s and get myself a grooved rolling pin. Last night I added some more green colouring to the rest of the rather wimpy green paste I ended up with in class (we were all just given a dab of colouring onto a ball of paste, and mine came out barely even noticeably green) to make the calyxes for these roses. I only have the basic Wilton gel colours so it’s a very ‘pure’ green and looks a bit silly, but I’m going to experiment with some colour mixing and use the rest of it to try some more leaves at a later date.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Second Beginner Class

 
Tonight’s class went really well, and I must say I’m quite happy with my first attempt at sugar roses. We made three roses each using five petal cutters, one each of one, two, and three layers of petals. I also made one leaf, but it wasn’t very impressive, so I left it out of the photo. Like everything, practice will be the key, and I still have plenty of flower paste left to play with. Next week we cover our cakes with fondant, then the final class is to wire flower sprays and finish the cake.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Good Old Collingwood Forever!

 
A particular expression comes to mind right about now… ‘all’s well that ends well.’ My Collingwood cake at least LOOKS exactly like it was supposed to, but only after several mishaps and near disasters that made taking two attempts to do the run-out magpie pale into insignificance. Rohan, who had been out at a friend’s place, came home to find me almost in tears and my poor cake drowning in a puddle of way-too runny ganache.

Most times I’ve seen recipes for ganache, it’s been equal grams of chocolate to milliletres of cream. This apparently doesn’t work for white chocolate, which I found out the hard way last night. Even after putting it in the fridge to cool, it still hardly even thickened at all, and was so thin it just dripped right off the cake. Having no more white chocolate left meant that remaking the ganache was out of the question, so with Rohan’s help I scooped up as much of the puddle as I could. We put the cake in the fridge, and the rescued ganache in the freezer to see if it would thicken up any more when properly cold.

Now… chocolate (yes, even white chocolate) is solid at room temperature, and you can freeze cream to make icecream. So why does a molten mixture of the two not even go remotely firm in the freezer??? I kept leaving it and leaving it, until it got to a point where it had barely become a spreadable consistency and just wasn’t getting any thicker any more.

Eventually, though, I had the brainwave that saved my cake… icing sugar. I added enough icing sugar to the miserable excuse for ganache to turn it into a makeshift white chocolate icing. There was only enough for the top of the cake, but I still had some cream and dark chocolate left, so I decided to finish the cake top and call it a night, then make some dark ganache to attach the chocolate strips to the sides in the morning. I covered the top of the cake, then nervously lifted the magpie off the plastic sleeve and onto its new nest of white chocolate icing.

This morning I made up some dark ganache using the same proportions in the recipe from my chocolate class notes (two parts chocolate to one part cream), because I’ve made it before and I know it works! Still, that didn’t prevent a couple more mistakes before it was all over. I pulled the cake straight from the fridge and started spreading the sides with ganache (which had also been in and out of the fridge and microwave at least once each to get the consistency right), only to have it set so quickly on the cold cake that the chocolate strips wouldn’t stick. Not to mention that something had gone wrong somewhere with measuring the cutout strips, as the dark chocolate ones were too long.

So after trimming the dark strips to the same length as the white ones (which were thankfully spot-on) and the cake had been out of the fridge for a while, I then basically used the remaining ganache to ‘glue’ the chocolate strips in place. Finally, my Collingwood cake was finished… not exactly by the method I had intended, but as I said, ‘all’s well that ends well.’ It still looks fantastic, just the way I’d planned it.

(Just a footnote… Dad loved the decorating job, and the white mud cake tasted amazing. The ‘white chocolate icing’ turned out to be really nice, although it was still soft at fridge temperature. Unfortunately Collingwood lost their game today, but the cake was definitely a winner!)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

'Black & White' Stripes


Compared to making the run-out magpie, the 'black and white stripes' were relatively straightforward to make. I melted both dark and white chocolate and spread them out on baking paper that was taped to a large cutting board. I put the whole board in the fridge until the chocolate was almost set, then used a sharp knife to score the chocolate into strips.

Chocolate Magpie

Even as I wrote my blog entry about last night’s homework, I had a white chocolate mud cake in the oven. My dad and I come from a long line of Collingwood supporters, their first finals game is on Father’s Day, I bake for get-togethers where possible, I had a white mud cake recipe I wanted to try, and I still haven’t done any more chocolate decorating since my class. Add all that up and what do you get? Make a white mud cake, decorate it in a Collingwood theme and take it up to my parents place when we go for Fathers Day lunch tomorrow!

 
The plan is to cover the cake in white ganache and decorate it with a run-out chocolate magpie on top and strips of dark and white chocolate around the outside. This is the magpie pattern, 'borrowed' from a logo on the Collingwood Football Club web site. I re-sized the picture to suit the cake, put the print-out in a plastic sleeve, and taped it to a board for extra stability. I put a smear of copha over the actual design, then started melting chocolate.

 
I had a bad feeling that I might end up regretting doing something so big and complex for my first ever chocolate runout. As it is, this was my second attempt. I learned fairly quickly that you can't just fill in the outline by squirting chocolate willy-nilly and expecting to smooth it out with a toothpick. It didn't look too bad until it came out of the fridge. It was horribly obvious then just how uneven the thickness of the chocolate was. I let it soften a little and tried to smooth out some of the lumps, and therefore learned my next lesson that the chocolate loses its sheen if you try to play around with it once it sets. Then I tried to spread more chocolate over the top to patch it up, which turned out to be a futile exercise, as the harder I tried to fix it, the worse it looked. In the end there was nothing else that could be done but melt it down and try again, keeping the lessons learned in mind.

 
The second attempt turned out MUCH better. With the dark chocolate done, it was fairly easy to go back and fill in the gaps with a little bit of white chocolate. As usual, I'm not a hundred percent happy with it. This time I filled in the runout by piping lines close together, and even though it doesn't show so much on the photo, there are still some obvious piping 'ridges' when you look at it up close. But, this is already the second attempt, and I simply don't have time to try for a third.

Homework

I did a bit of ‘homework’ for my course last night. I made half a dozen rose centres, and practiced piping shell borders with the royal icing I had left over from Tuesday. And I can add another hint to my list of tips for dealing with warm hands… don’t have a cup of tea when you’re getting ready to pipe. I only though of this when that nice warm flush came over me just as I finished my cuppa, and therefore I decided to do the rose centres first!

I have two different sized rose cutters now, so I made three centres for each cutter size. I measured them against the petals of the cutter so I think I have the length right, my only concern is that I may have made the too ‘fat.’ Time will tell… we’re learning to make the sugar roses and leaves in the next class. Sorry the photo is a little blurry, but hey, I’m not learning to be a photographer!

 
My second project for the night was to add some more icing sugar to my leftover royal icing and practice shell borders again. The shells definitely held their shape better, but I’m not sure if I might have made it too thick this time. I’m definitely better at it since the class, but I’m still struggling for consistency. Every time I went ‘wow, that one’s perfect!’ the next one was crap.


I also suspect that I might have put too much icing in the bag. I deliberately loaded it up because I wanted a decent practice session, but that also meant that the ‘warm hands’ factor didn’t really kick in until towards the end when my hands were actually around the narrower end of the bag. I think I’m just going to have to practise with smaller amounts that are more like what you would realistically put in a bag to do an actual border on a cake, and take my fine-tuning from there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Beginner Class

I’m really happy with my piping progress, even from the little bit of practice in the class last night. No matter how many books you read and instructional videos you watch, nothing compares to having an experienced teacher on hand to answer questions, watch what you’re doing, and help you correct your mistakes. Nor can any book tell any individual person that their hands are unusually warm and that they may need to make their royal icing a little thicker than usual.

I hadn’t been doing too badly with a plain nozzle and straight lines (I think the problems I had with the gingerbread men were more a factor of going freehand with paper bags and no nozzles), but I’ve always struggled any time I’ve attempted a shell border. I asked Marilyn for some help, she took my piping bag, and immediately exclaimed that I must have very warm hands. She checked the consistency of everyone’s icing to make sure it was stiff enough before we started piping, but my shells were collapsing and losing detail. Or maybe my piping bag just felt overly warm to her, I’m not sure. Anyway, she suggested I might need to add a little extra sugar to compensate for the icing softening in my hands.

When I piped the buttercream on Cameron’s birthday cake, I found that by the time I went through a bag, the cream was melting and oils starting to separate out of the butter. Well, body temperature is warmer that room temperature, so I figured this must happen to everyone. And with my previous shell attempts, I assumed that I just hadn’t figured out the right icing consistency yet. I did a little net surfing this morning and found a few hints… wearing cooler clothing (bugger, I hate being cold!), running your hands under cold water occasionally, and working with multiple bags and rotating them in and out of the fridge seemed to be the most helpful suggestions.

So, back to my shell border problem. I’ve been trying to form the tails by gradually easing the pressure on the bag as I pull away from the shell. Wrong! The way the teacher showed me was to stop the pressure completely then drag the nozzle away to stretch the icing out into a tail. Collapsing shells from warm icing aside, the rest of my shell border practice for the night looked a hundred percent better than it had before being shown properly. I have some icing left over, so some time in the next few days I’m going to add some more sugar to it and give the shells another try.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spring has sprung!

September is here, it’s a beautiful day, and I have the first session of my Beginner’s Cake Decorating class this evening. A great way to start a new month, considering how all of my baking plans for late August spiraled into a dismal black hole. I had two projects planned for last week, and when one fell through I planned another, but coming down with a cold on Thursday night was the death knell for all of them.

I was going to bake and decorate a flourless chocolate cake for D&D on Friday night, and do some fondant-covered cupcakes for a picnic on Sunday. First the picnic was postponed by a month. That freed up Saturday, so I offered to make a mud cake for Rohan to take to his other D&D group (no gluten issues there!) on Saturday night. I made some chocolate roses and leaves on Wednesday night as planned, but Thursday was a disaster waiting to happen.

I had a lousy night’s sleep on Wednesday night, and on Thursday I was so tired and useless, it took until late in the afternoon to even get the cake cooked. The kids had been sick with colds since Sunday, and by Thursday evening I could feel it was getting to me as well. I abandoned plans to decorate the cake that night, having already decided not to go to playgroup in the morning. But I woke up on Friday with a full-blown cold and had to cancel D&D anyway.

So that was the end of that. The flourless chocolate cake was actually quite nice (very rich, much like a mud cake texture), but it didn’t end up getting decorated. I still felt lousy on Saturday, so I didn’t even attempt to make the mud cake for Rohan either. All in all, it was a rather disastrous week. Anyway, August is over, it’s a brand new month, and I’m looking forward to learning some new tricks at my class tonight.