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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First Christmas Cake Class

Last night I had my first session of a Novelty Christmas Cake class, but unfortunately it wasn’t an overly productive night for me as I had a splitting headache for most of the time. The cake we are making is a sleigh, and last night we made cut-outs for the sides. If I’d known exactly what we’d be doing I would have taken my big rolling pin. I went along with basically all the gear I have for flower making and modelling, only to find out we were making what are basically big ‘plaques’ for the sleigh sides. Rolling out huge pieces of flower paste to almost A4-size with my little modelling rolling pin wasn’t fun. Ah well, classes are great to do but it’s a bit of a bugger not having all your own gear on hand.

This is one of my two sleigh sides. I just couldn’t get the thickness anywhere near even with my little rolling pin, but today it dawned on me… turn them over so the side that was pressed flat against the board is facing up! Much better. Marilyn had some textured rolling pins, cutters, embossers and other bits and pieces for us to decorate them with, but the design idea that I worked out actually came from a sleigh on one of the chocolate moulds she’d taken. A vision formed in my mind of what I want to do, but not having my gel colours or pasta maker with me, there really wasn’t anything I could do beyond cutting out my sleigh shapes. Anyway I’m out of cellogen too, so I guess I won’t be doing much more of anything at home either until I make another trip to Cupid’s.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

General Update

Now that I’m briefly between major cake projects I keep remembering all sorts of little bits and pieces that I’ve forgotten to mention along the way, so I’m going to sit down and rack my brains for a bit and see how many I can come up with. A pretty major one is that I’m now a member of the Cake Decorators Association of NSW, and I went to my first meeting last weekend. We had two visitors doing demonstrations; one did lisianthus and the other did cattleya orchids. It was nice to see something other than roses being done, because apart from the little filler blossoms, I haven’t tried to make any other type of flower yet.

I’m also doing another four Hunter Community College classes this term. I start the first one this week (four Tuesday evenings again) which is to make a novelty Christmas cake, then the one after is called Christmas & More (the next four Tuesday evenings, so eight weeks in total). Next Saturday morning is a one-off Children’s Birthday Cakes class, and two weeks after that is another Saturday morning for Christmas Cupcakes. Thankfully I don’t need too much more equipment for these ones, now that I already have the basics from doing the beginner class.

I’ve also stepped up my job hunting effort due to a change in family circumstances, and I am now looking to get into a Pastry Chef apprenticeship next year if possible. I applied for a job at a cafĂ© in Hamilton this week, but again, no luck. The job title was ‘Baker/Pastry Chef/Cake Decorator’ and said they were willing to take someone wanting to start an apprenticeship, so would you not assume that they wanted an apprentice pastry chef? Apparently not… it seems like they actually want an apprentice chef that can do their cakes and pastries and then go off and do other stuff elsewhere in the kitchen as well, so I was turned down because I want to do the Patisserie certificate, not the Commercial Cookery one that apprentice chefs do. Having said that, the lady I spoke to about the job was very impressed with my application, and she even suggested a few places to send resumes to that would be better suited to the kind of work I want to do.

In the meantime, I’ve made up another batch of flower paste and I’m starting to work on making some rose sprays to (hopefully) sell. I decided to give the recipe in my book another chance, in case the problems I had with the batch from Mum and Dad’s cake had something to do with the way I made it up. I don’t have a saucepan small enough to sit my little bowl over to warm the gelatine, so last time I just boiled the kettle and sat it in another bowl of hot water. Since then I came up with the idea of sitting my gelatine bowl in the steamer over a saucepan, which worked much better for melting the gelatine and combing it properly with the glucose and copha. I also added the icing sugar to the wet ingredients rather than the other way around, so there was no loss in transfer this time (the chemist in me rears its head once more!).

A hint from one of the demonstrators at the Association meeting was to not add all of the icing sugar at the time of making so you have a bit of leeway later. This is especially handy if you need to colour the paste... if you’ve already made it up to the right consistency and then have to knead in colourings, you still have to keep adding more icing sugar as you knead to stop it sticking, and it could end up too dry. So far this batch of paste looks much smoother and softer than my last effort.

So at the moment I’m looking for work, about to start more classes, making roses to sell, and apart from the Christmas cake in the class that starts this week, my next big project (unless something else comes up sooner) will be a Playboy Bunny cake for my sister-in-law-to-be Amie’s birthday party at the end of November, and then my birthday is the week after hers… I’ve been wanting to try a Gift Box cake ever since I took up decorating, so I think I might just make myself one for my own birthday!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ruby Anniversary Cake

Hurrah! I’ve stopped and started on this cake more times than I can remember, but it’s finally finished. The decoration isn’t exactly what I’d originally planned to do on it, but thankfully it’s a cake that I offered to make and didn’t have to be made to an specific design, although the main design elements were loosely based on Mum and Dad’s own wedding cake.

I definitely need to find out how to properly wire a crescent-shaped spray before I try to do another cake like this. The final challenge was trying to get the two trailing sprays to sit on top of the cake and look like a crescent. I kept having to add more and more fondant underneath them trying to get them to 'sit right', and I’m still not confident that they are attached properly.

All in all, another cake decorating story draw to it’s conclusion with a happy-enough ending. I use that expression a lot, that I’m ‘happy enough’ with something… basically it means that I know it’s not the world’s greatest job, but I’ve done reasonably well for a beginner.

Back On Track

After a fairly disastrous week, I finally got myself back on track by Sunday night. I made a mess of everything I touched that afternoon, so I hoped that I might have a happier time making up the flower spray rather than doing the piping. Out of all things cake decorating that I’ve learned or tried so far, making and arranging the flowers has been my favourite part of the process.

So this is the cake topper I made… white roses, white filler blossoms, and loops of red ribbon. It’s actually two separate trails (the only type of spray I know how to do at this point!) designed to curve around and meet in the middle, because I’m not sure how to make a crescent. Hopefully the roses will still hide the two thick chunks of wire that cross in the middle once it goes on the cake!

I felt much better for having finally made some positive progress after doing the flowers, so on Monday I was ready to tackle the piping. I’m still struggling to master script writing… why is it that when I try to loop around the top curve of a letter, the icing always does this funny ‘corkscrew’ thing as it comes out of the nozzle? It seems to have a mind of it’s own, and it always wants to curve the opposite direction to where it’s supposed to go.

Anyway, after a few practise runs I managed to do a half-reasonable job. I still only have the basic Wilton gel colours, so I coloured the icing with a fair amount of red, a tiny bit of black to darken it, and a touch of blue to bring it to more of a burgundy-red. The colour actually turned out to be quite a good match for the Claret Wine lustre dust.

I painted over the piping with the lustre mixed in a little alcohol. The effect was more subtle than I was expecting, and it really only showed up in the photo if I used the flash. I’m not sure if someone that isn’t familiar with cake decorating and doesn’t know that royal icing normally gives a flat colour would even notice it, but I still think it gives the cake a much nicer touch of ‘ruby’ rather than just being a flat red.

A Forgettable Week

Whoops! I didn't realise how long it had been since I last updated my blog, but looking back now, everything did kind of turn to crap after the day of my last post. I missed out on the Donut King job, and the kids have been sick, amongst other things that I'd rather not go into. Let's just say it hasn't been a good week, and I struggled to find motivation to do anything at all, let alone work on Mum & Dad's cake.

When the lady from Donut King called me about my application, it almost sounded as though the interview was a formality. Then the interview on the Saturday morning went really well and seemed so positive and promising, it honestly felt like they all but gave me the job on the spot. So I went home and waited... and waited... and waited... and by Sunday afternoon I still hadn't heard anything back, and I was starting to feel physically sick with worry.

I ended up calling them, and was shattered to find out they'd decided to give the job to someone else. Whether they meant to or not, they had me believing that I had the job in the bag, so I just have no idea what changed. I thought I was going to get my big break into the baking and decorating industry, but instead I'm still just a stay-home mum dabbling in cake decorating. I was so crushed, it took me about a week to get over the anger and disappointment. Having a pair of sick and whingy kids to look after as well during that time, it wasn't a very productive week.

Nevertheless, I still managed to slowly make progress on Mum & Dad's anniversary cake. I made marzipan and covered the cake on the Saturday night (while still on a high after the afore-mentioned promising interview). Then came that fateful Sunday, which was actually my parents 40th wedding anniversary, and I couldn't have possibly been any further from the right frame of mind for cake decorating. Last Tuesday, despite still not feeling remotely like doing it, I forced myself to make and apply the fondant. On Wednesday I did the shell piping around the bottom edge.

Thursday was a really bad day for reasons I'd rather not go into, and cake progress stalled once again. Nothing else got done until Sunday afternoon, when Daddy took the kids to Grandma's for a few hours so I could have a bit of peace and quiet. Not that I actually made much progress, after all that, once I found out the hard way that my home-made fondant loses its elasticity over time. It had gone so crumbly that it couldn't even be rolled without breaking, and no amount of kneading could bring back any sort of pliability, so that spelled the end of the draping that I'd planned to do on the sides of the cake.

At this point I had a major throw-my-hands-in-the-air "I wish I'd never offered to make this cake!" moment. I was feeling so bogged down by it, I just wanted get some sort of decoration finished so I could get it out of my kitchen and out of my life. I couldn't think of anything else off the top of my head to do instead of the draping, so I abandoned doing anything on the sides and just stuck the roses in the bottom corners.

I didn't want to waste the time I had with the house to myself, so I moved on to the piping. As with Terese's graduation cake, I'm still not confident with writing, so I tried the piping gel again. Since the way I did it for Terese's cake didn't work, this time I piped the gel onto the pattern and tried to stamp it on the cake. And this time, of course, there was too much gel, and it slipped and smudged all over the place. Well, I guess it's my own fault for doing these things straight onto a cake without doing a practise run first.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Graduation Day

My best friend completed her Master of Science degree earlier this year, and the Monday before last, her husband called me and asked if I could do a cake for her graduation dinner. His only requests were that it be a white chocolate mud cake (her favourite) and to cover it in the topaz-yellow colour of her faculty. The rest of the decoration was left up to me. It was also a surprise for Terese, hence there being no mention of it until after the event, despite how excited I was about being offered my first paid cake decorating job!

After doing a bit of searching on the net for graduation cake pictures, I decided to try my hand at modelling and make a graduation cap and certificate from modelling paste. I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that when I made my roses I’ve actually been rolling out my flower paste with a pasta maker (I love it, perfectly uniform thickness petals every time!), and it came in handy for these ornaments too.

For the cap, I hand-moulded a chunk of black modelling paste into a hemisphere and pinched out corners at the bottom. For the board on the cap, I cut a square from rolled out black paste, and I used the pasta maker’s spaghetti attachment to make strands of black paste for the tassle. To make the certificate I cut a rectangle from rolled out ivory paste, thinned and softened the edges with a ball tool, and rolled it up. The ribbon was made from strips of rolled out red paste.

The black modelling paste didn’t really look a proper black-black, so I painted it with a little black gel colour mixed in alcohol. I’d bought some Claret Wine lustre dust to use on my parents Ruby Anniversary cake, so since I had it there, I thought I might as well use some on the certificate ribbon as well. I painted the ribbon with lustre mixed in alcohol, and it looked fantastic… then I promptly went and dropped it on the floor the next morning. So yes, if the scroll looks a little different in the second picture, that would be because I had to remake it. I also used the fettucine attachment to cut the ribbon the second time around, and it turned out even better than the first one anyway!

Finding the right colour for the fondant was (pardon the pun) a piece of cake… Rohan has a Bachelor of Science degree, and he wore the same colour at his own graduation as Terese did for hers, so he pulled out his graduation photo for me to use as a colour reference. The colour was easy enough to mix from a combination of the Wilton yellow and ivory gels. I did a reasonable job of covering the cake… a few tell-tale finger marks that I just couldn’t smooth out still scream “BEGINNER!” but for my first square cake, and only my second fondant covered cake ever, not too bad. A trim of black ribbon around the bottom added to the ‘tailored’ look of the cake.

Then came the piping… still my least favoured part of the decorating process. I found a fairly casual script-ish font and made up the template in Word. I'd bought some piping gel after I stumbled across instructions on the net for how to use it to transfer designs onto a cake. The example was an outline for a fairly large picture, but I figured it should work for lettering as well. So I put my template in a plastic sleeve, flipped it over, painstakingly brushed over the back of lettering with piping gel, and laid it on the cake… only to have so little of the gel actually stay on the cake that I had barely any outline to follow.

There was nothing else I could do but quickly mix up some black icing and get the piping done while there was still enough natural light to see the vague outline. Unfortunately it was a fairly shoddy job, but at least it was for a good friend that came to be knowing I’m a beginner, and I wasn’t charging him much for it anyway. I used a bit of leftover royal icing to stick on the cap and scroll to finish it off.
So here it is, my first paid cake decorating job! Terese loved it, and the cake tasted fantastic. Unfortunately I had to put Mum and Dad’s anniversary cake on hold to do it because I started getting super-stressed… I was scared I wouldn’t be able to finish them both in the one week, so I called my parents and asked them would they mind if I postponed working on their cake until after Terese’s was done. Oh, and I had a job interview this morning too… icing and decorating donuts for Donut King at Glendale. It’s an early morning job, but we could make it work. Just waiting to hear back from them now, but it sounded REALLY promising. Fingers crossed!!!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Progress Report

I've just about finished all the roses and leaves for Mum & Dad's anniversary cake, as well as a bucket-load of little 'baby's breath' filler flowers. They were fiddly little buggers of things to make, but it will definitely be worth it. I wasn't happy at all with the batch of flower paste I made for this cake, as it was very stiff and dry, and the gelatine mustn't have mixed through properly because it was riddled with little lumps. I persevered anyway because I didn't have time to start again, but once I got on a roll I managed to turn out some reasonable buds and roses.

I've also been writing down my start-and-finish times and the before-and-after weights of paste as I've worked on the flowers and leaves so I can keep working on my statistics to figure out material costs and time taken. After I finish Mum and Dad's cake I'm planning to make up some rose sprays and put them on ebay, so I can hopefully start making some money back to cover some of my start-up costs.