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Baby shower tree cake

I haven’t had time to decorate cakes lately, but this past week I ended up having two cake orders for baby showers. The first was easy - an order of cupcakes (pictures of those another day). But the second was a little more challenging for me - a 10 inch iced cake.

Sure it seems easy enough, but the truth is I’ve only been making fondant cakes lately, so it had been over a year since I’ve done an iced cake. Perhaps I should’ve practiced a little before volunteering.

It also didn’t help that I had the world’s busiest week and absolutely no time to make the cake in the first place. My only option was Saturday night, the night before the baby shower.

I didn’t get home until 10pm and started quickly baking. I stayed up til 1am getting my cake dirty iced, and it wasn’t going well. The cake was uneven, icing was oozing out of the sides, one side even had a huge hole in it. Frustrated, I took a break to sleep, having lost all hope for this cake.

The next morning I got up early. The shower wasn’t until 2pm, so that gave me several hours to salvage the cake. I put another layer of icing on it, and things started looking up. I have to say though, after working with fondant, I really don’t like iced cakes. I can never get them to look smooth, no matter how much I spread out the icing. It’s definitely not ideal for a perfectionist like me.

In the end, I feel like it came together nicely. I used chocolate fudge icing to pipe a tree and made leaves out of fondant to match the colors of the baby shower. I then cut out fondant letters to spell “baby” since I was too scared I’d mess it up piping it out of icing. 

So, after all that hard work and stress, here’s what it looked like. It’s not perfect by any means, but it worked…

I’m glad I pulled it off, but I’m thinking this might be my last iced cake for awhile. I’d hate to give myself a heart attack in my 20s.

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My first tiered cake

Well, I did it. I finally learned how to make a tiered cake. Last night I took the “Tall Cakes” class at Michael’s where they teach you how to construct a multi-level cake. Yet another thing I can mark off my 101 List (#57).

While my cake is far from perfect - especially considering I didn’t learn some of the important cake-prep tips until we were already in class with our pre-made cakes - I did the best I could with the cake I had brought. And overall, I was quite pleased with how it turned out. What do you think?

There’s much more to stacking tiers than I have space to share with you, but here are a few useful tips I learned that could help you through the process…

  • Most importantly, make sure your cakes are perfectly level. Use a level to check. (I didn’t know to do this beforehand.)
  • Build each tier on top of a cake board the same size (even the bottom layer). This will help support each tier and will keep the board from showing.
  • Use a cake drum (thick foiled cake board) underneath your cake for extra support. The drum should be 4 inches bigger than your bottom layer.
  • Mark the position for each tier on the tier below it using an empty cake board the size of your smaller tier. Once it looks center, gently press the empty board on the tier below to mark where your next tier will sit.
  • For buttercream cakes, cut wax paper a little smaller than each tier and place under each cake board before stacking. This will help prevent icing from ripping off when cake is disassembled for serving.
  • Each tier needs to be supported with dowels of some sort (measured and cut to the height of the tier below). We used bubble tea straws, which are sturdier than wooden dowels, allowing you to use less. They can be found at international markets or on Amazon. For directions on dowel or column placement, check out Wilton’s "Tiered Cakes" book.
  • To secure layers for transport: Once all tiers are stacked, cut a long wooden dowel a little longer than the height of your entire cake. Sharpen end of dowel with a pencil sharpener and insert in the center of top tier. Use a mallet to hit dowel down through each tier, cake board and finally, into the cake drum.

My biggest suggestion would be to take the “Tall Cakes” class yourself. Both Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s offers this class, so check and see if it’s available in your area. It’s definitely the easiest way to learn the ins and outs of tiered cakes if you’re a beginner like me.

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Football cake pops

Being the anti-sports person that I am, I never thought I’d find myself making football cake pops. However, a friend at work asked if she could hire me to make some for her Superbowl party this past weekend. My first commissioned gig! Of course, I said yes.

To be honest, I wasn’t too concerned about making them. How hard could it be? Compared to the elaborate ice cream cones and cupcake pops I’ve made in the past, these seemed like a piece of cake. Boy was I wrong!

Never have I had this much trouble making cake pops before. The coating kept cracking like crazy on every single ball as it dried. It was almost like they knew how much I hated football and were getting back at me.

Now that I look back on it, I’m wondering if smaller footballs would’ve helped. They turned out much bigger than I planned once they were dipped, so they might’ve been a little too top-heavy. Luckily I was able to patch up the cracks with a toothpick and some melted coating. They weren’t perfect, but they still turned out cute.

I did try a few that were vertical, but they were even more of a disaster than the horizontal ones. Here are a few that survived though…

If you’d like to try making them yourself, here’s what you need:

  • 1 cake mix
  • 1 can pre-made icing
  • 3 bags dark brown candy coating
  • 1 bag white candy coating
  • 48 cake pop sticks
  • Decorating bag
  • #2 tip
  • 9x13 pan
  • Large mixing bowl
  • 2 microwavable bowls
  • Styrofoam block
  • Spoon
  • 2 cookie sheets lined w/wax paper

Directions:

  • Bake a 9x13 cake following directions on box. Let cool completely.
  • Once cake is cool, crumble into large mixing bowl leaving no large pieces.
  • Add 3/4 can of pre-made icing and mix into cake with small metal spoon.
  • Roll cake mixture into 1 1/2 inch long football-shaped balls and place on cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Place in freezer for 15 minutes.

  • While cake balls are in freezer, melt brown candy coating in microwave following package instructions.
  • Remove cake balls from freezer 5 at a time. One-by-one, dip the end of a cake pop stick in coating and insert no more than half way into middle of football-shaped cake ball.
  • Holding stick, dip cake ball into coating, completely covering cake. Lift with stick and gently shake and turn cake ball to allow excess coating to fall back into bowl. Place cake pop in styrofoam block to dry.
  • Repeat steps with remaining cake balls.
  • Once brown coating has dried, melt white coating in microwavable bowl following package instructions.
  • Attach #2 tip to decorating bag and quickly fill with white melted coating.
  • One by one, pipe stitches on each cake pop and let dry. Be sure to work quickly, as coating will begin to harden inside tip. You may need to remove and clean tip if opening becomes blocked.

And with that, I can mark another thing off my 101 List (#17 - sell a cake I’ve decorated). While it wasn’t quite a “cake,” I think cake pops count too.

Happy baking!

Lu

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Blue swirl cake pops

This weekend I did a little experimenting with cake pops and came up with my own design - a blue pop with white swirls. While I had hoped to create an “easy” cake pop, it actually ended up being quite challenging. Piping candy melt on a tiny ball of cake was horribly hard. But in the end, they turned out cute. Not my best, but cute enough.

It also got me one dessert closer to marking another thing off my 101 List (#76 - make 5 new desserts). This makes #4!

If you’d like to try them for yourself, here’s what you need:

  • 1 box cake mix
  • 1 can pre-made icing
  • 4 bags blue candy coating
  • 1 bag white candy coating
  • 48 cake pop sticks
  • Decorating bag
  • #2 tip
  • 9x13 pan
  • Large mixing bowl
  • 2 microwavable bowls
  • Styrofoam block
  • Spoon
  • 2-3 cookie sheets
  • Wax paper

Directions:

  • Bake a 9x13 cake following directions on box. Let cool completely.
  • Once cake is cool, crumble into large mixing bowl leaving no large pieces.

  • Add 3/4 can of pre-made icing and mix into cake with small metal spoon.
  • Roll cake mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Place in freezer for 15 minutes.
  • While cake balls are in freezer, melt blue candy coating in microwave following package instructions.
  • Remove cake balls from freezer 5 at a time. One-by-one, dip the end of a cake pop stick in coating and insert no more than half way into cake ball.
  • Holding stick, dip cake ball into coating, completely covering cake. Lift with stick and gently shake and turn cake ball to allow excess coating to fall back into bowl.

  • Place cake pop in styrofoam block to dry. Repeat steps with remaining cake balls.

TIP: To avoid buying Styrofoam blocks over and over, you can make one out of wood. My dad made this one for me for Christmas, and I painted it white. Isn’t it awesome?

  • Once blue coating has dried, melt white coating in microwavable bowl following package instructions.
  • Quickly fill decorating bag with white melted coating and attach #2 tip.
  • One by one, pipe swirls on each cake pop and let dry. Be sure to work quickly, as coating will begin to harden inside tip. You may need to remove and clean tip if opening becomes blocked.

More cake pop ideas coming next week! For past cake pop tutorials, check here:

Have a great weekend!

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Love bird cupcake toppers

I’m always looking for fun new ways to decorate cakes. So when I came across “cupcake toppers” last week on Etsy, I had to try them for myself. I ended up making love birds since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. And in the end, they turned out even better than I hoped!

If you’d like to try making them yourself, it’s very easy…

  • Draw and cut a bird, wing and heart out of different colored cardstock.
  • Draw stitching around edges of each piece using a black pen.
  • Attach pieces using mounting squares or glue.
  • Draw bird’s eye with black pen.
  • Attach bird to white cake pop stick with tape.
  • Insert in iced cupcake.

What a simple way to add a special touch to ordinary cupcakes.

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Sweet CeCe’s comes to Brentwood

Sweet CeCe’s finally opened their doors in Brentwood last night, and guess who was first in line? Yes, that would be me. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time - to finally have my favorite frozen yogurt place come to the neighborhood. And I was thrilled they invited the community to celebrate the occasion with free frozen yogurt.

While I’m sure all of my fellow Nashvillians are more than familiar with this establishment, let me take a few moments to fill in the out-of-towners.

Sweet CeCe’s is the most unique frozen yogurt experience, allowing you to create your dessert exactly the way you want it. You start by taking a cup and filling it with your choice of frozen yogurt flavors. They usually rotate and offer new off-the-wall varieties each time you visit (pumpkin, cheesecake, red velvet, cake batter, snickerdoodle, and the list goes on).

Then you move on to the countless tubes of toppings, where you add ingredients til your heart desires. Here they have everything from the regulars (M&M’s, Reese’s and Oreos) to the more unique (Fruit Loops, gumballs and Golden Grahams). It’s so hard to decide!

Next is the toppings bar, where they have their bigger items such as gummy worms, sour ropes, cake bites, brownies and a variety of fresh fruit. And of course, hot fudge or caramel to top it off.

Once you’ve finished your creation, they weigh it, and the price is based on weight. This is one of my favorite parts about the process. Instead of being stuck to “sizes,” you can get as much or as little as you want.

After countless visits to their other locations, I’ve finally perfected my concoction: vanilla frozen yogurt with snow caps and peanut butter chips topped with hot fudge. Simple, yet delicious.

So if you have a sweet tooth like I do, check out their locations and try it for yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Special thanks to the Brentwood Sweet CeCe’s for treating us all to dessert last night. So glad we’re finally neighbors!

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Mini brownie cakes

Last night I decided to do a quick baking project to satisfy my chocolate craving. After flipping through my new dessert cookbook, I saw an idea for mini brownie cakes. Cute and simple - how perfect.

The directions were pretty easy…

  • Bake a pan of brownies about 1 1/2 inches thick. (Here’s where I messed up. Mine were way too thin. I’m guessing something smaller than a 9x13 pan would help here).
  • Let cool. Then cut out different size circles using cookie cutters.
  • Stack circles using icing or preserves between layers.

  • Sprinkle layered brownies with powdered sugar. A sifter works nicely.

One pan of brownies makes 3-4 mini brownie cakes.

What an easy way to make a boring pan of brownies a little more exciting. Hope you enjoy!

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Ice cream cone cake pops

This weekend my friend Meghan and I made another cake pop from my book. We decided to be adventurous and try making the ice cream cone cake pop. It wasn’t easy, but the end result was well worth the hard work.

If you’d like to try making them at home, here’s what you need:

  • 1 box cake mix
  • 1 can pre-made icing
  • 48 sugar cones
  • 48 red m&ms
  • 48 ounces pink candy coating
  • 16 ounces dark chocolate candy coating
  • sprinkles
  • serrated knife
  • Styrofoam block (or small cardboard boxes)
  • spoons
  • 2 microwavable-safe bowls
  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • 1 9x13 pan

Directions:

  • Bake a 9x13 cake following directions on box. Let cool completely.
  • While cake is cooling, cut cones down to make opening approximately 1 1/4 inches wide using a serrated knife.

  • Prepare bases to hold cone pops. While the book recommends a Styrofoam block, we actually used the cone boxes to save money. Whatever you choose as your base, make holes 2 inches apart large enough to hold each cone.
  • Once cake is cool, crumble into large mixing bowl leaving no large pieces.

  • Add 3/4 can of pre-made icing and mix into cake with small metal spoon.
  • Roll cake mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Place in freezer for 15 minutes.

  • While cake balls are in freezer, melt pink candy coating in microwave following package instructions.
  • Remove cake balls from freezer 5 at a time. One-by-one, dip in pink coating and cover completely. Remove with spoon and place on cone. Add sprinkles immediately and set in base to dry. Repeat with remaining cake balls.

  • If you’re feeling creative, try making upside-down cones by placing wet pink-coated cake balls on wax paper and adding a cone and sprinkles on top.

  • Next, melt chocolate coating in microwave following package instructions.
  • Drizzle chocolate on top of each cone pop with a spoon, adding red m&m immediately (“m”-side down).

  • Once dry, wrap tops with plastic candy packaging and tie with ribbon or store in air tight container until ready to serve.

Another dessert to mark off my 101 List (#76 - make 5 new desserts). Three down, two to go.

For directions on my previous cake pop endeavor - the cupcake pop - click here.

Enjoy!

-Lu

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Perfectly iced sugar cookies

I just bought a new baking cookbook, and inside were the prettiest sugar cookies with flawless icing. I have to admit, I don’t make many cookies (cakes are more my thing), and I’m not particularly fond of sugar cookies at that (why leave out the chocolate). But these were too pretty to pass up.

Since I haven’t had much luck with cookies in the past, I decided to keep things simple and stick with a mix. Might as well figure out the decorating before I worry about making my own dough.

Once the dough’s made, here’s what to do next:

Roll out dough and cut into shapes of your choice. I went with stars - my favorite.

As they bake, move on to making the royal icing. First whip 1/3 cup of pasteurized egg whites until they form a soft peak when mixer is lifted (see picture below).

Then gradually add sifted confectioners sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing on medium to low in between, until you’ve added 4 1/2 cups total.

Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice and beat on medium to high until icing is no longer shiny and stiff peak forms when removing mixer (about 6-8 minutes). Then add coloring of your choice.

Word of warning: This was my first stab at royal icing, and it turned out perfectly, but I did have one major casualty - my handheld mixer. Apparently cheaper ones can’t handle making thick icing, which I learned the hard way.

After finishing the royal icing, outline each cookie using an icing bag and tip #3. Set aside to dry for a few minutes. This outline is used to hold in runny icing (next step).

Once you’ve finished outlining your cookies, add water to the royal icing to make it runny. Then, using another icing bag and tip #3, squeeze some icing in the center of each cookie, slowly working it out to the edges. Fill in the area as much as possible, then use a toothpick to spread to the edges quickly before icing hardens.

If you want to add sprinkles or decorations of any kind, now is the time to do so while the icing is still wet.

After they dry, you end up with perfectly iced sugar cookies. Perhaps they can give chocolate cookies a run for their money after all.

And of course, they’re much more fun than your average cookie too.

Another thing to mark off my 101 List (#76 - Make 5 new desserts). Two down, three to go.

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City skyline cake

My latest cake endeavor was quite ambitious - a city skyline cake for our annual NYC-themed New Year’s Eve party. And to top it off, I decided to make my own homemade buttercream frosting for the first time too.

I set aside the night before for baking so I could concentrate on the decorating the day of. I whipped up a box mix, lined my pans with parchment paper, and just before pouring the batter inside, I took a second glance at the box and realized, to my horror, I had made a brownie mix instead of cake. I thought it was odd that it only called for two eggs instead of three. Great.

At that point I didn’t have much choice. I went ahead and baked a regular pan of brownies while I started to work on the cake. Unfortunately after making the brownies accidentally I was now one egg short. In a huff, I gave up for the night, finished up my pan of brownies, and begrudgingly went to bed.

The next morning I got up early to buy more eggs and quickly got the cake in the oven.

While it was baking, I started on my icing, pleading with myself not to mess it up since I didn’t want to make yet another trip to the grocery store. Luckily it was very simple to make. And afterward, I found it was much easier to spread onto the cake, and it tasted better too. I’m officially giving up on store-bought icing.

Now on to the decorating. This was by far the hardest cake I’ve ever done. Building by building, I measured out rectangles so they’d all fit together just right. Once in place, I cut out each individual tiny window and attached them to the buildings. It took hours, but the end result was amazing, and it was a hit at the party. Another cake I can mark off my 101 List (#10 - Decorate 20 new cakes with fondant).

Of course, the saddest part of this process is watching all your hard work on the chopping block. But at least everyone liked it. And I can’t think of a better way to bring in the new year than with a big piece of chocolate cake!

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