Which icing do you use?

lambeth piping cakes by Wendy Kromer via Martha Stewart Weddings
Royal icing used by Wendy Kromer, Lambeth Method

Hello readers! Today we are going to cover the exciting world of icings and their applications.

A lot of times when i’m looking at recipes, my head will spin because there are so many and just so much information out there. Everyone has preference for the recipes they want to use and the processes to get there. I hope to demystify this for you a little bit today.

Lets start with the basics: What is icing? The definition is icing is a mixture of sugar with liquid or butter, typically flavored and colored, and used as a coating for cakes or cookies. Pretty broad right? Im going to focus on a few different types today: American Buttercream, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, Royal icing and Rolled Fondant. Obviously, there are many more than this, but these are what we will focus on.

American Buttercream
American buttercream is comprised of butter/margarine/shortening, powdered sugar and milk at its most basic. There are pros and cons to this icing. This is similar to a buttercream icing that you would get at any supermarket chain. It tastes good and its a crowd pleaser. It also tends to be on the sweeter side because its about 75% powdered sugar. It is perfect for cupcakes and sheet cakes. It’s stable, transports well and kids love it.
American buttercream has a tendency to be pasty and aerated, leaving a not so smooth finish.

AB-vs-SMB

American Buttercream Recipe (Pictured above with Swiss Meringue Buttercream)
1/2 lb butter, unsalted, room temp
2 lbs powdered sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
Beat the softened butter and powdered sugar on low speed in your mixed. Slowly add a little milk at a time until desired consistency is reached.
*Note: err on the side of caution with the milk. Powdered sugar disintegrates when liquid is added. It can go from the proper consistency to a sloppy mess very quickly. If this happens to you, just simply add more powdered sugar to get it back to the correct consistency.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (Pictured above with American Buttercream)
Swiss Meringue Buttercream has gained popularity in some bakeries in recent years. Bakers were looking for a less sweet alternative and something a little lighter and little more buttery. Swiss Meringue Buttercream fits that bill. This icing is made by combining egg whites and sugar over a water bath and heated until the sugar dissolves. At that point, it is added to the mixer slowly, whipping it with a whisk, which gives it it’s fluffy consistency. Butter is added slowly and whipped until the mix combines. This icing is the basis of a cake that will be enrobed in Rolled Fondant. It acts like the “glue” for the fondant to have something to adhere to. This icing is also easily flavored with melted chocolate or fruit puree.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
2 c sugar, granulated
2 lb butter, unsalted, softened
12 egg whites
Combine sugar and egg whites in bowl over double boiler set on medium heat. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. This should take about 5 minutes. You don’t want to heat the egg whites up too high or they will start to coagulate.
Once sugar is dissolved, pour into mixer bowl and whisk on medium high until light and fluffy. Slowly add the softened butter, a little at a time until all is added. Allow to whisk for another 5 minutes or so.
Note: If flavoring with chocolate or fruit puree, once the butter has been added is the time to add melted chocolate or fruit puree. Depending on how much flavor you’d like, add between 1/4c and 2/3c of either. Whisk until well combined.

Royal Icing
Royal icing is a very simple icing used for decorations. It is the go to icing for sugar cookies and really any cake decoration that you need to dry hard and solid. I use this for string work piping on cakes and it is the only icing that goes on my decorated sugar cookies.

The earliest reference to Royal Icing dates back to the 1600s. It was known as ‘Egg White’ icing – a well-beaten mixture of egg white + icing sugar. It gained the accolade ‘Royal’ when it was used to coat & decorate Queen Victoria’s wedding cake in 1840.
**To read more history of icings and sugar paste, follow this link.**

Royal Icing Recipe

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 large egg whites

Whip egg whites using paddle attachment on your mixer, just to break up. Slowly add sifted powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time. Once the mixture has combined, turn your mixer up to high speed and allow the icing to beat 5 to 7 minutes. You know it is ready when it is glossy and holds a stiff peak.
**If using to decorate cookies, go to this blog post about how to bake the perfect sugar cookies!**

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Rolled Fondant Icing (Pictured Above)
Rolled Fondant Icing is something that has gained popularity in the United States in the last two decades. It rolls out like a pie crust and covers a cake easily, making it more stable in humid environments such as an outdoor summer wedding and it creates a flawless porcelain finish that many brides are looking for.
Over my years in the kitchen I have found that I prefer to use Satin Ice rolled fondant. It is easy to work with, readily available on amazon.com and consistently comes out beautifully. You can also make your own “marshmallow fondant” by combining melted marshmallows and powdered sugar. I actually really don’t like doing it. It’s time consuming, sticky and messy. Also, it doesn’t create a consistent product each and every time. I have included a recipe below if you are curious and have an afternoon you want to spend making it. Don’t say i didn’t warn you!
Marshmallow Fondant
1 package mini marshmallows (16 oz)
2 to 5 tablespoons water
8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
Step 1
To make marshmallow fondant, place marshmallows and 2 tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave 30 seconds on high; stir until mixed well. Continue microwaving 30 seconds more; stir again. Continue until melted (about 2 1/2 minutes).
Step 2
Place 3/4 of the confectioners’ sugar on top of the melted marshmallow mixture. Fold sugar into marshmallow mixture. Flavoring can be added at this point if desired. Place solid vegetable shortening in easily accessed bowl so you can reach into it with fingers as you are working. Grease hands and counter GENEROUSLY; turn marshmallow mixture onto counter. Start kneading like you would dough. Continue kneading, adding additional confectioners’ sugar and re-greasing hands and counter so the fondant doesn’t stick. If the marshmallow fondant is tearing easily, it is too dry; add water (about 1/2 tablespoon at a time) kneading until fondant forms a firm, smooth elastic ball that will stretch without tearing, about 8 minutes.
Step 3
It’s best to allow Marshmallow Fondant to sit, double-wrapped, overnight. Prepare the fondant for storing by coating with a thin layer of solid vegetable shortening, wrap in plastic wrap and then place in resealable bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. Marshmallow Fondant will keep well in refrigerator for several weeks.
Step 4
When not working with fondant, make sure to keep it covered with plastic wrap or in a bag to prevent it from drying out. When ready to use, knead fondant until smooth. Roll out fondant 1/8 in. thick.
Step 5
To color fondant: If you need to tint the entire batch of fondant, add a little icing color to the melted marshmallow mixture before adding confectioners’ sugar. For smaller amounts of tinted fondant, add icing color to portions of fondant as needed.

There you have it!
I hope that this post has at the very least educated you on a few different types of icings and their applications. Experiment. Find what you like best. I know cake designers that prefer fondant over buttercream. I also know a lot of designers that prefer American buttercream to Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Its all about experimenting and finding what you are comfortable with.

Until next time, happy baking!

Christopher

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How to Bake the Perfect Sugar Cookie

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Welcome back! Today we are going to discuss a topic that every baker should have in their arsenal: Cut out sugar cookies!

The cut out sugar cookie is very versatile. It can be cut into any shape and decorated with any theme. Kids and adults love them. Cookies are easier and sometimes, more impressive than a cake. I even use this dough recipe for my tart and pie shells!

A sugar cookie at its most pure is sugar, butter, flour and eggs. Thats it!

Below is the recipe i’ve used for about 15 years. It’s THAT good.

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 whole eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

In your mixer, cream the butter and sugar and blend until smooth. Slowly add eggs, beating after the addition of each egg, until well combined. On low, mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. Allow dough to chill 30 minutes up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out cookies to about 1/4 thickness. Cut out in desired shape. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are just starting to be lightly brown.

Remove from oven and cool completely. Decorate as desired.

See? Super easy! If you need ideas, tips and tricks on how to decorate, click here to be taken to my post about cookie decorating techniques.

One of my earliest memories of making sugar cookies was baking them with my mom when i was a child. Always at Christmas time. We would make a whole day of it. Bake about 6 dozen cookies together. It always seemed like so many, until i became a professional and have baked 200 dozen in a day. My mother is no longer with us, but i make this recipe in her honor. Yesterday was the 2 year anniversary of her passing.

Happy Baking!

Christopher

Event planning…or as I like to call it, preparing for battle.

Welcome back everyone! It’s been about a month since the blog launched and I hope you are learning a lot! I know I sure am.

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Right now, we are going to discuss something that I think we all struggle with a little bit and that is planning an event as a non professional. There is a huge list of details you need to remember. Today, we will start with just a few. This will be an ongoing series here.

*Location
*Food
*Decor
*Entertainment

Location

Location is probably your biggest deciding factor. Are you going to have the party in your garage? Or a hotel conference room? Maybe at a barn? The design style of the location is going to determine a lot of your decor choices. There are a few factors to consider when choosing a venue.

Price:
Is it within your budget? If it’s not your style, how much will it cost to create the look you are going for?

Capacity:
How many people can comfortably fit in the venue? Is there enough room for a dance floor?

Kitchen Facilities:
Is there an onsite kitchen? Do you need to use their caterer or can you bring in your own food? Is there a fee to do so? These are all factors you need to take into account. If you have it in your garage at home, you make your own rules ;).

Parking:
Is there on street parking for 100 cars? How far will your guests need to walk? Is there a high school nearby you could park in their parking lot and shuttle guests?

Bathrooms:
I cannot stress this enough. As a former employee in event spaces, nothing is worse than plumbing that cant handle the amount of guests you have or long waits for the restroom.

Permits:
Check with your local municipality to see if you need a permit. If you want to shut down the block to have a block party? Yep, you’ll need a permit for that.

Food:
You want your event to reflect you and your personal tastes and the food really is the vehicle for that. If you are hosting a small party, milling about the kitchen can be fun and interactive. Put that number at 50 guests and I’d highly suggest you get someone you trust to manage the food and act as a planner between yourself and the food. You as the host cannot do everything yourself. Nope. Not allowed.

Decor:
Decor is really what conveys your theme to your guests. It can be as simple as pink and blue streamers and balloons for a baby shower, to as lavish as personalized menu cards and linen napkins for a fancier affair. We will delve into this more in an upcoming blog post.

Entertainment:
Last but not least is entertainment. Do you want to play games to pass the time? Do you need a DJ to play the music and set the mood? String quartet to set the air of sophistication? Frankly, entertainment can make or break your event. If you think its a good idea to have your little brother use his iPod to play music at your wedding, i’d suggest you at the very least test it out and make sure it’s something he can focus on for an extended period of time. If not, you may want to hire someone or create a playlist that you know will last for hours so no one has to fuss with it when they are having a good time.

Lots to think about! And we haven’t even started discussing the fun stuff! Over the next few months I would like to revisit and delve into each one of these in more detail. In the meantime, if you have questions, please post them in the comments below so I can be sure to answer them!

Until next time,

Christopher

Happy National Doughnut (Donut) Day

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Doughnuts have a disputed history. One theory suggests they were invented in North America by Dutch settlers, and in the 19th century, doughnuts were sometimes referred to as one kind of oliekoek (a Dutch word literally meaning “oil cake”), a “sweetened cake fried in fat.”

Yeast doughnuts and cake doughnuts contain most of the same ingredients, however, their structural differences arise from the type of flour and leavening agent used. In cake doughnuts, cake flour is used, and the resulting doughnut is denser because cake flour has a relatively low gluten content of about 7 to 8 percent. In yeast doughnuts, a flour with a higher protein content of about 9 to 12 percent is used, resulting in a doughnut that is lighter and more airy. In addition, yeast doughnuts utilize yeast as a leavening agent. Specifically, “Yeast cells are thoroughly distributed throughout the dough and begin to feed on the sugar that is present… carbon dioxide gas is generated, which raises the dough, making it light and porous.” Whereas this process is biological, the leavening process in cake doughnuts is chemical.

The physical structure of the doughnut is created by the combination of flour, leavening agent, sugar, eggs, salt, water, shortening, milk solids, and additional components. The most important ingredients for creating the dough network are the flour and eggs. The main protein in flour is gluten, which is overall responsible for creating elastic dough because this protein acts as “coiled springs.” The gluten network is composed of two separate molecules named glutenin and gliadin. Specifically, “the backbone of the gluten network likely consists of the largest glutenin molecules, or subunits, aligned and tightly linked to one another. These tightly linked glutenin subunits associate more loosely, along with gliadin, into larger gluten aggregates.” The gluten strands than tangle and interact with other strands and other molecules, resulting in networks that provide the elasticity of the dough. In mixing, the gluten is developed when the force of the mixer draws the gluten from the wheat endosperm, allowing the gluten matrix to trap the gas cells.

Now that we’ve covered the chemical makeup and processes of doughnuts, here is a recipe that I use to make donuts. You will notice it is a brioche dough that is then fried and can be finished any number of ways. My favorite is rolled in sugar and filled with cherry jelly.

Ingredients
Brioche Doughnut: 
1/3 cup milk, warm
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh yeast*
5 eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces butter, softened
Vegetable oil, for frying

Instructions
To make the brioche doughnuts: Put the warm milk in a mixing bowl (an electric mixer works best for this recipe–so if you have one put the milk in the mixer bowl). Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and allow it to dissolve. Whisk 1 egg and 1 cup of the flour into the yeast mixture. When the dough-sponge is smooth, sprinkle it with an additional cup of flour. Allow the dough-sponge to rise in a warm place until the top layer of flour cracks, about 30 minutes.
Lightly beat the 4 remaining eggs. Then, using the dough hook attachment of an electric mixer set at medium speed, or a wooden spoon, work the eggs into the dough. When the dough is smooth, add the sugar, salt, and remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour all at once. If using a mixer, start on low and gradually increase the speed as the dough comes together, mixing for a good 15 to 20 minutes. If you do not have a mixer turn the dough out onto a clean, floured work surface and knead until it is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky. (Don’t be alarmed if the dough seems too wet. It will tighten up into nice, soft, elastic dough.) When the dough comes together, add the butter and mix for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Cover the dough with a clean towel and set it aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Stretch the dough to release some of the trapped gasses and redistribute the yeast, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Gently stretch the dough into a rectangle, then roll it out about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the dough with a doughnut cutter. Transfer the doughnuts to a floured board or baking sheet. Cover the doughnuts with a clean towel and allow them to rise in a warm place until they feel soft and fluffy, about 1 hour.

To fry the doughnuts: Heat 2 to 3-inches of oil in a heavy, high-sided pot over medium heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees F. Working in batches of 3 or so, drop the doughnuts into the oil and fry until they float. Turn the doughnuts over in the oil and continue cooking. Cook the doughnuts, turning them once or twice more as necessary, until they are uniformly browned, then transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

Until next time,

Happy Frying!

Christopher

Color Scheme of the Month: May

Welcome back everyone! I hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day and I would like to take a moment to remember those who have given their lives so we can be free. We salute and support you.

Today is the last day of May: School ends for my daughter this week and the weather is getting warmer. Wedding season is in full swing as graduation season closes.

May’s color scheme of the month is Coral and Mint. This is a beautiful, soft pairing that is very classic and also contemporary.

If you happen to be planning a wedding or even looking for design inspiration for your home, Coral and Mint pair very well with gray.

Hope this opens your eyes to a combo you may never have thought of.

Christopher

Behind the scenes!

Welcome back! Today I’m going to lift the veil as it were, and show you how I set up for photos!

Photography, as any blog writer/Etsy shop owner/webpage user will tell you, is the most important part of your business! As humans, we “eat with our eyes first” if you will. First impressions are everything. You want your page to be clean, well organized and beautiful. Easier said than done 🙂

photo setup

Pictured above is a rig I designed for aerial shots as well as frontal shots. It is made of angle iron, available at any hardware store. It is held together with thumb screws, so you can take it apart and transport it if you’d like. It is also equipped with led strip lights to shine a bright light on the subject, so it photographs clearer. Led strips tend to give off a more blue light, which requires a little bit of tweaking in the editing process for the photos.

On to the background. If you look at my photos, it looks like a kitchen backsplash. I fooled you! Its two pieces of foam core taped together. One piece is covered with marble contact paper and the other is covered with peel and stick backsplash tile. This tile was actually on sale when I went to purchase it, about $1.50/sheet and i used 3 sheets. That totaled about $10 for a background. Pretty cheap if I do say so myself!

backdrop

As far as the camera I use, I invested in a Lumix FZ40 camera. It is point and shoot but it’s also a DSLR, meaning I can adjust the settings to get better capture if I want to. Learning this camera was a pretty big challenge. The last SLR camera I learned how to use was in high school and it was film based. My how things have changed!

Thats it for my basic setup. I hope this gives you a tiny glimpse into how I created the photos you see on my site as well as my Etsy shop!



Until next time,

Christopher