Macarons You’ll Drool Over (Promise!)

Making macarons - Talk Sweet to M

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Finished Macarons - Talk Sweet to Me

A week or so ago I reviewed SprinkleBakes by Heather Baird. It is a lovely book and I finally had a chance to make one of the recipes this week. Even though they have grown exponentially in popularity in recent years, for one reason or another I’ve never had the chance to make macarons. Until now!

Macaron recipe - Talk Sweet to Me

I am told that making macaron batter is a very delicate process and must be done carefully in the right level of humidity and etc. Those warnings always make me want to go ahead and schedule in an anxiety attack, but I decided to just jump in and see what happened. Luckily there was no need to worry…I’m no rocket scientist and they turned out great!

The batter was a really smooth egg mixture with a lovely sheen to it.

Macaron batter on beater - Talk Sweet to Me

I made rounds of the batter on the parchment-covered cookie sheet using my cake decorating tips. Here they are heading into the oven:

Batter on cookie sheets - Talk Sweet to Me

And once they came out of the oven:

Macaron shells with foot - Talk Sweet to Me

I was lucky and the macarons formed the “foot” which is the crinkly part at the bottom. It’s really fun when something turns out just like the pictures you’ve drooled over for years!

The finished product:

Macarons on Talk Sweet to Me

Heather’s recipe in SprinkleBakes was super easy to follow and DELICIOUS!!! I filled them with my regular ol’ buttercream recipe tinted in springtime colors. After a taste test, my husband declared them a new top ten favorite. That’s a win, folks!

Check out Heather Baird’s SprinkleBakes for the recipe or look on her website for a few options here or here. You can also see if it’s available in your local library if you want to take a sneak peek, or just jump right in and find it on Amazon!

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Book Review: SprinkleBakes!

Book Review  - Talk Sweet to Me

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Today we’re taking a look at SprinkleBakes: Dessert Recipes to Inspire Your Inner Artist by Heather Baird. What an adorable book! Filled with recipes and great ideas to “pretty things up,” SprinkleBakes is a perfect addition to any baker’s library. I had a lot of fun looking thorough to gather new techniques and tips to add to my baking repertoire.

Sprinklebakes book review - Talk Sweet to Me

First of all, I loved the artist theme. Heather Baird is an amazing artist in many different ways. In this book, “Blank Canvases” gives you the recipes to start with as you go through each project. In the “Line” section you learn to decorate with brushes, sponges, and stamps. The “Color” section discusses color theory, tinted cake and icings, and other vivid desserts. “Mixed Media” brings together many techniques in one project. From the titles of the chapters to the dessert drawings on the front cover, dessert is truly an art form with SprinkleBakes!

The book goes through everything from supplies and equipment to tips and tricks for each of the included projects. A lot of those techniques are universal, meaning they could definitely be applied to other projects you’ve got in your head and want to make happen in sugar.

I personally found the individual techniques and the resources section of the book more helpful and useful than the individual projects since the projects did not necessarily fit my style. Even so, I have happily put this book on my shelf and bring it out on rainy days to try something new. I’m hoping to make the macarons soon…this obsessed baker has (crazily enough!) never attempted them before!

Cookbooks - Talk Sweet to Me

My other favorites to drool over and/or dream of making were the Diagonal Chocolate Mousse Cups, Postcard Cookies (a neat stamping with wafer paper technique!), Salted Caramel Cupcakes with salted caramel candy halos, Vanilla Bean Baby Doughnuts, and the Glittering Cookie Tree. I can definitely see the cookie tree happening at a certain little girl’s first birthday party this September!

If you’re looking for a great book to add to your shelf, check out SprinkleBakes: Dessert Recipes to Inspire Your Inner Artist by Heather Baird soon!

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Chocolate Mint Wedding Cupcakes

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

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Originally posted August 31, 2008

I traveled to California this fall and got to make the cupcakes for my friend Louisa’s wedding. I knew I was going to forget something at home and sure enough I did. Poor Louisa had to drive me all over to get the essential supplies (including the very necessary caffeine jolt I get from diet mountain dew). At least I remembered the recipe! Yummm, batter:

Cake batter - Talk Sweet to Me

This was by far the most fun I’ve had making a wedding cake (or in this case, cupcakes) since I left Planet Cake. Friends were everywhere so we had a lot of laughs, made a colossal mess, and everyone jumped in to help without hesitation…it was so much fun!

Robin and Jocelyn sorted the mini m&ms into colors so we could use them as a simple decoration to finish off the top of the cupcakes.

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Lou got the cupcake liners ready…

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…and the fabulous Amanda took cupcakes out of the pan and set them on wire racks to cool.

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And we were finished baking, except for the “secret” top tier. Louisa wanted to keep things simple, so told me she didn’t want a cutting cake. However, a cupcake stand does not seem complete without having that cake on top for cutting during the wedding reception! Plus, it’s tradition. Jocelyn provided the perfect distraction taking Lou and Eddie away to practice the ceremony, and the rest of us discreetly mixed up another batch of cake and stuck it in the oven. Louisa wanted easy, I wanted perfect…we ended up with the best of both worlds. Ha ha!

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There was a bit of extra cake leftover, which was perfect for taste-testing. These cupcakes were what the cupcake trials were for…luckily, Eddie liked the cake!

Edding testing cake

Time to put together the cupcake stand, covering it with icing and a yellow ribbon surround to match the wedding colors. There was an audience!

Covering boards for cupcake stand

Ribbons to cupcake stand

After the cupcakes cooled we mixed up the mint-buttercream frosting. I’ve never baked or decorated with wine in the other hand before, but it was just another thing that added to the fun this time around! If you’ve never tried it before either, put it on your to-do list. (And don’t worry, it won’t be a regular thing. I like my piping in straight, even lines, thank you very much. Although now that I think about it, a Madhatter cake might be easier this way. Hmmm…)

Baking with wine

The next morning I placed some bright, colorful fresh flowers on the cutting cake. I’d never used fresh flowers before, but tried to take the principles Handi taught me with sugar flowers and apply them to the real thing.

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We were going for a fun, spontaneous, loose, garden-type feel (smooth, but not smooth…loose, but not loose…I still hear Handi at times like these!). The look is a bit different from most of the other cakes I’ve been producing, but it was perfect for Lou and Eddie’s wedding.

Time to transport everything (the part that always has me on-edge)! The ceremony and reception were held at Thibodo Park, which was absolutely gorgeous.

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The cake set-up:

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Cake and cupcake display - Talk Sweet to Me

Lou and Eddie’s friends Steve and Nicole are professional photographers (check out their website here), and took all of the photos for the wedding. They were kind enough to share some of them:

Lou wedding photo8-cake

Lou wedding photo5-cake

Time to eat some cake!

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This is my favorite photograph that Steve and Nicole took. The bride and groom both look so happy, and Louisa is completely adorable…what great smiles!

Lou wedding photo2

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Red and Aqua Wedding Cake – My First Cake Delivery!

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

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Originally posted August 9, 2008

I met with a very fun couple back in July and was hired to make the cake for their early August wedding at Kansas City’s Uptown Theater.

They wanted a cake in these colors to match their invitations and the venue…

Invitation pattern

…and similar in style to the cake in this picture that they gave to me to match their fun and laid-back personalities:

Inspiration cake

Here is the design they chose:

Design drawing

They wanted a 3-tier white chocolate mud cake and two kitchen cakes in vanilla white and yellow butter flavors. It was a lot of baking, but of course, any amount of cake seems trivial now compared to the cake trials.

Baked cake

So the boards were prepared, the cakes were ganached, and the center pole was constructed.

Ganached tiers2

I hadn’t covered a square cake for a while, but got a whole bunch of practice at once this week.

Ganached tiers

Covered square tiers

After stacking the cake it was time to move on to the mixing of the colors. I spent at least a half hour (probably closer to 45 minutes), and made a colossal mess trying to come up with the correct shade of red to match the invitations.

coloring fondant

My hands ended up being nearly the same color…

red hands

Oh yeah…that’s what those gloves were for! Next it was time to carve the “K” for the cake topper. I cut it out of styro, secured it to the skewer, and covered it in the red icing.

Styro cake topper

Red K initial cake topper

The “K” cake topper was finished off with silver cachous around the outside to match the “i do” lettering on the middle tier.

I decorated the tiers from the top down so as not to mess up anything I’d already created by leaning my elbows on it or something similarly klutzy. The stripes:

Cake in progress4 - Talk Sweet to Me

The front rectangle piece for the ‘i do’ had to go on next, and was surrounded by red and aqua bubbles:

Cake in progress2 - Talk Sweet to Me

Starting the checkerboard pattern:

Cake in progress - Talk Sweet to Me

For efficiency’s sake, a piece of cardboard was cut to the correct width and used to cut all of the red and aqua squares. It made life a lot easier than measuring every time I needed to make a cut.

Cutting squares equipmentJust a few silver cachous added on for the ‘i do’ and here is the finished cake!

Decorated cake - Talk Sweet to Me

It was a bit late (or early, if you prefer) when I finished this one.

Finish time

The last thing I had to stress about was the delivery, but that went as smooth as silk because I had such great help (you know who you are)!!!

Red and Aqua Wedding Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Am I proud of my first successful wedding cake delivery? Ummm…yes, I suppose I am.

Lisa at delivery

The best part of the delivery was running into the bride and her bridesmaids as they were coming in to set up for the reception. They were literally jumping up and down and shrieking with delight as the cake came out of the box. I think they were happy with it…

Bride and bridesmaids exclaim - Talk Sweet to Me…which makes me very happy too.

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Purple Striped Birthday Cake

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted August 1, 2008

My very good friend Stacy had a birthday a couple weeks ago and needed a cake to celebrate – after all, what is a birthday without a cake? A yellow cake with dark chocolate ganache and the color purple were my only design constrictions, which left things pretty much wide open. I decided on a simple but fun striped cake with a big purple bow.

Cake design drawing

First I ganached the cake…

Ganached cake

…and covered it with white icing.

Covered cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was on to the stripes. When doing the stripes on the Madhatter cake, Anna-Maria taught us to start with an “X” of colored stripes and fan the stripes out to the sides from there.

Putting stripes on cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Finally finished!

Stripes complete - Talk Sweet to Me

Moving on to the bow…

finishing purple bow - Talk Sweet to Me

…and then I just added a black rope around the base and a message on the board to complete the cake:

Purple Striped Birthday Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

When we got to the restaurant where Stacy’s birthday celebration was being held, I added on a candle…which was probably not really necessary since we forgot to light it. Whoops!

Cake at bar with candle

This cake brought a lot of attention to our table. People kept stopping on their way by and asking if it was a real cake (as opposed to a fake one that we were cutting into and eating?), asking if the bow was really a ribbon (no – shock!) and actually getting up from their tables to come see what all the fuss was about and talk about cake for a minute or two.

Stacy and me

 

Friends at birthday party - Talk Sweet to Me

We decided that it would be a good advertising scheme to make a cake and take it to a new place every weekend…then just hand out cards like crazy when people came over to check it out. Even if it ended up not working, at least we’d have some fun along the way!

Eventually it was time to cut the cake…

Stacy cutting the cake - Talk Sweet to Me

…and enjoy eating it!

Cake was delicious - Talk Sweet to Me

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Bookworm Birthday Cake – Step By Step

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted July 26, 2008

I was delighted to have the chance to make a birthday cake for my friend Hannah (#32) from my soccer years…go Ames Flames! Her mom was having a pretty important birthday and she wanted to surprise her with “something different” for her birthday present – so contacted me to make a cake!

Hannah’s mom is a librarian and also loves to eat healthy food. We bounced around some ideas and finally came up with a cute little bookworm – complete with wire-rimmed glasses – coming out of an apple with a couple of books nearby:

Bookworm cake sketch - Talk Sweet to Me

I quickly went out to the store to buy the most perfect apple I could find to use as a model. GOR-geous.

apple

It is possible that this could have been done entirely of cake, with a board in the middle and dowels to support the top half of the apple. However, Hannah didn’t require that much cake and so I decided to do the bottom half in styro, top half in cake, with a dowel through the middle for support.

Ganached cake - Talk Sweet to Me

I had a momentary panic attack when covering this cake. One of the hardest cakes I ever covered was the soccer ball cake, and I was lucky that Handi was there to help me when I was doing that one. So, channeling some good Planet Cake vibes, I rolled out the icing a little bit thicker than normal to allow for some stretching around the shape and went to town. A little round piece was cut out of the red of the apple and I inserted black icing to make a hole for the worm to come out of.

Covered cake - Talk Sweet to Me

On to the books. These were made of cake with a cardboard base for support so that I would be able to set one at an angle.

Cutting cake for books

Ganaching…

Ganached books

I covered the sides with white and made marks for the pages first.

Covering book with fondant - pages

Then I added thicker icing overhanging the edges for the book cover.

Cake book - Talk Sweet to Me

Next I carved the styro for the worm and covered it with green icing. Then just added texture, wire-rimmed glasses (much harder to bend to shape than I thought they would be, by the way), and a face. My ninja brush was not cooperating. The black went on a little thicker than I would have liked, but ended up looking okay after some minor catastrophe-aversion techniques were employed.

Bookworm - Talk Sweet to Me

Next I added titles to the books and painted them gold.

Cake books finished - Talk Sweet to Me

Putting everything together…

Apple and bookworm cake from top - Talk Sweet to Me

…and the finished cake!

Bookworm cake - Talk Sweet to Me

My mom has been letting me use her fabulous silicone rolling pin. I told her how great it was and she immediately told me not to buy one because they (whoever ‘they’ are!) found toxic substances in them. I knew this could not possibly be true because Handi owns more than one, and surely if there were anyone who would know about those kinds of things, it would be Handi and the rest of the Planet Cake team (and they would have let me know about this on one of the days rolling pins came up in conversation, right?!). Turns out, this was her way of trying to get me to avoid buying one because she had one hidden away for me as a Christmas present. Anyway, Christmas came early this year, and I now have my very own bright red rolling pin.

Me with rolling pin

I’m one happy gal.

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How to Carve Styrofoam Base Elements for Custom 3-D Cake Decorations

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Take some of the lessons I learned on the below cake project to make your carved Styrofoam bases easier to cover with fondant for custom 3-D cake decorations!

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted July 2008

I recently designed a cake for a client whose husband was turning 60 and she wanted to give him a special cake at a surprise party with their friends, family, and neighbors. Apparently he likes to walk around the neighborhood park with their miniature dachshund…a lot. So she asked me to put together a cake with a figurine of her husband, the dog (no leash), and the fountain from the park he walks in. Here is what I came up with:

Cake sketch

Again, one of those really fast sketches on the same sheet of paper as one of my many “to-do” lists. It was kind of hard to tastefully incorporate all the elements she was looking for.

The covered cake:

Covered cake

Around their neighborhood there are signs for the streets that are embedded in the sidewalks.

Rockhill road sign

I got out the ninja brush again and made the sugar version. A pencil is in there for scale.

Rockhill sugar sign - Talk Sweet to Me

The sidewalk with road sign and a rock paving pattern were added to the cake:

Cake and beginning decoration

Next was the dog. Here is Max:

Dog inspiration photo - Talk Sweet to Me

This was much trickier than either Margie or Handi made it look…and since I’d never attempted one before, of course found a few things I’d do differently next time. I’ll tell you here so that if you’re making one yourself, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did! I actually carved the legs out of Styrofoam, and they were a little bit stumpy.

Carved styro dog

A few days after the cake was delivered I remembered that Margie used skewers for the legs of the horse she did a few months ago. I’d probably do that next time, which would give me a better way to anchor the dog to the cake (I used royal icing this time) and also allow me to make the legs thinner. I’d also make the snout skinnier – either just with icing or with a skewer as a base there too – work on making the eyes more realistic, and add some texture for the fur. (I was reminded of this while watching Elisa Strauss’ YouTube video of the dog cake. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here.)

Dog figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

I covered a wire with icing and inserted it into the styro to make the tail, made a couple of ears out of icing, then painted the parts that needed to be black with food coloring. Overall, I think the attempt was okay, but I know there is room for improvement and learned a lot from it.

Finished sugar dog - Talk Sweet to Me

Next was the man. I saw Handi make a dancing groom one time and he told me that when you do the figurines where only one leg is anchoring it to the cake, you must insert the skewer up through that leg…but then make the skewer come out in the exact center of the shoulders of the figurine so the head will be centered. I had to make two attempts at carving the styro for it because I had such a hard time inserting the skewer correctly (Handi will not be surprised when he reads this!):

Man figurine 1

I was unhappy with my proportioning here, but share it anyway so all you cake people out there can benefit from my mistakes! The torso is too long, and the legs are too short and stout. The lesson: *measure carefully* when starting to carve, and remember that the styro must be skinnier than you want it to end up being since the icing adds bulk. Adding the shorts:

Man figurine 2

He usually walks his dog in khaki shorts, a yellow polo shirt, and black flip-flops with socks.

Man figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

The finished figurine:

Man walking figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

I was most proud of the fountain on this cake. Here is what I was going for:

Fountain inspiration - Talk Sweet to Me

So I carved the three bowls and the base out of styro…

Carved fountain - Talk Sweet to Me

…then covered them with icing.

Fountain elements

After that, it was time to make it more realistic with some piping.

Sugar fountain no water - Talk Sweet to Me

I added some water and secured it to the cake with royal icing:

Sugar fountain - Talk Sweet to Me

After that it was just a matter of adding the other figurines, piping on some shrubs and grass, adding flowers, and finishing the message and candles on the board. Here is the finished cake:

Man and Dog Birthday Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

It was fun to deliver the cake and meet Max…he’s even cuter in person! The client was very happy with it, so I decided I was too. I guess for a first attempt at a dog and a walking/dancing figurine (without Handi and Margie’s expert advice), it was okay. I learned enough to do better next time, at least.

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