Category Archives: Cake

Holiday Cupcake Donation Project

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating while living in Sydney, Australia.

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Originally posted December 2008

Last year’s Charity Cupcake drive at Planet Cake was a fantastic day, and although it turned out to be a bit more intense than I was expecting when I woke up that morning, I’d do it all over again at the drop of a hat. It was a great feeling to walk away at the end of the day, knowing that I’d been part of the 2,000 cupcakes donated by Planet Cake to Oz Harvest! Plus, we were famous, making it into the Sun-Herald…

Cupcakes for charity newspaper clipping

…those are my fabulous morning-session girls!

Because I was an intern at the time and volunteered to help, I arrived at Planet Cake about an hour early to help prepare the tables, set out equipment, color the icing, and just generally get ready for everything to come. I wasn’t exactly sure what else I was going to be doing that day, but two days earlier, I learned I would be in charge of getting 7-8 volunteers through their allotted cupcakes for each of the morning and afternoon sessions.

A close-up photo of some of the fun designs we made that day:

Holiday cupcake designs

After a general introduction by Paris, Handi started in with his instructional spiel to the table at my right, while Anna-Maria started in with instructions for her volunteers to my left. Since I’d never done any teaching before, I thought we were going to have a group instruction session before beginning…but unfortunately we were still getting ready when volunteers started arriving, so we all kind of missed that step and just jumped right into the day. Suddenly, I was in charge of getting my seven gals through 333 cupcakes in the next four hours! Working, working…

Cupcake production

We followed the leads of Handi and Anna-Maria, setting up an assembly-line of sorts…several girls ganaching the cupcakes, the next few covering them with icing, and the last ones putting on the final decorating touches. It was a great system, and so rewarding to start seeing those boxes start to pile up for Oz Harvest!

Snowman cupcakes

Look at Handi peeking into the picture behind me…always a great smile!!

The afternoon session went much smoother than the morning because I knew what to expect and how to proceed with the volunteers from ganached cupcakes to final decorated product. I had very fun groups of people to work with in both the morning and afternoon sessions…and was so grateful for their patience and enthusiasm as we worked through all 667 cupcakes!

The entire morning session group:

Cupcakes for charity2

The whole afternoon session group with cupcakes:

Cupcakes for charity

That’s a lot of cupcakes!

So what did I learn from the cupcake drive? That teaching decorating to others and managing volunteers is a whole new ballgame! It really made me appreciate both Handi and Anna-Maria’s teaching talents when I had the opportunity to sit in on their courses. By no means did I become an expert, but I learned a lot about working with people new to cake decorating and had a lot of fun in the process. And experienced just a peek into what it takes to put together such a massive volunteer effort.

The Planet Cake team hands the cupcakes over to Oz Harvest:

Paris and Oz Harvest

To any of you donating your cake-baking services over the holidays: More power to you! Have fun and tell me about it below!

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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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Cake Recipe Testing

Blast from the past - www.talksweettome.com

Maybe this early on in the life of Talk Sweet to Me I shouldn’t show you how cake-crazy and obsessed with perfection I am, but you’ll probably get that idea eventually anyway. For the past several months I’ve been sharing bits and pieces from my old blog which chronicled my start in the cake business. This post is one of my favorites.

“Cake Recipe Testing” was written shortly after I returned to the United States from Australia to show what I did to develop my go-to cake recipes. I hate to admit this, but on the very first order that I completed on my own, I was devastated when the customer complained that the cake was very dry and fell apart. It was the birthday cake recipe that was used in my family for years! That feedback inspired this frantic quest to find the best cake recipes EVER. Was I glad I did it? Yes…I developed a library of recipes I could count on again and again. Would I ever want to do it again? Heck, no. It was a lot of work!

Hope you’ll enjoy this blast from the past!

Written May 2008 - talksweettome.com

Over the past month and a half, I have been doing a bit of baking. By a bit, I mean that I tried 47 different cake recipes in order to narrow it down to fifteen that I can count on to be fabulous. It was tiring, it was messy, it was expensive, it was crazy, and it was worth it.

Do you know the looks you get when you walk into the grocery store and buy 4 packages of 18 eggs each, multiple large bags of flour and sugar, at least six pounds of butter, and mounds of (expensive!) chocolate bars? I got all of those when I went to pick up the ingredients. 75 eggs!

Ingredients for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

I wanted to wear a sign on my forehead that said “I’m not eating all of this by myself,” (or maybe it would have been funnier if it said I was eating all of it myself!) but it turned out to be a good conversation starter. The guy who rang me up at the checkout counter asked me if there were real carrots in carrot cake. Seriously…

On Thursday afternoon I started making the box mix cakes. It is so easy…

Baking for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

The first cake testing was held on Saturday, and I figured if there were any cakes that could withstand a couple days of being wrapped with plastic wrap, it would be the unnaturally moist, preservative-filled box mix cakes. Should I tell you how I really feel about box mix cakes??

And that’s not even half of what was made for the first tasting…I spent the next two days, right up to the 2pm tasting, making the rest of the cake. Luckily, my friend Kate, who also bakes and decorates cakes, was my accomplice in these extreme cake endeavors. She did everything from gathering supplies (who knew it would be next-to-impossible to find crème fraiche in Iowa?), to helping with the baking, to cutting the cakes and preparing for the tastings. It is great to know someone who is not only fun to hang out with, but who is also as obsessed with cake as I am. Here she is preparing for the first tasting:

Jones taste testing3 - www.talksweettome.com

Two friends of mine offered to host the tastings at their homes. The first tasting at Sarah and Dan’s house consisted of 26 different kinds of cake, some from a mix and some from scratch. Each of the mix cakes were paired with their corresponding from-scratch cake for the tasting for the ultimate in taste-testing analysis potential.

Jones taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

We learned from this tasting that 26 cakes, even when just trying a bite or two of each, was waaaayyyy too much cake and most tasters wanted nothing to do with cake for the next three weeks. No one should ever hate cake, and I think some of them did by the time we were finished.

Jones taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

That is why the second tasting at Katie and Kyle’s house had “just” 15 different cakes. Even fifteen different kinds of cake was pushing it for a few. But they were brave, soldiering on through the feelings of full-ness and sugar saturation.

Katie taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

To keep the tasting anonymous, I gave cakes different names and didn’t tell the tasters whether it was from scratch or from a mix. My scientific background finally came in handy with research methods!

Katie taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

For each kind of cake they tried, the tasters filled out a form that ranked the taste/flavor, texture, moisture, appearance, and perception of overall quality of the cake…and they also had to guess whether the cake was from a mix or from scratch. I realize this was just *slightly* over-the-top and I may have looked like a cake-obsessed fool with too much time on my hands, but in the end it was really, really helpful.

The results - talksweettome.com
From compiling the surveys, I found that most people can taste a cake mix accurately…but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it. I also concluded that there is no way I can use a boxed mix for my cakes. They are easy and inexpensive, but…for me they are cheating. And my tasters said that if a person is going to pay for a cake, they want to feel like they couldn’t have gone to the store and whipped it up out of a box themselves. Quite right. That is why I did all of this ridiculous work.

I am going to go rest now.

Looking back - talksweettome.com

When I look back at this, I’m fairly certain I’d do things differently this time around to develop recipes, but I still find this posting too hilarious to not share. One of the people who commented on this posting way-back-when said she concentrated on finding just one good recipe at a time and gathered smaller groups of friends to taste-test…a good vanilla recipe first, then a good chocolate, then red velvet, etc. It’s a great excuse to get friends together, and if you do one flavor at a time people might even go back for seconds of their favorite recipe, which is sometimes even more telling!

So…has anyone else out there done something similarly crazy? How did you come up with your go-to recipes? Please share your adventures with me in the comments!

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21st Birthday Cake and Hibiscus Bridal Shower 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 June 2008

I made a couple of cakes recently and thought it was about time to post them. The first is a pink-themed exploding stars cake for a 21st birthday. They wanted the numbers to be candles instead of made out of icing, but the only number candles I could find had a green outline and colorful confetti on them. They were U-G-L-Y! I had to make a white and pink “faceplate” out of icing for the candles so they would go with the rest of the cake. Here ‘tis:

Pink 21 exploding stars cake - Talk Sweet to Me

I also made a tropical-theme cake for the fun of it because I had a few layers of cake leftover after a cake testing bake-a-thon. I wish my design drawings looked as nice as those that Antony and Jonny do. I’m working on it. Perhaps my first mistake is that I grab the nearest piece of paper when an idea or picture of a cake pops into my head and start drawing. This means it is often on the back of a piece of scratch paper, a post-it note, or in this case, a used envelope!

Cake design drawing - Talk Sweet to Me

Don’t tell Handi, but I forgot to look back at my notes from when he taught me to make a hibiscus flower, so looked at a bunch of flower photos and came up with my own version instead. My inspiration:

Hibiscus inspiration images

And the sugar version:

Pink sugar hibiscus flower - Talk Sweet to Me

Since I don’t have any petal cutters or silicone veiners yet, I made my own template for the hibiscus petals and leaves out of cardboard and used the back of a knife to make the veining pattern on the petals. Turns out I made the cardboard template just *slightly* too big…the flowers are really overly-massive. They turned out okay, though, as the focal point for a cake. I thought the yellow hibiscus looked better with this particular color combination:

Shower cake with yellow sugar hibiscus flower - Talk Sweet to Me

I was told that the cake looks like a hat, which it does, but that wasn’t exactly the plan. I think it might need a message on the board to look more complete.

Ta ta for now.

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Trial and Error – Cupcake Recipe Taste Testing!

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 May 2008

My very good friend Louisa is getting married in California this fall and I volunteered to provide a cake for her wedding. She requested mint-chocolate cupcakes, since that is a favorite flavor combination (we ate waaayyy too many chocolate-mint brownies as roommates in college). Before the wedding, I figured I’d better find a great recipe and try it out. It was a good thing I did.

I found a cupcake blog with a recipe posted on it for chocolate cupcakes filled with a chocolate-mint ganache and topped with mint buttercream icing. Sounds out-of-this-world fabulous, right? So I baked up the cupcakes, made up the ganache, piped it into the cupcakes, and topped it with the recipe provided for the buttercream.

Here they are cooling on the rack:

Cupcakes cooling on rack - Talk Sweet to Me

And a picture of the cupcakes split in half showing the ganache inside:

Mint chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache filling - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was time to taste-test for quality control. I brought in my mom, who is probably to blame for my sweet tooth, and who also has discerning taste. We both took a bite and…bleh! The first problem was that the cream for the ganache was infused with real mint leaves. It came out tasting like…plants. I’ll be using mint extract from now on. Then the cupcakes were so dry (even though I used moistening syrup) that they crumbled apart like dirt…and sort of tasted like dirt as well. So the end result was a bit too earthy. Dirt texture and taste, plant flavor, etc. Gross. On to trial #2.

Trial #2 was a recipe from a cookbook that my mom has had forever. It wasn’t good either. However, my mom did get creative with the decorating part of things after coming in from the garden.

Mom decorating cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

Halfway through the tasting she says to me, “You know, you’re not the only one around here who can decorate cake.” Here was her creation.

Mom cupcake decoration - Talk Sweet to Me

A half-eaten cupcake with some gorgeous m&m’s pushed into it. She makes me so proud! We had a good laugh about that. At least it could solve a chocolate craving.

Trial #3 was from  one of those cupcake cookbooks where you add stuff to a mix to try to make it taste like a scratch cake. The cupcakes were fairly good and stayed moist for several days, but they still taste like a mix and I still feel like I’m cheating. However, this form of “cheating” requires almost just as much effort as making cupcakes from scratch since you have to add cocoa, buttermilk, whole milk, etc. to the mixture anyway, and it creates just as much mess. I personally think it contradicts the convenience of using a mix and it just doesn’t make that much sense. If you’re going to make a mess and take the time to measure out ingredients, for goodness sake, just make it from scratch!

I have to admit, though, that it is very convenient to make a cake from a box. You can’t mess it up, and it simply involves dumping the package into a bowl along with some eggs, oil, and water. So easy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For this trial, I used my own buttercream frosting recipe with mint extract added instead of the usual vanilla. That buttercream is definitely the winner and will be used in the final version.

Chocolate mint cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

In the end, I have decided to use one of the recipes I discovered during my cake taste-test trials from my friend Katie (who is a fabulous baker and excellent taste-tester!), fill the cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache, and top it with the winning recipe for mint buttercream. Easy.

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A Golf Themed 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 April 28, 2008

This week was a challenge because I had two cakes to complete and didn’t have the equipment I was used to or the cake and icing which used to magically appear at Planet Cake after Anna Maria ordered it. I know that’s obvious, but seriously, it was harder than I thought it was going to be. I have been running around town like a crazy-person trying to find all the supplies I need in order to make Planet Cake-style cakes from home. Both of my Grandpas had birthdays in early spring this year, so I returned just in time to get myself into the kitchen.

One of the main differences between making cakes here and making cakes at Planet Cake was that I had to make the cake myself. From scratch…making cakes from a box is cheating, but that’s just my oh-so-humble opinion. At Planet Cake it was really convenient to have everything dropped off from the bakers…something I appreciate even more now! I spent the entire day on Monday baking cake. 3 – 9×13 pans of vanilla butter cake, and 3 – 8” round layers of chocolate stout cake.

I used the chocolate stout cake for my Grandpa M’s cake. He likes to golf, so I wanted to make my own version of the normal Planet Cake golf cake for him…with a Grandpa figurine on the putting green.

I started with the 8” round layers…

Starting cake project - Talk Sweet to Me

…and cut them to shape.

Carving cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was time to cover and decorate the cake:

Covered golf cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Golf cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was on to the figurine!

Here is the picture of my Grandpa I worked from:

Grandpa picture

And the finished figurine:

Grandpa golfing sugar figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

A couple photos of the finished cake:

Golfing cake from front - Talk Sweet to Me

Golfing cake from side - Talk Sweet to Me

It was fun to get to actually see people enjoy receiving their cakes this week, something that didn’t happen very often at Planet Cake since a lot of them were either deliveries or picked up on Saturdays, when most of us weren’t there.

We dropped off the cake at Grandpa’s house…

Grandpa McElherne sees cake - Talk Sweet to Me

…and I think he liked it!

Grandpa likes his golf cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Grandpa McElherne party - Talk Sweet to Me

My grandpa had friends over later that evening and planned to serve the cake to them for dessert. Somehow, though, they convinced him that it was too nice a cake to cut and that he should keep it in his china cabinet. I had to gently explain that cakes are made for eating, and if he didn’t cut and eat it pretty soon it would go bad and start to smell. We all ate some later that week and it was goooooood…

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An 80th Birthday Cake – Full of Memories

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 June 2008

My Grandpa turned 80 this year, and the whole family gathered in Illinois for his birthday party. It was a blast to see everyone. I figured we needed cake. It all started with three 13×9 vanilla butter cakes and a plywood board wrapped with clear plastic.

Starting cake decorating project - Talk Sweet to Me

I cut the shape of the rolling hills,

Carving cake - Talk Sweet to Me

and covered it with ganache.

Ganached cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Then I covered the cake and the board with icing, adding a rough texture with the edge of a piece of broken styro…

Green hills 2 - Talk Sweet to Me

…and started in on some of the final decorations.

Green hills - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was time to make the Jeep. I carved the body of the Jeep out of styro and made the wheel covers and front windshield base from balsa wood.

Sugar Jeep in process 4 - Talk Sweet to Me

The wheels had aluminum foil as their support, and were later iced, glued to the end of a skewer, and inserted into the styro.

Sugar Jeep in process 3 - Talk Sweet to Me

My Grandpa worked for ALCOA for years, and had seat cushions in the back of the Jeep for all of us to sit on, so I painted the logo onto the cushions. A penny is there for size reference on (the penny is a bit bigger than a 5 cent piece in Australia, but smaller than the 10 cent piece). I had to use my version of Margie’s ninja brush!

Sugar Alcoa cushions - Talk Sweet to Me

Then I covered the Jeep, which was quite tricky (especially since the styro I used was different, lumpy, and gross to work with), added seats, steering wheel, cushions, and gear shift, and got ready to put the top on.

Sugar Jeep in process 2 - Talk Sweet to Me

Working…

Working on sugar jeep - Talk Sweet to Me

I made a “cage” out of skewers and then glued acetate onto them so there would be clear windows, leaving the doors open as they were on the Jeep, and painting the insides of the skewers black so they couldn’t be seen when you looked in the windows from the outside.

Sugar Jeep in process - Talk Sweet to Me

Then I put the black top on and cut out the windows. This is the back of the reference Jeep image I used.

Example Jeep 2

And the view from the back. My Grandpa’s Jeep was box-ier, a different color, and had a different seating arrangement than the reference Jeep, so I had to work from memory a little bit.

Back of sugar jeep close up - Talk Sweet to Me

Reference Jeep from the front…

Example Jeep 1

…and the miniature version:

Sugar jeep close-up 2 - Talk Sweet to Me

Here is the Jeep once it was placed on the cake. Watch out for those cow pies in the prairie! My Dad used to pretend to fall off the back of the Jeep and nearly landed in one…

Sugar jeep close-up - Talk Sweet to Me

The finished cake…

Whoop de do cake - Talk Sweet to Me

My Grandpa used to take me, my sister, and my two cousins for rides in the Jeep whenever we visited. He took us out on the prairie, and every time we went over the hills, he called them “whoop-de-dos.” Then he would turn around, go over them the other way, and call them “do-de-whoops.” Hence the message on the board…

Back of Jeep birthday cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Sometimes we also got “stuck” in the creek and my Grandpa would tease that we would all have to get out and push. The creek was important enough to make an appearance on the cake too.

The cake and Jeep made it to Illinois on a 3.5-hour car ride with no problems whatsoever. Presenting Grandpa with his 80th birthday cake…

Grandpa likes the cake

Then it was time to light the candles and blow them out!

Grandpa blowing out candles - Talk Sweet to Me

Done!

Cake eaten - Talk Sweet to Me

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