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Posts Tagged ‘buttercream’

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Preposterously late in blogging this week due to crewing, writing deadlines, and—most of all—the little engine that finally could, pictured here. It was a gift from a bride to her new husband, a FDNY fireman.

This was my first effort in combining cake (technically brownies, and stick around for the story on that) and candy (rolled fondant, ditto), and let’s just say there was a bit of a learning curve. It was due April 23. Let’s look at the timeline.

April 1-April 21: Buy ingredients for a chocolate sponge cake, which would be sturdy enough to handle the heft of icing on top as well as the trip into Brooklyn, and all extraneous supplies. Review two Youtube videos, especially the one with the woman who sounds like an Australian flight attendant, for clues on how to get this structure standing. IM two bakers and a fireman to pick their brains. Create lists upon lists.

April 22: Noon. Bake chocolate sponge cake in shallow pans per the flight attendant, and figure that anything with 16 eggs in it will surely rise. Gloat a little on how well you’ve planned. Once baked, note that it more closely resembles a brown Fruit Roll-Up than a cake. Stop gloating.

2p: Bake again—another 16 eggs, mind you—in a 9 x 13″ pan. When it’s cool two hours later, remove it from the pan and find a distressing semi-dried eggy pool at the bottom. Panic. Taste a smidge. Re-panic when, eggy weirdness aside, it also tastes like a Sealy Posturepedic. Tuck entirety unceremoniously into a giant plastic bag and freeze, not having the heart to throw it away.

4p: Pull out my no-fail brownie recipe. Head to store for a second 9 x 13″ pan as well as more eggs, and hope I don’t continue to insult the nation’s chickens.

5p: Bake and let cool. Start making fondant details for the engine. Make buttercream icing and tint with red gel paste. Stack up brownies with raspberry jam and cover with buttercream, which I was assured would lie smoothly. After two coats, it still does not. Re-panic, realize I have to cover the cake with fondant if it’s ever going to lie smoothly, and hope I can do a decent job, since I’ve never covered a cake with fondant in my life.

8p: Pull out every fondant package I own. Re-re-panic when realize have run out of red gel paste. Too tired and busy making fondant details to head back out for more, and besides, the store is probably closed. Continue making details while doing something resembling Lamaze breathing. It does not produce new jars of red gel paste, let alone a completed fire engine cake, regrettably.

April 23, 8a: At the store the very minute it opens, grab three red gel pastes, dash home, add 2.5 entire jars of it to a whole package of fondant, and cover the cake. Be grateful that it looks better, if not great. Brownies are bumpy little buggers. Finish accessorizing. Deliver 45 minutes late.

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I do kind of dig my little hose. It looks like a Claymation graphic.

I learned a crucial lesson: planning for a month doesn’t always mean smooth sailing. But it’s cool. I also punted problems left and right. The cake didn’t collapse on the way to Brooklyn. I knew, if nothing else, my brownie recipe wouldn’t fail me.

And let’s face it: I heard the groom and his buddies took the cake back to the firehouse and devoured it. A gaggle of happy firemen with their faces stuffed with homemade brownies is reward enough.

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So’s a Dalmation that bears a striking resemblance to Snoopy.

I’ve slowly been eating the sponge cake broken into pieces. After a few days and doused in plain vanilla yogurt, it’s not half bad.

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‘A few trifles’ is a quote from the stage drama Little Women, and the food you see here is what I made for the show, which is going on all this month in Holmdel, NJ. As prop goddess, it’s my job to rent, buy or make (not to mention schlep, maintain and track down from actors) everything that’s brought on and off stage. I often have to provide real (what we call ‘practical’) food for shows that call for actors to eat on stage. But the director for this production decided all of the Christmas Day treats that old Mr. Laurence next door sends over to the March family will be impractical—just for looks. I’m a stickler for authenticity on stage, and the theatre space is small, with the audience just feet away from the onstage action, so this took some doing.

The script describes the spread: chocolates, ice cream, fruitcake and cream puffs. I thought about buying most of it and polyurethaning the crap out of it so it would last the run of the show (and so the actors and mice wouldn’t eat it).* But I couldn’t find puffs that weren’t already filled with cream (which would spoil); fruitcake is tough to find in April; and ice cream wouldn’t survive beyond Act I Scene I.

Plan B, which I went with, was to make a bunch of homemade play dough and form it the way I do marzipan. Click on the photos to take a better look. This is my first go with shaping play dough for stage. Everything pictured here, except for the holly sprig on the cake, is made of play dough.

To make it: I combined 3 cups flour, 1.5 cups salt, and 6 teaspoons cream of tartar in one bowl and 3 cups water and 1/3 cup cooking oil in another. You can also add food coloring to the liquid. Then I added dry and liquid together and poured it into a heavy-bottomed pan over medium low heat. I stirred frequently until the mixture got thick and rubbery and lost its sheen. Then I took it off the heat to cool. Once it is, you can shape it into anything you want. Here’s what I did.

For the chocolates in the top tier of the epergne above: I shaped quarter-sized balls, flattened them, and let them dry out for a few days. Then I painted them with brown acrylic** paint and let that dry. I topped them with white acrylic paint in peaks, as if it were buttercream. Once that was dry, I covered them with polyurethane.

For the cream puffs: I shaped balls about 2″ in diameter and topped them with balls about 1″ in diameter, which looks very much the way choux pastry looks when piped, before it’s baked. Then I brushed on acrylic wood polish with a very light hand—just so they’d look slightly browned—and poly’ed them. Since the play dough wasn’t dried out beforehand, when I poly’ed them they cracked a bit. It makes them look like authentic puffs.

For the fruitcake, shown above (sliced) and below: I wanted to model it after Traditional English Fruitcake, which I imagined was a holiday favorite of Mr. Laurence, and one he wanted to share with his neighbors. First I kneaded in edible brown gel paste from my candy supply basket. But once it dried, it turned a disagreeable, asteroidlike shade of brownish green. On went the brown paint and then poly, the latter of which gave the cake an appealing gloss that made it look moist, buttery and alcohol soaked. I sliced it with a serrated knife.

I made a real fruitcake last Christmas, and iced and decorated it in the style of the south of England. For this one, I decorated it in the northern style—very simply, with bits of play dough shaped to suggest sliced almonds, lightly wood stained so they’d look toasted, and I scattered them around the edges. A sprig of holly was inserted into the middle, and I replace it with a fresh one each weekend.

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For the ice cream:  The show takes place in New England in the 1860s, before vanilla was the common flavoring it is today. Lemon was common, though. Let’s call the below lemon.

To give it a realistic effect, I used an ice cream scooper to scoop the soft play dough into the bowl. I chose a silver one which had a frosted-over look, suggesting the ice cream was creating condensation on the outside of the bowl. Then, while still soft, I covered it with lots of poly. Like the puffs, this made it crack a bit on top and gave it a subtly iced-over look, and the extra poly made it appear slick and slightly melting.

Good times.

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*Bit of an editorial there, especially the choice to put actors before mice; actors show far less discretion. When I propped Chekov’s Three Sisters in college, I had to provide a huge platter of impractical pastries for one scene. I bought real ones, and the actors nibbled at it like stoners until I was forced to shellac it. Even then I still needed to post a sign telling them to keep their sticky paws off it. Though I quite, QUITE relished hearing the occasional ‘Bleah! Goddammit!’ from actors who either weren’t literate or thought the sign was a joke.

**This is latex, or water-based paint—my favorite. Oil-based paint is nice and shiny, but it takes longer to dry, is more of a hassle because you need to buy turpentine, a solvent, to clean your paintbrush, and until it dries your house smells like a Sunoco station.

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A portion of Deal Lake, which almost surrounds Interlaken.

There are many things—garishly colored bug juice, for one—that are pretty much appreciated by kids alone. Autumn, on the other hand, is for grownups. I don’t think any of us can appreciate autumn until we’re finally allowed to disassociate it from having to go back to school. As much as I love summer, autumn is delicious, sensuous in a way that July and August can’t compare—a dazzling, aging beauty, at one moment exuberant with passion and color and at another wistful, melancholy. While summer is two-dimensional, a childlike, right-now-in-the-moment Eden, autumn sees its fate across the calendar. Is there beauty in resignation? Maybe so. I think it’s this inherent wisdom in the season that gives it its sweetness.

In autumn I love walking through my hometown, a place in which, to paraphrase the adage, you can hardly see the town for the trees. It’s a strictly residential community, and to look at an aerial-view map, you’d think Interlaken was a forest. Its trees, many 100 years old or more, are enveloping and comforting. Peering up through their rustling leaves on a late-autumn afternoon and seeing thick, heavy, soot-grey clouds is thrilling, the way, as a kid, you loved watching the Wicked Witch of the West on television as long as your mom’s arms were tight around you.

Leaves in the lake.

We had just begun to enjoy autumn here at the Jersey Shore when Hurricane Sandy hit. And sadly, it took most of the leaves with it by the time it was through with us. Still, I took a walk on Thanksgiving Day to sink into the season, and let it sink into me, before the holidays eclipsed it. The park I visited is in Oakhurst, just a couple of miles inland, where autumn’s stark beauty was everywhere.

Sycamore branch.

Pasture and farmhouse.

Windfall.

Sycamore and pasture.

Today I bought local unfiltered apple cider and had a taste. It was as mellow as the autumn sky. And soon I will be baking a cider cake, making a cider buttercream icing for it, having friends and family over to eat it up with me—and making autumn last just a little bit longer.

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