Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Long Overdue Update From Neen

I don’t even know where to begin with this blog as so much has happened in the time since my last blog was posted.

The end of May was possibly my most challenging since my internship began. This time, it had nothing to do with the cakes though. I was going through quite a huge burst of homesickness and was having to deal with a few personal problems happening at home. The problem was, of course, was that I am living in Sydney and my family are in Melbourne.
I was completely on edge and, quite honestly, had so much trouble focusing on my work.

Everything came to a head on the night that I was leaving Sydney to spend a full 10 days in Melbourne with my family for a mid internship break.
I had been assigned and amazing 3 tier wedding cake with an extended and quilted base tier, a technique that I had never attempted and completed successfully! Next was another extended tier covered in bling with a big black bow at the base. The top tier was another extended that was to be hand painted with a chandelier and adorned with a few small splashes of bling.
My 1st attempt on the top tier was a major fail. I covered the cake and the whole thing just looked warped and off. I stripped the cake to re ganache and realised that the cake itself was extremely soft and unstable. I added stability by placing another board between the two extended tiers of the cake and proceeded to re ganache the cake and leave it to set.

It was important to me to have this cake finished before I left work that evening to head to Melbourne so I had scheduled my time line accordingly and was on track to have it done.

I finally covered the top tier and prepared to hand paint the chandelier on. I was a little nervous about this as I would usually leave the cake overnight prior to painting but it had to be done after only a couple of hours drying.

With a steady hand and a great deal of patience, I finished the painting and was so proud of my efforts. The last things to do were to place the top tier on the cake and cover the board.

With about a half an hour until I was due to leave work, I placed the top tier onto the cake. With this, the entire cake cracked right down the center and there was no salvaging it. I literally burst into tears. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it and I HAD to get to the airport.

All I can say is thank God for Neoko and her calmness and generous spirit. She took my order, got a new cake out and ganached it with lightning speed as per usual. She told me to go home to my family, relax and just have a lovely time.

It was a bittersweet moment. I so desperately wanted to see the cake through from beginning to end as I had worked so hard on it however, I just felt so lucky to have the support of my team to make things right. I took the now sad and sorry looking top tier and hurled it into the rubbish bin which seemed to alleviate my tension somewhat!

The 10 days back at home with my family was exactly what I needed and not only gave me time with my amazing children and husband but also gave me the chance to start getting my business into order with a new name, logo and web site all sorted.

Just as I was almost ready to head back to Sydney and get back into work, some volcano had to go and erupt and leave a ginormous and potentially deadly ash cloud over Melbourne which ended up delaying my return to Planet Cake by 4 days. Just in time to begin Basics 107, the vase cake, with Anna Maria.

I am completely refreshed and calm after my break and feel ready to tackle the remaining 2 and a half months with gusto!

So, that is about where I am up to at this point. I have decided to delay writing the details about my 107 class as I am set to do 108 and 109 this week with my intern sister Michelle. Our next blog will be a joint one about our experience of being the student rather than the intern.

I cant wait to share it all with you.

Happy caking

Neen x

P.S. They haven't all been so disasterous! Some of the other cakes I have done recently...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another update from Shell

I am about to embark on 3 weeks of SERIOUS CAKE CLASS MADNESS! Starting at Basics 107 and working through to Masters, but before I get there let me give you a run down of what I've been up to more recently.

Now - I need to be honest here... I'm a tried and true Melbourne girl, so when I was asked to make a rugby ball cake... well... I just didn't quite get the point. Why didn't the birthday boy want an AFL footy? And who exactly are the Crusaders? Regardless of all that, a Rugby ball seemed like such a straight forward design but I have to admit that it did take me quite some time to get it looking uniform. I also actually fretted a little with the prospect of covering the shape but due to the seam running down the centre of the ball it was easy enough to just pinch and cut away the excess icing at the join point. And although the point of the cake was lost on me I think it turned out pretty great.

So... it seems as though the classic "shooting stars" is exceptionally popular. In fact - I had two on the cards to make in a couple days! Kylie pretty much set up the girly one and I just gave her a hand to put on the finishing touches. The boy one was all me, and I think I could get it done with my eyes closed this time! They are such a great design and I would highly recommend those newbie cake decorators to give it a go... or of course you could sign up for the ever popular and AWESOME Planet Cake Basics 101 course and we could show you the tricks of the trade first hand... if you are SUPER keen and from the beautiful Melbourne you may even have an opportunity to get it taught to you by me one day! That is if you’re really lucky... (I'll keep you posted).

Back onto novelty cakes and I did a couple last week that made it to my favorites list. Firstly a cute lady bird cake and secondly a Penfolds red wine bottle. Although they were both 3D novelty cakes they were both set up slightly differently. Both cakes were torted and ganached as per normal. For the Lady bird I created a template out of cardboard for the cake to be built on. Once shaped I then covered it and then transferred it onto my covered base board. For the wine bottle, I actually set it up, shaped and covered it straight onto the base board. The reasons for this is the cake design, particularly the fragile neck of the bottle. If I had set it up and covered it on a template and tried to transfer it over to the base board, it would have been very difficult for me to do so without ruining the smooth finish.

Don't you think the bottle looks really life like? Well, to get that effect it was actually covered in a deep red icing colour and airbrushed with green and brown. Ritzy gave me a great demo of airbrushing and one of the key things to this shape is making sure you airbrush more heavily around the base of the cake and areas in the bottle where the "glass" is "bended" i.e. where the body of the bottle moves into the neck and the very bottom of the bottle. It is actually a little difficult to see in the picture, but in real life you can see the red icing showing through the air bushing a little. How very clever! Although I do wonder how many of you out there would be happier with a giant size bottle of wine in place of this chocolate mud cake one?

Last but not least, I had the pleasure of working on a cute pink christening cake. The design speaks for itself (and I have to admit it was awesome to work on a basic round for a change) but it did give me an opportunity to work on a figurine bear (my first at PC). I know it probably doesn't quite look like it is supposed to but it made me smile, so what more could you want? And before you start thinking of adding those cute cubes with the letters on them to your next cake design let me just give you a word of warning... they will literally suck the time out of your day and look super small for all your efforts. But by all means give it a go if you can spare the time and I'll admit it is a cute way to add in the special cake recipients initials.

So that's it for me in the production kitchen for a couple weeks. I'll keep you up to date with my progress through the courses...

Happy Caking,

Shell xx

Shell's weekly tip: GLOSS GLOSS GLOSS

When applying a glossy finish to your cakes I would recommend using a large, flat sided, soft bristle brush. At Planet Cake we use crystalline and apply the gloss in long even strokes. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should avoid physically touching the glossed surface onceit is applied as you will end up with finger print marks - not a good look! So keep this in mind and try to make glossing your cake one of you very last steps. And one more thing - If you plan on airbrushing your cake try glossing first and then add the airbrushing colour on top. This will prevent any colour streaking and still get a great finish.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Update from Shell

Already another two weeks have passed and I'm left wondering how time flies so quickly.
On our last week of filming Neen and I were hit with the task of managing all the online orders so the other team members could be made abailable to work on some other crazy complex cakes. Lucky for us, we employed the help of Kylie to take on the role of the interns-intern. She was more than willing to help as we spent the first day of the week ganaching our hearts out.

Although I had a number of cakes to work on, My biggest challenge assigned was to create a 3D snoopy cake. Not having worked on many (or really any) 3D cartoon cakes, I knew this would test my skills. I started by meticulously measuring up my reference picture and shapping the cake. At the end of the day when I stood back and looked at the cake I knew something was wrong... The length- right, the height- right, the basic shape - right, but as a whole it was definetely not right. I went home in the hope that in the morning I would be in a better place to figure out what was going wrong.

I have to say, one thing I've noticed about making great cakes is that there comes a time in you planned schedule that you have to make a decision. Do you continue with the cake you currently have got that perhaps isn't perfect but you have already invested a few hours in and you know will still end up looking really good, or do you decide to abandon said plan and take the time to redo what has been done and blow out your time schedule and accept what you know will result in a few late evenings of decorating. For me my snoopy cake I opted for plan B and after taking the time to re-look at it with some fresh eyes and then requesting some advice from our resident Queen of all things 3D - Margie, I finally found out what was wrong was my cake. It was flat. So I ended up re-shaping it again to round out the edges of the cake. After that I was happy and could move onto the covering.
For covering this type of cake I knew I would end up with ALOT of extra icing. I could have slowly worked the folds down around the cake but I had a think about my design and thought about where I could create some folds in the icing for me to cut away and then ultimatly cover the join lines with other details. For me and snoopy, these areas were under snoopy's ears and arms. This method meant covering Snoopy was as less stressful as possible.
Throughout the whoile process of making this cake I refered back to my reference picture and measurements as often as possible to make sure all the elements on the cake were in proportion and correct. I think in the end I think he turned out great... even when looking through red tired eyes...

With the cameras and filming finally behind us, I was happy to start the week with a strange, but very much welcomed calmness in the air, and for the first time since starting at planet cakes almost 2 months ago I was only assigned two cakes to work on. Although the number was low, Paris was keen to test my attention to detail with designs that relied on very sharp and straight finishes to achieve great results.

The 3 tier wedding cake actually proved challenging due to both the difficulty in covering the extended height (particularly the top tier) and the placement of the ribbon. I must admit right here and now that I made the assumption that I could wrap the ribbon around the cake in no time at all. The reality, and trust me I'm not over exaggerating, but almost 2 hours after starting I employed the help of Neoko to help me finish the job because it was driving me coco banana's! Yep, that's right, over 2 hours! My advice- don't design a round cake with ribbon wrapping around it, leave it to the square cakes. Round cakes really don't lend themselves to having geometric lines wrapped around them, especially when you need to achieve straight lines so if doesn't end up looking like you were drunk while placing them.

My other cake assigned was the ever popular cube. Unlike the unforeseen challenges in the wedding cake I knew the square was a particularly time consuming design and in fact a design that I was most nervous about creating. To begin with I needed to prepare support for a double stacked 8" cake, and although I didn't realise it at first, I needed to set up a centre poll and also have a second cake board in the middle if the cake to ensure it would stay secure.

After ganaching and measuring every side to ensure a perfect square I have to say covering the undercoat was remarkable easy. I stated by covering the two side panels separately and then the last three panels with one long sheet of icing. By cutting off the excess at the joins you end up with quite a straight finish.

Next, I needed to create the pale blue coloured frame around the edge of the block. For this to look great I knew the lines needed to be perfectly straight. I know there are a numbers of was people do this but for me I worked on one section of the frame at a time starting with the top 4 lengths, then moving onto the four side lengths and finishing with the bottom found lengths.

This method is probably a little more time consuming, but it worked for me. I actually used this method to also cover the little blocks, which took up almost half a day to make. Like I said, this cake is deceivingly very time consuming, but my most proud accomplishment to date.

Shell's weekly tip: STOP, LOOK and LISTEN

If you know that things are just not going right and your groove is MIA, just STOP! Sometimes when you start getting frustrated you can start making things worse than they already are. Re-LOOK at what you are trying to achieve. Perhaps re measure your cake or refer to some new references. If you've re-looked at things and it still dosent seem to be quite there, then use your life line and phone a friend. If you don't have someone close by then jump on the planet cake tea party forum and get some advice and LISTEN to what other people have experienced in the past, their advice is priceless!

By the way - To find out more about the other MEGA cakes that were made by the rest of the team in the last few weeks you will unfortunatly need to wait for the TV series to come out later in the year. Trust me, the wait is definitely worth it!

Happy caking,

Shell xx