Practice Makes Perfect or Perfect Practice Makes Perfect?

6 Apr

Spring has sprung (at least on some days). Feets and arms and knees and such are about to come out of hibernation.  Combined with changing fashions, I have to face the truth: pleated shirts cannot carry my stomach through another warm season. Getting my capris and shorts out of storage didn’t help, either. Dang it!

Something Must Be Done. Drastic Measures Must Be Taken.

But what?

I have to stop making so much cake and buttercream “just for practice.” Still, I do need the practice. My piping skills have gone from so-so, just need to perfect the rose and writing, to “are you sure you’ve done this before?”  I, my friends, have over-fondanted. I like fondant. It’s fun, it’s crisp, it doesn’t involve quite the amount of small motor skills as piping. Plus, I don’t eat much fondant as I practice. I wish I could say the same for buttercream. Fat and sugar, sugar and fat. Yum! I started playing with buttercream again to sharpen my skills. After all, some day fondant will be passé and clients will go searching for the caker who cakes “the old-fashioned way.” I must be prepared, right?

With my sugar addiction in full swing once more, and my summer clothes laughing when I tried to squeeze them beyond my Shar Pei thighs, I’m gradually changing things up in the kitchen. Mr. Handy is cool with salad for dinner once a week (after many eons of trying to slip it in) and leftovers are still breeding like rabbits since the kiddos decided to engage in some strange ritual called “college and job” so it’s easier for me to take those leftovers and make a meal for one that’s not packed full of the carb fest of rice and noodles that my Sugar Daddy, ooops! husband, adores. I’m drinking more (the non-alcoholic, non-calorie version of that word. No need to replace one addiction with another, I suppose). Still, that leaves the cake/buttercream issue. How can I practice without sugar laden goodies?  Everyone I know says they want free cakes, but no one is willing to come pick them up. That leaves a lot of cake in my kitchen.

I never wanted to do this. It seems like such a waste. Waste is bad. Save the earth, save the chocolate, save the buttercream! Alas, the return of my mother’s stomach in the mirror leaves me no choice. I must practice, gulp!, without cake. But, wait! you say; because you are smart like that. What about the buttercream? Does this mean that now I get to eat buttercream by the mixing spoonful since I cut out the cake calories? Alas, no, it does not. With the exception of the occasional, “what the crap is going on with the frosting? cake, my crumb and final coat are not a problem. I can smooth out nearly every crater you throw at me. Piping practice is what I need and that, my dear friends in cake, does not take much buttercream at all. In comparison, anyway. A quart sized baggie instead of the mondo gallon sized ones. Add in that you stick a tip in a bag, and not much buttercream flies anywhere anymore, much less near the pie hole. *Sigh* I’m in mourning. Is that natural? Don’t answer that. I don’t really want to know right now. Maybe later.

Lest you think this blog has become a confessional of purging caking demons, I do have a tutorial in mind. Waaaaiiit for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out of buttercream. My recipe takes 4 lbs. of powdered sugar so just imagine for a moment how much buttercream that makes. A Lot. A lot of buttercream, a lot of calories, a lot of inches on the waist. We all know that no matter what we say to ourselves before it happens, there will be buttercream calories on the scale the next day. I like to think it’s magic. Too bad that magic doesn’t transfer to my once cute as heck shorts, huh?

I was firm with myself for once and made an alternate choice.

No, not that kind.

 I’ve heard you can do this with toothpaste, but toothpaste is a lot more expensive than buttercream. I think. I haven’t actually run the numbers, but it seems to my sugar addicted mind that it is. So, no buttercream and no toothpaste. What’s left?

Chocolate

Stay with me here. I haven’t gone off the deep end yet. Probably not, anyway.

Yes, chocolate is still a lot of sugar. No denying my way around that. I also love the taste of chocolate. So much that I will eat sugar-free chocolate despite a case of the toots the rest of the day.  I had been piddling around with the idea of trying chocolate transfers again. You see, I fail at buttercream transfers. I’m missing the gene for it or something. But chocolate, maybe chocolate is the answer. Plus, the chocolate discs can be used in small amounts and are fast to melt and be ready for use when I have an hour to spare to play around. The other handy property of chocolate is: it’s hard to eat much when it’s flowing like Wllly Wonka’s river through the piping bag. You’re too busy trying to keep it corralled to eat much of it. It’s also messy as heck so you spend a fair amount of time with a washcloth in one hand and a piping bag in the other.

So, chocolate it is. Now, I’m not saying I’m a whizz here. No chocolate transfer miracles occurred. These things take time and practice. But one day, maybe; one day I might practice enough and the seas will part and the chocolate will stay put and not lump and I will create awesomeness. Just maybe not today.

It helped that I just read the Whimsical Bakehouse book.

Full of chocolate plaque visions, I tried a beaver first.

Heh. He’s a bit rabid, doncha think?

It’s tough to keep the chocolate at the right temperature: melted enough to flow smoothly but not so thin that it’s running like it’s had too much fiber, if you know what I mean (These kinds of thoughts keep me from considering consuming it in vast amounts while I’m practicing). I did a little better when I free handed a cloud looking object.

Okay, maybe I need more practice. Still, it looks better than my last wrestling match with buttercream transfer, so there’s hope in there somewhere.

What I really liked was writing with it. No messing about with the elusive perfect consistency ‘cause chocolate is what it is. I got brave enough at the end to even try a little freehand action.

Yup. Still can’t freehand. However, notice that there are no breaks in the chocolate. It’s actually even fairly straight. The bottom is even, but the top needs work. Also, spacing is still a problem. I think I need to figure out how to either get a template on the cake and pipe over it or figure out how to remove the chocolate from the wax paper without breaking it so I can place the words on the cake.

Yes, I know about using piping gel and rubbing it onto the cake, but these ol’ eyes aren’t getting any sharper so I have my doubts it would be obvious enough to be useful for me. Plus, I’m pretty good at smearing things when I shouldn’t.

There’s info everywhere about how to do this, so I’ll make this short. You need:

Waxed paper

Image/template

Chocolate discs

Disposable piping bag

Microwave

Tape

You can get the template by printing the picture of your choice from your computer. I suggest one without a lot of details to start. Also, look out for impossibly teeny spaces you won’t be able to get chocolate into.  Like girl child beaver wrists.

For the writing, I used Word and typed with different fonts, and then printed it.

Place your template on your workspace and tape it down to keep it from moving. Place the waxed paper over the template, and tape that down, too. Don’t use tons of tape or you won’t be able to remove the waxed paper easily.

Place a dozen or so chocolate discs in the piping bag and microwave the bag in 20 to 30 second increments. Take it out, smoosh it around to mix, repeat as needed. Stop nuking it when it’s almost completely melted. The remaining heat and smooshing will finish the job without burning the chocolate.

Snip a tiny hole in the end of the bag. You’ll have to experiment a little to figure out the right size. If that’s too frustrating, grab another disposable bag and rig it up with a coupler and a small round tip. Not to state the obvious, but don’t put your couplers or tips in the microwave. It will be pretty, but no good shall come of it. Once you have the second bag ready, snip off the end of the first bag (the one without the coupler and tip) and insert it inside the first bag.

Now, you’re ready to practice. If you messed around with royal icing and cookies, you know what to do. If not, here’s how:

For images: outline the image, including any parts you want separated from the rest like the arms. You are building the image from the front to the back. This means you create the facial features, let the chocolate set, and then fill in the other parts like the belly and feet. If you want toe/finger nails, pipe those and let it set before you make the actual foot/hand. I hope that makes sense. Look at your image for a couple of minutes and think about how you need to build it. You may even want to write it down for reference and to make sure you’re not overlooking something.

The important things to remember are:

Let each layer harden before adding the next

Chocolate spreads

For writing: just have at it. Remember to move your arm rather than your hand and to let the line fall into place rather than trying to etch it onto the surface like you do with a pencil.

What I don’t know yet: how to make the chocolate smooth.

I know I have to keep it melted, but the stuff is hardening in the bag and I’m trying to hurry before I run out of time and it’s a rock again so I just hope it all levels out.

It doesn’t.

It seems to me that it also needs to be cool enough that it doesn’t melt the features I’ve already added (like eyes) and it also can’t push down on those features to make them spread and thus make the image look messy/creepy. Eh, it’s a work in progress.

Leftovers: like dinner, I always have leftover chocolate and I believe, with all my heart, that every time you throw chocolate in the trash, a butterfly loses a wing (just kidding, kids. Calm down). Therefore, I put the leftover chocolate into a mold and, after it sets, bag it for use another day.

Now, put down that frosting and give me 2 miles on the treadmill! The dreaded bathing suit is just around the corner!

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

 

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