May 11, 2016

Frozen Buttercream Transfer Tutorial

Okay, you guys know how I'm not a cake decorator, right? Like, you've been here through all of my rants about how the Cake Boss and similar shows have made people think baker = decorator when most decorators aren't actually great bakers. (I know a lot of cake decorators who use box mix because it's easier, quicker, and they can spend more time decorating. I'm not hating, I'm just saying that you don't have to be both) I know with me, I really don't have the patience for most cake decorating. Occasionally, I'll go a bit manic and decide that I can make royal icing transfers or dalek cupcakes, but even then, I'm aware of my limitations and try to keep things simple.

So when I tell you that that cake up there was super easy to decorate, you'd best believe me.
A frozen buttercream transfer is a cake decorating technique that works pretty much like it sounds. You create the design with buttercream and freeze it to transfer on to the cake. It's similar to the RI transfers I did for my Balance cupcakes, but unlike royal icing, the buttercream will only need 1-2 hours in the freezer to "set," and it won't harden. That means once you put it on the cake, you just need to let it defrost for about 15 minutes, and the buttercream is soft and creamy once more. People will think you're magic when they realize the design is delicious frosting and not edible paper.

Also unlike a RI transfer, if a frozen buttercream transfer cracks or breaks while moving it, it's no big deal. Let the buttercream soften for a minute and then press the cracked pieces back together, smoothing it out gently with your finger or a piece of waxed paper. Mine broke into three pieces when I moved it to the cake. Can you tell where it happened? Cause I sure can't.
Can't draw? No sweat. Coloring pages work perfectly with this technique. You can find all sorts of free coloring pages online (which is what I did), or you can get coloring books for cheap just about anywhere (and if you've got kidlets running around, you can just borrow one of theirs)
This is the image I used, which I got for free on AZ Coloring. If you're just doing a character cake, you can just print it on out and get started. However, since a frozen buttercream transfer is an inverse technique, if you have any writing like I did, or if your image has to face a certain way, you have to flip the image. You can do this in any photo editor, or even in a Word document, which I did (the pan I used was roughly the same size as a piece of printer paper, so that was the quickest way to make sure the image took up most of the page).

If you're using a physical coloring book, you can scan the image in and flip it, or you can trace the image on tracing paper with a sharpie, then just flip the tracing paper over.
Tape your image onto a flat, portable surface (I used a cutting board), tape a piece of waxed paper on top of it, and start outlining. If your outline color is black, you're probably going to want to use a tube of black decorator's icing rather than homemade. True black is hard to get without massive amounts of food coloring and the premade black is less likely to bleed. Most people recommend using Wilton, but I didn't feel like going to Michaels just for a tube of frosting, so I used Cake Mate brand, which is carried in my local supermarket and has special tips you can screw right onto the tube. The tip was a little too big (the smallest they had was a #3), but otherwise it worked out fine.

Once your outline is finished, stick it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to set up. This is not strictly necessary, but it will help prevent bleeding and makes it easier when you fill in the rest of your colors.

While your outline is chilling, you can go ahead and mix up your buttercream. You don't want to use store bought frosting as you need the butter for it to freeze firm, so you'll want to use a recipe that's at least half butter (half shortening). If shortening skeeves you, I see no reason you can't use all butter, it will just need more time to thaw, and it won't take color as well.

I used 1 cup unsalted butter, 1 cup solid white vegetable shortening, 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste, a pinch of salt, and I didn't actually measure the sugar, but it was probably about 4 cups.
Once your outline is set and your buttercream is ready, you can start filling in your colors. I had planned out my colors before hand and I knew I would need a lot of white, so I just went in order of "colors that can be used to make other colors" (leftover pink was used to make purple, yellow made orange made brown). There's probably a better way to do it, but this worked for me. Make sure your buttercream is at room temperature, pipe it in (I didn't use a tip, but you can if you need more control)

Now, I specifically chose this design to cover the whole top of the cake, which is why I needed fill in all that white in the last picture. You don't have to do that. It depends on your design and your preference. I just like to do it this way. If your transfer is not going to take up the whole cake like mine, you'll just need to use your background color (in my case, white) to fill in any gaps (like the holes in the "hoot hoot"). Stick the transfer back in the freezer for another 15 minutes.

The last step, which I forgot to take pictures of, is a layer of more white (or whatever your background color is) over the entire transfer, making sure it's smooth and even. This makes sure you have an even base for the transfer. If you skip it, the frosting might sag once it thaws, and that doesn't look good.
Place it back in the freezer and freeze for a minimum of two hours. Once fully frozen, you can flip it onto your cake, or if you're making it ahead, like I did, wrap it up in a few layers of plastic wrap and keep it in the freezer until you need it. I made mine a week ahead, but as long as it's wrapped tight, I don't see why you couldn't keep it in there for 2 or 3 weeks.
Place it on the cake while still frozen, then let it thaw for about fifteen minutes. The transfer is thick, about half an inch thick, so piping a border around the edge helps it look a little more seamless. Of course, I'd never piped a shell border before in my life, so I'm not sure it actually did much to help. Once the buttercream is thawed, you can cut the cake as usual, and watch all your guests try to figure out how you did it.

May 4, 2016

R2D2 Brownie Bites

You may or may not remember back when I made the Dalek Cupcakes, I used a brownie pop pan to get the rounded top of the dalek's head. What you don't know, is that I didn't just buy the pan to make daleks. I remember thinking, looking at the pan, that it kind of looked like R2D2. I could just stick some mini kit-kats on the side for the legs, dip it in white chocolate, boom, it's R2.

And I was going to do just that. I even bought a bag of kit-kats to do it, and I never did. I ate the kit-kats and forgot all about it until now. I realized I had nothing planned for Star Wars day, and it hit me that I still had that brownie pop pan that looks like R2D2.
However, the original plans for edible R2 kind of got derailed. It's been raining for the past 3 days here in NJ, and as you can imagine, everything's rather damp. It's for this reason, I think, that my white chocolate refused to behave. Not to be deterred, I decided to use thinned royal icing instead, and while that did the trick (and I kind of prefer it, flavorwise), it wasn't without it's difficulties. It didn't want to stick to the kit-kats (you can still kind of see the chocolate in the picture) and I needed three coats of it to cover the brownies to my satisfaction. Royal icing also needs a lot more time to set set up, so it just took up a lot more time than I had planned for. Maybe I would have been better off with a liquid fondant or something else, but everything ended up working out in the end, so I can't really complain. Still, I recommend using candy melts instead of royal icing.
I was going to share a photo tutorial of how I made them, but there were kind of only three steps. 4 if you count baking the brownies, so it didn't feel necessary

Step 1: bake your brownies in the brownie pop pan. Use your favorite recipe. They only take 15-20 minutes to bake (the sweet spot for mine was 22 minutes, but every oven is different). Cool completely, then chill in the fridge to firm them up a bit. Level them off so they sit flat.

Step 2: attach the kit-kats. Take mini kit-kats, apply a little melted chocolate, and place them on either side of the brownie. Stick in the freezer for a few minutes to set.

Step 3: coat the brownies in melted white chocolate or thinned royal icing. Allow the excess to drip off and place on a waxed paper-covered plate to set. For chocolate, chill in the fridge for about 15 minutes. For royal icing, let dry at room temperature 1-4 hours until firm (may take multiple coats)

Step 4: decorate. I used blue royal icing to mimic R2's design. You can also use decorating icing, or candy melts, whatever you have on hand. I kept it pretty simple, but you can simplify it even more if you want, or go more realistic. R2's very recognizable, so you don't have to be exact.
Oh, I almost forgot about Step 5: nom.

Happy Star Wars Day! May the fourth be with you.

Other Star Wars treats: