Don't rush it... and don't take it out on the cat

Yesterday I began a project involving cake bites and fondant. The cake turned out well for what I was to use it for. Surprisingly, the cake recipe was not nearly sweet or chocolaty enough, however that should have been expected since there was no butter involved and bittersweet cocoa was the only source of chocolate. I followed tips found in "The Essence of Chocolate", by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg- in That Chocolate Cake recipe, the water is brought to a boil and then mixed in with the other ingredients. I liked this technique as it improves the cake's texture, helps with blending, and brings out the flavors of the cocoa and sugar. The mixture was quite soupy when put into the oven, but came out nice and moist after 40 minutes.

After allowing the chocolate cake to cool, it was crumbled into a bowl and mixed with cream cheese frosting. After dipping my hands into a fresh bottle of olive oil, I began forming 2 to 2-1/2 inch balls, placing them on wax paper. So far so good right?

Knowing the cake bites would be far more workable if I refrigerate them for a few hours or even put them in the freezer for an hour, I was far too anxious for the end product... I decided to continue with room-temperature cake bites. Since the idea was to wrap a fondant bow around them and turn them all into little presents, I proceeded to shape the balls into squares. The chocolate bark was melted and ready so I began dunking my little chocolate presents in the bath of brown bark.

First cake bite out, on the parchment paper, and looking good! Second cake bite out, on the parchment paper, and also looking good! Okay, so this might be just as easy as dunking bon bons in chocolate for Christmas right? Nope, not really even remotely that simple- I soon found that with the more time each cake ball spent at room temperature, the less the cream cheese frosting seemed to act as an adhesive. Eventually, after covering only half a pan of cake bites, I found myself with not only lumpy square cake balls, but was even stuck with lumpy chocolate bark since each ball that went in for a dunk lost chunks of cake in the process. I soon concluded that it would be easier if I take the time to cool all of the cake bites and then proceed with the dunking (using a new, non-lumpy, batch of melted chocolate bark).

Two hours later I returned to the remainder of my now chilled cake bites and proceeded with the dunking. Pleased with the ease of forming and dunking the remaining bites, I dove straight into preparing the fondant... after all, the fondant recipe I was following recommended allowing 10 minutes of preparation start to finish...Half an hour later I was still kneading the fondant. I decided to call it a night. Finally the next morning I took a deep breath and dove back into my fondant mode. The heap of mushy white stuff, presumably fondant, from the night before remained the same: a sugary mess. I decided to soldier on and follow the recipe since I have doubted myself before while in the middle of a recipe and voila... by the end, things always seem to turn out like the recipe says it will, right?. Pulling out my fondant recipe once more, I looked to where I had left off: "...roll fondant out on a clean surface that has been dusted with confectioners' sugar until it is 1/8 inch thick or thinner... cut into strips to make bows and other decorations." Yes, my heap of fondant was complete... and yet it was not smooth and play-doh-like, but was coarse, grainy, and not even remotely elastic-like. All I could do at this point was keep going and hope for the best.

Removing the cake bites from the fridge made me wish I had a better air conditioner- my chocolate-covered cake bites were now starting to sweat. Great. Rolling the now yellow-dyed fondant onto the sugar-covered counter top and thinly slicing a ribbon, I moved the fondant to my first cake bite specimen. I gently worked to lay the fondant atop a line of sticky chocolate frosting (aka glue) already in place on the cake bite, which was lining where the fondant ribbons would go. Well over 30 minutes later, I finished my first cake bite. Sweating and frustrated, I threw down the toothpick I was using to shape the fondant and subdued to trashing the "short cut" fondant recipe. Leaving the house in search of what I would need to make fondant the right way, I tried to find the lesson I was to learn since I knew there had to be one somewhere within that thick mess of a fondant pile.

Now, hoping this is my last lesson on the short-cut subject, I confess that I have learned the hard way that it is best to not take the short cut or easiest way out in baking... and that no matter how much your kitten may love to jump up and clamp her claws into your beautiful silk tablecloth, you should not take your lack of fondant skills out on her... sorry Lila.

I am now on a hunt for glycerin and glucose syrup, once I have found these ingredients I will be right back at the forefront of fondant making. Until then, it's time to make bread!

Update! I have mastered fondant! I am now forging my way through mounds of fondant and am making and selling cakes with a fondant recipe that I actually designed!

Getting Started

The intention of this blog is to broadcast my passion for cooking but also (most of all), my passion for baking. Everyone has a dream job, of course there are the select few who actually get to work that dream job (me shaking fist), but for those who merely fantasize... this blog is for you... it's also for those who just plain and simply like to fantasize about great food.

I often like to ask people pesky "would you rather" and "what's your favorite..." questions. For example my favorite question: "Lets say that with any career you pursue, you are given whatever pay and benefits you desire... considering this, what would your occupation be?" - I love this question because not only does it always seem to turn my respondent's eyes to a glimmer as they reminisce a fantasy, but it really lets you find out what that particular person's passions are. So anyway, back to me shaking my fist at those who live and work in their fantasy career...

I am academically focused in the health and environmental studies field. My fantasies however, are focused on someday operating a bakery. Also being passionate about gardening and the tranquility it ensues, my fantasy bakery is very much like an enchanted garden where there is a small water flow trickling through the casual dining area, with wildflowers and ferns creeping out of a mulched area here and there. The magical garden's (aka my bakery's) casual dining area is made of a smooth cobble-stone clearing where casual mosaic patio chairs and tables are waiting. The focus of this bakery is to provide the local community with fresh, made-from-scratch food, fair-trade coffee, and a relaxing natural environment... or as I have been calling it, a magical garden. In addition, the majority of workers here would be high school and college students; each of whom would be required to go through a real application and interview process since I strongly feel that many students are thrown into the real life interviewing process with little to no knowledge of what to expect and how to act. Lastly, I would ask the students working with me to learn and understand how to balance the business's finances. So there you have it- my glimmer and passion- my fantasy. A little bit of local, a little bit community, a bit more magic garden, and a lot of just plain indulgent sweetness (and yes, even healthy alternatives to go with those indulgences; after all, I am health focused).

So with such a vivid fantasy, how can I do anything but start to put it to life? Yes, I have indeed formed an advertising pamphlet, even business cards, for my "bakery". What I am truly excited for however, is designing the menu. Not only is this exciting because I like playing with my designing program, but also because the menu seems to set the mood for a place... and the menu, is where this blog comes into play. The menu must consist of only tried and true homemade recipes; I will not allow any sort of processed, pre-prepared, boxed or frozen "food" even into my kitchen. Of course I have some recipes which, thanks to my mom and grandmothers, I've grown up with, and other recipes which I have concocted myself... these will all undoubtedly be signature recipes on the menu.

But then there are the other recipes; those which I have wanted to try but have not gotten around to, those which require ingredients or utensils I do not (yet) own, and then there are those recipes which reside in the back of my mind, waiting for me to try them.... those recipes that are so tedious, daunting, and just plain scary that I just keep finding better things to do. This blog is to be a trial and error diary through my quest for the the perfected magical list that will someday define the mood of my fantastical bakery.