Friday, June 7, 2013

The Chocolate Question

So, once again life has gotten hectic, and I've fallen behind on anything remotely resembling Internet, much less cake updates.  Everyone seems to be graduating and having their birthdays in the same two-month window.  As a result, there's been a certain amount of Cakery happening.

As I might have mentioned before, the group that usually ends up eating the cakes I make aren't terrifically fond of fondant, and I personally am not terrifically fond of putting things on a cake that people aren't going to eat.  Sugarpaste (also known as gumpaste), for example, is a lovely useful thing, but once it dries seems about as appetizing as a lightly sugared roofing shingle. 

As a result, I tend to use a lot of chocolate: pouring it, molding it, coloring it.  While it is, in some ways, more fragile than fondant or sugarpaste (and at a certain degree of risk in a warm room), at least the hordes enjoy eating it.

Typically, I used two types of chocolate when I'm baking:

Bakers chocolate, which I've found in unsweetened, bittersweet, semi-sweet, and German chocolate varieties in groceries stores.  It comes in handy one-ounce cubes, which makes it pretty easy to measure out.

This is my go-to for any kind of chocolate that's going in something--the cake, frosting, filling, ganache. 
For decorations, however--shapes, molds, any kind of free-standing, all-chocolate item, particularly anything that has to be a color other than white or brown--I've always used Wilton Candy Melts.  Craft stores like Michaels or A.C. Moore tend to carry them in a variety of colors, as well as light and dark chocolate.
Now, in a household where there are a certain number of, ahem, snackers with a particularly strong sweet tooth, anything even remotely chocolate-like can be in constant danger.  After another attack on the Candy Melt stash, the cranky culprit wanted to know what was so very super special about the candy melts.  Why not just use regular chocolate for shape making?
Certainly, "normal" chocolate can and is used to make shapes and molds and candies--Godiva certainly doesn't use Candy Melts. 
However, real chocolate can be trickier to work with, because it contains cocoa butter--unlike something like the Candy Melts, a variation on compound chocolate that is made with vegetable oil.  Real chocolate, when melted, needs to be tempered.  The short version of tempering is that is re-establishes the cocoa butter crystals when the chocolate is melted, meaning it won't separate from the chocolate.  Without tempering, once the chocolate re-solidifies and sits for some time, the cocoa butter will come to surface, resulting in a white- or gray-ish color (also known as bloom).  While bloomed chocolate is still safe to eat, the appearance and texture can be off-putting.
Bloomed chocolate
(Unless, of course, you're trying to replicate something like this rock in chocolate.  Which is a pretty cool effect.)
(Anyways, I digress.)
When real chocolate melts, the temperature at which it melts determines how it will re-solidify.  This following chart, from, provides a brief summary of the types of cocoa butter crystals that can form within chocolate after it has been melted:

CrystalMelting TempNotes
I17°C (63°F)Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
II21°C (70°F)Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
III26°C (78°F)Firm, poor snap, melts too easily.
IV28°C (82°F)Firm, good snap, melts too easily.
V34°C (94°F)Glossy, firm, best snap, melts near body temperature (37°C).
VI36°C (97°F)Hard, takes weeks to form.

When chocolate is tempered, it must be heated hot enough to melt all six types of crystals, and then cooled to allow crystal types V and VI to form (although typically, VI will take too long--you'll end up with mostly type V).  A process of agitating, reheating, and re-cooling follows to first encourage the growth of type V crystals, and then eliminate type IV crystals.  Excessive reheating, however, will destroy the temper.

Bear in mind, the temperatures during the tempering process are different for white, milk, and dark chocolate.

For really great-tasting, beautiful chocolate forms, tempering is really the best way to go, but in cases where the chocolate is going to be consumed immediately (chocolate that is not going to sit for more than 24 hours does not need to be tempered), or--in my particular case--time is limited, tempering can be a hassle.

 Candy Melts, any other type of melting chocolate, or compound chocolate is made with vegetable oil, which does not have the same crystallization-and-bloom risks of real chocolate.  It can be melted, shaped, and let to harden again without problem. 

Therefore, hide your Candy Melts, or at least foist the thirty-minute drive for replacements onto the Sneaky Snacker. 

Cheers, and happy chocolate-ing!

Monday, May 6, 2013


Since most of the posts, up until now, have tended to feature the cute-and/or-floral-and/or-traditional type of cakes, it probably hasn't come through that I'm a secret nerd.
And since it's May, and I'm graduating college soon (read: igaf, actively rejecting Responsible Adulthood) I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate some of my great, geeky loves in cake form.

Following up on yesterday's Labyrinth, let's enjoy another, longer 80s franchise: Alien.

Jet City Cakes
An Alien themed wedding cake--with probably the most adorable manifestations of baby Aliens that are possible. 

Of course, you could always get a small version, maybe with some fake blood-- Oh, oh yes.  Like this:

Cake O'Clock
Pretty awesome.  I've yet to find a Ripley & Alien cake, which is tragic, but I'll settle for a spin-off, Alien vs. Predator cake.
Black Cherry Cake Company
 And, goodness, if you haven't seen Alien, or the sequels, go forth my wee ones, go forth and enjoy.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cake, Tra-La-La!

I bet y'all didn't know I'm an unabashed Labyrinth fangirl, mm?  Well, now you do.  What it does mean is that I was pretty excited to see that there are cake-makers (or, at least, cake commissioners) out there who love it just as much.  Lookit all the DETAILS.

Black Cherry Cake Company
 And then they have this bigger, EVEN BETTER Labyrinth Cake:

Black Cherry Cake Company

I'm going to have to do a whole post dedicated to these guys, since their whole site is awesome.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Happy Spring!

It maybe be senior year, last semester, and I may have finals and exams and papers out the whazoo, but nothing brightens the day like a little bit of spring!  Little fluffy bits of new leaves on the trees, flowers everywhere I look (and some in some truly unexpected places), bright blue skies, and finally--finally--some warm weather.

So how about some spring time cakes to sweeten up all that time spent hermiting away in the library stacks?

This lovely number by Sweet Disposition Cakes definitely reminds me of spring--that top flower brings to mind all the magnolia trees on campus.  I suppose some butterflies would be nice, too...
Cakes by Tanya

Yup, like that....or this:
And then, of course, all the flowers (shh, let's not think about the accompanying pollen that a pretty bouquet like this will bring in)...
Peggy Porschen Academy
Happy end-of-April!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy (Belated) Easter!

Welp, it's been a super busy past few days weeks, and not much room for cake blogging.  This weekend was all about eggs and bunnies, and a little bit of church-type-things.  So in the theme of on the fly posts, how about some lovely Easter lace?

Global Sugar Art
I'm actually completely in love with RVO's lace molds, like this Marroqui Mold sold on Global Sugar Art's site.


And that's been the product placement squee of the day!  Cheers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Belated St. Patrick's Day

A week late, I know--but in celebration of things that are green, at least (Palm Sunday--palms are green!! and in the St. Patrick's Day spirit, here's a lovely piece by Bobbette and Belle:

Bobbette and Belle Artisanal Pastries
That's some crazy piping work.  Cheers to all!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Article boost

Seven Myths About Wedding Cakes, found here on CakeFu, an excellent article by Amelia Carbine about the often misguided "money-saving tricks" people are sometimes advised to employ when purchasing a wedding cake.

Go check out the article for full details on why not to: buy a fake tiered cake; assume buttercream is cheaper than fondant; choose real over sugarpaste flowers; hide your budget from the cake decorator; assume wedding cakes are always the most expensive; try to save money via a less experienced decorator.

The last point is particularly important; the pitfalls of trying to save money by getting unexperienced decorators or friends of the family to make your wedding cake is illustrated week-round by Cake Wrecks. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow Day

Like many people in the North East, I found myself well and truly snowed in when a certain storm arrived on Friday.

That's right.....
Cake Nouveau

Waking up that morning, we campus-bound students discovered there was an awful lot of snow. 
Alan Dunn Sugarcraft
It was the kind of day that called for a lot of building...
My Little Cupcake
...and some downhill, wintery adventures....

McGreevy Cakes

Beautiful Birthday Cakes

La Forge à Gâteaux

And afterwards, soaked and chilly, it was time to head in to imbibe some toasty treats.  Hot cocoa with marshmellows is my personal favorite.
McGreevy Cakes

Certainly, a day for warm sweaters, snow ball fights, and snuggling up with all those special people (or special books, shoutout to all those fellow bookworms) in your life.

Cake Voodoo

Stay warm and stay safe coming out of this weekend's blizzard...and start stocking up on chocolate--it's almost That Day of the year...