Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Narwhal Cake Tutorial

This tutorial has been a long time coming, but here it is! I had so many pictures to edit on top of emergency dog surgeries, out of state visitors, and getting ready for a week long vacation, it was crazy. But I finally found some time to put this together! This is going to be a long post with LOTS of pictures, so let's get started, shall we?

Let me start off by saying that I had originally wanted the narwhal's flukes to be in the air like this...

...but they were heavier than I expected, so they didn't stay in the air, even after they were secured three times over. So I laid them on the board and I think it looks just as good that way. Because I had wanted to have his flukes in the air, I shaped the end of his tail upwards. If the flukes are going to be laid on the board, you can just shape the tail as a straight slope. I will show you what I mean in a little bit.

As for ingredients and some supplies, you will need:

- 2 sphere cake halves (I used the Wilton sports ball pan...my favorite!)
- Rice Krispie Treats (RKT), store bought or homemade. I believe I used 1 recipe's worth
- 1 recipe of your favorite buttercream
- Fondant
- Candy melts
- One dowel rod
- Toothpicks
- Black icing color
- Ivory icing color
- 1 cake drum (mine was 14 inches)
- Rolling pin
- Fondant mat
- A stiff bristled paint brush
- Viva brand paper towels
- A Microplane grater 

Ok, so to get started you will need to cut off a little of the dome from one of the layers to create a flat base for the cake.

Spread a little buttercream on the board where you would like to place the cake. Take the layer that you just trimmed and position it on top of the buttercream, trimmed side down. Spread a thin layer of buttercream on the layer and position the other half on top. Roughly cover the cake in a thin layer of buttercream. It is easiest to frost a sphere cake by piling the buttercream on top of the cake and spreading it down towards the bottom.
To make things a little bit more interesting, I made a fun little gif. :)

Alright, so once you have your sphere cake crumb coated it's time to bring out the RKT. If you are using homemade, it is easier to do these next few steps when they are still slightly warm. If you are using store bought, work them until they are pliable and easy to mold.
Take a few handfuls of RKT and mold them into the shape that you would like for the tail. This is where I had decided to flip the tail up at the end for the flukes to be in the air. Like I mentioned before, that didn't work, so feel free to shape the tail however you would like. Lay the tail on the board behind the cake and fill in the gaps between the cake and the tail with pieces of RKT. Make sure it is a straight slope from the cake down to the tail. You don't want to be able to tell where the cake and RKT meet.

Next up is shaping the flukes, fins, and tusk. Take some more RKT and shape four curved tear drop shapes. Make two of them larger than the other two. The larger ones will be the flukes and the smaller ones will be the fins. Shape a cone for the tusk. You want to make sure that it is skinnier than you want the finished tusk to be. A layer of chocolate and fondant is going to be added over the RKT, so it will end up being about a half inch thicker in the end. I would have liked mine to have been a bit thinner, but oh well.
Once you have the tusk shaped, insert a dowel rod as far as possible into the tusk, being careful not to push it out through the sides or the other end. Once the dowel rod is inserted, take four toothpicks and insert them halfway into the tusk, evenly spaced around the dowel rod. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of this, but I think the tusk might be hiding in the background of some pictures coming up.

Once you have shaped your fins, flukes, and tusk, melt some candy melts. Cover all the pieces in the candy melts and stick them in the freezer.
While the pieces are in the freezer, cover the whole body in buttercream.

Using a Viva paper towel, smooth the buttercream so that there are no lumps and bumps, especially on the RKT tail. You don't want bumps from the RKT to show through the fondant.   

(These next few pictures coming up are going to be extremely blurry. I apologize. I was snapping the pictures from the side of the camera, so I didn't realize it wasn't focused.)

Tint some fondant a light gray color and roll it out. Honestly, I can't remember how much I used, but I think I used almost a whole box of the Wilton Decorator Preferred fondant.
Once your fondant is rolled out, drape it over your cake and start smoothing it against the cake, starting at the top and working your way down. Trim the excess with a pizza cutter. The bottom edges don't have to be perfect, you can just cover them with "water" later. As you can see, mine were far from perfect. I have such a hard time covering spheres with fondant!

Now it is time to bring your pieces out of the freezer. While they are still cold, start grating the chocolate down until it is a smooth surface.

Brush them with water and cover the flukes and fins with the same gray fondant. For the tusk, tint a some fondant a light shade of ivory. Cover the tusk and, using a toothpick or a veining tool, draw a spiral around the tusk. Brush it with gold pearl dust if you would like to (who wouldn't want to?).

Lay the flukes and fins on the board against the cake where you would like them placed and set the tusk to the side. To the way far away side. This next step will show you why.

In a small bowl, mix a bit of black food coloring with some vodka or flavored extract (I just used vanilla extract). Dip your stiff bristled brush into the mixture and start splattering the color over the cake by running your finger across the bristles. You may want to wear a glove, or have some kind of protection between your finger and the brush. I didn't and my finger was purple for days.

I thought I got a picture of the process, but apparently my hand wasn't in the frame. SweetAmbs has a great tutorial for the splattering here. You want to have some bigger spots and some smaller ones.

When you are done with the spots, it's time to make the eyes and mouth. Make these however you would like. Give your narwhal whatever expression you feel like! Add some blue buttercream around the narwhal on the cake board for water. I also added some spots of white buttercream for little ice chunks since narwhals live in the Arctic waters.

Add the tusk and this little guy is done!!

Well, that's it for the tutorial! I hope that it was easy enough to follow. If you decide to make this cake, please share a picture with me. I would love to see it!

Before I go, since narwhals are so fascinating, I will leave you with a few narwhal facts. (Why not?)

- Narwhal tusks are actually enlarged teeth that grow through their faces
- Narwhal tusks have up to 10 million nerve endings inside
- Narwhal tusks can grow up to 10 feet in length
- Narwhals can dive 1 1/2 miles deep in the ocean
- As they age, narwhals change color. Old narwhals are almost all white.

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Narwhal Birthday Cake

Today is my 20th birthday. Yikes. Several months ago I was really anxious about turning 20 and it only got worse the closer it got to my birthday. People would bring up my upcoming birthday or the fact that I would be turning 20 and I would subtly (or maybe not so subtly) try to change the subject. I am sure a lot of people could not wait to get out of their teen years, but something about the thought of leaving my teen years and starting a new decade kind of bothered me. I have always been a nostalgic person, so nostalgia was probably the biggest factor. 

BUT, now that my birthday is here, it’s not so bad. I think it was the anticipation leading up to it that made me anxious. This is so cliché, but…it is just a number. I mean, I am only a day older than I was yesterday. And, today was a great day. I have a wonderful family and great friends that make me feel extra special on my birthday. :)  

I like to use my birthdays to try out new, exciting cakes that I want to make. If you remember, last year was the cactus cake to go with Cinco de Mayo. This year I made this little guy:

Mr. Narwhal, meet my friends…friends, meet Mr. Narwhal! 

Why a narwhal? Well, mainly because narwhals are awesome. :) The idea had been floating around in my head for a while, so he was picked to be my birthday cake! 

I took step by step pictures of the process, so I hope to post a tutorial very soon. I just have to finish my two last finals of the semester! It will be my first tutorial, so I am excited, but I hope I can pull it off! 

Alright, time for Mr. Narwhal and me to say goodbye for now. We will be back soon, as promised!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Ultimate Gluten Free Chocolate Cake {Recipe}

This cake, y'all. I don't even know where to start. I guess I could start by saying that it's made with quinoa. No - don't go! I promise it's delicious. My family said they liked it better than non-gluten free chocolate cake. They are self-proclaimed "cake snobs," so that is saying something!

The quinoa is cooked and then pureed, so if you puree it enough it is undetectable. I didn't puree mine quite long enough, so there were still little tiny bits of quinoa, but it didn't bother me or my family. There is no quinoa flavor, just delicious chocolate flavor. I never would have guessed that quinoa could make such a delicious, gluten free cake.

This isn't the typical light and fluffy cake - it is super fudgy and rich. It is paired with a whipped ganache so as to not be sickeningly sweet. It's amazing. I didn't call it "ultimate" just for fun.

The Ultimate Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
{Printer Version Here}
Source: Once Upon a Tier. Adapted from Barefeet In The Kitchen.
Yields 12-14 servings

The Cake:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa powder  (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked white quinoa
1/3 cup milk
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter, melted 

The Ganache:
2 cups chocolate chips
2 cups heavy whipping cream

For the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9-inch cake pans generously with baking spray.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. Add the quinoa to a food processor and pulse until the quinoa is broken up and sticks together. Add the milk, eggs, vanilla, and butter and puree until smooth and no bits of quinoa are seen, stopping to scrape the sides of the processor occasionally. 
4. Add the quinoa mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until fully combined.
5. Pour the batter evenly into the cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes before flipping them out onto cooling racks. Let cool completely before frosting. 

For the whipped ganache:
6. Place the chocolate chips in the bowl of an electric mixer. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate chips. Whisk the cream and chocolate until the chocolate is completely melted. Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least an hour.
7. When the ganache is chilled, attach the whisk attachment to the stand mixer and whisk on high speed until soft peaks form. 

Assembling the cake:
8. Place one cake layer onto a cake plate. Spread half of the whipped ganache onto the layer. Place the other cake layer on top of the ganache. Spread the remaining ganache on top of the cake. Keep refigerated.


Rachel and my mom dug in as soon as I told them I was done taking pictures. The piece was gone in seconds.

It's seriously that good.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chocolate Loaf Cake with a Mint Cream Cheese Swirl {Recipe}

Can I join in on the discussion about the crazy weather? I'm sure everybody is just as tired of hearing about it as they are tired of the crazy weather itself, but...come on! Like everywhere else it seems, Virginia has been freezing cold one day and warm enough to wear shorts the next. This past Tuesday was an amazing 80 degrees and today the high is 40 with a wind chill of 25 degrees. In fact, I just went to check the weather and it informed me that it is "much colder than yesterday." And it looks like they are calling for snow on Monday. Again. I have seen enough snow this winter to last me 3 winters. I think I can count on this cake to help me make it through, though.

I don't have much to say about this cake, other than it is delicious. I mean, just look at all the chocolate chips on top. It is a perfectly moist chocolate loaf cake with a delicious minty cream cheese ribbon swirled throughout it. It has a perfect balance of mint and chocolate. The mint does not overpower the chocolate, but it is definitely there.

Chocolate Loaf Cake with a Mint Cream Cheese Swirl
{Printer Version Here}
Source: Once Upon a Tier. Heavily adapted from Tutti Dolci
Yields ~12 servings

Mint Cream Cheese Swirl:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons sour cream
4 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon mint extract
2 drops green food coloring (optional)

Chocolate Loaf Cake:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used dark cocoa powder)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
Chocolate chips for topping

For the Mint Cream Cheese Swirl:
1. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sour cream, powdered sugar, mint extract, and food coloring (if using) until combined and smooth. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.

For the cake:
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8x4 inch loaf pan with nonstick baking spray.  

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

4. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment (no need to wash the bowl or paddle from the cream cheese), beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Add the sour cream and mix until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and, once again, mix until just combined. 

5. Spread one third of the batter into the loaf pan. Drop half of the cream cheese mixture by spoonfuls onto the batter. Spread another third of the batter over the cream cheese. Drop remaining cream cheese mixture by spoonfuls. Top with remaining batter. Using a knife or skewer, swirl the batter and cream cheese together. Smooth the top with a spatula. Top with as many chocolate chips as you would like (nobody is judging). 

6. Bake for 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely. Slice and devour. Enjoy!     

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Quickest and Easiest Way to Fix "Broken" American Buttercream

Broken buttercream is the bane of any cake decorator's existence. Many types of buttercreams can "break," but I'm talking about good ol' American buttercream, today. American buttercream is simply a mixture of powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and a liquid.

So, what exactly is broken buttercream?

Buttercream breaks when the fat and liquid in the recipe separate from each other. It gets chunky/beady and quite ugly. This is what it looks like (I darkened the picture quite a bit to make it easier to see):

Isn't that just ugly? Definitely not something you want to put on a cake.

When I had my first experience with broken buttercream, I turned to the internet to see if there was a way to fix it, or if I would just have to toss it. There were several options to try to fix it, but they weren't very quick or easy. Most of the options included beating the buttercream like crazy for a long time or messing with the temperature of the buttercream until it was just right. Getting the temperature just right involved either heating the buttercream or cooling it down with an ice pack...but if it went too far either way, you would have to keep messing with it. In other words, way too complicated!

So what is the quickest and easiest way to fix broken buttercream?

Add a tablespoon or two of shortening. 

That's it! Just add 1-2 tablespoons of shortening and beat for about 30 seconds. That's all it takes! The buttercream will magically come back together as the shortening recovers the balance of fat and liquid. Since it is such a small amount, the shortening does not alter the flavor of the buttercream.

Good luck!

Note: A perfectly good buttercream can also break when food coloring is added. To help prevent this from happening, stick to gel based icing colors instead of liquid based ones.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cookie Dough Oreo Cake with Browned Butter Buttercream {Recipe}

Have y'all tried the new Oreo flavors?  About a week ago Oreo released two new flavors: Cookie Dough and Marshmallow Crispy. I was on a computer in my college library when I saw an article that these two new flavors were coming out. I was so excited and looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing. They weren't. I was halfway hoping that somebody would catch my eye as I was looking around so that I could tell them about the new flavors. They didn't. It's probably better that way, though, because they might have realized thought that I was crazy.

I have yet to try the Marshmallow Crispy kind, but the Cookie Dough ones are really good! They don't taste exactly like cookie dough, but they are still tasty. They have sort of a caramel-y flavor which is why I thought they would go really well in a cake with a browned butter frosting. And did they ever!

Cookie Dough Oreo Cake with Browned Butter Buttercream
Source: Once Upon a Tier original. 
Yields 12-14 servings

Cookie Dough Oreo Cake:
1 box vanilla cake mix
1 small box vanilla pudding mix
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup milk
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups crushed Cookie Dough Oreo cookies 

Browned Butter Buttercream:  
3 sticks salted butter
1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5-6 tablespoons milk

For the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9-inch cake pans with floured baking spray. 

2. With an electric mixer, mix the cake mix, pudding mix, oil, milk, and eggs on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Fold in the crushed Oreo cookies. Pour half of the batter into each prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool on wire racks for about 10 minutes, then flip the cakes out of the pans and let them cool completely. 

For the buttercream:
3. Place the butter into a saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir the butter until it starts to turn a golden brown (it will get very foamy before it starts to turn color). When the butter is golden brown and smells like toffee, remove it from the heat. Let the butter sit until cool. If you're like me, you will want to drink it at this stage. Instead, pour the butter into a container lined with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator until it is the consistency of softened butter (or refrigerate in until solid and then take out to soften).

4. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened browned butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat on low speed for 30 seconds. With the mixer still on, add the vanilla and milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the buttercream is spreading consistency.

Assembling the cake:
5. Level the cake layers and place one on a cake stand. Spread some buttercream and place second layer on top. Cover the entire cake with frosting, reserving some for the rosettes on top if desired. Crush Cookie Dough Oreo cookies in a food processor and press the crumbs onto the side of the cake. If desired, pipe 4 evenly spaced rosettes on top of the cake. Stand a Cookie Dough Oreo cookie in each rosette. Pipe 4 smaller rosettes in between the larger rosettes. Sprinkle with cookie crumbs. 



Monday, February 10, 2014

Browned Butter Buttercream {Recipe}

When I first started writing this post, the only thing that popped into my head to say about this buttercream was a Frozen reference (I'm not obsessed...): browned butter and buttercream are both so intense, put them together, it just makes sense! It is completely cheesy, but I had to use it because it is so true. I love buttercream and I love browned butter, so it only made sense to use browned butter for buttercream.

If you have never heard of browned butter (you are missing out), it is butter that has been cooked until it is a golden brown color and smells and tastes like nutty, toffee-y goodness. This is what it looks like in its solid form:

 Look at that beautiful layer of golden deliciousness.

Anyway, this buttercream is seriously amazing. I don't want to make buttercream with plain, boring butter anymore. After you try it, you won't either.

Browned Butter Buttercream
{Printer Version Here}
Source: Once Upon a Tier original.

3 sticks salted butter
1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
5-6 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract  

1. Brown the butter. Place the butter into a saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir the butter until it starts to turn a golden brown (it will get very foamy before it starts to turn color). When the butter is golden brown and smells like toffee, remove it from the heat. Let the butter sit until cool. If you're like me, you will want to drink it at this stage. Instead, pour the butter into a container lined with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator until it is the consistency of softened butter (or refrigerate in until solid and then take out to soften).

2. Make the buttercream. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened browned butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat on low speed for 30 seconds. With the mixer still on, add the vanilla and milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the buttercream is the consistency you are looking for.