Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Baking with Fondant and GIR

I know, I know - it's been two months since I've posted on here. I'm sorry. Life has just been incredibly busy lately.

A little known factoid about me - I enjoy making custom cakes. I don't do it often enough because I'm generally pressed for time and to do a good custom cake correctly, you really need to go slowly.

My daughter's 10th birthday is tomorrow and in honor of it, I made her a cake of GIR from the cartoon Invader Zim, which shows on Nickelodeon on weekend nights at 11PM. Apparently, this is an older discontinued cartoon from 1995 or so that is making a comeback with a new generation of kids. I started watching it with her and I love the sarcastic/cynical sense of humor regarding society that the writer brings to the cartoon . GIR, in case you are not familiar with him, is a robot that was made out of spare parts (a couple of screws, some bubblegum and spare change). He is sent to Earth with Zim by the Irken leaders to get them out of the way of Operation Impending Doom II. During Operation Impending Doom I, Zim destroyed Irken, so they want him gone. As you can imagine, GIR isn't the brightest light bulb in the pack, so he's always acting oddly. He has a bizarre Southern accent and comes out with the most random stuff. My favorite quote so far is when he fell face down and said, "Hiya, floor! Make me a sammich!" Oh, and to "blend in" with Earthlings, they decided to disguise GIR as a dog (hence the zipper).

You have to have a weird sense of humor, and I do. Sorry for the GIR tangent, by the way. On to cakes with fondant.

Normally, fondant scares the beejeezus out of me. It's usually stiff, sticky, hard to work with, dries out quickly, cracks, doesn't stick to the cake, and I don't like the taste. Too sweet for me. However, I have been using Wilton brand fondant and I have to tell you: don't buy it, if you're going to do a cake. Make your own instead. Wilton wants $10.99 a box and usually the fondant you get is not the right color, it's hard as a rock, and there is never enough of it. Making your own is cheaper, easy, it's pliable and a dream to work with!

To make a batch, all you need are: 8 oz of mini marshmallows (usually 1/2 a bag), 2 tbsp water, and 4 cups powdered sugar. Combine the marshmallows and the water in a bowl and nuke in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir until lumps are gone. Stir in powdered sugar. By the time you get to the 3rd cup of sugar, it's going to be hard going. Pour it out on the counter (make sure the counter has a powdered sugar coating on it, and you coat your hands as well - this is sticky stuff) and massage until the powdered sugar is incorporated and the fondant is smooth. You can then add any food coloring you'd like to make colored fondant. Wrap it in plastic wrap and keep it at room temp. If you're not going to use it for awhile, you can also refrigerate it. Important note: make sure it's wrapped AIRTIGHT or else it will dry out and crack. Also, if you're going to be making black fondant, start with adding chocolate to the original fondant batch and then add the black food coloring. Otherwise, you will have grey fondant, which isn't what you want.

To make the cake pictured below, I made (5) 9 x 9" square cakes, leveled them, and let them sit overnight before I started cutting to let them fully cool and settle. I then stacked the cakes and cut them to a GIR silhouette, based on an internet picture of him and a GIR plastic figure that my daughter owns. I filled the layers (butterscotch buttercream, per her request - yum!) and put on crumb coat #1 using thinned out regular vanilla buttercream frosting. I made the eye pieces out of halved cupcakes, and did the crumb coat for them,.

You may be asking: what is a crumb coat? It's a thin layer (think 1/4") of frosting that picks up stray cake crumbs and smooths out the cake in preparation for the fondant. The smoother your crumb layer, the more beautiful your fondant will look at the end. No bumps or lumps or crumbs. Crumb coats are also useful if you are making a frosted cake that requires a lot of decoration - keeps chocolate crumbs from getting in the frosting and polluting the look of the finished cake.

I refrigerated the cake overnight and added crumb coat #2, then put it into the freezer for 20 minutes to let it set. Pulled it out and smoothed the crumb coat using waxed paper and a fondant smoother - just to make sure it was ready to take the fondant with no lumps or creases.

Important to note that you want the cake to come back to room temp before you add fondant to it, so it sticks. Don't ask me how I found that out :-)

I have to give a special thanks to the Artisan Cake Company, who posted a tutorial for making a GIR cake here: Her step by step directions were priceless, especially for someone who hasn't really worked with fondant before.

My daughter got into the act with me and we sculpted body parts, ears, etc. out of fondant and added them after the crumb coat was ready. What I liked was how easily the fondant went on. What I didn't like is that the body parts are cracking because the fondant is drying out. I think that for my next attempt, gum paste body parts are the way to go. I also had to brush the cake with water to remove excess powdered sugar spots on it.

All in all, not as hard as everyone thinks it is. Lots of fun, you get to use your creative side, and the end result is pretty awesome. However, I will say that I understand now WHY Ace of Cakes charges $500 and up for a custom cake. These things are a lot of work and my kitchen floor is sticky with sugar now. How 3 people (the extent of my family here in CA) are going to eat all of this cake, I don't know.

What GIR is supposed to look like:
What the cake looks like follows.

In the first pic, you can see where I have a weird flap of fondant. I was so happy, because I was worried about the green fondant and nervous I was going to mess the whole thing up, so I was almost done and saying, "Wow! I'm doing it with NO CREASES! I can DO FONDANT!"  and then "Oh, shit! My finger slipped!" The eyes also have some blotches (DD painted the eyes) and there is another finger slip on the left eye, but still pretty good for my first attempt at a real fondant cake.

So, tell me: would you attempt this, or any other kind of customized cake?

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