A Birthday Blessing

Patchwork Owl Cake

And the winner is…

Back in June I posted about entering an annual cake decorating competition during the Perth Royal Show. Well today (September 27th) is the first day of “The Show,” and is the day on which all the competition winners were announced, AND it is my Birthday. All three things made the day a bit special for me, not least because I had some success in the competition. Huzzah!

The Patchwork Owl cake pictured above is my second attempt at this cake, and the one I entered in the Novelty Cake Class (Amateur Section). Below is a reminder of my first attempt.

Patchwork Owl Cake

Patchwork Owl Cake Take 1

My immediate observations about my second attempt are: the eyes are less weird; the eyebrows are much less imposing (are they eyebrows? Who knows?); the wings are more symmetrical and evenly shaped; and above all, although you can’t see it from the photos, all the joins between panels are sooooo much neater. I was tremendously pleased with my entry, all the more so because I won 1st prize in the Novelty Class, and the Lady Rita Court Prize for the Exhibitor Gaining Highest Points in the Amateur Section.

Even though I took much greater pains over the second attempt, trying to achieve perfection, I was much quicker about completing it this time and could easily knock this one off in a weekend. I think I prefer the colours I chose this time around as well.

Owl Face closeup

Whooo’s looking at you kid?

Side view

Side view 1

The cake inside is Madeira Cake, which is especially ideal for carving.

Side view

Side view 2

The other class I entered was the Decorated Cake Class in the Student Section. This had to be a 1 tier decorated cake fit for a special occasion. This was my entry:

Bone China Cake

It is called a Bone China Cake, and I consider it an homage to Wedgewood. It had to feature a message of some sort to denote the occasion, and obviously I made it to be for a 60th Birthday celebration. The cake inside is a chocolate mud cake with a chocolate ganache crumb coat.

And how did I go? My cake came 3rd. Huzzah again! Although I wasn’t in 1st place, I was very pleased to see that the winner was a fellow student from the cake decorating course I am attending. Well done Dana!

Top view

Top view

Side detail

Side detail

And to top all of that off, the points I earned with these two entries earned me the Roma McLaglan Memorial Trophy and Sash for Exhibitor Gaining Highest Points in the Student/Amateur Sections! (Phew! That’s a mouthful). Now isn’t that just the icing on the cake? Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun, but do please pardon it.

But wait, there’s a little bit more. Several friends messaged me this evening to say that they saw my Patchwork Owl cake in a new story on TV this evening which was covering the opening day of the Royal Show. What a shame I didn’t see it. Sadly I have to wait until next Friday to go to the Show myself and see my cakes on display with all the others. I shall be on tenterhooks all week.

So, a very pleasing milestone in my cake decorating learning journey, and a wonderful blessing on my Birthday. It is all starting to feel quite worthwhile! I will finish with a big thank you to my teacher at Cake Tinz n’ Thingz, Tammy, for her encouragement to enter. Thank you Tammy!

Furry Edges, Florist’s Tape and other Flings

Flower Spray

Sugarpaste flower spray

When first I began my cake decorating course I had the idea that the real skill in cake decorating lay in a person’s creativity. But as time has gone on I have begun to see that dexterity, or finger finesse as I like to call it, plays a far bigger part.

One of the projects we recently completed in class provides a good case in point. For the purposes of learning some traditional techniques associated with creating wired roses and leaves, we made these simple flower sprays. The leaves, roses, buds and small blossoms were all made with modelling paste, while the ribbons, wires and stamens are of course all non-edible.

Although I am not much drawn to the more traditional floral aspects of cake decorating, I did quite enjoy this project, not least because of the lesson learnt about finesse, and the progress I felt I made in developing some of it!

Let’s start with furry edges. Whenever you cut a shape out of sugarpaste with a cutter or scalpel, you are typically left with a slightly furry edge rather than a clean cut. While in some parts of the world this is generally held acceptable, it seems that in Australian cake decorating circles, particularly in the competitive realm, it is most definitely not acceptable. In class we were shown very early on how to remove furry edges from cut shapes by gently running a finger down over the edge, effectively rounding the edge over and removing the furry bits. Easier said than done.

I remember at the time our teacher saying “don’t worry if it looks like it isn’t working, just keep doing it and eventually you will get it.” I also remember thinking this was not helpful advice, because it did indeed look like it was not working, and how could I get it right if I was consistently doing it wrong? Nevertheless I pushed on through various furry-edged projects until one day at home, while completing homework for the flower spray project, I was going through the motions of running my fingers off the edges of my petals when, what do you know? the furry edges were coming off! My teacher was right – eventually I got it! And I could only conclude that somehow, through repeated practice, I had developed the necessary finesse with furry edge removal.

The finer details

The finer details

Finesse was equally required in covering all the wire stems with florist’s tape, as well as in taping the whole ensemble together. It needed a deft twirling of the stem with the fingers of one hand, while stretching out the tape on the other without breaking it. Likewise with taping all the elements together into one stem. The weight of the leaves and flowers together had the annoying habit of constantly spinning the whole around to the back. Much patience was also required.

The flowers and leaves in this project were not made with coloured paste, nor through being painted with petal dust, but rather through dipping. This is a technique I haven’t tried before but will definitely do again in the future.

Dipped leaves

A flotilla of foliage drying after being dipped

I rather like the variations in depth of colour produced by the coloured dipping solutions. The handy thing is that if you run out of the white alcohol used in this technique, a quick trip to your liquor cabinet can provide an easy replacement. Clear alcohol such as gin or vodka serves just as well. In my case I sacrificed some Sapphire gin I had in the cupboard to provide an un-tinted wash I could dip my tinted blossoms into to lighten the colour a little. The silly post-script to this story is that I was left with about 40 ml of pink-tinged gin that it seemed a waste to tip down the sink. I thought “what the heck” and took a slug, forgetting it was neat! After the burning in my mouth subsided I carried on with my project sporting quite a rosy glow! (no pun intended, but it works rather well…).

I did try the technique of dusting parts of my roses with a dark petal dust prior to dipping, but hadn’t chosen a colour sufficiently more dark than the dipping solution and so the roses came out fairly uniform in colour.

A dusted rose pre-dipping

A dusted rose pre-dipping

Finesse played a tiny part in the dipping process. Immediately after having dipped the flower/leaf into the solution you must twirl it inside a tall jar (or the jar of solution itself, if of a sufficient width) to fling off the excess liquid. It required a certain amount of careful skill not to wallop them against the sides of the jar. (This was one stage at which it helped to have made spares).

More dipped leaves

No need to see the leaves again, but I like the photo effect!

Although I haven’t yet seen any obvious use for the flower spray, as an artefact of my learning it serves as a visual reminder of the progress I am making, and the finesse I am most definitely developing.