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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Plastic Wrap Review-Yes, I'm Serious

I had to write about how awesome this CVS Total Home plastic wrap is for a couple of reasons. Number one, I use a lot of plastic wrap, and number two, my life has gotten to the point where finding a good plastic wrap makes for an excellent triumph.

I was out of plastic wrap the other day and couldn't make it over to where I buy the big rolls of kitchen service-sized plastic. I went to CVS for something and said fine, I'll get a roll of theirs to hold me over. I had no doubt that it would be weak and non-clingy like most generic plastic wraps, but it would do in a pinch.

So imagine my surprise when I got it home and it actually worked really well! Then my husband made a comment about how well it gripped the lettuce when he was wrapping that up, so I knew I wasn't hallucinating.

Let me tell you, this stuff is very grippy...it's almost to the point where it wants to grip itself if you're not careful and you can't get it untangled. It's actually a lot better than the commercial wrap I was using as far as that goes.

The bad part is that it only comes in the regular widths, so if you want a wider commercial-use wrap you're out of luck. The box is also slightly difficult to maneuver, since it has a slot that you're supposed to pull the wrap out of and it tends to grab itself and suck itself back into the box. You end up having to pry it off the roll about every third use if you're not careful.

So don't be afraid to buy this stuff, it works. Generic or not, ti gets the job done.


Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA

Friday, January 11, 2013

Craftsy Class Review-- Classic Flowers

his Craftsy class was led by Nicholas Lodge and covered the basics of three types of sugar flowers, peonies, anemones and tulips. I've added it this week because it's on sale for 25% off, so you'll save a little money if you get it now!

This class was well worth the price, since Nicholas Lodge has such an extensive background in making sugar flowers and in teaching. He's incredibly comfortable in front of the camera and gives you a constant stream of information and tips as he's making the flowers. Not a lot of wasted time here, just good information.

I actually picked up a few tips in this video, which was great. I think that you'd be able to make decent flowers after watching this class even if you were a gumpaste beginner. The demonstrations were clear enough that even if it took a little practice you'd be able to replicate the flowers.

Something that I liked about his approach was the fact that he kept mentioning that real flowers looked a certain way, so you wanted to do this or that to make them more realistic. That was a real bonus in my mind, since I like sugar flowers that look real, not costumey.

This class was different from the other ones that I've seen in that there wasn't a lot of filler, either. You don't have to sit through half an hour of color being kneaded into fondant, so that was a change from what I'd seen on Craftsy before. Each flower had its own section, and there was a lot of information in each one.

He still uses egg white for glue, which was one of the few things I didn't like. Hello, salmonella. It's unlikely that anyone would eat the flowers, but water or gum glue is probably safer.

So my overall review:

Skill Level: Intermediate gumpaste skills, or at least a beginner who's willing to learn by making some mistakes.
Equipment You Have To Have: A lot of cutters, veiners, floral wire and tape, etc. Check the class materials list before buying because if you don't have a lot of this stuff already it can add up.
Sleep-Inducing Level: Not bad, but I did start to nod off during the anemone section.
What It Assumes You Already Know: Basic gumpaste info, how to handle and store it, etc.
Unnecessary Difficulty Level Of Methods Demonstrated: Not much, other than using the groove board when you can wire the flowers faster the way I like to, haha!
Annoying Host Habits: The only thing, but this was a biggie, is that he says "anemone" wrong. Over and over and over. It's like when Dubya said "nucular" all the time. He says "AneNoMe," and says it throughout, so it's obviously something that he can't get out of his head. I kept thinking of all of the people who have taken classes with him, and how they probably sat there thinking "He's saying it wrong, but I can't correct NICHOLAS LODGE!!!" Oh, the horror. That's where you go ask him a million questions that include the word "anemone" and make sure you pronounce it really clearly to him multiple times in the hopes that he'll catch on without you having to point it out to him directly.
Level of Helpful Hints Learned: I got a good bit of information out of this, even though I have plenty of gumpaste experience. Just different ways to do things, little tips, that kind of thing. I'm confident in recommending this class to people who want to see some good tips for gumpaste flowers. This class would be worth buying even at full price because there's so much information in it.

Click here to go to the class on Craftsy: Classic Flowers Class


Next week: Jewelled Wedding Cakes.

(FYI- watching Craftsy classes on a PC allows you to see the questions that have been asked by other students. Mobile devices don't always show those.)


Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA, and is a Craftsy affiliate.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

App Review- TieredCaker for iPad and iPhone

I found something about the TieredCaker app on twitter and it looked interesting, so I retweeted  about it. I was contacted by the company owner to see if I'd like to review it on my blog, and of course I said yes! They sent me a copy for my iPad and I played with it for a while to see what I could do with it.

This app is available for iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone...What it does it takes a serving count and gives you the various tier combinations that will add up to that count. It gives you exact as well as approximate combinations, and options of two, three, four or more tiers. You can switch between round, square, heart and hexagon shapes.

It also has a serving chart for individual tiers, and it changes based on the size of the serving. You can switch between wedding servings and party servings, or customize a serving size. When you customize the size the serving count and price update automatically. (This is actually a good argument about why pricing by the serving doesn't always make sense, since the same cake can cost different amounts if you change the serving size!) I chose 3" x3" for a serving size, and it said that a 6-tiered cake would serve 54 people. Good to know in case I ever need to do a party for a bunch of teenaged boys.

It allows you to either choose a pre-chosen size configuration or build your own stack of tiers. You can also go in and remove or add tiers to a prechosen arrangement, so it's customizable. Every time you change something the serving count updates, so you can see what would happen if you added or removed a tier. This would come in handy for a client who says "what if we added an extra tier?" You can update the serving count and price by adding in the extra tier.

It would also work well for people who want to use different shapes of tiers on the same cake. The custom stacker will let you stack rounds and squares, for example, and get the correct serving count without having to use multiple charts.

Another feature is the customizable price calculator. You can choose a cake size, then select the price per serving in and it calculates the total cost for you. if you increase that the price updates, so you can calculate fondant vs. buttercream pricing, for example.

When you've chosen the cake size, you can go to the serving chart, which is a diagram of how the cake should be cut, and email it to the client. This would be REALLY helpful for people to see how they're expected to cut the cake to get the correct servings. It will eliminate one point of confusion for clients who think they're supposed to cut a cake into the 3x3" servings I mentioned before.

Another feature that's really useful is the ability to add or remove cake pan sizes from the options. Let's say that you don't have a 7" round pan. Just go into the pan selector and uncheck that size. It won't use the 7" pan in any of the combinations from then on unless you recheck it.

There are some limitations to the app, of course, which is only to be expected because no app does everything. The designers have a way to contact them with feedback and suggestions, though, so they're interested in hearing from people who would be using the app.

The things I would add would be a feature that lets you calculate a tier combination that gives you the serving count without the top tier included. I don't include the top tier in the serving count for my wedding cakes, so that would be helpful. In the meantime, I can just look on the one-tier-lower combinations and add a smaller tier to a combination that has the number of servings I need.

The other thing that could be a problem for some people is the serving charts themselves, since the wedding cake servings counts seem to use the Wilton charts. Some people prefer the square-cutting method, which gives you slightly fewer servings per tier. You can adjust for that by customizing the serving size, though.

If you set it on 1.25"x2" you get close to the square-cut serving chart numbers. If you're trying to split the difference between the two charts, you can set the custom serving size to 1.25 x 1.75", and the serving count ends up about halfway between the two charts.

The one real limitation that I could see is that it doesn't include rectangular pans, but maybe they could include that in an update? hint hint.

This is a very useful app, and the things about it that are limitations will just take a little working around. For myself, I can set the custom serving size to get the result that's midway between the two charts, and add a smaller tier to a combination that's the number of servings I need. Once you learn what the different features will do it's really easy to customize the app to work with the way that you have your cake pricing set up.

The TieredCaker app is $7.99 in the App store in iTunes. The Calculated Cakes website says that they're developing more apps to go along with the line, so keep your eye on the website to see what's coming up. Go to www.calculatedcakes.com for more information, and watch this video to see the app in action:


Thursday, August 30, 2012

BeaterBlade Review

I got a BeaterBlade from a friend, so I tried it out today.

BeaterBlades are designed to scrape the mixing bowl while the batter is being mixed, so it eliminates lumps and unmixed ingredients that you have to incorporate by hand. Since I'm lazy and don't enjoy sticking my hand into a bowl full of cake batter to scrape it, I thought that this would be a good thing.

Turns out that it was, and that the batter came out very nicely smooth. It mixed faster than usual, too, which was interesting. The scraper must help to incorporate the ingredients faster as well as

I used it on a couple of recipes, one that requires the butter to be creamed and one that doesn't. Creaming the butter at the beginning of the mixing was definitely aided by having the beater scrape the side of the bowl, and it seemed to aerate the batter a little more than the usual beater does.

I didn't see a lot of difference in the recipe that didn't require the butter to be creamed, other than having it mix very evenly due to the scraper blade.

One thing to note is that the shape of the blade tends to throw things out of the mixer bowl if you turn the mixer speed up a lot, so have the pouring shield ready if you have a full bowl of batter.

This is definitely a good buy, and I'd recommend it. Go to BeaterBlade.com for more information.


Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fondarific Review Part 4- Gumpaste and Sculpting Chocolate

Along with the fondant, Fondarific also makes gumpaste and sculpting chocolate. Laura from Fondarific had told me that those are the two media that are intended for modelling figures.

The sculpting chocolate was sculpting chocolate, I don't have much criticism for that. I like modelling chocolate more than fondant for sculpting certain things because it holds the details a lot better. This would definitely do that job.

It's also good for details on 3-D cakes...

The gumpaste is what I use for flowers, obviously, and I usually make my own. The Fondarific gumpaste had a nice stretch to it and was also nice because it had a long working time. The gumpaste that I make has a very long work time, and when it dries it isn't severely brittle.

The Fondarific gumpaste was very much like mine texture-wise, but it was a lot softer. It was more spongy than stretchy, and had almost a marshmallowy texture when I was kneading it. It had a very "wet" feel to it.

It also took a long time to dry, but it did keep the shape well after setting up for a short time. I tend to leave my gumpaste out while I'm working, I'm not good about covering everything up in a paranoid way to keep it from drying out. I could do that with the Fondarific gumpaste and it didn't seem to affect the texture of the paste.

I had started on a flower with my gumpaste, and I decided to finish it with the Fondarific. The color was very similar, so it was a good match. The setting time before I could take the little plastic filler out was fairly short, but the petals were still flexible and I probably could have adjusted them some more if I wanted to.

This was a nice gumpaste to work with, and I liked the long working time. When it dried out completely it was fairly brittle, though. The formula that I use still has a little give in it, which I prefer for cases where you drop the peony that you're working on. It will be less likely to be totally decimated. Not that I've ever dropped something that I'm working on *cough*

So the sculpting chocolate and the gumpaste are both good products...Get one of them as opposed to using the fondant if you're making figures or flowers. Just don't drop your peonies.


Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA

http://www.acaketorememberva.blogspot.com

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fondarific Fondant Review part 3-- Is it Duff?

This was going to be the review of the sculpting chocolate and gumpaste, but I'll save that for tomorrow. The burning question now is whether Fondarific and Duff fondant are the same. And the heat issue from the last part of this review.

I spoke to Laura from Fondarific about the issue of how it stands up in the heat. She said that they tested it by putting a Fondarific-covered cake in a car with the windows rolled up during the summer, with shades up to block the direct sunlight. The temperature of the car got up to 110-115 degrees (43 to 46 Celsius) and the cake was fine. It was when they put it in direct sunlight that it was affected. So if you're out in the heat but under a tent you'll be fine, just don't put the cake in direct UV rays. She also said that if it gets too soft when you're working with it, just let it sit for a few minutes and it will stiffen up again.


Fondarific Ingredients
And now, on to the intrigue...

(First, all of the conclusions that I've drawn from comparing these two fondants are my own opinions. Laura couldn't confirm or deny the specifics of the formulas or any licensing agreements that may or may not exist, for obvious business reasons. So take what I'm going to say as my own opinion and not as proprietary information that I have access to. Because I don't have access to that.)


In my review of Duff fondant I mentioned that I'd been told that Duff is the same as Fondarific, just relabelled. Doing a little research on the subject makes it pretty clear that this is accepted as true...BUT IS IT???


Well, check the ingredients lists first: they're not the same. They're similar, but not the same. The proportions are different even when the ingredients are the same.
Duff fondant ingredients

Duff's label goes so far as to say that the primary ingredient is "compound coating," which I'd guess is another name for candy clay. That's going to be pretty obvious to anyone who's worked with candy clay before as soon as you take it out of the container, though.

Anyone who's added a tiny amount of tylose to fondant knows how a little bit of a gum can stiffen the fondant, so with the proportions of ingredients being different, you'd expect some handling differences. And you definitely get that.

The Duff fondant is definitely stiffer and less pliable. When I used it the last time it took FOR-EV-ER to soften it up enough to roll it, and it was the same this time. The Fondarific was stiff to begin with but softened up quickly. The Duff brand stayed stiffer and never really softened up as much.

The Duff brand was also harder to roll out and I was reminded that another name for candy clay is "chocolate plastic" while I was rolling it. It has a more plastic texture than Fondarific, and it doesn't have as good a mouth feel because of that.

Both fondants rolled out without ripping and were easy to mend, but the Duff was harder to roll out as thin as the Fondarific, and it tore less when I abused both by stretching them out. It was more elastic but not in a good way.

Flavor and smell-wise, the Fondarific smells like a butter-type fragrance. The Duff fondant smells more coconut-y and less buttery.

The Fondarific just tasted better. It was a combination of the flavor and the softer texture that seemed to have a lower melting point, so it wasn't as chewy as the Duff brand.

Basically, the Fondarific was softer, tasted better,  and had a better mouth feel. If you're choosing between the two, Fondarific was better for eating purposes. Which, after all, is what it should be for.

In my opinion, then, the two aren't the same. They're similar, but not the same. You'd definitely have a preference of one over the other if you tried them, the differences are noticeable enough.


NEXT time...gumpaste and sculpting chocolate.


Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA



Friday, March 16, 2012

Fondarific Fondant Review Part 2

The last post that I wrote was about the flavor of Fondarific, and because of the different flavors being different colors, I asked Laura at Fondarific whether the flavored versions were all colored. She responded "the fruit flavor are the color of the fruit…..cherry is light red, strawberry is princess pink…etc. The fruit flavors were developed for the children’s side of the cake industry for their cakes, cookies and cupcakes. "

So there's the answer for that. If you want the flavored versions they'll be colored. But the buttercream flavor comes in all colors, so you wouldn't be limited to using the flavored type if you want the color also.

So on to the next challenge..how does Fondarific handle when covering a cake with it?

Laura had told me that Fondarific is different than other types of fondant because it's meant to cover cakes, not to model figures with. She also said that if you add tylose to it, it won't firm up and make quick gumpaste. They sell modelling chocolate and gumpaste for modelling purposes, and the fondant isn't intended to be used for that.

When I took it out of the tub and started kneading it, it was obvious right away that this wasn't "normal" fondant. What quickly became more obvious was that this has to be a combination of candy clay and fondant. I like that combination, since the candy clay tends to be easier to mold,  but is also stiffer when it cools off.

Reading the ingredients confirmed my suspicion, but I obviously don't know the proportions of ingredients. I had made a 50/50 combination of candy clay and fondant last week to cover the lighthouse cake, so I took out the extra from that to compare the two. The homemade stuff wasn't as smooth, but it was the same color and flavor.

I stuck my finger in it here...
The fondant ingredients were also very similar to the modelling chocolate ingredients. (Which I'll review next, to see how that handles.)

That also explained the flavor that I couldn't place...as soon as I figured out the candy clay connection I realized that it was similar to the flavor of candy melts.

So I went to roll it out, and it was fantastic to roll...Smooth, pliable, and it didn't rip. I rolled it REALLY thin to try to abuse it, and it stretched instead of ripping when I pulled it off the counter. I also did roll it directly onto the counter with no mat, corn starch or confectioner's sugar, since that was something that it said wasn't necessary on the label. I wanted to really put it to the test, and it didn't need the sugar to keep it from sticking. It just pulled right up off the counter even when it was rolled out to about 1/8".

...and this is where I fixed it.
I covered 4",7" and 9" tiers with about 2 1/3 lbs of the Fondarific. It really covered the dummies well, and the best part was that since it doesn't dry you can work it and fix any folds etc that might happen when you're covering your cakes. I deliberately stuck my finger into it to see if it could be fixed. I was able to smooth it out just by using my finger...thank you, high fat content.

It did kind of stick to the fondant smoother, but when I left it alone and let it cool off some I was able to fix it with the smoother.

That's the one thing that I did notice that could be bad about this brand...It's so soft, it got melty when I had my hands on it too much. It was relatively hot today and I had the windows open, so I checked to see what temperature it was. It was 78 degrees, which is warmish but not summer heat, so I don't know how this would handle if it was really hot. This wouldn't be a problem if you were working in a climate-controlled kitchen, but I wonder how it would do in the 100 degree summer heat for an outdoor reception.

It also makes sense that Laura said the fondant wasn't intended for use as a modelling medium. I can see that working with it too much would soften it up a lot and it wouldn't hold its shape well. But I have to say, it covered the cakes really, really well.

One of the comments on the previous post suggested mixing Fondarific with another brand (which shall be nameless) to reduce the softness. That makes sense, but I wonder if it would reduce the ability to fix problem spots so easily.

So yes, I did like this a lot, but I don't know how it would do in severe heat. Maybe I can ask Laura about that issue and see what she says.

Next: Fondarific Modelling Chocolate



Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA

For the full cake business blog, go to www.acaketorememberva.blogspot.com