Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sugar Art Insider: A Quick Guide to Cake Design

Starting in 2006 with the Food Network Challenge series, a set of countdown-style competitions that usually involved massive cake designs and drama, the world of cakes and sugar artistry was opened to the average TV viewer, and everyone wanted in. Due to the success of shows like Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss, the popularity of cake design has gone through the roof, so bakeries have upped the ante. Getting your own custom design in South Florida is the way to go, and it’s so much easier if you know your sugar art. We’ve got everything from the revamped classics to the newest trends of confectionary design, so you’re ready for that next cake appointment.

Flora & Fauna
Any hotel package cake book will tell you, fresh flowers on a cake are a good choice. They match your décor, and they’re beautiful, and that’s fine. But the cake artists at Ever After Cake Designs & Elite Cakes can do you one better: edible gumpaste flowers made to look like the real thing. We’re not talking the frosting roses we see made in the supermarket. Made from a paste of confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, and gelatin, these flowers are handmade petal by petal, and then painted with food coloring and petal dust to perfection. Once a land of simple roses and daisies, cake artists are pushing the envelope with more intricate flowers like peonies, orchids, and lotus. No matter how exotic, bring a picture and these artists can make it happen.  

Fun with Chocolate
Ever wanted to make a mini-version of yourself for your cake, but the plastic cake toppers just don’t match? Cake design has always gone beyond the 2D fondant cutouts, but the world knew little of it until now: modeling chocolate. The best of the best in this category are definitely Elite Cakes’ divorce cakes and Mighty Fine Cakes’ large scale creations, shown here. A mixture of chocolate and corn syrup, it works just like clay, and under the right artist’s hands can turn into any 3D decoration. When it’s dyed with food coloring or painted it doesn’t even look like chocolate, but it’s edible. Cartoon characters, baby carriages, dogs, shoes, and even people are all possible, and all delicious. Who wouldn’t want a little chocolate version of themselves to munch on with their red velvet creation?

Lots of people probably know about piping on a cake or using a stencil, but painting? Yes, painting & printing on cakes, especially wedding cakes, has made huge leaps in popularity this year. We found these particular beauties, as well as others throughout this article, at Elegant Temptations, one of the premiere providers for over the top and luxurious cake design.  After covering a cake in fondant, food coloring is applied either through an airbrushing technique or literally with a paint brush. For wedding or birthday cakes that want to be clean and elegant but still have that pop of color and design, painted cakes are the chic way to go.

Pop It
The cake ball used to only have one purpose: to use up that stale, leftover cake by crumbling it, mixing it with frosting, and then coating in chocolate or some other sweetness. Now places like Kelly Diaz-Demoya’s Hey Cupcake Bakery will bake these pops fresh, and create elaborate stands for events. The cake pop has even recently evolved in structure, using special molds to bake little balls of cake that are sometimes injected with sweet fillings. It’s improved upon the super sweet original by making it more of a mini cake on a stick.  

Unusual Cake Tiers
If you’re looking to surprise your guests with something visually interesting and off-kilter, then perhaps your cake’s tiers need to defy gravity. Jessica Rothschild of Rock Star Pastries & Sandy Rios-Monsante of Sugar Fancies Cake & Sweets Boutique are two great options for these creations. The “topsy-turvy” cake, also called “whimsical” or “madhatter”, uses an optical illusion to make the cakes look slanted, almost as if they’re going to fall. The secret? A circular indent is carved in the lower tier that is the size of the upper tier, so that when stacked the leveling is still even, with cake rising up around it in a slant. For the formal wedding cake that’s cutting edge, maybe some of your tiers aren’t cake at all. Glass stands or acrylic boxes filled with flowers or from Elegant Temptations can add a special touch of luxury and intrigue.

The Gourmet Cupcake
Gone are the days when cupcakes were just vanilla’s bake sale staple. Today’s bakers are creating incredible things with cupcakes. The popularity of cupcake shows like DC Cupcakes from TLC has given rise to similar boutiques across the country, including here in South Florida. One boutique is the Sweetness Bake Shop & Café. With over 100 varieties of cupcakes, baker Yamile has made almost every kind of sweetness in cupcake form like the Guayabera and the Oreo Overdose. For those 21 and over, there are even spiked cupcakes. For cupcake design, two great choices are Sugar Fancies & Unique Designers Cake. Their designs go beyond the frosting puff to include fondant, gumpaste, and anything else you’d normally expect on the cupcake’s larger cousin. Whether it’s champagne or sugar pearls, every cupcake at these two bakeries is a shot of pastry goodness.

That’s Cake?!
To completely wow your guests, the biggest and best is the carved or “3D” cake. Caroline Montoya of Unique Designers Cake & Susie Stallings of Susie’s Scrumptious Sweets take the cake in this category. With a thin pastry knife in hand, these cake artists becomes a cake sculptor, shaving off pieces of cake bit by bit until they’ve created the shape of whatever it is you want them to make. Purses, food, motorcycles, most anything you can imagine can be turned into cake these days. The key? Attention to detail. To make it look this good, cake artists need lots of pictures. If it’s something portable like a camera, giving them a model object they can touch and feel is best. 

Gettin' Cheesy in South Florida

by Erik Mathes

There are few foods in America quite as polarizing as cheese, and it’s not difficult to understand why.  From gooey textures to off-putting aromas, these edibles are either adored or abhorred by the masses.  The thing is, it seems that even those who love it -- and especially those who loathe it -- simply don't understand the big picture when it comes to cheese.  

If you ask the average American cheese-eater what the savory substance is made of, why it looks the way it does, and why there are so many appearances, scents, flavors, and textures that fit underneath its heading, they’d probably respond with a dull, blank stare.  This would certainly be different in Europe, where cheese-as-art has long been ingrained into the cultures (no pun intended) of most nations. Here, we’ve been weaned on Kraft singles and Cracker Barrel. As children, our sponge-like minds soaked it up when Looney Tunes portrayed Limburger as something as potent and avoidable as a stinkbomb.  

While I have never tried Limburger (I’m brainwashed, brainwashed, I tell you!), I’ve dabbled in some pretty nose-tingling cheeses in my day, and I’ve learned the incredibly valuable lesson to never judge one by its olfactory presence alone.  You see, the taste of a supremely smelly variety could very well be indirectly proportional to its odor, possessing a pleasant mellowness; or, cheese that causes relatively mild nasal reactions could surprise you with its pungency on your tongue.  It’s for this reason that I urge all of you fromagynists (that’s a new word I’ve coined for cheese-haters that doesn’t exactly adhere to rational English-language standards) to reconsider your stance and find out what exactly this misunderstood snack is all about.  

For starters, it’s silly to go around proclaiming that you like or dislike “cheese,” as there are a handful of subcategories that fit beneath the umbrella term, and you may feel differently about each one.  Books by experts on the subject break down the world’s 700 to 1,000 recognized cheeses into between five and seven general types. My source, The Murray’s Cheese Handbook, lists seven (to which I’ll add examples in parentheses):  Fresh (mozzarella, chevre), bloomy (brie, camembert), washed rind (tallegio, livarot), semisoft (fontina, morbier), firm (cheddar, manchego), hard (aged gouda, Parmigiano-Reggiano), and blue (St. Agur, gorgonzola).  Then, delving deeper, you must also consider if the milk used in making a cheese came from a cow, goat, sheep, or, dare I say, water buffalo. That's before you even figure out the country of origin and what special techniques were applied in producing it to distinguish it from the crowd.  So many variables, so many unique tastes, so little time.  

If you’re ready to make the leap from commercial, processed “cheese” to artisanal creations concocted in small batches and celebrated worldwide, head over to Cheese Culture, located at 813 East Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.  Its owners, Mitch and Susan Phipps, are a hilarious, fun-loving couple who “strive to be better at being different” when running their quirky queso shop.  Spend enough time inside, and you’ll surely get wrapped up in conversation about everything from how cheesemaking was likely first discovered (a phenomenal story involving a young boy from ancient Rome who made a shocking find after transporting fresh milk inside his era’s container of choice, a cow’s stomach), to their favorite (and least favorite) wine and cheese pairings.  Plus, they’ll make it easier than unwrapping a slice of processed yellow American for you to decide which real cheeses you prefer, by letting you to taste an array of samples and providing detailed background info on each one. 

According to Mitch, he and Susan have “taken the time to eat and drink a lot,” so they know plenty of perfect pairings from personal experimentation. It can be as easy as matching virtually any dessert wine with any blue cheese (Mad Cuvée with Colston Bassett Stilton, for example, is simply divine). Other times, it can be more nuanced, such as when selecting aged cheeses (like gouda, cheddar, pecorino, or manchego) to counterpart with fruitier reds.  As for what to avoid, Mitch says Arneis (an Italian white) paired with Dauphinoise brie is “like an explosion of ammonia in your mouth,” as are most whites with most brie. It pays to ask around and do your research when proper pairing is part of your plan.  

All of this cheesy talk is just the tip of the ol’ wedge when it comes to this meltingly delicious meal-maker, and I hope my words serve to motivate you to find your nearest ‘monger so you can get your fromage-fest started.  With so many flavors to sort through, you might as well take your time to savor each one slowly and take notes on how you feel. Once you’re hooked on the good stuff, you’ll know exactly how to navigate your way toward the next cheesy discovery.