Monday, October 27, 2014

Pumpkin Carving

Each fall season, we allow our children to pick out a pumpkin. This year, they both chose tiny ones. When it came time to carve them, I figured we would do the same thing we always do and have the children pick a simple silly face for each one. Bubby decided on the Goofy Pumpkin Face because he liked the silly eyes, but Lalo is getting to that age where she is noticing things with more detail. She chose a Mare in the Moon template. I've always been willing to try just about anything artsy at least once, but I never thought I'd try detailed pumpkin carving.

I recruited some muscle to help out with this project, especially since I just so happened to live with the perfect man for the job. He ended up doing a lot of the cutting, especially after we found out that the exterior of Lalo's pumpkin was so hard it was like cutting through wood! I also recruited two cutie pies to help with the messy part, and they didn't mind of course.

First, I printed out the designs, cut them into stencils, and traced the designs on the pumpkins with a ballpoint pen. I used a pen because I didn't care too much about whether the ink came off after the fact. If you don't want to see writing on your pumpkin, you might try a dry erase marker or something that will come off easily. Then, my husband cut the tops off so that we could later insert a candle.

Lalo's design required the moon to be cut out completely, then just the "skin" removed around the mare. After my husband cut out the moon, I went to work on the "skin" removal. I absolutely could not shave that tough exterior with a sharp knife. Well, I probably could have, but might have cut off a finger or stabbed myself in the process. And, I didn't have any other pumpkin carving tools, so I got this crazy idea of using my husband's Black & Decker Cordless Drill. I used a flat head screwdriver bit to scratch away at the orange part of the skin, and quickly realized that there was about a quarter inch of hard white skin under the orange skin. Once the orange skin was removed, I used the biggest drill bit to make holes all over in the "skin removal" section of the design, all the while being careful to not drill all the way through the pumpkin. After the holes were made, my husband held it up to the light and we noticed that the mare design wasn't really standing out, thus the holes would need to be smoothed out a bit and the mare would need more definition. At this point, there was hardly any tough skin left, so it was much easier to define the mare by taking a sharp knife around the outline. Then, I took the drill, with flat head screwdriver bit, and evened out the "skin removal" section the best I could. After a bit more work with the knife, we finally had a finished pumpkin. I don't think it would have been so tedious if the pumpkin had a softer exterior and we had the right pumpkin carving tools. I'll have to remember that for next year. :)

I hope this gives you some ideas and/or inspiration for detailing a pumpkin of your own!

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Disclosure: This post may contain sponsor, affiliate, and/or referral links. For more information, please see my full Disclosure Policy. I am no expert on the use of any tools mentioned here, so please use caution and seek manuals or professional guidance before trying this at home. Our children were not allowed to use sharp or dangerous items during this process. We urge readers to please use caution when children are present and any items mentioned are being used.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Enchanted Unicorn Cake

My daughter was set on a Frozen themed birthday party, but I just couldn't bring myself to create yet another one of those cakes. So, I sneakily encouraged her to change her mind by searching the internet for girl party themes. All it took was for her to see the Enchanted Unicorn Party Supplies. She absolutely loves horses and unicorns! And, I found some great ideas for the cake online:

Unicorn Cake by sweetbrantleys on - I like the ribbons and pillows idea.
Swirls, Flowers and Roses Cake on - I liked all of the elements on this cake, but would have done it in purple, pink and blue.
Unicorn Pink and Purple Cake - This was my favorite. I might have actually done it exactly like this, but changed the colors a little bit.

But, at the last minute, I allowed Lalo to have a "say so" in the cake, and she changed the whole thing. LOL Here was her initial concept:
Coolest Unicorn Rainbow Cake

The Unicorn Topper

I think both of my children have figured out that if they request actual figurines as toppers, they have toys to play with after the fact. So, naturally, Lalo requested that her topper be an Enchanted Unicorn Cake Topper. So, that part was the easiest.

 The Rainbow

Ideally, the rainbow would be made one to two weeks prior to the cake being baked so that it could harden and stand up properly. However, we had a very busy month with lots of back-to-homeschool field trips, and I simply couldn't make it early enough. Thus, I had to cut a Wilton 6-Inch Cake Circle in the shape of the rainbow and use that as my backing. Then, I cut some 12-Inch Bamboo Skewers and stuck them into the backing for support. You can faintly see four spots for the skewers in the cake board. And, to be honest, it's not very appealing to the eye to leave it this way. You can see the icing making the cake board look very greasy. So, if you think ahead and have time, it is better to allow your fondant time to set up and/or find something less absorbent than cake board.

I had already planned to not cover this cake with fondant, so I didn't want to make an entire batch for just the rainbow. However, I'm not at all a fan of the store bought variety of fondant. The taste is horrible, it is not easy to soften, and it comes in too big of packages. But as I browsed the cake aisle of our local retail store, I found some tiny fondant packets that actually felt soft, were labeled Vanilla, and really didn't taste that bad at all! I grabbed one packet of white and decided to just color my own rainbow. I simply divided the fondant up into six of the same size balls (with some white leftover), colored each one a different color (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple), rolled them out into tube shapes, placed them onto the cake board backing, and cut the ends to fit the backing. Then, I took the leftover white, rolled it out into a smaller tube shape, then curled one end one direction and the other end the opposite direction (to form the clouds).

The Flowers

Since I was pressed for time, and wasn't making homemade fondant, I also decided to skip making the flowers. My initial idea was to find edible flowers that were purple, pink, and blue. But, when Lalo saw the Wilton Rainbow Colored Icing Daisies, she chose those. Thus, a rainbow unicorn cake was born. And, these were a hit too. Each little girl at the party wanted some on her slice of cake!

The Cake and Icing

The cake batter flavors were alternating chocolate and vanilla. The top tier is a six inch, double layer cake and the bottom tier is a ten inch, double layer cake. Both are topped with buttercream icing. A great tip I've found for smoothing out the cake icing is to use Viva Paper Towels after the icing has set or dried. Viva paper towels are soft like cotton and have a smooth surface, thus they don't leave indentations in the cake. You simply lay a paper towel over top of the set/dried icing, and smooth with your hand.

If you take a second glance at the back of the cake (see "The Rainbow" section above), you'll see a "mess up" at the bottom of the blue tier. I accidentally touched the icing after piping the grass, and I opted to not go through the trouble of fixing it. All I would have needed to do was scrape off a little of the green piped grass, smooth out the blue icing with the paper towel, then pipe the grass again (with a Wilton Grass Tip) in the same spot to cover where I had scraped it off. I had actually touched the cake icing many times, and fixed it every time, and just got tired of fixing it. That is why I prefer to cover my cakes with icing and then fondant on top of the icing. The fondant can be touched and won't mess up the same way icing will mess up. And, if you're worried about others not wanting to eat the fondant, they can peel off the fondant and still have the icing underneath.

I hope this post has given you some pointers on how to create your next cake! I enjoyed making it and Lalo was very pleased. :)

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Disclosure: This post may contain sponsor, affiliate, and/or referral links. For more information, please see my full Disclosure Policy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Thomas & Friends Themed Cake

A certain little boy in the Carpenter house is completely obsessed with trains. So, naturally, his eyes are constantly pulled in the direction of Thomas & Friends. In lieu of a birthday party this year, we actually took him to visit Tweetsie Railroad, but I promised to bake him a Thomas cake for a small family celebration.

My very first thought for this cake was to just make Thomas. It would have been so much fun to actually build a Thomas cake, similar to how Ann Reardon explains on her Youtube video. But, when I asked Bubby what he wanted, he did not want a Thomas.

One of Bubby's favorite parts about trains is the idea of rolling things across tracks. He even loves to play little track building games on his tablet. And, he specifically requested a toy train on the cake in lieu of a fondant train. That was probably best anyway, because I could just imagine his disappointment when he learned that we would have to eat Thomas or throw him away! So, I knew this cake had to have tracks on which he could roll a toy train. I first thought about a tiered cake similar to the one created by Dream Day Cakes. I loved the idea of cutting out a space for the tracks on each layer all the way down and around. But, it became kind of impossible to get our family together for a small celebration, thus I realized we weren't going to need such a big cake.

So, I decided to go with something small and simple but with all the elements that I knew Bubby would love...tracks on which he could actually drive his toy train AND a tunnel through which he could actually drive it. He loves tunnels too! My inspiration for a tunnel came from a cake I found on I loved the stone rock idea, so I decided to create my own version of it. The tunnel needed to be accessible by a toy train though, so I had to build one. This is where I had to get creative. It had to be able to withstand the play of a 3 year old little boy, yet be edible (simply b/c I prefer it that way). So, I cut up a cleaned out, plastic butter bowl to give it a little more structure. Then, I made the shape of the tunnel by stuffing some homemade rice cereal treats and the plastic bowl into a Small Batter Bowl by Pampered Chef. Finally, I covered the tunnel shape with icing and fondant. The inside of the tunnel was a little tricky to cover. I didn't want it to be the exposed white bowl color, but couldn't use green icing either, because Bubby's hands would have been covered in it! So, I iced the inside of the tunnel and pieced together fondant just enough to cover the icing. No easy task. But, a functional enough tunnel was born!

Bubby does also really enjoy bridges, so I really wanted the cake to have a bridge. So, I thought I would go with something like a cake on Coolest Birthday Cakes. However, my rice cereal treats came out too sticky and wouldn't hold the shape I needed. Let's just say that I completely lost patience with it and gave up. LOL

Considering all things (needing a smaller cake, a place for a tunnel, a functional track, etc.), it just seemed easier to make a sheet cake. After wrapping the tracks all around the edges of the cake, I had this big empty spot in the middle of the cake. The island of Sodor on Thomas & Friends does have a LOT of water around, so the big empty space on the cake just had to be water. :) I simply left out a little white icing, colored it blue, and spread out a little circle of icing inside the circle of tracks.

All that was left was adding accents. I made a few pine trees. Chef Sam has a good "how to" video on how to do that. I did not have a clean pair of nail scissors, so I just used my kitchen shears. I also made a few gray fondant rocks. Then, I sprinkled around "dirt". Not real dirt. LOL I found this nifty little bottle of German Chocolate Sprinkles by Betty Crocker in the baking aisle at the grocery store. Lastly, I piped some grass all around. All that was left was adding some toy trains! We chose Thomas, Annie and Clarabelle, but he ended up playing with Thomas alone. Yes, he actually played on the cake before we ate it. :)

This cake was fairly simple to make yet was loved very much by a sweet little boy. Hopefully this has given you some ideas for your next cake! Happy baking!

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Frozen Themed Cake

My good friend Dusty from To the Moon and Back asked me to make a cake for her sweet little daughter. Her daughter is in love with the Disney movie Frozen, just like all other little girls, so Dusty searched Pinterest and found some great ideas that she wanted me to mesh together.

Cake and Icing

Cake Flavor

If you've read any of my other posts, you know I am a box cake kind of gal! LOL Not by choice though, because I have truly tried to come up with my own recipe. It just hasn't worked out as well as I'd hoped, so my plan was to stick with box cake until I came across something absolutely delicious. Well, Dusty wanted the cake "from scratch", so she provided me with a link to Martha Stewart's Versatile Vanilla Cake recipe. And, it is the yummiest vanilla cake recipe I've ever tasted!! I don't know why it never occurred to me to just use buttermilk for such a great flavor. And, I'm also sure that the 3 extra fatty egg yolks have something to do with it as well ;) This will definitely be a go-to recipe for me from now on!

Cake Batter Colors

Dusty wanted me to create a little colorful surprise inside the cake. Her idea stemmed from a white, purple and blue color scheme by Baked by Rachel. I was really excited to try this, because I had never before colored my cake batter! And, it was soooo easy to do. BUT, that purple wasn't going to match the colors on the cake. So, I tried the burgundy I used to color Anna's cloak. I had to use a LOT of burgundy to get Anna's cloak that color, and I didn't want to do the same thing with my cake batter and end up over mixing it, so the first layer ended up coming out baby pink :/ That was not going to work, so I did convince Dusty to let me change the colors to variations of blue, because the purple just wasn't going to match, and I wasn't sure if I could get burgundy as deep as it needed to be without messing up the batter. And, of course, I wasn't able to get a snap shot of the inside of the cake, so Dusty was kind enough to take that for me :)


I really don't know how to do anything other than buttercream, as far as icing goes, so that is what I went with here. However, Dusty requested a rosette design which I had never tried. My friend Kendra with Kendra's Bakery Creations has made some beautiful ombre rosette cakes, so I asked her for tips. First, she told me I would need icing tip 1M for big rosettes or 21 for small rosettes. The cake would also need to be the same number of layers as colors/rows needed. I planned to do three shades of blue, so that meant three layers of cake. Next, she suggested starting by coloring a portion of my icing the darkest color I would use (the bottom row). Then, add a little white icing to some of the leftover dark color to make the next color (second row). Then, add a portion of the leftovers from the second color to more white icing for the third color (top row). And, I just used white on the very top to resemble snow. I learn well by demonstration, so I also found this YouTube video by GlobalSugarArt:

I wasn't thrilled with how the ombre effect turned out. You can see the variation in color a lot better in person than in the photo, but I still wish I had made sure there was a bigger difference in color between the rows. I also know there is probably a better way to hide the "tails" of the top row of rosettes, but I couldn't figure it out on this cake. It's probably turning the tails onto the top of the cake instead of onto the top of each rosette. I'll have to watch the video again to figure it out. Here is a photo of the cake before putting on all of the decorations:

Cake Decorations

Coloring the Fondant

I make my fondant from scratch because it simply tastes better. But, I don't like to make another batch for a color I missed. So, I start by compiling photos and/or guides for my colors. I use those guides to make the list of colors I will need for the whole cake. Then, I estimate which portion of the fondant will need to be used for each color and I break the fondant into separate balls. I wrap the balls separately in plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. Next, I lay out my colors next to the relevant fondant balls so that I don't forget which color goes with which ball. When I blend my colors into the fondant, I always start with the lightest color just in case I get some on my hands and can't get it off. I also wash my hands in between each color, because I don't want to accidentally mix my colors. Shortening comes in handy when mixing dark colors. Adding food coloring to the fondant can cause it to get sticky, so I have a bowl of powdered sugar to mix in as needed. Here is what my table looked like before I started adding color to the fondant:

Below, you can see separate piles for Anna, Olaf and Elsa. Plus, just in case, I always try to keep a ball of white for something I might have missed. For example, I forgot that I would need some of the same colors to make snowflakes...LOL. Here is what it looked like when I was finished:

Fondant Topper

First, Dusty found a fondant topper with Anna, Olaf and Elsa hugging made by Isabella's Sweet Tooth. I love her work! She is very talented and shows so much detail!

I definitely did not do this justice, but it still turned out pretty good. I did find out that I am apparently horrible at judging size...LOL. I made the characters too short and squatty and too wide for the cake. But, once the rosette design was all done, they fit a lot better than I thought they would. I also wasn't thrilled with the shape of Olaf's mouth, but he wasn't going to be able to sing In Summer anymore if I kept pulling and tugging at his lips...LOL. So, I just left it as you see it below. Another obstacle I ran into was Anna's cloak kept cracking. I kept having to wet it a little bit and rub the fondant to smooth out the cracks. And, I bet you didn't notice that Anna and Elsa only have one arm each!! LOL Their backs were going to be hidden, so I didn't see the point in the extra work ;)


There was some immaculate detail in the snowflakes that Dusty showed me by Cake by Kim. I wonder if those are stenciled or came from a sugar sheet?? I don't know. That is one talented cake artist though, so she definitely could have done those herself! But, there is no way that I could have recreated that exact effect. Instead, I used the same three snowflake fondant plunger cutters that I used for the Pink Snowman Globe cake. They are not as detailed as the snowflakes Dusty showed me, but they worked well. However, I do wish that I would have had a way to "splash" or "spray" the burgundy color onto the cake under the snowflakes. That is such a neat effect. It really makes the snowflakes pop. Here are my little snowflakes drying on a sheet pan covered with wax paper:

Rock Candy Castle

This was by far the most challenging part of the cake. First of all, I wasn't able to find the colors I needed. And, once I found some close, they were not cheap! It left me wishing that I had just done a little science experiment with the kiddos and made some. I also had to figure out how to elevate and stagger them to look like the "castle" in the photo Dusty found. So, I decided to stack a few different sized pieces of cake, ice them, stick in the candy rock suckers and place "sugar crystals" all in the icing. But, when stacking the pieces of cake, I had forgotten the mistake I made when creating the Yo Gabba Gabba cake. I had stacked the cake in a direction where the pieces would easily split apart and really had no structure. So, once I put on the weight of the candy rock suckers, the piece of cake closest to the edge started falling off! Oooops! I was able to place my hand on the entirety of the "build" and push it back onto the cake, but I knew the weight would make it start to fall off again. So, I actually had to (don't laugh) use a piece of yarn to secure the "build" just long enough for Dusty to get the cake home and keep it until her daughter's celebration. Good thing it was for a friend who is understanding!! Anyway, here are a few shots of the rock sucker creation:

I had a lot of fun creating this cake. Both Lalo and Bubby are in love with the Frozen movie, so they really enjoyed watching this come together as well. Lalo is talking about her next birthday party being Frozen themed, so if she sticks with that idea, we'll see what happens next :) Thank you and happy baking!

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Friday, January 31, 2014

Upcycling - Tissue Boxes

At least one person in our household has been sick, except for the occasional week here and there, since October 2013! This is by far the worst "sick season" that we've ever had in our house. Needless to say, we've had plenty of empty tissue boxes left over...LOL. I hate to throw things away that I think might benefit us in some way later, so I went on a search to see how we could upcycle our tissue boxes :) Here are some of my favorite tissue box craft ideas:

Gift Garden by Grace and Grit...For Living Life

Train by Crayola

Guitar by Little Learners Lounge

Dinosaur Feet by A Bird and a Bean

Pirate Treasure Chest by DLTK

Valentine's Day Card Holder by Once Upon a Craft

Photo Boxes by The Sister Project

Drawer Organization by The Stonybrook House

Wall Organization or Makeup Organization by Unknown

Barbie Couch by Kids Kubby

Storage Bin by Southern Flair Crafts

I found a whole new world of up-cycling ideas while searching for simple tissue box ideas. My new problem is finding a place to store all of the cereal boxes, tissue boxes, paper towel rolls, etc. until I can finish all of my new projects!!! LOL

How have you up-cycled tissue boxes?

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