Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Whitney Museum Cake

 Event Photography by Filip Wolak, courtesy Virginia Overton and the Whitney Museum 

I was thrilled and delighted when I was asked by renowned sculptor and installation artist Virginia Overton to produce a cake of the Whitney Museum for her presentation as part of the Whitney's ongoing series 99 objects.

Above: VIDEO excerpts of the event shot by our good friend, Boaz Halaban

Named in honor of the Whitney’s new address, 99 Gansevoort Street, 99 Objects is a series of in-gallery programs focusing on individual works of art from the Museum’s collection on view as part of the exhibition America Is Hard to See
Speakers include artists, writers, Whitney curators and educators, and an interdisciplinary group of scholars. Programs take place daily.

Where to start? The first cut is the hardest... (the royal icing front railings are already down, and I love how they became like sprinkles around the base of cake)

Ah, What a delicious museum!

Special thank you to 
Cake assistants: Sara Porter, María Tillous, Kanupriya Kesari
 Architectural consultant: Mané Nalbandyan
 Intern: Remy Stankus.  
Also to Ryan Oskin, Hillel Katz, Larry Krone, Matthew Griffin, David Levinthal and of course, Virginia Overton.

Part 2- and now for any cake nerds out there... the making of the cake:

Before the delivery.  A thunder-stormy, cobble-stoney delivery.  Thanks to Ryan, the cake arrived just fine. (perhaps a little tiny bit worse for wear.)

Pieces of cake buildings and Rice Krispie treat balconies
Attaching the royal icing railings and finishing details on location

Sketches made to scale the size of the cake and lots of photos for reference
Mané spent several days, first finding 3D renderings on line to print our 3D model from, and creating at least a dozen pages of block dimensions, footprints and detailing dimensions

The cake was covered in white chocolate fondant rolled out into large panels

Watching the building get served up, while in the building was very cool!


Printing out a 3D model was key to figuring out the shapes of the building.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Fresh, Naked Cakes...

Because we need a little springtime right this very minute....   

Dahlia and Blackberry Cake
Not long go I was asked to make a "naked" cake with fresh flowers and/or fruit.  
This definitely gave me pause because I'd never made a cake without being completely covered in icing.  In fact, 99% of the cakes I make are not only covered with buttercream, but then covered in fondant as well. 
As for the flowers, I'd never loved the idea of putting fresh flowers on a cake. I always felt like, "what's the point? the whole essence of what I do it to hand-make decorations, like flowers, that are sugar."
But something about the assignment intrigued me.  Maybe it was just timing, or because I like figuring out how to do things I haven't done before and in part just for the sheer simplicity of it.  AND I do  love flowers.  Flowers are so magical.
Like the majority of my first-time projects, I think I went a little overboard scouring the flower market hunting down the perfect buds.  (If you live anywhere near a flower market and you've never gone, you have to go exploring!)
I found this great blog post about navigating the New York City flower market, and then I broke pretty much every rule in the article... but I still recommend it!

Rule #1. Plan ahead (not so much)  #2: Arrive early (broken)  #3: Browse first, buy later (broken!)
Research: Next  I did some seriously unscientific research (thank you, Google) about attaching the flowers to the cake.  There are number of different ways to go, and I tried a little bit of each, in my first cake attempt:  
  • Wires: cutting the stems very close to the top of the flower and inserting floral wires then wrapping in floral tape
  • Spikes: cutting the stems fairly short and placing them inside of flower spikes filled with a bit of water
  • Some people also just stuck the flowers directly into the cake; (if you try this, wrap the stems in foil first)

Cake after 1 HOUR. *note: this cake is a second version (I can't show the original one yet) made the next day as a study, so the flowers are a couple of days old.  All of the flower stems on this test cake were cut, the bottom 2/3's covered in foil and stuck directly into the cake.
Timing: The average wedding reception, not including the cocktail hour, is about 4 hours.  I couldn't imagine that flowers would still look good after being out of water for that long, so I tried it.

Thoroughly unscientific timing experiments: Queen Anne's Lace cut down to about a two inch stem and checked in on periodically over the next 5 hours to see how it would hold up.  It did surprisingly wonderfully!  I detected very little difference from beginning to end.  
BUT I realized my experiment was flawed when I tried it out on a cake. I kept the above test subject laying flat on a counter.  When the flower is standing upright on a cake you could see it start to wilt over the same amount of time, although it still did really well and I would use it again.

Left to right: Rice flower, "Green Magical" Eryngium , Jasmine vine, Ranunculus, Black berries on the vine, and...(not sure about this one), birds-nest fern? All except the fern leaf did great and still looked great after 5 hours.

At the 4 HOUR mark.

5 1/2 HOURS...showing its temporal nature, which to my eye is as poignant and beautiful as ever.
 This cake is loosely based on the Raphaelle inspired flower photographs by Sharon Core, both of which at their heart depict flowers at those last fleeting moments, beautiful and fully open, and just before the petals begin to fall.  While perhaps not best wedding metaphor, I love that moment.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monsters Inc. Cake Pops

Our school's Lower Grade Halloween party was themed Monsters Inc.  Cake Pops work so well as a quick sweet easy grab at a big event like this, with so many kids running around in costume.  We always love to get the kids involved in making them too.  
At least once a year I forget how tricky I find cake pops to make and I think , "Oh this will be really cute!" and then a week later I can't see straight and swear we all have a touch of carpal tunnel and promise everyone never to do this again...(at least until next year : )

Two pals before their trip to School.  Mike seems doubtful, but they all (120 of them!) made it safely to the party.
The finished Mike cake with the mini Mike and Sulley cake pops.  The cake's giant eyeball and lid are sculpted from white modeling chocolate and we added an extra layer of white gel color mixed with vodka on the eye and teeth of the Mike cake.
Close up of mini Mike and Sulley.  Check out those great expressions and eye movement.
After a screening of the movie (and a fine film it is!), and researching all things Monsters Inc, including some of the amazing cakes and cake pops already out there, we had a plan.  Mike would be chocolate with vanilla buttercream, and Sulley would be vanilla with chocolate buttercream.  
I find the moist chocolate cake a little harder to work with, but slightly yummier.  Both pops were dipped in Wilton candy melts.  
Their eyeballs and horns were formed from white modeling chocolate.  Sulley has some facial structure, like his eyebrows, nose, cheeks and chin, sculpted out of blue modeling chocolate. The final detailing, like eyelids and fur were painted on with candy melts using a skewer.  Their monstrous teeth were piped last with royal icing.

Clockwise from top left:  
1. The eyes have it! Mike was looking all over the place. We used a large decorating tip for the outer eye and a smaller one for the outline of the inner one.  And later added a little white in the eye to give the signature cartoon character look.
2. The stages of Mike & SulleySulley: clean canvas, added eyes and nose, built up the chin with some modeling chocolate and gave him blue eyes, and added some hair and those signature bushy eyebrows.  We added some stripes to the horns later. Mike gets dunked, and painted.
3. A little help from our friends.  Nevia Giles is busy dipping dozens of Mike-pops. Nine year-old Paz got in the action and helped paint the cake, while
 Katherine Sprules and Julia formed some of the balls to make the right Mike shape, and attached them to the cake balls with some candy melts. 

I can't believe we hadn't thought of this before, but this Wilton Candy Melting Pot (we got ours at Michael's for 40% off! ) was a huge time saver!  You just have to pay attention to the amount of heat and take the silicone heating pot out of the heating element from time to time to keep the consistency right.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fish Tale: Sushi Cake:

There are some jobs you just can't say no to.  I really LOVED the ideas of giant replicas of sushi and the prospect of making a cake for a legendary chef.  After saying no (because of scheduling), the offer came back around again, and it was too, I said YES!

The final cake includes 24 handmade pieces of sushi and 12 "Hershey Kisses" all made from rice krispy treats and modeling chocolate.  Even the paper tags on the kisses are edible rice paper.

Each piece of sushi has a base of rice crispy treats and then covered with a thin layer of fondant. Next modeling chocolate "rice"was added with clear piping gel. The "fish" is made out of modeling chocolate covered in a really thin layer of fondant and then handpainted with food color
The fondant covered "sushi" was then hand painted in layers of tones of powdered food color mixed with lemon extract.  The silver coating on the mackerel in the foreground is done with different shades of silvers coated in a final layer of silver flakes.

It became very clear about half way through the process of making the cake that it was going to take way way longer than I thought it would to make all of the pieces of sushi. We averaged about two to three pieces of sushi per person per day. So we called in the Calvary with the last minute SOS messages and luckily I got some of my favorite people to lend a hand.

In the end, not all of the sushi made it onto the cake, but we enjoyed them instead : )
Creating a template for a layout of the sushi pieces before placing them on the cake.

For the sides of the "bento box"we rolled out panels of white chocolate fondant and then scored a wood grain effect into the chilled fondant.  After all of the panels were applied to the sides of the chocolate ganache covered cake, the outside was painted with a wash of powdered food color & lemon extract.
After the chilled chocolate-fondant panels were applied to the sides of the ganache covered cake, the outside was painted with a wash of powdered food color and lemon extract.

A big thanks goes out to everyone who worked on the cake with me.  (Top row from left to right:  Cynthia Hsu, Karin Cakirdas/Keremo Cakes, and Katherine Sprules/Katherine Sprules cakes.  Bottom row from left to right:  Kate Sullivan (that's me), Mariel Kaufman, and Nevia Giles, (not pictured here Tony Wright/Pastry Prince and Mandakini Dass.)

Nobu 20th anniversary celebration. Notable guests who turned out to congratulate Chef Nobu Matsuhisa included Robert De Niro, chef Thomas Keller, producer Meir Teper, and restauranteur Drew Nieporent. Courtesy Town and Country.