Thursday, February 26, 2009

Merci Paris

A good friend came into town from Switzerland last night, so a feast was in order. I baked freshly made ricotta with herbs, got crazy with the mandoline for a salad of fennel, apple, and scallions, and grilled skirt steak in the kitchen, setting off only three fire alarms. A nice meal, yet nothing mattered in comparison with what was in store for desert.

One of the guests, another friend, had arrived from Paris yesterday. In her hands were a red box from Pierre Hermes, filled with macarons.

Throughout the wine, laughing, eating, talking, deep down I was waiting so quietly and patiently in my seat for those little jewels to be opened.

My friend chose an array of flavors which combinations proved not weird once bitten-- white truffle (the savory, not sweet), wasabi and grapefruit, green matcha tea and chestnut, passion fruit and chocolate, caramel and sea salt, dark chocolate, and vanilla.

They dusted some of the macarons with a shimmer dust, similar to what I use on my flowers and cakes. A must be...that I make some macaroons.

Macarons traditionally are made using a circle template, so each one fits as a sandwich perfectly. But what about doing something sweet and homemade, like heart shaped macarons? I think this might be the perfect cookie that I want to make for Ruby's birthday, this Monday. Her birthday party will be the following week, and no crazy cakes need to be baked until then. Perhaps something simple and childlike for the flavoring, strawberry with a splash of rosewater for a je ne sais quoi feeling?

If Pierre Herme were trapped in my body, a Jewish mom in Brooklyn, I think he would make these:

Rose macaron with strawberry pastry cream. Perfect for a two year old named Ruby Josephine.
Pictures to come, once hangover ebbs and pastry cream chills.

PS: The spelling for macaron is French, if it were spelled macaroon it would be refrencing those shredded coconut ball deserts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lucky Horseshoe + Glitter

At the cake store a few weeks ago, the manager showed me something new they had in the store for decorating cakes: GLITTER! Edible glitter, that is.

There already are a few products for making metallic looking finishes, but nothing quite as sparkly as this. The texture of chunky glitter can make even the most basic confection seem really fancy. It reminds me of the German glitter glass that is made into letters and numbers at Tinsel Trading Co. (an amazing crafts/vintage findings shop) in NYC.

So far the best way I have found to use it is to prep the surface with a coating of clear alcohol such as vodka, then to sort of tap glitter on, using a paintbrush. I have found doing this in two coats makes a nice, thick opaque glittery surface.

There is an upcoming birthday party for a friend turning 30. She actually has the same birthday as my daughter Ruby, so we joke they are soul sisters. The hostess spied for me what cake she likes and what kind of decoration too--pistachio cake, and horseshoes.
I have been wanting a good excuse to experiment with organic pistachio extract, since there is a cake made at Fabianne's Cafe in Williamsburg that I am obsessed with. As for the decorations, horseshoes are chic, and also a perfect way to try out the glitter.

For the cake, I want it to be really fun and sparkly in honor of the birthday girl. Bronze glittering horseshoes, with a giant "30" sticking out from the top, with a few wildflowers and painted bits of grass. Maybe even some small beading on the edges of the tiers.

Since I want the gumpaste to be very hard, I am making the decorations today for Monday's cake. I have never tried making something that sticks out of the cake like what I have in mind, so here goes...

Here I am free-form cutting the numbers with a knife.

The plan is to sink the lollipop part into the cake, so that only the "30" will show. I embed lollipop sticks into the base of each number, where the gumpaste is thicker, so that *fingers crossed* they will dry and allow me to use them this way.

The left side shows the gumpaste wrapped around the base, the "0" is waiting to be finished.

I tinted the gumpaste peach so it gives a subtle glow to the bronze glitter where it may peek through.

The shapes after the second coating of glitter.
Off to dry for a few days, then assembly on Monday. Not sure yet whether to pipe detailing onto the horseshoes or to leave them as just shapes.
In the meanwhile, there are some other ideas brewing for this fantastic glitter to come.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Its blooming white flowers

A shot of more flowers I have been working on, and how they are coming together. Some are handsculpted, like the way Chanel has the camellias as a signature flower. Others are rolled roses, which to me feels more graphic and modern, less about to make a "perfect" rose.

Hand sculpted flower in the beginning stage...

Making some graphic leaf veins with the tip of my leaf gumpaste cutter.

A rolled rose, made by taking along strip of gumpaste, rolling and pinching the edges at the same time.

When they are all done, I am going to see whether having silver painted centers will make them pop more than being all white. No offense Karl, but sometimes a little sparkle is needed!

Chanel Couture Cake

Can you believe this gorgeousness?

I have a shoot next week where I am designing cakes inspired by fashion.

Finally a reason to put together my Marni flower cake, (yay!) and as for some other ideas, I have got to do something with the exciting ideas from the Chanel couture show.

From what I have gathered, Karl Lagerfield used the metaphor of starting with a blank piece of paper. A metaphor we all can relate to in so many ways. (Like how many times I wish my closet were a blank piece of paper that would re-start with fabulous thigh high boots--even if not so perfect for the playground--) The backdrop of the show were massive swirls of soft rosettes and shapes, inspired by nature and all made out of pure white paper. The most outstanding element of the show was the headpieces each wore. Ranging from a rose-and-thorn hat, to something that looked like a mouthwatering bouquet of meringue flowers, there is so much inspiration here.

First I started with some sketches:

Would a thorn and rose cake be too dark? I am really feeling black and silver, but maybe that's for another day. I like the idea of a tall white cake with explosions of flowers.

I started making the flowers, anticipating that I will need a lot. Thank goodness my vintage jello molds are a good shape for drying my daisies. So far here are some of the finished flowers. I hand sculpted some white roses/camellias, and used my gumpaste cutters for others.

More flowers to come...
merci coco chanel

Sunday, February 22, 2009

pecan cookies aka what to bake when there are no eggs in the house

Today at the park the rain started, so we headed home to avoid getting chilled to the bone.
We got inside, and the mood for some cookies struck pretty bad. I didn't want to leave the house again so we had to make do with what was in the kitchen.

Ruby, my baking assistant in uniform

Ransacking the freezer where I keep my nuts, I found a huge bag of raw pecans. I love baking with them, because they have a nice buttery taste, and crisp nicely when baked. I needed something easy and quick, because kids cant wait for too much fuss when cooking.

I found this recipe in my mom's old cookbook; Maida Heatter's Book of Great Deserts, and was especially glad for it since I had run out of eggs.
Its a not-so-sweet cookie, with a very crumbly crumb. With such a small amount of sugar I didn't feel guilty when Clyde ate three. Perfect for afternoon tea too, I packed up the rest and gave them away as a gift so I can try to avoid eating the rest.

Pecan Crispy Crumbly Cookies (adapted from Maida Heatter's Plantation Pecan Cookies)

1 heaping cup of organic raw pecans
1 cup organic all purpose flour (I bet these would be good with whole wheat, but like the eggs, I am low on baking supplies today)
1 stick organic unsalted butter
1/4 cup organic rapadura sugar, or cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon brandy
25 pecan halves

*optional* turbinado or additional sugar for sprinkling.

1. Place parchment paper on two baking sheets.
2. In food processor, grind pecans on and off for 10 seconds at a time until small pieces..
3. Add 1/4 cup of the flour, and continue to pulse on and off until almost powdery. Set aside.
4. In mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until whipped and creamy, 3-4 minutes.
5. Add vanilla, salt, and brandy to butter, whip for 30 seconds.
6. With mixer on low speed, add remaining 3/4 cup flour, then add the ground pecan/flour mixture.
7. Batter will be soft and buttery. Using hands dipped in water, scoop a teaspoon at a time, place on parchment paper about 1 -1/2" inches apart.
8. Sprinkle optional sugar on top, and press a pecan half on top. Try to flatten a bit, so they are a disc shape.
9. Place in freezer to chill while you preheat oven to 375*.
10. Once oven is ready, bake for 16-18 minutes, until light brown on bottom.

my little precious cookies waiting to bake

With the rain and coldness continuing in the day, it sure is nice to have the house smelling like cookies. Eggs can wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Green with happiness

I am finishing up the flowers for a wedding cake this weekend in NYC. This decoration has been quite popular as this is the third wedding cake this month I've done using this color flowers. I designed the cake above for the Fall 2008 issue of the Knot, and they took such a beautiful shot.
If you look, there are two subtle tones of green flowers for the cake.

There used to be a saying when I designed shoes, that no one ever buys green. (This was for dressier shoes, not sneakers). Merchandisers and salesman said that the color never went with any clothing, that no one makes a good color green leather, and that its just the way things are--green never sells.
When I saw Michelle Obama wearing green pumps at the Inauguration, along with the recent shoes on the runway for Fall '09, I cant help but feel happy that change is spreading to these little rules too.

This cake reminds me that if you take a color that can be done really wrong, but play with it to get the right tone, it can end up quite refreshing to the eye.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

1938/2008 flowers

As a continuation of the gelatin technique, my mind already has moved on to other things that have been simmering in the backburners. I collect magazine tears and images that move and inspire me, and will tack pictures on my giant inspiration board in my kitchen. Sometimes they wait there for months, and over many days staring at them while working, hope that they bring some new idea...So it made me so happy to finally find a home for pictures that have been up on the board for a long time.

An image from the Marni 2008 fashion show, of women wearing bright, colorful flower necklaces has brought so much excitement and inspiration to me. As a jewelry designer, the technical feat of using such a hard, unpredictable material and making it so soft and feminine is astonishing. These pieces are feats of design, small wearable sculptures that border art and fashion.

When the Alexander Calder show opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the spark finally did ignite: 70 years ago, (yes 1938!) Calder welded hard, cold metal (a material as difficult to use as resin) into a delicate, feminine, and bright necklace. Small bits of colored glass caged by simple, giant prongs form the essence of the flower, but it feels modern, edgy, and sculptural.

I tried recreating the multilayered effect of the Marni flowers; loading a brush with warm brown gelatin, and leaving the centers open for different colors.
As you can see in my attempts, I drew in the colors for the centers. In my hurry of being so excited, I didnt prepare enough striking color combinations.
I think neon orange or a bright, unexpected color would be perfect.

Its hard to believe that Calder made his necklace in 1938, and 70 years later Marni captured the spirit of it in a totally new feeling. My edible version is an homage to using new materials in unexpected ways.
I really love these flowers and am looking forward to using them soon.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gargouillou-The Garden Cake

I hope newspapers never die out, because even though I read them online, there is something special about that ink smell, the feel of the paper, and the way an image looks printed out, rather than on a screen. Usually my husband will steal our paper on his way out, and I will read the sections that I may have missed later in the evening. Last week, I caught the NY Times Dining In section a few days past. An article about a French chef named Michel Bras who had a moment of inspiration running through mountains and fields at the peak of their bloom, in 1978, to create a dish inspired by a brimming garden.

Chefs since have interpreted the dish, using black brioche or crushed tomato crumbs to simulate dirt. But what about a cake? What about translating the vegetables from a savory moment to something sweet.

In the past few weeks I have been experimenting with gelatin decorations. I ordered molds from Diane Simmons of Cake Connection, ( and she gave me some simple advice for making the leaves and flowers. You can see images on her site of expertly crafted flowers and leaves, that look like glass, although they feel more like cellophane. Made of a concentrated liquid of gelatin and water (recipe below), I have been toying with using different colors as a layering effect to create a more handmade look.

my organic leaves

The photo of the Gargouille with the baby swiss chard, where the center stem is magenta, and the leaf is green struck me as the perfect reference for layering the gelatin.
As for the base of the cake or cupcake, it would be frosted in a thick dark organic chocolate ganache with cake crumbs pressed into it as the "dirt".

The leaves and butterflies are quick to make, but take 6-8 hours to dry. The beauty of these gelatin decorations is that you can also paint on top of them too.
Gelatin Flowers/Leaves Recipe (adapted from Diane Simmons of Cake Connection)

*note: Its best to use the thin molds that Diane Simmons created, since they are very thin and flexible the flowers and leaves work in these. I tried painting onto plastic wrap but the pieces broke. The molds are $30 for 5 sheets of varying leaves, petals, flowers. You can order them online or by calling her. She is really helpful and nice.

3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered organic gelatin (order online at

1. In a small microwave safe bowl, pour gelatin in and add water, mix and let sit for one minute.
2. In microwave, set timer for 20 seconds, then mix gelatin.
3. Repeat heating the bowl in the microwave for 20 seconds, then mix again. Keep doing this until the mixture is hot and even foamy.
4. Depending on the range of colors you would like, ration spoonfuls of the gelatin into other small microwave safe bowls.

I like to use small white ramekins to mix colors

5. Using a toothpick, dip a clean end in water based food coloring, then swirl into bowl of gelatin. Use a separate spoon for each color.
6. While gelatin is liquid and warm, either use a paintbrush or small teaspoon to coat the various shapes in the mold.

handpainting magenta stems

7. When gelatin thickens, you can add a touch of water and reheat for 15 seconds in the microwave.
8. Let dry in molds for 6-8 hours, you will know it is done when the edges are peeling upward away from the mold.

*additional note: I have found for layering colors, its best to have each color be applied thick enough so that they can slightly overlap.

layered yellow and fuschia butterflies

Here is the idea of what the cake would look like:

mmmm so dirty!