December 21, 2011

Sleigh Project

During the Christmas season, I love showing up on friends doorsteps bearing gifts of yummy treats. This year I wanted to try out something a little different with sugar cookies and make a sleigh filled with something special. My original idea was modified and slimmed down due to time and energy available. I always seem to have big ideas but no time to implement them!
To start, I cut out sleighs turning half of them over on the baking sheet from the orginal direction so I would have two front sides of the sleigh opposite each other. The sleigh needed a bottom, front and back which were hand-cut and measured. For these I did a 2 1/2 by 3 inch rectangle for the bottom. The front piece measured 2 1/2 by 2 inches and the back 3 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches. 
After the cookies were baked and cooled, the sleighs, front and back pieces where outlined and filled with royal icing. Once that had dried, I added a second layer of piped royal icing around the edges of the sleighs only and then added the snow and other decorative pieces. 

Once all the pieces have a full 24 hours to dry so the royal icing is hard, the sleigh can be carefully glued together with royal icing. I supported the sleigh between heavy boxes to dry so it wouldn't fall apart. Leave at least 12 hours preferably another 24 hours to ensure the icing is hard and has bonded the sleigh together. At this point I filled each sleigh with an additional treat of homemade truffles! You could certainly fill these with anything from more decorated sugar cookies to an non-edible gift.
Carefully package and deliver to friends and family! 

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mohter, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, poening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh."
Luke 2:10-11


December 15, 2011

Topsy Turvey Cake Adventures

The Christmas season is in full swing and I was so glad to have an opportunity this week to make a birthday cake for the Sparky's at our churches AWANA club. It was our last club meeting of the year and what better way to end than with a cake to celebrate the birth of our Savior! The Sparky's (k-1st grade) bless me each week by their hugs, weekly reports and the opportunity to share Christ with them. I adore these kids! I wanted to spoil them in some way for Christmas and what better way then through sugar! (I'm sure their parent's appreciated that!)

The spoiling of these Sparky's came in the form of a topsy turvey cake, which I know realize is directly related to my life at the moment. We are a military family fighting our way through the end of two years worth of 5 deployments, looking forward to our upcoming move back to the states and all the while trying to maintain some relationship as a husband and wife and involvement in our community. It's tough most days and there is no normal. My life looks like this cake with the apperance of being ready to topple over though it won't budge because of a firm foundation in Christ. 

This was my first topsy turvey cake, which turned out better than what it could have, but I did not give it my best effort and made lots of mistakes, which I will share so hopefully you will be able to avoid them! Here we go...

This cake has two layers; the bottom tier has an 8inch base topped by two 10 inch layers. The top tier has a 6 inch base topped by two 8 inch layers. Choose a sturdy cake recipe for this cake style. Your lightest, fluffiest cake will not stay together. 
The very top layer of each tier was cut at about a 25 degree angle. Cut less of an angle for a smaller slope as your end result. Add a thin layer of buttercream to the uncut portion of the cake and place your newly cut angle piece on top to create a steep slope. The cake should be as even as possible on top. Use your knife to shave away any uneven spots. This was not pretty and takes some time and patience. Remeber that this will be covered with frosting. No one will see the messy parts!
Now the sides of the cake need to be cut at an angle between the larger and smaller layers. Because I only have three cake layers, I only shave the middle layer angling my knife toward the smaller bottom layer. Cut the layer with your knife perpendicular to the cake first, then go back with your knife parallel to even the layers out. I did not shave anything off the very bottom layer, this was probably a mistake. Despite properly adding buttercream to my cake boards, the cake kept sliding around the board. I was afraid if I did shave any of the bottom tier off, I would just create more problems for later and thought the smaller base would be a problem. This cake had to be driven far from our home through Japanese traffic at rush hour. I was already asking for trouble! It did work out okay as I filled in the gap with buttercream. Will be doing more research for better results next time!
 Add a crumb-coat to each tier and set aside to crust. (This is a thin layer of buttercream frosting to prevent crumbs from showing up in your top coat of buttercream)
Each tier that will have another tier on top of it will need to have a hole cut to set the next tier layer in. To accomplish this, take a cake board circle the same size as used for the next tier and place in the center of your cake to be cut. Use a knife to cut around the circle cutting deep around the highest point of that tier and less as the angle of the cake decreases. At the lowest part of the layer, your knife will slide into the cake at a 90 degree angle. Remove cake from the center and continue to cut into the cake to neaten up your circle. The end goal is a level flat area in the center of your cake to set the next tier on. The cake should only look like it's falling! Be sure to measure carefully to ensure the center is being cut. I failed to do this and the cake was harder to carry as the top tier was off-center. Also, use a leveler to ensure your cut center is truly flat and not another angle. Also failed to do this and had tipping problems, which caused significant damage on the car-ride to church. Good thing this was just to practice!

Click here for more information on cutting the center space for your next tier.

Do another crumb-coat over the exposed cake.
 If you've made it this far, congratulations! The hardest parts are over! Yay! Since the first half of putting together this cake took half a day, I had to stop for the evening and actually sleep, so in the fridge for the night this cake went. (This photo is really more for my benefit later when we move back to the states and I start complaining that my fridge is too small! Always fun to rearange the fridge and plan on not having much food in the house during a cake week! My poor husband also was banned from the refrigerator. Silly Japanese appliance!)
 Now for the easy parts! Cover each tier with fondant or buttercream, measure and place dowel rods into each layer that will have a tier on top and assemble the cake. Use plenty of dowels in each layer (also failed to do that). These tiers are heavy. I did some decorating on the bottom tier before I stacked because I was making marks into the fondant that would have caused tears. Don't forget to put a dowel, the height of the cake through the center of each layer as well.
While this is far from my best cake and it did not look like this upon arrival (but at least it didn't compltely fall apart in the car), it's not too bad for my first attempt.
 Always an adventure in cake decorating with lots being learned with each cake! Hopefully the next topsy turvey cake will have a happier ending with no tears shed during assembly! Hope my mistakes help you a little in your decorating!

Merry Christmas!

December 7, 2011

God's Gift of Love

The Christmas season has finally arrived and our house has no shortage of yummy treats coming out of the oven! These cookies are so special that I wanted to share why I made them and maybe share this sweet idea truly given from the Lord (He does have all the great ideas after all!). These cookie packs were part of a gift for kids I teach at our church. We started the Christmas celebration early with a birthday party for Jesus complete with cupcakes, games a manger craft and of course reading the story of Jesus' birth. There is no better way to celebrate Jesus than with 10 four and five year olds!

These sugar cookies are made with a present template (use the paper template to cut the cookie out by hand, which is what I had to do) or cookie cutter. You will also need a small heart cookie cutter or again, use a template and cut by hand if you don't have the cutter. Outline and fill the cookie as you normally word and I added red disco dust to the hearts for an extra special sparkle!

 After the cookie dried for 24 hours, I packed them up as usual, but added a little something extra. This is not my original idea, I did see this on another blog and loved it! I typed out the message I wanted to send home with the cookies, cut the papers into strips and attached to a Christmas scrapbook paper. The paper gets folded, wrapped around the top edge of the bag and stapled in place. So very easy!

These two simple cookies have a very powerful message about why Jesus came. The gift isn't refering to all the presents we find wrapped under our tree but it's the sacrifice Jesus gave out of so much love for us to leave his Father in Heaven, be born a tiny helpless baby, grow up and face all the challenges we do all to die on a cross. That's a love that's hard for us to understand. Most of us wouldn't do what Jesus did. I am so grateful he did. I have hope in my future for a better life and one lived in Heaven with my heavenly Father. Because of Jesus, I've been given grace when I deserved very severe punishment; one that would seperate me for all eternity from my Father. This free gift of love is the most precious gift he could send. Wrapped in the tiny package of a baby boy.

Merry Christmas!