Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kaila's Cake

So my cousin Kaila asked me to make her wedding cake. She found this picture and asked me if I could make a purple version of this:
I said, sure why not? I'm always up for a food adventure!

It kind of looks like fondant, but it's actually molding chocolate, also known as chocolate plastic. It's basically chocolate melted and mixed with corn syrup. It has the texture of tootsie roll, and tastes 3 bajillion times better than fondant. I hadn't ever made it before, but thought I'd give it a shot.

My mom came over a few days before the wedding and helped me out. I had made several batches of the white molding chocolate before-hand and my mom helped me to figure out how to work it.

We basically rolled out some of the white, and laid a strip of the dark purple across them. 

We then used a pasta-roller to attach the strip to the background and to get the strips to the thickness we wanted.

We layered the strips around the cakes that we had previously frosted with buttercream frosting.

We started making dark purple roses, and then added white to make gradually lighter shades of purple. The molding chocolate got pretty soft with the heat of our hands, so we had to work fast. Mom was better at making the roses than myself. We dusted them with purple luster dust to make them shimmery. They turned out real purdy.

A local florist donated some African Violet leaves. We assembled the cake on-site.

Here it is on the table outside, ready to be served. I think we got it pretty close to the picture. I'm pretty proud of this one!

A shot from above...

And, the ever-popular side shot with water cups in the background.

Here's the happy couple cutting into the cake...

And here they are shoving it into each others faces. Notice Sydney taking notes in the background :)

I was pretty impressed that none of the cake got on the dress. It was red velvet, at the bride's request, and all that red food color could have been bad news for everyone involved in the cake-face-shoving that was wearing white.


I used several websites to try and find out how to make and use molding chocolate. One of the most useful ones I found on the Chef Talk forums. Here's the text, just in case something happens and that resource becomes unavailable at some point. Thank you chefpeon!

You need to stir the corn syrup/chocolate mixture just enough to incorporate it fully. Too much stirring (like I did) makes some of the cocoa butter separate out. It makes hard little lumps that you either have to work in or pick out. We picked them out.

Also, I made way too much white. I was nervous that I wouldn't have enough to cover all three cakes so I went a little bit overboard. I used 12 lbs of white chocolate buttons. I got the chocolate at Bakers C&C in Salt Lake. A great place for all things cake-making since Shepherds closed. (A store in Orem. My previous supplier of chocolate and cake supplies.) I made the modeling chocolate in half-batches of the recipe. So 1 1/2 lbs of chocolate at a time. I think we only needed 3 batches to cover the cake. Maybe 4. I definitely didn't need all of the 8 that I made.

In the words of the chef:

There's a lot of recipes around for modeling chocolate, but here's mine:
A NOTE: all brands of white chocolate are DIFFERENT. You may need to adjust the amount of corn syrup you add depending on what chocolate you use and your personal preference. My recipe works perfectly with Guittard White Satin Ribbon, which unfortunately, isn't that easy to find. Do NOT use white chocolate chips!!! Pistoles or disks are fine. Or chop up a bar.

Modeling Chocolate:
3 lbs white chocolate (broken into small pieces, if not already)
1 1/3 cup light corn syrup

Put chocolate into large round plastic microwave safe bowl.
Melt in short time increments of about 2 minutes and stir very well between each increment. White chocolate burns VERY EASILY. If your microwave has adjustable power levels and you have a high wattage microwave, you might want to use 50% power. I do, because I have one of those microwaves. You want to just melt the chocolate with no graininess or lumps. Make sure you stir it well to let any residual heat melt the chocolate, rather than keep sticking it back in the micro. That's a sure way to burn it. If you notice that your white chocolate starts feel thicker, then you've already burned it. I cannot stress how careful you need to be when melting white chocolate. Microwave a little at a time and stir stir stir.

When it's all perfectly melted, stick your corn syrup in the micro for about 1 minute to warm it.

Now, using a rubber spatula so you can scrape the sides of the bowl, pour the warm corn syrup all at once into your melted white chocolate, Stir quickly, using a folding motion, scrape the sides of the bowl. Your goal is to incorporate the corn syrup COMPLETELY into the white chocolate without it becoming too oily and separated. You will notice that as you stir, the chocolate will seize into a thick gooey mass and will clean the sides of the bowl. Look closely to make sure you don't have any streaks of unincorporated chocolate.....this unincorporated chocolate will become lumpy grains later, and you don't want that.
The mass will seem a little oily, that's OK. But the more you stir, the oilier it gets, and you don't want oil dripping off it either. It's a delicate balance.

Line a cookie sheet with at least 1 inch sides, or a rectangular pyrex dish with plastic wrap, so the wrap hangs over the sides. Pour your white chocolate mass into the dish or cookie sheet and press it down with a spatula to flatten it out all the way to the sides of the sheet or dish. Bring up the sides of the plastic wrap to completely cover your brick of modeling chocolate. Place the whole thing in the fridge for a couple hours.

After it's set, bring it out to come to room temp. When it's room temperature, break up the modeling chocolate in easy to handle pieces. The pieces will look very rough. Now you have to knead it smooth. Depending on the ambient temperature of the room and the strength in your hands, you may have to stick the pieces in the microwave to warm up for a few seconds so they are kneadable. Be careful not to overwarm the pieces, because the warmth of your hands will do the rest of that work for you. This is the moment of truth when you'll know how well you stirred it. If you have a lot of lumps and grains, then you know you didn't stir well enough, or perhaps burned the chocolate a little. Most of the time you can knead or roll them out, or if they're really big you can pick them out. But, if you did it right, this shouldn't be a problem. Once kneaded, the chocolate is ready for use. You can color it with any type of coloring....I prefer concentrated gels or powders. Liquid is not recommended, just because it makes the chocolate too slack without coloring it completely enough. However if you desire a light pastel, liquid is ok.

When working with modeling chocolate and especially when you are doing ribbons and such, I highly recommend using a manual pasta machine. The evenness and thinness of rolling is invaluable. At about 40 bucks a pop, it's a reasonable investment. I have one that I use JUST for modeling chocolate and nothing else.

When working with modeling chocolate, dust with cornstarch....not flour or powdered sugar. Always take care to brush off excess cornstarch with a soft brush when your pieces are done.

There are lots of places on the web that sell powdered color. You can google it, or go to or Country Kitchens.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Trever and Kaila Wedding

My little cousin Kaila got hitched this summer! To a great guy named Trever. The wedding was outside her Dad's house in Mapleton. The sky was an amazing blue, the sun was shining, and everyone was civil to each other. Nay, more than civil. I'm going to go as far to say that everyone was friendly and happy to be there!

 See exhibit one: Randy and Nana hugging before the ceremony even started!

Robyn and Babs always have a good time. No surprises there. Always a party when any of the Capener daughters get together.

Here's the people walking down the aisle. I don't know these two...

Here's cousin Jeremiah (one of the Graves twins) and one of the other bridesmaids...

Two more people I don't know...

Groomsdude and cousin Aja (the other Graves twin)

Another groomsdude and oldest Graves offspring, cousin Erica...

Adorable flowergirl Sydney...

And at long last, the beautiful beaming bride and her daddy...

Everyone made it down the aisle without so much as a stumble. Even the bridesmaids in their heels! Pretty amazing...

Here's one of the wedding doggies. He had a little tux of his own...

Allen, Ron and Jer, kickin' it old style...

Ah, sibling togetherness...

The other brothers. One of my siblings thought one of the step-cousins was cute in his face...

Sisters with their mommy. If I was any good at photoshop I would have inserted an Aunt Julie head between Barbara and Nana...

Lots of Merrells! (and Nana)...

Happy Grandparents!

Nana and Nana. No, I'm not going to post the other picture. If you want that one, I'll email it to you. I promised one of the Nanas that I wouldn't post that other one...


Even some of the Great-Aunts made it down!

More Merrell wackiness...

And last but not least, the video I took of the actual ceremony. The audio quality is terrible, and the video height/width ratio is messed up because I had to rotate it in Windows Movie Maker. Don't be a hater... I'm doing this on the laptop I got in 2002. It's a brick and really outdated, but this beast got me through graduate school. Don't judge. With all of the drawbacks, I figured someone might be interested in watching it. Without further ado...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rags Time

Sometimes people tell me I have cat eyes.

I beg to differ.

I think certain organisms of the "feline persuasion" have Karen eyes. Including Rags Parker (pictured above)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hubble Rubble

Would it surprise anyone to find out that I am a big enough nerd to have a Hubble Wall above my bed in my room?

I think not. You all know me way too well to be surprised at something like that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Nancys Fly

My roommate Brittany has many, many talents. She plays almost every string instrument I've ever heard of. She uses this musical talent in a Celtic band called "The Flying Nancys." They recently played a concert in Pleasant Grove, and it was fantastic. I only had my cell phone camera with me, so the picture is a little low-res...

Brittany is the one in the turquoise shirt playing the cello on the far right. She also plays Banjo and Mandolin in some of the songs. She is amazing! (and so is the rest of the band)

Listen to some of their music HERE.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Aguacate Experimentation

It's no secret that I love food. And I love science. As a professional I do experiments in the lab. For fun I do experiments in the kitchen.
I follow a few food blogs, partially for the ideas, and partially for the pretty pictures. One of my favorites is Smitten Kitchen. Deb always has great recipes, beautiful pictures of her food, and an amazingly cute baby boy.

Awhile back she made mango curd, and it looked tasty enough to give it a try myself. So I made the mango curd late one night, and when I got done, I found myself eying a couple of ripe avocados that I'd almost forgotten about. As sometimes happens after midnight, I decided to indulge my whimsy and try the recipe with avocado instead of mango.

My avocados were a bit over-ripe, so I ended up using only about two-and-a-half of the avocados after cutting out the brownish spots I found after I cut open the avocados.

The puree was a lovely 60s-era shade of green. After adding the egg yolks and whisking over a double-boiler for 10 minutes, the avocado puree darkened just a bit and ended up taking on a sheen that the mango didn't. Probably because avocados have more oil than mangoes. It didn't look oily, just different.

The avocado curd also ended up thicker than the mango curd. It didn't set up totally solid, but I'd probably add a few more tbsp. of lime juice to the avocado to loosen it up a bit.

The colors of the two actually ended up complementing each other really well.
I got to use my little tartlet shell molds to make shells to put the curd in. I have tons of random kitchen toys, but as it turns out, I don't have a pastry blender. Huh. I used a fork to cut the butter into the flour and it worked surprisingly well.
Aren't they cute! I put quite a bit of lime juice in the mix because I was a little nervous about the avocado puree browning. It ended up tasting like key lime pie. Tasty!
 Here's the recipes in case you want to make your own!

Avocado Curd
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen adapted from Bon Appetit, June 1998
Makes 1 to 1.5 cups
3 Medium-sized, ripe avocados
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice (I ran out of lime juice. Next time I'll use all lime juice)
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Puree avocado, sugar, lime/lemon juice and salt in processor, scraping down sides of work bowl occasionally. Add yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Set metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F., about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Pie Crust for Tartlet shells
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold shortening, lard, or butter, in 1/2 inch pieces (I used butter)
scant 1/4 cup vinegar water, ice cold

Wisk together flour and salt. Cut the butter/lard into the flour with fork or pastry blender until the fat/flour forms very small crumbs that looks like coarse corn meal.

Splash a little bit of vinegar (I used apple cider) into the bottom of a 1/4 cup measuring cup. I put just barely enough to cover the bottom of the measuring cup. I then filled the cup with ice-cold water up to just below the brim.

Sprinkle the water/vinegar over the butter/flour mixture and mix gently with your fingers until it just begins to stick together in a ball. It's OK if it seems a bit wet. You'll use flour when you roll the dough out. Flatten the dough ball into a disc shape and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Flour counter and rolling pin, and roll out to 1/8 inch. Fill tartlet shells, and pierce bottom and sides with fork. Bake shells in preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Let cool in molds before removing.