Wedding Cakes and A New Kind of Cake Ball

I have been such a bad blogger all time low?  Zero page views today!!!  While I may be a loser in the blog-osphere, I promise I'm not a loser in my day to day life.  I hardly have time to sleep!  I'm in the middle of planning a wedding, training for a marathon, shopping for a condo - and trying to focus on my full-time job (which has just decided to become insanely busy - convenient).  Slow down world!

Never fear - in between bouts of craziness, I have still found time to bake.  This recipe was crafted right on the heels of the most important wedding decision of my life - the cake.  My number one most important wedding factor (aside from the groom, whom I would like to be there) is the cake.  I was taking this element very seriously.  Immediately upon getting engaged, I booked three separate appointments - I'm actually shocked that I didn't book more tastings...knowing me!

Andrew and I had our first appointment at Fancy Cakes by Leslie in Bethesda (and we brought my bridesmaid Chelsea along for the delicious ride).  Since this was our first appointment, we didn't know what to expect.  We sat down at a large table with a baker who inquired about our design ideas.  While this was all very nice, I wanted to get down to business.  Who cares about design?  Give me my cake!

After discussion several design options (and enforcing our "no fondant" policy), we made it to THE TASTING (probably one of the only reasons I'm getting married).  I was very sad to see slivers of cake (only one of which was chocolate) that I had to share with Andrew and Chelsea - but I think my newly engaged bum was quite happy.  The conclusion of our first tasting?  The chocolate cake with chocolate ganache was the best flavor by far.  The fruit flavors were a complete waste of time (but I could have told you that before the tasting) and the red velvet was OK, but not out of this world.  We also got to sample a variety of icings - stand alone (no cake included).  Talk about a sugar-high.  We decided that if we chose Fancy Cakes, the chocolate was a definite - and we would have to try the carrot cake and pumpkin cake (which were not offered as part of the tasting) at a separate time - in order to have an acceptable second option (we want two cake flavors).

On to the second tasting - Cakes by Megan.  This was definitely a unique experience.  Cakes by Megan is a small business run from a local woman's home.  And by "local" - I consider Annandale, Virginia a stretch.  After getting lost multiple times on a Tuesday night (our patience was stretched thin), Andrew and I made it to Megan's humble home.  We sat sandwiched on her couch as she inquired about designs, timing, location, etc. - all the while we were staring at four full small cakes in front of us.  Again - can we please fast forward to the important part?  The cake!

Andrew and I got to chose the four flavors a few weeks prior to our appointment - we (more like "I") chose carrot cake, pumpkin cake, dark chocolate truffle, and chocolate with heath bar bits.  The carrot cake was so-so - my mom's is better (richer, with more carrot).  The pumpkin cake was not actually a pumpkin cake - it was a dry spice cake with pumpkin frosting.  If she had only made the actually cake using pumpkin, the dryness would not have been a factor.  The pairing should have been reversed - pumpkin cake, spiced cream cheese frosting.  Both chocolate cakes were quite good - with a slight preference for the chocolate truffle.  Moist and rich - but not enough frosting.  While Megan was the most inexpensive baker that we tried, she just wasn't up to snuff in terms of flavors and richness.  The bright side of our Annandale adventure?  Megan sent us home with all four cakes...which I promptly sent home to Andrew's house to avoid any additions to my behind.

Our (sadly, but happily) final stop on the cake tour of 2014 was even farther than Annandale - Catonsville, Maryland (near Baltimore).  These bakers are really making me work for my cake!  My coworker Amy had used SugarBakers for her wedding - and said she received rave reviews.  On a cold February afternoon, Andrew and I made the hour-long trek to Baltimore for our tasting with SugarBakers.  Our journey was worth every mile - this must be the best tasting cake at least in the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia).

We walked into the shop (which is like a little cottage) and had a wonderful (and friendly) cake consultation.  Then - you guessed it - my favorite part.  A huge platter of cake slices (there must have been at least 10 flavors) appeared in front of me.  Again, I wish the slivers were bigger, but my pre-wedding body was grateful.  Let me tell you - I didn't try one bad flavor!  I was in love with them all (even the fruit crap).  I looked at Andrew - and knew this was "the one."  The hard part?  Deciding what flavors...I even liked the lemon!  I feel like a traitor saying this.

We narrowed it down to our favorite four flavors - carrot cake, red velvet cake, ricotta cake, and dulce de leche.  The red velvet cake was a definite yes - it was not your ordinary red velvet.  The moist red cake had a layer of fudge icing along with every layer of cream cheese icing.  Does life get any better?  I think not.  The carrot cake was good (and seasonal for a fall wedding), but not as good as my mom's - so we decided to nix it.  I'm still torn between the ricotta cake and the dulce de leche...I may have to make this a blog or facebook vote.  The ricotta cake alternates between yellow cake and chocolate cake - with a cannoli filling (including mini chocolate chips).  The dulce de leche cake is yellow cake with a caramel buttercream.  Both amazing...although I tend to side with the chocolate option (and my guests will just have to cope that there are no options for vanilla freaks...sorry).

That was just a snippet of the past three months - busy busy busy!  At least that was fun (delicious) busy.  Speaking of cake, I happened to whip up some cake balls (more accurately "cookie balls") for Valentine's Day.  I was feeling evil and indulgent.  I bought my all-time favorite drunk food - frosted animal crackers (frozen - the way to go) and pulverized them into crumbs.  Then, I mixed the crumbs with icing and rolled them into balls.  Froze the balls and dipped them in icing.  Magical.  My favorite pink and white cookies made into truffle form...I think I gained like 5 lbs while making them (not to mention, I polished off an entire bag in one evening - no shame).

These cookies balls are incredibly easy to make - but fair warning - incredibly difficult to resist (even while baking).  I brought them to my Valentine's Day Book Club meeting as my treat for our Valentine's Day bags (we keep it old school and give out Valentine's to every the kind you bought when you were 5 years old...).  The truffles received lots of love - a festive pink holiday treat!

Frosted Animal Cookie Truffles

2 bags pink and white frosted animal cookies
1-2 tubs vanilla icing (store-bought)
2 bags melting chocolate (purchased at your local craft store)

1)  Grind the animal cookies into fine crumbs.
2)  Mix the crumbs with a tub of icing - the consistency should hold together and should not be dry (gummy, but not super sticky).
3)  Roll the mixture into balls (smaller than ping pong balls - half the size).  Freeze the balls for at least three hours.
4)  Melt the chocolate.  Dip the balls in melting chocolate.  Sprinkle with decorations.

7 Types of Cake Icing for New Bakers to Try

There are many types of cake icing and each woman prefers a different one on her cake. Also, while some are quite easy to make, others will take plenty of time and practice to perfect, not to mention, it can be really intimidating for beginners as well as some of those who have been baking for a long time.
The most important thing to remember to master each of these is to not be afraid to repeatedly try and fail, until such time that you will achieve the right consistency for each. It can be a lot of fun to learn how to make a cake from scratch and you
Here are the most popular kinds of cake icing that you can use to finish your cakes.

1. Butter Cream

Butter cream is made of sifted powdered sugar, milk and superior butter. The quality of butter used will reflect on the appearance, consistency and taste of your butter cream frosting. 
Children love this type of frosting and is one of the most common types used in cake decorating and the secret is whipping up the butter at the right temperature. Also, since this type of cake icing melts easily in hot weather, the finished cake must be chilled prior to serving to prevent the butter cream frosting from losing its stiffness.

2. Whipped Cream

This type of cake icing is achieved using cold heavy whipping cream and sugar. Some would advise you to use powdered sugar but ordinary granulated sugar would work just as well. 
You can also add your preferred extract or flavoring to match your cake's flavor. This is a favorite among those who love a light and easy-to-make frosting on their cake.

3. Royal Icing

This type of cake icing dries into a hard outer shell. It is also one of the easiest to dye with edible colorings. There are two ways to make this type of frosting: using egg whites (like a meringue icing) and powdered sugar or by using meringue powder in place of egg whites. 
This type of icing is also used to "flood" or color sugar cookies by adding a bit more water to make it pourable. The baker then uses different cake decorating tools to draw features on plain biscuits or cookies.

4. Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream cheese frosting is made with part butter cream frosting and a good quality cream cheese. This type of frosting is usually perfect for carrot cakes, red velvet cakes and as a filling for doughnuts and cupcakes because of its consistency. 
It is a bit heavier to spread than most types of cake icing. Some would even put cream cheese frosting on their bread as a standalone spread!

5. Meringue

The basic ingredients for this frosting are egg whites, cold water and granulated sugar and is one of the most common types of cake icing. It is light and fluffy because air is introduced into the egg mixture to create a stiff consistency. 
Adding some butter and you'll have a combined meringue and butter cream frosting, and there are three popular varieties for this type of cake icing: French, Italian and Swiss. The difference between the Swiss and Italian Meringue frosting is the method of beating the eggs. 
Swiss meringue butter cream frosting involves whisking the egg whites au bain marie or on a hot water bath, heating them to a certain temperature and is an entirely different topic on its own. 
On the other hand, Italian meringue butter cream frosting involves adding the caramelized sugar into the meringue mixture, thereafter, adding the butter cream mixture. Ideally, you should have two separate mixing bowls to beat the two mixtures before combining them.
French meringue butter cream frosting, in contrast, does not require heating the egg whites. Essentially, it is an uncooked meringue butter cream frosting.

6. Fondant

This is a popular heavy frosting among celebration cakes because it is easy to sculpt and work out. Usually, cake decorators also frost on top of the fondant using butter cream or other types of cake icing. 
Basic fondant ingredients include gelatine, glycerine, water, icing or castor sugar (lighter than powdered sugar) and shortening. Other bakers would recommend using marshmallows in place of gelatine and glycerine.
Fondant is made by melting marshmallows (or heating the gelatine mixture) and adding the rest of the ingredients until you achieve the right consistency, which ideally, should stretch but should not tear easily. This cake icing is quite heavy and sculpting it to various shapes is possible with the use of carving and decorating tools. 

7. Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate ganache and glazing are probably the most easiest cake icings to make. Watch my video tutorial how to prepare chocolate ganache:

You can watch this video by clicking the play button above or on my YouTube channel under "How to make easy dark chocolate cake frosting recipe"

These are only some of the types of cake icing that you can use to finish your cake. However, always remember that a cake should be delicious even when eaten without the frosting. 
The finishing touches and the decor should then heighten the cake eating experience to a higher level. Also, there is no limit to what you can do with edible cake toppers for your cake decorating, so have fun while you're at it.