We have just announced our new Tier I: Introduction to Cake Design course dates. To register, or for more information, please go the CLASSES page on our website: http://ericaobrien.com/classes.html. Classes are limited to four students.Read More
Elizabeth Anne Designs teamed up with The Sweetest Occasion for the Inspired Creations Contest. Basically, vendors were asked to submit photo shoots featuring their most creative, unique, and out-of-the-box concepts all for under $500. I love a challenge, and I’m proud to say we made it to the Top 10.
Here’s the full description of what we came up with. Like what you see? Please leave your comment on the Elizabeth Anne Designs blog. We would really appreciate it.
Caribbean/Latin art with an updated, bohemian flair. The mix-and-match style is a nod to the DIY trend with lots of layers and mixed media.
The Color Palette:
The [Imaginary] Couple:
They met while on vacation in Costa Rica and share a love of painting and museums. Their appreciation for art has taken them to Europe, Asia, and South America. They got engaged while on vacation in the Caribbean, where they discovered the work of Paul Gauguin, a post-Impressionist artist from the late 1800s, and decided to incorporate his work, as well as their other artistic interests, into their wedding.
To incorporate the couple’s love of painting, we created a unique paint-inspired guestbook using paint chips from a local hardware store. We then embellished the first paint chip using a scrapbook punch and scrapbook paper.
Our couple wanted their desserts to be a work of art—literally. I made icing in a Caribbean color palette and miniature cakes to match. Guests were invited to “paint” on their cakes using the colored icing with paint brushes. Directions, printed on scrapbook paper, read “You are the artist. (1) Choose your cake. (2) Choose your icing. (3) Create your design.” I also created a three-tier fondant-covered wedding cake with Caribbean-inspired gumpaste flowers.
Megan Gray of Honey and Poppies took her inspiration from Gauguin’s tropic paintings and old floral still lives. She wanted the flowers to be lush, exotic, and sensual, but with an element of refined sophistication. (Imagine a wealthy artist’s Caribbean villa filled with bohemian artist-types.)
The flowers include peonies, dahlias, roses, sweet peas, ranunculus, and snowball viburnum. To bring a more exotic feel to them, she layered in tons of texture with vines of passion flower, clematis, and pepper berries, and finally added in wispy curled ferns and peacock feathers.
Another mixed media inspired piece, we created the table number collage out of scrapbook paper and paint chips and negative space for the actual number, an interesting take on the traditional.
We created a collage reminiscent of the couple’s favorite artist and had colored prints made, backed them with card stock, and affixed them onto the front cover of the invitation. Invitations were printed with an ink jet printer on scrapbook paper.
I created miniature collages for each guest’s place card that would also serve as their favor. The mini canvas and easel sets were purchased at a local arts and crafts store and painted with acrylic paints. Guests’ names were printed on scrapbook paper, cut into the desired shape, and decoupaged on the canvas along with paper and paint chip cut outs.
Cake, desserts, concept design: Erica OBrien(http://www.ericaobrien.com/)
Flowers, concept design: Megan Gray (http://honeyandpoppies.com/)
Coordination and planning: Candice Maloney (http://www.de-lovelyevents.com/)
Photography: Jessica Claire (http://www.jessicaclaire.net/)
Rentals: Signature Party Rentals (http://www.signatureparty.com/)
Venue: The Villa del Sol (http://www.thevilladelsol.com/)
Andrea is married to my husband’s friend Rob. I liked her immediately the first time we met, and more and more every time I see her. She is a class act through and through. Her wedding, which she designed herself completely, was featured in The Knot magazine. The first time she invited us to dinner, she put out her best china and tablecloth (which I promptly dropped tomato sauce on). I thought she was just trying to impress us, but no, that’s Andrea. Just the other night they had us over for a barbecue. Paper plates and napkins? Nope. Not Andrea. Try cloth napkins and napkin rings. (I didn’t stain anything this time, but the baby did manage to grab hold of the salt shaker and pour a good amount of salt everywhere.)
Andrea’s house is immaculate–and not only when she’s having guests over–and she is always impeccably embellished with a coveted accessory like a giant flower or a trendy strand of beads. If you think you could dislike her, in the way that you dislike Martha Stewart for being everything you could never be, you’d be completely wrong. Truth is, she’s clean, perfectly accessorized, and cool, funny, and totally down-to-earth, so it’s impossible to not like her. I guess that’s why she had over 60 guests at her baby shower.
You know those themed parties you see on blogs with all the details and you think, “Come on! That’s not real! No one could ever have a party like that!” That was Andrea’s shower. And if you knew her, you wouldn’t expect anything else. Congratulations, Andrea! I can’t wait to meet baby Amelia.
The color palette:Read More
Sylvia Weinstock, the Queen of cakes, once said “I don’t do fondant.” Well I guess she’s changed her tune, because I see a lot of her work around and it’s all fondant.
Let’s face it: When it comes to achieving a perfectly smooth finish on a cake, nothing beats fondant. Nothing.
Some people object to the taste of fondant. In his book Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman states that fondant is meant to be peeled off, not eaten. I disagree. If it’s not meant to be eaten, why put it on a cake? My objection is to the gumminess of the fondant with the crumb of the cake. It’s the two textures that I dislike, not necessarily the taste.
Fondant is the only component of my cakes that I don’t make from scratch. I’ve been using the same brand for years, but I wanted to find out if there was another that would work better for me. So, I conducted a decidedly non-scientific study of five brands of fondant. Here’s what I rated them on:
Consistency. It is important that your fondant look, taste, feel, and work the same every single time so you know what to expect. (Which is exactly why I purchase my fondant. Homemade fondant is completely unpredictable.) Every batch should yield the same results. If some batches are overly stretchy while others are completely dry, it makes for a very frustrated baker (and sometimes a very sad looking cake).
Texture. I want my fondant to be smooth and pliable, but not too smooth or pliable. It has to have a good amount of elasticity, but shouldn’t shrink back when it’s rolled out. It has to stand up to kneading and can’t be too buttery soft in my hands, but it has to be easy to work color into.
Working Time. Quality fondant gives you a significant amount of time to work with it before it becomes too dry. Cheaper fondant dries out too quickly.
Taste. I mean, come on, people are eating this stuff.
Here are the results in order of best to worst. I must emphasize that this is strictly subjective and based on the criteria that I feel are most important. I recommend conducting your own test to determine which fondant works best for you.
#1: Satin Ice Fondant. There are several reasons Satin Ice is the fondant of choice for many bakers. It’s consistent and easy to handle with a mild taste and superior working time.
#2: Bakel’s Pettinice. A close second to Satin Ice, Pettinice is reasonably consistent (although I once got a batch of their gumpaste that never dried) with a pleasant taste. It can be difficult to find in large quantities (Pfeil & Holing sell a 15-pound bucket) and was somewhat softer than I prefer.
#3: MASSA. A relative newcomer on the scene, Massa is distributed exclusively by Albert Uster Imports and was developed in conjunction with Nicholas Lodge. I would describe Massa as a bit gritty but with good flavor. Perhaps it was because their sales rep gave me a sample in a plastic bag (rather than an air tight container), but I found it a bit dry and therefore hard to smooth.
#4: Fondx. I know Fondx is Bronwen Weber’s fondant of choice, but I thought it had a chemical-like taste and was just way too stretchy. (Of course, she might like that quality in a fondant.) Have you ever made your own pizza dough, and no matter how you roll, pull, beat, or stretch it, it just keeps going back to its original shape? That was my experience with Fondx. It was just too elastic for me.
#5: Wilton. Although Wilton’s Ready-to-Use Fondant is easy to find and very consistent, it dries out way too quickly. I actually really like the bubble gum-like flavor and sugary crunch of the Wilton fondant. However, while it can be significantly cheaper than some of the professional brands, it becomes excessively dry and crumbly, rendering it unusable, so any savings is quickly lost.
Not tested: Fondarific (which claims to have an “unlimited worktime”) and Choco-Pan (made with white chocolate). According to their website, “Choco-Pan® covers at a rate nearly double that of traditional rolled fondants at a competitive price.” Sounds like a must-try to me.
Many people ask me whether or not fondant can be refrigerated. A while ago (and more recently than I care to admit) after a particularly harrowing delivery, extremely high temperatures, and my first unhappy bride, I contacted my friend Melody of Sweet and Saucy Shop to tell her about the ordeal. She mentioned that she refrigerates her fondant cakes. I had always learned that you can’t refrigerate fondant, but Melody said it was fine, and she was right.
Today, I refrigerate all my cakes after they’re covered in fondant. To avoid condensation, I set my refrigerator to the lowest possible temperature to minimize the difference between the refrigerator temperature and the air temperature. Ron Ben Israel, my culinary hero (and boyfriend, unbeknownst to him), actually had a custom humidity-controlled refrigeration system built in his studio (which is why he’s my boyfriend). That said, condensation will form on the cakes when they’re taken out of the fridge, particularly on warm days, but I find that it evaporates rather quickly. It is imperative that you not touch the cake while it’s still wet or your fingers will stick and you will see fingerprints, even after it dries. (Note: I don’t refrigerate my sugar flowers. Because the petals are often very thin, any amount of water or condensation would weigh them down and cause them to wilt.)
I would love to hear your thoughts on the different fondant brands. Please feel free to share.Read More
“That’s so pretty, but what’s up with all these fake-me-out photoshoots?” was an actual comment someone left on a blog that posted a mock-wedding photoshoot. The comment really got me thinking about the recent preponderance of photoshoots. So, here’s whats up.
According to some source I can’t remember, 80% of brides today rely on the internet to plan their wedding and only 20% on print media, while just five years ago 80% looked to wedding magazines as their main resource and 20% to the internet. A quick google search of the term “wedding planning blog” reveals over 6 million results. While startup costs for a print magazine can be prohibitive, it’s very inexpensive (even free) to start a blog, which explains the abundance of wedding blogs. Of course you have your top ten or so blogs, but really there are tons, all competing for your attention, and all constantly in need of new content. Enter the photoshoot.
No one is trying to fake you out. I promise! Although wedding blogs may have started as a way to feature actual weddings, since they’ve become brides’ main source of planning, their role has become more that of a magazine. Blogs feature photoshoots just like magazines do, and generally use the term Real Wedding in the title of posts featuring, well, real weddings.
Photoshoots present a wonderful opportunity for wedding professionals to showcase their work. As a cake designer, I get to challenge myself, try out new designs and techniques, work with new people, and get professional photographs, all without the pressure of an actual wedding. The person styling the shoot gets to pick the team and have a real hand in the creative process. Photoshoots are also a good way to realize concepts that you can’t explain to clients without a visual. The bookshelf alter in the photographs below is a good example. Megan, the designer, conceptualized it but couldn’t explain it to her clients. Now she has professional photographs to show them just what she means.
This was featured on 100 Layer Cake. (And yes, it’s a photoshoot.)
Design, concept and styling: Megan Gray of Honey and Poppies
2/ Assemble your team. Contact people whose work you admire and want to be associated with. Be careful and be selective. A good team can enhance the best attributes of your work, but a team that’s unprofessional, inexperienced, or untalented can make your work look worse.
6/ Have a critical eye–but not too critical. We’re all our own worst critic, and it’s important to be objective. However, you want to show your best work. So, before you submit your work anywhere, be sure to proofread it and have others proofread it as well. Properly credit anyone involved in the shoot. Ask friends, family members, and other wedding professionals to look at your photographs and critique them. Choose the 30 or 40 photos that best represent your work. Once you’re satisfied with the results, you are ready to submit to blogs.
7/ Be selective and patient. Think about your target audience and market, and create a list of blogs that best meet your needs. While it might be nice to get published on one of the bigger, mainstream blogs with a nationwide following, if you’re after a different clientele, it might not be your best choice. Most bloggers want original content, so submit to your first choice first. If they reject your submission, go to your next choice, and so on. I don’t advise submitting multiple blogs at once.
I loved everything about this cake. I really did. I loved the tatooed bride. I loved the bride’s mother. I loved the vintage color palette of olive, coral, and peach.
I loved the venue–La Palapa in Long Beach. And I loved the fondant calla lilies on the cake.
When I first launched my blog, I really wanted it to serve as a resource for bakers and brides, but it seems I have less and less time to document my process. That said, when a reader emailed with the following questions, I thought the least I could do is answer them here.
1. Should baked cake layers, unfilled, ever go in the freezer? I read conflicting opinions. If not, how early should I bake the cake layers?
You are absolutely right: There are conflicting opinions. I have a friend who swears she can taste a frozen cake a mile away. I also know a very well-respected cake designer who freezes her unfilled cakes after she bakes them. I’ll admit that my younger self may have even frozen a cake or two, but I would never do it now. For me, optimal taste and freshness are just as important as design, and I won’t compromise my culinary integrity by freezing a cake. I just can’t chance it.
So, here’s my timeline. Let’s assume I am making a fondant-covered cake for a Saturday wedding. I would:
- Bake my cakes as late as possible on Thursday afternoon and allow to cool for two hours
- Fill and crumbcoat on Thursday as soon as my cakes have cooled
- Refrigerate crumbcoated cakes until firm, then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight
- Early Friday, ice again with buttercream and refrigerate until firm
- Once firm, cover in fondant and refrigerate (yes, I refrigerate my fondant-covered cakes) until ready to decorate
Remember that fondant firms up and seals in the cake’s freshness. If I were using buttercream, I wouldn’t bake a cake for a Saturday wedding until Friday morning.
2. What is your favorite type of buttercream to use? Does one stand up in the heat best? I’ve been using Swiss meringue buttercream and it started melting at wedding.
My favorite type of buttercream is classic French buttercream. I use Rose Levy Berenbaum’s recipe from The Cake Bible, and it is absolutely heavenly. It does not, however, do well in the heat. I actually find that Swiss meringue buttercream is more stable, and does better in high temperatures. Still, I always recommend fondant because of its stability. Clients are often surprised by how pleasant fondant tastes–I always try to offer a fondant sample at my tastings–and since fondant firms up, guests who don’t like the taste or texture can easily peel it off. Also, because of the way wedding cakes are cut in concentric circles (see diagram below), only the servings on the outside ring will get fondant on the top and the sides. Slices from the inner circles will only have fondant on top.
If a client insists on buttercream–and some do–it is important that they know about any possible issues with melting. I have it written into my contract that it is the client’s responsibility to ensure that the cake is kept in a cool area away from direct sunlight.
I really enjoy hearing from readers, and am happy to answer all your questions, so keep ‘em coming. Best of luck in all your baking ventures.Read More
I’ve been wanting to do a cake with fondant succulents literally for years. I even tried a few years back, but with no actual occasion to make it for, I got frustrated and gave up rather quickly. This time, with a deadline and a design, I had no choice but to persevere when the going got tough. (And it did. As did the fondant.)
I wish I could share some tips on how I did it, but it was one of those things where it just flows so naturally, it’s like you’ve been doing it all your life and you’re not cognizant of the process. I was pretty happy with the results. (I’m never 100% satisfied.) I get asked a lot if the succulents are real, which I think is a good sign.
Here are some pictures, in no particular order, of the cake and flowers.
Working with Rebecca Stone of Duet Weddings is always a little intimidating. You see, she’s a true designer. I can tell because I always have to google some aspect of whatever concept she pitches.(I can also tell because I’ve seen her house and it’s gorgeous!) This time, she emails and says that she’d like me to create a cake that incorporates a faux bois pattern (huh?) and guinea feathers (wuh?). “No problem,” I write back, and then promptly hop online to find out what exactly that means and how to execute it.
Here’s the inspiration Rebecca sent over.
When I moved to California from New York in 2005, cupcakes had already exploded all over the New York confectionery scene. The Cupcake Cafe had become a New York icon, with Magnolia Bakery, not to mention countless others, not far behind. On the west coast, the cupcake was just entering its renaissance.
“How passé,” I remember thinking. “Cupcakes are, like, so NYC 2004.”
And then, “this too shall pass.”
Boy, was I wrong.
If cake was a blank canvas waiting for me to bring it to life, cupcakes had a life of their own. They didn’t need me as much. Slap a little icing on top, maybe throw some sprinkles at it, and your done. I’m an artist more than a baker, and the idea of churning out 150 identically iced cupcakes just didn’t spell creative to me.
For a while, I refused to make cupcakes. But the requests kept coming, and my resistance eventually wore down. I sold my first batch of cupcakes. And so I learned to appreciate the cupcake, albeit several years too late. Indeed, designing cupcakes can be just as artistically challenging as designing a cake. Now, I just think of them as smaller canvases.
I admit that I’m still not a huge fan. I have no problem with the way they taste, per se, although I do find that they dry out in the baking process more easily than cake. I have a problem with the esthetics of the cupcake. Sorry, but in their natural state, they’re just not fancy enough for me. And they’re not uniform enough. So, I put my own spin on cupcakes: I make my own cupcake wrappers. I’m not talking about the paper baking cups. I’m talking about a custom wrapper that goes around the cups. Here’s how I did it.
First, I designed a template. Once I had the shape right, it was easy. I went to Michael’s and bought some 12×12 scrapbook paper I liked. This is where the DIY wrapper is superior to the store bought wrapper: The possibilities are endless. (Well, almost endless. It depends on the available paper.)
Cut the paper. It now resembles a rainbow shape.
Used my daughter’s fancy scissors. (Note: It’s helpful to have a seven-year old who has all sorts of fancy scissors so you don’t have to buy any, but if you don’t have one, you can just go to your local crafts store.) Be sure to cut the outer edge of the paper (i.e., the top part of the rainbow).
Wrapped the cupcake wrappers around the paper baking cups and taped the back. You are now read to use your custom cupcake wrappers. Just drop in your already baked (and still wrapped in their paper baking liner) cupcake.
For the baker: I don’t allow the paper to touch my cupcakes. The paper isn’t greaseproof, so any grease or fat will stain the paper, and not all paper is foodsafe. If you’d like a copy of the template, shoot me an email with “cupcake template” in the subject line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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We would love to answer all of your questions! Feel free to contact Erica OBrien Cake Design. We’ll either email you directly or post your question on our blog.
- Cherry chocolate chip buttercream with fresh cherries. http://t.co/QSpoquRb80 04:39:54 PM June 11, 2013 from Facebook
- Simple and classic buttercream cake. http://t.co/st8EXOn5DK 11:57:36 PM June 09, 2013 from Facebook
- Ready to step up from my old Rebel. Want to stick with Cannon. Obviously not a pro photog. What's my next camera? Recommendations? 04:33:36 PM June 09, 2013 from web
- Because nothing says "girly girl" like pink and purple. http://t.co/JYKYFmRQpn 09:03:22 PM June 08, 2013 from Facebook
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