Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chocolate Cake - Cake decorating with Fondant

Cooking and baking is one of my passions I could say, but only when it is less stressful. That's why I use semi hommade techniques when it comes to baking.
I bake cakes all the time using ready made mixes available in nearly any grocery stores. It is way too simple if you have few tools(to be honest, all u need is a baking pan, baking spray and oven) and you get lots of complements as added bonus from guests, especially kids.

My cakes were simple, just bake and eat. No fancy stuff on top. Occasionally I used to add nuts and chocolate chips, but that was it.
I sometimes frosted the cakes using store brought frosting but it looked no where near to professional. Recently I have been reading about fondant, a sugar paste that gives professional look to cakes and gives lot of flexibility in decorating. So I thought I should try. Last weekend we had a birthday pary to go to. It was my husband's neice's birthday. She was turning 8 and I thought it would be the perfect occasion to try out my new fondant frosting cake. Well if it didn't turn out well, kids don't mind, they just eat it as long as it is chocolate. So I did a lot of internet reading and picture browsing. I bought the following items and started my cake. I don't have many pictures during the process, but I 'll try to get them next time.

From Regular grocery store:

Duncun Hynes Swiss Chocolate cake Mix - 2
Pam Baking Spray
Duncun Hynes fluffy Milk Chocolate Frosting - 2

From Cake Decorationg supply Shop:

Regular white fondant (I couldn't get the chocolate fondant, but it is available in some stores. Mine was out of this kind) - 1.5 lb
Chocolate Brown Fondant Color - 1 small bottle - I had to color it since I got white fondant
Couple of frosting piping heads - Flower tip
Couple shapes of cookie cutters - Flower, round
flat spatula
8inch round cardboard sheet for cake base.

Most of these can be used more than once, except for the fondant, which will just be enough for an 8in round cake. So I think it is worth buying them.

First thing's first, bake the cake according to instructions on the package, I have a 1 1/2 half inch deep 8in cake pan, so I had to make 2 cakes using 2 packages.
Once done, let it cool completely. Remove from the pan and cut off the bumpy top layer to flatten them for frosting. Apply frosting on one of the cakes and put the 2nd cake on top of the first one upside down so that you get a nice even surface on top. If you have baked one thick cake, cut it in the middle for frosting layer.
Or if you don't cake about layers, leave it like that, its easy. But if you are cutting the cake and frosting, it helps to freeze it before cutting/ frosting so that you dont get all the crumbs flaking up. So after layers, frost the cake with butter cream frosting or any flavour you like. Use your spatula to even out the cake for smooth finish.
If you work little carefully, this frosting might be enough for a nice looking cake with a little touchup decorations using icing tubes and tips.

Using Fondant:

If you want to use the fondant, put your frosted cake in freezer and start working with fondant so the frosting hardens up a little. Makes it easy to work with. Don't worry
about cake getting hardened because of freezing, it will be fresh.

I colored small part of the fondant lighter than the rest, so I could have 2 colors in my decorations. Rest of the fondant was colored to match with my chocolate frosting.
Its just putting the color on fondant and kneeding, but it takes lots of elbow greese. I recommend using gloves, just not get your hands messy with color. You can wash it off though.

Once the color is evenly merged into fondant, roll it out like a tortilla with a rolling pin into 1/4th - 1/8th inch thick. This should cover you cake on top and all around. A little extra is better, so you can cut it off for even look. Place the rolled fondant carefully without tearing it on to the cake and press gently with your palms to remove any air and make sure the fondant glues to the frosting on the cake. Start on the top and carefully proceed to the sides. Cut of the extra fondant around the cake.

From the extra fondant remaining and the lighter colored fondant, I cut out some flowers and rounds using cookie cutters, placed them on a damp towel for couple of seconds and attached them on top of the cake. Finally, take a ziplock bag, cut off at the edge to insert piping tips, insert flower tip(your choice) and fill the bag with frosting.
Pipe the frosting in the design you want to hide the seams at the edge of the cake.

Here is what I got. I was very happy to get the look of professional bakery cake (not quite, but good enough for a beginer). And the Birthday Girl! She was so happy that she wanted to cut and eat it right away though she had 2 more store bought professional cakes. Worth the whole process :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What is Inflation???

As we all know inflation has made economy go significantly bad in United States, how many of us really know what is inflation and how is it caused? I thought I knew until I read this article. Read on, you might feel the same.

Here is a simple question for you: do wet streets cause rain? Or does rain cause wet streets? Everyone knows that rain causes wet streets and not the other way around. Yet, relating that same example to inflation, do rising prices cause inflation? If the price of oil goes up this month, does that cause inflation? If the price of insurance, or health care, or college tuition goes up, does that cause inflation? Do wet streets cause rain?
Unfortunately, the established media present inflation statistics in such a way that suggests that rising prices do indeed cause inflation. Consumers are led to believe that if the price of oil goes up on international markets, it will create a domino effect across our economy causing the prices of many other things to rise, and thus causing inflation to rise. That is pure folly. Wet streets do not cause rain, nor do rising prices cause inflation. Wet streets and rising prices are both symptoms, but not the source of the cause. Let me explain.
In our economy, there is a finite amount of "money". The definition of money nowadays is more than a little confusing. Even Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before Congress that it is hard to understand and define what money actually is. The Federal reserve has some definitions. M1 includes just cash, or currency. M2 includes cash, plus cash equivalents, such as deposits in checking accounts that can be readily spent. M3 includes even more, but the Federal Reserve as of March this year stopped publishing M# statistics. Regardless of what definition of money that you use, there is a fixed amount of it in use in our economy.
The basic cause of inflation, at its very root, is the dilution in the value of money. When the value of money goes down, it has the effect of making prices of everything go up. However, prices going up is not inflation itself, but rather the result of true inflation: the dilution in the value of money. If the value of money wasn't diluted in the first place, prices would not respond by going up. Our economic system is very complex, involving literally trillions of individual transactions every year. But the basic principle of inflation is quite simple. When excess money is put into our economy, it dilutes the value of the existing money, and thus we have inflation.
Think of our economy as one big auction. Lots of things for sale, and lots of buyers actually purchasing those things. To keep our example understandable, we'll use round numbers. If there are one million items for sale in our auction, and one million buyers, each with one dollar to spend, the average price per item will be one dollar, assuming everything sells. If an outside source gives each buyer another dollar (thus doubling the total amount of money in the auction) without an increase in the amount of items available to purchase, then the average price per item would be two dollars. The more money that is introduced into this auction, the more prices will go up. Assume that several buyers were allowed to photocopy currency, and could use this to purchase items in the auction. If these people could use the photocopy machine without limit, isn't it easy to see how prices in the auction would rise in the same fashion as a result of all this "money" competing for the same items? By introducing more "money" into the system, the value of existing "money" gets diluted. That is how inflation works.
Now, the population of this country grows each year by about 1.7%. Realistically, there should be 1.7% more cars, houses, offices, etc. If the money supply increases by 1.7%, it would offset the increase in tangibles, and prices would neither fall nor rise, but remain stable. However, if the supply of money increases by 11.7%, there would be an extra 10% that would dilute the value of the existing money that is already in the system. That would be the source of inflation.
History teaches us that governments and other "powers that be" cannot resist the temptation to print paper money recklessly for their own self-interests. Realistically, the temptation is just too great. If you could photocopy money without penalty of law and jail, wouldn't you? If the only penalty of doing so was that it dilutes the value of everybody else's money, how could you resist? Want a fancy sports car? Just go the the photocopy machine. Want a new waterfront estate? Another trip to the photocopier.....

Oh Boy... That was some information for people like me who pay minimum attention to economy issues.

Having said that, here are the top 10 cities in US (posted by to get the most out of your dollar if you are planning to buy a house or get a new job.

1. Austin, TX
2. San Antonio, TX
3. Indianapolis, IN
4. Houston, TX
5. Charlotte, NC
6. Columbus, OH
7. Dallas, TX
8. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
9. Denver, CO
10. Portland, OR

Here are the Top 10 cities in US that get you the least out of your money if not the worst. Posted by as well.

1. Los Angeles, CA
2. Providence, RI
3. New Orleans, LA
4. Philadelphia, PA
5. Cleveland, OH
6. New York, NY
7. Milwaukee, WI
8. St. Louis, MO
9. Washington, DC
10. Sacramento, CA

These lists were put together with statistics based on affordable housing, gas prices, inflation and job growth. So I guess this is pretty close to being accurate. Too bad we live in Los Angeles :(