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A Brony Birthday Party

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My little sister (that’s her with the black ponytail) threw a My Little Pony birthday party for her boyfriend last week.  That’s right, he’s a Brony.  A brother who likes My Little Pony.  I love that he’s secure enough in his masculinity not to have any shame about it!  He was so excited about the party and while she was taking millions of pictures of him posing with ponies, he declared it to be the best birthday party of his life.

Although I’ve sworn off decorated cakes (multiple times), she talked me into making the cake for his party.  (What convinced me was her offering a really strange amount of money – not like $20 or $30, but $32.73.  It was so weird and funny I had to say yes! lol)  It was a super-simple cake and I thought I’d share how to make one if you ever have need of a rainbow or MLP cake.

You only need a round single layer of cake.  If you make it in a 10″ pan, a cake mix will fit in it and the finished cake will serve up to 16 people, although it will be pretty difficult to serve.  I made mine in an 8″ pan and baked the rest of the batter into cupcakes, so this cake only served 8 but with the cupcakes it would have served 20.  You will also need red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and sky blue frosting for the rainbow.  Pack the frosting into disposable pastry bags, preferably fitted with couplers, though you can just slice the tip off the bag to pipe the frosting directly onto the cake out of the bag if you don’t own a lot of couplers or don’t want to buy them. If you are going to make this into a My Little Pony cake, you will also need extra green for the grass (I used a lighter green than in the rainbow). You’ll need some flower sprinkles (I used these) and a grass tip (Wilton #233, and ignore all the other tips – I didn’t end up using them).  If you want to make a pond, you’ll need some clear piping gel and sky blue gel coloring (available at Walmart by the cake decorating supplies in the arts & crafts section).

Slice your cake in half and squeeze/spread frosting onto one side. I made too much red so that’s the color I chose to use.

Sandwich the halves together.

Place the cake cut-side down to your platter or cake board.

Squeeze frosting onto the cake, starting at the middle with the red (I had to build it up a little to make it higher since it dipped down), making stripes in this order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  I just squeezed it out from my coupler without a tip and I thought this made the perfect width of frosting for each stripe.

Repeat down the other side and fill in the bottom of both sides with sky blue frosting to make it look like you’re looking through to the sky underneath the rainbow.

If you’re going to make a MLP cake, figure out where you’re going to put the ponies, then pipe a blue border to outline where your pond(s) will be.  Using your (clean) finger, spread a thin layer of blue frosting over the platter or cake board so that the silver (or other color of the board) doesn’t show through the piping gel.  Tint enough piping gel to fill the pond(s) with sky blue gel color and spread into the pond, creating some ripple effects with your spoon.

Pipe grass onto the rest of the platter and when you run out of light green, use up the rest of your darker green, then panic and use up your yellow.  Then realize there is no other color left that is suitable for grass so be really strange and spread some orange over the rest of the platter, hoping it won’t look too weird if you write a birthday message across it.  Sprinkle your flower sprinkles all over the grass.

Realize the orange is just wrong, and scrape it all off, rejoicing that you found some extra blue you had set aside in a bowl.  Use it to pipe a border for another lake and repeat the steps to create a second lake.  Rejoice that you saved a little bit of white frosting and tint it green to go around the lake, then steal some of the flower sprinkles to put on the new grass.  Much better.

To serve, cut it in half down the middle, then cut each half in half, angling toward the center.  Essentially, you are cutting it the way you would if it was right-side up, but from the side instead of the top.  Cut each thick slice in half and use a spatula or cake server to draw out one of the bottom pieces (most likely two pieces will come out and you’ll have to pull the top piece off onto another plate.  Once the first piece is out, serving the others is pretty easy as they just start falling onto your spatula.

TASTE THE RAINBOW!

Whoa. It’s like a rainbow…IN MAH MOUTH.

 

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Cake for Dummies, part 3: frosting and stacking

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I’ve made a “Cake For Dummies” page where I’ve linked to all the cake tips and resources on my blog, including those on tiered cakes and general baking tips.  You can find the past videos from this series there if you have missed anything and would like to catch up.  The first video includes my “water bottle trick” for ensuring a moist cake every time, and the second covers levelling.  Now we’re up to frosting and stacking (which also includes a water bottle trick-I tell you that water bottle is my secret weapon!)–3/4ths of the way to a finished cake!  Tomorrow is the final video and will cover “decorating.”  I put that in quotations because my decorations are more like embellishments, but it still makes for a pretty cake, and is much more manageable for those without decorating experience.

OK, I’m a big dork.  While frosting the cake, I got caught up in telling a story about my childhood when I should have been explaining what I was doing. I think by this time, I had lost my focus and forgot I was doing a tutorial.  Oops.

Allow me to explain in writing. :)  When you spread on your frosting, you want to make sure you don’t get any crumbs in it.  If you do get crumbs in it, it’s not the end of the world, it will still taste great, but it won’t look as nice.

Just say no to crumbs in your frosting!

{Photo source}

To keep them out, you have three options:

1) Apply a thin coat of frosting over the whole cake to trap the crumbs before you apply a thicker layer.  This is not my method of choice because it seems too time consuming to have to apply the frosting twice, but it works.  Just be sure to refrigerate the cake for an hour or up to overnight after applying the crumb coat before you frost it again.

2) Pipe the frosting on using a large pastry bag fitted with a wide, flat tip, such as Wilton’s #789. This gives you an even thickness of frosting over the entire cake, and there is no risk at all of getting crumbs in your frosting because the cake is covered already when you start using your spatula to smooth it out.

3) Be careful and just go for it.  On the rare occasion that I don’t use a pastry bag & frosting tip to pipe the frosting on, this is what I do.  I just put a lot of frosting on each spot before I start spreading it and don’t spread it very thin, adding more before I get to the point when the crumbs start lifting up as I move the spatula.  I make sure that my spatula never comes into contact with the cake itself, and I avoid lifting my spatula in a way that pulls the frosting (and crumbs) off the cake.  This is the method you’ll see me demonstrate in the video.

Links that accompany the video:

The turntables: older versions of Wilton’s Trim ‘n Turn PLUS Cake Turntable and Trim ‘n Turn ULTRA Cake Turntable

The frosting tip: Wilton #789

The cake I’m making: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake

Check out this recipe using the leftovers from this cake: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcake Bites

OK, that’s it for today-class dismissed!

How To Henna Your Hair

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Being raised in a whole-foods home, it only makes sense that my mother also chose all-natural hair and body products.  I started breaking into her stash of henna hair color when I was in middle school, so I have more than 15 years experience with it by now.

You may have heard of henna tattoos, popularized by the Indian culture, which are temporary and slowly fade over time.  You may not have been aware that you can use henna to color your hair as well, but it has been done since at least 400 AD.


Henna is a tall bush or small tree, and the leaves, once dried, are powdered and can be mixed with hot water or an acidic liquid to dye skin, hair, and nails.  The benefit of using henna on hair is that it  seals in oils and tightens the cuticle, resulting in a rich, healthy shine.  It contains no ammonia, peroxide, or other chemicals that are damaging to hair.  Unlike other hair dyes, it fades slowly over time (usually it lasts 4-6 weeks) so there are no tell-tale roots as your hair grows out.

Things you should know about henna:

1) It can only make your hair darker.  It bonds with the protein in your hair, adding color to it (unless you use the neutral henna, which only conditions without adding color); you can’t use it to lighten your hair.

2) If you get any color besides “neutral” or “black,” you will get red highlights in your hair.  In my case, I buy “light brown” and I get a medium brunette color with pretty red highlights.  You can get many tones of red, such as strawberry blonde, auburn, copper, etc, but all of these will only add color to what you already have so don’t expect your black hair to turn strawberry blonde if you choose that color.  It may give some warmth to your color, but will not lighten.

3)  In my experience, henna will not take your hair too far from the color you start with, so if you buy black and have light brown hair, you will become a darker brunette.

4) It is quite goopy and messy and can stain anything it touches.

5) It can react with chemicals in your hair, such as chlorine, or those used in coloring or perming.  In the picture below, taken before a homecoming dance my freshman year of high school,  you can see I turned the ends of my hair green when I tried using black henna after an entire summer of swimming daily in a public pool.  The photo was taken two months after the application, so you can see that green really hung on!  If you want to use henna after your hair has been exposed to chemicals, I highly recommend doing a strand test first.

 photo scan0031.jpg

6) You can add things to the henna mixture to enhance the conditioning and coloring properties, and adjust the amount of water used accordingly.  For deeper conditioning, add an egg or two tablespoons of yogurt.  To bring out golden highlights in already light hair, replace heated water with half warm water and half warm lemon juice or chamomile tea brewed with three tea bags.  To create rich golden or copper highlights add three tablespoons vinegar or fresh lemon juice.  To enrich browns or reds, add one teaspoon ginger, allspice, nutmeg or paprika.  To enhance brown tones, replaced heated water with day-old, black, very warm coffee (not instant).

7) Henna has a distinct herbal smell, which is quite pleasant compared to some of the harsh chemical dyes, but it can be off-putting to some.  It reminds me of a blend of powdered algae, herbal tea, and marijuana.  I sort of feel like a hippie when I’m applying it. :)

8) You can not use any metal during henna preparation or application, as it will react to it and make your hair a funky color.  Which could be fun, but if you’re hoping for a natural color, steer clear of the metal and use a glass, ceramic, or plastic bowl and stir with a wooden or plastic spoon.  I used a small silicone scraper this time.  They also recommend you use distilled water, but I just use purified water and this has never been a problem for me.

There are many henna products for hair and I have tried a few brands, but the one my Mom used is Light Mountain Natural, and after trying other brands, it continues to be my preferred henna product to this day.  Light Mountain Natural is a pure, natural product made from 100% organic powdered botanicals of three species of herbs: Red (Lawsonia inermis), Neutral (Cassia auriculata), and Black (Indigoferae tinctoria).  These powdered botanicals are blended for a rich medly of color.   Botanical color may vary from crop to crop and season to season, but their blending process helps compensate for these variations.

The instructions I’m giving are according to my experience with the Light Mountain Natural henna, and may not work with other henna products.  I use light brown, which I buy at a local health food store that has nothing to do with the Whole Foods chain.  In the box, you will get a bag of henna, instructions, plastic gloves, and a plastic cap.

The day before, please do an allergy and strand test according to the package directions.  I never do, but it is in your best interest, especially if you’ve never used henna before.

To start, empty your henna into a glass or plastic bowl. Add enough water, stirring with a non-metal utensil, that you get a consistency similar to yogurt.  I like to go a little thin, using two or more cups of water, because it thickens a bit upon standing, and it’s easier to apply if it’s not too thick.

Let mixture sit for 1-3 hours to cure.  I usually just wait an hour.  Curing cuts down on the time you will have to leave it on your hair, but you can use it as soon as ten minutes after mixing if you like.  The mixture will thicken and get darker on top. Stir to check the consistency and add more hot water if necessary.

They tell you to get your hair wet, and I went ahead and did it this time, but usually I apply the henna to my dry hair and I noticed no difference in the final outcome, except my grays didn’t seem to be covered as well.  Whether you get it wet or not, it’s now time to don your “henna shirt,” i.e. any shirt that you don’t mind ruining.  I have a shirt designated for henna application and it has been used many times.

Apply a cream or Vaseline around your hairline to protect your skin from getting stained.  I used a sunscreen stick.  Whatever works. :)

It helps to pretend you have no teeth while you apply it.

“Back in my day, we didn’t have these fanshy schmancy sunshreen shticks, but they sure are handy!”

Apply the henna from roots to tips whichever way you please.  With a comb…

Or my preferred barbarian method–slapping it on and rubbing it in with my hands.

I think I make this same face when I apply mascara.  Perhaps the synapses in my brain were misfiring and telling my face that doing any beauty regimen requires wide eyes and an open mouth.  Apparently I channel the elderly quite a lot during this process as well…

“What’s that, shonny?  I can’t hear you, shpeak up!”

As I apply the henna downward, I like to pile my hair up on top of my head to keep it out of the way.  You can see what I meant when I said it gets messy.  I always put cream or Vaseline on my ears and all the way around my hairline because it never fails to get on my skin.

I just keep applying it until the entire bowl is on my head.  My hair is fine and I don’t really need that much, but at least I know every inch is covered.  If you have very long or thick hair, you might need two boxes of henna, but as you saw, one bag makes quite a bit.  If you’re spreading it further, be sure to massage it into your hair before covering with a cap.

When you’re finished applying the henna, the first thing you should do is clean up.  Discard your gloves and clean up all the henna that dropped on your sink and floor.  Use damp paper towels or a damp washcloth to wipe away any henna that is on your face, ears, and neck.  Next, don your plastic cap.

The one that comes with the kit (right) is square and after fitting it to your head, you have to close the gap at your nape with a hair tie, so I usually use a handy-dandy shower cap instead (left).

It is now time to apply heat, which activates the henna and bonds it to your hair.  My Mom used to have a retro hair dryer that came down over her head, which was uber fabulous for this part, but at my house, I apply heat with a handheld blow dryer.

Move the dryer around constantly so you don’t melt the cap, and maybe take this time to practice your lip curls and strengthen your forehead with eyebrow lifts.   I also like to use my other hand to press down on the cap while I’m heating my hair, so that the henna disperses even better while the color is setting.  The directions say to heat intermittently to maintain constant warmth, but I use the blow dryer for fifteen minutes straight, then, depending on  my mood, I will either go online until my hair gets cold, or go straight into the shower.  This time I went straight into the shower, which could be why my grays weren’t covered as well as they usually are–not enough time with the henna on.  Depending on your hair type (mine is super thin), the process usually takes 45-minutes of off-and-on heat application.

Get thee to the shower and rinse the henna out of your hair with warm water.  It is gritty, so it will take some time. Once you get as much of the henna out as you can, fill your hand with a huge pile of conditioner and work it through your hair from roots to tips.  Use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to comb through it so that your hair is saturated with conditioner and tangle-free.  This will help get the remaining henna out as you rinse it again.  Do not use shampoo.  Ideally, you shouldn’t use shampoo on your henna’ed hair for 24 hours, but I usually do my first shampoo after 12 or so.

Style your hair as usual.  I usually just comb my hair and let it air dry, but after applying henna, I usually at least blow dry it because I’m eager to see what color it is.  Plus, I imagine that the heat helps set the color even more.

Here’s my hair about 6 weeks after the last henna treatment, and the day before this one:

And here it is after this henna treatment:

Another note: there is a specific Light Mountain Natural henna treatment for gray hair, but I haven’t tried it yet, as it is a two-step system and I’m not terribly patient, plus buying it would confirm my suspicion that I’m getting old.  The gray hairs are bad enough without having to buy a special gray hair treatment for them, you know what I mean?

Disclaimer: Light Mountain Natural doesn’t know I exist and did not compensate me in any way for this tutorial or for my opinion of their products.  I just included it here because it is the best henna product I know of and wanted to share the best with you. Check out their website here.

I gathered my information about henna and the henna hair color process from knowledge passed on to me from my mother, from Wikipedia, and from the Light Mountain Natural instructions.  I nabbed the first two pictures off the sites given on the actual pictures themselves.

Working with Pie Dough {Video Tutorial}

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Photos by me, made into a collage by Laura Flowers.

Although pies certainly have their place in the fall and winter, I find myself making more of them during the warmer months, when fruit is plentiful, and my family begins to favor it over cake.  I’m getting ready to post another summer pie recipe, but thought I’d first share a video tutorial on working with pie dough that I made last summer for The Cooking Photographer and never got around to sharing on my own blog.

I  can hardly claim to be a pie master, but with as many pies as my family demands, I do feel pretty comfortable by now when working with pie dough.  I realize pie dough scares some people the way yeast bread used to scare me, and I hope that this video might help you with whatever difficulty you have had in the past.  This is just the way I do it, and it works for me, but once you try it you will realize in time what works for you.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

I used this recipe for the pie dough in this video.  It is my favorite and the one I use if I have time to make my dough from scratch, otherwise I go for Pillsbury!

Cake Pops

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**Update 5/12/11: If you are here looking for answers to cake pop questions, please check my Cake Pops FAQ and Troubleshooting Guide before leaving a comment.  I also have a recipe for making cake pops or balls with leftover or broken cake here, a recipe for Vegan Dark Chocolate Cake Pops, and a recipe for Cupcake Bites (cake balls that look like little cupcakes–the easier version of cake balls).  For my full pops index, click here.**

These pops are essentially cake truffles on a stick and are very simple to prepare: Bake a cake, mush it up with frosting, roll it into balls, insert a stick, and dip it in chocolate! These things really are a hit with kids because they are so fun, but adults seem to enjoy the delicious truffle-like confections equally well.

Want to make some? Here are step-by-step instructions, complete with videos.

Cake Pops
Makes 40-50 pops
Printable Recipe

What you will need:
1 (14.25 oz) box cake mix, any flavor
1 (16 oz) tub frosting, any flavor (you will not need all of it)
or 1/3-3/4 cup homemade frosting (I use my Cream Cheese Wedding Frosting)
1 (24 oz) package of almond bark/candy coating (white or chocolate)
Sprinkles
Lollipop sticks
3″x4″ cello bags
Curling ribbon

Bake the cake mix according to package directions. Once it’s cool, crumble the cake into a large bowl. I prefer to process mine in the food processor to fine crumbs. Place in a large bowl and stir in half of the frosting container or 1/3 cup of your homemade frosting. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined and thick like a truffle center. Mix in additional frosting if necessary.  You just want enough to get the crumbs to stick together when you roll them into balls.  Do not add so much that the mixture becomes soft and mushy!

Roll mixture into 1″ balls and place on a cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or overnight. I usually do this step the day before and then dip them the following day.  Do not freeze them before dipping or it may cause the chocolate to crack after they are dipped.

Melt chocolate in the microwave per directions on package. Dip the tip of your lollipop stick in a little of the melted candy coating and insert into the flat end of the cake balls. (Bakerella says to insert a little less than halfway, but I go more than halfway b/c I imagine they stay put a little better when dipping.)

The cake balls will have a flat bottom from resting on the cookie sheet. Insert the stick into this end so the top will be round.

Carefully insert the cake ball into the candy coating by holding the lollipop stick and rotating until covered. Once covered, remove and softly tap and rotate until the excess chocolate falls off. Don’t tap too hard or the cake ball will fall off, too. Immediately cover with sprinkles before the chocolate has a chance to set, then insert in a styrofoam block to harden.

You want the chocolate to come over the platform you created when inserting the chocolate-dipped stick, but you don’t have to cover it all the way to the stick.

Tap off the excess chocolate.

Add sprinkles before the chocolate has a chance to set.

I wrap my styrofoam board in plastic wrap to keep it clean so I can reuse it.

See the two hiding in the corner?

I ran out of sticks so I just made these two into cake truffles. To do this, drop one ball at a time into the chocolate and lift out with a fork, tapping off the excess chocolate. Place on wax paper to set.

This video illustrates the dipping process. Forgive my PJ’s–I made these first thing in the morning. OK, it was afternoon. I’m lazy on Saturdays. And every other day. Once the chocolate has set, put a cello bag over the top and tie the neck with some curling string and tie into a bow or curl.

I found these at Wal-Mart in the cake decorating section near the wedding supplies

Recipe Source: based on Bakerella’s recipe & instructions

*Update 1/19/12: I have disabled comments on this post, since there are over 400 and many of them are the same questions asked and answered over and over again. If you have a question, please refer to the FAQ. Thank you!*

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