'Cakes To Dream On'

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You may have seen her beautiful cakes featured in magazines as part of celebrity weddings or White House events. And now Collette Peters wants home cooks to know they can replicate her cakes.

The celebrated queen of confectionary arts shares her secrets in her cookbook, "Cakes To Dream On."

Peters offers several of her recipes during Tuesday's The Early Show.

Among them:

Gumpaste decorations:

Gumpaste, which is a kind of sugar dough, is the perfect edible medium for making long-lasting flowers, bows, ribbons, tassels, and just about anything else you can think of. Like fondant, gumpaste can be colored or painted. Gumpaste is much stronger than fondant, so it can be rolled very thin and can be used for making very delicate shapes. I have created bride and groom figurines, trees, cages, animals and even candleholders from gumpaste. The main thing to remember when working with gumpaste is that it dries quickly when it is very thin, but takes a long time to dry completely when it is very thick. So allow enough time for your pieces to dry, at least 24 hours.

When gumpaste dries, it is very hard and brittle, like plaster. Although gumpaste decorations are fragile, they can be kept for years, as long as they are kept away from hot and humid air, which can soften or melt them.

I have tried many gumpaste recipes, but my favorite is actually a combination of equal parts Bakels ready-made gumpaste and either CK or Wilton powdered gumpaste. This recipe has always worked best for me, and I find that it doesn't dry quite as fast as some other recipes, and it gives you a little extra time to work on pieces. Also, it's not quite as brittle as some others, so your creations won't break as easily.

Mix the powdered gumpaste with water, following the package directions. Shape the mixture into a ball and rub the surface with a little vegetable shortening. Place it in a plastic bag, squeeze the air out, and seal it. Let it sit overnight before using it.

When you are ready to use your gumpaste, mix the Bakels gumpaste with the powdered mixture in a 1 to 1 ratio, preparing only the amount you will use that day. If the paste seems to be a bit sticky or if it's very humid, add a pinch of Tylose or CMC (synthetic gumtragacanth, the "gum" in gumpaste, found in cake-decorating stores) to keep the paste firm. Gumpaste should snap when pulled apart. Add some shortening if it seems too dry.

Sugarwork techniques

Rolled Fondant:

Decorating with Rolled Fondant: When I started decorating cakes many years ago, it was fashionable to use buttercream exclusively as the icing. At first, I wanted the finished cake to look swirly and gooey, the way they looked in commercials. I tried and tried, but my cakes never quite looked like that. Then, I tried to get the icing smooth and perfect, as in bakeries. This I could do, but I never really enjoyed the effort. I liked piping with buttercream, though, and this, to me, was the fun part of making a cake.

A few years later, I went to a cake-decorating convention, and there were people from Australia who had a new product for decorating cakes, called rolled fondant. This was the thing I needed to make my cakes look smooth and perfect, plus it was easy to use. And it tasted good. I liked the smooth chewiness of the fondant in contrast with the cake, and I liked what you could do with it. You could tint it, paint it, crimp it, roll it, shape it and mold it; and actually kept the cake fresh and sturdy.

Coloring Rolled Fondant: Since painting has always been a love of mine, I've looked at cake as if it were a blank canvas. Unfortunately, the difference between a blank canvas and an icing-covered cake is that sugar melts when water-based colors are brushed on. I have experimented with edible techniques and mixtures for painting a cake over the years; and after much trial and a lot of error, I feel that I have come up with some useful, easy, and creative solutions.

If you try to paint rolled fondant with a water-based food coloring using the brush, the fondant starts to melt and the color comes off with each brush stroke, which can lead to a lot of frustration. Therefore, when you paint on a cake covered with fondant, use a pigment mixture that contains a lot of alcohol instead of water. When you use alcohol as your liquid, it doesn't melt the icing, and it evaporates quickly, allowing the color to stay in place on the fondant.

The one exception to this rule is when using an airbrush with airbrush food colors, which are water based. With the airbrush you do not need to worry about water melting the icing because you're not brushing and the spray is so light it won't melt the fondant.

Buttercup Blossom
(Serves 30)

The stand holding this cake is actually a candleholder, but sometimes you can find things that can be used for a purpose other than what they were meant for. This pretty little cake fits perfectly on a small stand. It's ideal for a birthday party.

Techniques used:
Fondant cutouts, pearls, teardrops, ropes and piping with royal icing.

6-inch round, 4 inches high
8-inch round, 4 inches high

Other Materials:

Cake stand or 10-inch base
Royal icing
Lemon yellow, pink and moss green paste food coloring
Piping bag and #2 and #3 PME tips
1-inch and 1 3/8-inch circle cutters
Daisy cutters

In Advance:
Cover the base with thinned, pale yellow royal icing.

To Decorate:

  1. Cover the cakes with pale yellow fondant, matching the color of the icing on the base. Stack them on the base. Cut out pale pink daisies with the #1 daisy cutter and attach them to the cake randomly with water.
  2. On the edge of the cake and around the top edge of the bottom tier, cut out and attach 1 3/8-inch circles of white fondant. Use the 1-inch cutter to make the fondant circles for the base. On the bottom tier and the base, cut off part of the circles so that they will fit against each other.
  3. On top of the cake, cut out pink #2 daisies and attach them to the white circles with water. Then place a darker pink #3 daisy on top of that one, then a pale pink #1 daisy on top of that one. Make pale pink teardrops in between each circle and pink dots in between the teardrops. Put a dark pink #2 daisy in the center, with a pale pink dot on top of it.
  4. On the edge of the bottom tier, attach dark pink #3 daisies, then a pale #1 daisy onto each darker one.
  5. On the base, add a pale pink #1 daisy on every other circle.
  6. With pale green royal icing and the #3 tip, pipe a braid under each white circle on the top tier, below every other one on the next tier, and all along the bottom edge.
  7. With pale pink fondant, make small balls and place them between every circle on the top edge of the bottom tier. On the base, place a pale pink teardrop in between every circle.
  8. Make white ropes about 1/4 inch thick and attach them under every other circle, below the green piping on the top tier. Do the same on the bottom tier, below the ones without the green icing. Make these a little longer so they hang a bit lower; place a small pale pink daisy in the space made. Pipe a green royal icing braid above the white rope.
  9. With white royal icing, pipe a braid under the green braids under every other cirlce. Pipe white lines along the edges of all of the green, white, and white fondant lines. Pipe a white braid border along the bottom edge of the cake. Pipe white dots in the center of all of the daisies and around the cake. Pipe white braids along the sides of the teardrops on the base.
  10. Add 8 small pink daisies around the top. Make pink fondant teardrops and dots; attach them to the centers of the white ropes.

Torte Of Babylon
(Serves 38)

This was a small wedding cake that needed more height, so I put it on a cake stand and decorated it to match the cake. Fantasy flowers give this a sophisticated, yet jaunty look.

Techniques Used:
Gumpaste fantasy flowers, leaves, ruffles and curls on wires, piping with the royal icing, painting.

3-inch round, 4 inches high, cut into a wedge 3 inches on one side and 4 inches on the other
4 1/2-inch round, 2 inches high, cut into a wedge 1 inch on one side and 2 inches on the other
6-inch round, 3 inches thick, cut into a wedge 3 inches on one side and 2 inches on the other
8-inch round, 4 inches high, cut into a wedge 4 inches on one side and 2 inches on the other

Other Materials:
3-inch round foamcore board
4 1/2 inch round foamcore board
6-inch round foamcore board
8-inch round foamcore board
Cake stand or 10-inch foamcore base
Royal icing
Pink and black paste coloring
Pink, green and yellow powdered colors
Acrylic paints (optional)
Piping bag

In Advance:
Make the gumpaste fantasy flowers, leaves, curls on wires, and elongated curls on wires. Decorate the stand. You can use acrylic paint to paint the stand, if you wish, and then use gumpaste and royal icing to decorate it. Let dry.

To Decorate:

  1. Carve the cakes. Cover them with white fondant. Stack them on the stand. Insert dowels in each tier and a dowel through the entire cake. Paint green and yellow stripes on the cake.
  2. Add pink fondant stripes. Add a gumpaste ruffle to the bottom edge, the middle of the second tier, and the bottom edge of the top tier, using toothpicks to hold up the ruffle while it dries. Pipe black dots on the ruffle and larger black dots on the borders of the 2 middle tiers. Add the gumpaste decorations.

Fondant flounce:
Take three 12-inch long #20 green wires and tape the bottom halves together. Make 2 gumpaste hearts, one pink and one yellow, and make a hole in the top to attach them to the wires. For the third flower, cut 2 gumpaste circles, one white, 2 inches wide, and one pink, 1 inch wide. Run the ball tool around the edge of each to ruffle. Glue the smaller one to the center of the larger one, then attach a small ball of gumpaste to the center. Let dry. Attach the 2 hearts to the wires by putting the wire through the hole, then glue the ruffled flower to the top of the middle wire with royal icing.

Carve the cake to measure 4 inches round and 3 1/2 inches high. Place on a 6-inch board. Cut out a 12-inch fondant circle. Drape the fondant over the cake and let the folds hang naturally. Add wires.

Making A Cake Crooked, On Purpose

I made my first topsy-turvy cake for a book by John Loring entitled "Tiffany Taste," in 1985. I was asked by him to make something wacky and whimsical, but had no other guidelines, so I was a little nervous. I thought making a crooked cake would be playful and ironic, since making a cake as straight as possible so it doesn't fall over is the number one goal of every cake maker. I don't think I had ever before seen a cake made crooked on purpose. Since it didn't fall over, I had the confidence to make many crooked cakes in different configurations, colors, sizes and styles.

The main thing to remember when making a crooked cake is that you need to have enough stabilizing supports in the cake to keep it from falling over, especially if you have to deliver it in its completed state, which I don't recommend but its sometimes unavoidable. (Try to put the cake together when you get to the party if at all possible.) I use sharpened dowels inserted into the tiers as I build it so that it is very difficult for the cake to fall over.

Here are some guidelines for making a crooked cake:

  • Always sketch the design first, preferably on graph paper, to make sure that what you are planning is doable.
  • One method for making a cake crooked is to use Styrofoam wedges between normal-shape cake tiers. This way, the wedges make the cake look crooked when stacked, even though the cakes are straight.
  • Another method is to cut the top and/or bottom of the cake crooked, so you will not need any wedges between the layers.
  • When you stack the tiers, using either method, do so as you would a normal cake, with dowels in each tier. Make sure, though, that you put the dowels in each tier once they will not give support. Then put one long sharpened dowel through the entire cake and into the base.
  • Put any top ornaments on the cake after you arrive at your destination.