October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012 – We went to see The Trumpet of the Swan today.  It was totally epic.

Baking with Your Kids: Baking for the County Fair!

Baking with Your Kids: Baking for the County Fair! | @SweetPhenomena

Entering an item in the county fair; it’s one of our favorite traditions.  We don’t get around to it every year, but it’s been something Babydoll and I have loved doing together.

This is a great way to really create a tradition around baking with your kids, but many people are unaware of how to do it, or that you can do it at all.

Today we’re sharing all you need to know to participate!

Be sure to keep reading because Babydoll and I are sharing our award-winning cake recipe further down the post!

Find a Fair

I don’t remember where I first read about baking for the county fair, but before I did, I had never heard of such a thing.  I didn’t grow up in your typical “county fair” going type place.

I can’t vouch for every single county and state fair out there, but I’d venture to say most have competitions.  They include everything from art and canning to baking and table decorating.

It really is a fascinating thing to see.

But before you can participate, you have to find a fair local to you {or one somewhere else that you’d really like to participate in} and find out about their competitions.

There are several ways to find this information, such as a Google search for your county and/or state, but there are also websites that list fairs in every state such as Countyfairgrounds, USA, and ExpoCentral.

Then there are other fairs that are known for a certain exhibit and folks travel from all over the world to attend, such as the OK State Sugar Art Show at the OK State Fair.

Find the Competition Rules

Most fairs have a website nowadays, and most of the time they have the rules and guidelines for entering items into a competition on the site.

Sometimes they’re labeled as competition guidelines, sometimes they’re labeled as exhibitor guidelines, and other times they’re listed as something completely different.  There’s no standard term.

Click around and look for words and terms such as open class, exhibitor, or competition.

If you’re still not coming up with anything, contact the fair office and they can send the information to you.

In addition to reviewing the rules, it’s important to review any important dates.  Since baking has to be tasted, and not just observed {unless it’s judged purely on decoration}, these items are generally delivered closer to the fair start date to prevent spoilage.

Bake Your Heart Out

After you’ve reviewed the rules and decided which classes you’d like to enter, it’s time to get busy!

Plan your recipes, choose presentation pieces, and have fun with your kids!  Let them be creative.

Let them create new recipes if they’d like.  Let them decorate their item however they’d like.

While it is fun to win, I think it’s more important to spend this time with your kids, just having fun while learning and experimenting together.

A Few More Tips

Leave plenty of travel time to get your goods to their destination.  You don’t want a smooshed cake at the fair…

Present a visually pleasing item.  Even if presentation isn’t part of your score, I find it’s always good to create a “WOW” moment.

You almost always get free tickets to the fair as an exhibitor.  Be sure to pick those up at the designated time.

Winning is great {we love our ribbons}, but you can’t always win.  Don’t let that be the focus of your exhibit.  Focus more on the fun of baking and the fun of the fair.

Our Award-Winning Cake Recipe

As promised, here is the cake recipe that Babydoll and I have used to win on several occasions.  This recipe got me Best of Show and Best of Class at the Kitsap County Fair a few years ago.  Those are big, pretty ribbons…

It’s a doctored cake recipe and I did not create the original, but the version below is my modified version.  It was also my most popular flavor when I did wedding cakes.

It’s a total winner.

Click the image to download the PDF recipe.

Baking with Your Kids: Tips for Frosting Cakes & Cupcakes

Tips for Frosting Cakes & Cupcakes | @SweetPhenomena

Welcome to Day Two of my 10 Days of Baking with Your Kids series, part of the iHN Homeschool Hopscotch!

Today we’re going to talk about something that so many of you really want to know how to do: frost pretty cupcakes and cakes.

Before I became a homeschooling mom, I had a custom cake business in WA, and I taught cake decorating.  I’ve had several years to get it wrong and learn what worked for me and the majority of my students.

Want to see my cakes? Journey on over to this page!

I do have to put a disclaimer in here, though: I don’t believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do just about anything.  There is your way.

Another disclaimer:  even though it’s fun to make your cakes look like they do on TV, it’s also super-fun to let your kids go to town with a piping bag.  They can get pretty creative.

People often want to know how to make their frosting job look like those in magazines, though, so I’m going to share some tips below.

Know the Difference

The first, very most important thing you must know is the difference between buttercream frosting and fondant.

Many times the images you see on TV and in magazines are cakes that have been covered in fondant.  That’s what gives a flawlessly smooth appearance.

That’s not to say that you can’t get frosting smooth, but it just won’t look quite as perfect as fondant.

Fondant Cake

This is a fondant-covered cake.

This is a buttercream-iced cake.

You can really see a difference if you pay attention to the edges and corners.

The Right Frosting

Believe it or not, the type of frosting you use makes a huge difference in how smooth you can get it.

  • Don’t use canned frosting.  I know, I’m a fan of the canned stuff too.  In certain applications.  If you want your cupcakes to look like the ones in the first picture, canned frosting is not your friend.  It’s too thin and can’t hold shape.
  • Make sure your homemade frosting is the right consistency.  Frosting that is too thick will crack as it is piped onto a cupcake and it will tear crumbs up when you’re frosting a cake.  Not to mention it’s a mother to spread…
  • Use a crusting frosting.  Yes, that does sound gross.  No, it doesn’t taste gross.  This simply means that the frosting develops a slight “wall” on the outside.  This isn’t so important when frosting a cupcake, but it’s super imperative for the way I get my icing smooth on cakes.

The Right Tools

You can’t properly frost a cake or cupcake without using the right tools for the job.

The Right Process

Frosting cupcakes is pretty simple:

  • Prepare your piping bag and fill with frosting.  It’s best to use a large piping bag if you’re frosting a dozen or more cupcakes.  Getting that big, fluffy pillow takes quite a bit of frosting.
  • Starting at the outer edge of where you want your frosting, apply steady, firm pressure while simultaneously moving your entire arm clockwise.  Continue moving clockwise, making smaller and smaller circular movements until you’ve created a peak at the top.  Think of it as filling an ice cream cone from a soft-serve machine.

Frosting cakes and getting them smooth takes a bit more practice and there are multiple ways to do it, so I’m going to share the easiest way.  The reason people get crumbs in their icing is because they use too little icing.

  • Prepare your piping bag same as above, but use tip 789.  Now, squeeze frosting out in big, fat, horizontal lines all over the sides and top of your cake.
  • Using an angled spatula, spread the frosting so that all of the cake is covered.  Don’t worry about getting it smooth right now.
  • Let the icing sit for a few minutes {because you’re using a crusting icing remember?}.
  • Using a Viva paper towel {yes, must be Viva}, smooth out your icing.  How?  Just lay the paper towel on the surface, either the side of the cake or the top, and gently use your hand to smooth the surface out.  Don’t spend too long in one spot or the heat of your hand will make the paper towel stick to the icing.  Otherwise, you just do small sections at a time until everything is smoothed out.

My Icing Recipe

I rarely share this with anyone, but I want you to get started right, so I’m sharing my icing recipe with you guys today!

Whip up a batch and enjoy frosting a few cupcakes with your kids!

Just remember to practice and eventually you’ll have your own system down.  This is something that is so fun to practice with kids; they think it’s the most amazing thing ever!

Our Trip to the Pumpkin Patch


One of the things we really miss about WA is the totally awesome pumpkin patches they have there.

Since we’ve been in AL, we’ve visited a couple of different pumpkin patches, and they really suck.  They’re heavily commercial and tacky and not enough about embracing Fall and the great, cozy family fun that can happen at the pumpkin patch.

In our quest to find a decent patch here, we stumbled upon the site for Bennett Farms.  It had promise.  It had a documentary explaining how this cattle ranch turned into a pumpkin patch.

It seemed awesome.

So, we went.  And, while it still can’t compare to WA, it was such a fun and awesome and clean {a farm, super clean, I was blown away} place.

Here are some pictures from our great trip! It was so nice to step away from the computer and enjoy some downtime.

Chef Boyardee Little Chefs Project: Teachable Moments Cook-Along


A couple of months ago I announced that I’d be participating in the Chef Boyardee Little Chefs Project with other great bloggers!

You know how much I love talking about cooking and baking with your kids here on Sweet Phenomena, so this was an unbelievable opportunity that I am so thankful for.

The eBook came out last week {eek!}, and a series of Cook-Alongs started as well.  This Thursday, October 18th, is the second Cook-Along in the series, and it happens to correspond with my chapter: Teachable Moments.  This will be a 30 minute long live chat starting at 2 PM EST.

Come join the fun and get great tips and tricks for incorporating learning and fun in your kitchen!

The Cook-Along is sponsored by Chef Boyardee and is hosted by The Motherhood.  I’ve got a video that will be played during the Cook-Along, so be sure to stop by!

These are the fabulous bloggers participating in this week’s chat:

Amee, Madame Deals http://www.madamedeals.com
Caroline, Smarty Pants Mama http://smartypantsmama.com
Janene and Christine, More Than Mommies http://morethanmommies.net
Maureen, Wisconsin Mommy http://www.wisconsinmommy.com/
Mel, MamaBuzz http://www.mamabzz.com
Monica, Mommy Maestra http://www.MommyMaestra.com
Tiffany, Sweet Phenomena http://sweetphenomena.com

Hope you have a chance to stop by!

True Confessions: I am being compensated for my contribution to this project.  It has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, though, so I’m so happy to share all of this with you guys!