Category: General


After a hard drive failure and dropping my brand new iphone into the toilet, I can’t believe I finally finished this novella of my base recipe.  It has pictures.  It has FAQs.  It has awesome.  It’s on etsy.  It was the easiest way I could find to get this to you.  The bad news is after they take their cut then Paypal takes their cut, well, lets just say I’m not making much on the sale price.

Beyond Buttercream’s Base Recipe and over 20 variations

Cover art 2

Beyond Buttercream Recipies

Thank you all!  And let me know if you see typos.  I rushed this out under the most crazy of circumstances.

Jen

Advertisements

Question… help please!!!

As many of you know, I have pulled down my extremely popular cake recipe and would like to sell it.  I gave been getting a ton of emails asking when I’m selling it and essentially to hurry the hell up!

Hahahaha I know, right?

Except I’m out of my depth here.  First I have no idea how to sell something online, and second, I have no idea how much to price it at.  I mean, the original was posted in 2010, and countless hours went into perfecting it and coming up with all the variations.  So how much is that worth?

So you tell me… how much would YOU pay for this recipe?

3 different scenarios – Lets say how much would you pay for just the recipe, pay for the 24 variations, then pay for both?

Or I could go another way … asking for a donation if you use the recipe and love it.  But what if that backfires and nobody donates?   What are your thoughts?

This is not a monetized blog.  There are no ads or pop ups.  But if I go the route of asking for donations, that’s the logical next step.

Please post in the comments below!

UPDATE 2/8:   In the midst of working on this, my entire hard drive died.  DEAD.   So it put me behind with everything.  Also, I don’t have a Paypal account so opening one has made me want to blow my brains out especially trying to do it from my ipad.  I have a loaner laptop and thank god everything I need to finish this project I have a back up of.  Right now I’m 15 pages with 25 variations with FAQs and color photos of the actual cake variation that I make.  So I’m starting to call this my novella 😀  I promise this IS my top priority but if I sell ANYTHING I’m all about making sure it’s perfect and that YOU will be happy with it.  

Sugar Flower Supplies

I love making flowers.  Seriously.  Love it.  It’s an expensive love to get into, I’ll tell you that – no doubt about it.  So finding a reliable source for cutters and veiners is essential.  I mean, if you have a consultation with a bride and she has her heart set on covering the cake with a certain type of orchid, it’s really helpful to know right where to go online to buy the cutter you’ll need – and it’s a real bummer to buy something online, finally getting it, and it sucks.  So I wanted to tell you all about one of my go-to sources – Sunflower Sugar Art!  And guess what?  They are running a sale right now!  Use the code “HOLIDAY” for 30% off (until December 2nd, 2012).

Thanks for letting me share the discount code, Pilar!

You May Have Noticed…

Hello all,

Regular readers may have noticed a few things:

1.)  Where the hell have I been?

2.)  What happened to all your old blog posts???

First, I have been extremely busy this past wedding season.  Although I find it very easy to pop a quick status update to my Facebook Page, putting together blog posts has fallen by the wayside.

Second, of my 50+ blog posts over the past several years, I’ve decided to remove all but a few.  Why?  Well, I have grown as a baker, decorator and writer.  Some of my older work is just that – old, and some of those really old posts are, well, really old and really suckie.  Others are poorly written and I had a lot of content nobody cares about – not even me.  And honestly, some of my opinions have changed since writing some of those posts.  I have finally discovered who Beyond Buttercream really is – and who I want my online persona to be.  And such is the glory of the internet – I can change it just by hitting that little ‘delete’ button.

Don’t fear… I get a lot of traffic here for my white cake recipe and my Swiss meringue recipe tutorial, so I’ve kept those up for now, and the posts that I have been linked to by other really big awesome blogs also stay up.  But you’ll be happy to know I plan on updating my white cake and my SMBC posts to include alterations and adjustments made by you, my readers, and consolidating your comments and questions so new people will no longer have to read thru hundreds of comments to find answers.

I have a lot of cakes in the oven, so to speak, and lots of upcoming plans for 2013 that I will be sharing with you, including more recipes, tutorials, and even some videos – with much higher production values then me and my crappy point-and-shoot have ever been able to capture in the past (not Craftsy, but I wish!).

More to come soon kids!  In the meantime, happy baking!

Jen

Real orchids

Real orchids on buttercream cake

Most couples have a general idea of what they want in terms of a cake design (most, not all!) and at consultations a lot of times I’m told right off the bat “the florist said they’ll just stick some flowers on the cake”.

First, no florist has permission to touch my cake.  I completely respect my fellow vendors and I know they work their butt off, but I’d never presume to rearrange their flowers, they have no business willy nilly sticking stems and leaves onto my creations.  Florists do not have a food handler’s permit or a SafeServ certification.  In short, they are not licensed or qualified to handle food.

But after a particularly bad experience I had very recently, I feel I need to start vocalizing some bigger picture things.

If the cake is supposed to have fresh flowers on it, I get them when I deliver the cake.  Never once in the 3 years of making wedding cakes have I seen these flowers given any special treatment like they will be going on a food product – I’ve been handed stems picked up off the floor, pulled out of the trunks of filthy cars, or wrapped in ratty mold-smelling old newspaper.  These stems are always untreated, meaning they still have thorns, dead petals, extra foliage, roots, dirt, debris, and so forth on them.  And in a very recent cake experience, they were crammed in a box, wilted to hell, and bug infested.  When I said to the florist, “What the hell?  I can’t use these on a cake!”  She said, “why not?”  Then grabbed one of the flowers, blew on it in the DIRECTION OF THE CAKE and started laying them out on the cake table.  I presume this was her scientific way to remove the little critters scurrying around on the buds.

Horrified, I stopped her and told her I’d take care of it.  I took all the flowers meant for the cake to a bathroom sink (which is also completely unsanitary but it was my only option) to try and wash and dry them as best as I could.  2/3rd of those flowers went in the trash and I ended up taking flowers from the centerpieces (and wash them!) to use.  I wrapped each stem in non-toxic floral tape so they wouldn’t seep any sap into the cake and I attached each to a toothpick so I could anchor them on the cake.  This ringamarole took an hour longer for me to do then it should have.  I gladly did it, but it left me wondering:  why doesn’t anyone seem to care about how gross these flowers are?  Why am I always looked at like I am a loon when I deliver the cake then spend another 40 minutes wrapping stems instead of just jabbing them in and getting on with my day?

Think about it:  if a server dropped your french fries on the floor but served them to you anyway, would you still eat them?  If you found little bugs crawling in your salad would you still eat it after the waitress blew on it to make the bugs go away?  Or… what if you found out that the salad you were eating hasn’t even been washed from the field where it was grown in human waste, sprayed with cancer-causing chemicals in 50% higher doses as what is acceptable to the FDA on a food product, picked by individuals not following food handling practices (because, you know, they aren’t handling food), crammed in a filthy box and shipped straight to the restaurant to be tossed onto a plate?  You’d freak out.

And yet – couples are regularly told to use fresh flowers on the cake to save a few bucks.  Google it – I got over 2 million articles.

And if the reality of the above isn’t enough to gross you out, some of the most popular wedding flowers staples like calla lilies, hydrangea, carnations, and tulips are toxic and considered poisonous – and this season’s hot flowers like the ranunculus and many species of succulents can cause mouth blisters, vomiting and actually be fatal.  To say that these flowers and plants should NEVER come in contact with food is an understatement.

I know what you are thinking:  “Jen, you exaggerate!  My Florist would never suggest a toxic flower for my cake!”  Yeah they do.  ALL.  THE.  TIME.  And what’s worse, I’ve also seen several cake sketches made by my competitors that have these toxic flowers all over them.  I feel like I’m being underhanded pointing out to potential clients that if they choose to go with the other baker, make sure they don’t cover the cake with something that can give their guests diarrhea, but I can’t help it.

So what am I suggesting you do?  Well, if you really want fresh flowers on your cake, you should at least insist that they are organic.  That takes care of the pesticide issue, but contrary to what you may think, that doesn’t mean the flowers are food safe.  Unless you get edible flowers grown specifically to be eaten, organic flowers are still considered a decoration, not food.  It still means different growing conditions from what farmers would use if they were growing spinach, and different government guidelines on how they are handled.  It means unsanitary field workers, unsanitary shipping and unsanitary packaging.  And have you seen the cost of organic flowers???

The art of making sugar flowers is not something that every baker or cake artist attempts to learn or has a knack for, but what we make is food safe.  No bugs.  No poop.  No dirt from the field.  No cancer-causing chemicals.  Depending on the flower, they aren’t much more costly then getting real flowers and they are wonderful keepsakes.  They are also  gorgeous.

Just wanted people to know.

Sugarpaste Peony

Sugarpaste Peony. Beautiful, right?

Oh, by the way?  If you are stopping by my blog and think I’m awesome (or even if you just think I’m OK), can you take a moment to VOTE to help me win a grant from Chase Finance and Living Social?  I need 250 Facebook votes to be considered.  Please click on this link, search for Beyond Buttercream, California, San Francisco and VOTE!  Thank you!

UPDATE #1:  I got an email from one of my past brides wanting to know if the story above was her cake.  I didn’t write this post to “out” any vendor – simply to draw attention to how flowers are actually handled behind the scenes based on my experience.  One of the things that sets me apart from other bakers and bakeries is that I have extremely high quality standards.  When I say I use high quality, name brand ingredients, and have an extremely high attention to detail, I mean it and live it.  I really, really do.  I know many caterers and other bakers that advertise that they do, but have seen them use the cheapest ingredients they can get their hands on and call it “gourmet”.

I would never, ever, ever ever ever permit the use of anything on one of my cakes that I would not eat myself.  Ever.  If you were one of my past brides and I just freaked you out, I assure you I took just as much care making sure your flowers were as clean and as food safe as I could before using them.

(Jen’s note: This one has some naughty and crass words in it in my attempt to use humor and sarcasm relating a stressful situation. It’s how I deal with stuff in real life and pretty close to how I talk.  I hope you forgive me.)

I had this small cake to deliver Saturday at about 5pm.

Devil's Food Cake, dark chocolate buttercream filling, dark chocolate ganache

Devil's Food Cake, dark chocolate buttercream filling, dark chocolate ganache, fleur de sel, sugar lotus flowers

As I’m putting it in my car I realized the floorboard of the passenger side had smutz on the rug because (of course) I forgot to get the van cleaned earlier. Being super picky about making sure nothing nasty gets on my cake, I went against my better judgment and put the cake on the passenger seat. It’s only a little cake, I told myself, it’ll be fine! I mean, I could have put it in the skid-proof cargo area, but that seemed silly, such a small cake in the cargo area. So I decided to take a chance.

Traffic was terrible. Terrible. San Francisco doesn’t have “freeways” to get across town, it’s all surface streets and whoever planned them needs a good flogging. It didn’t help that I was coming from a very heavy tourist area and trying to get to an even heavier tourist area, and although I thought I gave myself time, traffic was not moving and I knew I was running late. I HATE being late.

One thing we DO have going for us here is a very funky web of side streets and alleys that we can sometimes use to bypass horrible intersections and slow streets.

Alley

Alley. It starts by going under the San Francisco Chronicle building and takes you straight to one of the worst areas in SF - the 6th Street Corridor.

These allies, although mostly lined with apartments and businesses, can be sketchy. But whatever, I’m a city girl, and I had a cake to deliver, so I weaved thru oncoming traffic and managed to hook a left onto Minna to get to the 6th Street corridor. If you don’t know the area, it’s heavy drugs, lots of homeless, and seriously crazy people hanging out in front of half-way houses, needle exchanges, SROs, liquor stores and porn shops. You know, totally normal.

I notice on my left is a crazy-looking middle aged white dude riding a very janky bicycle on the sidewalk next to me, but he is holding onto a very nice, very shiny bike, peddling like crazy and constantly looking over his shoulder. I also noticed the bolt cutters he had strapped to his very janky bike so I knew he just stole the very shiny bike… and I was observing his get-a-way.

And because karma’s a bitch, I hit him. Actually, he hit me.

Replay it in my head: he was riding on the “sidewalk”, which in this alley is not much of a sidewalk, and he was riding as fast as he could, trying to also hold onto a 2nd bike. I am not sure what he hit to eat shit, if he was attempting to dodge and weave thru all the garbage and junkies on the ground, or if he was just completely drugged-out, but he hit something, flew off his bike and bounced off my fender. I, of course, slammed on my brakes and freaked the hell out.

I sat there astonished as this dude immediately jumped back on his bike, grabbed the other bike, told me “sorry” and peddled his butt off fleeing the scene. I’m like, wait, what? I didn’t know what to do. The dude left! Like in a freakin movie! He didn’t seem injured, I was maybe going 10 mph and he was actually going faster then me. Do I call the police? Do I get out of the car? He was gone around a corner before I could even blink. And although there were probably 20 people hanging about and milling around in this very popular drug alley, not a single one was even looking at me or seemed to have noticed that Mr. Bike Thief just bounced off my fender doing 10mph! In fact, the very non-action of the universe after such a thing happened made me second-guess that it happened at all.

Huh. Allrighty then. I took a deep breath, realized I was causing a traffic jam of cars behind me, and went on my way.

That’s when I realized my pretty little cake had gone flying off the passenger seat when I slammed on my breaks. If it had been an all-buttercream cake it would have been completely ruined. But it was ganache, and although it had some cracking, it was fixable. And miracle of miracles, I grabbed a few spare sugar lotus flowers “just in case” on my way out of the shop which saved my butt because the ones on the cake were broken.

Once the cake was safely at the venue I inspected the van and yeah, it totally did happen. There is no damage, but there is a “clean spot” on my otherwise dirty van that Mr. Bike Thief cleaned with his shirt. Or face. Whatever.

So, why do I tell this story besides to share that I totally just hit someone with my car on Saturday? After the shock wore off I realized that I just got LUCKY. L-U-C-K-Y. If he was a normal person, I’d be all kinds of screwed right now. As I sat stunned in my car practically hyperventilating because I could have just killed someone, I couldn’t help but to keep running thru a checklist of all my insurance coverage and wondering if it would have been enough to cover something like that. So lesson #1, I need to call my Farmer’s Agent to make sure I have a ton of insurance and that my van is completely covered… because you never know when the fist of mighty Zeus might smack down another meth-filled junkie in process of stealing a bike making him eat shit and bounce off your fender. This is San Francisco. It could happen, is all I’m sayin.

And my pretty little cake… it would have been completely fine and would have totally survived the abrupt stop if it had been on the floorboard of the passenger seat or in my skid-proofed cargo area. So Lesson #2, never put a cake on the seat, no matter what.

And finally, I never would have put a cake on the seat if my freakin van was clean enough to put a cake on the floorboard in the first place. So lesson #3, make sure the van is washed if I know I have to make a delivery, even if it was just raining.

So yeah, that happened.

Oh, and before you think I’m a really horrible person, I did call the police after I delivered the cake. They were completely NOT interested in the whole I-hit-him-he-hit-me with the car thing after hearing where the incident took place. Apparently it’s not a pedestrian hit-and-run when the pedestrian flees the scene and there were no injuries. Yay, I guess. However, the officer on the phone took the generic description I had of what Mr. Bounce-Off-My-Fender looked like along with the shiny bike he was fleeing with, apparently that was something worthy of reporting, which made me feel a lot better about the entire situation.

So, if you had a baby blue fancy bike jacked from the 5th and Mission area, I’m sorry but you probably are not getting it back. But if it makes you feel better, I totally hit that dick with my car for you.

You’re welcome.

Georgetown Cupcakes, home of the show “DC Cupcakes”, just broke the world record making the world’s largest cupcake.  TLC aired an hour-long special about it last week.  This is not a review on how I feel about the show, although I rarely watch it because it drives me up the wall (and this special was no exception), but I tuned in about 1/2 way thru because I caught wind that for 24 hours after that episode was aired, there was a promo code to get 40% off  cupcakes, and they ship all over the US.  With the promo code, shipping was practically free.  W00t!  I have no plans of ever being in the vicinity of Georgetown Cupcakes’ storefront and I’m a sucker for sales, so I figured, what the hell? I’ve blown $33 bucks on much stupider stuff, might as well order some.

But honestly, I was major curious how they ship.  I mean yeah, I wanted to taste their cupcakes but I REALLY wanted to see how they do their packaging, because as any professional baker will tell you, figuring out perfect packaging is like searching for the Lost Ark, and just when you think you have it all figured out you see a competitor come up with something way cool.  But also, there is lots of misinformation in the cake world about what you really need in order to ship baked goods.  I’ve read people say you need special kitchens, special permits, special nutritional labels, and pay special interstate taxes.  I’ve never found any documentation to back this up and the owners of my commercial kitchen says you don’t need any of that, but I figured, if there WAS something special, famed Georgetown Cupcakes would most certainly have it.

They ship via Federal Express overnight, and here is breakdown of what I got:

The Outer Box

The Outer Box

The main box reminded me of a large folding shoebox made of super heavy cardboard.  It is super-branded, covered in pink with Georgetown Cupcakes’ signature black design pattern covering the entire box.  NO mistake of what’s in it and where it came from.  The only label on this box is the Fedex sticker.

Mylar envelope

Mylar envelope

Open the box and you see this – a padded Mylar envelope that is mostly sealed.  There is a card (tucked into the top of the envelope) that explains that the cupcakes were baked the prior day, shipped frozen, and to leave them out for 3 hours to defrost.  It had no nutritional info nor did it have an ingredients label, but did have the standard “food allergy” warning.  I don’t think that is a legal requirement, I think it’s done for liability purposes (but I could be wrong).

Inside the envelope

Inside the Envelope

Another box with this single ice pack.  Not dry ice, but a simple cheap gel coolant pack.  (reusable!)

The Inner Box

The Inner Box

A better photo of the inner box, made of the same super-thick cardboard as the outer box.  Other then the logo on top, there is no other label on it.

Finally, cupcakes in sight!

Finally, cupcakes in sight!

Now we finally see some cupcakes, 12 of them in a super thick, plastic clamshell container.  I ordered a variety pack and pretty much chose at random.

Inside the Clamshell

Inside the Clamshell (from top left to right):  Strawberry,  red velvet, lemon berry, carrot, toasted marshmallow fudge, salted caramel, milk chocolate birthday, chocolate2, chocolate salted caramel, toffee crunch, vanilla, and lemon blossom

As if the packaging wasn’t enough, they have lollypop sticks inserted in each cupcake, I assume to keep them from hitting the top of the clamshell if the box is dropped or something.  I don;t see how that could have effected anything because these girls were frozen solid when I opened this box.

My over-all impression: I know cake is fragile, but it’s not THAT fragile.  The San Francisco hippie in me shakes my head at the waist of paper and resources that went into all this packaging.  Is it necessary?  Could they reduce some of it?  I think so.  I mean, these aren’t Faberge eggs, they’re cupcakes for crying out loud!

Oh, how did we like them, you may be asking?

Um, well...

Um, well…

Just to clarify, I got these to examine the packaging and to taste something that I normally wouldn’t, but the plan never was for my husband and I to actually eat these.  Please understand, I have cake available 24/7, so it’s not very often that we would eat, say, a whole one of MY cupcakes, let alone a whole dozen of Georgetown Cupcakes.  This is a pic of them today right before they go out to the trash to give you an idea of what we liked.  I believe these are the exact cupcakes that people wait in massive lines for and that nothing in flavor or texture was lost due to shipping. Hubbie liked the cream cheese frosting so that’s why you see the frosting missing off one, but honestly this just isn’t our type of cake… it’s too sweet for us.  But comparing these to say, SusieCakes or other cupcakes of the same fame that I’ve had, these are good, and I appreciate their price point (as opposed to SusieCakes, $3.00 for failed scratch cake with fake frosting from a can.  A can!  But hey, I guess it IS pretty genius to fill a failed sunken cupcake with frosting, turn it into a marketing ploy and call them “frosting filled!”).  Anyway, I really felt these Georgetown Cupcakes are priced appropriately and even though we didn’t eat all of them, I felt I got my money’s worth.

Gotta Try:  Toffee Crunch.  I swiped just frosting.  Meh.  I nibbled just cake.  Meh.  I took a bite putting it all together, and it was the tastiest of the bunch.  The flavors really worked well with each other.  2nd runner up was the Carrot cake.  Kind of a mystery to me, it seemed like a butter cake when most carrot cakes are oil-based.  Makes me want to experiment.  And with the cream cheese frosting (that hubbie ate all of), it was good.

Pass on:  Both salted caramels.  I know these are “fad” flavors, but if you are going to call something “salted caramel”, I want to taste salt AND caramel, and the chocolate needs to be rich and dark to work.

Completely gross:  Both lemon flavors.  100% artificial flavor.  They top them with those fake gummy lemons and manage to make the entire cupcake taste like it.  Complete mystery how they do it, but one I’m not willing to try and figure out.  Also, if I would have known they added so much pink food color to the frosting of the lemon berry cupcake, I never would have ordered it.  Bleach.

So there you go!

Have you had Georgetown Cupcakes?  What’s your favorite flavor?  Post a comment!

UPDATE 5/27/13:  I’m not sure which blog/website/Facebook etc has started to send traffic to this post, so thank you.  But guess what?  Crappy comments about how wasteful I am won’t be approved for public view and I have a little button called “delete” as soon as you try and post one, just so you know, in case you want to save yourself some time being petty, mean and douchbag-y.  Seriously, if me tossing this box of cupcakes was so offensive to you, guess what?  I throw food away every single day.  In fact, tons of perfectly good food is tossed in the US every day just because it isn’t pretty enough for you to buy it.  And just so you know, because some of you seem to be completely clueless, homeless shelters are NOT going to happily accept a 1/2 eaten box of cupcakes.  They won’t even take a NEW box of cupcakes.  If you’ve ever actually tried to take food to a homeless shelter, you would know that they will only take HEALTHY, NUTRITIOUS food to feed to people that can’t feed themselves.  And these cupcakes, kids, are as far from healthy and nutritious as one could get.  I know – I actually MAKE healthy(er) cupcakes and cake, and regularly donate to charities and shelters around San Francisco.

So many Massas, so little time

Every one one of these is a Massa.

There are many different brands of fondant, and like any product, you have the cheap stuff that is pure crap in flavor and workability (Wilton), stuff that works great, tastes like paste but is a good price point (Satin Ice, Fondex), and so-called gourmet stuff that’s expensive, supposed to have the best workability and is supposed to taste fantastic. Long ago I dedicated myself to only using products that enhance the flavor and performance of my cake and am willing to pay a higher price point for it, so finding the perfect fondant was no small task.  Here in San Francisco I was fortunate enough to come across Massa Ticino Tropic made by a company out of Switzerland called Carma.  I love it.  I love working with it and I love how it tastes.  Confusingly, there is another brand of “Massa” made by a company called Albert Uster Imports (AUI), also out of Switzerland.  So many people in the cake world get the two brands confused, not realizing they are two totally different manufacturers.  They often say stuff like “Massa is the best!” generally followed by “but it’s too expensive”.  True, compared to those 20 pound pails of Satin Ice that generally run about $2.50/pound plus shipping wholesale, the gourmet AUI and Carma cost considerably more, as you’ll see below.  But I always ask, what brand of Massa is “the best”?  They say… “huh?”  I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to someone that has actually had both brands and knows what the differences are.  Add to it that AUI has 2 different Massa fondant lines and it’s just mass confusion.  So I wanted to know, what’s the difference between the 3 Massas?

I happen to be a lucky girl.  I regularly use Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic, but recently was inspired to contact Albert Uster Imports to see if I could get samples of their fondant for a fondant throwdown.  They were so kind to send me a ¼ bucket of Massa Grischuna Americana and small samples of Massa Grischuna Neutral, White Chocolate Massa Grischuna, and some Dark Chocolate Massa Grischuna.  I’ve compared them and wanted to share my opinions with you.

This product review is not so much for the general public because neither AUI nor Carma fondants are something you are going to find at your local cake store, although both can be purchased online by anyone.  This post is for my decorator peeps that have wanted to know what the differences are but haven’t had the opportunity to put them side-by-side, or for my other decorator peeps that use Satin Ice but are interested in switching to a higher quality product but don’t know which one to switch to.  I am in no way affiliated with any of these companies, and am not getting paid for my opinion, although I wouldn’t turn any money down if Carma or AUI happen to want to start giving me money :D.

First, definitions.  According to the AUI website, Massa Grischuna Americana is “completely opaque with a soft consistency for a perfect all-white wedding cake”.   It is the most expensive of all their fondants and I was told it was “the best” that they offer.  I’ll be referring to it simply as “Americana”.  Massa Grischuna Neutral is described as “easy-to-use rolled fondant with a wonderful soft consistency”.  This seems to be their standard line of fondant, with Massa Grischuna Neutral coming in white, ivory, chocolate, white chocolate and 2 pre-dyed colors that change seasonally.  I’ll be referring to the white fondant sample I got as “Neutral”.  Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic is described as “for covering special occasion and wedding cakes, for decorative purposes and display items.  Suitable for coloring, easy to roll out and shape.  Special recipe for tropical climates – Especially suitable for small decoration pieces, dry quickly.”  To make this easy, I’ll be referring to Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic as “CMTT”.  Neutral is supposed to be a direct competitor to CMTT and AUI’s Americana is supposed to be “better” then both.

Ground Rules:

Fondants were tested based on cost, flavor, workability, texture and appearance STRAIGHT OUT OF THE PAIL.  Adding additional chemicals like tylose powder or gum-tex to get a more workable consistency or to make a gumpaste alternative was not tested, nor did I mix one brand of fondant with another to make hybrid fondants.  I only the used standard fondant helpers like corn starch to prevent sticking, powdered sugar to help with consistency,  and shortening if the fondant became too dry (if necessary).

Balls of Massa

Balls of Massa

Company Differences

Albert Uster Imports have representatives, distribution hubs, and customer service in the US.  They participate at trade shows and even have a Facebook  and Twitter page.  Carma is not in the US, and their website has some really horrible English on it.  All information about Carma as a company I get from my food distributor, but it does look like they have a customer service rep in Chicago that it never occurred to me to call.  For ordering information please go to their websites and inquire direct with them, or use your Google-Fu to find retail websites.

Size

CMTT comes in 15.4 pound pails. AUI’s fondant comes in 13.4 pails.  AUI does not sell wholesale so if I needed a pail I’d have to order it online just like everyone else.  Americana runs a whopping $79.90 (that’s almost $6/pound) plus shipping.  Neutral is less expensive at $61.97/pail.  I can’t tell you how much I pay for my pails of CMTT because the price list from my gourmet food distributor is confidential, but I can say that I pay a lot LESS then I would for AUI (all versions) but more then Satin Ice, and I can pick it up or have it delivered thru my local distributor for free.

Winner:    Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic.  The 2 extra pounds over AUI in the pail make it a better price point even if I had to pay for shipping.

Ingredients

All commercial fondants seem to have one or more hydrogenated oil product in it, and both Carma and AUI are no exception.  I hate that.  Really hate that.  The only way around it is to make your own fondant.  Believe me, if I had the space and time I would.  Real homemade fondant is out of this world delicious, but I’ve already covered in a past blog post that I need to use commercial fondant at this time.

Winner:  Having only the ingredients listed on the Americana pail vs, Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic, Carma wins.  It has fewer ingredients listed on the pail.  I don’t really know what they are, but I stick with the rule of thumb that “less is more” when comparing labels.

Texture/Workability

CMTT has a heavy texture that you could almost describe as gritty?  When you initially get it out of the pail it feels dry until you start working it.  It quickly smoothes out and becomes elastic and somewhat soft.  You don’t even really have to get it super soft to roll it out, in fact I find the more I work it the harder it becomes to work with.  I’ve never gotten elephant skin and pockmarks are easy to polish out.  I easily lift it on my arms to cover a cake (up to 24” diameter) rolled at 1/8 “ thick.  Air bubbles are easily taken care of with a pin and a fondant smoother, it polishes to a nice sheen, dries to a nice crust, polishes beautifully, stacking is a breeze, and decorating on it is easy.

Americana has a much finer, sticky texture right out of the pail.  I actually had a problem getting some out it was so sticky.  Once you start working it, it gets even sticker, and I had to add corn starch to my silicone fondant mat just to kneed it, which I generally don’t have to do until I start to roll.  It’s very elastic, dare I say droopy.  Rolled at ¼” thick, I lifted it to cover a 6” test cake and it started stretching on my arms.  I got it on the cake and started smoothing with my hands but it tore in several places, stuck on itself and it puckered at the base.  It also thinned out in spots to the point where I could see the cake under it.  Because it was so sticky I couldn’t smooth the pucker and it frustratingly kept sticking to my fondant smoothers so I had to dust the entire surface with corn starch.  Still couldn’t get dents and puckers out.  After a few minutes you could see the shape of the cake and filling under it and I couldn’t imagine what would happen if I started getting an air bubble.  I can’t see being able to pop the bubble and working the fondant back into shape.  I pulled it off, kneaded in powdered sugar, rolled it really thick (1/4”) and was almost able to get the same coverage as CMTT.  It was still sticky though, and no matter what I did I couldn’t get the puckers out at the base of my cake.  I should also mention that they weren’t kidding, Americana is opaque and weird looking to me, where Neutral and CMTT is white.  I’ve been told that the opaque quality means it will stay true to color if you add coloring, but what a wet mess I imagine it would make as soon as you start to add gel color to this fondant that is already super soft, you would have to use powder color.  I don’t get the whole “perfect all-white wedding cake” that they advertise since this stuff just looked weird and if you take a look at the photo I’ve included, Americana is NOT as white as the fondants I am comparing it to.  Lastly, I don’t think you could use this on a chocolate or red velvet cake.  You’d be able to see right through it.

Due to the small sample of Neutral, I didn’t have enough to cover a cake so I can’t judge it fully at this point, but the texture on my fingers was right in the middle of Americana and CMTT.  A little sticky, but with some depth and a bit of grit.

Winner:  Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic.  After all the problems I had with the Americana to cover my cake this is a no-brainer.

How It Dries

I admit, I did not allow my tester cake to sit covered in Americana, I ended up pulling it off and using CMTT for the finished cake because of the reasons I described above.  But I though I’d try and use it for some dried fondant pinwheel decorations I needed to make for a cake the following day.  I again had problems getting the texture right with the Americana, it rolled really thin but stuck to everything, including my exacto knife no matter how many times I cleaned my blade.  I had to let it sit before I could really cut stuff out of it without it stretching and sticking.  It also dented really easy, which was really annoying.  The following day it was still bendy without being brittle.  This is actually not a bad thing, you can made decorations in advance and still have some room for error when you fit them to a cake and you can carefully manipulate your mostly-hard pieces of Americana without them breaking.  I see this being really great for bows and flowers too, assuming you don’t dent your pieces with your fingernails.

CMTT cuts into anything right out of the bucket and dries almost as hard as gumpaste very quickly as advertised.

Due to the small sample I was unable to judge Neutral properly.

Winner:  Toss up – Being able to cut straight out of the pail and have pieces dry quickly using Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic is great when moving fast, but I can see the advantage of cutting decorative pieces out of Americana and have them dry so they are easy to handle but still slightly bendy so they will still mould onto the cake easy.  I’ll be doing more test pieces in the future.

Flavor

CMTT smells divine as soon as you open the pail.  It’s a mix of marshmallows and sugar, it smells sweet and decadent.  Fresh CMTT tastes really wonderful and I don’t taste any chemicals, which is unusual for fondant.  It does have a slight gelatin mouth feel.  Once it dries on a cake it has a nice crust on the outside but is slightly gummy on the inside.

As soon as I opened the pail of Americana I honestly would not have been able to identify the contents as food, let alone something sweet.  All I could smell is chemicals and plastic (from the bag it’s sealed in).  It didn’t taste much better.  It is not as gritty on the tongue as CMTT but is more gelatinous.  Something strange happened, once my pinwheel dried it lost all flavor.  I didn’t even taste anything slightly sweet.  I guess that’s a bonus for people that hate fondant since it won’t add any flavor to the cake.  I have not tried to add extract to the Neutral to see how it takes flavoring, but I have done it with CMTT, the only flavor it takes well is almond.  I think it’s because it has it’s own flavor and it doesn’t mesh too well with other extracts like lemon, orange or hazelnut.

Neutral did taste decent, it was sweet like CMTT and had the same slightly gritty mouth feel, but it left a nutty chemical aftertaste.

Winner:  2 blind taste testers chose Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic over both AUI fondants, and I agree with them.  Carma tastes better and compliments the flavor of the cake.

AUI White and Dark Chocolate Fondant

Carma doesn’t make a chocolate or white chocolate version, so really, the whole reason I got a hold of these AUI products was to get my hands on a tasty commercial chocolate fondant.  As you can probably tell though, I do have a bias, I used to make both white and dark chocolate fondant from scratch using high quality chocolates for both.  Being a chocolate snob, I turn my nose up to products like candy melts that contain no real chocolate and anything with “chocolate flavor”.  Homemade chocolate fondant tastes like a rolled out bar of chocolate on the cake, or like a nice coating of ganache.  I had high hopes for AUI because I know a lot of top cake artists use it and claim the flavor is wonderful.  I completely disagree.  The dark chocolate tastes like a Tootsie Roll.  Now, I know, lots of people like Tootsie Rolls, but I don’t.  I don’t think they taste anything like real chocolate.  Tootsie Rolls aren’t even made with real chocolate, and even though I only got a small sample envelope of the dark chocolate fondant and didn’t see an ingredient list, I’d be surprised to see this have any real chocolate in it at all.  I was extremely disappointed in the flavor.   Due to the small sample I was unable to test it on a cake, but I did use it to make ball centers for some flowers.  Not the most challenging of tests, I know.

I did, however, have enough white chocolate fondant to put on a cake.  It is a little opaque and softer and stickier then CMTT.  The flavor is not too bad, again not having an ingredients list, I would be surprised it was made with any cocoa butter either.  I mean, I wouldn’t sit down and nom on it, but I don’t think it’s too bad.  But I have to say, judging on it’s workability I was pretty impressed.  Getting it on the cake went as easy as my beloved CMTT rolled at 1/8”, it was nice and smooth, it adhered to Swiss meringue buttercream really nice with NO air bubbles.  I was able to roll it really thin to cover the cake drum and it dried on it overnight decently.  My complaint is that it does not dry very much.  CMTT almost creates a shell around your cake and it takes a real slip up to dent it, and the dent will smooth right out using a piece of fondant or your fondant smoothers.  The AUI’s white chocolate dried to the touch, but it stayed soft after 24 hours.  So soft smooshing the cake was really easy, and smoothing it back out wasn’t.  Decorating on it was really interesting, my ruler left dents just touching it,  I had a hard time scoring it, and I couldn’t do some of the decorative elements to the surface that I had originally planned like some crimping and some shell indentations because my tools bent the fondant in, instead of just marring the surface of the fondant.  In the end I adjusted my design and made it work.

Finished Cake using AUI's White Chocolate Massa

Finished Cake using AUI's White Chocolate Massa, with white chocolate massa fondant flowers, black royal icing swag, and gold royal icing swiss dots. Purchased topper. Red velvet cake with vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream.

Conclusion

I’m dismissing using Americana to cover a cake.  That was an exercise in patience that I don’t have.  I plan on using up what I have making decorative pieces.  That leaves CMTT vs. AUI’s Neutral.  Without having a full sample of Neutral I can’t be sure, but I imagine it probably performs as well as AUI’s white chocolate massa as far as workability to get on a cake.  The only mystery is if Neutral stays soft like the white chocolate version, making it difficult to design on.  But right now, If I had to choose between Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic and AUI’s Massa Neutral, I’d go with Carma’s because it tastes better, has a lower price point, and handles as you would expect your fondant to handle.   As for the chocolate versions, I disliked the flavor of the dark chocolate so much I can’t see ever using it, but I am was mostly happy with the white chocolate once my cake was decorated.  But honestly?  I didn’t like it enough to want to buy a full pail and start using it regularly.  I will be sticking with making my own chocolate fondants in the future.

I want to thank Albert Uster Imports for supplying me with the samples used for this post.  Your customer service is top notch.

Hey!  Agree?  Disagree?  Questions?  Leave a comment!