I always wanted to live in a little Irish cottage near the sea……..or maybe a little Scottish cottage, since my great-grandfather came from Scotland. Any movie that has a cottage in it has my heart. I don’t really care for the content of the movie, “The Holiday,” but I adore the cottage. If I could put a building in my back yard, in the woods, where Megan and I make fondant covered cakes to our heart’s content, it would look like a cottage. One of my favorite movies is “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne. I love how Maureen O’Hara takes the deserted cottage that was John Wayne’s character’s childhood home and turns it into a cozy little nest for the two of them. It took me years to figure out what kind of decor I wanted in my house but finally, after being married for about 25 years (that was 11 years ago), I figured it out. Any ideas? Not too difficult…….cottage, of course.
And so it’s not really surprising that the first cake that I ever covered with fondant was a cottage.
I can’t tell you why, or explain it in any way because we’re not Irish but we love St. Patrick’s Day. We look forward to it for weeks to come. We go downtown to a little Irish cafe and have pastries and tea to celebrate.
Two years ago, St. Patrick’s Day was around the time that we had put our feet to the fondant path. We had done cupcakes for my middle daughter’s baby shower and we decided it was time to try to cover a cake with fondant. After all, how hard could it be? It seemed appropriate to do a cottage.
Turns out that covering a cake with fondant wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Please don’t misunderstand, covering a cake with fondant takes some practice, especially if you don’t want to end up with cracks or wrinkles. It’s been quite a journey to get to the point where I feel comfortable with putting fondant on cake. I had quite a few disasters along the way but now it’s my favorite part. As a matter of fact, I would have to say that putting fondant on a cake is my favorite part of the ‘caking’ process. I would rather put fondant on a cake more than anything else. There is something about the way the fondant feels when you are stretching and shaping it to a cake that feels so satisfying to me, almost therapeutic…..that is, when it goes well. I don’t usually have too much trouble anymore but I remember a time, not so long ago, when I have had cakes where I would put the fondant on, take it off, put it on, take it off……you get the picture. These days, if someone would do the baking and crumbcoating I would be perfectly happy to just put fondant on cakes all day long.
Back to our little cottage….
We worked so hard on that little cottage. It took us hours. We totally underestimated the amount of time it would take us to do the whole process. Probably between six and eight hours later, when we stepped back and looked at it, we were so proud of it. We had crumbcoated, put the fondant on, piped, and glued pieces of fondant on for doors and windows. We took it to my daughter’s house and everyone thought it was adorable. That was then.
Fast forward two years…..
“You’ve come a long way, baby.”
All along the way, though, as we learned more and more about decorating cakes, we always wanted to remake our little cottage. It was still one of my favorite cakes because it was our first to cover with fondant, and, frankly, no matter what it looked like, I thought it was charming. I knew that we could improve on our original design but, in my mind, the little cottage was still adorable.
We had had multiple discussions about the cottage. Megan, always the realist, kept saying, “It was so bad, Mama.” In my head I knew she was right but my heart had romanticized it. I would always jump to its defense, saying how good it was considering what bad decorators we were at that time. I didn’t want anyone to abuse the memory of my little cottage cake. It would always be sweet and special to me.
And then one night we went back to look at the pictures.
It was pathetic. The fondant was dry and covered with powdered sugar. I didn’t know any better and I used powdered sugar as lubricant when I rolled out the fondant. As a result, the fondant, already dry, had little pieces of crusted powdered sugar all over it. Although I’ved watched many videos using lots of different methods, I only use cornstarch now to roll out my fondant.
Megan hadn’t perfected her piping with royal icing yet and so we used buttercream to pipe the vines. The fondant was so dry that it picked up the oils from the buttercream and left an oily ring around anything that was piped.
I was afraid of carving at that time so the windows were just pieces of fondant glued on the front and the whole cottage was shaped more like a bell than a cottage.
Sorry little cottage, but you were pretty bad.
Enter my friend, Jennie, and her husband, Matt.
Jennie has been one of my dearest friends for many years. Jennie and I have weathered the seasons of life together and although she is almost 20 years younger than me, we have allowed some pretty difficult circumstances to bind us together. I love her honest, no-nonsense approach to life. She is a wonderful friend, great wife and loving mom to her three kids.
Jennie has also been one of, if not the, biggest, supporter of our cake obsession. She has been with us at events where our cakes have been served. She looks at every picture we post and comments often. She has commented on the blog. We talk cakes when we’re together. She has done some pretty awesome cakes herself. And she always tell me that no matter how many cakes we have done, her favorite is still our little cottage. I keep telling her how pathetic that little cake was but she won’t hear of it. She has told me on more than one occasion that she wants to live there.
It seemed appropriate that when Jennie’s husband, Matt, called us to get on the calendar to do a cake for Jennie’s birthday (he called us six months in advance), we would have the opportunity to remake our little cottage.
I asked Matt what we should do for Jennie’s cake. I was hoping that he wouldn’t have any ideas because I already knew what I wanted to do. When we finally had the chance to talk (the cake and party for Jennie was to be a surprise), Matt confirmed that he didn’t have any ideas and he would leave it up to us to do whatever we thought Jennie would like.
We were so excited. We finally had a good reason to re-create our little cottage.
We searched the internet for pictures of cottages. We wanted it to be accurate but we found that we had talked about the cottage for so long that during the planning stages we were already on the same page. Color, construction and finishing components were decided and we got to work. The great part was that the cottage would be for Jennie who had loved the original so much.
We had come so far and had learned so much that we were able to finish the cake in half the time of the original. Although it has to be one of the easiest cakes that we have ever done, it looks difficult because of the intricacy of Megan’s piping.
I did the baking and carving and put the fondant on. Megan made the cottage come to life with her mullioned windows and her vines creeping up the walls. I worked on the externals like the benches and the flower pots.
We stepped back and, immediately decided that we both wanted to live there. It turned out exactly as we had pictured and exactly as we had wanted the first little cottage to look.
“Thank you, Lord, for this cake journey, and for the opportunity to craft this cake for our precious friend.”
In the end, Jennie loved the cake, and, as is the case many times, she didn’t want to cut it. We all took lots of pictures and the cottage will live on in our cake memories as one of our favorite cakes……right next to the original.