One of my favorite people, Madame Mari Mortem, has opened an Etsy shop, Strange Coven, showcasing her phenomenal sewing skills. Not much there right now, but I’m sure it will be filled with delightful, Halloweeny, and generally spooky bits soon.
I haven’t tried to decorate a cake since Duran Duran was in the Top 40. Bake, sure. Sprinkle powdered sugar through a stencil? Yeah, but that hardly counts.
The Spousal Unit and I have been binging on Man About Cake. It’s a lot of fun, and it made getting back on the decorating horse tempting again. Decorating horse. That’s…
…anyway, this cake is in no way spooky, unless you count rolling out black and gray fondant. I love black, gray, and white with yellow, so that’s what I went for. First, ze cake:
I used this chocolate cake recipe, substituting Whey Low for Ice Cream (it dissolves better) instead of sugar. The recipe is dead easy, and makes a darned tasty cake. I forgot the vanilla, and it was still amazing. In fact, I think I’ll leave out the vanilla forever.
THINGS I LEARNED FROM MAN ABOUT CAKE, #1:
Keep it cold. I’ve never been able to successfully trim the top off a cake, because I try to do it warm. That does not, and will never, work. A bread knife and a completely cooled cake made it easy. I didn’t get it entirely even, but after a while you have to give up or you’re making cake pops.
I looked around at different buttercream recipes, and decided on a mishmash:
Add ingredients to bowl in the order listed (or you’ll end up with a bowl coated in butter) and mix. Tip: if you’re using a stand mixer, cover the whole thing with a dish towel for a minute so you don’t contract Sugar Lung, bane of sugar miners. If you’re using a hand mixer, you might try covering your face instead. Anarchist baker!
I have a nice turntable on the way, but for now, I took the wheels out of my microwave, taped them to a cake stand, and put the microwave dish on top. Did it work? No, not really. I ended up moving the cake to the stand.
THINGS I LEARNED FROM MAN ABOUT CAKE #2:
Crumb coat! If I had known about crumb coating, I would have been decorating cakes long before this. No, it wasn’t a state secret, I just never knew. I filled the cake with buttercream, then put on a thin layer of frosting to lock in the crumbs. Then back in the freezer with the cake while I do other things, like…
I mixed very small amounts of fondant with paste food coloring to get gray and black. Because of the extra moisture, the black is very soft and sticky and no that isn’t a dirty euphemism. Did I add powdered sugar to it like a normal person with an internet connection? NoooOOOOooo. I just kept putting it back in the freezer so I could handle it.
Next, the cake came out of the freezer and got its final coat of buttercream. I bought a fancy smoother, and it was helpful for the top, but for the sides I used a butter cutter. I have never actually used it to cut butter. I use it to pick up chopped vegetables, lift things, and now, smooth cakes.
That’s the butter cutter on the counter. One of my most useful kitchen tools. I smoothed the sides and top, and used wet fingers to get some edges. You know how professionals in videos smooth a cake in 30 seconds? This was more like 30 minutes. It isn’t perfect, but it’s ever so much better than I have ever accomplished previously. Because I was trying to frost a warm cake with a butter knife. Because I was young and foolish. If I could time travel, I would slap the shit out of young me. But not over the stupid cake.
I actually had fondant cutters because I will use anything for anything. I, uh, cleaned them very thoroughly first. I did the ball-tool thing to shape the petals, but it didn’t work very well. Maybe I used the wrong tool. Maybe I was the wrong tool.
I ended up shaping the flowers with foil, which worked well. I had black and gold colors of edible luster, and I made sure to use a paint brush I had that was still in the package. Problem was, the paintbrush was cheap and stiff and no that’s not a dirty euphemism. Jeeze, people. So I just kinda splattered dust wherever. Eh. These ended up in the freezer so I could handle them more easily.
At this point, I realize the cake will need some piping. I am out of buttercream–yeah, I used all that recipe already–so I mix up another small batch, and color it gray. Because gray is like pastel black, and that is the best.
I did not take a picture of the piping process, but I will tell you these things: I liked it. Piping is a lot more fun than working with fondant. I stuck with very basic stuff–just stars and leaves. Then, since I had to pipe centers on the flowers, I decided to do some vines. Oh, Kitty. I will master that eventually, but for now, I did the same thing with frosting that I do when paint goes wrong: add dots. Dots fix everything. Even sloppy dots. Mostly.
In hindsight, the luster was a mistake. The flowers would have been much more funky-cool without it. But for a first effort in so many years I just remembered I’m old and oh fuck I’m gonna go cry in the tub? It’s good enough.
And now, I close with an oddly satisfying video.
Last weekend we made a pilgrimage to Lambertville, where Dolores Dragan, one of my all-time favorite Halloween artists, lives and haunts.
The first day was beautiful, so we decided to see New Hope, where we were staying, and save Lambertville for Sunday, when we’d have all day to wander. That was a tremendous mistake. The day started a little rainy, which never puts us off. We went into antique shops in the light drizzle. It didn’t take long for the weather to get much, much worse. Bad enough that even an Oregon native decided to travel by car.
Despite the rain, I parked by Dragan’s house and took a bunch of pictures of plastic-draped figures. Wonderful, wonderful figures.
The display has expanded down the little walkway between her house and the neighbor’s, where Dolores has put up tented vignettes. These were also covered in plastic, but I discovered gaps in the draping at the corners, where I could just fit my lens without disturbing anything.
I don’t know what she calls everyone, but I think of this figure as “Mourning.”
There are many great displays along N Union, but because of the weather, we didn’t stop to study much. I did go around a block and get back to this one with hand-painted decorations. I’m a sucker for the handmade stuff!
Since the weather was likely going to stop folks from lighting their displays, we headed on home. We may stop again next year on my next planned road trip…to be announced later.
It’s a good thing I planned on retiring the graveyard and mausoleum this year. I think The Great Pumpkin must have seduced Sif, because Thor is pissed at Halloween this year. Not only did my Lambertville plans get rained out (more on that later), but everything but a gargoyle and one tape ghost went down in the yard. The mausoleum is toast. And it didn’t even break at joints–pvc pipe snapped.
I’m not terribly upset. The cleanup was annoying. And dammit, could it not wait ONE MORE DAY? But eh, I have plans. Plans for things that are rounded and low to the ground.
Oh wait, I misspoke…something else stayed up.
Yep, the pumpkins stayed on their overturned pots.
This…didn’t turn out like I wanted it to, but it still gives you an idea of what The Glow was like.
See, I bought some fancy editing software some time ago. It had a sharp learning curve, so it took me a while to get to it. Turns out, it’s not particularly stable. Just when I would have started polishing, adding comments, etc., it started crashing. So. Back to Movie Maker it is.
Time for the annual pictures of the yard haunt! It’s definitely best viewed after dark, and I’ll get a little tour up soon.
I had a full-sized mannequin to make tape ghosts on this year. So much better. 30-second tutorial:
I’m using the same AtmosFX ghost bride projection in the mausoleum, but there’s no skeleton hanging inside this year.
That’s Sally, the mannequin, in the back there. I still need to put a knife in her hand. I needed something to cover the bottom of the screen, thus the signage. Kinda wishing I’d gone with swirls or something. I’m using the Seductive Siren animation for the screen. It looks pretty cool at night.
Spent a day last week in New York with Ms. Misantropia, visiting from Sweden! She is amazing, and I wish she lived closer. Our mission for the day was to see and shop as much spookiness as possible.
I had never been to NYC before, and I didn’t take nearly enough pictures. I loved the hell out of it. We never ate the same place twice, and nearly every bite was delicious. After breakfast, our first stop was Gothic Renaissance. It was filled with mind-blowing clothing and accessories, many of them handmade, and very high quality. Which, of course, put them out of our budget. But soooo tempting. We both got a few small trinkets.
Right next door, and run by the same folks, is Halloween Adventure, a bogglingly large costume shop. I swear it went on forever. Did I mention I didn’t take enough pictures? In my defense, it was raining, so I was busy looking for a hat. A hat with a point.
Katarina had never heard of Victorian hair work, so the first stop after lunch was Obscura of Oddities fame. Because of the show, I knew they’d not only have some, but that one of the proprietors, Evan, was an expert. We were able to see several examples, but the most amazing one was around Evan’s neck: less than an inch tall, the two-sided pendant had the tiniest, most lovely palette worked scene. Also, as a reminder to myself–she is working with another collector to organize a large hair work show in PA. Planning on keeping an eye on their facebook page for that.
At loose ends until dinner, we cabbed over to Chelsea Market, since we heard they do good Halloween. Indeed, spooky props hung from the ceiling all along the mall. Did I take a picture of any of them? NoooOOOOoooo. But I didn’t leave empty handed.
Dinner was at the spooktacular Jekyll & Hyde Club. Hint: you do not need reservations on a Monday night. I say this because reservations come with a meal package, and can be spendy, so if you want to be thrifty, just head on over on off nights. The food was fantastic, and interrupted frequently by Dr. Horrible, an axe-wielding guy in a fez, and many interesting characters festooning the walls. A frisky rhinoceros head decided to pick on the Spousal Unit. He was a good sport about being called a sexy hobo. And yes, they really do make you figure out the hidden door to the bathrooms.
Just one non-spooky thing to mention: the next morning, we had breakfast at Big Daddy’s, and boy howdy, that was deeelish.
We had to roll home after breakfast, leaving Katarina to have more adventures. After only one day, NYC is definitely one of my favorite places in the world, and I’m looking forward to going back.