Sunday, August 28, 2016

Better Living through Pinterest: Unicorn Bark

I'd seen the Unicorn Bark here and there.  And bark, as a candy, seems like a good place to start--no intimidating molds.  Fueled by the chards of interesting chocolate needed to make a freak cake, I figured we should try it out....practice for some party down the road.  So we rounded up some supplies....

 (not pictured, pop rocks....they do add a little something)

Wilton Melts are fine and good, but let's be real:  they taste like shit.  Coating a cake ball or Oreo is fine, but on their own (e.g., bark) I figured it would be gross.  I've been itching to try coloring chocolate, and this seemed like a good excuse.  I had used the new Ghiradelli melts at the Circus Party (chocolate covered Oreos) and they were super easy (no tempering) and seemed to taste pretty good so we bought a ton of the white chocolate melts.  To color chocolate, you can't use water based food coloring (i.e., normal food coloring).  You'll need oil based food coloring, also known as candy coloring.  I haven't explored the science of this yet, but it seems that people use oil based coloring in hard candy as well (artisanal lollipops are on the docket).

After perusing Youtube and the internet, it was hard to find a definitive recommendation on the candy coloring.  So we tried oil based powder, and four kinds of liquid/gel oil based coloring:

I liked ChefMaster the best, followed by Wilton.  The intensity of both were good, but the Chef Master squeeze bottles are more convenient than pots.  The Lorann Oils were pretty good, but the liquid initially freaked me out looking separated (worked find) and the powder I found really difficult to fully incorporate in the melted chocolate (supposedly its great with fondant).  Note that Americolor gets rave reviews, but it was not Prime-able, so we have yet to grab some.

I reviewed these instructions (Studio DIY,  Hello Wonderful), this Youtube video, and the Martha Chocolate Bark instructions.  I agree with Martha--you'll want to do about a pound of chocolate per pan.  That gives you a nice thick bark.  For cake decorating (or freak shakes), it could/should be thinner.  And that is it.  Lots of clean-up, but a relatively easy and forgiving edible project.

Start with your parchment sheet over something firm (used a jelly roll pan/sheet pay with sides)

Batch #1 after marbelizing, before sprinkles.

Batch 1 results.

Last batch, with sprinkles and disco dust.

Last batch results.

A few tips:
  • I melted the white chocolate in separate bowls, ready for the different colors.  Watch over-heating the chocolate--they break easily (it will be almost melted, and then you pull it out again and it looks dry and crumbly in the middle).  For bark, I found that whipping really hard can bring back a partially broken batch to usability for bark (maybe not for a coating....).  
  • We went with a formula of white or pale base, with three medium or bright colors to swirl.  The same number of sprinkles (just so they didn't use ALL the sprinkles....).
  • This was a kid project, and sometimes kids are slower than the chocolate allows--if you put your oven on low (I used 200 degrees), you can put the pan of un-swirled chocolate in there to keep it soft....for those times someone wanted one more color to add or had not figured out their sprinkle game yet.
  • Online, people claimed they swirled it around with a spatula.  They must have mad spatula skills, as that looked terrible for me.  It blends the colors quite a bit, which is a slippery slope.  We used skewers to swirl and marbleize the chocolate.
  • Disco dust makes everything better

Even with Ghiradelli, I am not a huge fan of plain white chocolate on its own.  From a taste perspective, our middle batch was my favorite:  we put a layer of dark chocolate down, stuck it in the freezer, and then poured our Unicorn Bark on top.  You do have to watch pulling the dark chocolate up with your swirling.

Also note that we forgot about the purple and started marbleizing; because the dark chocolate had started to pull up already, Molly opted to splatter/drizzle it over the top.

Warning, it is super addictive...which is why we made three batches.  I think it would be fun for a party or party favor, or a class Valentine.

A word on sprinkles:  they add up quickly.  Making the perfect mix of sprinkles is key for unicorn bark, and the current trend for cupcakes and cakes, but it not easy if you don't have access to a professional pastry store.  But blogger Sweetapolita has recognized this problem, and sells an enormous number of "Medleys" on her store.  They seem expensive, but trust me when I say you'll spend more making the mix yourself (esp. if all you need is one party's worth of cupcakes or bark).


Hey Freak--

So, Freak Shakes started in Australia and went to New York, London, Dubai..... They seem to have fizzled as people contemplated whether they wanted all their favorite treats stacked on a cup of melting shake (or the US is too puritanical for such excess--entirely possible).  

I've been researching the ganache over buttercream drizzle technique, when I stumbled onto an Instagram wormhole that led me through modern Australian pastry arts.  And I'm in love.  

The Sweet Escape Sydney's #fridgesituation from OhItsPerfect

Freak Cakes also seem to be born in Australia, and they are available in all the Queen's territories.   I assume they are hitting major US cities?  A sampling for your viewing pleasure.

Thanks to the shakes, these cakes are often referred to as freak cakes.  However, they were also referred to as Katherine Sabbath cakes.  She started the obsession with ganache drizzle with her melted ice cream cake.  

 The Freak Cake is a particularly good medium for annoying kid themes.  The emoji cake above from The Party Parade is pretty awesome, and Lottie and Belle's portfolio of character cakes is pretty sweet:


Disney Princesses

My Little Pony

And since we are on the topic of kids parties, how about this croque  en bouche of Hello Kitty cookies and macaroons.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Drawing the eye up

My headboard is a pretty tall, and I'm having trouble liking art above it right now.  Thinking some fabric may provide the answer.  If your headboard is short, or needs some oomph, you can always add a curtain for drama.  Just do a good job--no Design on a Dime 15 min project.  You are a grown up, proper drapery rules apply here.

Alexa Hampton from Habitually Chic

Amanda Nisbet via OKL

If you want to go craziers with this look, you can get yourself a Teester.  It's a little frou frou for me, but I don't hate it for others.  But I mainly pinned these for the fabric examples.  

Melissa Ruffty via Style Estate

Ruthie Sommers via Chinoiserie Chic

Sunday, August 14, 2016


My post about garden ornaments was strictly theoretical, but Molly decided this weekend that making concrete mushrooms would be fun ("totally 'Property Girls'").  And since I'm planning on mixing up some concrete for other reasons, I think we might just do it.  I haven't really wasted time on superfluous projects lately, so I'm due.  I plan on not being a control freak and actually letting Molly make some before I go crazy trying to replicate the above mushrooms.  Simpler inspiration:

Theoretical discussion on homedepot's blog
Sand casting here.
(Next project, giant snail via this video)

In other news, I bought a Morel Habitat.  People in Indiana go into the woods and hunt Morels in the spring, but that involves a long of time in the woods and seems a little dangerous (incase you grab a poisonous one).  So I figured someone had discovered how to grow them in the comfort of your own home.  These guys are well reviewed, but you should never trust "Instructions Included"....they are included, and they are more involved than other articles on home-grown mushrooms.  It involves clearing a space and composting for 3 months (after letting them rest in a cold, dark wrapped in the back of my fridge).  I'm $40 committed, so I'm trying to persuade Charlotte into taking the project over.  I have more confidence in the concrete ones at this point.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Late Bloomer

This is not my yard.  But it is generally what I expect my yard to look like whenever the weather is nice enough for me to be outside.

This is the part of summer where my yard goes from competent to downer.  We have hundreds of bulbs in early spring.  And, if I do say so myself, we are killing it in late spring--hedge of peonies, patches of irises, clematis, poppies.....When those are done, we inherited enough lilies to keep things interesting.  Until now, when it turns to death valley.  Because by this point I've also forgotten to water all my containers.  

It could be worse.  We started addressing the death valley problem in the back yard last summer and added a few later bloomers......those pinkish purple things (echinacea) and the alien flowers about to bloom in front of them (seedum) an the blue/purple low ones in the back (balloon flowers).  I assume this is a common problem.  Everyone is all excited that winter is over and rushes to the nurseries and garden centers, and those places only sell plants currently in-bloom.  Also, as you can see late bloomers are less than inspiring.  I have to fill in the rest of the bed with some more late bloomers, and something low to edge it with....

I have these adorable shamrock weeds, which are doing great right now (of course).  They have little tiny yellow flowers, and are pretty tall.  I've already granted them citizenship by the garage, and I'm considering letting them fill in around the edges although they don't seem to spread the same way in the other beds.

But since I hate gardening and only want a nice garden in which to entertain or read magazines, I'm looking into non-plants, like the orb above (from Target 2 years ago).   Case in point, a more striking trellis would be useful for the 11 months the clematis is not blooming.  And since my #1 goal is no dirt, some concrete spheres may be in my future.

Notice that big bare spot in my flower bed?  I'm currently battling some mint, and I think I've won the war.  For a long time, I wanted to fill that spot with a large cement triceratops--there used to be one at a weird statuary place across from the outlet mall in Edinburgh.  I always thought that could be chicly eccentric and the kids would enjoy it.  But it was 800 lbs and even more dollars.  Yes, I called.

When it comes to statuary, at my budget, there is a fine line between good and looking like a cat lady who sells tie-dye shit at art fairs.   Tip:  if it's made from an empty wine bottle, there is, at best, a 1 in 10 chance it isn't ridiculous.  So let't study those well above my budget for guidance....I think that the key lies in leaning towards surrealism.

The Lalanes (incidently, these chairs are also at the wedding above).

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