“When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target. ~George Fisher”
Before I started to write this post, I was thinking about perfection and tried to find the right quote to express what I think. In my “about me” section one of the ten words that came to my mind first is perfection and the fact that I am trying to reach it, though I know nobody is perfect and I cherish flaws and find them more interesting than people without. I think that most people are expecting more from themselves than from others. At least I do. I am fine with other people making mistakes, find it human and understandable and can connect with them more easily. The next second though, I am mad with myself for making mistakes and not being perfect. I have a lot to learn. Looking for a nice quote, I was thinking about what perfection actually is and what I agree with. Several statements came to my mind. “Perfection comes with practice,” “Nobody is perfect,” “Perfection is just a talent to hide flaws.” Looking at all of them, only one implies that perfection really exists. It comes with practice, so again, nobody is simply perfect, but it is work. And maybe it is the practice of hiding flaws. I chose the quote above as my starting point for this post, because I think that in the end perfection really is a moving target. We determine ourselves what perfection means for us and usually it moves a little up high when we reach that point.
You might wonder (or not) why the heck I am talking about this and start my post with a boring topic like that. Well, I was struggling with my desire for perfection when making one of my cakes recently. My little niece turned six and she is still a very huge fan of “Frozen”. Elsa is her favorite character and after making her an Elsa-hat last year, I promised to make an Elsa-cake for her birthday. I started two weeks ahead with the figurine. I wanted to make sure that it has enough time to dry and harden, so it wouldn’t collapse. I have never really made a human-like figurine like that. Standing and skinny like Elsa. It is more challenging than a sitting one. I knew that my niece would want to keep the figurine, so I decided to stabilize it in the middle. Usually I make all the decorations out of edible ingredients, but this one had some plastic inner parts to make sure it would stay up for some time. It is not uncommon anyway to use some wooden sticks or plastic parts for support, when making sugar figurines. Let’s be honest – nobody really eats those anyway, because they are very hard when dry. If you want to make it entirely edible, I recommend marzipan.
Like I said, I began to make Elsa two weeks ahead, starting with the dress and face. The face I made.. I think 10 times, before it was satisfactory. The dress I made twice. It is the easiest part on that figurine and it actually came out very well after the first time, but when I was attaching the upper part of the body two days later, I realized that I should have started with the upper part and not the dress. So I started all over again. I also made the arms and hands four to five times (hands maybe even more) before I got them the way I wanted. I let them dry and when I tried to attach them, I realized that it would have been better to have them still soft. I read somewhere that the arms should be dry, but this didn’t work for me. Again, I made new arms and hands – again several times until they came out good enough. Before I attached the (still soft) arms, I made the cape. Ok, so this one is easy and I had it all dry and beautiful, before I realized that I forgot to paint the dress and removed the cap. I painted the lower part of the dress in dark blue and brushed some white royal icing onto the top of the dress. Then I finished with some edible glitter. The second time I wanted to make the cape, it used to rip and I had to make it like 15 times, before it was stable and not too thick or thin. Initially I wanted to make a cape out of gelatin to keep it transparent and light. I poured some gelatin onto a tray and let it dry and realized it wouldn’t work. The gelatin shrinks and then gets really hard, so if I would attach it right away, it would shrink too much in size and most likely crack at some points. If I wanted to attach it after it was dry, it would be too hard. Fondant it was!
I attached my 100th cape to Elsa and when it looked ok, I went ahead with the arms. I put some barbecue sticks to support the arms while drying and attached the head. Of course I painted and let the face dry before. The next day I made the hair, one strand at a time. The hairlike texture I made with a knife (it is a lot of fun 🙂 ). It looks super complicated, but that was the easiest part for me. Guess what.. I made the hair… noooo.. not six times or five times. ONCE!!! You see right – ONCE!!! The hair is the fun part and I master it right away?? Sometimes life is really unfair – I wish I would have mastered one of the other things like that 😉 The face.. or the dress.. or the cape.. All in all I think I made Elsa ten times and should have ten Elsas ready to hop onto the cake. One is enough though 😉 When Elsa was almost ready to dry completely, I looked at her and realized that her face – now framed with the beautiful hair – was odd. The eyes were bulging and Elsa looked like on drugs. I was really unhappy, so I grabbed some water and removed her “make-up”. I scraped some of the surface from the eyes to make them smaller and started to paint all over again. The eyes got smaller and the eyebrows finer and slowly but surely I had a satisfied smile on my face.
Elsa was standing tall and proud to dry and I started to make Olaf to accompany her. I wanted her little friend to look up and look as if he was in love with her. I found pictures of that pose online and started to build him (feeling like Elsa herself 😉 ): Olaf was super easy to build and was made very fast. I only had to adjust his size once, because he came out slightly too big. Although I wanted him to stand straight next to Elsa, I found that balancing him on his little feet was quite challenging and I didn’t want to risk him falling. I made him sitting and have to admit that I like it even more (haha.. when I write this I hear Olaf’s voice in my head “Now I like it even more!!” is what he said when he got his nose and Anna pushed it from the back to his front :D. I love this movie!).
I also tried to make some edible glass as some iceberg decoration. This I made.. five !!! times. Seriously, that was just too annoying. The first time I removed it from the heat too early, than too late, than the timing was ok, but I made the mistake to stir it and it became dull. The next time I thought I removed it too early again, because it remained slightly sticky. Then I am sure the timing was right, but it was still sticky. Now I know that it was too humid in the apartment, but those days where really tough and I doubted myself a lot. Funny part here – the dull attempt came out super nice. A little too greenish, but it was sparkling under the light, which was amazing. You don’t see it on the picture? That is because, though I made it five times, I didn’t add it. When the cake was ready, I thought it would be too much. I only used two pieces as the base for Elsa and Olaf. With this it was easier to remove them before cutting the cake.
The cake itself was a small disaster – at least for me. I had to make it twice, because the first one came out too dense in the middle. The creams didn’t come out the way I wanted either. At least that is what I thought. I decided for a raspberry cream and a swiss meringue vanilla cream. I like the combination of these flavors. But, while the swiss meringue cream was too hard, the raspberry cream wouldn’t settle. Another meltdown. I also wasn’t sure about the taste. The raspberry cream I made very often, so I knew the taste is fantastic, but the other one I made for the first time. I was already surprised by the very dense texture. I thought it would stay very creamy, but it was kind of dense and hard. In combination with the fluffy cream it was an interesting medley 🙂 I am not sure I would make that again, but it was worth trying.
After the cake was sitting in the fridge for a couple of hours I started to cover it with a mix of buttercream and some ganache, which didn’t go as smooth as I wanted. Somehow I made it through this step and waited for the ganache to harden before I started to roll the fondant. As you can imagine, one shot didn’t do the trick. After the third or fourth time my mom took over and my nerves ran out of the kitchen, hiding somewhere in the corner where I couldn’t reach. For some really weird reason my fondant was very dry and whenever I wanted to put it onto the cake it cracked. I have no idea what was wrong that day. Even kneading for almost an hour wouldn’t help (now I know that heating it up in the microwave for a super short time really helps and makes it smooth.. good I know now 😉 ). With my mom’s help (huge, big, gigantic thanks to her!!!) the fondant got onto the cake (though not as perfect as I would like it to be, but who am I to talk about perfection?). Only a couple of small decoration steps left and the cake would be ready. Since I didn’t have those really nice ice crystal cutters, I took flower cutters and cut into the ends with a knife, to create those fragile ice crystal like petals. I put one blue flower onto each white one and brushed some royal icing on top. With some edible glitter the flowers got more snowy and frozen 😉 For one of the flowers, I attached a blue flower onto the back of the white as well and spread two petals to make it stand. This ice crystal was supposed to stand on Elsa’s hand.
Only one small disaster followed. My Elsa was dry and nice, but the night before the birthday it started to rain and the humidity went up 20%. I just saw Elsa’s arm slowly collapse and her cape crack. I only hoped she would survive the night and she did. The next day I attached the flowers to Elsa’s coat and to the cake and lit some candles.
I don’t know what my niece wished for when she blew out the candles, but I hope she did not wish for perfection.
I decided to retire from cake making after this one, but only a few days later I made another one for my brother. Easier and faster, but still challenging and satisfying. I won’t reach perfection, for it is truly a moving target. I will push myself, but maybe I will start to accept that sometimes the imperfect and improvised pieces build perfection.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.