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10 December 2009 @ 10:42 am
I suck at wrapping gifts and icing cakes  
I hate "How-to" videos that skip the actual process, especially when I have problems not addressed in the videos. For instance, two things I am really bad at are icing a cake and wrapping a gift. So I look to videos to give me tips on the steps I am consistently fucking up.

"Icing a cake," starts the video. It goes into detail about how to place the cake on the platter, how to flatten it out, and goes into presentation details that I am not concerned about or I know already. Then it goes to "ice the cake," and right to the next step of applying a gloss finish or whatever. Woah woah woah... see, the problem I have is the "ice the cake" part. It does not go flawlessly or without fault in their videos, unlike what happens to me in the real world. For instance, when I try to simply "ice the cake" in the manner they show, frosting sticks to my spatula, and not to the cake. I have tried cooling and warming the frosting (home made and canned), but only by pressing harder and smearing with strength do I get the frosting to stick. This creates several problems. The first is, it moves the top layer around the slippery middle layer. The second is that bits of the cake come off into the frosting, making every frosting attempt I do look like I have added sundae toppings to the frosting mix. I had tried making the spatula more slippery with Pam or hot water. This works for about 3-4 dollops of frosting before the effects wear off, and it affects the frosting's texture or taste. My cakes are almost ALWAYS lop-sided, too. I could have 2 perfectly round disks with flat tops and sides, and when I am done, one side of the cake is higher than the other like a volcanic bulge.

Wrapping a gift is the same way. I don't want a how-to video with the first half being "how to select your paper." I know that, and pity those who cannot get past "what kind of paper should I get?" What I really want is some kind of mental formula on how to wrap a gift that is not a box. They always show someone wrapping a perfect square-cornered box. Let's start simple, how do you wrap a bottle? How about a 7-sided trapezoid display common with most kids toys, where one huge side is usually empty air over the display diorama? How do I cut paper so I don't have too much or too little? I swear when I wrap a gift, it looks like a chimp did it for some zoo charity.

Fucking dyspraxia...
 
 
 
Jesse: kermit cookie monsterruby_stevens on December 10th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
That's why I love gift bags, no longer does a gift I give look like I smothered it in wrapping paper.
ravyn: xmasravynmaniac on December 10th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
For those kid toy monstrosities you mention, i usually start out wrapping it as if it were a rectangular box, then flatten the thin edge, maybe like a lunch bag if that works as a visual.

For strange shapes, or soft things, stuffed animals or clothing that i have no box for, i wrap it in tissue first, trying to create something close to a rectangular shape, and then i use wrapping paper over that. The tissue structure gives the wrapping paper something to hold on to, so to speak, and helps reduce rips.

i also try to roll out the paper over an unusually shaped or large volume item to make sure i have enough to go around, but i don't always calculate it right in my mind. If i can use that paper for something else, i'll try again, but if i'm close the end gifts-to-be-wrapped, i'll wrap it on an angle if that helps, and fill gaps when i need to. Or, if i've cut too much, i'll trim one edge once i've figured out how much i really need.

Alas i have no instructional videos, but you can always call me ;-)
Aurienne: explain through interpretive danceaurienne on December 10th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)
the odd-sided things, where there's one big cardboard side and the rest is plastic weirdness? I tend to place the package plastic-side-down (big-flat-side facing me) in the middle of some paper. (I tend to use large rolls).

Roll out enough to fold over the entire package, then scootch the package down some (away from the roll, towards the end), and cut the paper, and you should have more than enough paper. (If the wrap is LONG and there is also enough to wrap it whichever direction it faces, then see if you can fold a book/cd/dvd into it, and cut off that strip for it. If not, don't worry about it.

Ignore the shape of the plastic thingie -- focus on the cardboard flat in front of you. Apply the cube-wrapping principles as much as you can to that specific flat surface. No one measures to see if triangles are even or if you use too much tape. If there's too much paper in one area, just unfold a little, cut "straight" (based on what you see with your folding, not the actual straightness the paper may go in when it's laid flat), and try again.

So yes, there's a big zone of air (unless you save Amazon boxes throughout the year (or go to the post office for their priority boxes -- which are free (https://shop.usps.com/) and good for dolls), but people know what that is and they're ok with it. Put a bow there if you're worried about it being crushed, and that will tell people to not stack things there.

Save the small bits of paper left over to wrap a DVD. Usually at least one DVD is wrapped in nothing but tiny weird scrap bits and is hell to open.

(It's not beautiful, but it works. And if your paper is shiny, no one can see the seams or cares too much anyway.)

I don't know if this is helpful at all, but since my "to-donate" pile is very close to the "presents-to-wrap" pile, I need to wrap things soon, so this is in my head.
montuos: spoonmontuos on December 10th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
A few tips for frosting a cake:

1. If you have to slice bits off to even up the layers, make sure the now-opened side faces into the middle, not the top. Unless it stuck to the pan, the bottom of each layer should have far fewer loose crumbs and structural weaknesses than a trimmed top. (If it stuck to the pan, go back and review the practice of buttering/flouring the pan, or invest in a can of Baker's Secret before you bake another cake.)

2. Try warming up a small amount of your frosting into a fairly runny consistency and using it as a sort of glaze to seal the top and edges of the cake so crumbs won't get loose and mix into the frosting. This should also assist in maintaining the physical integrity of the cake. Let that cool, and then apply frosting.

3. Plop dollops of frosting onto the cake, and then spread them across the surface, holding the spatula at about a 45 degree angle. Don't start spreading from the edge of a dollop; press down into the middle and spread from there, and then go back to spread the remaining lump in the opposite direction.

4. Frost the top first; that way you can physically hold the layers if necessary to keep them from sliding around. Aim your frosting strokes in the direction of the hand bracing the layers.
Tiger: HolidayTigerdreamtigress on December 10th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
I can't help with icing a cake, by simple expedit that I have done it once and it was in a pan. And it looked kind of goofy. Cakes are not really within my circle of kitchen powers. In part because there are few I like.

As for wrapping gifts - those hard to wrap ones - stick them in a box. I tend to hoard cardboard boxes as it is to be able to ship out orders and such, so I usually have some sort of box of the right size to stick whatever odd shaped whatsamawhosit into a box to wrap it. Much easier that way.

The general tips I have for wrapping gifts are as follows:

Take the box/package, and roll it four times (this assumes a 4 sided box) along the paper to measure about how much paper you will need - plan for a 2" overlap.

Plan for enough paper to fold onto the sides as will go just past the halfway point on the box. Too little paper, and there is a gap. Too much and it becomes PITA to fold it all neatly.

Using just the right amount of paper to wrap your box/package is not only economical, it makes neat folds much easier.

Fold on a large, flat, level surface if possible. Crease your folds on the flat surface for nice, crisp folds. I tend to crease all the folds on either side of the box before I tape.

When in doubt - go with a gift bag !
nancylebov: green leavesnancylebov on December 10th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
If you want good videos, I recommend asking at <a href="http://www.ask.metafilter.com</a>Ask Metafilter</a>, a website for asking questions not easily answered by google.
ivy_willow on December 10th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
I suck at icing cakes too, but for your other issue - use tin foil. I am not kidding!
punkwalruspunkwalrus on December 10th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
These comments sections are proof
That I have awesome friends and fellow readers.

Thanks for your input! Keep them coming, some ideas here are much better than mine.
montuos: winter holidaymontuos on December 10th, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC)
And now my shot at wrapping tips:

As others have already said, judge how much paper to cut by rolling the perimeter of your item along the wrap. For small packages check whether the edge of the roll is long enough to go around; otherwise, go lengthwise and unroll until you have enough paper. Allow an inch or so additional for the overlap before you cut — or if it's one of those awkward packages with the empty space, you might want to overlap across the entire "difficult" side.

Wrapping a bottle: roll it in paper, allowing just over the length of its radius to fold under and tape at the bottom; leave as much as you like at the top. For a wine bottle, about 3" at the top looks good. Just gently screw the paper at the top of the bottle, tie ribbon around it, and fan it out a little if you like.
Bureinatobureinato on December 11th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
I make bunt cakes or chiffon cakes (angel food pan) where you flip them out and drizzle with very thin icing, or powdered sugar. My regular cake pans are lousy, and I couldn't get the cake out, much less ice it. Plus I don't really like "regular" cake enough to make them.

gift bags. really and truly for everything. Although when I ship things I wrap them with paper and this year I've got 2 weird trapezoid boxes to wrap. The displays in the store looked great, but how the hell do I wrap them?

http://www.savoryspiceshop.com/giftshop.html

if you want to see what I mean. gah!!

I've also wrapped a few things in scarves using the furoshiki style. You can google some vids as well on it.

http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2006/11/how_to_use_furoshiki_clot.html

I may have to cut some patterned fabric to a large size & use the furoshiki wraps for the darn boxes. or just let it look like a chimp wrapped it.
montuos: winter holidaymontuos on December 11th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
Yeah, those spice boxen do look pretty challenging! I think I'd size the wrap for the front side, secure that side the way one usually does the bottom, and then pull the paper around the sides up to meet at the mountain peak. Then smooth the paper over the top and bottom, and pleat and tuck until it runs neatly along the left and right side edges, and secure along the back edge. Did that description make sense?
Bureinatobureinato on December 13th, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)
That does make sense, I'll try it. cause I have to ship soon :)
Aynneaynne_witch on December 11th, 2009 12:59 am (UTC)
Gift Wrapping - Odd Items and Bottles.

Dollar Tree has some really pretty gift bags in lots of sizes and some made specifically for bottles. Loosely wrap pretty tissue paper around the item place in the bag. Take a few single sheets of tissue paper, pinch in the middle and scrunch into a loose cone or flower shape - tuck into the top of the bag for 'flare'.

Icing the cake - you want the Bottom of the layer at the Top of the cake. Take a good jam, apricot or another complementary flavor for the cake (like raspberry with chocolate yummm) heat the jam until its very liquid. Brush the jam heavily between the layers before assembling the cake. Once you have put the layers together glaze the top and sides with the jam. Allow to cool until set. Put large dollops of icing on the top of the glazed cake. With the spatula (preferably a long metal one meant to be used for icing) at about a 25 deg angle spread the icing from the center to the edges. If the icing starts to drag at all, add more icing to the spot and work another starting point for a bit.

Cheat like crazy and get someone who knows how to do rolled fundant to come over, do the fundant layer over the whole cake and then just decorate over it.

Make a rich and decadent pourable sauce and Pour it over, letting it run over the sides as it wishes - put some fancy sliced fruit on top and call it Done.

Ice just the sides of the cake with the spatula - pat coconut or crushed nuts onto the icing and then put the rest of the icing in a pastry piping bag and go around the cake in circles until you spiral into the center - stick a pretty fruit bit or fancy candy in the center and walk away smiling.
DP Twisteddptwisted on December 11th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
My wrapping skills suck mightily also. What I always have the biggest problem with is cutting a $&*(! straight line. It always looks like I cut the wrapping paper during an earthquake. I can have a perfectly measured piece of wrapping paper at one end of a gift that's 2" short at the other end.
montuos: winter holidaymontuos on December 11th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
This is where pattern choice becomes important. My mother always buys stripes or regular repeating patterns, so you can line up the scissors along the pattern elements to get reasonably straight cuts.
Tiger: HolidayPentdreamtigress on December 11th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC)
Patterned paper with lines as part of the pattern can be tricky to line up for clutzier wrappers. Some very awesome wrapping paper, however, comes with light blue lines on the inside of the paper to make lining up thing amazingly easy.
Merry Pseudonymamelia_eve on December 11th, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
Sometimes you can make a fold before you cut, and then the fold will help you keep it straight. If the side borders are lined up, you will know that your fold is perpendicular.