Sunday, March 30, 2008

Naughty Cupcakes?

Ok, before you read on... this experiment was all in the name of practice! For the easily embarrassed and those looking only for G-rated cupcakes, please check out someone else's blog today!

So my fiance and I were invited to a "toy" party at a friend's house last Saturday night. That's not really our thing, but we don't do a whole lot of socializing with our crew, so we decided to go. I (having been raised by a proper lady who taught me never to show up to a hostess' house empty-handed) asked what I could bring to the party. Wouldn't you know it? The hostess asked for dessert! Cue the cuppycake theme song... this calls for a practice round of filled cupcakes with fondant decorations!

I immediately knew exactly what to make. Call it a moment of frosting inspiration, call it too much coffee. Whatever. I decided to attempt some decadent dark chocolate cupcakes with a raspberry cream filling and pink buttercream frosting and some, ahem, "themed" decorations on the top.

The cupcakes would be easy enough to make, I guessed - I decided to use a boxed cake mix (I know, I know! I promise I will get around to making my own cakes later. But in a hurry, Betty and Duncan will have to do) and then just alter my Pumpkin Cream Cheese Filling by substituting raspberry jam for the pumpkin.

So what to do about those decorations? I needed to find a way to cut out some anatomically correct fondant shapes. But 3 party stores and a store called "Condom Sense" later, all I could find were some shaped chocolates, gummy treats, and hard candies. I found one cookie cutter for a bachelorette party, but it was too big (and actually, a little scary) and not at all what I was looking for. What I needed were a couple of small cookie cutters in male and female shapes. After rummaging through my own cookie cutters, I realized I might be able to bend the metal on a couple to make exactly the shapes I needed. A quick trip to a local kitchen store for a heart shape and a dog bone, and I was on my way!

The raspberry filling came out better than I had hoped. I wound up using about 3/4 c. of the raspberry jam instead of the 1/2 c. I initially planned, and used vanilla extract. Next time, I would opt for raspberry flavoring in lieu of the vanilla for a more robust flavor and try to find seedless jam, although the seeds didn't do too much to detract from the texture of the filling. I used a bismarck tip to get the cupcakes really full, and a large open star tip to pipe the tinted pink buttercream. To finish, I dusted the tops of the cupcakes with some hot pink sugar left over from Valentine's day.

Here are some pics of the filled and frosted cuppycakes:

Now for the really fun part - the fondant decorations! I started by tinting some packaged fondant with Wilton copper food coloring gel. When you add copper in small amounts, you get a nice peachy flesh color perfect for body parts. (Did I really just say that?!) For the "male" decorations, I simply rolled out the fondant and cut it into the desired shape using the custom-bent dog bone cookie cutter I purchased. I used the edges of the cutter to add some detailing lines to the shape, and draped each one over a paper towel tube wrapped in plastic wrap to allow the shape to dry with some dimension. Easy enough... on to the "females"!

For the ladies, I used the altered heart-shaped cutter, and cut out shapes using the same peach fondant. For details, I again used the edges of the cookie cutter, then added some brown food coloring to the remaining fondant, rolled it out again, and cut small rounds with a Wilton circle cutter. I brushed the backs of the rounds with a tiny bit of water to make them sticky enough to adhere to the other shape, then placed them in position. For the final details, I added just a touch more brown to the fondant and rolled and cut out the same size rounds as before. Then, I divided each round into quarters using a knife so that the pieces would be of uniform size, and rolled each piece into a tiny ball. A little more water, another paper towel tube for draping, and voila! 12 ladies and 12 men. Perfect!

I must say, I was giggling like a teenager making these decorations. But I am quite proud of the finished product, and they were a huge hit at the party! Here are some pics of the finished product. Enjoy!

Monday, March 17, 2008

First Fondant Lesson? Check!

Even though I'm going to make my wedding cake on my own, I want it to look classy and (dare I say?!) professional. After deciding on wedding cupcakes, I began looking for design ideas and to see what other fall wedding cakes were out there. Do you know you could waste a whole day online googling wedding cakes? Not to mention the hours upon blissful hours one can lose at Barnes and Noble sipping a latte and perusing wedding cake magazines or watching the cake decorators' challenge on the Food Network!

I think the most polished and professional-looking cakes by far are the ones decorated with fondant. Fondant can be colored in any hue, molded to any shape, and just has that clean beautiful look that makes it such a perfect match for wedding cakes. I love the cakes and cupcakes I've seen in my research with fondant fall leaf cut outs painted with luster dust and the like. So next mission: learn how to create fondant decorations for each one of my 100+ cupcakes without losing my mind. Or going broke. Or scaring my fiance.

My first inkling was to sign up for a professional class. Most of the craft stores in my area offer the Wilton 3 class and also the fondant class. The only problem with those classes is that they are spread out over 4 consecutive Saturdays. I travel about twice a month for my job, and Saturdays I often find myself sitting in an airport. So the traditional method just wasn't gonna work for me. Hmmmm....

I have to tell you, it's been a lot of fun meeting and getting to know the old friends of my fiance. One of his best friends has a lovely wife who, I learned, makes cakes in her spare time. She graciously agreed to show me the ropes of working with fondant last weekend.

So we packed the dog in the car and headed 3 hours north to the woods to meet with the wonderful and gracious Lauri. While the men drank beer on the couch, we got down to the business of coloring, cutting, and sculpting fondant leaves.

For those of you who have never worked with fondant - do not be afraid! Did ya ever work with playdoh as a kid? OK! You're qualified to be a fondant guru. Really! I was shocked at how easy it is to use the gel food coloring to color the fondant, roll it out using the plastic fondant rollers, make leaf veins with -yes!- a toothpick, and sculpt the edges of the leaves to add dimension using these plastic fondant tools and a simple sponge. Within about 2 hours, we had cut about 40 leaves out and had a lot of fun in the process. I even got brave and marbled a few leaves by mixing 3 or 4 colors together.

Admittedly, the results were not perfect. We didn't make the colors all that fall-like (just didn't want to use all the food coloring necessary to get the deep browns and maroons) and my layer cake was a little lumpy and the frosting uneven. But it was a GREAT start to my journey, and I hope to find a lot of excuses to make cupcakes over the next few months to practice all my techniques until they are second nature!

Here are a few pics from the cake. Unfortunately I took them with my cell phone, so they're a little fuzzy. Lesson learned! The next pics will be with my fancy-schmancy digital camera. Enjoy!