Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tutorial: Fondant Pohutukawa Cupcake Toppers...

I received an email from a reader last week who has been asked to make some Pohutukawa themed cupcakes for her friend's wedding.  She found a picture of the toppers I made last year for Master J's Kiwi Party, and wondered could I do a little how-to?

The Pohutukawa flower was one of three "Kiwiana" themed cupcakes I made for my son's 2nd birthday.

You may be asking, what is a Pohutukawa flower?  Well, it's the flower of the Pohutukawa tree, a native of New Zealand and it does this very special thing where it flowers right on Christmas.  

They are a coastline-hugging tree so in addition to being New Zealand's Own Christmas Tree, they are associated with many a happy summer memory, especially for me!

So, before I get too homesick, here is the tutorial for Donna, and for the several others who have asked.  Sorry it's taken so long!

So, to make a Pohutukawa Flower cupcake topper, you will need:

* A small amount of red fondant (or red gumpaste, if you want the topper to dry really hard)
* A small amount of sage green fondant (or gumpaste)
* A circle scone/ cookie cutter or object to cut around (mine was 7cm wide)
* Sharp knife
* Icing sugar (confectioner's sugar) for dusting your work surface
* Rolling pin

Nice to have, but not necessary:
* Small offset spatula
* Gum tragacanth or sugarcel (you can add this to the fondant so it will dry a little harder.  Refer to the instructions on the pot for how much to add etc).

Roll out your red fondant/ gumpaste to around 2-3mm thick and cut out a circle.

Cut in half again and put the other half aside (you can make two flowers from one circle).

Begin to make cuts all the way around your circle with your sharp knife, as shown.  Make some cuts most of the way to the base of the flower, and some more shallow.

Using your spatula, flip the flower over.  Put a small amount of cool, boiled water on the flower one one side of it's base as shown.

Fold over.  Gently separate the petals a bit.

To make the stem, roll out your sage green fondant.

Cut in half.

Brush on some water to the base of the flower with your finger as shown.

Place the fondant on the base of the flower.

Cut around the flower and cut out a stem.  You could cut out one or two leaves at this point and attach them with a little water, if you like.

If you would like your flower to dry with the top row of petals curling up slightly, use a small piece of cardboard folded in half to hold up the petals whilst they dry.

Note:  If you use fondant with no extra hardening additives used (gum tragacanth, or sugarcel), your flower may not dry hard and may not retain the curve of the upper petals.

Once dry, you can spray with edible shellac or glaze with an edible glaze (like gum arabic) for shine.

Store in an airtight container with a few rice grains to absorb any moisture.  These will keep this way for up to a month, so they can be made well in advance.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Party "Marshrooms" How-to...

You may remember these "marshrooms" from Miss S's birthday party last year.  They really were an afterthought - a sort of last minute brainwave that ended up being one of the most popular (and simple) foods at the party.

2012's version features some extras in the presentation department...

I've been meaning to do a little something about them on the blog, and so when a little friend of Miss S's was having an Alice in Wonderland themed party, I offered to bring some as I had a couple of little ideas I wanted to try out.

So here's how to make them and a few ideas for how to present them, ranging from simple to something more special.  That's what I like about these - they can be thrown together quickly or more time can be taken to present them creatively.  Either way, they'll be sure to be a hit with young kids.

So, to make basic marshrooms, you will need:

* Large marsh mallows
* Red apples
* Lemon juice
* Toothpicks
* Sharp knife

Wash your apples and leave to dry, or dry off with paper towels.  If you have time you can polish the apples at this point so the finished product will be nice and shiny.

Cut slices of apple off for the marshroom tops.  I used quite large apples and was able to get three marshroom tops from each apple.

Brush with a little lemon juice on the cut edge to prevent it going brown.  If you don't have a pastry brush, just use your finger.

Spike a marsh mallow onto a toothpick.

Push the apple top on.

For spots, cut up mini marsh mallows into thin slices using some kitchen scissors.  They will stick to the apple on their cut edges.

Now for presentation.  Last year's marshrooms were poked into an upturned disposable plate that was made of banana palm.  This year I decided to try using a chocolate cake base.  So I made my favourite chocolate cake (recipe at the bottom of this post) and iced it with chocolate ganache.  I topped this with grated dark chocolate (for dirt). 

I made leaves by piping green royal icing using a leaf tip onto parchment paper and letting them dry hard.  They stuck to the ganache easily.  You could also make the leaves out of fondant.

I had a punnet of red currants quite by accident as when my groceries arrived from my online shop, I had bought them thinking they were cherries.  A happy accident, indeed!  You could also use coconut thread dyed with a little green food colouring, for "grass" or pipe grass or leaves directly onto the cake with royal icing or buttercream.

You could also poke these into a loaf of brown bread, or a piece of foam covered in clingfilm (you don't want the marsh mallows to touch foam if you can avoid it).  As an alternative to chocolate cake, you could use brownie.  They would also look good just lying on a plate if you don't have the time or inclination to do anything else.

I finished my marshrooms off with a spray of edible shellac, to give them some shine, but that is totally optional, as not many of us have that lying around!

Happy birthday, Jasmina!


Rich, Dark Chocolate Cake
Serves 12 + people

450g plain flour
140g good quality cocoa (Dutch process, if possible)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsps baking soda
3 eggs
2 & 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 cup oil
2 tsp vanilla essence (extract)
Double shot espresso or 1/3 cup of very strong black coffee (instant is OK if you can't make espresso easily at home)
1 & 1/2 tbs white vinegar
2 cups (500ml) water

Line and grease a 26cm spring-form cake pan.  Make sure that the lining comes up about an inch above the lip of the tin - this cake can be quite a riser!  If you want to make this cake in a novelty tin or a tin of a different shape, grease the tin generously with butter and then dust with cocoa.
Make your espresso/coffee and set aside to cool.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Beat together the eggs and sugar, then add the oil, vanilla, espresso, vinegar and water and mix thoroughly. Using an electric mixer, beat the dry mixture into the wet mixture until smooth. Mixture will be very dark and quite runny.

Bake for 1 & 1/2 hours at 180 degrees c. Check at 1 hour. Cake is cooked when skewer inserted into it's centre comes out clean.

Ice with ganache, buttercream, fresh cream, or cream-cheese frosting - all are fantastic accompaniments to this cake. Enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Quick and fun for kids: Apple Toadstools...

Miss S has a fantastic Kindergarten teacher.  She is a very creative lady, and she likes to wow the kids with her fruit and vegetable carving.

Today Miss S came home with her little apple made into a toadstool.  She wanted to show me, and as soon as she had, she promptly ate it.  I'm so glad she waited  - she knows her mother - and I immediately had to have a go at it myself.

The base of her one was square, but I decided to make mine round.

So, pick an apple, get a round scone/cookie cutter and a sharp knife.  Oh, and half a lemon if you have it.

The base of the apple is the top of the mushroom.  With the apple right-way-up, push the scone cutter about halfway through the apple, as though coring it.

Then slice away the remainder of the base by making a horizontal cut around the middle of the apple.  You should feel the "ring" coming away.

Lift away the apple ring left.  Squeeze some lemon juice onto your board and, with your finger, coat the cut part of the apple (this prevents it from turning brown).  If your apple has a stem, twist it off.

Cut circles into the top of the "toadstool" using the sharp point of a knife.  Slide the tip of the knife under the skin and rotate the apple to make a circle.  Coat the circles with a bit of lemon juice.

I think these would be great for a kid's birthday party, or just as a neat surprise in their lunchbox.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Cake Decorating Party: Piping Bag Invites...

My eldest daughter turns six next month.  This year I have managed to talk her into a small party with just five girls - a remarkable change from the large parties we've had for her up until now.

So we settled on a "cake and cupcake decorating party" as the theme.

I had a few ideas for invites (knitted/ felt cupcakes etc), but everything was too time-intensive and time is something I don't have a lot of with a baby in the house.  As I sat down to quietly feed Miss M, my mind began to wander - and then stopped when I happened upon this idea of putting the invites into a piping bag and making it look like icing!

There are six invites as Miss S and I have a tradition where I always make her an invite and "invite" her to her own party :).

So, here's a little bit on how I made them, for anyone who'd like to know.  In addition to a children's cake decorating party, I think these would make a lovely invitation to a bridal kitchen tea, or filled with sweets and small toys, a quirky party favour.

Please excuse my photography on this post - it was all done late at night in bad light!

I used the computer to make most of the elements.  Using pale pink cardboard (sturdy enough to hold the shape of the piping bag, but thin enough to go through the printer - 200gsm is perfect), I printed out the "icing" part and the tags (which I then cut using my scalloped oval craft punch). I also printed out the inside sheet with the party information on it on normal copy paper.

I made the actual invitation part the same width as the container of sprinkles, so it could be wrapped around it.  The picture on this is a painting by artist Wayne Thiebaud, of whose work I am a big fan.  

After rolling it around the sprinkles, I finished if off with a little bit of ribbon.  This container of sprinkles gives a little bit of weight to the invite, as well as a bit of extra fun for the recipient.

I cut the "icing" part out into the shape of a fan so it would make a neat cone shape.  I snipped the bottom off some disposable piping bags, inserted the tips (you could leave the tips out if you don't have any tips or don't want to use them).

I then placed the "icing" in the bag - securing it with a bit of sticky tape on the inside - then the sprinkles, and a small piece of tissue paper, seen above.  I closed it up with some ribbon and attached the tags.

I always love making party invites, and you can see some other examples from previous parties here and here.

I can't wait for the party, especially as my mum will be here to help this time!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Diorama Cake...

My friend Emma called me on the wednesday before the Diamond Jubilee.  If she was to bake a cake, could I possibly make it into a Corgi?  Hmmmm.  I looked around at some Corgi cakes online and came to the conclusion that it would be a little bit ambitious, and I would probably end up making something completely unappetizing (slice of small, possessed-looking dog, anyone?)

But Corgis are cute, and very much a symbol of the Queen.  So I had a think, and sketched some ideas.  It was then that I came up with this "diorama" cake design, and I got very excited.

The last cake I made was for my son and featured some dinosaurs that I painted onto cut-out pieces of gumpaste (you can see the cake here).  I really enjoyed making those dinosaurs and found the painting-on-hard-icing technique not too difficult. 

So I picked some symbols, found some pictures online to work from, and set about making and painting the different pieces.

 The corgis are from this cross stitch pattern which I had just stitched for a friend 
after seeing it featured in Mollie Makes magazine.

I used Mexican paste for the flag, crest and corgis as it dries super hard.  I made the Mexican paste myself (so easy!!) using this recipe.  I rolled it out to about 4mm thick, placed the pictures on it and cut around with a sharp knife. 

To mark out the details of each picture I laid the pic on top of the paste and poked through lightly with a clean pin.

I then filled in the colours using Wilton colour paste mixed with vodka and a very fine paint brush.  When the paint was dry, I went round the outlines with an edible black pen.  

I secured toothpicks to the back of the corgis and crest by using a small piece of mexican paste laid over the toothpick and stuck down with a little cool, boiled water.  For the Union Jack I used kebab skewers as it needed to stand higher than the other figures.

Then to assemble I crumb coated the cake, iced it with buttercream and then with white fondant.  I then drew the bunting flags on with edible black pen and filled them in with food colouring "paint".

And here is a rare pic of me cutting the cake in my red and blue finery.  Usually I prefer to be behind the camera!

Did you celebrate the Diamond Jubliee?  I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Royal Jubilee "Street Party" Cupcakes (how-to)...

As you may well know it has been Royal Jubilee weekend in the UK,and people from all around the Commonwealth and the world have been celebrating 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.  I myself hold dual New Zealand and British citizenship (my dad is a Brit), and so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to celebrate.  And for me, celebrating usually means making something.  Something edible.

My lovely English friend Emma, hosted a great little afternoon tea in honor of Her Majesty (it was supposed to be a picnic, but we experienced a little bit of an "English Summer" here in Zurich).

I made a cake and cupcakes (photos of the cake to follow).  I thought I would first share these cupcakes and how I made them because I really can't emphasize how incredibly easy and simple they are.

Painting on fondant seems like a step too far for many people, but I think the simple shapes and designs of these cupcakes puts them within the reach of everyone, no matter whether you are a beginner or not.  You can change the colours out to match the theme of any party too.

So, to make your festive "street party" bunting cupcakes, you will need:
(Makes 18 cupcakes)

* 18 cupcakes (try my fantastic simple vanilla cupcake recipe, here)
* White fondant (around 250gr)
* 1 cup buttercream icing
* Red gel food colouring
* Blue gel food colouring
* Vodka (or rejuvenating spirit if you have some)
* A fine paint brush
* Black edible pen

Bake your cupcakes and set aside to cool.

Roll out your fondant to about 3mm thick.  Find a round cutter or a round object like a cup or small bowl, that is close to the size of the top of your cupcakes.

Cut out 18 circles from your fondant and place them on some parchment paper so they don't stick to your work surface. Save a few pieces of the rolled out fondant so you can try out your paint colours on them.

With your black edible pen, draw a curved line from one side of the circle to the other, as shown.  The trick is to not press too hard or the pen sinks into the soft fondant and "cuts" it.

Add some triangles for the bunting flags.  Don't be too perfect about it - I like it when they look "painterly".

Yes, I'm a very messy worker...

Now mix a tiny bit of paste colouring with a few drops of vodka.  Mix well.  Test on your scraps of fondant until you are happy with the colours.

Practice painting a few stripes and dots on your scraps of fondant, then paint your flags as desired.  If you don't feel confident to do patterns, just fill the bunting flags in with whole colours.

Leave the paint to dry for 20 minutes or so.

Level off your cooled cupcakes and pop a dollop of buttercream on top.  Flatten the buttercream off with a knife and pop your painted fondant tops on, transferring them with an off-set spatula or knife.

All done!

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