baking, family, food celebrations

New traditions and new fondant skills

So today was my nephew’s 9th birthday party and a big event was planned in celebration. Of course, given the world’s current circumstances with COVID 19, there was no other choice but to postpone the celebration which resulted in a very sad 9 year old boy. When originally planning the party, his mother (my sister) asked if any of her family members felt confident enough to decorate a cake. Of course I immediately stuck up my hand and said “me!” She then says “he wants the bus from Fortnite.” Should be simple enough, I thought. I guess I’d better find out what a fortnite is….

So, it turns out that the characters from Fortnite are a little tougher than one would imagine. Thanks be to Pinterest, particularly one post from Alyssa Cuellar that gave me some insight into what Fortnite cakes and cupcakes were all about. (Thank you for saving it Alyssa, and I’m not sure how to find out where the original post came from but it was creative!) So based on that post, I recognized that I’d need cupcakes, fondant, food colouring, a piping bag, a number 223 Wilton tip (for grass), and a bit of time, and maybe I could make some cupcakes and leave them on my nephew’s door step and somehow salvage a little bit of a young boy’s birthday.

Here is how they turned out –

The cake recipe was simply that chocolate cake recipe that most of us know about. It uses boiling water and is really moist. Here’s a link to the recipe as it appears at the very bottom of this link from the Add a Pinch website – https://addapinch.com/the-best-chocolate-cake-recipe-ever/

If I had been able to get to a grocery store I definitely would have opted for camouflage muffin liners, but these shiny red ones are as good as it gets today unfortunately. My other choice were liners with pink hearts and they really did not go with the overall theme. Use 1/3 cup of batter per muffin liner (in a large muffin pan) and bake as per the recipe until the centres are done. Cool thoroughly before icing.

The base icing used for these cupcakes is a simple buttercream frosting made with high ratio shortening with a tbsp of meringue powder added to keep the piped icing from wilting. As I am a Wilton cake decorating alumnus, I use the Wilton icing recipe. You will not need a full batch for 12 cupcakes so I would cut the recipe in half. Here is the recipe – https://www.wilton.com/whipped-buttercream/WLRECIP-8763.html

Note that I said high ratio shortening (available at Bulk Barns in Canada) so that the icing will hold its shape when piped. This shortening plus the meringue powder are the magic ingredients that allow this to happen. Colour the icing with Wilton’s moss green colouring. Put a #233 Wilton (small grass) piping tip on your piping bag. That tip looks like this – https://www.amazon.com/Wilton-No-233-Decorating-Tip-Multi-Opening/dp/B003W0I6ZQ

I found that piping the grass takes a bit of a technique to get it looking like…grass. The bag needs to be held at right angles to the cooled cupcake, put pressure on the bag when the tip is close to the cupcake and then release your hand pressure as you lift the bag away from the cupcake for best results. You’ll find you will get into a groove of sorts. Good thing about icing is that you can scrape it away and try again. Just go with it, don’t sweat it if it’s not perfect and soon all your cupcakes will be covered with grassy frosting.

The figurines or cupcake toppers are made from fondant. I use Wilton ready use fondant. In Canada, you can find it in the bakery section of most major grocery stores. You don’t need a lot. When you are ready to create, open the bag of fondant, pinch off a small piece about the size of a quarter and start to work it in your clean hands until it is pliable. Colour with food colouring by indenting a hole in the middle of the fondant and placing a bit of food colouring gel in the hole. Work the fondant around in your fingers until the colour is mixed well and is uniform. Use disposable gloves if you desire. Again, I’m not receiving any compensation from Wilton but I find they have lots of colours and the colour mixes nicely through the fondant. Once the fondant is coloured, treat it like plasticine or PlayDoh and have fun with your creations! The fondant pieces can be done before or after the cupcakes are baked and frosted. I felt I needed lots of time for this project (remember a day ago I didn’t know what Fortnite was) so I did the cupcake toppers the day before I baked and frosted the cupcakes. Fondant will dry somewhat if left in the air, but only enough to become less fragile. Any unused fondant should be placed in a zip locked bag for future use.

Have fun with this! I left the finished cupcakes in a cupcake carrier on my nephew’s front door, went back to the car, called his dad on my cell to tell him the cupcakes were there, and stayed back the necessary 1+metre and enjoyed my nephew’s reaction. Later that day, the whole family (younger and older cousins, aunts, uncles) used a group video chat function to sing happy birthday to him and by the look on his face, it appeared that his birthday wasn’t so bad after all. Our family has now decided that, given how far we all live from each other, this will not be our last group video chat. A new tradition is borne – today it is a necessity but tomorrow or next time it could be just to keep us closer together! Our glasses are half full! Enjoy your day everyone!

~Victoria Sweet

baking, food celebrations

Nothing says “I love you” like a virtual cupcake

Happy Valentine’s Day to my sweetie!

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner but I won’t see my hubby (and my fur babies) until a day or so later. For those familiar with my blog, my hubby has been busy painting our retirement house over the last couple of weeks while I continue to work in a city about 1500 kms away. I will see him on the weekend, at which time I will bake a white chocolate cheesecake (and yes, I will blog about it), but I’m pretty sure the rest of you will have focused your attention on the next holiday by that time, and you won’t be interested in a Valentine’s Day post written on the 16th of February.

Valentine’s Day, in my humble opinion, is a great occasion to show your beloved just how much they are loved by the effort you put into your baked goods….or at least how much effort you appear to put into your baked goods. Before you all brand me an imposter, let me explain.

This pretty little cupcake above could not be any more simple to bake. First, you buy some pretty paper cups for baking. I can’t remember the brand name of the cups I used for today’s cupcakes, but they stand up on their own. Any craft store that carries cake decorating supplies will have them. Then you pick a nice moist cake recipe that you have faith in. There is nothing worse than biting into a pretty cupcake and having it taste like cardboard. The recipe I used for this cupcake was found on another baker’s blog (thank you http://www.simplerevisions.com) – who by the way is an amazing food photographer, an area that I plan to improve on in the next few months. Here’s the link to the recipe.

For my friends who use gluten-free flour, I have not tested this recipe with gluten-free flour, so I’m not sure of how well it will do.

Now it’s time to bake the cupcakes. Cupcake wrappers go into a muffin tin, and batter goes into the wrappers. When you put the batter in the cupcake wrappers, do not overfill! This part is very important! Depending on the cupcake wrapper size, you should only put in between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of batter. The cupcake when cooked should not rise above the wrapper. If it does, it will ruin the look of the finished cupcake. Bake the cupcakes as per the recipe and let them cool completely. This is also very important because if you try to decorate a hot cake, it will be a hot mess, trust me.

Whip up your favourite buttercream icing recipe (I used the recipe at the link, but any recipe that you trust will do). The trick to getting your buttercream icing to hold its shape is to add a tsp of meringue powder to the icing sugar. It will still taste the same and look the same but it will not wilt at normal room temperatures. I use Wilton meringue powder exclusively so I cannot talk knowingly about other brands. Flavour the buttercream with some flavouring if you so desire (I used LorAnn’s strawberry flavoured oil, specifically because I don’t like strawberry flavour unless it is attached to a strawberry. It’s my built in safety valve to make sure I don’t eat any, especially since I am emailing a picture of this cupcake to my hubby and the cupcakes would otherwise be sitting on my counter taunting me. That being said, the rest of LorAnn’s flavour oils are amazing. I just don’t like strawberry). For Valentine’s Day it is my opinion that the icing needs to be pink or red. I used Wilton’s icing colour paste (in pink) as it doesn’t water down the icing.

Put a large fluted tip on your piping bag. See the picture below to see the size of the tip I used. (I don’t have a brand name because it was taken from my son’s apprentice cook’s tool box and was initially meant for fluted potatoes). Fill up a reusable piping bag with your icing, and decorate the cupcakes as desired. For the cupcake above, I used a swirling motion of my hand, starting in the middle and covering most of top of the cupcake before adding a second layer of icing. Make circles smaller as you add layers, stopping when you can add a peak. Garnish with a pink candy. Voila! It took longer to write this blog post than it did to decorate the cupcake and your beloved will be impressed with your efforts. It’s just a personal preference, but I like a little bit of the cake peeking through the icing. If you don’t, just swirl nice and wide so that you cover all of the cake.

Have fun with this and try new techniques. For example, for the cupcake below I simply held the bag straight up and used an on and off type pressure on the piping bag, lifting up a bit each time to get the effect. The point is not to get too serious about it and experiment to see which effect you like best. The joy in this is you get to eat your mistakes, something you don’t get to do in other creative endeavours such as oil paints or pottery. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I have to sign off and send my email!

Experiment with different techniques – become one with your piping bag!

Here is the piping tip I used – 10 mm fluted tip (professional baker friends, correct me if I’m calling it the wrong name) – it’s been my go to tip for a lot of my baking projects.