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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Let Them Eat (Decorated Cup) Cake!

  So here is my latest Thing; where “Thing” is loosely defined as That Which I am currently Getting Excited over, which consumes my Thinking Time and often ends up with spending money.

 Cake Decorating.
 Which has kind of been a simmering Thing for a few years now, but has recently gone to the full rolling boil.
 There are a few sources from which this Well of Enthusiasm for the Icing and the Piping may have sprung. Firstly the many childhood hours spent pouring over the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book (the original with the train cake on the cover – all good 80’s mums had one!) and deciding which of the amazing cakes I would have to the next 5 birthday parties. I never did end up getting The Castle but O Joy! O Rapture! the year my mum learned how to make a Dolly Varden ice cream cake!!
 Or maybe it was the rather impressive cakes my girlfriend made for her daughter’s parties (she was the first child born in our group of friends). The cakes in the first few years were good, but then she really hit her stride and we were treated to an Emerald City (for a Wizard of Oz themed party; it was The Castle! In green!!), a merry-go-round, and even a foray into rolled royal icing with a moulded sleeping child. So the bar had kind of been set high.

 My own personal forays were what I’d call Simple But Effective; they didn’t take hours to make (some of the above-mentioned took up to four hours to create, baking not included!) but still looked good.

 We had Mr Hankey (from South Park) ...
  … Mud Cake cut into shape with licorice arms and mouth, marshmallow hands and hat trimming and a red roll-up (how that stuff is termed  ”fruit” I have no idea) for the hat.
  Got a bit more creative for a Murder-Mystery Birthday party; props, different colored icing, “piping” and even food coloring fingerprints.

 Then I became a mum and had two annual (and sometime up to 4) birthday parties (and thus cakes) a year. Before I discovered cake toppers (the amazing printed icing sheets that kids think are waaaaaay more impressive than anything you take hours to make, and only take 10 minutes for you to decorate your cake! Win-Win!!), I did the number-cake thing for a few years. But I did refer back to the WW Cake Bible to make a Mickey Mouse…

…as well as a Spiderman. Hint – the ‘writing icing’ you can buy at the Supermarket is a godsend!!

 So all not-too-tricky, looked quite good and everyone happy.
 Then I had the delightful opportunity to go along to a Mamma Bake Cake decorating class ( They come along to your house and bring EVERYTHING necessary (cupcakes, icing and ganache, piping bags and tips, patient instructor) to learn how to make amazing looking cupcakes! Brilliant!! They also sold all the tools required so I came home with six beautifully decorated (if oddly coloured) cupcakes, a new set of piping equipment (sorry Tupperware, your set was just not cutting it) and Enthusiasm to make hundreds more cupcakes.

  But where precisely was I going to use these fabulous new skills? Being a mum of two boys meant I wasn’t going to be called on very often to make roses and flowers for their cakes. In fact, Son 2’s response to my cakes? “They’re very girly ...” So I knew I had to get creative to use my new creativity.
 Luckily Christmas was coming up, and with it, lots of Catch-Ups and Dinners and Bring-a-Plates. Excellent.

 First up were some Rudolph cupcakes straight from the Mamma Bake website. I did tweak them a bit so I only had to make one lot of ganache, but as this meant there were more lollies involved so I didn’t hear any complaints!

 So we had piped chocolate ganache, pretzel antlers, white chocolate button with MnMs for eyes, and a half marshmallow with a half jelly baby (because I had them in the cupboard!) for the nose. They looked great and the kids (of which there were 9 at this particular gathering) devoured them with great joy. Well, they devoured the icing at least (though I’m proud that my son was one of the only to eat the cupcake as well – a good kid who appreciates good baking).
 So this was a great First Experience that taught me a few things: ganache takes a LONG time to cool/set before it gets to a good piping consistency (chilling it in the fridge helps but it still takes a few hours). And I really needed to invest in a cupcake carrier! There were quite a few large roundabouts to navigate on the way to The House, which I took at a very slow and sedate speed (Must Protect Cupcakes!!).

 Next up was a Christmas Family Gathering. I had been inspired by a photo on the Mamma Bake website of some very cute themed cupcake designs which would enable me to use more of the piping tips and techniques I had learned. So I created a few more designs of my own, baked a batch each of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, dipped them all in white chocolate ganache, coloured my butter icing (red and green of course) and I was Ready to Pipe.

 Two not-as-frustrating-as-I-thought-it-may-have-been hours later, I had these….
 Not too bad methinks. There was lots of practising first and remembering the techniques (“ohhh, you hold it the Other way!”) and switching back and forth between colours and tips but I was pretty happy with my effort.
 And so was everyone at the party – lots of “oooohs” and “aaaahs” and “did you make those???” However, no one seemed to want to actually Eat any of them! Apparently they DID look too good to eat. Hmmm, a problem perhaps? But I did manage to send everyone home with one for their morning tea the next day, which was great as it meant I didn’t have to eat 20 or so cupcakes!

 My most recent foray was more exciting as I got to make flowers and decorate pretty girly cupcakes. My girlfriend's little girl was having her first birthday party the weekend before Christmas, and if a First Birthday isn’t the time to go all pink and flowery (especially as she has two older brothers) then I don’t know when is!! I had pretty pink proper cupcake papers (try saying that three times fast!) from her mum which made things a little interesting, in that they made taller and thinner cupcakes than the traditional concertina papers. This changed the cooking times and meant I had less “area” on top of the cupcake to work with. As I had done my previous “practice” on larger diameter cupcakes I was a little concerned about whether there would be any issues with the smaller space. Plus I was piping ganache with a smaller tip which we hadn’t been shown in class (so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out or if it would work at all). PLUS it was the first time I was making Proper Flowers since the class. So after a few deep calming breaths, I waded in.

 The flowers went alright….

 And the rest of them turned out pretty good as well!
The 6 different designs
Close up of The Rose
Ready for the Party!
  But again, hardly any were eaten at the party! Whether the papers made them too tricky to eat (you have to rip them away from the cupcake; much trickier than the normal papers), or people were put off my too much icing/decoration on top (I try not to pipe too high or too much as this is something I don’t like about a lot of cupcakes; when there is more frosting than cake!), or again they were “too pretty to eat”, even though I had made some “simpler” designs (such as the ‘1’ and ‘A’)  that would be easier to eat. Hmmm … this is not a good pattern developing here. But I still had fun doing them (and I’ve got to get value for money from my piping set) so I will carry on!

 Next Up? I’m looking for inspiration for some Lego related cupcakes for Son 1’s birthday.

Pipe on!

19th January 2013

 And here's what I came up with!

 Birthday boy and friends very impressed; Lego logo proved to be the most popular (for those playing along at home)

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