Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas cupcakes 2: Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

If you've made Santa cupcakes (see here) then you really need to make some reindeer to help the poor ole guy out. This is Rudolph.
Rudolph looks a bit worried. I think that's entirely reasonable, it's his busiest time of year after all.

I made a strategic error when planning these cupcakes. I thought that red as a background colour would look suitably bright and Christmas-y. But with a red background, Rudolph's beautiful red nose doesn't really glow like it should. I would have been better to do a dark green background.

Oh well - there's always next year.

For Rudolph's face, you need to roll out some dark brown fondant. You can get this pre-coloured and chocolate flavoured and that's what I used here.

Cut out some circles approximately one third to half the size of the top of your cupcake, then use a slightly larger circle cutter to take two elliptical 'bites' out of the sides of the circle, as shown in this picture. You're aiming for an hourglass shape that is wider at the top than the bottom.

Once you've made the cuts, round the corners by hand until you have a smooth shape. This will be Rudolph's head.

Stick the head onto the top of the cupcake, leaving a little more room above it than below it (remember you need to fit the antlers above the head). Fix it with a few drops of water.

Here are all the cupcakes with heads on.

Roll two little balls of white fondant and stick them on - these are Rudolph's eyes. Make little holes in the centres so that you can stick the pupils on.

A little tip to help you make a pair of eyes that are exactly the same size: Roll a ball of fondant larger than you need, then cut it in half exactly with a sharp knife and re-roll two separate fondant balls. This way they will be exactly the same size.

Roll two very small balls of black fondant and stick them into the indentations in the 'eyeballs' with a tiny drop of water. Beware if you use too much water next to black fondant, the colour will run.

Roll a ball of red fondant for the nose and stick it in place.

I suddenly realised after I'd made these that there should really be only one Rudolph with a red nose, the other reindeer should all have black noses. So if you wanted to be more historically accurate (if you can say that about reindeer pulling a fat man's sleigh through the air all around the world in one night) you could do seven black-nosed reindeer and one beautiful, shiny red-nosed one.

For the antlers, I used a leaf cutter, cutting out a leaf shape and then slicing it in half vertically and 'feathering' the straight edge with a sharp knife. In this pic you can see the cutter on the right, then the leaf shape and on the left you can see the finished antlers.

Fix the antlers in place and decorate the edges with some cachous if you feel like it. They provide a bit of colour variation and they are nice and shiny. I wanted to use green ones but I only had a kind of aqua colour. I like to think they look green though.

All the little Rudolphs looked rather frightened. I love how they're all looking worriedly in different directions, like they're not sure exactly what they should be scared of, but they're keeping a close eye on everything.

Merry Christmas from Dr Cupcake!!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Miniature gingerbread houses for Christmas

Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without a gingerbread house. This is a wonderful European tradition that is decorative as well as yummy, and seems to be only growing in popularity the world over.
This year I was inspired by a design from Megan ( who made tiny houses to sit over the edge of a coffee cup. While I didn't need mine to sit on a cup, I love the miniaturising idea so I helped myself to her templates and instructions, which you can find here.

None of these pictures really show the scale of these houses but if you're trying to work out how big they are, they stand approximately 10cm (4in.) high from the base to the top of the roof.

My family is partly Norwegian in origin so I was delighted to find that gingerbread houses are a huge thing in Norway. In Bergen at Christmas each year, people build an entire gingerbread city.
It is called a Pepperkakebyen.  I KNOW.

I can't compete with those crazy Norwegians and their awesome city, but I did make a little street of tiny houses.

Actually, it would be wonderful for a Christmas party to make lots of these little houses and arrange them like a little village. Maybe I'll do that next year.

I decorated the houses all differently. I admit, I was a little distracted doing these and just used whatever I had to had, but if you planned it out in advance you could stock up on lots of little sweets for decorating.
I used royal icing, piped (messily) in loops and straight lines on the roof, then stuck a variety of lollies, mini M&Ms, hearts, stars and freckles on.

This roof was just little jelly watermelon halves, hearts and royal icing.

I actually liked the restraint of just using red and white - some of the others were a riot of colour and ended up looking messy.

So how do you start? There are so many different types of gingerbread out there. If you want to make houses you will need a recipe that makes a firm mixture that will dry hard-ish (think of a gingerbread man - it's not crumbly or bendy, but firm and a bit chewy - that's the texture you want for gingerbread houses).

Martha Stewart has a great recipe for this purpose here. OF COURSE she does, she's Martha Stewart.

It makes a sticky, gooey dough mix which you can see in this pic. (I actually had a near disaster with this recipe - I made it all, and tipped it out of the mixing bowl to knead it, thinking "this is so dry! How unlike Martha to make a bad recipe!" ... only to realise that I had forgotten to put the molasses in. Luckily I remembered in time and piled it back into the bowl and dumped a truckload of molasses on it, and it was fine.)

Because the dough is so sticky and tacky (well, it is if you remember the molasses) you need to chill it in the fridge or freezer for a while before even attempting to roll it out.

When you do roll it out, to prevent it sticking to your rolling pin, bench, hair, face and entire kitchen, put the dough on top of a sheet of foil, then put a sheet of clingfilm over the dough and work the rolling pin over the top of the clingfilm. This way you can roll it out flat like in this pic.

When you've rolled the dough out flat to the size of a baking tray, put it onto the baking tray you'll use (still with the foil underneath, but take the clingfilm off the top) and put it back in the fridge while you prepare your templates - I made these from notmartha's PDF. They are made of thin card that won't tear.

Grab the baking tray out of the fridge and lay the templates down on the dough and use a sharp knife to cut around them. Then GENTLY peel away the excess dough, being careful not to stretch or distort your template shapes.

The excess dough can be re-rolled.

For each house you need two of each of the three shapes. SO for instance, in this baking tray, I have enough shapes to make two houses, plus an extra frontage.

You'll need a whole afternoon for this process. It takes time.

You need to put the tray of finished shapes back in the fridge to firm up again before baking, or they will rise too much and the shapes will deform.

After they have been chilled, they can be popped in the oven for 10 minutes to bake. This tray of cooked shapes is the same tray as the one above. It was the first tray I baked and I overcooked some of the shapes - you can see at the bottom that the big oblongs are a bit too coloured.

When you first take the shapes out of the oven they are a bit soft and at this stage they can be trimmed around the edges if they have risen too much or aren't straight.

 When the shapes are cool you can start constructing the houses!

I used a packet of royal icing mix from the supermarket but if you want to make your own, of course Martha Stewart has a recipe.

I found it easiest to lay the front of the house flat and stick the two side walls on, then put the back of the house on top of these. At this point you can carefully turn the house upright and the walls should all support each other.

Next come the roof panels.

Put them both on together and hold in place for a few moments.

Then pipe some royal icing into the gap between the roof panels, and leave the house to dry.

It surprised me how stable these little houses were once they had been put together. They were pretty indestructible. It turns out royal icing has magical sticking power.

The only thing remaining is to decorate your houses in any way you see fit.

If you are doing this with little people I recommend you make the dough, the shapes, bake them and construct the houses by yourself, and then have a big decorating session with the kids - the first stages are time consuming, difficult and tedious for littlies but the decoration stage can be enjoyed by even very young kidlets.

Happy Christmas!!

Christmas Cupcakes 1: Santa Cupcake

Christmas is rolling around again... how better to celebrate than making some cupcakes of Santa!

These cupcakes are my favorite chocolate mud cake with lots of 70% dark chocolate in the mixture to make them super yummy and moist.

To make a Santa cupcake you need to start off with a base of ivory or skin colour covering the top surface of the cupcake.

You can see here that I have mixed up some bright red and some black fondant icing too.

Cut some skinny white crescent moon shapes, using the same size of circle cutter as you used to cut out the circle covering the top of your cupcake. This picture shows how you make the crescent shape - you use the same cutter twice, moving it about a centimetre on the second go. The crescent shape will be Santa's beard.

Fix the crescent shape in 'beard' position at the bottom of the 'face', attaching it with a few drops of water.

You also need a long triangle of red fondant (hat); a thin strip of white fondant (hatband); two small elliptical white shapes (moustache); a ball of red fondant (nose); and two tiny balls of black fondant (eyes).

Here are all the shapes lined up ready to go on the face:

After you have attached the beard, position the moustache pieces and attach.

These are my little santas with their beards and moustaches attached.

Next punch three small holes in the face where the nose and eyes will go.

Leave plenty of room at the top of the face for the hat.

Attach the nose and eyes into the holes with tiny drops of water (beware! If you get water around the edges of black fondant it will run, and your santa may look like he's been wearing mascara and crying).

Finally, stick the red triangle onto the upper third of the face and attach the white band on top. Fold the red 'hat' over onto the face, and if you like, roll a little white ball of fondant as a pompom for the tip of the hat and stick on. You can snip this with little scissors or a knife to make it look 'fuzzy'.

Happy Christmas!!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Fishy business... a birthday cake for a fisherman

Our wonderful head of office has a birthday coming up. He is good at lots of things but particularly good at fishing, and spends a lot of time up at the lakes, trout fishing. So in thinking of a theme for a birthday cake, I knew it had to involve fish in some way, shape or form.

At first I wondered if I could do a cake in the shape of a fish. I've seen some really impressive ones on the interwebs, But doing a really good fish would take a culinary airbrush to get the colours right, and I don't have that kind of equipment. So I decided to do a fisherman, surrounded by a tackle box and a few fish, and a little pond in front of him with a fish still in it.

This was a simpler plan than a cake shaped like a fish, but still quite complex for me, because I haven't had much experience in doing figure modelling. As the name of my blog suggests, I'm mostly a cupcaker. But I like a challenge so I decided to go for it. Fisherman ahoy!
How do you make a fisherman? Well ... you start at the boots and work upwards.
I was at a disadvantage here because my last experience with fishing was when I was approximately nine years old (I had a great time until we actually caught something, when I became very distressed for the fish, and never went near fishing again). So I had little idea what fishermen (let alone Josh) actually wore on their expeditions. 
I guessed gumboots and started with that. I had some chocolate-flavoured, dark brown fondant so I used that, reasoning it was close enough to black.

For most of this figure, I mixed magic stuff called tylose powder into the fondant. This makes the fondant dry harder. You don't need a lot, you just sprinkle about half a teaspoon for each walnut-sized piece of fondant. You can get tylose powder from cake decorating shops. 

Next I needed to make a fashion decision. What should Josh be wearing? Again I had no idea but I thought I'd give him shorts and a tank top. So I needed some legs - specifically, the bit of leg from mid-calf to mid-thigh. I tried to indent the knee and shape the legs a bit. 

I stuck the legs to the gumboots. They looked surprisingly leglike!

It was time to create some shorts. I had a grey-blue fondant already coloured which I thought looked quite workmanlike. I had no idea how to get started. In the end I made a sort of oblong shape, flattened both long sides, and cut a triangle out of the middle of one side. 

In the meantime, I stuck lollipop sticks down through the middle of the legs and gumboots. I would need this structure to make the fisherman stand up. 

The shorts were very plain. I put some indentations where the fly and pockets should be, and a thin band of fondant for the waistline, then slid them carefully onto the sticks. 

The attaching of the separate pieces onto each other via the sticks was quite challenging. As I wanted each piece to be slightly malleable still (so that I could push the edges together and adjust the shapes a bit) they were prone to being compressed vertically when the sticks were pushed into them. A couple of times I had to remodel them to repair the compression. I also used some water to stick the pieces together. You can see a bit of the water glistening around the tops of the boots in this pic. 

Next came the tank top. I really wanted khaki, but my colour blending skills are poor at best. I had green and asked Mr Cupcake if I mixed some black in, would I get khaki? He felt I may get purple, which indicated to me that his colour blending skills may be worse than mine. I didn't risk it and stuck with green.

As you see I made the tank top a bit too thin. It was hard to get the shape right. I made the neckline with a circle cutter, and rolled and cut a tiny square for a pocket. Do tanks have pockets??

This is what he looked like from the back. At this stage, feeling the shorts were too plain, I added some pockets. These are the same as on the tank above - tiny oblongs of fondant, cut with a knife, with strips at the top for an overfold. I used a needle to prick stitch marks around the edges. 

I made a teardrop shaped piece of ivory fondant for the chest and neck and moulded it into place by hand, connecting it to the tank top with moistened edges and a toothpick that would provide a straight line between the tank, the chest, neck and head.

Separately I made a head and hat from two half spheres, one of flesh coloured and one of brown fondant. I cut a small circle of rolled brown fondant for the brim of the hat, and stuck the three parts together with drops of water. I did some hand shaping of the hat and the brim, and stuck on a tiny oval ball for the nose.
I let the Josh man dry and then I stood him up and you know what? His arms were wrong. Completely. They sort of curved downward awkwardly and were all wrinkly where they bent inward. 
Desperate measures were required to save the situation. 
I made some new arms and this time I was more careful. I tried to make the arms forward-rotating rather than bent out sideways. This time I was happier with the arms. 
So at this point I modelled some little fishies. 

To mark the scales, I needed something tiny and curved. This miniature glass from my shadow box collection of small small tings fitted the bill perfectly. 

After the fishies had dried hard, I experimented with colouring. I painted them with liquid colouring - I use gel colour for mixing into fondant, but liquid colour for painting because the gel stuff is too intense and sticky and doesn't dry when painted onto a shape. 

Mr Cupcake saw these and commented that they looked more like carp than trout. Admittedly the colour was very orange. 

I ended up going over it with a darker colour - orange with some green mixed in - which got me a dark brown, more appropriate to trout. Then the trout got eyeballs which were tiny balls of white fondant, and I dotted pupils with an edible pen.

This was how the tackle box started off. I cut out a solid piece of white fondant with a metal cutter, then rolled out some orange fondant and covered the white oblong. 

I added a white lid and an orange handle and clasp and the tackle box was finished. 

I confess I didn't even attempt a fishing line, trout net or flies. I just couldn't see how to do them on this kind of scale, Anyone out there with ideas, let me know!

I was buoyed (see what I did there?) with the success of my tackle box so I started on a bucket to put some fishes in. However this didn't go so well. I couldn't get the shape right, I tried moulding it around things (like in this pic) and I tried a few other things but I wasn't happy, so eventually I abandoned it. 

There was a bit of a gap between the figure modelling and the actual cake decorating. The great thing about fondant figures is that they keep really well so you can make them in advance if you want - in this case there was a couple of weeks between making the fisherman and making the cake for him to stand on. The only thing you need to be careful about - well, there are a couple of things: don't get them wet or keep them in a very humid environment, as they will soften; and don't leave them in sunlight as the colours may fade. 

Anyway - the cake. I made a gluten free chocolate mud cake and ganached the surface smooth (for detailed instructions, see here). 

Another cake view of the ganache surface. Needs to be smooth as possible. 

I missed out some pics here, sorry. First up I rolled out some white fondant and hand cut it into an uneven 'pond' shape (the shape of the blue pond in this pic). I stuck that white shape direct onto the ganache, where I wanted the pond to be, and dusted its top with cornflour. Then I covered the whole cake with a light green fondant and smoothed it off and trimmed it around the base. 
So then I had a green cake with a slightly raised area where it had white fondant underneath. Next step was to cut away the green fondant over the white bit, so that I was left with a white 'pond' with a raised green edge. Then I filled it with a mixture of clear and blue edible candy gels. 

Mixing the gels made it possible to get some swirling colour variation in the water. 

This is a detail of the finished pond, complete with a fish popping up and a couple of recent catches on the edge of the pond. 

The fish are shiny because I sprayed them with edible food glaze. I only remembered to do this at a late stage, when the fish was already in the pond, so I had to do it in situ, using a very wonky shield of baking paper to prevent spraying the green surface at the same time. I was able to remove the other fish from the cake surface and spray them and then put them back on. 

This cake needed to be transported and the figure wasn't stable enough to withstand it so I packed it carefully in its plastic container like this, for assembly at work. 

Note, I have already positioned the figure on the cake and used toothpicks to provide an anchor - they are stuck halfway into the underside of the gumboots, and have made holes in the cake surface. You can also see around the holes the indentation of the edges of the gumboots. 
I took off any fishes that I thought might accidentally slide or move. 

When assembled, the view from above was this: 

You can see how the fisherman's arms are better than before. 

For the face, I put simple features on with an edible pen and brushed the cheeks with some rose petal dust. 

This was the end result. 

Happy birthday Josh ... here's hoping you get some great catches up in the lakes this year!