Sunday, 17 April 2011

Making Easter Cupcakes with Sally Alps

My Easter present to myself was a cupcake decorating class with Sally Alps of Alps & Amici in Launceston... yum yum yum.

Sally does an awesome job of keeping Tasmania supplied with the most intricate, imaginative and brilliant cupcakes. She is also a great teacher and runs regular courses on how to decorate fondant cakes and cupcakes. Pictured on the left are the three patterns we learnt to make in the Easter cupcake course.

Sally demonstrated each technique first....

... Then we sat down at our places and had a look through everything that was laid out for us: full instructions, ready-coloured fondant, three cupcakes which were already ganached, and equipment including a rolling pin, knife and spatula.

First up we made an Easter basket. The cupcake is covered in a pastel shade - I chose blue, but green and pink were also popular choices.

Then we cut a small circle of brown fondant for the base of the Easter basket, and rolled a very very long roll of brown fondant to make the basket weave. It was nearly as hard as actually weaving a real bloody basket.
'Yeah right' you're thinking, 'how difficult can it be to make a sausage roll shape?' ... okay, YOU try making one that's 30cm long and the same smooth diameter at every point. :-(

After passing the 'sausage challenge', we used the roll to make the sides and handle of the basket.

When the handle was stuck in place it started to look okay!

Next, using a dab of royal icing, we stuck a few little eggs in the basket. These were pre-made for us from fondant but you could also use small candy eggs.

Using a little roll of bright green fondant snipped with scissors, we made tufts of grass to nestle against the basket.

To finish off, Sally provided some pre-made flowers. These needed to be pre-made because they take a while to dry - however, when Sally demonstrated the technique she used to make them, they were so logical and so quick that I am keen to make a stack myself and store them.

This is my finished Easter basket yay!

Everyone had different results - all looked great. It's interesting to see the extent to which one pattern can be interpreted in so many different ways and come out looking quite different.

This is another student's basket.

Next we started on the Easter Bunny cupcake. His ears needed to be made first because they required drying time. We rolled and hand cut two oblongs of white fondant and two smaller pink fondant oblongs. These were ten stuck together and pierced with florist's wire to about two thirds of the way up, and one ear was bent over in a flopsy bunny kind of way.

There were plenty of boob jokes flying around at the next stage. We rolled two small balls of fondant and stuck them directly on the top of the cupcake, then rolled and cut out a large circle and stuck it on the top. Although it definitely looks booby at this stage, this is actually the bunny's chubby cheeks. You'll see.

We smoothed the fondant down very carefully - this was the first time I had covered unusual shapes and I was really pleased with how elastic the fondant covering was, so it was quite easy to get a really smooth finish.
Then we cut two small white circles and two smaller black circles for the eyes, taking a little half moon off each so that they could sit right into the 'chubby cheeks'.
We hand-cut the teeth - sort of a V shape so they could sit right up into the cheeks as well.

We dusted the cheeks with a little rose petal dust (see my previous posts for this magical stuff that puts a beautiful blush in fondant cheeks), and used some cake flower stamens as whiskers.

Then all that was left was to stick the ears on, using the end of the florist's wire, and hoppy hoppy, there's the bunny!!

*Trap for young players: I always feel a bit nervous using non-edible equipment in cakes. These have wire in the ears and whiskers - take care if gifting to children!

It would be fair to say that everybody was pretty happy with their bunnies.

The third pattern we did was hatching chickens in eggs, but I am going to write about that separately.

By the time it got to the end of the class, there were intricately-decorated cupcakes just about everywhere.

It was fantastic to be part of a group who were all totally focused on cupcaking. I will say that every member of this group was female. What, boys don't like cupcakes or something??

At the end of the class we proudly gazed at our decorated cupcakes and took them home to be guzzled by (hopefully grateful) spouses, children, flatmates etc.

Thanks Sally for a fantastic Easter experience!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Hatching chicken cupcakes for Easter

Little chicks bursting out of white 'egg' cupcakes... Yes, Easter is here and Dr Cupcake is celebrating!
These little chicks have a cheeky look to them and they're full of character, but surprisingly simple to make, Sitting on top of a chocolate mud cupcake, they make for a festive Easter.

Thanks to Sally Alps of Alps & Amici for this lovely design.

To start, ganache your cupcake so that you have a flat smooth surface (see previous posts). Then roll and cut a small white fondant circle and stick it in the middle of your cupcake, using a drop of water to fix it in place. It doesn't matter if the edges aren't perfect, because these will be covered. Coat the top of the circle with cornflour - you can see a thick sprinkle of cornflour in this pic.

Then cut a larger circle out of white fondant and lay it on top of the cupcake, pressing down gently around the double-thickness circle in the middle, and burnishing the edges carefully with a piece of hard plastic (see previous posts). You will end up with a white fondant-topped cupcake which looks smooth but has a raised circular shape in the centre due to the double thickness of the fondant.

Now take a small sharp knife and make a straight cut through the double thickness circle in the middle.

Then make another cut at right angles to it, so that you have cut a cross.

Using the edge of the knife blade, gently prise the corners of the top layer of fondant up and fold them back a little so that they stick up into the air. This is your 'cracked eggshell'.

If the white base underneath is cut or marked don't panic because the chicken will be sitting on that bit so you won't see it.

Next roll a ball of yellow fondant and cut one side of it off with a sharp knife so that you have a flat surface at the base. Stick this into the 'egg' with a drop of water. This is the chicken's body.

Roll a smaller ball of yellow fondant for the chicken's head and stick it to the body with a drop of water. Be careful not to use too much water or you'll end up with a very sticky chicken.

Get a tiny piece of orange fondant and roll a little cone shape between your thumb and forefinger. Cut the cone off at its base with a small knife - it should be about 2mm long.

Then take a slightly larger piece of orange fondant and make a comb for the chicken's head. This starts off as a flattish sort of oblong shape. Stand the oblong up horizontally, so that one of its sides flattens out to form a base. Then use a small pair of scissors (sterilised nail scissors or barber's scissors are good) to snip into the other side of the oblong, like in this pic. When finished, carefully position the comb on the chicken's head and fix with a very tiny drop of water.

Paint two tiny black dots for eyes, using black food colouring or an edible food pen in Jet Black (available from cake decorating stores).
In this pic, I have done the eyes of the front chicken but he has not yet got his comb on. The chickens at the back have obviously been distracted by something happening off camera to the left.

Hey presto Easter chickens hatching out of pure white eggs!

A small tip, it helps if your cupcakes are quite domed on top - mostly I aim for flat topped cupcakes, but these seem more 'eggy' if they are rounded.

You could have all sorts of creatures hatching from these eggs (if it wasn't Easter of course). I've seen some awesome Paris Cutler designs of baby dinosaurs hatching.

 As we know, it's not all about fondant. Sometimes there's room for old fashioned glace icing (especially when you're doing gluten free orange and almond cakes that sink in the middle and don't give you a flat surface).

These little cakes are iced with a lemon glace icing (lemon juice and icing sugar stirred to a stiff paste) with a little yellow colouring added.

The icing was piped on using a star nozzle to get a slightly 'nestlike' shape, and the eggs pressed into the icing while it was still soft.

I used some pretty little milk chocolate eggs that were a quick purchase from the supermarket. I loved the speckles and the soft eggshell like colours.

Happy Easter, may the Easter Bunny be generous and not lead you on too exhausting an Easter Egg Hunt. :-)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

How do I make Pistachio Macaroons?

...I'm glad you asked! These pretty leaf-green treats were a yummy addition to the weekend.

There are a few recipes floating around out there and I've had mixed success. My first pistachio macaroons were lumpy, and an anaemic, queasy green, like the colour of someone's face just before they get really seasick. So this time I found a better recipe, was more careful, got rid of the lumps and most importantly went wild with green food colouring so that the 'queasy green' turned into a nice, determined-looking pastel green. Heaps better!

You need a kick ass food processor or blender with heavy blade and a good motor ... Pistachios are not available ready-ground so you have to grind from scratch and they need to be really, really fine.

As with my post on chocolate macaroons, I found that using an Italian cooked meringue was far better than the French, or uncoiled meringue method, because it's more stable and doesn't sink when you're folding it in to the tant pour tant mixture.

Tant pour tant:                     
100g ground pistachios
80g ground almonds
200 g icing sugar
green food colouring (gel is best)                     

Italian meringue:         
200g caster sugar
75ml water
 2 x 80g egg whites*
*Measure out the egg whites to get 160g (usually about 4 egg whites). You will use this in two separate stages, hence, 2 x 80g.
Pistachio buttercream: 
250g unsalted butter
75g icing sugar
80g ground pistachios 
green food colouring (gel is best)      

Preheat your oven to 150C, and line three metal baking trays with baking paper. 
Start by grinding your pistachios, with a small amount of the icing sugar, in the food processor. The sugar is useful because otherwise the oil comes out of the nuts and makes them sticky and harder to grind finely. As you are grinding them, check the fineness of the grind - you're looking for a sandy consistency like in the pic above. Add the ground almonds about halfway through the process.
 When the pistachios and almonds are ground very finely add the rest of the icing sugar and blend the tant pour tant thoroughly. Then pass the tant pour tant mixture through a fine sieve. This may seem obsessive but I assure you, it really does result in smooth, well formed macaroons. Do it!

Whisk 80g of the egg whites lightly, just until they are foamy, and combine them with the tant pour tant mixture, stirring well. You should end up with a thick mixture that is difficult to stir. 

At this point start adding your green food colouring. I use gel colouring which is available from cake decorating suppliers in little pots for about $5 per colour. There are different chades of green, I used leaf green. 

Use the colouring sparingly and remember the golden rule: you can always add more, but you can never subtract it once it's in! But conversely, remember that adding the meringue later will lighten the colour, so make it a bit darker than you want it to end up. Then put this mixture to one side and start the meringue.

For the Italian, or cooked, meringue, take the other 80g of egg whites and beat them to stiff peak while you make the sugar syrup.

Place the castor sugar and the water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil on a high heat. You need to bring it to soft ball stage or 115C. You will see this happen through the change from a watery consistency to a thicker, glossier mixture. You will notice the bubbles looking slower and softer.
Once you see this take the pan off the heat. When it's off the heat and stopped boiling, it should look like this pic. 

Then pour the hot syrup onto the beaten egg whites in a thin stream, beating constantly, to combine. When you have finished adding the syrup, keep beating for a few minutes. Beware,  the syrup will heat up your bowl and utensils.

You now have a beautiful creamy glossy meringue!

Stir a quarter of the meringue into the tant pour tant, just to lighten the mixture a bit, then lightly fold in the rest. Do not over stir the mixture. 

Fill a piping bag with the mixture by draping the bag open inside a large mug or jug and spooning the mixture in. (Apologies, the pic shows chocolate macaroon mixture, not pistachio, but I wanted to include it here so you got the idea of how to neatly fill the bag)

Cut the end of the piping bag to make a hole about 1cm wide, then hold the piping bag vertically and pipe straight downwards onto baking trays lined with baking paper. As you can see, I was aiming for perfect circles, but the mixture was a little runny and tended to spread a bit far which can make the shape harder to achieve. 

Then leave the piped macaroons to rest BEFORE BAKING for half an hour, to allow them to form a skin over the top. This is a very important step - if you don't leave them long enough, they won't form this skin, and the air inside them will, when heated, just pop through the top of the macaroon and crack them open instead of staying inside and making them rise up on their little 'feet' as they should. 

Bake for exactly 14 minutes, then remove from the oven. Slide the entire baking paper sheet onto a slightly wet benchtop and let it sit there for a few minutes - this will make the macaroons easier to remove from the paper. 
After five minutes, gently peel the paper back from the macaroons one by one, or, if this is getting too sticky, use a small metal spatula to lift the macaroons off the sheet. 

Make the buttercream next. Cream the butter with electric beaters until whipped up and pale, then add the sugar and ground pistachios. When this is well combined, add green colouring sparingly until you reach a shade you're happy with. 

Then sandwich pairs of macaroons together with the buttercream. 

It's worth being extra careful with the matching up of the pairs - slight variations in size and shape can look messy, but if you are completely obsessive like me, you can usually divide up your whole batch into nearly-exact matches. 

These keep really well in the fridge - at least a week (if you can resist them that long). 

There are some FAQs that might help if you encounter problems in my earlier post 'How to make the perfect Chocolate Macaroon"

Happy eating!!