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!!