Bring on the bling!

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“PJ, you need to decorate some fancy cupcakes for a Valentine’s blog post.”

ARGHHHH! Those two little words I (don’t) long to hear–

“Decorate.” “Fancy.”

I immediately go into whine mode.

“Can’t MaryJane do it? She’s SUCH an artist, so good at all that… stuff.”

All that picky, intricate, delicate, SUPREMELY IRRITATING DECORATING STUFF.

For which I have all the patience of a 4-year-old at a birthday party…

I swear, my Web teammates just love to torture me.

But, discretion is the better part of valor.

And really, whoever came up with THAT old bromide never had to lay down a perfect row of tiny sugar pearls atop a cupcake.

Sigh…

OK, let’s do the easy part first: bake some cupcakes.

Check out our Bake Sale Fudge Cupcakes, including the accompanying blog post, for a fast, easy recipe for deep-dark chocolate fudge cupcakes.

Next, gather your decorating tools.

White fondant is a sweet, malleable icing, the mainstay of professional cake decorators. Think Play-Doh – but much better-tasting. Fondant is the perfectly smooth coating you see on most wedding cakes; the base upon which all the fancy flowers and other furbelows rest.

Next, a springerle mold. You’ll press this atop the fondant to make an imprint, which you can then cut out and drape over your cupcake.

That’s what they tell me, anyway. We’ll see.

I want to stop for a moment and thank my long-time friend and fellow King Arthur test-kitchen baker, Sue Gray. She’s an expert cake decorator, and it’s her hands you’ll see doing the work here.

That’s right; I chickened out.

Well, someone had to take the pictures, right?!

Truth be told, though – I actually could have done all this. I don’t have the Martha Stewart gene, and I never WOULD do any of this in a million years – but I could.

And if I can, so can you.

First, sift a fine coating of cornstarch atop a clean work surface. A silicone rolling mat is perfect for rolling fondant.

Next, get out your fondant. Break off however much you think you’ll need. If you’re going to make 24 cupcakes with springerle decorations on top, you’ll need about 12 ounces of fondant. For simpler, thinner heart cutouts, you”ll need only about 3 or 4 ounces.

Keep any fondant you’re not using wrapped in plastic, to keep it moist and malleable.

Knead the fondant in your hands to soften it up.

Break off a generous 1/2-ounce piece, and gently flatten it.

How big is a generous 1/2-ounce piece? Well, if you have a teaspoon cookie scoop, it’s just about one of those, slightly heaped.

If you don’t, it’s enough that you can roll it into a ball about 1” in diameter.

Sue says if you gently rub the flattened fondant, dipping your fingers lightly in cornstarch, it makes it easier to work with.

Think of gently rubbing cornstarch onto your baby’s skin; that’s about what it feels like. Silky smooth.

Press the springerle mold atop the flattened fondant.

Peel it off…

…and gently – especially if you’re using a silicone mat, GENTLY, so as not to score the mat – cut around the edge. A 2” biscuit cutter is the perfect size for this particular springerle decoration.

Again, be sure you don’t press down too hard; you don’t want to injure the mat.

Peel the excess fondant away.

While fondant is malleable, it’s not particularly sticky (thankfully). To anchor it atop the cupcake, brush the cake with simple syrup – which is easily made at home:

Combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 cup water; bring to a boil atop the stove; simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, and store in a glass jar, at room temperature, for up to a month.

Center the springerle decoration atop the cupcake.

If you like, press sugar pearls alongside the fondant, to make a border. Do this while the cake is still moist from the syrup.

Note the single pearl I placed – on the fondant, rather than the cake. Good aim!

We used lilac-colored pearls here, but white-on-white is nice, too.

There!

What if you don’t have a springerle mold? A heart cookie cutter makes a simpler, but just as elegant-looking cupcake.

Start by rolling the fondant between 1/8” and 1/4” thick.

Cut hearts. Remember to press lightly, if you’re working on silicone.

Lay hearts atop your syrup-brushed cupcakes.

Add pearls. If the syrup seems to be drying before you’ve got all the pearls in place, just brush on some more.

Ta-da!

How about pink on white? Slather cupcakes with your favorite white frosting. Sue is using buttercream here, but any kind of frosting is fine.

Knead food color into your fondant; again, this is just like mixing different colors of Play-Doh.

Roll it out, cut hearts…

Awww…

And now, a word about cupcake papers. Sometimes, with chocolate cake, colorful cupcake papers lose their punch, due to the cake’s dark color. Thus you’ll see cakes baked in plain white papers, then set into the “fancy” papers after baking.

Luckily, the Valentine papers we sell hold their color through thick and thin – and chocolate.

The cake on the left is baked right in the Valentine paper. On the right, baked in a plain paper, then set into the Valentine paper. Not enough difference to warrant the double paper, I’d say.

OK, I have to admit – at the risk of losing my reputation as a fancy-decorating curmudgeon, working with fondant was definitely easier than I thought it would be.

Even kind of fun.

And next time Sue or MaryJane gets into one of these decorating projects, I’ll be right there admiring their work and breathing a sigh of relief that it’s not me doing it!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Kris

    Ok, I confess. I have infinite patience for these kinds of projects. Might I add that sugar pearls are *much* easier to place with a pair of clean tweezers. I’m a total perfectionist and even with small hands, my fingers feel clumsy at that level of detail.

    I also wanted to point out that all of these techniques work well on gorgeous cookies too. Any tool in the clay aisle at the craft store is OK for fondant – as long as you don’t use for clay. I love the tip about a biscuit cutter to cut out the form, but I never use those on my rolling mat. I slip one of those thin plastic cutting boards under to cut on.

    Now I need to go plot some eye popping fancy treats for Valentine’s Day. Thanks as always for the ideas PJ!

    Kris, I tried the tweezers – pearls were flying everywhere! I’m just not cut out for this “fine handwork,” but thanks for the tip: MaryJane has various sizes of tweezers she uses all the time. And thanks for the tip about the clay aisle… PJH

    Reply
  2. andipete6155

    These cupcakes look great! And oh so pretty…too pretty to eat! I was just thinking about making chocolate cupcakes – but adding some left over chocolate truffles (chocolate chips and heavy cream) from Christmas. Does anyone know how the cupcakes would turn out if I added the frozen truffle to the middle of the cupcake before baking?? Would it turn out to be a disaster?

    I don’t think it would be disastrous at all – especially with these cupcakes, which only bake for about 20 minutes. I’d caution you not to add TOO big a lump; and expect it’ll probably settle to the bottom, unless you time it just right (requires exquisite timing and some experimentation), and plop it onto the partially baked cupcakes. PJH

    Reply
  3. "Gertrude Novi"

    I am going to try this recipe for Fluffy White Buttercream Frosting – - –
    I have been using a Wilton Buttercream Icing for a great many years
    and everyone just loves it and says its like bake-shop frosting. The
    only difference is 1 cup shortening – 2 cups confectioners sugar –
    1/4 cup EVAPORATED milk – l tsp. Vanilla and 1/2 tsp RUM flavoring.
    whip about 5 minutes til its like whipped cream. This keeps a long time
    if the frig. in a closed container. It will ice a good size cake or lots of
    cupcakes. Enjoy!!!!

    Thanks, Gertrude – I’ll pass this along to the ladies in the test kitchen… PJH

    Reply
  4. Serene

    Beatutiful cupcakes..and I’ve been looking for a good chocolate cupcake recipe for a while now. I am going to try this soon! One question: Whenever I use grease proof cupcake liners (for example the last batch I bought from the KAF website) I find that they separate from the cake when I store it for a few hours. Not all of them do, perhaps 1 out of every 4. I ensure that I take the the cupcakes out of the muffin tin within 5-6 mins of them coming out of the oven and completely cool on racks before I put them away. Usually the separation occurs overnight. Has anyone else faced this issue? Any tricks to overcome this?
    Thanks!!
    Serene

    I’ve noticed this occasionally, too. Not sure what causes it; I thought about it for awhile, and couldn’t even come up with a theory for the randomness. Anyone else? You might try posting this question to our community… PJH

    Reply
  5. kinsley7

    You crack me up! That’s exactly the reaction I would have had if asked to create elaborately decorated cupcakes. The cupcakes with the springerle molded fondant caught my eye, though, because that is a technique I’ve long been wanting to try. Nice job!

    Thanks – I can see we’re sisters under the skin… :) PJH

    Reply
  6. vel

    what happens when you bite the cupcake? Does the fondant cap pop off or can you get one whole bite?

    If the cake/fondant is fresh, you can bite it. If you’ve let the cake sit long enough that the fondant is hard, then you’d want to take it off before eating. PJH

    Reply
  7. mackfamily11

    This just cracks me up. You made a lovely muffin lol. Your cohort did a wonderful job decorating. I’ll give you some props for taking the photos and admitting to copping out. Truly a team effort.

    Reply
  8. Baking is my Zen

    I loved this post. I’m not a cake decorator…nor do I want to be. I am more of a ‘bake & enjoy’ type of gal. However, I may need to learn some decorating techniques. This post is a great start off point…I immediately was thinking of other ideas to create after I read it. Thanks PJ

    Carmen of Baking is my Zen

    Reply
  9. vibeguy

    I use plastic tweezers with a bent tip. . .they’re intended for hand-placing microchips on circuit boards. I *generally* eschew “tweezer food”, but I have a weakness for non pareils and dragees.

    These are beautiful. This would also be a *VERY* adorable way to hide the “scar” from filling cupcakes with the filling from the Golden Snack Cakes recipe.

    I want to start dorking with a cherry-goo-filled cupcake where a dryish cherries-sugar-clearjel mixture gets rolled into a ball and stuffed in the batter, where it hydrates into a filling. Sort of a schwarzwaldekirschtorte-meets-Hostess effect.

    Reply
  10. Sue in NH

    Would this fondant work as the center for a filled chocolate? What does it taste like?? I’ll check back here for an answer!!

    The cupcakes are beautiful, but I’m definitely more of a cookie, chocolate, bread kind of gal!

    Thanks!

    I don’t know, Sue – I’ve never worked with fondant before, and don’t know what would happen to it when baked. Readers, does someone with moe fondant experience than I want to weigh in? PJH

    Reply
  11. Kelly

    They look so good, it would almost be a shame to eat them. Almost. But I actually like just a rustic slather of buttercream best. Fondant is a bit sweet even for me. Now be honest, looking at those pictures, it looks like you reinforced some of those pearls with a tiny bead of frosting rather than just the simple syrup. Or are my eyes playing me tricks? ☺

    Good eyes, Kelly. Yes, Sue said to do them with a dot of frosting; I said (ever the short-cutter), how about just some simple syrup? We let them sit for a few days undercover, to see which held up best. Results? Both held up. To each his own! PJH

    Reply
  12. victoryfarm

    I’ve used cookie molds for years, but never got the nerve to try them on fondant, although I’ve always wanted to. This post convinced me that I can easily handle it! :-)

    BTW, am I the only one to notice the typo on the Fondant jar label? (moeling?) LOL!

    Thanks, as always, for a wonderful blog! I’ll definitely be sharing this with my friends (and cookie mold customers, too!).

    Actually, the college English major and 35-year copy editor in me noticed that typo right away and said “tsk, tsk, tsk… where was their label proofreader?” :) PJH

    Reply
  13. gpyrocat

    I made cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday and decorated them with sugar pearls and the winter sugar decors. I used a pair of bent tipped tweezers from the scrap booking aisle. This particular style is designed so that you squeeze to open them and ease them open to release. They are also non-stick (so stickers don’t stick) and they have a wide, flat, rubberized section to grip. They work great! A bit of a “gadget” I suppose, but very handy.

    Reply
  14. vibeguy

    You can use packaged fondant to make chocolate centers, just thin it with some simple syrup and add flavoring like a LorAnn strong flavor. If you want to get *fancy*, add a single drop of Invertase solution per pound as you’re kneading…and it will turn liquid/soften after you dip them. A little, you get a texture like a “fresh” York Peppermint Patty (creamy), a little more, like a Cadbury egg, and a little more still, cherry cordials.

    Reply
  15. Cindy leigh

    Beautiful! I saw those pink hearts and thought about those pink heart candies with the sayings on them. I wonder if there’s some kind of a food type marking pen you could use to write the sayings on with?

    Hi Cindy – So nice meeting you and your husband yesterday! Hope the trip home was quick and uneventful… Check out our food-safe pens – should work on fondant, I’d think… PJH

    Reply
  16. Wendy

    The decorations are pretty, but having used the pearls to decorate a wedding cake, please be forewarned that they can are tooth-shatteringly hard. Warn your guests!

    Reply
  17. victoryfarm

    gpyrocat- I don’t know if these are the ones you mean, but they do make tweezers (and I THINK they come either straight or bent) called “pearl cup tweezers” which are made with – of course! – cups on the tips to hold pearls or beads for stringing or placing. They usually aren’t very expensive.

    Reply
  18. Suzie

    The cupcakes look great! I have a few questions about fondant. How long does it last? Does it dry out and become hard? Can I make cutouts ahead of time and then decorate later? If they become hard I think I might use them to make shapes to stick out of a cloud of that fabulous buttercream recipe of yours. How do I store fondant cutouts? How does it react in a humid climate? Thanks for the great blog. I read it everytime I receive the email newsletter.

    Suzie, I don’t really know much about fondant. As I noted, I’d never used it before and hope never to use it again! :) Except yes, it does get hard, once it’s shaped and applied; kept well-wrapped, it’s very stable. (Not once it’s worked and cut; in its original ball.) Can you make cutouts ahead and decorate? Sure; but they won’t be edible, just decorations. Though if you put them on buttercream they might soften- I don’t know. How do you store? I’d put them in one layer on a sheet of parchment and cover tightly with plastic. How does fondant due in a humid climate? Should be fine; it’s not really sticky at all, more like Play-Doh. For more informaiton, you could definitely email customercare@kingarthurflour.com and ask to LiveChat with MaryJane, or talk to her on the phone; she’d be able to fill you in with a lot fo the specifics that I just don’t know. Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  19. Lolly

    Watching this step by step was a lovely virtual experience,
    which I shall try to duplicate this summer for family company.
    I have some antique butter mold presses which might just
    work. Thanks for a fun demonstration!

    I’ll bet those butter molds would work beautifully, Lolly. Great idea! PJH

    Reply
  20. Kerstin

    Those pearls are so pretty and perfect for VDay! I was surprised about how easy fondant is to work with too.

    Sometimes I decorate with eggless sugar cookie dough too – it’s really tasty!
    Here’s an example:
    http://cakebatterandbowl.com/chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-turtle-cheesecake.html

    Thanks for your awesome inspiring blog, I’ve been enjoying it for a couple months now!

    Kerstin, what talent! I couldn’t do that in a million years…. Thanks so much for sharing, I’m sending this link to MaryJane and Sue, our decorating queens… PJH

    Reply
  21. Jessica

    Fondant always looks so nice and tastes so bad. The same goes for Royal Icing, though I LOVE eating gold dragees. Yum yum yum…

    Reply
  22. Jessica

    Ok, fondant lowdown from years of experience:

    Satin Ice is about the worst tasting brand of all fondants. Its what most professional shops use for colored fondant though as its cheaper and readily available (and coloring can be a pain) Only worst tasting kind is the Wilton at many stores. Yuck!

    MUCH tastier, but pricier is a white chocolate based fondant called Choco-pan. Tastes good and stays soft.

    Another brand called Baker’s is cheap and soft and very easy to work with. They make a great dark chocolate fondant. The white is pretty flavorless.

    Fondant plus water= goo. Ever had a cherry cordial at Christmas? The center is a maraschino cherry wrapped in regular ol fondant. Over time the liquid in the cherry dissolves the fondant into sticky sugary syrup. A light brushing wont destroy it (like for sticking on cupcakes) but keep in mind too much moisture will be bad. Alcohol however is totally fine. You could dunk fondant in alcohol to no ill effect. So for painting on fondant, dilute a gel food coloring or powdered with alcohol or an extract of some kind. Industry standard is lemon extract…no clue why. It smells good?

    Humidity is fine with fondant. I live in the most humid parts of the South and do fine. Fridges however can be bad. If you know what you’re doing you can refrigerate a fondant covered cake/ cupcakes, but you know how you take a can of coke out the fridge and it sweats after a bit? So does fondant. That sweat is water and water will make it tacky and gummy so proceed with caution. If left exposed to dry, the condensation will go away and you should be fine. That said, I refrigerate mine all the time.

    If you use a better quality fondant, you wont have it get hard on you in any amount of reasonable time (I mean like DAYS) Cheap fondants dry out fast. To slow this, knead in some shortening into the fondant. Makes it more pliable and will be softer longer. Fondant is easily microwaved in 10 second bursts to make softer to work with, but dont cook it! Another trick for pretty fondant for dark colors is to rub a drop of shortening over the finished fondant. It’ll even out and make the color pop.

    The easiest and best bet for fondant I’ve seen and I use all the time now though is to make your own. Its beyond easy and tastes great. It stays soft fairly indefinitely too. Get a bag of mini marshmallows. Dump in a bowl and add 3 tbsp or so of water and nuke in the microwave stirring every 30 seconds til its fully melted. Dump the better part of a 2lb bag of powdered sugar in the bowl and stir til it starts to come together. It’ll look pretty rough, but once its starting to clump together, Grease up your hands generously with shortening and start to mush and knead til its evenly incorporated. Regrease your hands as things start to stick. Get it to the consistency of fresh playdoh and store leftovers in a ziploc bag. You can add flavorings, vanilla…you name it.

    Haha I think I covered everything I can think of about fondant!

    Reply
  23. victoryfarm

    Thanks, Jessica, for sharing all that!

    Just thought I’d add here that a lot of fondant is NOT vegetarian (contains gelatin). It can, however, be made with agar instead. Using marshmallows probably means gelatin, too, unless someone knows of a vegetarian brand of marshmallows?

    We don’t manage to keep strictly vegetarian, but I do TRY to avoid animal products when I can, and also to let other members of the family, who are more strict than we are, know when I use something like this.

    Reply
  24. Rebecca Grace

    I am so excited about your silicone pastry mat with circles printed on it! I could have used that when I was rolling out lopsided pumpkin pie crusts at Thanksgiving and my pastry cloth was sliding all over the place. And is this fondant stuff really as easy as Playdough? I mean, can my kids work with it? I haven’t yet summoned up the courage (or found enough free time) to revisit my buttercream frosting nemesis, but I can totally bake cupcakes and the decorating looks like it would be fun, with little blond sous chefs assisting me, that is. Kids get so excited about decorated cakes and cookies that it makes all the fuss worthwhile!

    Rebecca, it really is like Play-Doh. The kids could mold it, shape it into animals, imprint, add colors… and it’s edible. Though not particularly delicious; it just tastes like sugar. It gets hard quickly, that’s the only thing; if you’re not working with it, you need to keep it covered. Other than that – go for it! PJH

    Reply
  25. Cecilia

    This is a perfect project to do with the kids at our local homeless shelter! Now all I have to do is find the springerie mold…..
    Cecelia,
    You can use many different kinds of molds for fondant. Check out the local craft store for silicone molds for working with clay. As long as you use it for food only, you’ll be fine. You can also press different objects into fondant to make your own impressions. I think they will enjoy this project. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  26. Liz

    To add to what Victoryfarm wrote: there are some commercially available vegetarian marshmallows, and occasionally a local bakery will make them too. Sweet & Sara is one brand; Chicago Soy Dairy’s “Dandies” are another. Try Whole Foods or your local independent grocery store.

    Kosher marshmallows are made with fish gelatin and thus are kosher but not vegetarian.

    Marshmallow fluff is vegetarian, believe it or not.

    As for the commercial fondants:

    Satin Ice says “Contains no animal-derived ingredients.”
    Choco-Pan seems to be vegetarian based on ingredient list.
    Wilton seems to be vegetarian too, except for the marshmallow variant.
    Couldn’t find anything on Baker’s.

    Reply

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