Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Decorating cupcakes

I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon learning how to decorate cupcakes with buttercream.

We started by making the buttercream; the tutor recommended President unsalted butter as it is much whiter than other butters (especially the supermarket budget butters which are very yellow) and she then creamed it in the mixer using the whisk attachment (rather than the beater) until it was very light and creamy (three to four minutes). She then added the icing sugar and a tablespoon of milk until it was the required consistency. At this point you would add any flavouring you might like.

We then learnt how to create classic swirls, rose swirls, zig-zags, plain swirls, bathing cap, iced gem, grass, dahlia top and piped rose top, plus a few others that I don't think I would ever use. Some I managed better than others but found the classic and rose swirls relatively easy to do and very pleasing to look at.

We started by using an open star nozzle and found that the smaller of the three sizes we tried created the best look. The classic swirl starts at the outside and swirls into the middle, giving it a slightly higher middle. The rose swirl is the opposite, so starts in the middle and swirls to the outside. We tried piping these with mixed colours of buttercream in the piping bag and the outcome was really pretty.

Still using the open star nozzle, the zig-zag starts at one side of the cupcake and, obviously, zigs and zags across the cake, whilst the plain swirl uses a plain nozzle. These were less pleasing to look at although the swirl that went from the outside into the middle could possibly be used to look like a swirly ice cream if you piled it high enough. Sadly I felt the one that went from the middle to the outside was reminiscent of something a dog might do, so I don't imagine I will be finding an occasion to use this style!!

The bathing cap is lots of piped flowers (like the old-fashioned flowery bathing caps) and to make it look good you need to pipe this like a clock - 12, 6, 3 and 9 o'clock, then fill the gaps in between and finally pipe one into the middle. This looks very effective if the flowers are piped in alternate colours.

The iced gem is a swirl (like a doughnut) on the outside of the cupcake and a big flower piped into the middle. Again this looks good done in two different colours.

We used a specific grass nozzle for the grass (a flat ended nozzle with small holes in it so the icing comes out in individual strands). This took a bit of practice - too long and it looked like seaweed and too short and it 'melted' into one blob. I also think the buttercream was very soft by this point and it would possibly be easier if it had been a little firmer - the individual 'blades' of grass would have held their shape much better. But I think it still looked effective (see the photo below).

The dahlia top was perhaps the one I struggled with most. Using a petal nozzle you pipe little horseshoe shapes around the outside of the cupcake, then a second layer slightly in from that and a third layer in the middle. Again the buttercream was very soft by now and with a bit more practice and firmer buttercream I might be able to do a better job than I did on the day.

Finally, we tried piped rose tops. This is very hard to do directly onto the cupcake as you can't spin the cake quickly enough to get a tightly piped rose so we tried it on flower nails which made it much easier (a flower nail is a round flat top on a long nail type handle that you can spin between your thumb and forefinger). Again the icing was very soft but I enjoyed having a go at these and the outcome was really pretty, even for my first few attempts. There is a great YouTube video on how to do this (http://youtu.be/h5SDR2EpmRw) and I will definitely be referring to that when I have another go.

We then spent a bit of time making decorations out of fondant icing and then we decorated our six cupcakes.

I piped a rose swirl on one cake and added a few fondant flowers and some sparkle ...

I piped grass and added a couple of toadstools for one cake (this will work well for Sophie's fairy party in March) ...

I piped a zig-zag on one cake and then finished off with chocolate drizzles in milk and white chocolate, plus a few sparkles. My two year old son decided this was the cake for him and cried every time anyone moved it from the plate in front of him! ...

I piped chocolate buttercream in a classic swirl then topped with a fondant sash (made using my new clay gun - yippee) and coloured rice sweets which I then sprayed with edible gold lustre - very decadent looking, although some of the tassels broke off on the way home ...

And finally I used my piped rose tops on two of the cakes ...

Looking forward to creating some masterpieces for Sophie's party and also using some of these new skills for the school cake sale. Standards are getting higher and higher so there's pressure on me to create some marvellous masterpieces (he he).
© 2011 Nicola Noble

Friday, 21 January 2011

Card time

I have been making a few cards recently and I am really pleased with how they came out.

The first card was for a friend's little boy who turned one. I created a simple 1 card for another friend's daughter last year and I loved the design so much that I decided to do a boy version. I was planning to do it in blue but didn't have any blue buttons; I think the green worked much better.

I bought some new cutters for my Sizzix die-cutter recently (I have been so good for so long in resisting) and have been itching to use them so a couple of imminent birthdays gave me opportunity. One of the cutters is two cute presents and I cut out a selection in black and white, silver and bright pink. I then dressed the presents with toning shades of paper, ribbon and stick on pearls and rhinestones and stacked them on a long thing card.

The other cutter is a dragonfly. I bought this as part of the fairy party plans for Sophie's fifth birthday in March (plans in progress to do an activity table where the children get to cut out their own dragonfly and stick it to a mini peg with a magnet on the back - happy to receive any other suggestions as to what I could do with the dragonfly/ pegs). I made two cards with this using a corrugated black background onto which I stuck the cut dragonfly and the silhouette. I like the outcome and think they make good cards for men. I love the dragonfly cutter and think it will work just as nicely in pastels for the ladies - watch this space ...

© 2011 Nicola Noble

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A monster of a birthday

It was Justin's second birthday yesterday. Early Learning Centre have a cute range of monster party things including table cloth, plates, napkins, cups, party bags and invitations and this provided the inspiration for a monster themed party.

The cake (or rather cakes) were individual monsters and each one was unique. I baked a rectangular victoria sponge and then cut it into 12 pieces (these were meant to be the same size but it didn't quite turn out like that). I used six different colours of fondant icing - blue, red, green, yellow, orange and purple - and iced two cakes in each colour (over buttercream icing). Then the fun part was creating individual characters and it was great to let my imagination run free. The cakes were then placed onto a covered board; I used white so as not to detract from the bold colours of the monsters, with a matching blue ribbon around the edge. I made the antenna by covering uncooked spaghetti (a tip I learned from my cake decoration course) and it was great to use lots of the cake decorating bits I was given for Christmas. Having the right equipment made life much easier!

I placed three of the bigger monsters in the middle in a ring with a monster "perched" on top of them, and the remaining eight monsters were placed in a ring around these. I didn't fix the cakes to the board which turned out to be useful as it meant I had no problem rearranging them to put my favourite monsters at the front (as per the picture of the set party table) and also didn't matter as the party was at home and the cakes didn't have to travel anywhere!

I was so pleased with the finished cake(s) and even looking at the pictures now make me smile. Can't take all the credit myself - my mum is my co-partner for making birthday cakes and is great for bouncing ideas off.


I also played around with making some icing run-outs of little monsters and popped them into the top of some muffins!

I bought an extra set of invitations and turned some of these into a banner to hang up by glueing them onto different coloured backgrounds. I also copied the table cloth front card and cut these out as  number 2s and glued onto yellow card. I then taped drinking straws to the back and threaded string through to hang up. The remaining spare invitations were blu-tacked around the house.

 The children got to play pass-the-parcel and stick the spot onto the monster, which was just about as much as two years olds can manage.

The monster theme carried through to the party bags. I bought some make-your-own monster finger puppet sets with three monsters in each, copied the individual instructions and attached to each monster finger puppet kit with ribbon. Each of the little ones coming to the party had older siblings who could make the finger puppets for their little brothers and sisters. I also included a rubber finger monster and a couple of cute monster tattoos. And obviously they each got an individual monster cake to take home.

All in all a very enjoyable and successful party and Justin had a great time.

Now to start planning Sophie's 5th birthday in March ...

© 2011 Nicola Noble