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

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