Cake (cupcake) decorating can be so expensive and overwhelming at first. Here I show you some of my techniques for making beautifully decorated and professional looking cupcakes that won't break the bank and that anybody can do. These cupcakes have a plain vanilla base, simple butter creme frosting, and are decorated with homemade fondant jungle animals that taste delicious.
This is not your typical flavorless and hard fondant, the homemade marshmallow fondant is delicious and creates toppers that any kid, or adult, would love to eat.
Step 1: Baking the Cake
Bake the cake:
Purchase your favorite boxed cake mix (even the off brands work great, they are all the same basic ingredients) and prepare it following the instructions on the box. Make sure to use room temperature eggs so that your cupcakes bake up light and fluffy. Using boxed cake mix is not cheating (These will still be homemade), I believe it is a simple way to make sure the cupcake tastes great and proportions of sugar, flour, baking powder, etc are correct. I've experimented with many different homemade batter recipes and I've found that its not the base cake that makes the dessert special, but rather it is the optional fillings and toppings that make the cupcake special.
Pour your cupcakes into cupcake pans that have been lined with cupcake papers. I like to use solid aluminum wrappers because they are typically the least expensive and (typically 79 cents for 50-75!) will not distract from the sculpted piece or decoration that you top the cupcake with. Designer cupcake papers are overrated and way too pricey!
Do not under bake the cupcakes! Many inexperienced bakers often worry about over baking the cupcakes so they end up taking them out too early only to find a sticky mess. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick or by pressing the top with your finger to see if they spring back.
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 2 minutes then flip them out onto a cooling rack to completely cool before frosting.
Step 2: Making the Buttercreme Frosting
Yum, nothing is better than a classic butter creme frosting.
Here is my basic recipe.
1 cup unsalted butter (two sticks)
3-4 cups confectioners sugar (sifted)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (the real stuff!)
3-4 tablespoons water or milk.
pinch of salt
In a mixer creme the butter for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Slowly add in the sugar 1 cup at a time until it is incorporated into the butter. Add in the salt, vanilla, and water/milk and whip until light and fluffy (5-10 minutes). Add in your favorite food coloring. I use gel coloring which can be found at almost any grocery, craft, or specialty store. The food gel colors will not alter the consistency of your frosting and are very inexpensive. If you choose to use traditional water based food coloring just decrease the amount of liquid you add to the frosting initially so that it doesn't turn out runny.
Step 3: Piping the Frosting Onto the Cupcakes
For the jungle cupcakes I used a common tip #352 to make leaf shapes. Place the tip in a one gallon zip top bag and place it in a cup to make filling it easier. Scoop the frosting into the bag and twist to seal the top. Cut a corner of the bag and make sure the tip is snug. Pipe the cupcakes starting from the outside and working your way in to create a leaf effect.
Here is a video showing you how to pipe the icing.
Note: If you do not have any pastry tips laying around do not worry. Simply snip the end off of the bag and make fluffy swirls by working from the outside to the center of each cupcake. This is a quicker and more cost effective method that provides soft fluffy green swirls for the fondant animals to rest on.
Step 4: Make Your Own Homemade Fondant
16 oz bag of marshmallows ($0.99)
2 pound bag of confectioners sugar ($1.99)
2 tablespoons of water (free!)
1 teaspoon of your favorite flavoring (clear to make white fondant) (optional)
Microwave the marshmallows and water in a glass bowl stirring every 15-30 seconds. Microwave until the mixture becomes smooth and is completely melted. Add in half of the powdered sugar and mix to combine. Mound the remaining sugar onto a clean kitchen counter top and dump the mixture into the center. Making sure your hands and fondant is covered in sugar, knead the mixture to incorporate the sugar. Add in your favorite flavoring and knead to incorporate. Cover the fondant at all times when not in use to prevent it from drying out. Take out small portions at a time and recover the remaining fondant.
COLORING THE FONDANT:
To color the fondant simply add a few drops of your preferred color and knead to combine. If you are afraid of staining your hands you can wear food safe rubber/ latex gloves. Do not use water based food dye as this will alter the consistency of the fondant, gel coloring is a very inexpensive option. If you have any kool-aid packets lying around, these may also be used to color the fondant.
Step 5: Sculpting and Painting the Animals.
Use gel food coloring and a paintbrush to detail the characters with stripes, eyes, etc. Let dry before topping the cupcakes. Paint sticks better if the sculptures have had some time to dry. I suggest waiting a few days to let them set before applying the paint, though this is not completely necessary.
Use your imagination and create any animal/ creature/ design you wish. Post your creations to share your work!
Step 6: Topping Off the Cupcakes
After the figures have dried you can set them into the cupcakes you have baked and frosted. It is ideal to bake the cupcakes after the figures are made and dried so I typically recommend making the figures a week in advance.
Arrange the cupcakes on a platter and make sure to mix up the animals so that like colors are not next to each other.
Take a photo of your masterpiece and dig in!