I was recently inspired by this year's cake decorating contest and decided to investigate the art of decorating using Fondant and Gumpaste. If there is anything that will inspire you, please be encouraged by the fact that I have never made these before and this is only the 3rd set of cupcakes I have ever decorated. The point is, YOU could do this! It is time consuming, but very rewarding when you see the finished product.
For this instructable I'm not going to get into cupcake recipes as you can use any cupcake you like. I have included recipes for Crusting Buttercream Frosting and a super simple homemade Marshmallow Fondant, however you can buy regular fondant in any cake decorating store or online, and you can avoid the buttercream altogether if you like. The main focus of this instructable is to demonstrate the decorating process. As an added bonus, if you use gluten free muffins, and follow the recipes I have provided, these can be made completely gluten free.
One final warning... These little guys are so cute that it's hard to make yourself take a bite! Don't say I didn't warn you!
Step 1: Crusting Buttercream Icing
- 500g, (1 lbs.) sifted pure confectioners sugar
- 1/2 cup or 1 stick butter, softened.
- 1 cup solid vegetable shortening (Copha or Crisco) melted.
- 1 cup thickened cream (suitable for whipping) chilled.
- 2 tbsp. clear vanilla extract.
- 1/4 cup water for stiff consistency. Add more water if using frosting to decorate a cake.
- 1/4 tsp of any flavouring.
- Stand mixer
- Using an electric stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar on low speed until combined and then increase speed to high for 3 minutes scraping the sides of the bowl regularly. You will find this to be quite a dry mixture and may add a few drops of the water if required. Failing to beat well enough at this stage will result in a grainy sugar texture in the final mixture.
- Allow the melted vegetable shortening or Copha to come to room temperature but not to solidify again. With the beater running at medium speed add the shortening in a thin stream into the side of the bowl. The mixture will become very sloppy and wet at this point. Continue to beat for a further minute.
- With the mixer still running, pour the chilled cream and vanilla into the mixture and beat for a further 3 minutes until the frosting begins to thicken slightly. Colours and flavours may be added at this point or you might divide the mixture and make a variety of colours.
- Place the mixing bowl into the refrigerator for 10 minutes or until needed. This helps solidify the shortening. Before using, return it to the mixer and beat again for approximately 3 minutes to soften and gain a consistency suitable for spreading or piping.
Step 2: Marshmallow Fondant
- 300g (11 oz) soft white marshmallows (preferably American style) Gluten free if required
- 1x 500g (18 oz ) bag of pure confectioners sugar sifted.
- Vegetable shortening (or Copha in Australia)
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 pea sized ball of completed fondant mixture
- 1/2 Tsp water
- 1 Tsp lemon essence or pure alchohol
- Large microwave safe bowl
- Spatula - preferably silicone
- Clean dry surface for kneading the 'dough'
- Heavily grease the microwave safe bowl and spatula with Copha or Vegetable shortening.
- Place Marshmallows and water into the bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute or until light and puffy.
- Reserving 1/2 cup of the sugar, gradually add the remaining sifted sugar while stirring with a greased spatula. At this point you will begin to have a huge mess in the bowl and it will stick to everything it touches!
- As the mixture begins to hold together, liberally dust the bench top with some of the reserved sugar and scrape as much of the marshmallow mixture out of the bowl as possible. Place it on the bench top and either grease your hands with vegetable shortening, or dust them with icing sugar and begin kneading the dough until well combined and smooth.
- To prepare edible glue combine glue ingredients in a small bowl or jar (nail salon jars or empty Polish jars are able to be bought from Nail suppliers online) and set aside until needed.
Colours may be added as powders, gels or liquids. If your fondant becomes too soft and sticky, add more icing sugar. If it becomes too dry, add a drop of water or some vegetable shortening and continue to knead.
This Fondant can be wrapped tightly in cling film, or placed in a zip lock bag and then stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator for a couple of months without any problem. Remove the fondant from the refrigerator a couple of hours before use or microwave for a few seconds and knead to rework and soften the dough before modelling.
HINT: Fondant must be kept covered when not in use as it will dry out quickly and crack while you are trying to model with it. You can place any cut pieces between two sheets of cling film or improvise like me and use a laminating pouch. Wilton sell a specifically designed sheet for saving cut pieces of fondant however I've found the laminating pouch to be just as effective and significantly cheaper.
Step 3: Get Prepared!
- Paint brushes - varying sizes,
- Food colourings
- Rolling pin
- Sharp knife or scalpel
- Circle cutters or any other available small cutters.
- Soft foam block
- Boning Tool - or: chopstick, back end of a paintbrush, toothpick, skewer, or anything you have in your drawer that you think might get the job done :-)
I would actually say that you can improvise on most of the 'professional' tools if you use your imagination, so I'm not going to give you a list of 'must have' equipment, but I will give you an idea of the household items that you could use just to give this a go. If you really want to go crazy, there are hundreds of cake decorating tools and cutters available in online cake decorating shops and it can cost you a fortune. If I had to list one item that you could buy, which won't be wasted in your kitchen in the long term, I would recommend a set of graduated circle cutters. You can buy all sizes of sets from 4 -10 cutters and starting from the size of a small coin, up to a large cookie. Saying that though, as I used mini cupcakes for this demonstration and did not have a matching circle cutter, I improvised and used an egg cup!
- Firstly decide on the colours that you would like to use and consider the amounts of each colour that you will be likely to require. I find it is always wise to reserve as much plain white Fondant as possible in order to mix up emergency supplies of any colour you may run short of and to recover from any mistakes or problems you may have along the way. However, it is also wise to remember that making an exact colour match can be difficult and if that is critical for your cupcakes, then make sure you allow enough to avoid having to re make large amounts and you can always save the leftovers. For these 6 cupcakes I used a very small amount of left over fondant which was probably equivalent to approximately 3/4 cup volume in total.
- Wrap individual colours in cling wrap lightly greased with Copha to prevent drying out.
- Prepare your cupcakes. If you do not have smooth rounded cupcake tops, take a sharp knife and round them into a smooth dome. I used some chunky oat and date gluten free cupcakes which required some trimming (see image). Spread a light layer of buttercream onto each cupcake and set aside at room temperature until you are ready to use them. If you do not have buttercream, spread a thin layer of jam/jelly onto the cupcake. This will help the fondant to stick.
- Prepare your work area. I use a stationary cutting mat to work on and keep it dusted with confectioners sugar. You can wrap some confectioners sugar in a piece of muslin or a Chux wipe and use it as a dusting pouch to provide a very finely sifted dust to the surface you're working on.
Step 4: Get Cutting
Beginning with the smaller details, we are going to prepare pacifiers, eyes, bows, flowers and hair and set them aside to begin to dry a little while we continue on to build the faces.
Roll Fondant out to approximately 1/8 inch. It is possible to buy a small rolling pin with thickness guides. It's very handy for getting an even thickness but just use your judgement if you don't have one handy.
Using a small round cutter or flower cutter, cut out enough circles or flowers to act as the base for your pacifiers and always cut a few spares. I like to cut 1/2 of them from pink, and 1/2 from blue. Flower cutters make cute pacifiers for girls.
Place the circles into your laminating pouch or under cling film to prevent them drying out as you work on each one.
Take a cut out and lay it onto the foam block then use one of your pointy ended tools to make a gentle indentation in the centre of the shape. you don't want to use something sharp enough to pierce through, but you want it to be fine enough to make a small indentation (see 2nd image). As you complete each one, set it out to begin drying.
Now take a small about of contrasting fondant (I used white), and roll a small ball that is slightly pointed on one side (see image 3). Using a fine paintbrush dab a small amount of your edible glue (see Fondant recipe) into the indentation on the pacifier base and gently press the ball into it with the nipple pointing down into the hole. This will help it to seal on better.
Being careful not to dislodge it, gently press a small hole into each side of the ball to accommodate the handle if you wish to have one, or skip this step if you like it plain or don't have time. Both styles look effective.
Roll a very small snake, put a small dot of glue into the hole being careful not to wet it too much, and poke the ends into the holes. Set aside to dry.
While we're busy cutting and rolling, we're also going to prepare the eyes. If you don't have a small enough cutter for this, try using a round piping tip or just roll a small white ball and press it down flat with your fingers. Remember to keep them from drying out as you work.
Take each little eye white and make a soft indent where you would like the pupils to be. Get creative and give them some expression by making them look in different directions. (Also see image 2). I like to roll small black balls for pupils and press them into the whites, however if you find this too fiddly you can use an edible marker or just make little black balls for eyes. There are a variety of eyes on the cupcakes in my photos, just have a look and decide what you prefer. (see image 5)
Ribbons and bows
I find the little ball bow easiest to use without any fancy cutting techniques. Just roll two little balls and use a blunt tool to press a hollow into the middle. Pinch one side together to make a little petal out of each one, then use a sharp knife or scalpel to cut a very small piece off the point (see image 7). Join the two cut ends together with a small dot of glue. Roll one ore small ball and press it over the join in the first two petals. Voila! You have a bow!
You can also use the little flower blossom cutter to make a nice hair decoration by pressing a small indentation in the centre an glueing in a tiny ball of contrasting colour.
Use your imagination with hair, however I find that less is best. Just take some small scraps of black, or make a little yellow, brown, or orange. Roll a bunch of small snakes and pinch them together at the base, or make a small tear drop shape and roll the tip between your fingers to twist it and make a curl. Set them aside to dry a little and remember that they will dry in the shape you place them, so if you would like a little extra shape, drape them over something to provide volume.
Stripes and spots on beanies are quite difficult to obtain for a beginner, however you can experiment by placing small balls or snakes of blue or pink onto a white rolled background and then rolling them to press them together. Use the same cutter that you will use for the faces but cut the circles in half and make an edge out of contrasting fondant to press over the seam on the forehead.
Beanies should be the last thing that you make as you will need to apply them over the faces and they will need to be soft and pliable in order to drape and blend them at the edges.
Step 5: Get Creative!
Now we're going to put it all together!
Knead and roll out your flesh toned fondant to approximately 1/8th inch thick and cut into rounds slightly larger than your cupcakes. As a general rule, if you can fit the cupcake through the cutter with a little bit of wiggle room, the cutter should be fine to use. Remember Fondant is stretchy and you will be able to ease it to the edge of your cupcakes if you find that they are too domed and it doesn't seem to fit. I used an egg cup to cut rounds for miniature cupcakes
Cut enough rounds to cover all of your cupcakes and have a few spares. Cover them to prevent drying out. One at a time cover the cupcakes and smooth the fondant down to the edge of the cupcake case. If it hangs over, use a scalpel to carefully trim off any excess but be careful not to cut the wrapper. (image 1)
Use a pointed tool to make a small indentation for the nose and if you are using ball eyes make two small indentations for eyes too. HINT: The faces tend to look cuter if you place the mouth close to one edge and the nose and eyes slightly lower rather than up at the top of the face. It give an effect of being meek and innocent like a baby. Higher eyes and eyebrows make cheekier more mischievous faces.
Roll another flesh toned ball with a nipple like you used for the pacifier and glue it into the nose indent. (see images 2 and 3) Use the blunt edge of a cutter or other rounded object to press a slight smile into some of the faces. You may also like to place dimples in the ends of the smile if you have a small enough tool or a ball tool.
If you are using black and white eyes, make a slightly shallower but larger indent and apply the eyes with a small amount of glue. Drop tiny black balls into small indentations for plain black eyes.
Brush a small amount of glue to the back of the pacifier and apply it to the face in varying positions. Centered on the smile, off to one side or right under the nose with no smile at all.
Make two small balls of flesh toned fondant and lightly glue them one at a time onto the sides of the head out quite wide near the very edge. Use a pointed tool to press into it and poke one end into the head. (see image 5)
Brush a small amount of glue to the base of the hair and apply to the top of the head, pressing in a little to help it seal.
Apply any bows or flowers with a little glue over the front of the hair if they are being used.
Finally, using a soft, loose ended brush, gently brush a tiny bit of pink petal dust onto the cheeks to give that baby blush.
AND YOU'RE FINISHED!
Serve them up and watch your friends 'Oooh' and "Aaah" but be prepared that people might adopt them and take them home rather than eat them!