The best part about baking sweet things for people is the ability to dazzle their senses. Take for instance, my little ruse to win over my classmates’ tastebuds. I think it worked like a charm. I lured them with my homemade marshmallows and Twix bars in the hopes that my fledgling lil business would receive more attention.
One day, I received a call which resulted in me feeling giddy with delight. A classmate who recently got engaged was requesting a cupcake order for her engagement party! I was quite excited and accepted her request to make 60 dainty little cakes. She definitely knew how to colour coordinate; requesting violet buttercream, yellow budding roses, and white flowers.
The cupcakes and buttercream were a cinch to make. However, it was the homemade fondant, as well as the 60+ handmade roses and 120+ flowers that I had contend with. I needed to fashion these delicate items out of my pliable sugar, but alas, the dry winter air did not bode well for the fondant. With a bit of searching on the net, I was able to revitalize the sugar paste with glucose and some shortening. The fondant returned to its buttery, silky state and when kept sealed in plastic, kept its soft and supple texture.
For the recipes, I used Ina Garten’s Coconut Cupcake recipe (but just omitted all the coconut it called for) for the cakelets. For the buttercream, I used a no -fail traditional recipe from Baking Illustrated. It was more time-consuming but definitely worth the effort. Unlike super-sweet cupcakes from grocery stores that use just confectioner’s sugar and butter, this recipe required eggs in the mixture and granulated sugar instead. The cooking process was done in a double boiler and with a candy thermometer to ensure the buttercream reached the correct temperature and consistency. The resulting frosting had a bountiful whipped body and a glorious buttery flavour; best of all, it did not taste too over- the- top cavity inducing sweet. To dye the cupcakes and fondant, I simply purchased some coloured Wilton edible gel paste (which has a greater concentration than food dyes) and used a few drops. I also wore a pair of gloves to massage the dye into the fondant. Skipping this step will result in funky coloured palms. My suggestions and recipe tinkering are in italics.
(I modified this recipe and turned it into a vanilla cupcake. Vanilla Buttercream recipe follows this one)
For the cupcakes
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 extra-large eggs at room temperature (or 6 large eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (used 1 tbsp+ 1 tsp)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract (omitted this)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk (used about 1 1/4 cup because the batter looked a little too thick)
14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut (omitted this)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.
Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter (I used an ice cream scoop to dish out the precise amount for each one. This will ensure that all cupcakes bake up evenly). Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (if you are baking two batches at once, visualizing the oven from the bottom up, use the 2nd last rack and place one above it. Don’t forget to rotate the tins bottom to top and each one front to back midway through cooking), or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.
Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.
Yield: 18 large cupcakes (I got 24 regular sized cupcakes)
Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
For the frosting
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
pinch table salt
1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks), softened, each stick cut into quarters
Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until thin and foamy and registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer.
Beat egg mixture on medium-high speed with whisk attachment until light, airy, and cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter, one piece at a time. (After adding half the butter, buttercream may look curdled; it will smooth with additional butter.) Once all butter is added, increase speed to high and beat 1 minute until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 5 days.)
Yield: Makes about 4 cups
Feeling extra ambitious? I have also included the recipe for how to make your own batch of fondant (it is adapted from Toba Garrett)
Homemade Fondant (for the flowers, roses, and other lovely jazz)
1 Tbsp (1 envelope) unflavoured gelatin (I used knox)
1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water
1 tsp lemon, almond or orange extract (used 1 tsp of clear vanilla extract and 1 tsp of almond extract)
1/2 c (6 oz or 168 g) light corn syrup (glucose is superior, if you can find the stuff, use it instead)
1 Tbsp glycerin (optional) (highly recommend including it. You can find this at your local bulk food store)
up to 2 lbs (908 g) confectioner’s sugar (aka icing sugar)
1/2 tsp white vegetable shortening (I used Tenderflake)
Sprinkle the gelatin over cold water in a small bowl. Let it stand for two minutes to soften. Place it over a pan of simmering water until the gelatin dissolves, or use the microwave for 30 seconds on HIGH. Do not overheat. Add the flavouring(s).
Add corn syrup and glycerin (optional) and stir until mixture is smooth and clear. Gently reheat if necessary, or microwave for an additional 15 to 20 seconds on HIGH. Stir again.
Sift 1 1/2 pounds (680 g) of the sugar into a large bowl. Make a well in the sugar and pour the liquid mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon. The mixture will become sticky.
Sift some of the remaining 1/2 pound (225 g) of sugar onto a smooth work surface and add as much of the remaining sugar as the mixture will take. Knead the fondant, adding a little more sugar, if necessary, to form a smooth, pliable mass. The fondant should be firm and soft. Rub the vegetable shortening on your palms and knead it into the fondant. This relieves the stickiness of the fondant.
Wrap the fondant in plastic wrap and store it at room temperature or until ready to use. Rolled fondant works best if allowed to rest for 24 hours.
Note: If covered well, this rolled fondant dough can be stored for 2 months (in a cool, dry spot, away from items with strong odours) or frozen for up to 3 months (I have not tried freezing or refrigerating it. I personally would not do this as I read on a few online food forums that freezing or refrigerating fondant alters the texture). Don’t be alarmed if you try to revive fondant after the 2 month period and find it dry and crumbly. Do not throw it away! There is nothing wrong with it and it can be used. Simply place the fondant in the microwave and use the defrost setting. When it starts to turn soft (be careful it will be very hot), depending on how much leftover fondant you have, add about 1/3 cup- 1/2 cup of shortening to it. Wait until it cools slightly and knead into the fondant. Knead until you have reached the desired texture. Use immediately. Keep unused portions sealed in plastic wrap. Anything you make with this older fondant will become hard more quickly, especially if it’s wintertime and the air is dry. I recommend keeping fondant shaped items in a plastic airtight container.)
For extra insurance, I purchased some Wilton Gum Paste (while it is similar to fondant because it is also made with sugar, it can be easily molded like clay into small shapes and delicate items) and mixed it in with some of the fondant before using it.
Storage: Double wrap the unused rolled fondant in plastic wrap and then store it in a zippered plastic bag. It will keep in the refrigerator for 30 days on in the freezer for up to 3 months