Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cupcakes: from Ordinary to Extraordinary

Everyone can agree that cupcakes are one thing:  Delicious.  Whether you make them in the kitchen from scratch, or from your favorite box mix, cupcakes are sure to put a smile on your family's face and a happy feeling in their belly!  Growing up with my Grammy, I spent many hours frosting cupcakes 'the old fashioned way' with her in the kitchen.  We used a butter knife to swirl the frosting on top of each one.  While I will always have a special place for these 'Granny Swirl' cupcakes in my heart and still enjoy making them from time to time, it has been fun to discover new and exciting ways to frost and decorate cupcakes...like these little gentlemen!   
To create a variety of fun and beautiful cupcake looks, I used a few simple things:
1. A large Star Tip to pipe frosting
The large tip gives a touch of elegance and neatness to the cupcake that takes it up a few notches from a cupcake frosted with a knife!
2. Colorful Cupcake Wrappers
The color and style of your wrappers completely changes the look of your cupcake. If you are using colored batter, stick with white wrappers to let the color shine through
3. Fondant
Simple shapes can be cut out with cookie cutters to add TONS of whimsy and style to your cupcake
4. Luster Dust, Edible Glitter, Lemon Extract and a Small Paintbrush
Luster Dust and Glitter can be used wet or dry. When mixed with a clear extract they turn into the perfect paint for fondant. The alcohol in the extract evaporates fast so that the fondant doesn't get overly wet when painted.

To prep my cupcake decorations I cut out some Fondant and used simple shapes (circles, rectangles, stars) to make simple and straightforward decorations that you can make at home! You can buy fondant at any cake supply or craft store (like Michael's). Fondant can be colored with gel food coloring. You knead it like dough and then roll it out and cut it into shapes as if you are making cookies! I also had a butterfly cutter on hand and propped them against a container to let them dry with some dimension. I hand cut out the mustache shapes....you could use a cookie cutter if you can find one small enough to put on the cupcake.
Here's how I made the Minnie Mouse decoration.  I rolled black fondant out to 1/8 " thickness and cut out circles with a round cookie cutter.
To make the bow: roll your fondant out to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut 2 rectangles, 1 for the main part of the bow, 1 for the center.
Swipe a small amount of lemon extract down the center of the large rectangle and then fold each end towards the middle.  The extract helps it stick without getting too wet because the alcohol evaporates faster than just water. 
Give the bow a pinch in the center to give it a slightly gathered look.  Swipe the extract over the center and wrap the smaller rectangle around the pinched section to create the center of the bow.
Let the bow dry for a few minutes.  Press 2 ears into the cupcakes frosting and press the pink bow in front of the ears....voila!  You have an adorable Minnie Mouse cupcake.  If you don't like working with fondant, you can find some candies or cookies that can represent the ears and bows and make a unique version of Minnie Mouse all your own!
To make these girlishly adorable mini cupcakes, I simply added purple gel coloring to the batter to make it bake up a rich purple hue.  I only added a small amount of purple to the buttercream to soften the look of the cupcake.  If you match the color of the frosting to the cupcake exactly it often is a bit over-powering.  The lilac hue of the frosting complimented the cupcake perfectly and gave it a soft and girly feel.  I mixed small amount of pink petal dust and edible purple glitter with a small amount of lemon extract and painted the dried fondant butterflies with it.  After the paint dried, I simply perched them atop the lilac frosting swirls.
 A very simple and easy way to change a cupcake from boring to special, is by changing the color of the batter.  For a St. Patrick's Day cupcake, stir some green food coloring into the batter before filling the wrappers.  I made these all one shade of green, and then kept the frosting simple with the natural color of the buttercream.  To add interest to the cupcake presentation you could mix up several different shades of green, or make the cupcakes all the colors of the rainbow.  The gold coin decoration is made from gold luster dust painted fondant circles.  You could also use chocolate gold coins instead of the fondant to create a similar effect.
 The color of the wrapper can greatly affect the look of a cupcake.  I wanted to make these cupcakes representative of Beauty and the Beast.  The base of the cupcake and the frosting being reflective of Belle's shining gold and yellow dress.  I chose a wrapper with a scalloped edge to represent the scalloped detailing at the bottom of her ball gown.   The royal icing decoration is a nod to the magical rose from the Beast.  To make the royal icing rose, I slipped a rose drawing under a piece of parchment and piped over the lines with the icing.  After letting the first layer set for a few minutes, I piped another layer of the outline to give it more strength.  I piped 3 layers for the stem in green, and 2 in pink for the rose.  Let dry overnight, and it should be easy to peel off and place on your cupcake the next day!
Switch the color of the wrapper and the frosting and take off the edible glitter dust, and you have a cupcake fit for a Spring themed party.  See how a few simple changes can completely change the look of a cupcake?!
 I hope you have fun baking up some yummy cupcakes and trying some of these techniques to make some amazing decorative cupcakes to wow people at your next family party.  Never be afraid to try your hand at cake decorating...simple touches can take your delicious cupcakes from ordinary to extraordinary, you just have to try! (=

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