Megan and I thought it was kind of fun to co-write the last blog about our first cupcake competition using both of our perspectives……so we’re going to keep the ball rolling, or the fondant rolling…..hopefully the fondant will keep rolling.
As I mentioned, one of the categories was ‘traditional.’ That means, the decorating can only be buttercream or royal icing or a combination of both. Since Megan has become more experienced with royal icing, I suggested that she do something with royal icing lacework.
I’ll let her take it from here…….
Megan – Working with royal icing is one of my favorite things to do. I love the detail of it. Let me walk you through the process as I started making royal icing butterflies…
You would think that the first thing you would do is to make the royal icing…wrong. First, I had to draw my pattern for the butterfly wings on paper. I went through many designs before I found a design that I liked. Then I taped wax paper to foam board. I slipped the design under the wax paper. Then, I made the royal icing. This is a tricky thing because you can only measure so much. You have to get a feel for the consistency of royal icing. Different tasks call for different consistencies. I have learned to judge whether royal icing is the right consistency by the way it looks. It is hard for me to describe royal icing to someone, because I have to look at it to make sure it is right. Then I load the royal icing into a piping bag. Next, I traced the butterfly wings on the wax paper. After that, you let the royal icing dry overnight. The next day when you peel the wax paper off the royal icing, you are left with a VERY fragile butterfly wing. Next, you have to glue the wings together with royal icing so you have to look for something that is at the correct angle to hold the wings together while they dry. You then have to let the bodies of the butterflies dry so that the wings don’t fall apart. All that is done, and then you have to figure out, not only how to get these incredibly fragile butterflies on the cupcakes, but transported an hour away from their safe little home in Nazareth. Can I again say….NERVOUS-WRECK?!
Wendy – In the last post I mentioned how we had a Saturday with no projects due and plenty of time to start working on the competition components. I can’t tell you how delicate the butterfly wings were that Megan was working on. She started piping with a small tip and, although the wings were beautiful because they were so delicate, you couldn’t handle them. They would just go to pieces in your hands. Remember, these are untrained hands that learn through trial and error. So she switched to the next size tip and they started to hold together better. Over the next several days she began a process of piping, peeling and gluing. She made three times as many sets of wings as we would need because we still weren’t sure how well they would transport. Megan ended up with two plates, one with wings in tact, another with all broken pieces. I admired her diligence in sticking with this project. We really thought that, as far as technical difficulty, these cupcakes would score well.
I was working on the ‘baker’s choice’ category. Where Megan’s specialty is piping, mine is shaping gumpaste. I love to sit down with a piece of gumpaste and watch it take shape into a person, a rose or a puppy. My old art training comes into play as I remember how much I enjoyed working with clay so many years ago.
We decided that the ‘baker’s choice’ category would be a miniature garden. I love to garden and as I pictured the pieces in my head, I let them flow out through my fingers into the gumpaste. Miniature toadstools and flower pots started to appear. We had also decided that we would line all six cupcakes up and use gumpaste pebbles that would form a pathway, flowing from one cupcake to the next.
I’ve talked before about how, when working with gumpate components, you always make extra. You never know when disaster can strike during construction or delivery so you always want to have extra pieces. My biggest hurdle to overcome was making a topiary. Normally, I use spaghetti and bamboo skewers to hold things in place but the rules said that everything had to be edible. I took that literally and decided to try to make my supports out of gumpaste. If you look at the pictures of the cupcakes you will notice that the topiary isn’t there. In the end, I was successful in making it stable enough for the cupcakes but it was top heavy and I just didn’t want to try leaving it on a cupcake. The gumpaste trellis took its place.
The last category was themed to the village of shops where the competition was being held. Since Megan enjoys very delicate piping, we decided to replicate some of the buildings in gumpaste. We had used this technique before. Some of you may remember the Philadelphia Marathon cake that we did for a friend, where we reproduced some Philadelphia landmark buildings. We always do research for any project that we do so we actually took a day, drove to Peddler’s Village and took pictures of the buildings that we would use. I rolled the gumpaste and cut it into the shapes of the buildings and Megan makes them come to life with her piping.
Megan – Again, royal icing came into play. I love the detail. I love adding all the tiny details that make a cake, or in this case…cupcakes come to life. When I do work with architectural pieces I really need to study the building that I am replicating. The building becomes a jumble of geometric shapes. Anymore, I look at many things, and think…”How could I make that on a cake?” It is really important to make sure you capture the unique details that gives a building its character, and that is what I love about detailing buildings. I get handed this canvas (piece of gum paste), and I get to create art. I love to see how it comes to life before my eyes. I have to say that out of the three categories of cupcakes, I was most excited about these Peddler’s Village cupcakes.
By the time Saturday came we were feeling pretty prepared. We had made a list early in the week of all of the components that needed to be finished. We faithfully kept to the list. Somehow we saw everything start to come together. We packed everything up the night before. We made another list to make sure that we didn’t forget anything that we might need to put the cupcakes together. Around 11:00 p.m. the night before, we were finally finished. I had such mixed emotions. I didn’t know if I was excited for the next day to come, or terrified that it was going to be a disaster. Even after we were all prepared to go, I still couldn’t believe that we were entered in a competition.
Wendy – This post wouldn’t be complete without some small disaster though. After all, we live in a world where things go wrong and when inexperience meets lack of preparation, it is a recipe for trouble.
We were so pleased with the royal icing butterflies that we felt that they needed a very special way to be displayed. We decided to try, for the first time ever (I know what you’re thinking…..why would we try something for the first time, the night before our first competition……’cause that’s just how we roll). We had yet to try dipping cupcakes in royal icing. Dipping cupcakes in royal icing is a tricky process but it yields a rewarding, beautiful product, if it is successful. Cupcakes dipped in royal icing have a shiny, smooth surface which, we felt, would not detract from the intricacy of the butterflies, like a mound of buttercream would.
We had researched the process and felt confident that it would work. We started dipping around 8:00 p.m. I guess I don’t even need to describe the process any further. On the third round of dipping, we realized that it just wasn’t going to work. Thank goodness we had saved some buttercream…..just in case. We scraped off the royal icing and ended up piping buttercream on instead. In the end, it actually worked much better than the royal icing would have, the buttercream helped to cushion the butterflies for transport to the competition. Remember one of our mottos…….live and learn. Megan has vowed that she will never attempt dipping cupcakes in royal icing again, but I am determined to not let the icing win. I will live to conquer the technique another day…….hopefully.
We were only one more sleep away from competition day.