Friday, January 04, 2008

Creative Christmas Icings

This year I set out to create Jennifer Graham's Oh Christmas Tree! cupcakes for two family Christmas events. First I realised the cake recipe didn't meet my standards, so I altered it and my recipe is published in one of the posts below. But the Christmas cupcakes were always meant to be iced.

A few weeks back my husband and I were mucking around in the kitchen (not that kind of mucking around!) when I wondered out loud whether pink icing could be turned to green. Mark said no, based on colour theory he studied at TAFE last year, but I decided to give it ago anyway. Using Wilton Leaf Green paste, I produced a vibrant lime green icing. I just so happened to have a few Christmas cupcakes left in the freezer, so I thawed them out and topped them with the green icing. With their red Confeta cup papers, they looked very festive - but unfinished.

So I took out my container of single colour non-pareils, which I imported from America earlier this year. I mixed red and white together, then dipped the edge of the icing into the little coloured dots to create a unique edging to the cake. But they still looked unfinished! So I took out a box of yellow sugar stars I'd made a few weeks back, painted them with egg white, dipped them in yellow cake sparkles, and sat them on a dob of green icing on the top of each cupcake. To finish off, I had Mark strategically position five shiny green cachous between the each of the points of the stars, and voila - an amazing cake! Mark and I danced around in the kitchen, overwrought with excitement over the little piece of art we invented.
Sad, I know.

So, come the day of decoration, and I decided I wanted a third design to go with JG's Oh Christmas and my Jolly Christmas Star design. I wanted to use white Royal icing. I had baked the cupcakes in three different coloured Confetta cups - red, green and silver. But wouldn't you know it, something about the cake and the green cups didn't mix - the Confetta papers had dropped away from the edge of the cakes, which made them look unsightly and unpresentable.

Sometimes the greatest inventions are born from the simplest mistakes. I peeled the flacid green cups away from the fruity little cupcakes and turned them upside down on the wire rack. Then I mixed up Royal icing to a dripping constency and spooned one dessert spoon over each cupcake. I kind of pushed the icing over the edges to help it drip, but then left it to its own devices to form random patterns. I made little red holly berries out of red sugar paste (I'll post about sugar paste moulding later), painted them with egg white, dipped them in clear cake sparkles and positioned three in the middle of the top of each cake. The final touch was a dark green sugar leaf - which is really meant to be a rose leaf, but served as a holly leaf on this occasion. I then positioned the little cakes on round silver cake boards (individual size) and the result was what appeared to be a little mini christmas pudding.

I boxed up all three cakes and carted them to my best girl friend's parents house for Christmas eve dinner. I was so excited I called everyone in to see what I'd invented (Mark helped! make no mistake), and my hosts were equally excited. But the proof is always in the pudding, and for me, the greatest joy was in seeing the look on Jeannette's dad's face after he'd eaten one of the cakes. He looked like a little kid, he was so pleased!

Here are the recipes for each of the icings, in case you want to give them a try next Christmas.

Oh Christmas Tree Butter Cream
1kg icing sugar mixture
125g butter, softened
7-8 tblsp milk
2 tsp vanilla essence
many squeezes of Wilton Icing Whitener
several drops of dark green food colouring

1. Put all the ingredients bar the icing whitener in the large bowl of your mixer. Combine on low speed until everything is wet, then gradually increase the speed.

2. Mix to a thick consistency - the butter cream must hold its form when dragged to a peak with a spatula.

3. Add the icing whitener, and keep doing so until the yellow from the butter is virtually gone. If you don't do this you won't be able to get a true colour when you add the colouring.

4. Add the food colouring until you have the desired colour. Try and choose a gel or paste type of food colouring. If you go for Queen Food Colouring, not only will you not get a rich colour, you'll need to add extra icing sugar because it will thin your butter cream out.

5. Pipe onto cupcakes in a softserve style. This icing will slump a little before it sets, so try and go high rather than broad with your piping.

Jolly Christmas Star Icing
3 egg whites
5 cups icing sugar mixture
1/4 tsp Wilton Leaf Green colour paste
2 tsp Wilton clear vanilla

1. Whisk the eggs whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

2. Add the icing sugar one cup at a time, combining thoroughly after each.

3. Once all icing sugar is added to the egg whites, add food colouring and vanilla. Check icing for consistency and if it doesn't hold its form, add 2-3 heaped dessert spoons more of icing sugar mixture.

Royal Icing
1 cup Quick Mix Royal Icing mxiture
1 tblsp water

1. Measure out the Royal Icing mixture into a small bowl.

2. Add the water and mix until icing sugar is completely wet. Take a spoonful and tip back into the bowl from about 10 inches above. If the mixture doesn't "drip" add a little more water. If the mixture "pours"add a little more icing sugar mixture.

3. You basically need a thick masking consistency which can be manipulated but won't drip right off your cake.