Bring on the bling!

“PJ, you need to decorate some fancy cupcakes for a Valentine’s blog post.”

ARGHHHH! Those two little words I (don’t) long to hear–

“Decorate.” “Fancy.”

I immediately go into whine mode.

“Can’t MaryJane do it? She’s SUCH an artist, so good at all that… stuff.”

All that picky, intricate, delicate, SUPREMELY IRRITATING DECORATING STUFF.

For which I have all the patience of a 4-year-old at a birthday party…

I swear, my Web teammates just love to torture me.

But, discretion is the better part of valor.

And really, whoever came up with THAT old bromide never had to lay down a perfect row of tiny sugar pearls atop a cupcake.

Sigh…

OK, let’s do the easy part first: bake some cupcakes.

Check out our Bake Sale Fudge Cupcakes, including the accompanying blog post, for a fast, easy recipe for deep-dark chocolate fudge cupcakes.

Next, gather your decorating tools.

White fondant is a sweet, malleable icing, the mainstay of professional cake decorators. Think Play-Doh – but much better-tasting. Fondant is the perfectly smooth coating you see on most wedding cakes; the base upon which all the fancy flowers and other furbelows rest.

Next, a springerle mold. You’ll press this atop the fondant to make an imprint, which you can then cut out and drape over your cupcake.

That’s what they tell me, anyway. We’ll see.

I want to stop for a moment and thank my long-time friend and fellow King Arthur test-kitchen baker, Sue Gray. She’s an expert cake decorator, and it’s her hands you’ll see doing the work here.

That’s right; I chickened out.

Well, someone had to take the pictures, right?!

Truth be told, though – I actually could have done all this. I don’t have the Martha Stewart gene, and I never WOULD do any of this in a million years – but I could.

And if I can, so can you.

First, sift a fine coating of cornstarch atop a clean work surface. A silicone rolling mat is perfect for rolling fondant.

Next, get out your fondant. Break off however much you think you’ll need. If you’re going to make 24 cupcakes with springerle decorations on top, you’ll need about 12 ounces of fondant. For simpler, thinner heart cutouts, you”ll need only about 3 or 4 ounces.

Keep any fondant you’re not using wrapped in plastic, to keep it moist and malleable.

Knead the fondant in your hands to soften it up.

Break off a generous 1/2-ounce piece, and gently flatten it.

How big is a generous 1/2-ounce piece? Well, if you have a teaspoon cookie scoop, it’s just about one of those, slightly heaped.

If you don’t, it’s enough that you can roll it into a ball about 1” in diameter.

Sue says if you gently rub the flattened fondant, dipping your fingers lightly in cornstarch, it makes it easier to work with.

Think of gently rubbing cornstarch onto your baby’s skin; that’s about what it feels like. Silky smooth.

Press the springerle mold atop the flattened fondant.

Peel it off…

…and gently – especially if you’re using a silicone mat, GENTLY, so as not to score the mat – cut around the edge. A 2” biscuit cutter is the perfect size for this particular springerle decoration.

Again, be sure you don’t press down too hard; you don’t want to injure the mat.

Peel the excess fondant away.

While fondant is malleable, it’s not particularly sticky (thankfully). To anchor it atop the cupcake, brush the cake with simple syrup – which is easily made at home:

Combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 cup water; bring to a boil atop the stove; simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, and store in a glass jar, at room temperature, for up to a month.

Center the springerle decoration atop the cupcake.

If you like, press sugar pearls alongside the fondant, to make a border. Do this while the cake is still moist from the syrup.

Note the single pearl I placed – on the fondant, rather than the cake. Good aim!

We used lilac-colored pearls here, but white-on-white is nice, too.

There!

What if you don’t have a springerle mold? A heart cookie cutter makes a simpler, but just as elegant-looking cupcake.

Start by rolling the fondant between 1/8” and 1/4” thick.

Cut hearts. Remember to press lightly, if you’re working on silicone.

Lay hearts atop your syrup-brushed cupcakes.

Add pearls. If the syrup seems to be drying before you’ve got all the pearls in place, just brush on some more.

Ta-da!

How about pink on white? Slather cupcakes with your favorite white frosting. Sue is using buttercream here, but any kind of frosting is fine.

Knead food color into your fondant; again, this is just like mixing different colors of Play-Doh.

Roll it out, cut hearts…

Awww…

And now, a word about cupcake papers. Sometimes, with chocolate cake, colorful cupcake papers lose their punch, due to the cake’s dark color. Thus you’ll see cakes baked in plain white papers, then set into the “fancy” papers after baking.

Luckily, the Valentine papers we sell hold their color through thick and thin – and chocolate.

The cake on the left is baked right in the Valentine paper. On the right, baked in a plain paper, then set into the Valentine paper. Not enough difference to warrant the double paper, I’d say.

OK, I have to admit – at the risk of losing my reputation as a fancy-decorating curmudgeon, working with fondant was definitely easier than I thought it would be.

Even kind of fun.

And next time Sue or MaryJane gets into one of these decorating projects, I’ll be right there admiring their work and breathing a sigh of relief that it’s not me doing it!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Sharon

    Hello there. Can I also use these relief molds for pie or pastry dough? I’ve really been wanting to use them to decorate my Cornish Pasties. Has anyone used them for pie dough? Any comments would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sharon, they’d work best with an all-shortening dough, as butter crusts tend to lose their shape more readily. In my experience, though, flaky, light pie crust doesn’t translate well to molding; whatever you do, it WILL lose its shape/design somewhat in order to attain its flakiness/light texture. That said, give it a try; I’d love to be proved wrong. Good luck – PJH

  2. Liz

    To add to what Victoryfarm wrote: there are some commercially available vegetarian marshmallows, and occasionally a local bakery will make them too. Sweet & Sara is one brand; Chicago Soy Dairy’s “Dandies” are another. Try Whole Foods or your local independent grocery store.

    Kosher marshmallows are made with fish gelatin and thus are kosher but not vegetarian.

    Marshmallow fluff is vegetarian, believe it or not.

    As for the commercial fondants:

    Satin Ice says “Contains no animal-derived ingredients.”
    Choco-Pan seems to be vegetarian based on ingredient list.
    Wilton seems to be vegetarian too, except for the marshmallow variant.
    Couldn’t find anything on Baker’s.

    Reply
  3. Cecilia

    This is a perfect project to do with the kids at our local homeless shelter! Now all I have to do is find the springerie mold…..
    Cecelia,
    You can use many different kinds of molds for fondant. Check out the local craft store for silicone molds for working with clay. As long as you use it for food only, you’ll be fine. You can also press different objects into fondant to make your own impressions. I think they will enjoy this project. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Rebecca Grace

    I am so excited about your silicone pastry mat with circles printed on it! I could have used that when I was rolling out lopsided pumpkin pie crusts at Thanksgiving and my pastry cloth was sliding all over the place. And is this fondant stuff really as easy as Playdough? I mean, can my kids work with it? I haven’t yet summoned up the courage (or found enough free time) to revisit my buttercream frosting nemesis, but I can totally bake cupcakes and the decorating looks like it would be fun, with little blond sous chefs assisting me, that is. Kids get so excited about decorated cakes and cookies that it makes all the fuss worthwhile!

    Rebecca, it really is like Play-Doh. The kids could mold it, shape it into animals, imprint, add colors… and it’s edible. Though not particularly delicious; it just tastes like sugar. It gets hard quickly, that’s the only thing; if you’re not working with it, you need to keep it covered. Other than that – go for it! PJH

    Reply
  5. victoryfarm

    Thanks, Jessica, for sharing all that!

    Just thought I’d add here that a lot of fondant is NOT vegetarian (contains gelatin). It can, however, be made with agar instead. Using marshmallows probably means gelatin, too, unless someone knows of a vegetarian brand of marshmallows?

    We don’t manage to keep strictly vegetarian, but I do TRY to avoid animal products when I can, and also to let other members of the family, who are more strict than we are, know when I use something like this.

    Reply
  6. Jessica

    Ok, fondant lowdown from years of experience:

    Satin Ice is about the worst tasting brand of all fondants. Its what most professional shops use for colored fondant though as its cheaper and readily available (and coloring can be a pain) Only worst tasting kind is the Wilton at many stores. Yuck!

    MUCH tastier, but pricier is a white chocolate based fondant called Choco-pan. Tastes good and stays soft.

    Another brand called Baker’s is cheap and soft and very easy to work with. They make a great dark chocolate fondant. The white is pretty flavorless.

    Fondant plus water= goo. Ever had a cherry cordial at Christmas? The center is a maraschino cherry wrapped in regular ol fondant. Over time the liquid in the cherry dissolves the fondant into sticky sugary syrup. A light brushing wont destroy it (like for sticking on cupcakes) but keep in mind too much moisture will be bad. Alcohol however is totally fine. You could dunk fondant in alcohol to no ill effect. So for painting on fondant, dilute a gel food coloring or powdered with alcohol or an extract of some kind. Industry standard is lemon extract…no clue why. It smells good?

    Humidity is fine with fondant. I live in the most humid parts of the South and do fine. Fridges however can be bad. If you know what you’re doing you can refrigerate a fondant covered cake/ cupcakes, but you know how you take a can of coke out the fridge and it sweats after a bit? So does fondant. That sweat is water and water will make it tacky and gummy so proceed with caution. If left exposed to dry, the condensation will go away and you should be fine. That said, I refrigerate mine all the time.

    If you use a better quality fondant, you wont have it get hard on you in any amount of reasonable time (I mean like DAYS) Cheap fondants dry out fast. To slow this, knead in some shortening into the fondant. Makes it more pliable and will be softer longer. Fondant is easily microwaved in 10 second bursts to make softer to work with, but dont cook it! Another trick for pretty fondant for dark colors is to rub a drop of shortening over the finished fondant. It’ll even out and make the color pop.

    The easiest and best bet for fondant I’ve seen and I use all the time now though is to make your own. Its beyond easy and tastes great. It stays soft fairly indefinitely too. Get a bag of mini marshmallows. Dump in a bowl and add 3 tbsp or so of water and nuke in the microwave stirring every 30 seconds til its fully melted. Dump the better part of a 2lb bag of powdered sugar in the bowl and stir til it starts to come together. It’ll look pretty rough, but once its starting to clump together, Grease up your hands generously with shortening and start to mush and knead til its evenly incorporated. Regrease your hands as things start to stick. Get it to the consistency of fresh playdoh and store leftovers in a ziploc bag. You can add flavorings, vanilla…you name it.

    Haha I think I covered everything I can think of about fondant!

    Reply
  7. Jessica

    Fondant always looks so nice and tastes so bad. The same goes for Royal Icing, though I LOVE eating gold dragees. Yum yum yum…

    Reply

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