Pretty Bakes Blog

Cake decorating basics for pretty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats

Hand-painted leopard print on a fondant cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

My eldest niece recently turned 14 and I wanted to give her a cake that was super cool, like her. I was thrilled to discover the joy of hand-painting a cake and now I think I’m hooked. I never developed much skill with a paintbrush since the days of kindergarten so I was surprised to find how easily I achieved a pretty design. Yay! And for this particular cake, painting was faster decorating technique than making fondant decorations. Double yay!

I really couldn’t have done this without this YouTube video How To Hand-Paint Leopard Print On a Cake. Subscribe to Laura’s channel and give her video a thumbs up if you, too, find it helpful and inspirational.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Here’s how to paint leopard print on fondant:

  • In separate shallow bowls, dilute black and brown food colouring with vodka. Nope, you won’t have a bunch of drunk kids at the party — the alcohol evaporates by the time the food colouring dries.
  • With a brush, paint a small brown oval onto your cake.
  • Use another brush to outline the brown spots with some black food colouring. I used the brush with the widest bristles in my Wilton brush set. You can paint all around the brown spot with an O shape. You can paint ¾ of the way around the brown spot to make a C shape. And you can paint two disconnected arches to form brackets/parentheses around the spot.
  • For an imperfectly perfect leopard print, mix up your spot sizes (small, medium, large) and use short, tapping/dabbing motions for fuzzy, ragged edges. Fill in sparse areas with black spots.

Can’t quite picture what I mean? Here’s a gif to show you the way.

painted-leopard-spot-gif

 

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I wrapped my gift box cake with a fondant ribbon and bow, added a fondant gift tag after writing my niece’s name on it with a black food-colouring pen and ta da! We’re done.

What do you think of my leopard-print cake?

How to make macarons: 10 tips and warnings

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I did it! I made pretty and yummy macarons. Yay, me! Now it’s your turn.

To avoid the same macaron-making errors I experienced, follow these 10 tips.

1. Master batter consistency

The single most important tip, in my opinion, is to get the right batter consistency for macarons.

When you’re done folding the mixture, thick ribbons should fall from your spatula. And when the batter drops back into the bowl, it should expand and move a bit.

Fold until everything is well-incorporated, flatten some air out by pushing the batter against the side of the bowl. When the batter is smooth and shiny (30-50 folds) stop folding.

Keep too much air in the batter and you’ll get hollow macarons. Over-mix and let all the air out of the batter and you’ll have flat macarons. Don’t overmix and don’t undermix.

2. Dry your macarons before baking

Some say you should never make macarons on a rainy day.  That’s because humidity can really make a difference. And during a humid summer day, I suggest using your air conditioner to make your environment drier.

Rather than rely on the drying time specified in the recipe, use your eyes and the touch test to determine when the macarons are ready to go into the oven. You should see a thin skin formed on the macarons. This could take 15 mins to one hour depending on humidity and your batter consistency.

Use the touch test to determine when you’re ready to put the macarons in the oven: When you lightly touch a macaron, your finger should show no signs of batter sticking to it.

3. Use food colour wisely

Macarons go pale when cooked. So when you’re folding your mixture, make the shade one or two drops/shades darker than your desired outcome.

4. Bake one sheet at a time

If you’ve figured out a way to bake macarons evenly with two sheets baking at a time, that’s great. I haven’t. So please share your secrets.

5. Sift your flour

Take the time to sift your almond flour and sugar. It’s key to getting a silky smooth cookie surface. Discard or reuse the lumpy almond bits in another recipe.

6. Use room-temperature eggs

Crack and separate your eggs about an hour before you plan to bake and you’ll have room temp egg whites ready when you need them. They’ll whip up and increase in volume faster than chilled egg whites. Save the yolks for tomorrow’s omelette.

7. Tap your trays

Release those air bubbles, prevent cracked macarons and help the batter settle into a smooth shape by tapping your trays on a counter, hard, a few times. Do that immediately after piping. Three to five taps per edge should do it.

8. Pipe it right

I found the best technique for me is to hold the piping bag at a 90-to 95-degree angle to the cookie sheet. Start with your tip in the middle of where you’d like to place a macaron, squeeze your piping bag until you’ve piped to the right size you’d like, gently release pressure and a make a little swirl to detach the tip from the batter and minimize a peaked top.

9. Watch it like a hawk

To encourage even cooking, avoid opening and closing the oven door. Remove the macarons just before they brown.

10. Research

Read several macaron recipes from various sources and pay close attention to common tips and techniques. Watch YouTube videos, like this one:

And pay close attention to piping technique, folding technique and batter consistency.

For me, the fifth’s time a charm. But with each failed attempt, I learned something new and was able to correct a few things. Ready to make your own macarons? You can do it! If you give ‘em a try, please let me know how your they turned out. I’d love to hear how you fared.

Macaron success at last

macarons - pink and white

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I did it! I did it! I did it! Yah!

I finally mastered macarons. I suspect the magic was in the macaronnage (that’s the fancy term for batter-folding.) I stuck to Martha’s French macaron recipe and paid close attention to how I mixed the batter.

It’s all in the macaronnage

The technique that worked well for me was to actually count to about 45 passes. That’s how many times I scraped the bowl around the sides and pushed the spatula down the middle to flatten out excess air in the batter.

You go all the way around the bowl and then scrape down the center to press the batter against the side of the bowl. Got it?

When to stop folding

Now stop folding when the batter gets shiny and oozes out to the sides when you pick up a blob of it with your spatula and plop it back into the bowl. You like those technical terms, don’t ya?  ;)

Here’s a wee video clip to show you my macaron success tips.

Macaron-making lessons in every failed batch

Even though I was mad as a wet hen frustrated, each of my failed attempts at making macarons taught me valuable lessons about the sweet little almond cookies. They’re tasty and temperamental. They’re so tasty, in fact, that I’m bound to make them again and again.

It just so happened that my youngest niece had a baptism party so I brought my pretty pink and white macarons to the party. They didn’t last very long, though.

Here’s what they looked like inside.

cooked macaron

Photo by Jennifer Melo

This song pretty much sums up how I feel about this accomplishment.

 


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