Strawberry season in Ontario starts in mid June and lasts until the end of August. So now’s the time to get those flavourful fruits from your local farmer’s market, neighbours. Strawberries and vanilla are a classic combination that pleases many palates.
Easy vanilla and strawberry cupcakes
Sometimes simplicity is best when it comes to baking and it doesn’t get easier than vanilla cupcakes and fresh strawberries. For my brother’s birthday in late August, I topped vanilla cupcakes with strawberry vanilla buttercream icing and a fresh strawberry.
Strawberry juice = natural food colouring
I used Wilton’s buttercream icing recipe and then tinted and flavoured it naturally by using strawberry juice. Using mashed, overripe strawberries, I strained the solids in order to keep seeds and pulpy bits out of the mix and mixed in the juice until I was happy with the colour and consistency.
Pipe a swirl
Then I fitted a piping bag with a medium-sized star tip and filled it with strawberry buttercream. I piped the buttercream in a circular motion, starting from the outer edges to the center and ended up with a swirl.
Fresh strawberries for cupcake toppers
To finish it off, I washed and sliced fresh strawberries in half lengthwise and topped each cupcake with a strawberry slice.
The finishing touch
Simple, delicious, requires no fuss. A little paper doily fancies things up a bit. How do you think it looks?
Go Portugal! cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo
I made this cake on a whim for Father’s Day last year. I baked it, cooled it, filled it, stacked it, frosted it and decorated it in a few hours. And I was only just a little late for a family gathering. But no one minds if you’re late when you show up with cake. No one who wants to enjoy that cake, anyway. 🙂
It’s a triple-layered white butter cake with vanilla buttercream icing. I topped it with a fondant Portugal flag in honour of Father’s Day 2012, when my family got together and watched a Portugal vs. Holland soccer match. It must’ve done the trick because Portugal won that game. Better yet, Papa Melo was very impressed with the cake.
Here, I’ll reveal how I created that fondant flag. You didn’t think I winged it, did you? I can’t draw worth Jack.
How to make a fondant flag
1. Google “Portugal flag”. Find a graphic one that’s about the right size for your cake. Tip: Use your web browser’s zoom function to quickly find the best sizing for your cake (check the View or Window menus).
2. Place parchment paper on your screen. Trace the flag elements onto the parchment paper using a pencil. You could print the page you’ll use for a template but personally, I like how the glow of the monitor clearly illuminates outlines for tracing — plus, this method saves paper and ink.
3. Work in layers. For example, the outline of the flag is layer 1, the round emblem is layer 2, the shield is layer 3, the smaller shield is layer 4 and so on. I freehanded the smallest shapes because, really, this cake was for a casual affair — let’s not get crazy with the tracing, people.
Parchment paper templates for a Portugal flag. Photo by Jennifer Melo
4. Tint your fondant using food colouring. I didn’t have food-safe gloves so to keep from staining my hands, I kneaded the fondant and food colouring in a plastic food-safe bag (ahem, Zip-loc!).
I wanted rich, vibrant colour so I used just about all of my red food colouring to get the red colour you see in the photo. The colour would’ve deepened more if I left it to sit overnight but whims and preparation don’t get along. I like to improvise every now and then.
5. Roll out your fondant, place the templates over top and cut your shapes per the templates. Round cookie cutters will help you to cut neat round shapes and a knife helps to cut irregular shapes, with the guidance of your parchment paper templates. Use a light touch when holding your parchment paper in place to avoid denting the smooth fondant’s surface.
6. Piece, stack and stick your fondant shapes together with water and before you know, you have a decent-looking flag.
Go Portugal, go!
I went to Homesense in search of bar stools the other day but instead of coming home with seating, I returned with a few extra baking supplies. My favourite find is these FoodWriter edible food colour markers from Wilton ($10).
Green, blue, red, black and yellow food colouring markers. Photo by Jennifer Melo
My piping technique sucks but I have plenty of practise with markers after years of colouring pages with my nieces. So food colouring markers are genius inventions for novice cookie decorators like me.
Food colouring marker tip is fine at the end for details and thick on the sides for shading. Photo by Jennifer Melo
Although these markers are of the bold tip variety, the tip’s not so bold that you can’t use it to draw some detail work. Here’s a shot of the packaging in case you want to find it in stores.
FoodWriter edible colour markers packaging. Photo by Jennifer Melo
I couldn’t wait to try using these markers and I had just the baking project coming up to put these bad boys to use. I soon discovered that cute Easter bunny cookies are adorable when I can draw, rather than pipe, a face.