Barnyard animal cupcakes. April 2008. Photo by Jennifer Melo
My niece Lauren’s birthday was a fine time to try some cute barnyard animals. My favourite cake-decorating book Cake Art made it easy with step-by-step instructions and photos.
I struggled with proportions, but I was quite happy with how my barnyard animal cupcakes turned out.
I must say, though, they were time-consuming. I couldn’t manage doing more than a few but that was fine because a few is all I needed to decorate plates of cupcakes.
Fondant is like play dough
This project was really fun. It’s kind of like playing with play dough but you have to work with fondant quickly before it dries out and any moisture will make fondant sticky so it’s wise to keep cornstarch or icing sugar on hand to dust your hands and your work surface.
I hadn’t learned how to make black fondant yet so I used black licorice and it was tricky and tough to work with. See the crazy eyes on that pig? I cut small pieces of black licorice and stuck it to the fondant with water.
Illustrations in Cake Art make it easy to shape and assemble your barnyard animals. Photo by Jennifer Melo
And this is how the pros do it. Photo by Jennifer Melo
Lauren and her party guests loved these cupcakes.
I think my cow’s pretty cute, but the rabbit’s my favourite. Which one’s your favourite?
Lavender cake and cupcakes. Photo by Jennifer Melo
Nelia’s 40th birthday cake
For my sister’s 40th birthday, cake AND cupcakes would mark the occasion. A vanilla sponge cake is covered in white fondant and I used flower cookie cutters to make the flowers and leaves.
Nel’s favourite colour is purple. I used purple icing gel to pipe the letters and rather than pipe a border on the cake with my shaky, inexperienced piping hands, I stuck on small fondant flowers all around like a garland.
I bought the flowers and leaves cookie cutters at Golda’s Kitchen and I love them. I’ve found many uses for them over the years.
The vanilla cupcakes are topped with vanilla buttercream and fondant decorations.
Why is it that the simplest cakes in design tend to be the most aggravating when you’re cake decorating?
My eldest niece turned 13 in January (tears!) and because she’s now an official teenager, I didn’t want to make a cake that was too childlike for her liking.
With “purple” as my only guidance, I decided to keep things ultra simple, girly, and pretty. Stripes in varying shades of purple seemed like a good idea. Ombré, it would be.
Even though I thought this cake would be an easy one to decorate, it turned out to be hella tricky.
Purple ombre cake, unstacked. Photo by Jennifer Melo
Stripe cake challenges
- Rolling long pieces of fondant, in varying shades, to a consistent thickness for each stripe is challenging. Thick and thin strips stacked next to each other would make for a lumpy appearance so you want to roll to a consistent thickness.
- Cutting long, even pieces, without leaving ruler impressions in the fondant proves to be a problem for me.
- Handling the fondant strips without stretching, misshaping or tearing them was a real challenge. Maybe I should’ve rolled them up loosely while moving them from the counter to the cake. I used a pizza cutter and a ruler to cut individual fondant strips but when I lifted them and tried to place them on the sides of the cake, some of the strips tore. Grr!
The top tier was much easier to manage because the strips didn’t have to be quite so long. The shorter the strip, the easier it is to handle.
To make the varying shades of fondant, I started with a piece of purple fondant and kept adding more white fondant to it for each level or stripe I rolled and cut.
Starting at the base of the cake, I gently applied a strip of fondant to the cake and wrapped each strip so its joints aligned at the back of the cake, hidden from view.
The hard part’s not over yet
Your cake needs to be quite level or you’ll have to cut irregular pieces when you reach the top.
Cakes are imperfect by nature so the straight, exact lines of stripes can be unforgiving, highlighting every imperfection.
A ruler and a tape measure are your friends. Your cake pans reveal your cake’s circumference but in case of expansion or shrinking while baking and cooling cakes, measure your cake’s circumference before you cut your fondant strips.
Carefully measure each strip’s length and width. When you reach the space of the topmost band of fondant, where it’ll meet the cake’s surface, measure the space left all around. You’ll really see how level your cake is now. Remember, it’s better to have a wider band you can trim to size than not enough height. I opted to leave a bit of overhang on one side to keep the uppermost strip looking even.
Top tier of the purple ombre cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo
2. Apply a light crumb coat
Go easy on the buttercream when you apply a crumb coat. Too much icing will ooze out between the layers of strips.
3. Don’t rush
It’s best to approach this project when you’ve got some energy, patience and plenty of time.
4. Don’t dawdle
Don’t take too long either. Your fondant strips will dry out and be more susceptible to rips and cracks once exposed to air, so keep on moving once you’ve started rolling fondant of varying shades.
Purple ombre cake, stacked. Photo by Suzy Melo
Once I stacked the cakes, I noticed the top tier shifted and leaned to the left. I was able to correct it a bit by pushing it with a fondant smoother. But I didn’t want to shift the strips and risk unsticking them (see the bulges I made by pushing the cake?) so I left things imperfect rather than fussing too much.