Chocolate curls, ruffles, and leaves are impressive and decadent-seeming decorations. Chocolate curls can be made with a vegetable peeler by simply shaving off pieces from a large chocolate block. Warm the chocolate slightly by rubbing the palm of your hand over the surface a few times. (For best results, use a thick baker's block of chocolate, not a thin candy bar-sized one.)
For large curls and ruffles, spread melted chocolate in a thin layer over a marble slab or the back of a clean baking sheet. Let the chocolate cool until set but not completely hard, and then scrape using a knife, spoon, or spatula (a clean 4-inch putty knife from a hardware store works well) depending on the size and the shape of the curl/ruffle you want. Experiment!
These chocolate confections can be piled high, artfully scattered, or precisely placed on a cake. To make chocolate leaves:
- Carefully brush melted chocolate onto a non-toxic leaf such as a rose leaf.
- Cool until chocolate has fully hardened, and gently peel off the natural leaf from the chocolate one.
- For advanced bakers, tempering the chocolate before painting the leaves will make them firmer and more stable.
Flowers and Figures
Marzipan can be shaped into animals, fruits, vegetables, flowers--any fanciful shape. Because it can easily be colored with food coloring pastes, marzipan is a favorite for shaping carrots for carrot cakes and other whimsical garnishes. Dry food coloring or luster dusts can be dusted on the finished shapes for extra shading and shine.
Rolled fondant can be cut into flower shapes or molded, although it is not as flexible as marzipan or plastic chocolate. Plastic chocolate--white and dark--makes beautiful roses and leaves, but is not easy to tint. Brush with luster dust (available at cake decorating and specialty shops) for a subtle blush of color. Gum paste and pastillage are other decorative sugar doughs used by professional cake decorators; while "edible," these decorations are best for admiring, not nibbling.
All decorative doughs should be kept tightly wrapped in plastic to avoid cracking and drying out.
For piped frosting decorations, practice makes perfect! If you're new to cake decorating, buy a set of inexpensive decorating tips from a craft store or supermarket and a can of smooth icing. Use a flat dinner plate or a cookie sheet to practice piping "Happy Birthday" or your desired message. (Script may be easier for beginners than printing.) Play around with star tips to create rosettes and decorative borders; use plain tips for scribing messages or piping pearls. If this is something you enjoy, you may wish to move on to roses, daisies and other more challenging designs.
For string work, lacy Cornelli designs, and other very fine piping work, you will need a smaller opening than commercial decorating tips provide. Pastry chefs make their own parchment paper cones for piping tempered chocolate and royal icing in hair-fine strands. You can try fine piping by using a disposable plastic pastry bag and cutting the smallest opening you can.
1. This recipe made enough frosting to spread on one dozen cupcakes. If you'd like to pipe the frosting on your cupcakes, double the recipe.
Tangy Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar (add the larger amount of sugar for a stiffer consistency)
Pinch of salt
2. Before you begin, you want your ingredients to be at cool room temperature--not refrigerator-cold, but not soft enough to spread on toast.
- If the cream cheese and butter are too cold, they'll be too firm to mix easily; if they're too warm, your frosting will be very soft and may be difficult to use.
- Start by beating the cream cheese until smooth.
- You can also use a food processor to make frosting instead of an electric mixer.
3. Add the butter and beat to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and the pinch of salt. Ingredients such as powdered sugar and cocoa powder should be sifted before you add them to the mixing bowl. While you can often beat out any lumps with vigorous mixing, you might still end up with a few--which will be especially problematic if you're using the frosting to pipe decorations on a cake.
5. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
6. Your frosting is now ready to use--it's as easy as that! If you need to refrigerate it before using, bring it back up to room temperature, return it to the mixer, and beat it for a minute or so for the best consistency.
7. For tips on how to frost cupcakes and cakes, see our other articles.
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup shortening
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
- 2 pounds confectioners' sugar
- In a large bowl, stir together the shortening and corn syrup. Mix in the salt and vanilla flavoring, then gradually mix in the confectioners' sugar until it is a stiff dough. If you are using a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment. Otherwise, knead by hand. If the dough is sticky, knead in more confectioners' sugar until it is smooth. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
- To use, roll out on a clean surface that has been dusted with confectioners' sugar until it is 1/8 inch thick or thinner if you can. Drape over frosted and chilled cakes and smooth the sides down, or cut into strips to make bows and other decorations.