Bear-y Little ThingsPosted: January 24, 2010
One of the things I was most awed and inspired by when looking at pictures of other people’s cakes are their fondant decorations. I still am. I sometimes can’t even fathom how they manage to make such great details on such little things. It must require a great deal of patience and really steady, dainty hands.
Once upon a time, I considered cakes covered in fondant the pinnacle of cake decorating difficulty, and the gum paste figurine toppers were at another level that I probably shouldn’t even think about. However, since covering a few cakes with fondant myself and playing around with the fun sugar dough, I had been itching to try modeling gum paste.
Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream.
So this week I’ve been playing with gum paste. I tried my hand at some teddy bears I saw in a Maisie Parrish book but as they dried, they drooped. Pretty soon I ended up with six bears that looked like they had back problems. I even accidentally dismembered one whilst trying to straighten its back! They had lopsided faces and my mother thought they resembled monkeys more than bears. They were still cute but in a “bad back bears need love too” way (as my friend Esther said).
Not dissuaded yet, I decided to try human figurines. I had given myself a pep talk in my head, rationalizing that it couldn’t be that hard. Ohhhhh I was WRONG. This time I followed the directions of Debbie Brown, the queen of adorable fondant cakes. They were pretty easy to assemble but I had the most problem with their limbs, especially because Miss Brown talks about sculpting their legs to have ankles, knees, foot arches and even shapely calves! For a person who had never attempted to make gum paste figurines before, it was tough. For a person who had never attempted gum paste figurines and has huge, clunky hands, it was near impossible. The limbs I speak of are half the size of my pinky. But I trudged onward stubbornly and produced four pixies. They wouldn’t look too bad in a room with dim lighting.
The bald pixies at the back were my hilarious attempt. I have yet to pipe their hair on, but I’m sure they’ll look better with some hair.
The first thing I realized was I could follow books for ideas but their gum paste figurines would never look like mine. It’s just like how I could attempt to draw Bugs Bunny but he wouldn’t really look exactly like the Bugs Bunny we all know and recognize as Bugs Bunny. My bears hadn’t looked like the ones Maisie Parrish had in her book and my pixies definitely didn’t look as dainty as the ones Debbie Brown had sculpted.
I had a think about it and decided I really liked the idea of adorable teddy bears. Bears that looked like they had been stitched by hand and represented cuddly warmth and evoked childhood memories. With a rough image in mind, I sat down and started sculpting these bears. I already had a rough idea of how to model the gum paste to look like bears from my first attempt (and Maisie Parrish’s detailed description), but I wasn’t going to weigh their limbs meticulously like I had initially. I was just going to wing it and I’d get a teddy bear somehow.
Freestyle teddy bears.
It turned out to be the best things I modeled out of gum paste of the three times I sat down to sculpt some figurines out. They were aww-inducing bears. I didn’t think they were impossible to make. I had so much fun making little bear limbs, indenting their feet so it looked like they had toes, and making little cups out of their paws. I made eight bears in two different shades of brown and none of them looked identical to the other. But they were all adorable as hell.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them (save them? but for what occasion?) so I decided to test out a chocolate cupcake recipe from the Martha Stewart Holiday Sweets magazine I had bought. Her cupcakes looked so good, but I’m of the opine that Martha Stewart cannot make a bad looking treat. I adore her publications because she always makes the most breathtaking desserts. I have her book of wedding cakes and I love flipping through it for inspiration and as a motivator to keep moving forward with my cake decorating skills to get to that level of mastery required to make the cakes pictured in that book.
Anyway, I digress. The cupcake recipe didn’t require butter but vegetable oil instead. It made for a really sticky batter and I had a little trouble when I was spooning them into the paper cups because they’d run down the sides, leaving them a little stained. I left them thinking that the cakes would rise and hide them but sadly, it didn’t rise all the way to the top of the mould so I had to deal with some eyesore streaks.
For the buttercream, I decided to test out the French buttercream. It requires the pâté à bombe method and I had a lot of fun with that (mostly because I recently acquired an infrared thermometer and well, what’s more fun than making use of ultra-cool kitchen gadgets?!). The pâté à bombe requires the whipping of egg yolks and pouring hot syrup (boiled until the soft ball stage) onto the lightly whipped egg yolks until they swelled up and transformed into a gorgeous, fluffy, silken batter.
It was one of the yummiest tasting buttercreams I’ve had in a long, long time and the texture of it was just so beautiful! It was soft and yet it had enough stiffness to it that it was easily piped. I think I’ve found my dream buttercream. Never again will I whip up a batch of buttercream using butter and icing sugar and some vanilla extract. Those are always limp and messy and impossible to handle in humidity. I hate those!
I used the open star tip on these cupcakes and I think I’ve found my favourite piping tip. These were a dream to handle and so easy! Just squeeze and release and you get a decent looking mound of buttercream on top and you don’t end up with a sickening amount of buttercream to eat your way through. I really detest cupcakes that are about 40% cupcake and 60% icing because they always end up being so tooth-achingly sweet that I have to scrape some off to truly enjoy the cupcake. It seems like such a waste to do that (and probably not economical for the vendor if they have to use so much per cupcake).
The only issues I had with this tip was, I really had to burp my bags after each refill. I’d get such ugly mounds if I didn’t and it really ruins the neat lines of the star tip. It’d also look a little wavy if I was hesitant. Note to self (and everyone): always wield a piping bag with confidence or it will definitely show.
Check out the slight wavy lines of the frosting with the confetti-sprinkles on them. Hesitation made that happen.
I ended up delivering some cupcakes to my aunt’s grandchildren and handing them out to a few of my girlfriends. They cooed at the teddy bears as expected and apparently everyone wants to save the bears, not eat them! I reckon they should because they’re chocolate flavoured gum paste and those are delicious.
I’d just like to point out that I drew Asian-like slanty eyes on this bear so he can be Asian bear. I figured I needed representing, somewhere in my creations! (Whoops just noticed I hadn’t dusted the icing sugar off properly)
Ps. Special thank you to my gorgeous friend Tina who helped me fix up my banner so the colours look a million times better. I am a mess with Photoshop and she so generously volunteered her services (actually, she said, “Your banner’s colours are bothering me. Can I please fix them for you?” to which I had replied, “I was waiting for someone to volunteer!”).