So, as I said in the last post, we were recently hired by my mother to supply baked goods for my sister’s baby shower. We decided to make the cupcakes in the style of baby bluebirds in nests. We got the idea from Martha Stewart’s cupcake book, although we modified it greatly. We not only had to veganize the recipes for the cake and the frosting, we also chose to make the cake almond flavored, the initial layer of buttercream a rich dark chocolate, and the bluebirds out of sweet vanilla buttercream and almond-flavored royal icing. So, first things first. We made the cake:
So we started with our usual vanilla cake recipe. But, instead of adding the regular amount of vanilla, we substituted 1/2 tsp. vanilla and two tsp. almond extract. The almond we use is very subtle, all-natural extract. If you are going to use an artificial almond extract, you could get away with one tsp. almond per dozen cupcakes.
Next, we mixed up a batch of classic chocolate buttercream frosting, and roughly iced the tops of the cupcakes using an offset spatula. Then, before the icing set, we heaped lots of toasted sweetened coconut onto each cupcake. We normally prefer to bake with unsweetened coconut, but the look of these nests requires long shreds of brown coconut. Here’s Jason applying the coconut.
So, the “nests” were now built. We decided to fill them with not just baby birds, but also some little marzipan eggs. Using a chocolate mold in the shape of little eggs, I shaped blue-dyed marzipan into little eggs. I then speckled each egg with a little more gel color (we used Americolor Sky Blue), to make them look like robins’ eggs. Since the marzipan has a yellow tint, the eggs ended up coming out a little turquoise. It wasn’t what we were planning, but they still looked cute.
I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with marzipan, but it’s tricky. You see people use it on television or whatever, and they just pick it up, knead it, and shape it into whatever they want. It’s supposed to be like edible Play-Doh. Well, if your marzipan is slightly old (as was ours, unbeknownst to us), it gets all dry and crumbly and doesn’t want to work at all. So, after some Googling, I found out that, if I added a little hot water to the marzipan, I could soften it up. It took a while, but it ended up working. So then I had to dye it. Lets just say that my hands looked like this for days.
So, next we had the birds. I knew that this was going to be a little more challenging/time-consuming. But oh man, I had no idea how right I’d end up being. The first step was to make little yellow beaks out of royal icing. So, we mixed up a batch of royal icing with almond extract in place of water, and I used a small leaf tip to pipe literally hundreds of little yellow beaks onto parchment. I am no wizard with a pastry bag anyway, and basically anything harder than using a jumbo tip to decorate cupcakes is beyond me. So it took me a long time to get the hang of piping with a leaf tip. The good thing about making hundreds of anything, however, is that you get better and better the longer you practice. I intentionally made the icing a little on the runny side, so that I wouldn’t have perfect leaf shapes with a vein and everything, but instead have something vaguely teardrop-shaped.
This was the beginning of my piping attempts. I promise you they got (ever so slightly) better by the end. Anyway, the next step in the (now seemingly endless) process of making these cupcakes was to pipe the birds. Basically, I just made three little round blobs of blue icing in the center of each cupcake to make heads. Then, I inserted two beak-pieces sticking straight up out of each bird head. The last step was to draw two little eyes on each bird with black gel color and a toothpick. Here is the final result.
This was a very educational process, and we were pretty happy with the end results. There was a lot of stress involved, and I think in the future it would probably be wise to not get too ambitious when baking for a job. We certainly would have had more fun doing something that was, while impressive, still within our comfort zone. But, we are learning every day as we start this business.
Oh, and I didn’t mention the cookies! I’ll save it for another post. Someday, when I am really feeling full of myself, I’ll post about the cookies just to knock me back down a peg or two. In a word, the cookies were a disaster. Who knew it took so long for painted-on gel color to dry on royal icing. Well, not us. We got some results that I’m sure I’ll be able to laugh about one day. Today is not that day.
Feeling humble and slightly wiser,