The Little Mermaid Cake

Finally, 3 posts later, here are the finished cupcakes and cakes. It will be just photos and photos and photos since I think I’ve covered all ramblings in earlier posts:

In Pursuit of THE vanilla Cake

Battle of the frostings

The Making of Ariel

Happy 5th Birthday Darling Aleesya Daania!

 

William Sonoma’s Vanilla cake with Strawberry buttercream
Cakes:
9″ cake – RLB’s White Velvet Vanilla Cake with Chocolate strawberry ganache. Decorated with fondant & gumpaste toppers.
Cupcakes – William Sonoma’s Vanilla cake with Strawberry buttercream. Decorated with fondant cutouts and gumspaste miniature toppers.

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The making of Ariel, The Little Mermaid

So I guess this is Part III of my DD’s project, the gumpaste figurine making. (Read Part I & Part II for a little background, if you wish).

Since I’m making cakes for 2 different celebration, I had to make 2 sets of all the main characters in the movie, The Little Mermaid. The set for the cupcakes would be mini-figurines, and the set for the 9″cake would be bigger. I also had to think of different setup for each set, and other decoration for the rest of the cupcakes, and setup for the other cake. Each 80 cupcakes will have their own topper, and the main characters from this movie I’m making are only .. 4? The rest would be undersea things I could think of. Finished cakes will be another post. Here, I just wanted to share the making of Ariel..and some fondant/gumpaste tips.

Preparation

First, prepare the gumpaste, let it rest for 24hours before using. Knead it well after that resting period. The longer you let it rest, the more kneading you’ll have to do to make it more pliable. A trick is to defrost it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time, no longer. You can always repeat as necessary. The heat will make it easier to knead. Figure out how many colors you will need, and divide the gumpaste accordingly.  Next, color all the gumpaste portions. This process is easier done at one seating. The coloring process, I call it. You’ll clean up the mess at one go, and saves time by preparing all the colors before you actually start with the molding. For me, it is quite messy, as I had two little helpers, each wants a portion to color with!

After the coloring process, you may proceed with molding. It is easier to do it right away since the dough will be soft from all the kneading. But you can always store it and mold it much later like I do. Just remember to knead it well before you mold it into shapes. Heat from your hand will be enough if it is a small portion.

Storage tip

ALWAYS keep each portion individually wrapped in saran wrap, and then covered in ziploc (squeeze the air out first before sealing!) and an airtight container while you work. I always get interrupted when I’m molding, and it could be as frequent as every 5 minutes.  With this method of storage, I keep all the gumpaste fresh and pliable. Keep an extra saran wrap ready and handy at the side to quickly cover work surface & half finished figurines.

Before you begin, prepare your working surface, lay out all tools and have that container of gumpaste nearby. Also, rub a little shortening on your work surface, and your hands to keep it from sticking. A little goes a long way. I don’t use cornstach or icing sugar for dusting, shortening works fine for me. You may also want to prepare the drying surface/container now.

The making of Ariel

Step 1: Making the head

Roll a small ball to form the head. Size depends on you. Choose the smoothest surface for the face area. The rest will be covered by hair anyway.

Gently pinch the nose out, and form the eye sockets, forehead, and cheekbones. Just let your creativity and your hands take over. Rub gently to smooth out any areas, and if you made a mistake, simply rub it away and form it again. Next, shape the jawline, and chin. Dont forget the mouth – you may trace this with your tool and draw/paint the lips later. once the head is done, make sure it looks real enough. Handle with care, as any pressure may deform the head and you’ll end up with an egghead! Rest the head by the base – the place where you’ll put the neck on, at an angle so that the jaw is jutting out. Or your head will have square jawlines.

 

 

Step 2 – Making the torso

Roll a proportionate amount of gumpaste into a teardrop shape. Flatten out the small end and smooth it out to form the waist. The thicker part will be the shoulders and chest, so shape that into what resembles a person’s shoulders. Make sure they are not too rounded though, or you’ll have a chubby looking Ariel due to the rounded shoulders. Lay it flat on your surface to further smooth it out. Gently form the chest. These will be covered with the seashells bikini top, so you need not make it too real. A gentle peak will do.

Next, take a small amount of gumpaste for the bikini top and roll it into a string. Try and put the string around the chest to gauge the length. Make a mark down the middle, and gently flatten out the part on either side to form the bikini cups. Using a rounded tool helps to make uniform cups, but using your fingers will also do just fine. Shape these into a shell looking bikini top, and let ‘Ariel’ try it on for fit, and adjust from there. Once you’ve got it, fix it to the torso with some gum glue or water, and leave it to dry.

Step 3 – Making the arms

Roll 2 same sized balls – keep your proportion right. It is easier to measure the arms when they are still ‘ball’ sized, compared to measuring finished arms side by side. With the same sized balls, you’ll definitely have the same amount of gumspaste to make the similar sized arms. Same goes if you’re doing legs.

Take a ball, roll it out on your palm, with one end narrower than the other. Make a mark for the inside of the elbows, and bend the arm to whatever pose you want. Shape the wrist and hand.

Step 4: Assemble the body, arms, torso

When all parts are half dry and can hold their shape, you may begin to assemble, starting with the head. You can stick the head to the torso, or you can roll a little gumspaste for its neck. Use gum glue to stick the parts, for water is not enough for these heavy parts. You may also use a tiny toothpick (cut it down!) for extra support, but make sure the recipient of the cake is aware of this choking hazard.

Once everything is attached, lay it down on a piece of foam, or sponge to dry thoroughly. Prop up any limbs with cottons or tissues. Caution: When you let it dry in the lying down pose, the back WILL flatten out. It doesn’t really matter as they will be covered by Ariel’s long locks. But if you are making other figurines that have their back exposed, you do have to let them dry in the upright position.

Step 5: Making the Mermaid’s tail

I totally forgot to snap any pics for this part, but basically, you roll a dough into an elongated teardrop shape proportionate to the torso. Then, depending on the pose you want, you may bent it, or just have it straight. You may also draw traces of scales down her tails. Something like this…

of course DD wants to make her own Ariel!

 Step 6: Making the hair

Roll out pieces of gumspaste for the hair. The thinner it is, the lighter it will be and won’t weigh down on the head/torso. It is also easier to manage, and you can layer the hair for an even more realistic look. Chunks of dough for the hair is not good- DD did this and it totally weigh the whole body down. Glue the hair to the head like so…(make sure the head is dry first)

DD hard at work

 sorry, forgot to snap photos again!

I guess that’s all there is to it to make Ariel..Just make sure everything is dry before assembling the torso to the tail (also depends on the pose). And then let it dry some more. Make sure it is covered from dusts, etc, as it will be on a cake.

Now, lets take a peek at Ariel’s gang…

Miniature Ariel, Flounder, Sebastian

Miniature Scuttle

 

I didn’t do the facial features yet as I planned to draw it on using some royal icing. But I would say using fondant is much easier and nicer looking. I totally blotched the features using the royal icing.. grr… These are all toppers for the cuppies, didn’t take any photos for the bigger cake or any other toppers. *sigh* I do forget myself when I’m in the midst of a project like this!

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Battle of the Frostings

 

I’ve found THE vanilla cake..what now?

So I’ve found my go-to vanilla cake for my DD’s birthday project. Next would be to find the frosting that goes with it. I had a couple of conditions to consider, and if you are like me and baking for your kid’s party at school, you may face the same situation. I had planned for cupcakes frosted with buttercream and then topped with fondant and gumpaste decorations. Sounds a platefull. 

The cupcakes would be baked and decorated the evening before the day of the party, celebration would be midday, sometime before noon. So there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1-decorations should withstand the humidity and heat for all those long hours, and still look pretty at the time of celebration. In our heat and humidity, buttercream will wilt if left on the counter for long hours, and hardens and needs to be defrosted if refrigerated. Once defrosted, they will condense and form beads of moisture. All this moisture is not good for the fondant/gumpaste toppers.

2-if mixing fondant/gumpaste decoration with buttercream, the fondant should be put on the buttercream layer at the last possible minute. Why? Because the fondant will absorb some of the moisture from the cream, not to mention the environment, and they will wilt.

3-if decorating with 100% fondant/gumpaste – you will not have the above issues to worry about. You can just finish the cake the night before and hit the sack. BUT, these will be eaten by kids, and gumpaste dries hard, and is usually not advised to be eaten (although it is edible). Meanwhile, fondant will remain pliable, and the buttercream layer underneath it will make it even softer. But it is not that palatable, just very, very sweet and kids may like it, but its not that healthy. I don’t like my kids to eat all that sugar (if I can help it) but taught them to peel it off and just eat the cake/cream underneath. So I wouldn’t do the same to other kids.

4-the biggest issue of all – if you are a full time working mom like me, you will not have the liberty of decorating it the morning just before you send the cakes to the preschool. Unless you take the day off. But then again, you would have taken some time off the day before to bake the cakes if it is a big celebration. Though tempting, I didn’t feel necessary to take 2 days off work just for this. Better to keep some offdays for other things right?

My Solution? Bake the cakes in the evening after work, and burn the midnight oil to frost the cakes, and decorate it with the toppers before I go off to work (that would be 6am!) and hope for the best. But this doesn’t solve #1..

So that spurs the search for THE buttercream frosting. okay okay. scratch that. I am really a novice when it comes to decorating a cake with buttercream and having to let it stand for long hours! Also, I really wanted to try to make all sorts of buttercream. heh. You just wasted a couple of minutes reading my what-nots up there. 🙂 so lets get back in track..

There are many types of buttercream icings or frostings, traditional American,  Swiss, Italian, French – each known to have their own pros and cons, not to mention unique taste and texture. The most generic and easy to whip up would be the American buttercream, just butter and icing sugar mixed together, and colored to taste. This buttercream is most economic, even more so if we use half butter and half shortening ratio, and tastes very sweet – thus, a hit with youngsters. I personally don’t favor this type of buttercream for its powdery taste and cloying sweetness, and so does my DD. “It tastes yucky!” according to my eldest DD who is a picky eater, but the little one absolutely loves this. But she loves anything sweet, so no arguments here.

A more Malaysian version of buttercream would be to use krimwell – a type of shortening which tastes better than the generic vegetable shortening. I would think this is hi-ratio shortening. But if this is the same as commercial home-made cakes, which I suspect it is, then I don’t think I like the greasy taste of krimwell buttercream. Some other buttercream recipes use condensed milk. I wonder how that turns out.

I decided to try the most feared but the best buttercream out there – the Italian meringue buttercream, and compare it to Swiss meringue buttercream, and the traditional American buttercream. The Italian buttercream is known to hold up really well even in very hot temperature. Next on the list would be Swiss followed by a high ratio shortening American buttercream.

The Italian and Swiss buttercream has similar procedure, but results differ. Italian buttercream has a finer texture and tastes a little bit better than Swiss. Making the Italian buttercream is a little tricky though, since sugar syrup has to be boiled to the softball stage, and once you’ve passed this stage, adios amigos! your buttercream may not turn out as expected. This is my first time trying to make this type of buttercream, and lets just say, I did have some panicky moments. But most of all would be that the buttercream didn’t firm up! Even after A LOT of whipping, and cooling it in the fridge at intervals. Whip, whip, whip IS the trick to fix runny Swiss buttercream, I thought it would be the same with Italian. I did not know where I erred, but finally I got tired of whipping and covered the mixing bowl and stick it in the fridge, and walked away. Trying not to think about the gooey mess. I mean, I made Swiss buttercream and got it right at the first try, so what was so difficult about this one? Maybe that was just a beginner’s luck?

Next morning, I took a peek at the goo in the mixing bowl, yep. still soft allright. Decided to whip it up real quick to see if anything changed. So I whipped it for about 3 minutes, and voila! It turned out beautifully!! I couldn’t really believe myself. I guess some things are worth waiting for. But if I got it right in the first place, it wouldn’t have to spent an overnight in the fridge. Maybe my candy thermometer was off and the sugar temperature haven’t really reached softball, or maybe I whipped the eggwhites till its too dry.. So you guys may want to try this trick if your Italian/Swiss buttercream is just a gooey mess like mine. Don’t give up too soon and throw it away, that would be a total waste. Waste not, want not.

Anyways, the Italian buttercream piped nicely, and tastes heavenly! Even without additional flavorings other than vanilla..YUM is all I can say! Just look at this little fellow’s happy face, need I say more?

Next, I made a small portion of the traditional American buttercream using half butter and half shortening ratio and piped that too.

I didn’t bother to make another batch of Swiss buttercream, since I already knew its behaviour. Refer here.

Freshly piped Italian buttercream v.s. American buttercream

 

Italian buttercream

American buttercream

 

 

12 hours later…
these were left on the counter (covered of course)
1 day later…
They look pretty much the same as above, even the squigly wiggly American buttercream remained the same. I kind of stress tested the traditional buttercream here, just to be certain.

Results:

Both held up pretty well in 30 degrees Celcius heat and humidity over the span of 12-24hrs. Both kind of ‘set’ a little – you can tell by the peak of the frostings I purposely piped and the squiggles. Other than that, shape, grooves remained solid. Plus, the American buttercream crusted very nicely, more so compared to the Italian buttercream. I would guess the Swiss buttercream would behave somewhere in the middle.

Taste & Texture – Italian buttercream wins hands down. It is much smoother and not overwhelmingly sweet as the American buttercream. Swiss buttercream also tastes smooth, but not as fine as Italian. Most importantly, both doesn’t taste powdery or even slightly gritty.

Verdict:

For small and special occasions, I would definitely use Italian or Swiss buttercream. For THIS purpose though, (THIS would be the celebration at school for 100 cupcakes), I will use the American buttercream for several reasons. 1-It does not contain any eggs, so it is safer for I do not know if there are any kids with egg allergy at her school. 2 – Very economical compared to eggs. Need I say more. 

I did say I did not like the powdery taste of buttercream even after sifting the icing sugar twice, but this is not for me to gobble up 🙂 Nevertheless, I felt dissatisfied that my buttercream has that not so smooth taste. I tweaked the traditional buttercream recipe here and there, did a few experiments, and finally came up with my own methods and recipe  – guided by my reasearches of course, and came up with THE PERFECT traditional buttercream. No grittiness, no powdery taste, and most of all, NOT overwhelmingly-icing-sugar-sweet!  YEAY! So now I’ve found my go-to traditional American buttercream recipe which is so fine and smooth, and pipes beautifully!

LittleDarling's Buttercream

 I swear, even I can eat this by the spoonfull! Smooth, creamy, yummy! Not too buttery, not too sweet, doesn’t have that greasy aftertaste. Crusts very well, holds up really good. But a big pointer in my book would be, NO powdery taste!

oh.. did I mention this is strawberry buttercream? nice pinky color, eh? YUM! 

 

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