Tag Archives: fondant flowers

My First Sugar Blossoms: the peony, the orchid and the rose

6 Jan

It’s official I have been introduced to the world of sugar flowers. After a steep beginner’s learning curve, I have made it out alive with my first peony, orchid and rose. While in Canada, for the Christmas holidays I took the opportunity to take some private lessons with Lisa Bugeja from Flour Confections in Pickering Ontario. Lisa was a wonderful teacher, perfectly gracious, completely open to sharing her wisdom, endlessly patient and best of all very knowledgeable on making flowers and the entire cake industry in general.

Probably would not pass an inspection by a botanist, but I'm happy with them.

I was extremely excited about my private lessons, leading up to the day, thinking about how professional and cool I would be after taking my knowledge to the next level and let’s just say that the first day was a complete shit-show. Instead of feeling elated as I left, I felt completely embarrassed. From the word go, I struggled to keep up. I am certainly a beginner but I didn’t realize I would struggle as much as I did. I could barely fill a silicone mould fast enough or get the proper shape using balling techniques. Unfortunately it didn’t get any better. I cut out too many petals at once trying to save time and then they dried out and went on to cracking around the edges and not frilling properly since they had lost their malleability. The time flew forward quickly and at the end of the day when we had planned to have made three buds and petals for three peonies, I had barely made enough petals for two peonies and we didn’t even touch on beginning the rose. And that was after Lisa graciously spent an EXTRA hour with me than originally planned! Yeah, not good. I ran out of there embarrassed for taking an additional hour of her time, forgetting to pay for my lunch. My head was whirling with embarrassment. *head palm*

So that night I gave myself a huge pep talk. You know, “Ewa be cool tomorrow. You learned a lot, just process the knowledge and make sure to keep up. You have a chance to redeem yourself. Just keep up tomorrow and all of the beginner’s bad luck will fade away as if if it never happened.”

So I walk into Flour Confections, with a nice amount of time to spare, cool-headed as ever and thinking that today I am going to seize the day. So first thing we do, is put all the dried petals that I rushed to make just the bare minimum of, from the day before onto a plastic tray. I set the plastic tray beside my elbow. You see where this going. Lisa demonstrated how by gently tugging on the florist tape, you activate its stickiness. So I tug on my florist tape, my finger slips off as I am tugging and my elbow continues with the momentum from the tug, colliding with the tray and within seconds all my petals for both my orchid AND my peony are on the floor. Awesome. Now this happened within the first FIVE minutes of the lesson. Not like, 2 hours into the lesson, but within the first five minutes, I had lost ALL hope of ever looking cool or professional in the eyes of a cake master. So approximately 4 out of the 8 peony petals had broken in half. I am sure a student drops one petal every once in a while during a lesson but not the whole damn tray!! Professional as ever, Lisa said we could still continue because I would have learn the florist wrapping techniques anyway and we can still build the flower, even if it would have some damage. Flowers in nature also have damage anyway, right? So off I went, building, I’m sure the first ever, peony with that oh-so-realistic damaged look. Classy.

Just before that fateful moment. They weren’t expecting to come crashing to their deaths in about 2 minutes. 

 The class continued forward and I built up my peony and here is what the final product looked like.

I don't usually post pictures taken with the camera's flash, but the flash helps to see the shading I did using powdered colours.

The class continued and I focused. Little talk, a lot of concentration. I tried to keep up but again fell behind and could only make two out the originally planned three roses. And out of those two only ONE to the complete full bloom rose stage. So let’s just say I now know what they mean when they say advanced sugar crafting classes. Eek!

In the end, I am completely happy with what I walked away with and I would go back to get more lessons from Lisa any day. Her patience was endless and her generosity in spending extra time with me on BOTH days was absolutely appreciated. I can’t thank her enough for all the advice she shared and all the time she spent with lil’ ol’ me. Her shop is awesome with a huge selection of really cool cake tools and accessories. Her open concept teaching kitchen allows shoppers to observe her classes and gives the whole place an open feel. The drive up to Pickering was well worth it and if you are not in the mood for driving you can find all the accessories and tools on her online shop.

View as you walk through the front door.

And now, I await another D-Day with Lori Hutchinson.

Chinese Cupcakes and Macaroons

26 Oct

I sit here writing, perfectly content, as the smell of baking coconut envelops my apartment and my batch of macaroons turn their lovely shade of golden. When I am not baking cupcakes, I begin to have baking withdrawal symptoms and so I have taken to baking batches of fudgy brownies, crispy cookies and now macaroons to fulfil that desire for baking. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore cupcakes and will remain the Cupcake Queen, however it’s nice to whip up something quick and different. I bring my goodies in weekly to my Deutschkurs which I recently returned to full time. The free goodies are always received in the same way. First with hesitation: ‘Oh, no thank you, I am on a diet.’ Then: ‘Well maybe just one.’ To be concluded with: ‘Do you have anymore??’ It’s a cute little cycle and I am developing a great reputation and learning lots of German everyday in my full time course. I have gone back to hone my German language skills since I want to develop my business in Germany, so I really need to become fluent on my cupcake journey.

Recently, the language school held a Chinese themed party and I was the bearer of cupcakes. It took me a while to come up with a theme for my cupcakes but in the end I did good. I made chocolate, green tea and strawberry cupcakes and all were well received.

Sorry about the bad lighting. Stress from chocolate buttercream + late evening hours = crappy cupcake photo.

The chocolate cupcakes nearly gave me a heart attack as I tried a meringue buttercream as I would like to have a less sweet alternative in my repitoire. Well working with egg whites and hot sugar is never fun and my buttercream came out very soft, which I don’t personally like. The flavour was similar to a chocolate mousse and luckily everyone loved it. Another hit were the green tea cupcakes, the people fell in love with the cherry blossoms. The strawberry cupcakes were served with a creamy and not so sweet frosting, perfect for the German pallet. The only problem is that this whipping cream-based frosting reacts with food colouring and makes the fondant creations bleed onto the cupcakes. Not ideal. After all the stress with the soft chocolate buttercream and the bleeding fondant, I was really stressed for the delivery. I thought that the cupcakes were not up to my standards. Luckily I stuck around at the party and saw people take their first bite of my (ugly) cupcakes. No one noticed the bleeding, no one noticed the soft buttercream, no one noticed my ugly version of Chinese candy melt characters. They just came back for more! They wanted to try all the flavours!! It was so euphoric! I just love to see people enjoy my cupcakes, but I get so stressed, uptight and self-conscious leading up to that first bite.

I used a narrow piping nozzle and melted red candy melts to create these Chinese characters. The character means 'Happiness'. I hope!

I really gotta learn how to chill out. Either way, I learned a lot and am happy that my Chinese friends were happy.

Late night inspiration: I heart fortune cookies.:)

P.S. Mmmm, I have just taken out my macaroons and there is nothing like the sweet and delicious smell of baked coconut just taking over your senses. Just imagine these sexy beasts on cupcakes!

Das Cupcake Debuts in Frankfurt

20 Jul

Every debut is preceded by a lot of hard work and naturally this was no exception. The plan of action was to make 200 cupcakes, 100 vanilla and 100 chocolate for June 26th at the Parade of Cultures in Frankfurt. The language school which I attend, A-viva, offered me some space at the booth that they rented at the event. I was pumped to say the least. I thanked my lucky stars at the generosity of A-viva (easily THE best language school in Frankfurt) and got to planning my cupcakes. I searched for inspiration from all my favourite cupcake decorating masters, ordered decorating supplies from around the world (literally) and brainstormed the designs that would grace my cupcakes.

My mom was in Germany for her vacation as I prepared for the parade and so I taught her all I know about making cupcake decor (took all of tens minutes), showed her the pictures I was using for inspiration and we were off to the races. The first thing we started on was the fondant decor. This you have make at least 3 days in advance so that it has a chance to dry and harden. We made butterflies with small little flowers glued (with edible glue!) onto their upturned wings, blue five petal blossoms, peach five petal blossoms, white pearls of rolled fondant and dusted with edible glitter. There was a lot of decor to make for 200 cupcakes and it took about 5-6 hours with the both of us working as a team. My mom officially became the Sugar Paste Pro. She rolled out that fondant to the perfect thickness and punched her way through the fondant, creating beautiful edible creations along the way. I, on the other hand, was the official Prep-er of the fondant –adding colour, adding strengthening gum tragacanth powder (to harden the fondant) and  kneading the sugar paste until it was ready to work with.

Cupcake decor drying. I cut long paper towl rolls in half, covered them with foil and created my own Flower Formers.

Then on the Friday before the Saturday of the event, I baked 200 cupcakes. After buying a ridiculous 20 blocks of butter, 10 blocks of shortening, 6 pounds of chocolate, 40 eggs and the same ludicrous amounts of flour and sugar, I was ready to bake. And it took me all day. It took from 1:00 in the afternoon until 9:00 at night and then I still had to make frosting and seal the cupcakes with a layer of frosting on top. So as I whipped together bowl after bowl of frosting, my mom sealed each cupcake with a smooth layer of frosting that leveled out with the top of the cupcake case. This gave a nice smooth surface upon which I could make my swirls. As the clock struck midnight, I was rinsing my last bowl and pair of whisking paddles.

The next morning was a flurry of activity. By 8:00 a.m. I was creating frosting swirls on my cupcakes, and my mom was arranging the decor on top. I ran out of frosting nearly at the end and had to frost some vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting but all was still well in the universe. We loaded the car and drove into the city with boxes of precariously stacked cupcakes balancing on seats and in laps.

Five petal blossoms in blue and peach colours. I flipped these upside down for drying so that the petals turned nicely upwards.

The BIG day…

Well it was a gorgeous summery June day. The festival was by the lovely Main River and very near to the heart of the old city centre. There were literally hundreds of booths and hundreds of people milling about. The Parade of Cultures (Parade der Kulturen) is very similar to Caribana in Toronto. It includes an awesome procession of performers from around the world dancing in the street in elaborate costumes to beat-thumping body-bumping music and everyone has a fantastic time, taking pictures, dancing and eating food from every cuisine imaginable. Of course, I did the representin’ for North American cuisine, in particular the sweet cute cupcake kind. We found our booth, set up two cupcake towers and started placing the cupcakes on the clear circular tiers.

Both cupcake towers. It looks like there was less vanilla, but I had plenty of vanilla cupcakes with me, and we continued to add to the vanilla tower as each cupcake was purchased.

We starting to sell almost right away and I was happy to see lots of curious people walking by with wide eyes at the 7 and 5 tiered cupcake displays in front of them. Lots of people took pics. My mom said I should have charged for that too. Good ol’ mom. Even my Trusty Apprentice showed up as well with some of her friends and they found my booth amongst all the parade craziness and showed their love by sinking their teeth into some chocolate cupcakes. A good work colleague of mine also stopped by and got her dose of chocolate for the day. We even had repeat customers, oh baby, yes. The sweet satisfaction of someone coming back for more. It was truly great. I sold the cupcakes, with my mom by my side, from 12 noon until 8:00 p.m. It was a long day, but I was smiling big at the end of it. I made some hard, cold cash (although I probably just broke even) and I felt happy with my success.
Key Learnings:

More advertising. Yeah, I printed stickers for the boxes of cupcakes that I was so hopeful to sell, except that not a single person bought a dozen cupcakes, so not a single logo sticker went out that day. What I really need is some good old fashioned, simple but reliable business cards. Those repeat customers which I mentioned came back for more cupcake love, yeah well, they could have easily been interested in my cupcake services, but I didn’t have anything to give them…Yes, a box sticker would have given them some info, but to give out rather big box stickers and then have people fold them into their pockets for later reference, I mean yeah, business cards are so much better.

Better means of transport.
Already quite inventively, I used the empty boxes you can find at the grocery store in which yogurt is sold in. You know the boxes with the holes in them, that you pick your pot of yogurt out of , yeah, those. Well, awesomely enough, I’ll have you know that those yogurt pot bases are the same size as the bases of my cupcake babies, so for transport I used these. Clever–yes. Perfect–no. Since there are no lids, the cupcakes are exposed, thereby leading to potential smudging of the perfect swirls. Overall there was little smudging, but a lot of panic and anxiety about the prospect of it happening. Also you cannot stack these, so there was a lot of balancing going on in my lap. Anyway, boxes with lids next time, all neatly stacked and compactly packed so they don’t sail across on the backseat of my car, like they are riding a bloody water slide!

A way for cooling the cupcakes. It was a regularly hot sunny day, which is want you want for any outdoor event you are selling at, the only problem is that the sun is not friends with your frosting. The frosting kept its shape for the most part, but then as soon as you took the first bite, the melty chocolate and vanilla goodness got all over your face. They were still tasty, but warm. Luckily, Germans are not cupcake connoisseurs and many of them still enjoyed the melty cupcakes. By the end of the day, the icing had turned extremely soft and even though the fondant decorations still maintained some levels of appeal, the frosting looks very gloppy. My German boyfriend has already devised a plan that involves safely storing the cupcakes in white cardboard cupcake boxes and then storing those boxes in a cooler and transporting the coolers with the nicely stored cupcakes. This way the cupcake would keep their beauty, be easy to transport and even be more appealing to sell by the dozen. Think of a box of twelve cupcakes straight from a nice cold cooler on a warm day to take home to the family. Also it’s more sanitary of course. Less bugs attacking any cupcakes left out for the day.

Forks. Germans like to eat cake with forks. I didn’t bring any, lots of people asked me for some. I stole some plastic ones and gave them out until I ran out, which was pretty quick. Next time, I will bring some forks, especially for an outdoor kind of event.

In conclusion…

Yes, there were many fondant flowers to make. Yes, I spent all of Friday baking in the hot kitchen. And yes, I got stressed and yelled at my boyfriend when I didn’t think he was arranging my precious babies carefully enough into the car, BUT when all was said it done it was a labour of love. My plans had transpired into reality. My recipe development, my annoyed phone calls in trying to locate my decorating supplies, my cupcake classes had all paid off. Literally. :) And I fell asleep that night, with sore feet and a grin from ear to ear.

And last in this post but absolutely not least, a special thank you to June at A-viva. Her support, excitement and encouragement has been endless and crazy plentiful. From ‘using’ her students as cupcake testers to sharing her space with me at the Parade of Cultures; I feel like without the cosmic stars lining up for June coming into my Frankfurt life, my cupcake dream would really have no platform from which it could come to life. June has given me the fertile ground where I can plant my dream and nurture it to grow, grow, grow. She is as humble as ever but I know I couldn’t have done it without her.

P.S. June, I owe you a pack of forks.