Recently, my interest in decorating cakes has been revived. Several factors contributed to my inspiration. One factor is that two of my sisters-in-law took beginning cake decorating courses and shared their new found knowledge and experiments, and another factor was the purchase of a book on making sugar-paste-decorated party cakes (Carol Deacon's Party Cakes for Children published by New Holland Publishers). I had been wanting to buy it for a while, but when I saw that it was on clearance at our local bookstore, I just had to buy it. Flipping though gave me a multitude of ideas to spin off of (I rarely try to duplicate something I see--rather, I tend to be inspired to try an idea of my own that seems "bigger and better" or maybe just more to my own taste). As you can see, I had a lot of fun making the results pictured on the left.
The roses and "pearls" on the chocolate cake and the decorations for my son's first birthday cake (the little boys surrounded by their toys) were made out of sugarpaste. A couple of years ago, I found a simple sugarpaste recipe that did not call for harder-to-find ingredients like powedered egg whites. I discovered that it is rewardingly easy to work with, and though it doesn't get totally hard, it is firm enough to handle a little bit and put on a cake.
Simple Sugar Paste
1 tablespoon butter or shortening
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or mint extract, almond exctract, or extra corn syrup if you don't want a brownish tinge)
1 cup powdered sugar
Beat the butter, corn syrup, and extract until smooth. Add powedered sugar and stir.Knead the mixture until smooth. Add food coloring, if desired. (The cake decorator's paste food coloring works best, but you can use the liquid kind too if you add a bit of powdered sugar to compensate for the extra moisture.)
Form your sugarpaste into whatever shape you would like. It's like ploaydoh, you just have to have fun and experiment.
Another exciting cake related discovery was just how easy and ganache is to make. These two cakes are frosted with it.
Here is a recipe for whipped ganage (the proportions for making a ganache glaze are different, so don't try using this recip as a glaze).
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 oz. bittersweet, semisweet, milk, or white chocolate finely chopped.
Bring the cream to a boil. Pour it over the finely chopped chocolate. Cover the mixture and let it stand for 10 minutes. Stir it until it is perfectly smooth. Re-cover and refrigerate it for a few hours, until it is completely chilled. Beat on low to medium speed only until ganache is holding it's shape (be careful not to overbeat it). Use the ganache immediately.