This week a guest post from Gayla. Read on how she got inspired by #BeachThursday!
After reading the post by Isabelle detailing how she made her cute and enticing beach cupcakes, I was greatly inspired to try my hand at making my own. So, with a little planning, a few visits to the grocery and craft stores in town, and technical assistance from my husband Mike (he’s the Mike in Mike`s Travel Guide), I came up with a beach scene of cupcakes. It was a great experiment in creativity, a bit challenging, but lots of fun.
I’m a chocoholic and really wanted to make chocolate cupcakes similar to what Isabelle created, but I also wanted to use a recipe that wasn’t too complicated, didn’t involve lots of ingredients and mixing machines…or sifting. I hate sifting. I decided on a recipe Mike really likes. It’s an easy recipe for rich ‘Everyday Brownies’ by Nigella Lawson. We noticed the first time I made these as intended that they came out rather cake-like and we thought to try the recipe as cupcakes. #Beach Thursday’s inspirational post made for the perfect opportunity.
So, I made the brownie batter according to the recipe, cutting the quantities in half. This is a batter that stiffens quickly and since my Dutch convection oven is really small and the only cupcake pan I have that fits in it is one for six cupcakes, I chose to make a small batch. The original recipe calls for milk chocolate chunks, but I used a mix of milk chocolate and pure dark chocolate for added richness. I filled the paper cupcake cups about ¾ full and baked them according to the recipe. Because my design would involve nine cupcakes and I was baking only six in this pan, I had three cupcake cups of batter sitting out waiting for space in the oven. Luckily, that didn’t cause any problems with the finished product. If anything those three didn’t spread out on the top as much as the others. Which brings me to the decoration process.
The first six cupcakes having spread out rather than peak like cupcakes should, meant that I had to pop the tops off of them, and that reminded us of ‘The Muffin Tops’ episode of Seinfeld. But, I digress…
Now I had to work on my design. I was going to make just a few items to put on each cupcake, but Mike suggested I make the whole beach with the blue ocean rippling onto the sand and use my miniature beach accessories to add dimension. So, I purchased pre-made blocks of colored fondant icing (blue, red, lavender and white) and marzipan (sand colored).
This was my first attempt at working with either of these substances and I do prefer fondant, but I bought the marzipan because I was able to buy it in a color that resembled the color of beach sand. I’d even considered using food coloring, but decided against it for a number of reasons. One of which is I wanted to keep this simple. So, fondant and marzipan in hand, it was time to play. Working with these blocks of icing paste was like playing with play dough. Only better, because afterwards we can eat what we make. Using various photos I found on Google by searching for ‘beach-themed cupcakes’, I formed my own mini flip-flops, rolled up beach towels, seashells, starfish, surfboard, and a sandcastle (my favorite). I even cut out a shark fin, using grey card stock craft paper. Then, I set to work rolling out the fondant and marzipan to cover the tops of the cupcakes, but first I had to fill in the dips since the brownie tops weren’t perfect.
To do this, I made a simple butter cream icing (1 c. powdered/confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and enough milk to get a nice spreadable icing, about 2 tablespoons). Once the dips were filled in, I cut the rolled out fondant and marzipan using a jam jar. I cut 3 blue fondant circles for the water and 6 marzipan circles for the sand. (Though I didn’t figure this out until part way through the process, it’s better to use a jar with an opening slightly larger than the tops of the cupcakes. This will allow for a bit of the flattened icing paste to fold over the edges giving a nice clean finish.) To make the rippling waves on the shore, I cut three partial circles of blue fondant then used a knife to make the edge of the water a bit curvy. I laid these over three of the marzipan-covered cupcakes. After covering the tops on all nine of the cupcakes, I was ready to add the miniature accessories, and a bit of white fondant to make frothy waves in the water. Voilà! Beach Scene Cupcakes!
I love baking and enjoy sharing the sweets that I make with family and friends, but for me this went beyond just baking. This brought me into the creative confectionary world of decorating and gave me a chance to be imaginative. Thank you, Isabelle and #Beach Thursday, for inspiring me to try something new and challenging. It was great fun!
Oh, one more thing. You may have noticed based on my beach scene that it’s not safe to surf in shark-infested water 🙂
Note: If you plan to use this brownie recipe as intended, to make actual brownies, I recommend using a bit less baking soda and vigorously whisking the eggs. This should provide a bit more rise, but then the batter should drop making for something denser and more like brownies and less like cake.