Fruit cake unfortunately has a bad reputation.
Now good fruit cake is something worth experiencing.
Quality fruit cake is made using quality dried fruits, a simple butter pound cake batter, and once baked, thoroughly soaked in alcohol (for example, 1/2 to 1 cup of alcohol for an 8″ cake). It is then wrapped tightly, and allowed to age for a minimum of 2 weeks, thus allowing the alcohol to penetrate into the dried fruits and flavours to mellow and mature. In this particular case, whiskey was used, but rum and bourban are widely used. I heard a story once from a pastry chef, who said the best fruit cake he ever consumed was vacuum sealed and allowed to age for five years.
Fruit cake is best served with a layer of almond marzipan and, of course, a cup of tea.
For this particular cake, instead of marzipan, a layer of whipped ganache was used as a base layer. Rice cereal treats were used for select tiers.
The use of fruit cake in traditional cake decorating has the benefit of keeping at room temperature, and a firm stability that easily supports royal icing piping.
Modelling chocolate is a wonderful versatile medium. It is made from a combination of chocolate and corn syrup or glucose, and has a similar texture to Tootsie Roll candies.
Unlike gumpaste, it does not dry out quickly because it is fat-based. It is also very firm, which makes it ideal for sculpting figures or thicker pieces.
Often in photographs of cakes, it may be difficult to distinguish if a piece is made from fondant, gum paste, or modelling chocolate, as they all may appear very similar in appearance once dry.
When modelling chocolate is made with dark chocolate, it also has the amazing aroma of cocoa.
My tips on working with modelling chocolate include:
- use cornstarch to lightly dust work surfaces and prevent the modelling chocolate from sticking
- do not handle small pieces for long periods in your hands. Over handling causes pieces to melt and lose shape
- brushing water on the finished modelling chocolate piece will give it a dull shine. It will also “harden” the surface.
For more information on how to make modelling chocolate, I suggest the modelling chocolate recipe on Craftsy.
For any other colour other than dark modelling chocolate, I prefer to use candy coating melts (“chocolate” where the cocoa butter has been replaced with palm oils) for less greasy results. Depending on the viscosity of the glucose and quality of the chocolate, I will sometimes add a few teaspoons of water to the recipe to improve consistency.
For more information on pulled sugar ribbon techniques and recipes, see my previous post here.
Humidity is a concern when working with sugar, because sugar is hygroscopic – meaning that sugar molecules are attracted to water. Sugar should never be stored in the cooler because of this, unless a softening effect is desired (for example, to keep brown sugar soft).
In humid environments, finished sugar pieces will soften, lose shape, and become dull. The addition of acid to aid in elasticity also softens and dulls sugar.
These pieces were carefully stored at room temperature in an air-tight bucket with packets of silica gel.
The hummingbird was painted using and a combination of a paintbrush and airbrush, with edible food colouring:For inspiration, I suggest checking out the magnificent work by Stéphane Klein, I consider him a leader in the world among sugar artistry. You can see his amazing work on his website, or on his Facebook page, Stéphane KLEIN Connexion. (Disclaimer: Some images NSFW)
Gumpaste (or gum paste) figure sculpting or modelling:
In any type of sculpting or modelling of a human figure, I find it best to shape each piece separately, the attached together after drying. By shaping and allowing the head, arms and body to dry separately, it allows for less dis-figuration when attaching.
Another key to success is the use of a fine point to pick up and attach small pieces. Our fingers are blunt and difficult to see around, making precise placement difficult. Fingers and hands are also warm, which an easily melt or make fine pieces sticky. Always use the tip of a toothpick, or tip of a knife to attach fine pieces.
With a paintbrush, lightly wet the area that the fine piece is to attach to. Then use your fine point to lightly prick the piece, then attach it. Use modelling tools, not fingers, to shape pieces in place.
In this particular case, the arms, body and wings have an internal wire. The wings were hand cut and textured using a craft knife:
Piped chocolate butterflies:
Each set of wing is separately hand piped onto a clear acetate sheet, then allowed to dry. The clear acetate does not wrinkle, unlike parchment.
An M-shaped form was made using folded paper, upon which each side of the butterfly is placed. The wings are then connected using chocolate.