What better way to spend some quality time with your children this holiday season than having them help you create something beautiful and delicious in the kitchen?
Making fondant decorations to top your holiday cupcakes or to simply hang up for the holidays is an excellent opportunity for children to stretch their imaginations and gives them the opportunity to be proud of something they can make.
Chef Kate Cavotti, an instructor at The Culinary Institute of America, has some great ideas about how you can utilize things you already have around the house to make personalized decorations out of basic fondant.
A combination of sugar and cornstarch, fondant can be decorated in a number of ways by using stamps, cookie cutters, paint brushes, food color markers, piping gel, food coloring, or food grade glitter.
The first thing you need to do is purchase ready-made fondant from your local craft store. You can keep it white, or you can easily color fondant by kneading in a few drops of food coloring.
Once you color it and cut out the desired shapes, the fondant will need a few hours to dry and harden. If you are making ornaments, be sure to cut the hole for a ribbon before the fondant dries. Chef Cavotti suggests getting the children to help make fondant shapes a day or two before you plan to decorate.
Cookie cutters are not just for cookies anymore. Use them to cut out fondant shapes that are perfect for younger children to decorate with food color markers, colored gels, and food grade glitter.
If you are one of many people who are avid stamping crafters, you can easily adapt the stamps to make fondant decorations. Just be sure to clean any ink off them by scrubbing them with a toothbrush in soap and water. Once stamps are rinsed clean, have the children take food color markers and trace the raised part of the figure on each stamp to apply color.
Once the colored shape is stamped onto the fondant and the food coloring is dry, the decorations are ready. You can also let your children continue to color in the figure with the markers or make them appear 3-D by piping on colored gels, or sprinkle food grade glitter onto them.
To get the glitter to stick, take an artist's paint brush dipped in water and apply the water to the area you wish covered in glitter. Take another dry brush and apply the glitter by tapping the brush holding glitter over the wet areas.
Chef Cavotti suggests making carrot cake cupcakes with fondant or cream cheese icing as a base for the decorations. Dip the cupcake in a bowl of powdered sugar or shredded coconut to make it look more like snow glistening and place the fondant decoration on top.
It's a good idea to stick a toothpick in back of each decoration to insure it will stand up straight. When working with children, it always helps to be well-prepared. If possible, try to have all the baking equipment put away and the decorating supplies laid out before the youngsters arrive.
The following recipes and other decorating tips can be found in The Culinary Institute of America's Cake Art cookbook (2008, Lebhar-Friedman), which is available for purchase at local bookstores or online at www.ciastore.com.
Makes two 8-inch or 9-inch layers, or 24 cupcakes
* 4 cups cake flour
* 4 teaspoons baking soda
* 2 teaspoons iodized salt
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 2 1/2 cups canola oil
* 3 1/2 cups sugar
* 8 large eggs
* 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 10 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 6 cups grated)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with a nonstick spray and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper. For cupcakes, prepare pans with cupcake liners.
2. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together and reserve.
3. Mix the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla together with a handheld beater or paddle attachment on medium speed until all ingredients are thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Add the sifted ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Stir in the carrots by hand.
4. Divide batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake the cakes until a skewer inserted near the center comes out clean, for 8- or 9-inch cakes 80 to 90 minutes, for cupcakes about 25 minutes.
5. Let the layers cool in the pans for a few minutes before turning out onto wire racks to finish cooling. The cakes are ready to fill and frost now, or they can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 weeks.
Nutrition analysis per one 2-ounce cupcake: 210 calories, 2g protein, 23g carbohydrate, 1g fat, 220mg sodium, 30mg cholesterol, less than 1g fiber.
Simple Buttercream Icing
Makes about 4 cups
* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus extra as needed
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk plus extra as needed
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until it is very light in texture, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and salt and mix on a low speed until the sugar and butter are blended, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
2. Increase the speed to medium and, with the mixer running, add the cream in a thin stream. Increase the speed to high and whip the buttercream until very smooth, light, and with a good spreading consistency. Adjust the consistency if necessary by adding a bit more confectioners' sugar or cream. Use to fill, ice, and decorate a cake.
Note: Once blended, buttercreams can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To use after refrigeration, let the buttercream soften at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until it has a smooth, light spreading consistency, 3 to 4 minutes.
Nutrition analysis per 1-ounce serving: 130 calories, 0g protein, 19g carbohydrate, 6g fat, 0mg sodium, 15mg cholesterol, 0g fiber.
Cream Cheese Icing
Makes about 4 cups
* 2 eight-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
* 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
* 1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Mix cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until very smooth. Add butter in stages and continue to mix until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed to blend evenly.
2. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix on low speed until blended. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and mix until completely blended.
Nutrition analysis per 1-ounce serving: 130 calories, 1g protein, 7g carbohydrate, 7g fat, 45mg sodium, 30mg cholesterol, 0g fiber.
Chef's Note: To make lemon cream cheese icing, add the grated zest of one lemon to the icing with the vanilla.
Cream Cheese Icing recipe courtesy of The Culinary Institute of America.