Cupcakes are fun to make and can be as fancy or as simple as you want. The handheld treat has been a staple of the kid crowd for decades, but has really come into it’s own as a gourmet dessert of late. Sometimes, in the cupcake world, looks really do matter and it is fun to have your cupcakes match your event, party or theme. I love to customize mine with homemade chocolate toppers. It sounds hard and looks complicated, but I’ll let you in on a secret: they’re easy to make!
A popular topping for fancy cupcakes and cakes is fondant. Fondant looks beautiful, but rarely tastes very good. I’ve never seen anyone ooh and ah over the taste. More often fondant is simply peeled off of the cake product in question and set aside. Likewise gum pastetoppings or toppings made of royal icing are considered edible, but while made of sugar and lovely to look at, they too are usually set aside. Another popular cake topper substance is marzipan, which is definitely an acquired taste. All of these make beautiful decorations but aren’t much fun (in my opinion) to eat, although I certainly admire the skills of the sugar artists who work with them. Chocolate on the other hand is hardly ever set aside! Chocolate is also readily available and very forgiving to work with. Why make a cake topper out of something no one wants to eat? Go for the good stuff, I say.
Any craft store will have bags of chocolate, white chocolate, and colored white chocolate that are commonly referred to as “candy melts.” Wilton and Merken are the brands I have had the best luck with. In the same area you can also find candy molds for making party favors, and homemade lollipops, covered cookies and more. These molds make great cupcake toppers. You just melt your chocolate candy in the microwave according to the directions and use a squeeze bottle, disposable pasty bag or even a freezer weight plastic baggie to pipe it into the molds.
Sometimes, though, you’ll want or need something specific and that’s where customizing comes in. For my daughter’s second birthday I wanted to make colored number twos (pictured above.) It was the first time I had worked with choclate in such a manner and I started easy with something Wilton calls Candy Decorating Pens. You simply stick them in a cup of hot water and then go. Next I picked my 2 from a font I liked, sized it (about two and a half inches is perfect,) flipped it over then printed it out. When working with letters or numbers you have to reverse your image because it’s the flat side of the chocolate (the side touching the parchment) that will become the front of your decoration! Once you have the image you want, simply place it under some parchment paper and pipe your candy on top of it and let it set for a few hours or overnight. To save time I often print out six or eight copies of my image to a page, but you can also just slide your template around under the parchment paper. For the soccer balls shown here I did a google image search and found the perfect image right away. They were also made using the Candy Pens.
You can get as elaborate with this technique as you want. For a custom order, I made toppers to match the decorations for a child’s first birthday party. Although I was originally tempted to hand sketch similar shapes for my templates, I wound up going hard core. A simple scan of one of the plates gave me an identical image to work with. These were made using Wilton Candy Melts melted in freezer weight Ziploc bags. I also used toothpicks to help spread things out in the very tight spots. These were easily the most elaborate toppers I have made to date, but they received rave reviews and were worth the time I put into them.
You don’t have to have a printed image to do this, either. You can trace a design from any book or cartoon using parchment paper and use that, or even trace a cookie cutter, or toy. The Mario star at the bottom was made in under five minutes after I traced a candy tin! The western themed toppers were lifted from the art work of our camp t-shirts this summer. During teacher appreciation week I also made apples to top red velvet cupcakes using a hand drawn image. You can even freehand initials, monograms or names in cursive.
For visual tutorials of the actual process of piping onto a template under parchment I highly reccomend Bakerella’s post on making chocolate flowers. It was this post that first put the idea of using chocolate in this fashion into my head. Once you’ve got that down, head on over to Annie’s Eats and learn how to make the cutest darn butterflies that have ever landed on butter-cream! Another great tutorial is at www.justjennrecipes.com where she breaks down the creation of black and white cartoon characters: Snoopy has never looked so tasty!
Good luck, use your imagination and remember to have fun!