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Monday, February 15, 2010

Edible Chocolate Decorations

Cupcakes aren't my favorite dessert, but they are pretty cute when topped with edible chocolate ladybugs. Here's how to make them, or chocolate ponies, dinosaurs, unicorns, soccer balls or whatever suits your fancy.

(Method from The Whimsical Bakehouse Cookbook, with further inspiration from the butterfly cupcakes at Annie's Eats.)

Step 1: Find a template. If you’re artistically inclined, you can certainly draw your own, but if you need a little help, try using a Google image search. I searched for “cartoon ladybugs” to find the image I used.

Step 2: Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Slip the template under the wax paper.

Step 3: Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips (see Tips, below, for more details). Scoop the melted chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a small tip. For easier cleanup, you can also scoop it into a small plastic bag and snip off one corner for piping.

Step 4: Trace the outline of the ladybug in chocolate. Fill in any areas that will ultimately be black or dark brown. For these, I also filled in the ladybug’s spots, head, legs, and antennae.

Step 5: Carefully slide the template under the wax paper to another empty spot. Continue piping outlines until you have enough chocolate critters.

Step 6: Melt white chocolate pieces and add gel color until you get the hue you want (see Tips). Be careful – gel colors can stain clothes, surfaces, and hands, so try to clean up any spills right away. Scoop the colored white chocolate into another pastry bag or plastic bag for piping.

Step 7: Add the white chocolate over the semi-sweet to fill in the colored areas of each image, such as the red of the ladybug’s wings. Use a toothpick to help the color reach the outlines. Because you’ll be flipping the image over once it sets, don’t worry if you cover the spots or other black sections – in fact, extra chocolate will give the image added stability once it has set.

Step 8: Stick the entire baking sheet in the freezer or refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Bake your favorite cupcakes, let them cool, and frost them.

Step 9: Carefully remove your chocolate decorations from the wax paper by cutting around each image with scissors, then inverting the paper and slowly peeling the paper off the chocolate. This results in less breakage than attempting to remove each decoration from the large sheet of wax paper. Place a decoration atop each frosted cupcake, and enjoy!


• Try to choose templates that don’t have thin appendages. Legs, tails and antennae break off easily unless you make them extra thick or are very careful when peeling off the wax paper.

• Make a few extra chocolate critters, in case of breakage.

• For a gorgeous cake topping, make a full-sized chocolate decoration, or place tons of smaller ones on the top and sides of the cake.

• Remember that the decorations will be inverted after they set. This means that they will still look great, even if they look amateurish when they go into the freezer.

• It also means that any writing must be done backwards on the wax paper.

• A quick and easy way to melt chocolate is to place chips or pieces in a heatproof bowl and microwave on high heat. Stop and stir every 30 seconds to keep chocolate from burning.

• White chocolate chips don’t melt smoothly, since the ingredient that keeps them in chip form also resists intentional melting – buy a bar of good-quality white chocolate and chop it up instead.

• When melting chocolate, be sure that you use a completely dry bowl and stir with a dry spoon. Wet surfaces will make the chocolate "seize" and turn grainy instead of melting smoothly.

• I used about 3 oz chocolate chips and 1½ oz white chocolate pieces for 8 ladybugs and 8 letters.

• Use icing or gel colors instead of liquid food coloring so that you don’t change the consistency of the chocolate. Gel colors also work wonderfully for coloring frosting.

• Wilton makes a fantastic brand of icing colors that only require a tiny amount to color a bowl of white chocolate. Dip a toothpick into the jar and run it through the melted white chocolate. Stir, then add more color if necessary.

Originally published in the Los Altos Town Crier.

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