Unique bouquet takes the cake

Young Anna Connell wasn’t concerned that hers was the only entry in the Children’s Division at the Cake/Cupcake Decorating Contest held on Saturday at our church. In fact, she was pretty thrilled about it.

She really, really, really wanted to win the prize basket of decorating goodies and was convinced that if there were any other entries, she wouldn’t stand a chance.

Anna really didn’t have to worry – it would have taken something pretty phenomenal to beat her colorful cupcake bouquet.

The job she did with an idea she got while browsing the Internet with her mother was highly impressive and the subject of a lot of compliments. Her creation commanded a pretty nice price at the auction, too.

A couple weeks ago I wrote on this page that I was eagerly awaiting the new Cake/Cupcake Decorating Contest that was to be a part of the St. Jude Summer Celebration fundraiser this year. I even made some cupcakes and tried my hand at some fancy icing tricks (sorry, I’m too embarrassed by my paltry results to show photos next to the awesome work shown on this page).

But, most people were not as enthusiastic as I was for a cake/cupcake decorating contest, so there were only two entries – one in the Adult Division and one in the Children’s Division.

While I certainly hoped to see more participation, the fact that there was no competition let me off the hook as the judge. I was very happy to award the prizes to young Anna, and, in the Adult Division, Rose Hepner, who used cookies to enhance the colorful decorations on her “Welcome Friends” cake.

As was the plan, both of the entries were auctioned and the result was very satisfactory for our church fundraiser.

The food pictured on this week’s Food page – Anna and Rose’s creations as well as some of the cakes that were submitted to the Mifflin-Juniata Relay for Life’s decorating contest -is, literally, just eye candy. Sorry, I do not have recipes for any of these particular creations, but I thought they were fun and wanted to share. If you look at them closely and follow a few tips I’m including from Wilton Industries, you can learn how to achieve stunning results with a simple cupcake or layer cake.

But, unless you want your decorating efforts to look more like mine and less like the work done by Anna, Rose and the decorators who competed in the Relay for Life contest, you should pay attention to a couple crucial points after gathering your decorating bag, icing and favorite tips.

The first is the consistency of the icing. If it’s not right, the decorations won’t be, either. In general, thinner icing is used for writing or making vines or leaves, while medium consistency icing is used for such decorations as flowers with upright petals, stars or piped figures.

If the icing is too thin, you can make it stiffer by adding confectioner’s sugar; if it’s too thick, dilute it with milk, water or corn syrup.

Also pay attention to the angle in which you are holding the decorating bag and the direction in which you are moving it.

For example, hold the bag at a 90 degree angle, or straight up, perpendicular to your work surface, to make stars or flat petal flowers. Hold the bag at a 45 degree angle to write or make borders with the icing.

To move the bag in the proper direction, Wilton suggests thinking of the bag as the hour hand of a clock. Move the tip of the decorating bag toward the center of the clock, starting where the directions for your design tells you, such as 3 o’clock, or 6 o’clock.

Except for writing with icing, which everyone does from left to right, right-handed people should decorate from left to right, and left-handers should decorate from right to left.

The final thing to pay attention to is your pressure control -lighter pressure on the bag will release a thinner amount of icing, while more pressure will result in thicker icing.

If you take some time to study cookbooks and online videos, you’ll be making zigzags, flowers and vines, basketweaves, stars and more on your favorite cakes and cupcakes in no time.

Here’s an easy recipe for Buttercream Icing from Wilton that will be the perfect consistency for spreading or decorating.

Buttercream Icing

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened

1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar (about 1 pound)

2 tablespoons milk

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

For the best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored two weeks. Rewhip before using.

For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.

For Pure White Icing (stiff consistency), omit butter, substitute an additional 1/2 cup of shortening for butter and add 1/2 teaspoon No-Color Butter Flavor. Add up to 4 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk to thin for icing cakes.

Makes about 3 cups of icing.

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Jane Cannon Mort is The Sentinel’s food editor.