Vanilla Bean & White Chocolate Birdie Cupcakes {and Video Tutorial}

Vanilla Bean Birdie Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Sweet tweet! Another garden-y recipe for you today (and another video tutorial). As I mentioned in my last post, I did a bunch of treats for my father-in-law’s wife, Kathy, last weekend in honour of her surprise birthday party. When I was planning what to make, I knew that somewhere, somehow, there had to be a classic and lovely bird-themed confection. (If you knew Kathy, you’d understand.) I opted for these hand-stamped Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Birdie Cupcakes–they’re simple, delightful and unique. Thin, sweet fondant medallions atop fluffy vanilla cupcakes and rich vanilla bean white chocolate frosting (and yes, let’s eat the topper!).

One thing that I love about making these decorations, is that you can create them way in advance, which comes in super handy when you’re making a lot of treats, or if you simply like doing things ahead of time (like me). Once made, if you keep the fondant circles in a nice cool, dry place in a single layer (a pizza box works well), there’s no limit to how in advance you can whip them up. Then, once ready to use them, simply pop them on a frosted cupcake. Voila!

The thing about this hand-stamping technique is that, depending on which stamp and colour you go with, the possibilities are literally endless. You can tailor the theme and create these for pretty much anything or anyone as long as you have some fondant, soft gel paste, a clean (and never used on regular ink) rubber stamp and a small paint brush. A spooky Halloween theme perhaps? A floral wedding theme? A robot party? Anything goes. You might remember my love for using rubber stamps on fondant from these Love Letter & Scripted Heart Cookies, but you’ll notice that rather than painting the stamp, I simply used the imprint for a different effect. So once you have the stamps, you can play, play, play!

Here is the video tutorial for these stamped fondant medallion toppers:

Simple, right? And honestly, once you get your rhythm you’ll find that it’s truly a therapeutic experience. If you have cakelets at home, as I do, I find that it can be a really fun little project to work on together. If you give them their own little ball of fondant, rolling pin and cutter, they’ll be as happy as larks. Or . . . small navy blue birdies.

See?

So here’s the recipe and instructions for the cupcakes. I hope you have as much fun as I did creating these. ♥

Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Birdie Cupcakes {and Video Tutorial}

Serving Size: 24 cupcakes

Moist, fluffy vanilla cupcakes topped with rich & creamy vanilla bean white chocolate frosting and topped with a hand-stamped fondant medallion.

Ingredients

    For the stamped fondant medallions
  • ~5 oz (145 g) white fondant
  • AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste, Navy Blue
  • For the cupcakes
  • 2-1/2 cups (275 g)(10 oz) cake flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 1 cup (237 ml) whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites (60 g), at room temperature
  • 1 whole egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.75 ml) Pure Almond Extract
  • 1-1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 stick (115 g)(8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • For the frosting
  • 1 cup (227 g)(8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 oz quality (175 g) white chocolate
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) almond extract
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 3 cups (375 g)(13.5 oz) sifted icing sugar

Instructions

    For the stamped fondant medallions {can make anytime in advance}:
  1. Roll white fondant on cornstarch-dusted (or icing sugar) surface until 1/8" thin, or even thinner and cut as many 2.25" diameter circles as needed (you will want to make a few extra). Let dry overnight.
  2. Apply a thin layer of soft gel paste (I used AmeriColor Navy Blue) onto a new, clean rubber stamp using a small angled paintbrush (that you designate for food use) and gently press down upon fondant circles. Touch up any unstamped spots with your paintbrush. Let dry. {see video tutorial}
  3. For the cupcakes:
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and center the oven rack. Line 2 muffin/cupcake pans with your favourite standard-size cupcake liner, and put the first cupcake pan on a baking sheet. (You will place the second cupcake pan on the same sheet in the oven once the first tray is baked.)
  5. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract in a medium bowl or large glass measuring cup.
  6. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk or paddle attachment (I used the whisk), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until very pale and creamy, about 5 minutes.
  7. With the mixer still on medium speed, alternate additions of the flour mixture and milk-egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture (3 dry additions, 2 wet), beating after each addition until incorporated. Continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  8. Divide batter evenly among your cupcake liners–about 2/3 full–and bake until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs only, about 16 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool on wire racks. Repeat with second tray.
  10. For the frosting:
  11. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 3-4 minutes on medium speed (I use “4″ on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
  12. Melt chocolate in microwave in a small heatproof bowl, or over a pot of simmering water on the stovetop, stirring often. Let cool.
  13. Add melted chocolate to butter and beat until incorporated. Add extract, vanilla bean and salt and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Add sifted icing sugar, beating on low speed until just combined, increasing to medium speed until well combined.
  14. Assembly of the Cupcakes
  15. Pipe a generous swirl of frosting atop each cupcake, using pastry tip 1M, or the tip of your choice.
  16. Gently press a fondant medallion upon each cupcake. Best enjoyed same day.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

See you soon with a slightly spookier recipe. And for my Canadian friends, Happy Thanksgiving!

Good luck & enjoy!



Related posts:

How to Make a Fondant Asparagus Cake {a Tutorial}

Fondant Asparagus Cake via Sweetapolita

This post makes me giggle. Well, not the actual post, since I haven’t written it yet, but the fact that I am still inflicting innocent and unsuspecting passersby with what seems to be the endless life of the Asparagus Cake–the trompe l’oeil cake I made as, really, just a joke for Grant’s sister, Mary, or as we call her, Mar. When I initially shared this crazy cake idea back when I first started this blog just over a year ago, and then again when I recreated and revisited it (above) this past May, I never really expected that anyone else would want (or have a good reason) to make this cake themselves, which is why I didn’t include tutorials in either of those posts. Then, something unexpected happened: I began getting emails from readers asking me for a tutorial and explaining that they indeed have the perfect reason to make this cake. This makes me very happy! I love that some of you actually have reasons to make one, and that some of you simply want to. Yep, I kind of love that. Long live Asparagus Cakes!

Just to recap on why I made this cake the first time, Mar had been training for a fitness competition for many months prior to her show in November, and this poor foodie, fellow lover-of-sweet had been eating more asparagus than one could even fathom. She’s amazing, though, and stayed more focused and disciplined than most of us (and by most of us, I mean me) could even dream of, so the girl earned herself some serious post-show cake. So, for fun, during her training months we would chat about all of the delicious things she couldn’t wait to eat after the show, and more specifically at our house the next day for a celebratory lunch. When I asked her what she wanted for dessert, she said “I’d love something with chocolate cake and vanilla buttercream, but other than that, whatever you think!” So, my first thought was something pink and girly, you know, a real show-stopping dessert for a fitness queen, but then it dawned on me: Asparagus! It simply could be no other way and, if you know me, you know that nothing was going to stop me from making this happen. It just made too much sense, and I love a challenge. I was so excited with the way it turned out, and it was actually a little easier than I expected.

The real asparagus I referred to while making this cake–this photo is not fondant asparagus, and I promise I would not put this real asparagus, or any other real asparagus, onto a cake!

Referring to actual asparagus (above) was the most important step in the process of creating this cake. I learned a few things the first time around and made some notes on what I would do the next time to improve it. My main issue with the first one was that I felt the spears still looked a bit too green, even though I did add hints of red, because if you look, I mean really look, at real raw asparagus, they are filled with some neat red and many purple tones. Since I wanted them to look as realistic as possible, I knew that they had to look raw, because cooked asparagus takes on that bright green colour, and well, cooked asparagus wouldn’t be presented in a bunch–it was definitely about the details. Life is in the details!

I think the key to making this cake look hyper-realistic, aside from the rolling and snipping, is the shading, which I achieved by brushing on a few different petal dust colours (those typically used to create very realistic sugar flowers) once the “asparagus” were dry–that is when this cake came to life. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see that, when I took that photo, I’d shaded the full spears but not the tips yet–do you see the dimension that gives? I think had I gone with the straight green and undusted asparagus on the cake, it would have looked like a neat cake that looks like a bundle of asparagus. By shading it all, it took it to looking much like an actual bundle of asparagus, which is what you want if you’re looking to wow some folks. I’ll tell you a secret: I continue to get very passionate emails from people who believe this cake is a farce, and who swear I have manipulated it, or the photos, in some way. They can’t believe that it’s not real asparagus and are so angry with me for trying to get away with Asparagus Cake fraud (who knew that was a thing?) that they send me hate mail. Can you imagine? I swear this to be true. So, I suppose the moral of the story here is that, if you want to make people really angry and get Asparagus Cake fraud hate mail too, you really better shade those spears!

Fondant Asparagus Cake via Sweetapolita

So, believe it or not, this cake is not difficult to make, and it’s a very simple process, albeit time consuming. Essentially, your making fondant asparagus and attaching them to the outside of a green cake, followed by covering the top of the cake with small 2″ fondant asparagus tips that fill in every inch of exposed cake on top. Once all of the spears and tips are on the cake, you will see it magically transform into a life-like bundle of asparagus. The finishing touch, for both function and form, is the ribbon–it holds the asparagus in place while they are setting on the cake (and while displayed), and it also mimics the string or elastic that typically ties real life bunches together.

If time is on your side, I recommend making your fondant asparagus over the course of days or even weeks, to break it up. Once made, you can keep them in a dry open-air spot, out of the sun, indefinitely. If you are creating the entire cake all at once, you would let the asparagus dry overnight, if possible, and then you would dust to shade them, and assemble. I covered my buttercream covered cake with green fondant, but you can also skip this step by colouring your buttercream green and simply pressing the asparagus straight onto the cake–this may even be easier, but I have yet to do it this way. Since wet fondant becomes a glue of sorts, attaching the asparagus to your fondant-covered cake does work. One thing I would do differently next time would be taper the tops of the full stalks a little less, so that there is no under-cake showing through. I think the slightly tapered top is important, but just a bit less would have been perfect.

A note about your choice of fondant for this cake: When I made this the second time (above), I used my favourite brand of fondant, Satin Ice. One of the reasons I normally love Satin Ice brand the best is because it dries the most porcelain-like on my cakes, but in this instance, for the fondant asparagus, I would have preferred them to be a little less porcelain like, as they were the first time I made the cake. I found they were so firm with the Satin Ice that they didn’t adhere to the cake as well as the first time I made the cake. So, in this case, I would recommend using any other brand for this project, as every other brand I’ve tried is softer, even when dry. This also makes slicing the cake a bit easier–that coupled with the fact that Satin Ice is the most $$, it’s just a great idea to avoid it for this cake.

Fondant Asparagus Cake via Sweetapolita

What you do on the inside of the cake is totally up to you, of course, but I personally feel that a rich dark chocolate cake, paired with vanilla buttercream offers a pleasing contrast for all of that green. And, as always, splitting your layers to create a 6 or even 8-layer cake will add even more drama to an already dramatic cake. This cake is just too much fun to not make. If you have someone in your life, like Mar, who is an asparagus-eating king or queen, then it just makes good sense.

A few more reasons for when to make this cake and have it make even a little bit of sense (Sweetapolita *chanting* let’s make, let’s make, let’s make an asparagus cake!):

  • For someone who simply takes healthy eating very seriously
  • For someone who just happens to love asparagus
  • Fitness enthusiasts
  • For kids! This is a hilarious joke to play on a kid who isn’t quite as passionate about vegetables as they are about cake–birthday or not
  • A garden party
  • For anyone who works with veggies for a living: chef, farmer, grocer
  • For those who love to garden
  • For a quirky wedding, garden wedding or groom’s cake (I almost cried when I saw this wedding online–oh, how perfect this cake would have been for them and their perfectly quirky wedding)
  • Just because!

So, now that we have many reasons to run to the kitchen and whip up this asparagus confection, let me explain how we do it. This may look like a lot of steps, but honestly, this cake isn’t about complexity, it’s about time. Sweet, precious time. Simply put, it takes a lot of it (how much time depends on how fast you work, of course), but it is pretty straightforward, and it’s worth it.

Here we go (and wheee!):

How to Make an Asparagus Cake         {click to print}

You will need:

  • a round layer cake–~4-5″ high and diameter up to you (the one in photo was 8″ round) either covered in green fondant (~1 lb + 12 oz) or green buttercream
  • fondant for asparagus (this depends on the size of your cake, but ~1.5 lbs–I recommend having an extra lb or more, just in case)
  • gel colours: AmeriColor Leaf Green, Sugarflair Gooseberry
  • petal dust colours: Foliage Green or Moss Green Petal Dust, African Violet Petal Dust, Flame Red Petal Dust
  • fondant work mat (I use Ateco 24 x 36 Inch Fondant Work Mat for all of my fondant work and more), optional
  • a small sharp knife
  • 3 wire racks or cookie sheets lined with parchment paper
  • pair of small scissors (such as manicure scissors you designate for food)
  • 3 small-medium paint brushes for dusting colour, 1 medium-large brush for water
  • ribbon of choice
  • cornstarch or icing sugar for dusting work surface (if not using fondant work mat)

Method

Make your fondant asparagus (you can make these as far in advance as you wish):

  1. Colour your fondant 3 shades of green using the AmeriColor Leaf Green & Sugarflair Gooseberry. Make 1/3  of your fondant 50/50, then make two additional shades: 1 with the slightest bit more Leaf Green and the final with the slightest bit more Gooseberry. Keep all your 3 shades of green fondant well-sealed (I use medium plastic seal bags) while not in use, and only work with small amounts at once.
  2. Removing only a golf-ball-sized bit of fondant from the bag, soften it by working it in your hands for a moment, and then, on a fondant work mat or clean countertop, roll into a long, even rope, about 1/2″ thick or so, using your hands or a cookie sheet (this creates a very even rope) in a back-and-forth rolling motion. *If your fondant sticks to your countertop, use a light dusting of icing sugar or cornstarch. If you use a fondant mat, you won’t have this issue.
  3. Cut into 5″ long pieces (you should get 3 or so per rope) and cut remaining “rope” into 2″ pieces. Using the palm of your hand, roll “neck’ of each piece gently, so that it tapers a small bit and then do the same to the very tip, so it becomes slightly pointed. Don’t worry if they aren’t all the exact same length, as we’ll be trimming them a bit before putting them on the cake.
  4. Working quickly, and while keeping the pieces on the counter, make many tiny snips the tapered ends of each piece and sporadically along the stalks. *Be sure to not actually cut the flaps of fondant off when using the scissors, as you want the little “triangle” flaps to pull away from the spear, but not come off. So now you have your first spears and tips (woohoo!). Now, simply repeat a few hundred times. Kidding! Sort of. Set each one on a wire rack or parchment-lined cookie sheet (they simply dry faster on rack, but if you are doing ahead of time, use cookie sheets as they are easy to move around) to dry. The quantity needed depends on the diameter of you cake and how thick you rolled your asparagus stalks. I believe I used about 75 full spears (for the outside of the cake) and ~400 tips to fill the center. Let dry overnight (or up to weeks in advance) in a cool, dry place–exposed to air.
  5. Using small dry paintbrushes, generously dust each spear with green dust at the tip and randomly over stalk (where you snipped), then with hints of African Violet and Flame Red. *Refer to your real bunch of asparagus as much as possible. You will be adding a final round of dust after the cake has been assembled, so you don’t need to go overboard with the dusting.
  6. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate with a fancy beverage of some kind, because the worst, my friends, is over–you have just made hundreds of fondant asparagus + tips!

Assemble the Asparagus Cake:

  1. Cover your cake in either green vanilla buttercream or vanilla buttercream covered with green fondant. *I used green fondant that I coloured white fondant using leaf green to gooseberry green 50/50. Don’t stress too much about your fondant or buttercream job being perfect, because not one inch of this part of the cake will be visible, but do your best to start with a fairly smooth and even surface. Place cake on the plate or pedestal you plan to serve it on, and chill cake for 30 minutes, or so.
  2. If you finished your cake with green vanilla buttercream, that will essentially be your glue–you can go ahead and places your full spears, one by one, directly around the cake, as close together as possible. You may want to trim the bottom of certain spears before sticking them to the cake, to ensure they all sit at the same height–you want your spears to sit about 2″ above the top of your cake (see photo). If you finished your cake with green fondant, you will use a medium-large paint brush or pastry brush and wet sections of the cake before gently pressing the asparagus to the sides–the wet fondant is your glue. You may have to hold each one or few for a moment until it sticks, or tie a ribbon around the outside of the spears and cake to set (see photo).
  3. Once you have placed spears all the way around the perimeter of the cake, tie the ribbon firmly around the cake to help them set.
  4. You will now place the tips tightly together on the top of the cake, one by one. Remember that you don’t want any of the under-cake exposed, as this is what makes it look so real. Fill every inch you can with the tips, trimming the bottoms before placing on the cake, if necessary (you want them to be as close to the same height as possible).
  5. Add any last shading with your petal dusts to enhance the tips, bases and spots where you snipped.
  6. Voila! Now, please, have another fancy beverage and piece of cake to celebrate (Asparagus Cake, anyone?). You did it!

Sweetapolita’s Notes for a successful Asparagus Cake:

  • Use real asparagus as your guide–this was key for me. Had I gone by memory, I never would have thought to include red and purple shading, which I think makes it.
  • Make all of the spears fairly consistent (in terms of length and diameter), but each one should be slightly different (shading, snips, etc)–think organic shapes and colours–not overly engineered.
  • Sugarflair Gooseberry green gel is the best I’ve found for a realistic green shade of base fondant. If you can’t find this, try adding a tiny bit of black to your Leaf Green colour gel, or experiment with mixing different shades of green.
  • Shading, shading, shading–this gives the cake that real trompe l’oeil dimension that freaks people out (hehe).

Love Asparagus? Check out these lovely handmade asparagus finds:

Good luck, enjoy & Happy Asparagus Cake Day (not really, but imagine if I had the power to create such a thing?)!



Related posts:

When an Asparagus Cake Just Makes Good Sense

*May 2011 update: I have just recently recreated this cake in an 8-layer version! You can view it here: For the Love of Fondant Asparagus (and 8-Layer Cakes).

NEW! How to Make a Fondant Asparagus Cake {a Tutorial}

Funny thing happened on the way to designing my sister-in-law, Mary’s cake for her post-figure-competition celebration: my pink and frilly cake idea got hijacked by this sudden idea that I had to create a hyperrealistic vegetable confection. It was an “Aha!” moment, and I knew right then and there that there was no turning back. Thing is, while training for the IDFA competition, she was so disciplined, so regimented, and so ridiculously sick of eating asparagus. The week before her show, during a text conversation we were having, in response to “How are you doing?” she replied, “I’m loathing asparagus!” So, like any self-respecting sister-in-law and friend would do, I decided to to torment her with a green and spear-filled asparagus cake. See, there’s something you should know: Mary is a foodie, and like me, lives for dessert. This makes her pre-show determination and diet that much more torturous remarkable.

Mary and I talked about the post-show celebration for the weeks leading up to it, and what she really wanted to eat–the girl deserved to eat whatever she wanted, and I was determined to make that happen for her. As for dessert, she knew she wanted rich chocolate cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream and fondant, so that was the starting point. Once I had the cake baked, filled, and coated, I covered it in a nice bright leafy green fondant. I then started on the asparagus. Working from a real bundle of asparagus for reference, I rolled out about 150 full-size green fondant spears, a dozen at a time, snipped them to look as realistic as possible, and then let them dry. I also dyed, rolled out, trimmed, and snipped  about 400 asaparagus tips and set them aside to dry. Once they were dry, I dusted them with several shades of green edible dusting powder (that I typically use for dusting sugar flowers and leaves), and small touches of red. Once they were all dusted and looking particularly asparagus-ish, I started to assemble it all. I wasn’t sure how it was all going to come together, but I loved making this cake, and, in the end, I was kind of proud of it!

I’m not sure, but when Mary first saw her cake, I think she may have wondered if they were actually real asparagus. Sure, we were all eager to try (especially my little Reese) a big yummy piece of the cake, but I think, even more so, we were so excited to watch Mary eat hers!

Yay–cake consumption! Reese was so proud to be taking the first bites with Auntie Mary. And, yep, that is a trophy you see–turns out that all of that hard work and discipline pays off! I have to say, Mary’s victory just made the cake that much sweeter, for all of us. Now that she’s competing in the Canadian Natural Physique Championships in April, I think I better kick it up a notch for the next post-show confection…a 3-tier version, perhaps?

Thanks for stopping by! xo

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