My dear friend Andrea's birthday was fast approaching when she was still deciding how to celebrate. Once she'd settled on a low-key get together, I offered to make her cake. But what kind of cake? Andrea had a few specific parameters: no chocolate, no lemon anything, no mint, and most especially, no cooked fruit. Such specifications immediately knocked about every cake in my repertoire out the window.
But, after tossing around a few ideas from Dorie Greenspan's Baking book, we ultimately settled on a white cake with strawberry-cream cheese icing. Not a huge stretch, but different nonetheless. Since I made it a personal goal early this year to bake every cake I make completely from scratch, I'll be blogging the creation of this cake in parts. Today's topic: decorations.
I knew from the start that I wanted to make the cake's flavor obvious on sight. I hemmed and hawed for a while over how to decorate it so it was obviously strawberry, but cutting up fresh strawberries and arranging them on top seemed too easy and overdone. Did I want to pipe on buttercream strawberries? Did I want to shape the cake like a strawberry? Finally I settled on cutting out and decorating butter cookies as strawberries and strawberry blossoms and plopping them on the cake.
But I couldn't find a strawberry cookie cutter to save my life. Even after the clerks told me they carried no such cookie cutter, I wandered nevertheless around a new baking supply store for inspiration (not that I'd need a reason to wander around a baking supply store). I happened upon a row of silver heart-shaped cookie cutters on wall pegs, in varying sizes. As I removed the smallest cutter from the wall and held it upside-down, I felt a stroke of genius. Surely I could decorate the hearts as strawberries!
Upon finding some teeny white sugar flowers:
I nixed the cookie blossom idea, picked up some royal icing powder, and headed home.
I made about 50 tiny heart cookies using a very simple butter cookie recipe (it didn't need to be an earth-shattering, delicious cookie, as it's just being used for decorating).
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine flour and salt, set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add egg, corn syrup, and vanilla and beat until combined. Slowly add dry ingredients. A slightly crumbly dough will form, but should come together when pressed. If your dough is too dry, try adding half of another egg (beat it in a separate bowl and pour in half of the mixture) and beating together again.
Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters into desired shapes, then place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for 12-14 minutes (with such tiny shapes, mine took no more than 10). Allow cookies to cool while you prepare your royal icing.
If you aren't lazy or in a hurry like I was, you can make your own royal icing, and here's a good recipe (see "runny icing" section). If you do opt to use a mix like I did, just add about 5 tablespoons of water to a one-pound bag and mix by hand with a wooden spoon. Make sure you follow the directions on the bag for "picture/flood" icing, otherwise you'll be creating a whipped icing for decorating cakes - not ideal for cookies. Basically, you want it to be thick enough not to run right through the tip of a piping bag, but thin enough that it will easily "flood" the inside of a cookie outlined in icing (for reference).
Divide into small bowls with lids (or use plastic wrap), to keep the icing from drying out - which it will do, more quickly than you may think. Color the icing in each bowl with food coloring, and mix well. You can use a spatula to spread the icing, but I prefer the piping bag/squeeze bottle method.
Tada! I successfully transformed the tiny hearts into tiny strawberries. I'm still not completely sure how I'll lay them out on the cake with the sugar blossoms, but I think I'm off to a good start.
Now I just need to find an application for the other 30 naked hearts...
Stay tuned! Next up: white cake from scratch.