Posts filed under: ‘Royal Icing‘

Butterflies in Royal Icing

Finally its really starting to feel like spring, even though newscasters threatened there would be snow last week.  Thankfully they were mistaken.  The Museum of Natural History here in the city has a really cool live butterfly exhibit going on currently.  I’m planning on getting over there soon, but from what I can see its alot like the Bronx Zoo’s year round exhibit which I had fun visiting not too long ago.

The Butterfly House in the Bronx Zoo is a really peaceful place to spend the day, especially in late fall or early spring when you don’t have to contend with crowds. I’d suggest not going on the weekend if you want a quiet day to yourself.  Its a few bucks extra for admission for the Butterfly Hut, but worth the cash.  Aside from the Flutterbies, there is a really beautiful pond filled with massive coy fish and even some birds that all reside in the small hut.


Inspired by these spring creatures heres simple way to make your own butterflies with royal icing.  Though the technique is little more than tracing, it will take a number of days for the butterflies to dry.

First you need a recipe of Royal Icing. Royal icing was actually what my first post was about. Heres a different take on Royal.

This time I used dried egg whites.  I didn’t have extra eggs laying around, but I did have powdered egg whites.

I used 3 Tbsp mixed with 1/2 c of water.  I whisked to help dissolve the egg and let it stand for about 5 minutes.

Start whipping and slowly add 2 c of powdered sugar.

Mix for 7-10 minutes.  Separate into small bowls and color with food coloring. Thin some of your icing to thin consistency adding 1-2 tsp water per cup.  The icing should not hold shape when its thinned– meaning it slowly settles to a smooth surface as you mix or pipe it but its still thick. Make sure when storing to seal tightly with plastic wrap as royal icing dries quickly.

You now need a template to trace.  I sketched one of each wing on to tracing paper and folded it in half and retraced to get a carbon copy of the matching wing.

If this all sounds too complicated check out Peggy Porshen’s Pretty Party Cakes or Beautiful Cakes: Irresitable Cakes and Cookies. This project is included in both books though teaching the Wilton Method is what actually inspired me to make butterflies this way.  Both Peggy’s books have wing tracing templates in the back of the books and her work is so beautiful you won’t be able to resist the ideas inspired by these publications.

Place your tracing paper on a cookie sheet, under a sheet of wax paper (not parchment– your work will stick if you use parchment and most likely break) With medium royal icing colored to your choosing, trace the out line of the wings. Fill in with thin royal icing. Set aside to dry– can take up to 3 days though it can go faster.

Once the wings are dry fold sheets of wax paper (2-3″ squares) and set inside folded index cards. Pipe a thick line of royal icing on crease of wax paper.  Slide matching wings into line of icing, resting the wings on either side of the index card.  Allow to dry balanced on a cookie sheet, or large cardboard egg carton.

Make sure butterflies are completely dry before removing from paper.  Keep in a cool dry place out of light — as colors will fade.  Butterflies will last for a couple months.  Keep free from humidity– a.k.a don’t store in an air tight container as you may find your butterflies will melt if temperature becomes warm and humid.


1 comment April 4, 2011

Christmas Cake, Black Cake, Fruit Cake, Voodoo Cake Call it what you will!

I love how in just about any borough of New York City all you have to do is walk 3 blocks in any direction and you’ll find yourself in a completely different neighborhood.  For instance in my neighborhood you’ll find mostly hispanic, namely Dominican folks.  A few blocks north you’ll find a predominantly Irish neighborhood.  The differences in population from block to block may not be as stark in all parts of the city like Little Italy and China town, but all the same I absolutely love the fact that these small cramped islands we all share make us tolerate each other even accept each other and help us to build our little niches in each community.

Thus this cake recipe became very interesting to me as I’d gotten this same recipe from some very diverse students.  Some of my students come from the Caribbean.  And I’ve been fortunate to taste many versions of a cake they hold dearest in their Heritage.  Black Cake. Black cake is a rich, dense Fruit cake that take lots of preparation: soaking fruit in wine for weeks even months, and repeatedly dousing your baked confection with rum.  Traditionally Black cake is then covered with royal icing, and finally a layer of almond paste, or marzipan rolled out over the top.  This cake is a feat to make, and master and it is delicious, and that’s not just the rum talking.

To see other pics of this Black Cake click on "Specialty" in the Gallery.


Then I realized how cool it was that this gem of the islands was also held in great esteem on a very different island…England.  Of course this seems like no revelation considering how the West Hemisphere was discovered, explored, and conquered by an array Europeans. So no, Christmas Cake, (as the Brits call), being a shared tradition, wasn’t that big of a surprise after all.  But I still relish in the fact that food brings people together.  It’s the reason I write this blog really.  And when it comes down to cake, well you couldn’t think of a better food that is iconic of celebration.  So with one year coming to an end and another beginning I’d like to dedicate this recipe to anyone who aims to live, rather Celebrate life, and all the great things that make us unique and all the wonderful and tasty things we share.

I made this cake for the first time, as a grooms cake for friends of mine who were getting married, See the drum cake under “Weddings” in the gallery.  Murielle a native of Haiti wanted a grooms cake that would be special for her soon to be husband Paul.  I carved the cake into a drum, and modeled after one of Paul’s hand drums.  I think myself a good baker but was nonetheless intimidated at the thought that it would be eaten by a crowd of wedding guests who would be well versed in black cake.

Murielle later gave me the report that she and Paul not only loved the design and the delicious cake, but that it was devoured by their guests who loved it and refered to it as Voodoo Cake.  This recipe originally came to me by a former student Deborah Levine.  Its been somewhat modified.

Black Cake

2 cups butter

2 cup white sugar

9 eggs

1/4  Barbancourt Rum (Adding rum is optional and the original recipe called for white rum.  I HIGHLY recommend getting your hands on WONDERFUL Haitian rum called “Barbancourt” Pronounced: Bar bahn Coo in french. )

1 tb lime juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tb almond extract

1 grated zest of lime

2 pounds chopped dried mixed fruit

2 cups red wine + apprx 1 bottle red wine for soaking

1 cup dark molasses

2 1/2 c all purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground all spice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

pinch of salt

At least 3 weeks ahead of time soak dried fruit in wine.  Typically dark and golden raisins, prunes, cherries and currants are used.  I highly recommend that whatever dried fruit you choose– you choose fruits that don’t contain sulfites as a preservative.  It’s slightly more pricey, but I the preservatives added to dried fruit has a distinct flavor (YUCK) and in my opinion is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY!!!  The point of drying fruit is to preserve it!  In the health food aisle of most stores you will find organic dried fruits in many varieties.  I used Mangos, Pineapples, Papayas, cherries, cranberries, raisins, prunes, figs, blueberries– well just about anything I could find.  I think the sweet tropical fruits like papayas and pineapples add to the flavor of the cake.  Chop or just rip the pieces of fruit with your fingers and cover with red wine of your choice.  I think Layer Cake is a great wine, especially for cake making– I’m a fan of the Primitivo, or the Pinot Noir.  Seal in a large tupperwear container and let soak at room temp for 3 weeks or more.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and Flour 2 9″ round baking pans.

In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and add rum, lime juice, lime zest, vanilla and almond extracts. Blend fruit in a food processor. Stir in soaked fruit, wine, and molasses.

Sift dry ingredients: flour, baking powder salt and spices. Fold batter and pour into pans.

This batter was sooo fluffy and light, mousse like.

Bake for 80-90 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center come out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and then remove from pan and place on cooling rack to cool complete.

Brush on additional wine or Barbancourt rum after baking.  I’m not a liquor drinking but if you are anything like me you might enjoy a small glass of Barbancourt on ice.  Its got a hint of vanilla about it and is an excellent i to a rum cake.  Continuously brush rum a few tablespoons at a time.  Soaking cakes with rum in colonial times allowed cakes to be preserved throughout long journeys– especially overseas.  I’ve had some students assure me that a black cake can last years…though I haven’t tried it myself.  Paul and Murielle tell me they brush rum what they have left of their voodoo cake and plan to have it on their first anniversary.

Traditionally black cake is covered with royal icing. Add a tsp of glycerin to a recipe of royal icing to keep it from hardening.  Roll out marzipan just as you would with Fondant– dusting work surface with powdered sugar, and cover cake.  This is all a bit too sweet for me so I just go with buttercream.

I made a black cake this week for a holiday party in the costume shop at work, hence the buttons, notions, and other sewing accoutrements.  It was a big hit!

4 comments December 10, 2010

Royal Icing…How to make it

Its way harder than you think, and chances are the first time you make royal icing you will screw it up.  Royal Icing needs to be coaxed, coddled, and finessed.  Its like dealing with a high maintenance girlfriend the first time you make it. But once you get it right, you will always (for the most part) be successful in the future.  

A few things to know:

Royal icing is highly suseptable to grease.  Don’t let any greasy-anything near it.  In fact I suggest making royal in metal, and glass bowls only.  Plastic is a difficult surface to remove oils from (chemically oil and plastic are very similiar–therefore they bond together, and are difficult to separate). 

There are alot of ways to make royal icing all of them include beating the mixture for a decent amount of time (7-12 minutes).  Egg whites which are present in every royal icing reciepe, are interesting for their ability to bond with air particles and increase their volume. And though its totally possible to over mix both egg whites and just about anything else you bake (except for gluten free cake–more on this later) you must adequatey beat this egg white-containing mixture in order for it to arrive at the proper consistency.  DSCN0312

Here are some royal icing recipes. All work.  You may like some better than others.  Some could potentially break your beaters…DSCN0309          


Royal Icing The Old-fashioned way:

2 egg whites*

1 TBSP lemon juice

3 cups of powdered sugar

Combine lemon juice and egg whites and mix using egg beaters or counter top mixer.  Egg whites should have some foam present but still be liquidy.

Add sugar and continue beating.  The frosting will first look like the paste that weird kid in kindergarten ate.  Continue mixing and you will notice the frosting is ready when it appears dry and crisp. 

*Egg whites can be appear in various forms.  Straight from the chicken, or you can used Egg Beater’s egg white which are flash pasturized (pasturized without cooking) which kills any chance of salmonela.

*Dried egg whites (available in the baking aisle) also work well.  The powder should be reconstituted with water according to the directions on the canister (usually 2 tbsps).  Once combined with water egg whites should be strained of all lumps–and believe me there are always lumps.

Royal Icing can also be made with Meringue PowderWilton is the only company I know offers this product, and it is available in craft stores and online.  Meringue Powder is a combination of dried egg whites, cream of tartar and a few other stablizing ingredients.  Merignue powder isn’t as smelly as dried egg whites and can also be used as an egg replacer in many recipes.

Royal Icing:

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

3 TBSP Meringue Powder

1/2 cup water

Combine sugar and meringue powder in mixing bowl with a hand mixer or counter top mixer.  Slowly add water.  I recommend beginning with 1/3 cup water and increase by 2 Tbsp if needed.  For a stiff consistency refrain from adding more that 1/2 cup (8 tbsp), unless your hand mixer is really struggling.  Wilton also recommends adding Meringue powder to butter cream frosting.  A great list of frosting reciepes from Swiss Meringue to Chocolate Buttercream is included inside the canister.

Also heres’s a big tip: Should you not want to have you counter tops, shelves and various kitchen spaces covered with a thin but noticeable layer of confectioner’s sugar and be using a super-awesome- fantastic Kitchenaid Mixer then try this:  DSCN0310










 Hide your pretty kitchenaid underneath a damp dish towel.  All those sugar particles with remain at bay, even if it makes your mixer look a little sad. DSCN0311

2 comments July 31, 2009

Royal Icing and its many uses…Flowers

These are some photos from the first cake I made using royal icing flowers.  These flowers are part of the Wilton Method curriculum in Course II.

Royal Icing Flowers Royal Icing Flowers

Royal Icing is fabulous to work with.  Ornate, detailed flowers, borders, and figures can be piped in a multitude of colors.  Royal icing dries to the touch within a few minutes, and is completley hard withing a few hours, depending on icing consistency.   Decorations can be made far in advance (a few months) and stored for later use.  I’ve kept containers full of pansies, daffodils, and daisies that have gotten be out of a decorator’s bind from time to time. 

Pansies, Primroses, and Violets

I like bright, if not loud, colors when it comes to cakes–of course this varies depending on the project.  When storing royal flowers always be sure to keep away from bright lights, be it sunlight or florescent bulbs as most food dyes can fade.

Royal Icing Flowers

Add a comment July 29, 2009

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Sugar, Frosting, and Fondant: an artistic exploration of Cake and other Sweets