Working with chocolate can be intimidating, but ruffles and curls are easy to make--no tempering necessary.
Chocolate curls, ruffles, and leaves are impressive and decadent-seeming decorations. Chocolate curls can be made with a vegetable peeler by simply shaving off pieces from a large chocolate block. Warm the chocolate slightly by rubbing the palm of your hand over the surface a few times. (For best results, use a thick baker's block of chocolate, not a thin candy bar-sized one.)
For large curls and ruffles, spread melted chocolate in a thin layer over a marble slab or the back of a clean baking sheet. Let the chocolate cool until set but not completely hard, and then scrape using a knife, spoon, or spatula (a clean 4-inch putty knife from a hardware store works well) depending on the size and the shape of the curl/ruffle you want. Experiment!
These chocolate confections can be piled high, artfully scattered, or precisely placed on a cake. To make chocolate leaves:
- Carefully brush melted chocolate onto a non-toxic leaf such as a rose leaf.
- Cool until chocolate has fully hardened, and gently peel off the natural leaf from the chocolate one.
- For advanced bakers, tempering the chocolate before painting the leaves will make them firmer and more stable.
- Arrange chocolate leaves around chocolate roses: see Plastic Chocolate below
Flowers and Figures
Marzipan can be shaped into animals, fruits, vegetables, flowers--any fanciful shape. Because it can easily be colored with food coloring pastes, marzipan is a favorite for shaping carrots for carrot cakes and other whimsical garnishes. Dry food coloring or luster dusts can be dusted on the finished shapes for extra shading and shine.
Rolled fondant can be cut into flower shapes or molded, although it is not as flexible as marzipan or plastic chocolate. Plastic chocolate--white and dark--makes beautiful roses and leaves, but is not easy to tint. Brush with luster dust (available at cake decorating and specialty shops) for a subtle blush of color. Gum paste and pastillage are other decorative sugar doughs used by professional cake decorators; while "edible," these decorations are best for admiring, not nibbling.
All decorative doughs should be kept tightly wrapped in plastic to avoid cracking and drying out.
For piped frosting decorations, practice makes perfect! If you're new to cake decorating, buy a set of inexpensive decorating tips from a craft store or supermarket and a can of smooth icing. Use a flat dinner plate or a cookie sheet to practice piping "Happy Birthday" or your desired message. (Script might be easier for beginners than printing.) Play around with star tips to create rosettes and decorative borders; use plain tips for scribing messages or piping pearls. If this is something you enjoy, you may wish to move on to roses, daisies and other more challenging designs.
For string work, lacy Cornelli designs, and other very fine piping work, you will need a smaller opening than commercial decorating tips provide. Pastry chefs make their own parchment paper cones for piping tempered chocolate and royal icing in hair-fine strands. You can try fine piping by using a disposable plastic pastry bag and cutting the smallest opening you can.