Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Royal Stuff-Up. Literally.

No, this is not a post about me meeting a member of the royal family and saying something dumb. Interesting I should say that, actually, because I did have a dream the other night that Prince William called me up and asked me out. I don't know how I knew it was him, but I just did, because somehow I could also "see" him on the other end of the phone, and he looked a lot more like his hotter, 16-year-old self (that is to say, he had hair) than his less attractive 28-ish year old self. I was not, however, delusional enough to believe it could really be true, because after we'd chatted and flirted and agreed to go out with him, I kept saying "Is this really Prince William? Really? Is this really Prince William?" Ahh, good to know that even in my sleep I'm a babbling, incoherent mess around men!

So, now for the REAL story.

Today I finally decided to have a crack at royal icing. I'm talking the fancy-schmantzy, beautiful piped stuff you often see on old-fashioned wedding cakes. I happen to think that style is absolutely gorgeous, but the masses appear to be addicted to rolled sugarpaste icing for some reason that I can't quite explain.

I know it was dumb of me to think that this was the sort of thing that anyone could possibly be naturally talented at, but in my heart of hearts I hoped that I was the Da Vinci of royal icing. How wrong I was. No, as it turns out, I am more like the Picasso of royal icing, or perhaps even the Dali. Sigh.

I can't say that I'm actually surprised that it all went horribly, horribly wrong, because I have never had a lesson in royal icing, and no amount of reading will prepare you for the shock. I also don't think it helped that I found four or five different variations on the recipe, and I suspect that I ended up using the kind most commonly found in floodwork on gingerbread men or for gluing gingerbread houses together. Next time I intend to make a cake out of a cake decorating book and follow the instructions letter for letter, word by word.

Having provided a very suitable excuse for the crappiness of my icing (besides the fact I'm just not used to holding a piping bag), I am now less reticent to share the embarrassment that is the cakes I decorated (I baked two miniature ones to practice on, and two cupcakes). Remember that the icing is far too runny to hold its form, and with that in mind, I kind of did okay. I was seriously wondering whether I'd delusionally thought I could do certain techniques with royal icing that can normally only be done with buttercream, but the Wilton section on royal icing put my mind at ease. It also showed me that I whipped it for about five to seven minutes shy of what I should have. Oh well, live and learn.

First up, I attempted to cover the cakes smoothly in plain white icing. FAIL. Then I had a crack at a rigid scalloped border. Suffice it to say, runny icing was never going to do the trick, therefore FAIL.

Also, I managed to get the Wilton gel food dye on my hands because, even though I bought vinyl gloves for the purpose, I totally forgot to put them on. FAIL.

Then I tried a technique known as cornelli lace. This actually isn't so far from what it's supposed to look like, so it's kind of an UN-FAIL! :) Except that because my smallest tip is a #2, it's a lot fatter than it should have been. Also, again, I suspect this technique would have worked better with a whipped icing like buttercream (at this point I begin to wonder whether you can whip royal icing into a fluffy frenzy. It makes sense that you could, because it is effectively a somewhat unbalanced meringue - and more on that later. Never having whipped royal icing for as long as you're supposed to, I have no idea whether, when you do that, it whips into a gorgeous, fluffy frenzy. I do intend to find out, but for now there is royal icing from here to kingdom come (by which I mean all the way across my kitchen), so I think I'll wait a while to find out).

And then I attempted to... ooh there's a name for this and I think it's lacework but I'm not certain. Basically it involves piping the icing onto baking paper laid over a template, letting it dry, and then gluing it to the cake with more icing. Being slack, I decided to freestyle it, which ended with the design being a bit sloppy and also a little phallic. FAIL. (Secondary fail due to inappropriately sized icing tip.) And then I got impatient and put it in the oven (which was off, but which had recently been on) to dry, and that's where my thought that royal icing is actually like meringue came into play, because instead of just drying, it darkened and rose, much like meringue. FAIL.

So this is what they looked like. I'm a little bit embarrassed by them but I'm posting them as a reminder to myself to be more patient.

Try not to laugh too hard.


  1. I think it looks more uterine than phallic :-)

    Good on you for trying - the colour is nice! When I did the cake decorating class, they beat the royal icing for, like, half an hour? Obviously not with hand-held beaters.

    I find with lots of these things that there are heaps of recipes... I guess you just have to use intution + trial and error to find out what works. I don't generally find Wilton to be fantastic - must find Mum's AWW cake decorating book when I'm home!

  2. It still looks better than anything I would ever concoct. The top one makes me thinks of brains. Mmmm.... brains.


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