Monday, March 29, 2010

Here Comes Peter Cottontail...

Easter is one of my favorite holidays. It and Christmas are full of very important spiritual meaning. Not to diminish that, but they are also full of the best substance on earth…CHOCOLATE! And thanks to the wonderful folks at Wilton, you and I can make twice as many chocolate goodies as you can buy from a bag, for half the cost. Candy Melts are a fantastic invention!

Never heard of candy melts? They’re little chocolate discs that you melt down and pour into molds. You can do it a couple of ways, the traditional double boiler method, or the way I did it, using the microwave. There’s a rainbow of colors, and you can use as many or as few as you want depending on your molds. The best part about them is they are already tempered, which you would have to do yourself if you wanted to make candy out of regular chocolate. You know they’ll set up every time and there’s no worry about having a gooey chocolate mess on your hands from failed chocolate.

    Here’s what you need:
  • Chocolate mold(s) of your choice—see note below
  • Candy melts in desired colors to fill your mold
  • If you plan on multiple colors per mold you will need disposable decorating bags.
  • Storage solution for finished candy. I use plastic wrap and colored ribbon.
  • If your mold is designed for it, a package of lollipop sticks, cookies, or pretzel rods.

The molds I chose were Easter themed lollipops, but the same process applies to any mold you choose. Also, it’s helpful to get 2 of the same mold, so while one is in the fridge hardening you can still be working with the other. A second is not necessary, but it definitely makes the project go faster.

    The step-by-step:
  1. Clear a space in the refrigerator wide enough to accommodate your molds (and any lollipop sticks if necessary).

  2. Melt your candy melts. If you want one solid color, you can melt them down in a glass container with a pour spout. (Pyrex you are my friend for this project and many others.) If you’ll be mixing colors in the same mold, melt each color in a disposable decorating bag. There’s directions on the candy melts package depending on your preferred melting method.
  3. Pour candy into mold, decorating as you see fit. Make sure to fill it all the way to the top.

  4. If your mold is designed for lollipops add the sticks. Rotate them to cover the end in chocolate, which will secure it into the lollipop upon hardening.
  5. Tap the mold on the counter or table top. This lets any air bubbles rise to the surface and fills in any spots in the mold you may have missed. This is especially important if you’re using decorating bags to fill your molds. Look at the photos of my finished chocolates. I obviously forgot this step, which is why I’m making a big deal out of it now. Whatever. They still taste the same…

  6. Place the molds in the refrigerator until the candy has hardened. It usually takes 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Take the candies out of the fridge, pop them out of the molds, and (optionally) chow down! If you go to unmold the chocolates and you’re having a tough time getting them out, it means they aren’t ready. Pop them back in the fridge and check them again in 10 minutes.
  8. Wrap any candies you won’t be eating right away, or store it in an air-tight container. I usually wrap mine individually. Use an appropriately sized piece of plastic wrap, fold it in half around the chocolate portion, gather the ends together at the base of the candy and tie them around the lollipop stick using colored ribbon. (They look really pretty in gift baskets this way.) If you’re too lazy for that, Wilton also makes little candy wrapping kits especially for this purpose.

In total, I spent $5 for this project (2 molds on sale, and one color of candy melts). I had some of the lollipop sticks and a couple colors of chocolate left over from Christmas. So if you add the sticks, roughly $8. (It was a mega pack.) I won’t count the colors since I had so many, but the candy melts are approximately $3 each when regularly priced. That’s a lot more chocolate than you get in the Easter candy bags at the grocery store, and I can re-use the molds next year. Definitely pleased…

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ready, Set...go??

No project this week, but I am going to tease you with things to come. I’ve decided to do a Melt-and-Pour mini-series for the month of April. The only problem with this plan is that my first project in the series is for Easter. Not that Easter is a problem, but that Easter falls on a Sunday and my project, should I post it on its appropriate date would appear after Easter is over. Since that would be major fail, Melt-and-Pour month is going to start next week so you have time to make the yummy goodies for the kiddies’ Easter baskets. By now you’re probably thinking, “Umm. Okay. Tell me what we’re making already.” So here it is:

Week 1- Molded chocolate Easter lollipops

Week 2-Soy container candles

Week 3-Homemade lip balm

Week 4-Sunflower glycerin soap

I can’t wait! See you next week!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tweet! Tweet!

I realize last week’s roses may have been a bit of a challenge, so I’m tackling a project that is MUCH easier this week. As spring inches closer and closer I realized it was time to get the patio ready again. It’s one of my favorite spots to relax and read a great book during the summer, so I try to make it as pretty as possible. The first thing I did was fill up the bird feeder. Within an hour I started seeing finches flying around the porch gobbling up the good stuff. Surprising, since I hadn’t expected to see one for about another month. (I live in Michigan, so it’s still a tad chilly around here this time of year.) I instantly wanted more of those cute little birds around so I decided to decorate with a new bird house.

If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can get a kit and build your own house. I opted for the lazy route and purchased mine pre-built. Don’t want a basic, boring, bird house? They now make them in several shapes and sizes to accommodate the d├ęcor in your garden or patio. You can even get a house shaped like a pirate ship. How fun is that?

Once you’ve selected your house, grab some acrylic paints (and if you like a clear sealer for an extra layer of protection) and go to town! This is a great project on a rainy day with the kids too. The birds may or may not use the house, depending on their nesting preferences, but it’ll still add a nice touch of color to the porch. I think I may paint a second one…

Monday, March 8, 2010

Can't beat buttercream!

I've recently taken a couple of the Wilton cake decorating classes and I wanted to share with you one of the techniques I've learned.  It's arguably one of the hardest flowers to create, but roses are so pretty that the effort is worth it.  Besides, anything that turns out too ugly for the cake just gets eaten on the spot. I can't think of a better way to destroy the evidence of failure.  Can you?

I created a video how-to for the process, but as my cinematography skills still need a little work, I've also included some still photos to help you get a closer look at some of the details.  First-things-first though, you can't create roses without the buttercream.  The following is Wilton's recipe for a great buttercream icing.  It will make about 3 cups of stiff icing, but always needs a little more water than the recipe calls for in order to come together.  If it's smooth and feels like super thick mashed potatoes when you stir it, you're on the right track.

1 Cup solid white vegetable shortening (Crisco recommended)
1 tsp flavoring (vanilla, almond, or butter work great)
2 Tbs water (start with this and add more as needed a tsp at a time while stirring until the icing is smooth)
1 lb confectioners sugar, or approximately 4 cups (I use my kitchen scale and weigh it out)
1 Tbs meringue powder
A pinch of salt (popcorn salt works the best because it's finer grains blend into the frosting better)

Cream the shortening, flavoring, and water.  Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until everything is thoroughly mixed.  (Remember to start slow so you don't get covered in sugar, and then turn up the speed once everything is damp.) Blend an extra minute or so, until creamy.

And now, on to the video.

Also, as promised, the still photos.

Making the mound-
Keep the tip "buried" in the frosting until you have it almost at the height you want the rose.  Remember you're aiming for the size of a hersey's kiss.  Then stop squeezing the icing and pull away to create the peak of your mound.

The center petal-
Lay the decorating tip right next to the mound.  Squeeze the bag and turn the flower nail at the same time to wrap to the top of the mound in icing.  Cross the "wrap" over itself and end the petal at the bottom of the nail.

The first layer of petals-
Start placing the first layer of petals on the wrap, about half way up the mound.  Keep the large end of the tip touching the mound at all times.  While turning the nail, squeeze the bag and move the tip in a slight up and down motion to make a 1/2 inch petal.  You don't want them to be too large.  For the first layer you want a total of 3 petals.

The second and third layers-
Repeat the same process as the first layer of petals. You want a total of 5 petals in the second layer, and 7 in the third.  And although those are the suggested number, use your eye to determine what's right.  If you got a little lop-sided and you think that you need one more or one less petal to make the flower look proportionate, do it that way.  Flowers in nature don't have a set number of petals, so why should icing flowers be any different?

A lot of practice, and a lot of patience will make your roses better over time.  It took me 2 weeks to get my starting mound to even look right, so don't get discouraged if you're having trouble.

You also may have noticed (or at least I hope you did) that I made white roses with a edge around the tips of the petals.  Wanna know how I did it?  Before you put your icing in the bag, use a small paint brush to paint a line of food coloring on the bag. Then fill your bag with icing. Make sure the narrower end of your rose petal tip lines up with the color strip so that the color comes out on the correct part of the petal.

Now go whip up a batch of cupcakes and cover them with pretty roses!  We've all got to do our part to encourage spring to come along.  And don't forget to tell me how they turned out. Let me know if I left out any directions or if you need extra encouragement too.  Good luck!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Blame crayons. Yes, you read that correctly. Crayons were the first tools I used in exploring my creativity. My love for making pretty things has only grown since opening that first box of waxy wonders, and I’m convinced that crayons are the reason I’m such an artsy-craftsy person today.

I can remember visiting my grandma’s house when I was very young and opening her closet filled with various toys and games. Though not always the first thing I grabbed, the giant cookie tin, recycled as a crayon container, was sure to make an appearance at least once during the visit. I would proudly hold up my blue and green scribbles to various relatives saying, “Here! Look what I made for you!” And always some variation of, “That’s beautiful!” or “What a masterpiece!” I would receive in return.

Next I progressed to the challenge every youngster must master in order to be considered a true artist: staying within the lines. Those coloring books taught me that focus and patience can reward you with something even *more* beautiful if you’re willing to think ahead.

So how does that all apply to now? As I hinted at before, I like to make pretty things. LOTS of pretty things, in all different materials. My recent artistic loves include jewelry and beading, cake decoration, soap making, crochet, and painting ceramics. I like to find projects that others have created and adapt them in order to embrace them as my own. I decided to combine all these interests using one of my other obsessions (the internet) to create a journal of sorts for my beloved creations, and in the process perhaps inspire you to get creative yourself. And since March is national craft month, I couldn’t think of a better time to start my crafty chronicle.

My goal is to provide you with information on a completed project or a new project idea at least once a week. We’ll see how I do. If all else fails and I can’t think of something inspiring, I’ll just bust out the crayons and scribble something down for you. Tell me what your thoughts are on the subject though.  Any favorite crafts you want included as possible starter topics for the blog? Just make a note in the comments section.