Succulent Summer – Tips for Piping Scrumptious Succulents
This modern arid aesthetic is so hot in the icing and gardening worlds, turning our regular cupcakes into the perfect prickly treat for our next picnic.
Come summertime, the many varieties of succulents in the garden, those in beds and borders, ones in pots and containers and even those in planter boxes, explode with riotous colour. Summer brings the garden to life and why shouldn't we celebrate the beautiful display that Mother Nature puts on with a bevy or delicious cupcakes and cakes that are adorned with prickly, colourful and oh so scrumptious succulents and cacti that melt in your mouth?
These delicate looking cakes and cupcakes might look too prickly to eat and difficult to pipe, but our local piper, Grace Stevens, shares some of her top tips on how to achieve perfection when piping these delicious succulents for dressing the table and sharing with family and friends.
Perfect icing consistency
The consistency of your buttercream is super important to get right or your culinary garden can quickly become a delicious but disappointing mess. Sometimes, you follow instructions to the letter but something just doesn't come out the way you would prefer it to. With this in mind, Grace offers some helpful and practical tips you can use to put out the perfect succulent display.
So, if you find that your buttercream is tool stiff or too soft, or you are struggling to pipe the buttercream onto your cakes or cupcakes, heed the following advice.
If the buttercream is too soft, and you find you have very little control over the extrusion speed - try giving it a rest for 30 minutes in the fridge. Sometimes, the heat of your hands can cause the butter in the icing to liquify. Cooling it in the fridge helps the butter to resolidify so you have better control over your form. If I’m piping lots of succulents on a short timeline, I’ll always use more than one piping bag with the same nozzle and buttercream and alternate using each piping bag to prevent my buttercream from getting too warm.
It is very important that your icing sugar not contain any cornflour or anti-caking agent as the thickness or viscosity affects how the butttercream reacts when pressure is applied and it can be almost impossible to achieve a perfectly stiff buttercream. It is far better to use pure icing sugar for better control.
The great part about these buttercream succulents is that you only need simple tools to achieve the same impact as complicated sugarcraft. Once your icing assembly line is set up, you should not need fabric icing bags as these are usually used to insulate the icing from the heat of the hand in bigger scale kitchens. At home, you can use disposable bags that can be tossed when you are done - which makes clean up much easier.
To make sure that you properly control the speed and extrusion of your icing from your bag avoid overfilling it. Much like holding a pencil in the correct place gives you control over lettering, holding your bag in the palm of your hand gives you control over your creation. Personally, I find that 100g of icing per bag fits perfectly in my hand and gives me pinpoint control.
When it comes to the precision of your final product it is difficult to overestimate the importance of keeping your hands, tools and work surface clean and organised. Trust me, nothing is more disappointing than accidentally piping the wrong colour directly onto a cake or turning around to find half of your succulents hanging squished to your sleeve. Keeping your tools clean makes for clean work and immaculate results.
Selection of succulents
When deciding what type of succulent to pipe, remember to be patient with yourself while you are learning. Considering your abilities if you are a beginner means choosing a succulent that requires one nozzle and one colour. If you are more advanced, they are a great choice to experiment with realism and I often use a good reference picture or a real specimen to push my colour matching skills. Striving to achieve the perfectly balanced green by experimenting with the tonal value and adding black or brown.
Arrangement and texture
During a class, I had a very nervous student who had tagged along with a friend. Once she piped her first succulent, her reservation melted quicker than buttercream in an African summer and she left beaming enthusiastically about the bouquet of succulents adorning her cupcake.
To get the most out of your succulent arrangement use succulents that vary in texture to create dimension. If you are more advanced and want to add flowers, make selections that won’t compete with the textures in the succulents so that the eye can easily follow the design of your cake.
Transporting your creation
Succulents are a perfect place for beginners not in the least because they are easy to transport to show off to friends and family. Unlike the more complicated designs of traditional flowers. They can easily be piped directly onto the case or piped well in advance and refrigerated or frozen until you need them. If you are transporting them, it’s best to do so in a covered cardboard box as they will crust over if left out at room temperature. Not to mention it makes them far less fiddly to handle.
We have long adored the geometric curls, glorious textures and extraordinary colours of succulents. Knowing the simple piping techniques behind them takes them from being an indulgence we dream of right to our tables. This modern arid aesthetic is so hot in the icing and gardening worlds, turning our regular cupcakes into the perfect prickly treat for our next picnic.
For more summer secrets, follow Grace on Instagram@ grace_stevenschef, visit her website www.gracestevens.co.za, or meet her in person and book your one on one experience.