So it’s almost time to make my daughter’s birthday cake, and I’m busy racking my brains to think of something awesome. I’m having a bit of a block right now, but one thing I do know, is that I don’t want to cover the cake in fondant. Don’t get me wrong, fondant certainly has it’s uses – it holds it’s shape well, and is easily moulded; it’s perfect for sculptural projects that simply cannot be achieved with buttercream.
But… it tastes gross. There, I said it.
The first couple of bites of fondant are ok, but its thick texture and nondescript flat sweet taste don’t exactly make you want to continue eating it. Indeed, you often find it left on plates at kids parties – even young children are smart enough to know there must be something better to eat! But what else can you do?
Well, one thing you can do apparently, is use modelling chocolate. I say ‘apparently’, because I have never used modelling chocolate before – in fact, I’ve never even tasted it. But I know that it’s got to taste better than fondant! You can buy modelling chocolate in specialist shops, but it’s pretty expensive, and the internet reassures me that it’s pretty easy to make, so let’s give it a go, shall we?
The recipes that I’ve seen, mostly call for light corn syrup, and a ratio of anywhere 20%-50% of corn syrup to chocolate by weight. I’ve also seen it mentioned a few times that white chocolate is prone to being softer, so I’m going to start at about a 30% corn syrup and see how I get on.
The first thing to do is simply to melt your chocolate. I always like to do this slowly over a bain-marie, using a metal bowl. You could always do this in the microwave, but I’m not a big fan of this method; It’s a lot easier to accidentally overheat your chocolate as it will heat it unevenly. Also, you can’t use metal in a microwave, meaning you’re stuck with materials that retain heat, making everything more time consuming and harder to manage.
Either way, once the chocolate is all melted, simply pour in your corn syrup, and stir everything together. The chocolate should seize, and then it can be left to set up.
Oh dear. A huge amount of cocoa butter has separated out from the chocolate solids. I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen. It looks really gross.
A quick search online suggests that this happened either because my chocolate was too hot when I added the corn syrup, or because I incorporated the corn syrup too roughly.
Ok, let’s try that again…
Right, this time I warmed the corn syrup slightly so that it’s a similar temperature to the chocolate – about 35c. This should prevent the syrup from ‘shocking’ the chocolate and causing it to seize too quickly.
Then, I simply drizzle in my corn syrup, and gently, slowly, carefully, fold it through to incorporate. I treated this just like I would fold a delicate meringue, aiming for maximum efficiency; scraping around the bowl thoroughly, and turning everything over.
This was looking great. I couldn’t see any more shiny patches of corn syrup, nor any obvious streaks of unmixed chocolate. So I turned it out onto some clingfilm, and pressed it into flat square shape. It should then be left at room temperature for at least 12 hours to set up completely.
Ok, so now is the moment of truth – let’s unwrap my brick and take a look at it!
Yep, no leaking oil, or stickiness from the corn syrup – I think we’ve done it! Whilst the chocolate isn’t super firm, it’s certainly not soft enough to be easily sculpted or rolled out. A few minutes kneading are required to allow a smooth, workable paste to form. You will almost certainly need to work in batches, as attempting to knead the whole block at once will be quite difficult.
So what can we do with the modelling chocolate now that we’ve made it?
Well, the answer to that question is not entirely clear. The burning question on my lips was, can you cover a cake with it? The internet did not have a definitive answer for me. Some people say yes, some people say no. Some people say that you can only use it in the same way you would marzipan a cake, with a circle on top, and a long strip around the sides.
Well, let’s not take anyone’s word for it, and let’s find out! So, let’s quickly knock up a cake and cover it in buttercream:
I rolled out my modelling chocolate into a large circle, and then placed it on top, just as I would with fondant. I then attempted to lift it up and smooth it into place around the sides. It seemed to be going very well at first, but as I started to work towards the bottom edge, I noticed that the chocolate was not really as malleable as it needed to be. I couldn’t smooth the chocolate out easily, and in fact it ended up cracking along the edges, as it just didn’t have the elasticity that you get with fondant 😦
I did my honest best to finish the sides off as well as I could, but it still looked like a total disaster. I was feeling pretty depressed at this point!
So, I guess the the answer is, yes you can cover a cake in modelling chocolate, but it’s really difficult, so unless you’re already a master with fondant, you’re probably going to end up with a few cracks, ripples, or other imperfections. You will be able to smoosh some of the folds together, and you can push the cracks together and rub them gently with your finger to help reseal them, but it’s certainly a lot less forgiving than I had hoped.
Not one to be defeated, I thought I could still rescue this cake with some decoration to cover all the cracks and bulges – this is where I expected the modelling chocolate would really come into it’s own! First things first, I decided to put a ribbon around the bottom of the cake to cover up the worst of the catastrophe looking back at me 😀
I had a bit of a brain wave, and decided to use my pasta roller to help with this. It was the perfect tool for the job, as it allowed me to roll out a very long piece of chocolate, and of perfectly even thickness. I had to pass it through the pasta machine several times before it became smooth and workable, but it was a lot easier than doing it by hand!
My original intention was to make a chocolate bow to cover up the join the in ribbon, but unfortunately my cake board was a little too small to make this work, so I had to improvise and stick a few chocolate leaves on the front to conceal the join. I made these leaves very simply using a fondant cutter that I had, produced by PME.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself now, as I’d managed to cover up the worst of the imperfections, and I was at least hopeful that I could produce something that wouldn’t be a total embarrassment!
There was still the matter of the large cracks along the back edge, however, and I knew some heavy decoration would be needed to hide these.
Luckily, I had the perfect plan; I have been waiting for an opportunity to use the ‘easy rose cutter’ that I bought months ago, and this was definitely it. After cutting out the shapes, simply use a ball tool to thin out the edges of the petals, then fold in half and roll up!
You will need to spend a few moments carefully fanning out the petals, but it’s certainly a lot easier than trying to make the individual petals and carefully putting everything together. If you don’t have a ball tool, you could use the back of a spoon, and place the modelling chocolate on a slightly squishy surface instead – maybe on some kitchen towel on a folded up newspaper, for example. But then, if you’re going to go out and buy the rose cutter anyway, maybe you should splash out on the ball tool and foam pad too 😉
I cut out a load more leaves of different sizes, along with my roses, and left them to harden up for an hour or so before putting on the cake. You don’t need to do this, but it will make them slightly easier to handle. I set mine up on a lumpy foam pad to help the leaves hold a more natural looking curl. Again, you could improvise here, and rest them on some scrunched up newspaper or tin foil.
Now all that’s left to do is stick everything on the cake to cover up the cracks! I used some melted and cooled white chocolate as glue, but you should definitely use this sparingly. I went a bit overboard at first…
It’s always good to place things on your cake first to get a good idea of how they look before sticking them on. For the record, I wouldn’t normally make something as busy as this; I would probably just have 3 roses and a few leaves around them, but this cake needed some really good camouflage! 😀
Actually, I was pretty happy with how it turned out in the end.
So what have I learned about modelling chocolate?
Well, it tastes great, but it’s a lot harder to use than fondant. I would definitely use it to make figures and sculptural details, but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to use it to cover a cake again. This is only a 7 inch cake, and it was super fiddly to make it look this good. Still, I’m delighted to have this recipe in my repertoire, and will be using it to add complicated details and structures to my bakes in the future – not least for my daughter’s birthday cake, for which I finally have a good idea… 🙂
500g white chocolate
150g light corn syrup
Melt the white chocolate over a bain-marie, and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
Warm the corn syrup slightly so that it is a similar temperature to the melted chocolate, then gently fold together until fully incorporated.
Do not beat the chocolate.
If oil starts to separate from the chocolate, stop folding immediately.
Place the chocolate onto some cling film, and shape into a flat square. This will help it set up faster. Cover completely, and leave for at least 12 hours.
Unwrap the modelling chocolate and knead until it is smooth and pliable.
Do not continue to knead any longer than is necessary.