Vegan Fondant on a Vegan Chameleon Cake

April 7, 2011
chameleon cake with vegan fondant

Chameleon birthday cake decorated with vegan fondant

Fondant is what you see on tv in all the cake and baking competitions. Typically it is rolled out and draped over the cake, where it creates a velvety-smooth appearance. It’s made from gelatin, corn syrup, powdered sugar, and gums. The consistency is a lot like play dough, and you can roll it out or mold it into shapes.

It’s notoriously finicky to work with. It hates humidity and heat. Since it’s primarily made of powdered sugar, when there is moisture in the air, it absorbs the moisture, becoming sticky, wet, and eventually melting.

You have to work fast with it, since the heat from your hands causes it to soften and tear. It rips easily and gets cracks in it. It picks up on any little dings, dents and mistaken finger pokes or marks.

In fact, it’s such a pain, it’s a wonder people work with it at all. But in a cool, dry, temperature-stable environment, you can get gorgeous results with it.

You need to use a base layer of frosting over the cake, to make the fondant stick. Traditionally this is buttercream. This year I opted to use a coconut milk and cornstarch mixture, like haupia, a thick pudding, which worked fine. You can also make a buttercream frosting by substituting vegan margarine for the butter. I’ve done that in the past, and it works great.

But the birthday girl thinks buttercream is a bit too rich, so I skipped the added expense and went with the coconut milk frosting instead. You don’t taste the frosting much anyway, since the fondant is sickly sweet and will overpower any frosting flavor.

Use a sturdy cake that will hold up to the weight of the fondant, which can end up quite heavy with several layers. And be sure to design your cake so it is structurally sound.

This was a vegan chocolate cake baked in a loaf pan. I kept it in the refrigerator overnight. Then I sculpted the base form before covering it with frosting and letting it harden in the refrigerator. Finally, I covered it with the fondant base layer and decorations.

I recommend you do not eat the fondant, although almost half the guests did. It’s just so sickly sweet. If you pull it off the cake, however, the frosting comes off with it, so you might serve a bowl of frosting on the side, so those people who remove the fondant aren’t stuck with just plain cake.

You can use commercial gel colorants, but the thought of making a vegan cake full of FD&C Color Number This, That, and the Other was gross and pretty much defeated the purpose. So I put on my thinking cap and used natural colorants that I had in my pantry.

The base fondant color turned out white, even with the addition of vanilla extract, so that was one color. To make yellow, I added powdered turmeric. Powdered annatto or achiote seed gave me a gorgeous orange.

I wasn’t quite as successful using my powdered green drink supplement mix to get a green. It ended up being more of an olive color, which was still nice, just not bright and colorful green like I had hoped.

colored vegan fondant

Vegan fondant colored naturally: with turmeric, annatto, and green drink powder. The white is the plain base fondant.

The fresher these powders, the brighter the colors you’ll get. Basically, whatever color it looks like in the jar or package will be what you end up with when you mix enough of it with the fondant.

Because I was using an obscene amount of powdered sugar (2 pounds for one recipe!) I started adding cornstarch towards the end, instead. I don’t know how much this affected the texture and ability to work with the fondant. It seemed to make it less sticky.

The mixture will harden up overnight, so resist the temptation to keep adding sugar until it stops sticking. You can’t take it out, and adding too much makes it crack when you try to roll it out.

So stop mixing when it becomes a solid mass that you can work into a ball, even if it still sticks a bit. Wrap it in plastic and leave it on the counter overnight.

The next day, when you go to work with it, you’ll need to use powdered sugar as dusting, so it doesn’t stick to everything. I also used cornstarch for dusting, which seemed to work well.

However, the fact that this was humid Honolulu, AND it was raining both days I made this, spelled disaster for the cake. The longer I tried to work with it, the stickier and meltier it got. I gave up halfway done and put the cake with fondant into the refrigerator, even though I’ve read you shouldn’t refrigerate it.

The next day, I finished it, but the whole thing ended up oozing, melting, and turning to pools of bright orange and mustard yellow liquid where the cake touched the board. Sigh.

chameleon cake face

You can see around the eye especially how the fondant is melting and blending together.

Oh well. At least we could get an idea of what it would have looked like with ideal climate and working conditions. And I don’t know how much of the problem was due to the fact that I changed the original recipe and instructions (from Mission:Vegan) slightly.

Instead of shortening, I used canola oil. And I used cornstarch instead of powdered sugar toward the end. My guess is that those things didn’t make that much difference. The rain and heat were bigger factors.

And although it was a huge pain to work with this fondant, I have to admit, it was still a lot of fun, especially in the beginning, when things were going along okay and the cake started to look cool. I hadn’t had that much fun making a cake since…well, one year ago, when I made a birthday cake for my friend’s last birthday!

Vegan Fondant Recipe

1/4 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons agar powder
1/2 cup corn syrup
1-1/2 TBS glycerin (you can buy this at any drug store)
2 TBS canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 pounds powdered sugar
cornstarch
gel color OR
natural powder colorants:
for mustardy yellow–turmeric (buy this cheaply where Indian ingredients are sold)
for orange–annatto or achiote powder (available at Latin groceries or where Filipino foods are sold)
for olive green–green drink powder

In a small pan, heat the water and agar, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil, or the agar powder has all dissolved.

Add this to a bowl with the corn syrup, glycerin, shortening, vanilla, and about half the powdered sugar. Mix completely.

Continue adding powdered sugar until the mixture starts to form into a ball. Knead it as you would bread dough. Stop even though it is still a bit sticky.

Wrap in plastic wrap, put into a plastic bag, close tightly, and leave out overnight.

The next day, separate into smaller portions. Keep the unused portions tightly wrapped.

Knead in colorants as desired to get the color you want. I used about 1 TBS powder for every 1/2 cup of fondant to color.

Use powdered sugar or cornstarch to keep the mixture from sticking as you roll it out on the counter.

Apply the fondant to a cooled and frosted cake which has been in the fridge so the base layer of frosting has hardened.

To make your decorations, roll out fondant and cut it with a knife. Use a tiny dab of water as glue to make it stick to the base layer of fondant.

You can also roll it into balls to make eyeballs, etc. or ropes. Basically, the same stuff you’d do with play dough. Use chopsticks, the back of a knife, and other things to make lines and holes as desired.

When done, cover the cake with plastic wrap and store in a cool, dry place until it’s time for your party.

You can also dust the fondant with powdered commercial dusts, like metallic gold and silver edible dusts, although I haven’t tried this yet. Watch any of the professional cake makers on tv for more ideas and inspiration. Their stuff is amazing, and I have even more respect for their work, now that I’ve tried doing this myself and seen how tough it is.

One of the judges, Kerry Vincent, is often criticized for being a stickler. She says things like, “Your fondant work was very sloppy. There were lots of cracks in it.” But she knows and respects good work, because she has done this herself.

So if you’re finding fault with my fondant work, oh well. Everyone’s a critic. I too wish it had been better, but I did the best I could. Go make some cake, frosting, and fondant for yourself, and see what you can come up with.

I’d love to see what you end up with. Feel free to contact me, and we can commiserate together! Hahahaha.


Christmas Chocolate Clusters

November 11, 2009

christmas clusters

Guilt-free chocolate indulgence


This is a slight variation of my award-winning Trail Mix Clusters recipe. It won Honorable Mention in a healthy chocolate contest and was published in Healthy Cooking Magazine, December/January 2009, p31.

I often make a batch of these and eat one or two clusters a day without guilt, knowing I am getting my heart-healthy nuts, chocolate, and fruits in a delicious morsel.

I had some dried strawberries that I substituted for the dried blueberries in the original recipe, and I used almonds instead of pecans, for a different flavor (and also because I didn’t feel like digging through my stuffed fridge looking for pecans!)

Christmas Chocolate Clusters
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped cashews
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped dried strawberries
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Mix together nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and coconut.

christmas clusters mixins

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the colorful and festive-looking mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruits. Too bad the chocolate covers all the vibrant colors.

Heat chocolate chips in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir to melt. (You can also melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler.)

Add to the fruits and nuts. Stir well to combine.

Drop by spoonfuls onto a nonstick cookie sheet. Refrigerate until firm. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Pretty much any combination of fruits and nuts has worked well so far, as long as you maintain some sweet and some sour in the fruit mixture; otherwise, it gets too sickly sweet.

This makes about 48 clusters, so if you have the willpower to eat only two a day, they will last you approximately three weeks.

Bet you can’t eat just one!


Vegetarian Halloween Party Food

October 31, 2009

The vegetarian Halloween party was a hit. Despite a few “WHAT are we eating?” comments throughout the evening, all the guests were great sports and tried everything. In fact, despite being so full after the appetizers that they only ate a small portion of the main course, everyone finished all their dessert….

I mentioned some of this in yesterday’s post…The vegan Coagulated Blood Dip and Mummified Skin Flakes (aka beet dip and pita chips) were a hit, as well as the Stuffed Roaches (dates filled with a vegan cream-cheese-like mixture and dipped in fake bacon bits.)

My friends very artfully laid out vegetable slices and strips to create this Skeleton Platter, which I served with my vegan ranch dip, renamed Moldy Brain Dip. Find the recipe here. Lip-smackingly delicious, and cute, too!

halloween party part two 003

Skeleton Platter with Moldy Brain Dip

“Eeyoo,” my friend said, as she ladled out the Pond Scum Soup. I had her pipe soy yogurt on top to create the spider web appearance, and next time I looked, she had consumed all of it. So it obviously tasted just fine.

I had another friend (who loves deviled eggs) work on these Devil’s Eyes. He put an olive in the center of each one and piped ketchup to create blood vessels. Not a great picture, but you get the idea.

devils eyes

Devil's Eyes, aka Deviled Eggs

The main course–Chunky Cat Barf and Steamed Maggots with Spider Web Bread was also eaten, albeit sparingly.

But I think the two standout dishes (if you had to choose two; they were all devoured with equal amounts of gusto) would have to be the Pumpkin Smoothies and the Black Widow Spider Cakes.

Vegan Pumpkin Smoothies
1 cup yogurt or soy yogurt
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sugar or other sweetener, or to taste–depends on the sweetness of your pumpkin and the tartness of the yogurt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup water–you may need to add more
1 tray (=2 cups or 16 ice cubes) ice
Blend in a blender until smooth. Adjust sweetener and water as necessary.

For the Black Widow Spider Cakes, I used a basic vegan cake recipe, and tried to do a vegan molten chocolate lava cake using the method explained by Bryanna Clark Grogan.

Basically, you make a filling, freeze it in ice cubes, then put them into the center of the batter and bake. The cake batter cooks into cake; the filling thaws into ooze.

I made a filling of berries cooked with cornstarch and a small amount of sweetener, water and lemon juice, and froze them in an ice cube tray. I put them into greased custard cups and oven-safe tea cups, then poured the cake batter over them.

After baking, we turned them out onto a plate upside down and used melted semi-sweet chocolate chips to pipe legs. The heads were made by adding a commercial chocolate truffle (on top a tiny mound of melted chocolate, so it would stay in place.) Although the “guts” didn’t ooze like I had hoped, because I made the filling too thick, it did make the middle of the cakes appropriately mushy and the tartness of the berries complemented the cake nicely.

I got the idea for the spider cakes from this website called “Not Martha.”

Vegan Chocolate Cakes
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together. Spoon over “guts” (optional) into greased custard cups or muffin tins. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Invert immediately onto a plate. Use melted chocolate to create legs and something (truffle, doughnut hole, cookie, mound of melted chocolate) for the spider head.

black widow spider cake

Vegan Black Widow Spider Cakes--fun to make and eat, and cute, too

Beverage was Body Part Punch, made with cranberry and grape juices. I froze a hand made from soymilk and orange juice, to create a realistic flesh color, in a latex glove. Lychees were stuffed with raisins and frozen for “eyeballs”, and a can of peaches was also dumped in for “flesh.”

Despite my worries, the food wasn’t so gross that it stopped anyone from eating it. Thanks to my friends for letting me have my dream of a Halloween party come true, and thanks to all the creative people and cooks out there who come up with these ideas and share them online.

I hope you can take some of these recipes and ideas and use them for your own spooky, fun, and delicious vegetarian Halloween party. Happy Halloween!


Gifts for Chocoholics

October 25, 2009

If you liked the Chocolate Frozen Yogurt post or the Chocolate Coma Dinner Party, you might be a chocoholic.

Okay, I’ll stand up and say it: “I’m a chocoholic, and I’m not afraid to admit it!”

Express your love for chocolate with a “Chocoholic” shirt or mug:

Chocoholic Shirt shirt
Chocoholic Shirt by alinaspencil
Browse other Chocoholic T-Shirts

Don’t feel like wearing it? How about a bumper sticker?

Chocoholic Bumper Sticker bumpersticker
Chocoholic Bumper Sticker by alinaspencil
View other Chocoholic Bumper Stickers

Just don’t get caught licking your car.

Click on either image to go to my Zazzle shop, where you can find other food-related shirts, aprons, and more.


Vegan Chocolate Frozen Soy Yogurt

October 23, 2009

Tangy and refreshing with rich chocolate flavor

Tangy and refreshing with rich chocolate flavor


More playing around with the delicious soy yogurt I’ve been making. Since the weather has been so hot and muggy, I have been reluctant to experiment in the kitchen with anything requiring heat. But frozen yogurt hits the spot.

This has less of a creamy consistency than the
mango frozen yogurt, since there is no fruit to give it body. It melts more like a sorbet or ice milk and always refreshes.

I made this for my father using dairy yogurt. The only difference was you could taste the dairy in it–it tasted more like a milk chocolate bar than the soy version. But both have an unexpected tang from the yogurt, which grows on you.

Vegan Chocolate Frozen Soy Yogurt
2 cups yogurt
2 TBS cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Blend all ingredients in a blender. Freeze until half frozen. Blend again to break up ice crystals. Freeze until firm.

To serve, remove from freezer about 10-15 minutes before serving, so it can soften.


Chocolate Coma: Chocolate Dinner Party (Part 4: Dessert)

April 22, 2009
At last, dessert!  Vegan Mocha Cake with Spiced Mango Filling and Buttercream Frosting

At last, dessert! Vegan Mocha Cake with Spiced Mango Filling and Buttercream Frosting

The Piece de Resistance

Amazingly, after three appetizers and a three-part main dish, we still had room for dessert. Good thing, since I had spent three days making it.

What birthday party would be complete without a cake? This was only the second time I had attempted to make a fancy decorated cake like the pros make. I’m no Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes fame, but I can pretend, can’t I?

If you don’t know about him, he is the owner of a bakery that makes cakes in all shapes and sizes, from football stadiums, to dogs, to CAT scan machines, to ears…whatever the client wants. He and his talented staff are featured on a Food Network show which always leaves me itching to try my hand at rolled fondant and minute piping details.

For my masterpiece, I had something a lot less difficult in mind. It was a square, two-layered cake with a mango filling, buttercream frosting, and decorated with chocolate to look like a present, complete with patterned wrapping paper, ribbon, and bow.

I had worked on it for several hours over three days’ time, and it was in the fridge, hardening. Or so I hoped.

I crossed my fingers and pulled the cake from the fridge. Success!

The chocolate clay I had used to decorate with had firmed up when it chilled, so the bow held its shape. We removed the foil which had provided support to the loops as they hardened. Waxed paper pieces under the edges of the cake, to catch all the drips and crumbs, were pulled out, and voila! Birthday Cake!

The cake itself was a veganized version of the recipe found on Hershey’s cocoa boxes. It is a moist, yet light cake, almost fudgy in texture, with surprisingly little fat, in the form of canola oil. I added some spices and concentrated coffee for part of the liquid to give it a subtle mocha flavor. So subtle, apparently, that I was the only one who could taste it. I’m not a coffee drinker and dislike a strong coffee flavor, so this was perfect for me.

I used real butter this time to make a buttercream frosting, although I have made it in the past with a vegan margarine-like product, with great results. Between the layers, I spread a mango filling flavored with cardamom, ginger, and orange.

On the side was a vegan mango-tofu frozen dessert made with soymilk and spices. No recipe, since I made it last summer when mangoes were falling off the trees and I had to use them all quickly before they rotted, and I don’t remember what exactly went into it.

Birthday cake with vegan mango frozen dessert

Birthday cake with vegan mango frozen dessert

I’ll post step-by-step pictures of making the cake. You will be able to see the progression from pile of crumbs to finished masterpiece, and yes, it was as delicious as it looks!


Chocolate Coma: Chocolate Dinner Party (Part 3: Main Dish)

April 21, 2009
Triple-decker chocolate main course: Ginger Jasmine Rice, Cocoa-Spiced Tofu, and Chocolate-Carrot salad

Triple-decker chocolate main course: Ginger-Jasmine Rice, Cocoa-Spiced Tofu, and Carrot-Chocolate salad

Chocolate Main Course

Soup, salad and dip at the all-chocolate dinner party were followed by a main dish consisting of three separate parts.

Fragrant brown jasmine rice, an obscene amount of minced ginger, and orange peel went into the rice cooker to work magic while we ate our appetizers. This provided the base for a vertical plating.

The rice was packed inside a ring mold, an old tuna can, with both ends cut out. The pros use purchased stainless steel ring molds. I say, Re-duce, Re-use, Re-think.

The protein was tofu, cubed, rolled in a mixture of cumin, chiles, cocoa powder and other spices, then fried. This was placed on top of the rice.

Shredded carrots mixed with a hot oil-cumin seed-cocoa powder mixture, which helped to wilt them slightly, became chocolate-carrot salad. Mint added a fresh, different flavor. This sat on top the tofu, and the whole thing was garnished with a tiny sprig of basil mint from the garden.

Then the ring mold was carefully removed, leaving a circular tower of food. I made a sauce with some of the reserved spice mixture from the tofu, cooked in some oil, to bring out the flavor and make an orange oil. Iron Chef Bobby Flay does this on all his dishes, apparently, using chiles blended in oil to make a bright orange sauce.

Mine wasn’t quite the same, but it was close enough for a first try. Drizzled sauce around the plate provided fancy flair.

The combination of flavors worked well together, blending orange, ginger, chocolate, and earthy southwestern spices and chiles. In retrospect, however, I’m not sure I’d serve them again in combination, because I’d rather each dish had a chance to boast its bold complexity without competition from the others.

The tofu recipe needs some adjustments. While the flavor was complex and rich, the texture was close to mush, and the proportion of spice mixture to tofu was off. I’d like to fix the recipe and add it to my repertoire of old faithfuls, so I will wait to post the recipe.

Are you full yet? Save room for dessert: mocha birthday cake.


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