Designer Ashley Westhoff lives by the Hallmark motto “Life is a Special Occasion” and jumps at any chance to throw a shower, celebrate a co-worker, or connect with the people she loves…often through custom cakes and sweet treats. She and fellow cupcake aficionado Bernard Shondell recently led a workshop for a team of designers who wanted to step out of the digital world for a day to get messy, work with their hands, and craft some one-of-a-kind cupcakes. More from Ashley below!
To craft these gorgeous cupcakes, the team focused on three major trends: Black and White, Succulents, and Pom-Poms. We began with several dozen plain cupcakes and ended up with miniature works of art that were photographed and preserved for Hallmark cards. Our cupcake designers were Stephen Carter, Polly Finks, Lauren Hale, Leslie Seibert and Kim Smitka.
We prepped the succulent cupcakes the night before by frosting and dipping them in crushed graham crackers. (If you have small kiddos at home, this is the perfect time to enlist their help. Give them each a baggie of three to four graham crackers, and you’ll have your smashed cracker bits in no time. Let them stomp, squish and hammer away!) Dump your crushed graham crackers in a bowl and roll your frosted cupcakes around until they’re completely covered—and resemble the dry soil of a very warm, far away place that is not wintertime Kansas City.
The first succulent we made was a tall cactus, which required some pre-colored green fondant, a pastry bag full of green frosting, a #352 pastry bag tip, a toothpick and a small fondant rose.
- Create a tall base out of fondant and attach it to your cupcake with a dab of frosting and a toothpick for added stability.
- Holding your pastry bag parallel to the base of your cactus, draw lines of frosting from the bottom to the top. Squeeze with your dominant hand and guide the pastry bag up with your opposite hand. Back off pressure as you reach the top.
- Continue all the way around your cactus to cover your fondant in buttercream. Get each line as close as possible so there aren’t any gaps.
- Top your cactus with a fondant rose. To make a fondant rose, roll out a thin strip of red or yellow fondant (about 2 inches long). Roll it up in your fingers like a tiny sleeping bag and then stick it on that messy pile of frosting on top of your cactus!
An alternate version of this cactus is a short, frosted cactus. Use the same process as above, but make a small 1-inch ball as your base instead of a tall cylinder.
The second succulent cupcake we made was a short, spiky cactus. This required some pre-colored green fondant, a pastry bag full of green frosting, a #21 star tip, and a toothpick.
- Create a round 1-inch ball out of fondant and attach it to your cupcake with a dab of frosting and a toothpick.
- Starting at the base of your cactus, squeeze a row of tiny star shapes all the way around your fondant ball. You can vary the length of your spikes by changing the pressure of your squeezing hand. Pull away a bit as you release to make longer spikes.
- Continue all the way around your cactus to cover your fondant in buttercream spikes.
An alternate version of this cactus is to use a #10 round tip instead of the star tip. This creates round, pincushion shapes all over your fondant. With a steady hand and a pair of tweezers, you can go back and place little white sprinkles/jimmies in each dollop to resemble cactus needles. It’s a lot of work, but it looks amazing when you’re done!
The third succulent cupcake was our version of an echeveria. This required several more tools, but the DIY instructions are HERE for you to download. We enjoyed creating a variety of colors with our fondant, from avocado green to light lavender to ghostly white. We even discovered that we had a skilled fondant sculptor on our team, Stephen Carter, who showed us how to get perfectly curled petals every time!
In the end, we gathered our succulents together to create a beautiful and life-like garden just perfect for a housewarming party!
The pom-pom cupcakes were frosted with plain white buttercream using a star tip #4B. Designers Polly Finks and Leslie Seibert crafted dozens of pom-poms and tassels the night before so we could string them up on skewers and decorate our cupcakes like festive party guests. The pom-poms aren’t edible, but they are certainly a delightful, handmade keepsake for when you’ve consumed everything else on your plate!
The Black and White cupcakes were all courtesy of Bernard Shondell, a gifted baker and the business operations manager at Union Hill Studios. He set up a station full of black and white fondant, sprinkles, cookie cutters, and pastry bags in the limited color palette. He created a few examples for inspiration and then encouraged everyone to “Just play and create anything you want.” The results ranged from very simple and refined to an over-the-top design that Bernard called his Lady Gaga cupcake.
“I loved the idea of the bold, graphic nature of black and white, and the challenge of translating that to the small surface of a cupcake,” says Bernard. “Now black icing is another story—and you thought red wine stains your teeth! Using primarily fondant eliminated the messiness of eating too much black frosting or icing.
“We had the best success cutting circles of fondant the diameter of the cupcake as a base and using white frosting/icing under the fondant for flavor and to adhere the designs to the cake. To my surprise, the contrast of the light and dark made decorating a cupcake rather easy. It allowed you to achieve stunning results with little effort. The key here: less is more. A few simple shapes of fondant (a flower, a circle, a butterfly) and just an accent of piped icing or a candy pearl will do. Don’t overthink it!”
We thoroughly enjoyed our day of cupcake idea exploration and look forward to hearing how you wow your friends with these trendy bites! Share your creations by tagging us on Instagram @Think.Make.Share or using #sharehallmark.
Photos by Jane Kortright.