It’s hard to feel great about eating something that contains hand gel. That was just one of the lessons the girls learned in our 4-H cake decorating experience this year.
I’ve been trying to persuade Cassie to drop this project for a couple of years now, to no avail. She doesn’t have a steady hand to begin with, and I hate the emphasis on smoothness and rule-following. (Not to mention the danger of having all that icing around the house.)
But she likes doing it, and now in her first year of “real” 4-H Colleen begged to try it, too, so I relented once again.
To ease up the pressure to achieve perfect strokes, I thought we‘d try fondant, which is kind of like frosting play dough. Though you can buy it in the cake-decorating aisle at Wal-mart, we decided to make it ourselves. (Click here for recipe; we didn’t change a thing.)
Most of the ingredients are about what you’d expect: Powdered sugar and corn syrup, vegetable shortening and non-flavored gelatin. It was the glycerin that threw me.
Though you can buy glycerin at candy-making shops, the only place I could track it down in Bluffton (with deadlines looming) was the natural foods store — where it comes packaged as a type of hand gel. (Derived from vegetable oil, it’s often used in soap-making.)
The guy at the store assured me it’s edible. And on the label it notes, sort of as an afterthought, that it’s “safe for internal use.” Elsewhere on the package it added that the product can be used “as a natural low-glycemic sweetener or as a base for herbal extracts.”
Wow, talk about a versatile “food product,” huh? The girls had fun with their edible play dough, which they colored pink. Cassie draped a layer over her heart-shaped cake like a table cloth, and we learned how to roll strips of it up to make ribbon roses, which she formed into a heart shape in the center of the cake.
It was only then, in checking the rules more closely, that we discovered fondant isn’t allowed in the intermediate division. Not wanting to start over from scratch, she added the prerequisite number of other tips and techniques, listing her fondant forays as “extras.”
It didn‘t work. Though she scored high in other areas, she was ultimately docked points for skirting the rules and wound up with a red ribbon.
She had a pretty good attitude about it, though. And the girls had fun learning to make cake play dough.
I can’t say this year’s experience makes me any more enamored of 4-H cake decorating. And it definitely makes me even more queasy about eating fancy decorated cakes — which is ultimately a good thing, I think.