When a customer wants dragonfly cupcakes, it provides a special opportunity to really be creative, especially when they say they want REALISTIC dragonflies. There is a certain balance to be struck between pretty and accurate – and after all, if people are going to be eating these cupcakes, you want them to look appetizing – and I can’t say that we generally want to see bugs on our food!! So – when the order came in, I had to do some experimenting to make the most realistic (but beautiful) bugs that I could!
The most challenging part of the dragonfly, from both an edible and aesthetic standpoint, is the wings. How to make them edible yet pretty? How to make them look authentic? I tried several mediums – starting with wafer paper (too fake and opaque looking), wafer paper painted with gelatin (better, but still too opaque), and then isomalt (pretty, but too thick and fragile). This is when bouncing ideas off of your fellow cake makers helps a ton – I bugged my friend Scott of Seven Raven’s Bake House (he has a blog too – check out his latest) who had seen a youtube video of a gelatin “plastic” bag. I went and took a look and thought – YUP – this has great potential! You can look at the video here – it is by Christine Jeffery.
The gelatin “plastic” came out great – nice and thin – it really is amazing stuff and I can see so much potential where wafer, isomalt or plain gelatin wouldn’t be the answer.
So, I took a couple of attempts at the gelatin, and managed to get it very thin – let it dry and then used a template I made out of card stock to cut out all the sets of wings. Google and pinterest are your friend here – just search for dragonfly pictures to find what looks good to you, print it out and cut out the wings of the dragon fly you like. Make sure you size it to what you want so that you don’t have to adjust anything once you cut out your template. I added some pearl luster dust to the gelatin as well as some green disco dust to help with some iridescence – you can use or not use as you see fit – I found it was a bit uneven, and had to paint them anyways at the end.
After cutting out the wings, it was time to color them a bit. I painted them with pearl airbrush color (I used Lucks Silver Pearlescent) and some violet and teal gel colors that I diluted with everclear alcohol. Again I used some pictures from a google search to make the wings seem as realistic as possible. I decided not to attempt to paint all the veining on the wings after a couple of attempts, as the results were not as nice.
One good addition that made the wings look that much more realistic was the little black dot on either side, for which I used black airbrush color. For me, that really made them pop. Now, I just had to repeat this over and over until all my wings were colored. When done, I just set them aside to dry completely.
The body of the dragonfly was really quite simple (well, it ended UP that way – I won’t tell you how many tries it took to get it just right… well ok, it was more than 10)
First I colored my fondant light green (I was going to paint them afterwards, but I wanted to start with a green base).Then I rolled a thin snake (perhaps worm is a better description) about 3 inches long:
I cut one tip off to have a flat end, smooshed one end with my finger slightly, and then pinched the very end to make it into a triangular shape. The triangle edges are where the eyes will be attached.
I then rolled one small ball of fondant to the size I wanted the eyes (a little bigger than the worm shape) and split it in half with my favorite cutting tool – the PenBlade.
Then with a little water, I adhered the two eyes to the triangle end of the “worm” and textured the body slightly with the back of my PenBlade.
To color the bodies, I used a combination of iridescent luster dust and pearlized white airbrush color to make them luminescent and sparkly, and also painted the eyes with a metallic black food color so they would maintain their shine.
Once the bodies were painted, I gently laid a wing set on each body. The tackiness of the painting helped the gelatin wings adhere.
The flowers were quite simple, really, just a little time consuming. First I made centers with my Wilton mold out of gumpaste colored green. I then cut two small daisy shapes with a plunge cutter (note – the Wilton ones I used have been discontinued, but the ones at this link look identical) and wrapped them around the centers.
For the petals, I used the next size up in daisy cutters and cut two flower shapes from various colors of fondant. I overlapped the flowers and attached them together with a little water, and then attached the centers. Once they were dry, I added some petal dust for shading and a tad more interest.
Putting it all together
Now everything was ready to go – the dragonflies were dry, the flowers were dry, so I used some piping gel and attached a dragonfly to each flower. Now they were ready to sit on their cupcakes.
Learn from my mistake!
So – I was so happy with my dragonflies and the cupcakes I had made – so I got the cupcakes all iced and put into plastic containers and attached all the toppers and closed up the clamshells. When I went the next day to take them to the client, I noticed that all of the wings were droopy – the moisture of the cupcake container was too much for the wings. I panicked, but there was nothing I could do. Happily, the wings perked back up once I took them out of the box and they sat again in the open.
That means that my recommendation to you is NOT to put them on your cupcakes until the day you’re going to serve or deliver them – just to make sure that the wings stay nice and straight.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which means it will take you to a place where you can order the items I used, and it helps support my blog work – it does not cost you anything. Please know that I will never link to products that I have not used myself.