Gum paste pine cones add the finishing touch to cakes with a woodsy or outdoor theme and can even work for a winter wonderland wedding cake theme. Among the different media you could use for pine cones, gum paste works especially well because it is soft and pliable like dough, but hardens as it dries so the pine cones can be made up to months in advance. While not necessary, a basic fondant and gum paste tool set helps shape the individual petal-like pine cone scales to make the pine cone look as realistic as possible.
Break or pull off a piece of gum paste to use for the pine cone -- the exact size depends on the desired pine cone size. Dip a toothpick in brown food coloring gel and wipe it on the gum paste. Knead the gum paste in your hands until the color is even, adding more food coloring gel as needed to achieve the desired color. Food coloring paste and even cocoa powder can be kneaded into the gum paste to make it brown, if desired.
Separate two-thirds of the gum paste to make the scales; reserve the remaining one-third for the core.
Pinch off dozens of small pieces of gum paste from the larger piece to make the scales. Roll each piece into a teardrop shape -- each piece becomes a single scale for the pine cone.
Pinch the wide end of the teardrop-shaped scale pieces between your fingers to flatten them. Leave the tapered tip rounded. Lay each scale on a flat work surface, such as a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
Roll a small fondant ball tool over the flattened end of each scale piece to curl the edges upward slightly as you would see on a real pine cone.
Mix 1 tablespoon of meringue powder with 1 tablespoon of cool water to create a glue for the gum paste pieces.
Roll the core piece into an egg or teardrop shape with a wide base and narrow tip. The egg or teardrop piece should be as long as the desired length for the pine cone and roughly one-third the desired width. Dip a toothpick in the meringue powder glue and insert it into the bottom of the wide end so you can hold the core with the toothpick while applying the scales. Alternatively, push the opposite end of the toothpick into a foam block to hold the core upright while leaving your hands free. Let the core set for at least 1 hour while the glue dries and the core hardens slightly.
Brush the tip of the pine cone core generously with meringue powder glue. A small, inexpensive artist's paintbrush works well, but you should reserve this brush for use only with cake decorating.
Brush the tapered tip of one of the pine cone scale pieces on all sides with meringue powder glue.
Press the tapered tip of the scale piece against the narrow end of the larger core piece. Push the scale tip with your finger to flatten it around the core and secure the glue. The spoon hollow you made with the ball tool should face up. Line up the wide end with the tip of the core to conceal the core. Repeat with one or two more scales applied concentrically around the tip until the core's narrow end is completely hidden.
Apply additional scales in a concentric ring around the core, positioned just beneath the first row of scales. Stagger these pieces over the ends of the pieces in the previous row, much as you would stagger the joints of bricks. Repeat this pattern with the remaining scale pieces, working your way down to the opposite end until the core is completely covered with scales.
Bend the scales upward or downward with your fingertips if any of the scales aren't curled uniformly with the rest of the scales on the pine cone. If you observe a real pine cone, you'll notice that the scales in the bottom row fan out more than those at the top, which tend to be more enclosed around the narrow tip.
Leave the pine cone, upright in its foam block, out to dry overnight or until completely hard -- a large, thick pine cone might take several days to dry.
Dust the tips of the scales with powdered sugar to give the look of snow-covered pine cones, if desired. Alternatively, grind shredded coconut in a coffee grinder to make the pieces even smaller than shreds. Brush some of the meringue powder glue on the scales and sprinkle the coconut snow onto the scales.
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A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.
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