Royal icing decorations

I recently donated some mini-cupcakes on behalf of Sugar Beat Sweets to East Bay Animal Advocates' 5th Anniversary celebration and fundraiser. The director requested "birthday" style cupcakes, with a nod to their 5 years of animal rights work in California. I thought royal icing decorations would be a great way to top off the cupcakes. This is a technique I learned originally while making lattice-work for a Victorian gingerbread house when I was in high school. It's great for numbers, letters, or any fancy, little flourish you want to add.

Royal icing decorations (enough to cover an 11 x 17 cookie sheet)
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. lemon juice
food coloring (optional)
2-3 tsp. soy milk

Sift the sugar and cornstarch together. Stir in the lemon juice and any food coloring you wish to use. Add the soy milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until the mixture becomes a smooth, but thick, paste.

Place a sheet of waxed paper over the back of a cookie sheet, or any firm surface that you can move your decorations on (cutting board, cardboard, etc.)

Make a parchment cone and fill with the royal icing. Only trim the tip of the triangle a little at a time. You can always make it bigger, but it would a big pain in the butt to have to make a new one!

Holding the bag at about a 45 degree angle to your work surface and using gentle pressure, "draw" whatever shape or design you would like to create, and repeat until you run out of icing. Try holding the tip of the bag about a 1/4 inch from the paper and letting gravity help the lines fall where they need to go. It's always best to make more than you need, for insurance against breakage, even though these do set up rock hard. You can also create templates, if you don't trust yourself at free-handing, and place a piece of paper with the image of your shape below the waxed paper to trace through.

Move your sheet of designs to a safe, dry place where they can set up. It will take 2-3 days for your icing to harden. Test the firmness of your decorations first with any ugly or practice shapes, so you don't ruin any of your pretty ones. Remove icing shapes by grasping the waxed paper between your thumb and forefinger, pulling down on the paper with your thumb, while pushing up against the back of the shape with your forefinger to pop the shape off.

Place in an airtight container until ready to use. The icing will keep indefinitely, as long as it isn't too humid. Don't dress you cake for more than 36 hours before serving, or they will soak up moisture from the frosting and become soft.

Watermelon tapioca

We got the first watermelon of the season recently from my CSA. Aside from snacking on fresh bites, straight from the fridge, I wanted to incorporate it into a dessert I loved as a child. Typically done with honeydew, this chilled, melon tapioca soup is refreshing on Summer afternoons. The recipe is simple, but needs some planning ahead of time, because it requires a bit of waiting on the refrigerator.

Watermelon tapioca, 4 servings (about 1/2 c. each)
1/4 c. small tapioca pearls
1/2 c. water

3/4 c. water
1/3 c. unrefined cane sugar
1/4 c. soy milk

3/4 c. watermelon
1/2 c. coconut milk (full fat!)

Soak the tapioca pearls in 1/2 c. cold water for 20 minutes, drain.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring 3/4 c. water to a boil. Add the tapioca pearls and reduce heat. Simmer pearls until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Stir in soy milk. Pour into a lidded container (or use plastic wrap), and refrigerate until completely chilled. Overnight is great.

Puree the watermelon and coconut milk in a blender until smooth. Depending on how sweet your melon is, you may want to add a spoon or two of sugar. Strain through a mesh sieve to remove any fibrous gunk or seed bits. Refrigerate until cold.

Immediately before serving, whisk together the watermelon mixture and tapioca pearls until the tapioca is evenly distributed and any big chunks are broken up. Ladle into bowls or cups and enjoy!

Variation: This is also great thinned out with a tiny bit more coconut milk and served over crushed ice as a yummy beverage.