Wednesday 11 December 2013

How To Make a Mini Marshmallow Topiary

   I'm quite proud of my Chocolate Topiary Tree I made last year. It turned out quite well - it looked good, and was quite successful with family visits. I decided to make another this year, but I also decided to revisit the idea and try something else on a smaller scale when I thought about my nearly 4 year old nephew. Obviously, Lindt Lindor and Ferrero Rocher aren't really the go-to confectionary for little kiddies, so I started thinking about gummy bears, marshmallows and smarties. But how on earth could you fix those kinds of small sweets onto a polystyrene ball? Cocktail sticks wouldn't work, especially with smarties, and you can hardly glue them down, can you?

   ...Or, can you?
   Yes. Yes you can. Afterall, Royal Icing is quite strong and thick stuff. And totally edible.

   You can have these finished in three ways: they can be hanging from the ceiling - I like to picture lots of small balls of marshmallows hung from the ceiling in a pretty pastel party - they can be popped onto a small flower pot like a little round bush - you can buy small ceramic pots in a lot of garden centres and craft shops, as well as small enamelled buckets - or you can have them on a stick in a pot like a little round tree.

You will need:
A polystyrene ball
A pot if you're making a bush or a tree
A stick if you're making a tree
A sandwich bag or plastic kitchen wrap, but not cling film/saran wrap as it's a bit too thin
Royal Icing
Your chosen confectionary.

1. Take your polystyrene ball. Be aware when purchasing that the ball will appear bigger when finished as the sweets you use will add to the weight and size of the ball. Cover the ball in the kitchen plastic. It should be thick enough that it won't rip or stretch with little force like clingfilm does. If you're making a bush, you can just tie the end of the plastic off with an elastic band. If you're making a tree, you'll have to tie it off around the stick with some string, so it's best to use something pretty like appropriately coloured baker's twine. If you're making a hanging ball then the tied off end will have to be tidied up and made as neat and as small as possible, and will be on the top of the ball rather than the bottom like the other two. This end is also what you'll use a needle and thread to make the hanging loop with. There's no need to permanently fix the plastic to the ball, as removing the plastic when the topiary's lost its 'leaves' is as effective as washing it, and putting new plastic over it will make it safe for a new topiary later on.

2. If you're making a topiary tree, you'll need to make a hole in the bottom of the ball before adding the bag, and, using hot glue, fix your stick into the ball. Using more hot glue, or, if the topiary's much bigger than the ones I've made and is more like my chocolate one, you might want some air-dry clay to fill the pot once you've put the other end of the stick in it.

3. Now open your sweets - don't eat too many - and mix up your royal icing. You'll want the icing to be thick because it's going to be the glue, and if it's too runny it'll result in a not-so-neat finish. When you've mixed up your icing - and it's important to mix it every few minutes to keep it from stiffening too much - add a small dab with the handle of a spoon to the back of each sweet and press them onto the plastic-covered ball. The heavier the sweet, however, the thicker the icing you'll need, and you'll need a little more of it. Adding a small dab means that if the icing pulls away from the plastic with the sweets, the taste and texture of the icing won't be as noticable, and also means that it will dry quicker. Make sure you also only add the icing to the next sweet once the first sweet is fixed down. Adding icing to them all and then sticking them down will cause the icing to harden on the back of the sweets before you get any kind of chance to put them all in place.

   Then you just need to let it set. It's that easy.
   The plastic keeps the sweets from sticking to the polystyrene, and then pulling that awful stuff with it, and also makes it re-usable if you replace the bag, which also keeps you from having to throw out the polystyrene.
   The Royal Icing keeps the sweets in place and also acts as a fully edible glue, and, if you've used gummy sweets, they might well pull away from the icing rather than pull the icing from the plastic.
   And using thicker plastic bags will keep the plastic from stretching or ripping away from the rest of the bag with the icing if the icing pulls away instead. For this reason, it's a good idea to use only a small amount of Royal Icing.

   I made mine with mini marshmallows, but found that smarties didn't work too well for me because I was impatient and didn't mix the icing thick enough.
   These sweet topiaries are brilliant for kids at Christmas or birthday parties and can act as confectionary and as decorations.


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