Creating Cupcakes That Look Like Summer Succulents

Every summer, all the succulents in our gardens, on our windowsills and in our planter boxes explode into life. Summer and all the life it brings should be celebrated and what better way than with a scrumptious cupcake adorned with captivating cacti that look ready to soak up the summertime sunshine. 

While the intricate looking cupcakes may look prickly to pipe, prodigy piper Grace Stevens is here to share her top tips on how to get pinpoint perfect succulents to adorn our summer table spreads. 

Perfect icing consistency 

The consistency of your buttercream is super important to get right or your culinary garden can quickly become a delicious but disappointing mess. If you have followed the instructions of your recipe but something still isn’t quite right – there are a few steps you can take. If your buttercream is too stiff, and you are struggling to extrude it from your nozzle, mix a little milk or water into the buttercream until it is spreadable like peanut butter. 

If the buttercream is too soft, and you find you have very little control over the extrusion speed – try giving it a rest for 30 minutes in the fridge. Sometimes, the heat of your hands can cause the butter in the icing to liquify. Cooling it in the fridge helps the butter to resolidify so you have better control over your form.  If I’m piping lots of succulents on a short timeline, I’ll always use more than one piping bag with the same nozzle and buttercream and alternate using each piping bag to prevent my buttercream from getting too warm.

It is also important to make sure your icing sugar does not contain an anti-caking agent or cornflour. This is because the viscosity and expansion properties of the cornflour –  the way it reacts to pressure under your hand – make it almost impossible to get a proper stiff buttercream with these cut products. It is far better to use pure icing sugar for better control. 

Simple tools 

The great part about succulents is that they use simple tools to achieve the same impact as complicated sugarcraft. Once your icing assembly line is set up, you should not need fabric icing bags as these are usually used to insulate the icing from the heat of the hand in bigger scale kitchens. At home, you can use disposable bags that can be tossed when you are done – which makes clean up much easier.  

To make sure that you properly control the speed and extrusion of your icing from your bag avoid overfilling it. Much like holding a pencil in the correct place gives you control over lettering, holding your bag in the palm of your hand gives you control over your creation. Personally, I find that 100g of icing per bag fits perfectly in my hand and gives me pinpoint control.  

When it comes to the precision of your final product it is difficult to overestimate the importance of keeping your hands, tools and work surface clean and organised. Trust me, nothing is more disappointing than accidentally piping the wrong colour directly onto a cake or turning around to find half of your succulents hanging squished to your sleeve.  Keeping your tools clean makes for clean work and immaculate results. 

Selection of succulents

When deciding what type of succulent to pipe, remember to be patient with yourself while you are learning. Considering your abilities if you are a beginner means choosing a succulent that requires one nozzle and one colour. If you are more advanced, they are a great choice to experiment with realism and I often use a good reference picture or a real specimen to push my colour matching skills. Striving to achieve the perfectly balanced green by experimenting with the tonal value and adding black or brown.

Arrangement and texture

During a class, I had a very nervous student who had tagged along with a friend. Once she piped her first succulent, her reservation melted quicker than buttercream in an African summer and she left beaming enthusiastically about the bouquet of succulents adorning her cupcake.

To get the most out of your succulent arrangement use succulents that vary in texture to create dimension. If you are more advanced and want to add flowers, make selections that won’t compete with the textures in the succulents so that the eye can easily follow the design of your cake. 

Transporting your creation

Succulents are a perfect place for beginners not in the least because they are easy to transport to show off to friends and family. Unlike the more complicated designs of traditional flowers. They can easily be piped directly onto the case or piped well in advance and refrigerated or frozen until you need them. If you are transporting them, it’s best to do so in a covered cardboard box as they will crust over if left out at room temperature. Not to mention it makes them far less fiddly to handle.

We have long adored the geometric curls, glorious textures and extraordinary colours of succulents. Knowing the simple piping techniques behind them takes them from being an indulgence we dream of right to our tables. This modern arid aesthetic is so hot in the icing and gardening worlds, turning our regular cupcakes into the perfect prickly treat for our next picnic.