Cakes as Ceramics
Blue Delft I’ve tried for a few years with very limited success. I can’t say that I ever got even close in color when I tried using the “brushed embroidery” look with royal icing. I got a better Blue Delft look when I tried it on my cake printer using one of the plate designs (altered to get the colors a little clearer) on my own birthday cake this year. I used the kind of rolled fondant (Fondx) that tastes good and can produce a wonderful lustrous smooth surface.
You can see it below.
Actually, I used a modern version of a Talavera (a Mexican glazed ceramic) plate for inspiration. Talavera is neither Chinese nor porcelain, it is earthenware, meaning it was fired at much lower temperatures than true porcelain and does not include the requisite feldspar which was the secret sauce for the real thing. Talavera is the Mexican version of the Spanish maijolicas (glazewares) that dates to colonial times. The modern Talavera plate I used had a non-traditional heron bird in its center, in addition to the almost “busy” blue paint designs in the shape of plant like fronds and drops that seem to take up all the available space in the Talavera style.
I wanted the craqueleure look of some china (real porcelain supposedly doesn’t develop the fine cracks that are due firing temperature differentials) and figured that quick pour fondant was the way to go. Quick pour fondant is a kind of sugar glaze typically flavored with almond and the most common decoration of petit fours, those little rectangular cakes covered in frosting that are sweet enough to make your teeth hurt.
The surface cracked up nicely (barely visible but still there) and it was nice and smooth and shiny, just like I had hoped. You can see the slight cracking below.
For the painted design, I opted to use paste food coloring. Paste food coloring is highly concentrated edible (or at least non-toxic) pigment that appears (from the ingredient list) to be suspended in some combination of glycerin and corn syrup. It is used in lieu of liquid food coloring because it does not alter the composition of the dough or icing like water would. It doesn’t really go bad though it can get “gummy” in texture over time.
You can see the design and the cake up close below.
The one above is still my favorite decorated cake, but I don’t always like using a fondant glaze, so I tried out a variation on the painted ceramic theme a year later on a rolled fondant surface.
Once again, I painted a poppies design directly onto the cake’s surface. I didn't use a ceramic tradition directly to inspire this one, although I am fond of the poppy designs seen on some lacquer vessel work done in metal and glass. I used the food paste colors to paint the design. This is an ultimately flawed approach (although the colors are vivid) because as far as I know, they don’t dry. At least, probably not in the time that it takes to eat the cake. So, they may leave more color than I would like on the cake eaters themselves than I would like! Plus, if you make a mistake, you can’t really wipe it off and try again. The dye is VERY strong.
I made them for the same person, friend R, so he’s probably used to it by now…still, I wanted improvement.You can see the poppies here. The very nice script was not produced by me but by a fellow friend of R’s who, as you can see, has exquisite handwriting!
As an aside, I found out later that the Wilton baking Product Company had some product called “brush-on-color” available in rather bright shades for fondant application via stamps or brushes that would presumably dry. However, I didn’t care for their shades and I think they may be discontinued, so I wanted another solution for establishing a painting tradition on fondant covered cakes.
I decided to try a solution that I had used earlier on the UFO and Dalek cakes to apply metallic powder colors to fondant by painting them on in a vodka solution. The vodka evaporates leaving behind the paint. Why not for designs and regular colors? I figured they must have powder colors for practically every shade. They did. So I purchased a few for my next ceramic project.
By way of background, the two names refer to a region and a center, respectively. The Chalco region is the area in the southeastern Basin of Mexico that produced highly decorated elaborate polychromes in the Postclassic period. Cholula is a large site in central Puebla that has a lengthy occupational period, was known as a prehispanic religious/pilgrimage site, and also produced distinctive highly decorated elaborate polychromes that appear to have seen wider trade in the Postclassic period (time of the Aztecs, roughly speaking). The reason two names are attached to this particular ceramic type is because it is apparently difficult to distinguish vessels from the Chalco region from vessels from Cholula (though I imagine chemical sourcing helps). Here are some examples I used for inspiration.
The polychromes in question also apply a distinctive painting technology that involves double slipping. Slipping is a solution of clay and other minerals (often for color and surface treatments) added to water that is thin enough to be poured over the surface of already formed and partially dried clay vessels. Double slipping is exactly what it sounds like, pouring a second layer of slip on top of a previous slipped and dried layer.
Next I applied the painted designs using powdered red and black pigments. The designs were based on actual Chalco/Cholula Polychromes from a museum collection.
Side design elements added below.
Top design elements added below. I made the white circles by scraping off the orange paint and filling in the middle with red paint. That technique appeared to get the best approximate look of the ceramic designs from the photos.