I was completely floored when I caught sight of these “mix tapes” created by Danielle Lind of Dany's Cakes on Instagram. I mean, look at them!
I was also stumped! Were they cookies? Were they edible? Were they real cassette tapes? They sure looked like they could have come from a box of high school memorabilia buried in my closet! I found out it was seized chocolate, about which I knew nothing. Of course, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to learn a bit more for my next installment of How DID You Do That? I asked Dany (as I will refer to her in this post) if she’d give us the lowdown on her experiences using chocolate and modeling chocolate in her creations, and she agreed.
Welcome, Dany of Dany's Cakes!
Melissa Joy: Dany, I will admit, I have been keeping an eye on your work for quite some time, knowing I would eventually like to interview you. I’m so glad this topic came up so we could talk about it! You have a huge body of work here on Cookie Connection that I could have asked you about, but this seized chocolate stuff, and your other work with modeling chocolate, had me intrigued. Let's start first with modeling chocolate. Do you make your own, or do you buy it ready-made?
Dany Lind: I’m so pleased that you wanted to pick my brain! The first modeling chocolate I ever used was store-bought, and I didn’t like it at all because it was too soft and didn’t hold its shape like I needed it to. It was especially droopy after adding gel colors to it . . . and it was expensive! I did some research about making it myself and found some great information on Jessica Harris’ blog (www.jessicaharriscakedesign.com); hers is the recipe I use. There is something magical about making gorgeous, smooth modeling chocolate! And Jessica’s recipe is very easy!
MJ: What's modeling chocolate like to work with?
DL: Well, when it’s cold, it’s very hard, like a brick of chocolate. I usually break off a chunk that can fit in my hand and just squeeze it until the warmth of my hands makes it pliable and kneadable. Once it’s warmed up, it feels a lot like fondant, but if it gets too warm in your hands, it gets droopy and greasy, so you have to let it cool down before you can continue to work with it. Unlike some fondant, modeling chocolate firms up pretty fast — within a few minutes — but it doesn't dry. You can rework it at any time just by heating it up with your fingers again. That’s why I love using it for cookies, because if I need a design element that has to stand up and away from the cookie, or if I’m sculpting something that may need to be reworked, it hardens very quickly but is still changeable to a certain extent. If I make a sculpture with pointy shoes and decide the next day that I want the tips of the shoes to be curled, I can just warm up the tips with my fingers and reshape them. Fondant doesn’t offer that flexibility.
MJ: I now know that the cassette tape I mentioned in the intro is not a cookie, and not modeling chocolate, but seized chocolate. Even still, I would like you to tell us a bit more about how you went about creating it, because it is so realistic! The details are great . . . from the indentations to the screws, and those labels! Did you have a mold? What are the labels made of and how did you adhere them? They are the perfect touch!
DL: I’m a little obsessed with realistic details, so I knew with these accessories for an '80s birthday cake, I needed to do more than cut out a shape of a cassette tape — I wanted them to look like you could pick them up and play them! I used Avalon Yarnes’ awesome mold recipe (avaloncakes.com), and made a mold of an actual (sacrificial) cassette tape. (Sorry Shriekback and Ziggy Marley!) Then I poured/pressed melted chocolate (seized slightly with black gel color) into the mold. Even though I didn’t purposely make modeling chocolate for these cassettes, the seized chocolate was thicker than I anticipated, and not as thin as unadulterated melted chocolate, but it still worked well.
Mold making can be a little tricky if the object you're molding has a lot of cracks and crevasses, so my first attempt was not good enough; it had holes where I didn’t want holes because the molding material had oozed into too many open spaces in the tape. I modified the mold a little by cutting away some unwanted bits and filling in some negative spaces, and my second try worked great! The mold captured very fine details, right down to the screws.
The labels were wafer paper, painted with edible markers, using actual cassette labels as a guide. I painted the back of the wafer paper with a very thin coat of edible glue to adhere the labels to the chocolate.
MJ: They really turned out amazing. You had me doing a double take for sure!
Your latest Practice Bakes Perfect entry was this fantastic door knocker entitled, Door to My Heart. How much of this entry is modeling chocolate or some other form of chocolate, and how did you arrive at the different colors and textures? Did you use certain tools to achieve the look?
DL: It’s so funny you ask me about this, because while I was making it, I thought about how ridiculous my method was! The first layer of the door knocker is all royal icing in black and red. To give it that 3-D effect, I needed to build up parts of the “hardware” and have that knocker hold its shape quickly. I didn’t want to spend time waiting for fondant to dry, so modeling chocolate worked perfectly for this design. The royal icing heart is bordered with black modeling chocolate, which I scored with the dull side of a fondant knife to create texture, and then I added the rectangular plate of modeling chocolate to which the knocker is affixed. I also added a small, scored flange of modeling chocolate at the bottom of the structure, on which the knocker rests.
The knocker ring itself took me about 30 minutes to get right, which is the hidden cost of cookie making, isn’t it? Something that looks easy can be so difficult! Modeling chocolate hardens pretty quickly, so making and shaping a rope out of it is a bit tricky, because it starts to harden and crack if you don’t work fast enough. After trying it a few times and being unhappy with the way my knocker was scored, I began searching my kitchen for something that had evenly spaced, slightly thick lines that would make a good scoring tool, and I found the perfect thing: a potato masher! I rolled my modeling chocolate into a rope and warmed it in my hands; then I gently pressed and rolled the potato masher on it at an angle to get the indentations. Lastly, I quickly formed it into a circle before it could cool and crack. I was able to place the knocker on the cookie immediately without it drooping or misshaping at all, using a little bit of edible glue to stick the pieces together. I even shipped it to New Jersey (without a cookie card or any supports), and it arrived fine!
MJ: I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who scours the kitchen looking for items to help me with my cookie creations!
I honestly couldn’t tell that there were chocolate pieces in this entry you made for another challenge here on Cookie Connection. I assumed the embellishments were fondant, but it turns out some are not! Is there a reason you chose modeling chocolate instead, and do you prefer it in some instances?
DL: This set was meant to be a challenge for me, in the true spirit of Rebecca’s Practice Bakes Perfect challenges, but it was also a gift for a friend of a friend - a fellow sugar artist who had suffered a serious spinal cord injury. I wanted it to be something beautiful and unique amidst all the usual flowers and balloons one receives during a long hospital stay. I approached it like a multi-media exercise, using wafer paper, painting, textured royal icing, fondant, and modeling chocolate to get the look I wanted.
The gold frame was colored fondant painted gold with vodka and gold luster dust, because I had the gold fondant already made for another project. The fine, frilly roses had details that would hold their shape better in modeling chocolate than fondant, but either material would have worked, really. It’s just a matter of preference, and sometimes it’s about what I have made and ready - and when I was making this set, I had a fresh batch of white modeling chocolate. I think modeling chocolate tastes better, and hardens better for packaging in the cool climate I have here in Maine most of the year, so I do prefer it for lots of cookie details.
MJ: Are there advantages to using modeling chocolate in edible art, in your opinion? On the flip side, what would the disadvantages be?
DL: I think the biggest advantage to using modeling chocolate is that it hardens quickly, so it’s great for adding 3-D details that would be difficult to pipe.
There are however, two big disadvantages to modeling chocolate. The first is that it is temperature-sensitive; it will melt and lose its shape in warm temperatures. So if you are shipping cookies or cannot guarantee that they will be stored and served at a comfortable room temperature, modeling chocolate might not work for you. When I use modeling chocolate on a cookie set, I tell the customer, and explain that the chocolate will melt, which means the cookies can’t be left in the car or stored in the sun.
The other big disadvantage to modeling chocolate is that you can’t paint on it with water-based gel colors like you can with fondant or royal icing. You can knead gel color into the modeling chocolate to get the colors you want, but gel colors applied to the surface of modeling chocolate tend to bead up unevenly.
Petal dusts and luster dusts diluted with vodka work well for painting on it though, as seen in the door knocker. (The gold trim around the heart is black modeling chocolate painted with gold luster dust and vodka, and shaded with a mix of diluted and dry dusts.) But if I’m doing painted details, like eyes on a sculpture or lettering on tiny pieces, I’ll use fondant on those areas that need fine painting.
MJ: And lastly, the question I ask all my interviewees: what is your can’t-live-without baking or decorating tool?
DL: My fine paint brushes. It’s almost impossible to work on teeny-tiny details like princess eyes without a very fine brush.
MJ: Thanks so much for letting me grill you, Dany! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my many questions and your thoroughness. Perhaps you have encouraged others to give modeling chocolate a try in their next cookie project!
Photo and cookie/chocolate credits: Dany Lind
Melissa Joy Lacasse has always had a passion for baking just about anything, but something clicked once she received a cookie decorating kit years ago. This pastime that started as holiday cookies for family and friends eventually turned into Melissa Joy Fanciful Cookies, a Facebook page, and most recently, the blog melissajoycookies.com. While Melissa enjoys the creative outlet that cookie decorating brings, she finds that sharing with others, whether via bakery box or virtually, is always the most rewarding part of her cookie journey.
Photo credit: Melissa Lacasse
Note: How DID You Do That? is a regular Cookie Connection blog feature, written by Melissa Lacasse, which reveals through in-depth interviews the inside scoop behind cookiers' unique designs and technique innovations. Its content expresses the views of the author and interviewee, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To catch up on all of Melissa's past posts, click here.