How to Sculpt Candy Vegetables and Make a Garden Cake With Your Kids
Do they like to play with play dough or modeling clay?
Would you love to find a project that combines both?
In this article I’ll show you how you and your kids can make a miniature vegetable garden out of marzipan, a kind of candy, which you can use to decorate a fun and delicious garden cake!
Why Use Marzipan?
Marzipan is an edible décor made of almond paste, powdered sugar and egg whites. This traditional confection is served as a treat for a variety of occasions such as birthdays and weddings. It’s even used for celebrating New Year and as a traditional Christmas treat in many European countries.
Kids really love marzipan because it’s usually made into cool shapes like fruits, vegetables, flowers and animals.
What’s more fun than creating something beautiful that you can also eat?
I’m not sure what your kids will love more: eating marzipan or making it! It’s fun to create the fruit and vegetable shapes—marzipan is just like play dough, and it stays soft for a long time. You can add flavor to marzipan and paint it too.
Although this activity suggests you buy the main ingredient, you can also make marzipan before you shape and color it. Speaking of coloring… this is also an opportunity to explore color theory with your kids.
Part of what makes this candy garden cake such a fun family project is that it combines many wonderful elements: sculpting marzipan vegetables, decorating a cake with them and then eating it as a family!
#1: Choose Your Vegetables
Any gardener knows you must first plan your vegetable garden before you plant it. The same is true of a candy garden!
Ask your kids to name and describe the vegetables they would like to grow in their marzipan garden. You’ll notice they’ll enthusiastically plan for a variety of vegetables—even those they would never touch at the dinner table. After all, who wouldn’t want to eat candy spinach or cauliflower?
Get their input, but also encourage easy shapes—especially for younger kids—and recognizable veggies such as carrots, radishes, eggplants, green peas, lettuce, pumpkins and cauliflower. You may also want to avoid shapes that are too easy, like potatoes and onions.
Once you choose your vegetables, do some research. Take pictures of vegetables at the grocery or farmers’ market, then print them out. You can also print out vegetable images from the Internet. Or use real vegetables for inspiration.
It really helps to use a model so you get the colors, leaves and shapes right.
#2: Dye Your Marzipan
To get the right colors for your vegetables, you’ll need to mix food coloring with the white marzipan. Before you do this, have a conversation with your kids about colors and color theory—a color wheel is a great visual aid to assist with the explanation.
A color wheel shows how to take primary colors (blue, yellow and red) and make secondary and tertiary colors. You can download and print a color wheel from the Internet or make a color wheel using a paper plate and blue, yellow and red tempera paint.
Discuss how you need mix together the three primary colors (blue, red and yellow) of the food coloring to make the right colors for the vegetables and add black or white to adjust the shade of the colors, lighter or darker.
Ask your kids which colors they need to make for which vegetables.
- Carrots and pumpkins are orange. Which colors do you have to mix to make orange?
- Eggplants are purple. Which colors do you have to mix to make purple?
- Peas and lettuce are green. Which colors do you have to mix to make green?
- Radishes are red. Which colors do you need to mix to make red? (That’s a trick question. Red is a primary color.)
Once you and your kids feel sufficiently prepped, gather your materials and get started!
Spread out cling film (or wax paper), so your marzipan shapes don’t stick to your work area.
Pinch off a small ball of white marzipan and keep the rest wrapped up or put it into an airtight container.
Put on plastic gloves. One set for you and one set for each child. You will just need them at this stage since the food coloring won’t stain once the ball is evenly colored.
Next, add 1-3 or more drops of food coloring to the ball of marzipan and knead the dough to work the color through the marzipan.
When the color is even, put the marzipan in the center of your palm, one hand on top, and roll it to make a ball, just like play dough.
Note: To create additional colors, refer to your color wheel. Put a few drops of each food dye you need into a small dish, and mix with a toothpick until you get the color you want. For example, mix red and yellow for orange, and yellow and blue to make green dye. Add the mixed colors to your marzipan ball using a toothpick.
Repeat the process until you have enough balls of colored marzipan to shape your garden.
To make a log, roll a ball of marzipan against a flat surface in one direction until it reaches the desired thickness.
#3: Grow Your Vegetables
All vegetables start as a small marzipan ball or log. Then you mold them into the shapes you want. You may need to help younger kids with the vegetable details. And you will certainly want to make vegetables of your own to contribute to the family garden.
Radishes are cute and easy to make. Roll two balls of marzipan, one pink and a smaller white one. Press the white ball to the pink one to make them stick together, and create a stem with the white. Make leaves out of three small logs of green marzipan flattened with a pinch of your thumb and index finger. Remember, you can buy green marzipan. Or color white marzipan by combining yellow and blue food dye.
Green peas are fun and quick to form. For pea pods, take a ball of green marzipan, put a sheet of cling film over it (so that it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin), and roll out the dough. Squeeze both ends between your fingers to shape the pod. Then, roll small green balls for peas and tuck them into the pod.
Pumpkins are colorful and simple. Roll an orange piece in a ball, and then use a toothpick to add 5 or 6 stripes. Next add one leaf and a curled tendril out of green marzipan. Make tendrils from thin, green logs.
Carrots are the easiest to make. Roll an orange log and apply more pressure on one end to make it skinnier. Flatten a small green ball with your finger in the shape of a triangle, then separate the large side in three, using scissors or knife to make leaves. Stick the pointed end of the triangle to the carrot. Use the back of a knife to mark the surface of the carrot with uneven marks.
Cauliflowers are more sophisticated and detailed. Roll a white ball on a cheese grater to add texture. (Watch your fingers!) Next, use a rolling pin to roll a thin layer of green dough on the cling film. Place the white ball in the center. With your fingers, arrange the green layer around the white ball in waves, to imitate leaves. You can create lettuce in the same way, just start with a small green ball instead of a white one, and then wrap several layers of green leaves around it.
Finally, make some animals to add life to your garden. Mice, cats and bunnies love to hang around gardens.
Kids love to hide marzipan animals between vegetables … and play with them before eating them!
#4: Map Out Your Garden
Like a landscaper, you now need to create your garden using your marzipan vegetables.
As a family, decide where you would like to plant your crop of carrots, pumpkins, peas and other vegetables.
A chocolate cake is a good base, because it already has the right color for the ground. It looks more interesting visually to plant rows of vegetables. You can, however, use any kind of cake.
First, cover your cake with chocolate ganache. Melt butter and chocolate together in a bowl over a pan of hot water, and then spread the mixture thinly over the top of your cake with a butter knife or palette knife. Note: You’ll probably want to do this yourself, but older kids can help.
Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes. Then use the back of a knife to mark four plots on the cake. With a fork, mark the icing to give the effect of ploughed land on two of the plots: vertically for one, horizontally for the other.
Cover the remaining two plots with chocolate granules or powder to create different surface effects, and use green licorice whips to create rows and a path.
Make sure the chocolate has cooled before planting your vegetables. Otherwise, your lovely vegetables will be covered in chocolate and you won’t be able to move them around.
#5: Plant and Enjoy!
Now that everything is ready, it’s time to set the scene and place vegetables on the garden plots. I recommend that you give each child a different section to plant or have them take turns planting vegetables. Be sure to take a turn too!
My daughter enjoyed adding animals and inventing stories about what was happening in the garden.
Now you can proudly present your marzipan vegetable garden cake and enjoy eating it as a family! Be sure to take lots of pictures before you dig in!
Now that I’ve shown you how to create a candy garden cake with your kids, it’s your turn to try it! If you need more of a challenge, check out this Martha Stewart video to take marzipan art to a new level or watch this one below to add animals for your garden!
Add more animals to your garden or even try a zoo cake.
Some Final Thoughts…
A candy garden cake is a wonderful family project. It involves so many elements and there’s something for everyone. Our daughter loved the modeling part, while our son was more interested in mixing the colors, and of course, eating the sweets. They would quarrel about who would get which marzipan vegetable at dessert, so we sent one of them under the table while the other was cutting the cake to decide who would get the next slice!
What do you think? Have you ever shaped marzipan with your kids? Which vegetables did you create? Did you make animals too? Are you ready to try it? Please post your photos or comments to give us some inspiration!