I was inspired to make these funny guys after reading about nisse (or tomtar) from Scandinavian folklore. These little fabled creatures have long white beards and pointed caps, and they are associated with winter and Christmastime. In older versions of lore most nisse are benevolent, but if they are mistreated then trouble is not far behind. Modern versions of nisse are said to bring Christmas presents in Sweden and Norway, like Santa Claus!
Peppermint swirl seemed like just the right kind of cupcake flavor for a Christmas gnome. I dislike strong peppermint flavor in baked goods, but here it’s mild and pleasant swirled with vanilla cake batter.
To make the hats as I have, you’ll need a knit texture fondant mat. You can find them here. I really love the effect, but if you would like to make these without having to buy a mat, you can! Coat sugar cones in candy and sprinkles, as I did in this Eggnog Cake post. I think red candy melts and red sanding sugar would make a perfectly fine gnome hat!
Inspiration for the gnome’s appearance is from a Christmas Gnome Doll tutorial by my friends at Sweet Paul Magazine. It’s just the cutest! The body and hat are made from an old sweater, and the nose is made with a nude stocking.
As for my cupcake version, the noses are made with strawberry Starburst fruit chews that have been rolled into a ball. I think they’re just hilarious!
A dozen of these guys all lined up on a dessert buffet is a sight to see! They are so funny with their mostly hidden faces. Kids will love them, and they could bring about a learning moment. You can find some excellent reading to share with little ones here, but like Grimm’s Fairytales some of the lore is dark. You may consider sharing the more helpful and kind aspects of nisse.
Christmas Gnome Cupcakes
Yields one dozen
To make the gnome hats as I did, you will need a knit texture fondant impression mat. See blog post for sources.
Please note the recipe instructions for the gnome frosting beards – the frosting must be thick so it sticks to the side of the cupcake liner. Use extra powdered sugar to thicken the frosting if necessary.
1 1/2 cups (170g) cake flour
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 tablespoon liquid red food color
1 cup/226g unsalted butter, softened
5 cups/640 confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Milk or heavy cream
Hats and noses
12 sugar cones
1 lb. ready-made red fondant
3 tablespoons honey or corn syrup
12 strawberry fruit chews (Starburst)
Make the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.
Combine the dry ingredients, then mix in the butter until crumbly.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry in two additions. Remove about 2/3 cup of batter to a small mixing bowl. Add peppermint extract and red food color. Stir until well-combined.
Divide vanilla batter among cupcake liners. Add a spoonful of red batter on top of each cake and swirl using a knife or skewer.
Bake the cupcakes for 16 to 18 minutes, until they’re lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the middle cupcakes comes out clean.
Remove the cupcakes from the oven; after 5 minutes place them on a wire rack to cool.
Make the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together the butter and confectioners’ sugar. Begin on low speed until crumbly, add vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons milk or cream. Increase to high and beat for 3 minutes, or until the mixture is thick, pale and fluffy. Add more milk or cream as needed. The frosting needs to be a little stiffer than usual for this recipe, so the gnome beards don’t slide of the sides of the cupcakes. You can test the consistency by piping a small amount on the outside of a drinking glass. If the frosting sticks, it is firm enough. If it slides down the glass, then add more powdered sugar to the frosting.
Transfer the frosting to a large piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip.
Make the hats and noses: Remove wrappers from sugar cones if necessary. Knead fondant well and roll half out on a work surface that has been lightly dusted with powdered sugar. (Cover other half with plastic wrap to prevent drying.) Lift the fondant onto the 4×6 texture mat and roll the fondant with a rolling pin. Flip the fondant over with the texture mat and remove the mat. Cut away the textured part of the fondant using a small paring knife. Brush small dabs of honey on a sugar cone. Wrap the textured fondant around the sugar cone and trim away the excess fondant at the bottom (open end of the cone) using a knife or scissors, but leave the excess at the top of the cone (the pointed end). Repeat steps with remaining cones. Let dry until firm, about 1 hour.
Make the noses by rolling each fruit chew into a ball between your palms. If the candies are too stiff to roll, microwave them one at a time for 5 seconds to soften; roll between palms.
Assembly: Place the cupcakes in sturdy free-standing cupcake papers (see blog post for sources). Pipe a little frosting on top of the cupcakes. Pipe more frosting down one side of the cupcake paper, swirling back and forth to create a gnome beard. Place the sugar cone hats on top of the cupcake. Add a fruit chew nose just above the beard. You may also pipe frosting on either side of the nose to create a mustache. Display the gnomes as an edible centerpiece on your dessert buffet.
See video tutorial for helpful techniques.