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Sweet little cupcake pots in 'Concrete Garden Projects'

December 15, 2011 | 10:27 am

Concrete cupcakes
What says “I like you” more than a concrete cupcake? They look sweet and are half-baked in a humorous way. In terms of potential holiday table decor and DIY gifts, these little treats — one of many in the new book “Concrete Garden Projects” — have all the ingredients.

Concrete Garden ProjectsPart of the appeal of Malin Nilsson and Camilla Arvidsson’s book is simplicity: Most of the pots, vases, candle holders, stepping stones and decorative figurines in the book were created using the same easy steps: Find an interesting mold, fill it with concrete, let it dry. 

If you’ve picked your molds well, the results look great. The pots pictured here were made with jumbo cupcake molds made of silicone, which was firm enough to hold its shape but pliable enough to remove the concrete with incredible ease.

The authors recommend brushing molds with vegetable oil; I spray my silicone forms with Pam. Plop in wet mixed concrete, push in a smaller object to create the interior well (I used cheap IKEA glass votive candleholders, also sprayed with Pam), then level and smooth the top with wet fingers. After two days of baking in indirect sunlight, the silicone molds and the votive holders can be removed. Your cupcakes are ready.

These things work best as tea light holders, but if you want to use them as miniature pots with drainage, put a half-inch piece of oiled-up wine cork at the bottom of the mold before pouring in the wet concrete. After the pot has dried, the cork should pop out.

Concrete 2 literI tried about 10 types of molds. A scalloped cake pan worked well for making a larger pot, and when the cork wouldn’t come loose, I simply drilled it out. Tiny triangular sushi molds bought in L.A.’s Little Tokyo were the only clear failure. The concrete would not separate from the mold, probably because the plastic was striated — so detailed in texture, the concrete had too much surface area to cling to.

More complex projects such as bird baths and benches are included in the book, subtitled “Easy & Inexpensive Containers, Furniture, Water Features & More” (Timber Press, $19.95). But I preferred the small-scale stuff, for which the choice in concrete mixes is particularly key.

Concrete comes in different compositions, some with more aggregate than others. The best results came with dry mortar, the finest mix that delivered the smoothest texture. A large bag can make dozens of projects for less than $10. I bought mine, labeled Spec Mix, at Home Depot, but for those who don’t want to haul a 94-pound bag and are making only a few small projects, the store also had Rapid Set mortar mix in a 25-pound box with an easy-carry handle. You’ll still pay about $10, but your back will thank you and the projects will look just as good. Other recommendations: A large bucket and small trowel for mixing, a second bucket for water to rinse hands, a box of latex or nitrile gloves, a dust mask and eye protection.

A love of experimentation also helps. Over time, I found I liked disposable molds, including a 2-liter soda bottle, above, and 1-gallon water bottle, partly because the molds can be cut away and tossed after the concrete had dried. I even tried a 1-gallon plastic milk jug, and to my amazement the thin handle remained intact as I cut away the mold. What to do with a cast-concrete milk jug? For now, mine will be sitting on my front steps — an imaginary milkman’s daily delivery, placed next to a tray of cupcakes.

MORE CRAFTINESS:

Gingerbread house as beach bungalow

Gingerbread house as a geodesic dome

Top picks from the L.A. Renegade Craft Fair

-- Craig Nakano, craig.nakano@latimes.com

Photos: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times; book cover: Timber Press.

 

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