If you’re new to cake decorating or just want to see what it’s about, I’ve captured some notes with my tips and experience below. I will continue to update this section as I put my thoughts down or learn new techniques…
The desire for custom cakes and boutique cupcakes has exploded in the two decades. Custom cakes are perfect for unique party themes, special interests and inside jokes. Having a custom cake at your event is special. It isn’t something you can pick up at the grocery store or costco and is completely tailored to your event and preferences.
Fondant is a mildly sweet icing medium that is pure sugar. In my opinion, it is nowhere near as delicious as buttercream. It is used to give a smooth finish to cakes and seal in freshness. You can cut through it easily when slicing a cake. For fondant covered cakes, many folks peel the layer of fondant off like an orange rind and leave it on their plates. But some folks clean their cake plate, fondant and all! Fondant is not for everyone but it is completely edible
When I began decorating cakes in 2000, fondant wasn’t commercially available or used nearly to the degree it is today. In the history of cake, it is a relatively new technique for at-home decorators and new possibilities are constantly evolving.
Rolled fondant can be a bit tricky to make at home for the perfect consistency. I make my own marshmallow fondant (MMF) but I purchase rolled fondant in bulk and then color or mold for desired effect.
There are a few ways to paint on cakes:
One technique is to cover the cake in rolled fondant and use it as a canvas to paint with icing colors and paint brushes. But you have to be cautious about how ‘wet’ your paints are – it can make the fondant canvas pretty sticky. Just don’t paint too much in a single spot.
Another method is airbrushing. You can airbrush a cake if you have the right equipment, such as an airbrush gun and special icing colors. This takes some practice, but allows a lot of flexibility with color intensity and breadth of color. I LOVE my airbrush!
You can also purchase cans that spray colors with a similar look and feel, however they aren’t nearly as proficient as an airbrushing gun. They are much cheaper, don’t require additional colors or a compressor, and are very easy to use for a beginner. You can find these at most craft stores and cake supply shops.
In my opinion, buttercream icing is far tastier than fondant. Even with a fondant covered cake, I crumb-coat cakes with buttercream icing. This keeps crumbs from flaking off, helps adhere the fondant to the cake, and adds flavor since fondant is a very mild icing medium.
There are a number of recipes for buttercream, each with slightly different tastes and consistency. Depending on the ingredients, some recipes will not yield a pure white icing (special note if your aim is for a pure white wedding cake) and others will not sit well at a warm temperature for too long, such as at a warm-weather outdoor event.
There are a few tricks in order to apply BC smoothly. I start with a tall glass of hot water, dip a long spatula in the water and allow the blade to warm up. Let the excess water drip off (do not dry the spatula completely) and smooth over the icing. You can warm/wet the spatula as many times as needed when applying the BC. Another trick for avoiding spatula streaks is to use a 12″ taping knife found at most hardware stores. It has a long edge that you can slide across the cake in one stroke!
Ever wonder why your all-red Elmo cake or black Batty cupcakes taste nasty? Most of the time red and black icing will leave a bitter, horrible taste in your mouth. You can find a “no taste” red icing coloring, but it never reaches true red and isn’t nearly as brilliant. You can purchase pre-mixed red and black fondant at most cake/craft stores. I have been very pleased with the true color and the flavor won’t make your guests ill. 😉 Just once, I made an all red cake, a racecar. I was so pleased with it until we ate it at the party! Blech! I will never make a predominately red cake again with buttercream. Ick! And when I have given advice to moms looking to make Elmo or ladybug cupcakes, I pass on this experience!
Tip: You can try adding cocoa powder to your red and black icings so they don’t taste as bad. It will taste a little like chocolate and helps get the color. And for fondant, it is definitely worth the extra bucks to purchase these colors pre-mixed.
Cupcakes are a lot of fun. There is something joyous about receiving your own little cake at a party. But just because they are small doesn’t make them less of a challenge. Cupcakes cook very quickly. I never follow the baking time instructions on any cupcake recipe. In my experience, this always yields an over-cooked cupcake. In fact, if you have cupcakes baking in the oven right now, you should take them out – they are probably done.
You’ll want the perfect icing-to-cupcake ratio. Cupcakes are generally eaten without a fork, but instead held in one hand while a person takes a bite top-down. Too much icing can be overwhelming. Too little may leave the consumer wanting.
Helpful tip: use an ice cream scoop to fill your cupcake papers with batter. It’s easy, clean, and helps ensure all cupcakes are filled evenly. Woo hoo!
Through a kid’s eyes their birthday is the single best day of the year. Unlike Christmas, which kiddos usually share with their siblings and rest of the family, their birthday is the one day all about them! Every kid has favorite characters from a book, movie or toy – Spongebob, Mario, Elmo, Dora, Spider Man, you name it! It’s pure joy when a kiddo sees their favorite character on their very own birthday cake.
Character cakes pose a special challenge – you want your creation to look as exact as possible. Unless you own a Kopykake, you’ll need to get a little creative… In the beginning I drew characters free-hand on the cake with buttercream, eyeballing it against a drawing. Be sure to go really slow or you’ll be unhappy with the result.
The best method I’ve used to create characters is with a fondant cutout. Before my Kopykake, I placed a photo of the character over rolled fondant and traced the image out with an exacto knife. Once you peel back the paper, your cutout should be intact. You might need a little clean-up on the details, but as long as you’re careful when you transfer the cutout to your cake, it should give you a great starting place to finish your character.
Whether you want to eye-ball your character, trace a cutout, or use a Kopykake, you’ll first need a picture. Some great places to find your inspiration are from kids coloring books and searching for ‘coloring pages’ on Google. Seriously – try searching Google Images for ‘Care Bear Coloring Pages’ and you’ll get oodles of images to choose from for your kiddo’s Care Bear cake!
There are a couple tools a cake decorator should never be without – and parchment paper is definitely one of them. Parchment paper is especially useful to line the bottom of cake pans. There are some cakes I make that are particularly tricky to release from the pan, even when completely cool and the pan was well-greased. For these, laying parchment paper down before pouring in the batter ensures no breakage after the cake has cooled.
I always work with fondant on parchment paper. It is the only surface I trust to roll-out fondant and make custom accents and figures. If you don’t have a silicon rolling pin, you can place a sheet of parchment on top of the fondant too and use any pin you have to roll out fondant between the sheets.
You + Parchment Paper = BFF !
Bear in mind that most cakes are at their best within a day of their creation. You can certainly make a cake two days ahead (it won’t ruin the party), it just won’t be at its best. It is always best to leave the cake out UNLESS it has an icing/filling that will go bad (i.e. whipped cream or cream cheese). If iced with buttercream or fondant, just keep the cake wrapped/covered well so it doesn’t dry out. The cake ingredients are cooked so don’t worry about eggs going bad or anything. In fact, the original purpose of icing was to keep cakes moist.
Refrigeration involves dehumidifying the air in order to cool it. As such, refrigerating a cake is generally not the best choice as storing in the fridge will dry a cake out and cause it to taste stale sooner. Even well covered cakes will dehydrate to some degree in the fridge.
Another note is condensation that accumulates on items stored in the fridge may have undesirable effects on your decorating.
I never refrigerate my cakes. I usually make them within 24 hours and don’t use cream cheese or whipped cream frostings. And they haven’t failed me yet!