My FAVE FIVE Cake Decorating Tips
Hey hey hey! I'm veering off the usual route this week cos I've been taken down and out by a bloody chest infection! Wah wah wah. I did still try but a cake just wasn't in me this week. Plus, with all the coughing and choking and spluttering I don't imagine anyone wanting to eat it if I'm honest. How crazy is it though, I mean this is the first week-long sun streak I've seen in Scotland in a long time and I get taken out by a winter illness. Bleurgh!!!
I did some frantic googling and it seems there are two possible reasons. One, it's the change of season that apparently brings everyone down. Two, people who start new exercise programs are more likely to pick up common viruses like colds and chest infections. Like seriously?! I finally get back on the exercise game and within a week I'm taken back out of it? What a liberty! For the first time though I'm not using it as an excuse to quit. I plan to be straight back into them running shoes the minute my lungs are up to it. I did use it as an excuse to eat like crazy but hey, I'm only human.
Instead of caking, I thought I'd put together my top tips for when I can get back to it. As you know, I'm totally self-taught so I've been picking up little tricks everytime I make a new cake and compiling wee lists in my head. And I thought, if they've helped me out they might just help you too, sharing is caring and all that jazz. So, these are my essential things that I've learned along the way and make my life sooooo much easier.
Let's get cracking!
#1 Bitchin Base
Get yourself a sponge recipe you know by heart. My favourite is my regular Victoria sponge because I literally don’t have to check a recipe ever, it’s so simple to remember.
4oz self-raising flour
2 tbsp of milk
Baked at 180C for 20-25mins
When I need a sponge that it’s a little sturdier I add in a heaped tbsp of plain flour or cocoa powder and the same again of milk. Jobs a goodun! But essentially all I have to remember is 444,22. You can even build on the flavours from here, like the one above, I added some lovely mixed spices and substituted with brown sugar for a cracking caramel finish. With this in your back pocket, the worlds your oyster.
#2 Ice Ice Baby
Freeze your cakes before decorating and chill them regularly while frosting. I love this trick, it saves so much time when I can bake the cakes in advance and then just grab and go when I need them. I like to slice mine into layers first and then double wrap in cling film and tin foil before I put them in the freezer. I've heard they can last up to a few months but the longest I've had mine in is around the 1-month mark. I swear it almost makes them even more moist than when they went in.
Remove them from the freezer a few hours before you start frosting and Brucie Bonus the cooler temperature will set the frosting as you work, perfect edges every time. Alongside the freezer I like to chill mine between frosting layers too, nobody likes to build on a soft foundation. Be sure to avoid the fridge once fondants in play though to avoid it 'sweating'. Especially if you're painting on top, we need that canvas dry
As you know I'm a little bit fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to, well, everything. And especially cakes. I start with a plan every week but once I get in that kitchen all bets are off. Which is great when it works but sometimes it means I need to make new decorations on the fly. But, as we know, fondant can take an entire night to dry so what's a girl to do? Well, it's back to old faithful, the bakers best friend, the trusty oven. Get it warming on low for 2 minutes then switch it off before placing your fondant decorations inside.
I used just this trick on my wolf cake above. I totally messed up by leaving her next to the kettle and all that steam completely destroyed my drying time. Let's just say there was a lot of crying time. But after a little stint in the oven, she was right as rain.
One thing to watch out for, the underside will warp slightly so if you have a design that needs to be seen 360 then I would avoid this method. Also, be very careful that the ovens not too hot or you might just melt all your hard work. I find low temps and a watchful eye works best.
It's time to get real comfortable with the humble pencil. This little genius is seriously gonna change your life! I can still remember the day I found out that graphite in pencils is food safe because it changed everything. No more freehand drawing or painting onto cookies and cakes. I can trace designs that I want perfectly onto fondant and then paint over it! Like, I'm not at all talented in the art department so finding a trick that can help me fake it on cakes is the biggest deal ever! I love it!!!!
And it's not just for painting or drawing, on my custard cream cake I used it to get all four corners identical and it worked a treat! Oh and on my Harry Potter cake, I was able to draw the entire scene from The Tale Of The Three Brothers exactly as it looked on screen. A feat that would have been impossible freehand. Or cookies! You can now get everyone identical by tracing the same design onto each and using the lines to guide the icing. professional AF! I can't wait to see how many other ways I can put this hero to work, stay tuned!
#5 Fondant Es-sense-tials
I've said it before but fondant really is a fickle mistress. And the best way to tame her? Time and sense.
Sometimes a job is easier when the fondant is a little soft and sticky, sometimes when it's verging on dry and sometimes you need to find that sweet spot in between. I can tell you how to get your fondant to each stage but knowing when to use which one is all instinct. I still don't get it right, I'm still learning, but when I do man my life just gets a whole heap easier. So, what's my final tip?
Stock up on these essentials; 1kg of fondant, 1 muslin square, 1 fondant smoother, cornflour, cooking oil and 2 large squares of clear vinyl. Then spend an entire afternoon playing around and soaking up how the fondant feels and looks and reacts. If you have a cake dummy great, if not, grab an old biscuit tin or something similar to practice covering. Try and try again until you get it right. The vinyl can make this easier by rolling between 2 sheets you can then lift it on to the cake without tearing and just peel off the vinyl on top. Use the smoother to work out all the kinks, try different pressures and use different angles until you know what works. If the fondants too dry, knead in a little cooking oil. If it's too wet, wrap a tablespoon of cornflour into the muslin square and dab it over to dry it out a little. Play around in both the extremes until you're comfortable with it.
Practice really does make perfect but also, after I did this I found a lot less fear in myself. I used to come at fondant saying a silent prayer that it wouldn't go wrong but if you get comfortable in the wrong and know how to fix it you have nothing left to be afraid of. And that's when you can kick it's ass. Go forth and conquer!