If you’ve ever heard someone make the distinction between fashion and style (fashion is what you wear, style is how you wear it), then you already know what I’m going to say about cake decorating: having the right tools and tricks for decorating cakes will only take you as far as the love you put into it. Still, it is necessary to pick up a few tips if you want to add some panache to your cake decorating style. This guide will help you do just that, with advice on what tools to use and how to fake-it-till-you-make-it with your own style. Whether you’re into cake decorating for fun or for profit, check out these additional cake-decorating tips from an award-winning baker with over thirty years of experience.
Now That’s A Knife
Before we get our hands dirty, here is a short list of common tools and their uses:
- Spatulas: rubber spatulas (you can go eco-friendly with natural rubber or bamboo spatulas, but unfortunately you won’t get the flexibility you need with wood). Aside from its obvious uses in icing, the spatula comes in handy when you need a broad, flat surface.
- Knives: This is all about preference, but believe it or not, most people believe that a straight serrated knife gives you the cleanest cut. You might also invest in the knife-like offset spatulas (they look like thin tongues), which are ideal for deft icing maneuvers.
- Pastry Bags: You can use plastic bags if you’re cheap, but do the environment a favor and invest in reusable canvas pastry bags. These are the better long-term investment. Plus, you’ll look totally legit with a real pastry bag.
- Cutlery: Your run-of-the-mill butter knife and soup spoon are perfect and acceptable substitutes for expensive, professional-grade cake decorating tools.
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Teaspoon-Finish Frosting, Featuring A Crumb-Coat And Lipped Icing
This is an easy way to create a simple yet elegant cake. I’ll walk you through some of the basics of Frosting 101. There’s about ten tips tucked into this little tutorial.
- The fist thing to do is flip your recently-baked cake upside down, thus creating a smooth surface on top. Use your straight serrated knife to cut the cake in half long-ways. You can stick toothpicks into the side of the cake to ensure an even cut.
- Spread a thin layer of icing on the top of one of your halves, preferable, the bottom half, thereby covering the serrated cut and preserving the smooth top of the other half.
- Apply a crumb coat. A crumb coat is a paper-thin layer of frosting. No, you do not need to mix frosting with left-over cake crumbs. It’s called a crumb coat because this thin layer of frosting locks the crumbs into the cake. This way, when you apply the final, thick layer of frosting, it doesn’t get crumbs churned into its substance.
- It’s time to ice the cake. Start with the sides and use one of the offset spatulas, holding it tongue-down vertically. Shoot for a layer around a ¼” thick, and allow the frosting to develop a lip of the same thickness above the top of the cake. The lip
- Ice the top. When your new frosting meets the lip, use a gentle circular motion to perfectly meld the two surfaces. You’re welcome.
- Now for the teaspoon finish. This will make your cake look like the surface of the sea. Take your handy teaspoon and move it through the frosting making comma-shaped movements, pressing gently. You want to create a richly wavy surface.
Buttercream is the ultimate icing. It’s pliable and outrageously delicious. Here are a few essential techniques for taking your buttercream craft to the next level.
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Grass and Fur
You heard me. You can create grass and fur for your topiary cakes. You will need a grass tip for your pastry bag; these usually go by the name “Multi-Opening Tips.” Any tip with roughly eight to ten equally sized openings will get the job done.
- Begin by holding the bag at ninety degrees, 1/8” above the surface.
- Pull up and away slowly when the icing touches the cake; the length is up to you, but generally ¼” to ½” is ideal. For sharper grass, pull away as soon as the icing makes contact. For wavier grass, pull up and slightly to the side. It’s as easy as that.
Do The Swirl
While popular with cupcakes, you can use the same technique on full-sized cakes, varying the icing thickness with fatter tips.
The best tip for cupcakes is the standard 1M.
- Hold the bag at ninety degrees and ½” above the center of the cupcake. Squeeze until the icing makes contact. This will create a star.
- Without stopping, start moving steadily around the star in a “swirl” pattern. You want each full rotation to overlap slightly, to create a sealed surface.
- When you get to the end, create another spiral between the edge of the cupcake and the star, ending at the center, thus forming that classic rich top.
Rows of Roses
The rose is the most popular icing trick in the game. This requires a deftness of hand not found in grass or swirls, but with a little practice, anyone can ice the perfect rose (and you can get anyone to eat it by learning how to bake gluten-free).
- Use a #12 tip to make the base (you can use a flower nail for better control). Begin with the tip touching the surface, and raise it as you release pressure simultaneously, creating a perfect cone.
- Swap that #12 for a #104. Hold the bag at a forty-five degree angle with the tip positioned so that the opening is vertical, not horizontal.
- Now for the balancing act. As you squeeze the icing, move the tip up from the center of the cone, while either rotating it around the base of turning the flower nail in your hand. You want to make a ribbon of icing, climbing and making one full circle from the center to the top.
- To make the petals, start at the base of the cone. Squeeze the pastry bag with the same firmness you used for the ribbon and move the tip up and down once, creating a “hill,” as you rotate the flower 1/3 of a rotation. Repeat three times, forming three petals.
- Repeat this process, starting from the new base created by the three petals (each row of petals should widen the base). Now make five petals, slightly larger and over-lapping where each of the three petals intersects. Finish the rose by making a perimeter of seven petals in the exact same manner, the last petal overlapping slightly with the first petal.
Congratulations, you made your first rose!