Today I thought I’d share some really useful general tips to help make it easier to turn your cakes into jolly good cakes!
♦ When covering a cake in sugar paste, use a pizza wheel to trim the excess icing around the bottom of the cake. The smooth, continuous motion makes a much neater finish than using a knife.
♦ Run out of disposable piping bags or finding them expensive? Party sweet cone bags make a cheaper alternative and are available online. Freezer/food bags make good emergency piping bags. Just snip off one corner. Ziplock bags have the added benefit of being sealable which stops your icing drying out until you’re ready to use it.
♦ Do as much as possible in advance and avoid the 3am cake decorating despair! You can make sugar paste decorations or cut out lettering weeks or months in advance; keep them in a tin on a piece of greaseproof paper dusted with icing sugar. However, anything that needs to be bent or shaped to fit on the cake will have to be made just before it’s added to the cake as once the sugar paste is dry, it will crack and break if bent.
♦ Use professional gel colours rather than supermarket liquid food colours. Gel colours don’t alter the consistency of your icing and make it wet and sticky. You only need a tiny amount as gel colours are very concentrated (apply to your icing with a cocktail stick). They will save you a lot of money in the long run as you can buy plain white sugar paste and colour the amounts that you need, rather than buying expensive pre-coloured icing. Exceptions are bright red and black where it is difficult to achieve such intense shades so I do tend to buy pre-coloured sugar paste for these colours – choose a good, professional brand if covering a whole cake in red or black as cheap supermarket brands can have a quite unpleasant taste in large quantities. Gel colours can be mixed to create other colours and shades so you don’t need to buy hundreds of colours; you can buy sets which contain pretty much all you need.
♦ Use piping gel to attach wafer paper pictures (rice paper) to your icing and not water or edible glue which can dissolve, distort or wrinkle the paper. For more on piping gel see my blog ‘Piping Gel – 10 Jolly Good Uses’ published 03.09.2015.
♦ Store your finished cakes in cardboard cake or cupcake boxes, not metal tins or plastic boxes. Cardboard boxes allow your cakes to ‘breathe’ a little, helping to prevent peeling cupcake cases, or ‘sweating’ icing. If you store a cake with both buttercream and sugar paste decoration in an airtight container, the sugar paste tends to absorb the moisture from the buttercream, making the sugar paste shiny at best, or floppy and ‘melted’ at worst!
♦ Plan the size of your decorations for the size of your cake. It’s frustrating to make your decorations only to find that they don’t fit on the cake! Draw around the cake tin that you are using on a piece of paper then plan out the size of decorations, lettering etc. You can draw around any cutters you are using. If you are making sugar paste models, or cutting out sugar paste letters, place them on a piece of grease proof paper the same size as the cake.
♦ When using ‘Tappits’ or similar letter/number cutters, roll out your sugar paste then leave it to dry for half an hour or so before using the cutters. The main reason the sugar paste gets stuck or doesn’t come out neatly is that the sugar paste is sticky. Letting the icing dry avoids having to use too much icing sugar – a light dusting along with the partly dried sugar paste should work well. It took me a lot of frustrated attempts with these cutters before discovering the difference that a half hour airing would make!
♦ Invest in a cutting mat to save your worktop from being damaged when using cutters or knives and to provide a smooth, clean surface for your cake decorating work. A non-stick mat is a great surface for rolling out small pieces of sugar paste. Reserve your mat for cake decorating only – no slicing raw chicken on it! Mats also tend to have rulers and grid markings to help you to cut straight and to the right size. ‘Self-healing’ mats mean that the surface of the mat doesn’t get scratched or cut but remains smooth.
♦ Wipe down cake boards/drums with a little boiled water on a piece of kitchen towel before using, to remove any dust or dirt from the factory or shop. Boards that come wrapped in plastic shouldn’t present any problem. However, cake decorating shops and online retailers often provide unwrapped boards which have been on dusty shelves, handled by numerous people, or posted loose in an ordinary box. Cleaning the board will help prevent any bacteria affecting your cake.
Got any more jolly good tips? Please share by commenting on this post! ♥