Cake Decorating Essentials:
3 Tools = Flawless Technique
I have something very exciting to tell you. There are three tools than will help you frost and decorate your cakes so that they look good enough to sell in a bakery! Without them, not even I can make cakes look good – and I’ve been professionally baking and decorating cakes for over 25 years! Not only does each item have its own list of benefits, but together they form a powerhouse triad for cake decorating.
With no further ado, here they are – and the good news is that two of them are cheap, cheap cheap.
1. Cardboard (commercially cut to size. Photo shows “right” side, which is white, and brown underside of a few sizes. They come in typical cake pan sizes such as 6-inch, 8-inch, 9-inch, etc.):
Most of you reading this are home bakers and right now are probably saying, “What?” It is a simple piece of cardboard and yet, so much more. In the picture you can see some examples of these pre-cut, corrugated cardboard shapes. You want the same size and shape cardboard as cake – an 8-inch round cardboard for an 8-inch cake, for instance. The reason why you need to buy these, and not cut them out at home, is that the pre-cut will be much more precise in shape and with smooth edges. We need this accuracy because the edge of the cardboard will be used to help apply frosting smoothly to your cake’s sides, as you will see. They can be purchased on-line and at many craft stores for less than a dollar apiece.
2. Icing Spatulas:
I recommend that you have at least two of these – an 8-inch straight icing spatula (like the white handled one in the picture) and a small, 5-inch offset (just below it) for frosting typical 8 or 9-inch size layer cakes, cupcakes and square or rectangular cakes or bars up to 13 x 9-inches in size. I recommend these two sizes as they are the most helpful when baking these common sizes of baked goods.
Icing spatulas are comprised of metal blades with rounded tips affixed to a plastic or wood handle. They come in a variety of sizes from about 5-inches to over 14-inches for the blade length alone. They can also be perfectly straight or they can be offset (angled near the handle end); each type feels different in the hand and works better for different applications. Trying different ones will tell you which works best for you. For larger celebration and wedding cakes, I like a large offset for frosting the tops of large tiers.
Pay attention not only to size and shape but also to flexibility vs. stiffness. All of us have different size hands, wrist flexibility and even our height affects how we relate to the cake on the table in front of us, ready to be frosted. Because of this, what works for me might be very different from what works for you. My point is to encourage you to try different icing spatulas to see what gives you the best results. Personally I have small-ish hands, and being short, my arms are proportionate. A very flexible 8-inch blade is my best friend. Give me a really stiff one and I can’t frost a pretty cake. Really! Don’t give up. There is equipment out there that can help you be a better baker.
3: Heavy-duty Turntable:
OK this is the pricey item. The type I am recommending costs about $50 (I have an Ateco). These hold your cake and spin it around for you, facilitating the application of frosting. Now, lightweight and inexpensive lazy-susans spin too, but they really do not work as effectively and here is why: the models I suggest have a very heavy base; many are cast iron. A heavy base means the turntable wont move on your work surface during use. The part that spins (I prefer a round one although they come in rectangles too) should be sturdy too, strong enough to hold a very heavy tier. (Believe me, when you are working with a filled 14-inch tier for a celebration cake you don’t want the turntable platform to give way!) And the action of the spin needs to be smoooooooth. The fact that these more professional models are raised up off of the base, as opposed to flat lazy-susans, also makes it easier for you to apply frosting. You lay out the money once and a good turntable will last you a lifetime and give you years of much more enjoyable cake decorating time – and help you make prettier cakes to boot.
Now, here’s how the three tools come together to create a cake decorating system that I would never be without.
* Place a cake layer on a same size cardboard.
* Place cardboard and cake in the center of the turntable. Get down to eye level with the cake and gently spin the turntable. You should be able to see the high spots of the cake pretty easily. Gently slice those away the high spots, always cutting conservatively. You can always cut more off later.
* Use an icing spatula to apply frosting to top of cake layer or to apply filling. The icing spatula can be used to get the frosting from the bowl to the cake, then, glide the icing spatula over the frosting/ganache/filling, never allowing the spatula to touch the cake surface, because it might pick up crumbs. By using the spatula to spread the frosting around, the crumbs will stay between the cake and the frosting that’s touching the cake and they won’t come up to the surface of the frosting where we might see them.
* There is a special technique that I employ when applying frosting to the sides of cakes that takes advantage of our 3 tools. Pick up some frosting with your icing spatula and apply it to the side of your cake, sort of wiping it off onto the cake. Then, position your spatula so that the tip is touching the turntable and is pressed against the cardboard beneath the cake. Your wrist will be above it all; the icing spatula is facing down. Now, hold the icing spatula at a slight angle, but almost flat against the cake. Hold the spatula still and spin the turntable. The perfect shape of the cardboard keeps the spatula steady and helps you guide it around the cake in an even manner, creating smooth sides. As the cake spins, the spatula will smooth the frosting on the cake. You will need to stop constantly to add more frosting as you go. By keeping the spatula vertical and still, pressing it against the cardboard and spinning the turntable, the frosting on the sides of the cake will smooth out.