Tuesday, January 29, 2013

20 Tips for a Perfect Cake

Even if you are a home baker, making a box cake with canned frosting, you can make that cake look professional with the right technique.
In the cake world you will encounter a lot of  ' cake snobs'  who won't help, who feel if you don't know how to do a certain technique then you shouldn't be decorating at all. I could go on.
Fortunately, I have encountered some wonderful decorators who are more than willing to share their experience and knowledge.

You can take the Wilton Method Courses, and they are a great start, but you will need to expand from there if you plan on designing and decorating for more than a hobby.
Many of these tips I learned on accident, some I brainstormed and did the trial and error method, and others were great words of advice given by other decorators. 

1. Prevent your cake from sticking to the pan by lining the pan with parchment paper and lightly greasing the sides.

2. If you are baking a cake larger than 8 inches put a flower nail in the center of the pan before pouring in the batter. This will conduct the heat and cook the middle of the cake even with the sides. 
Here is a link if you are unfamiliar with what a flower nail is.

3. Bake even strips, I swear by them. Soak them in water, wrap around you cake pan , and you will have nice flat cake tops with very little to level.

4. Once your pans are filled, gently tap then on the counter. You will begin to see the air bubbles rise to the surface and pop. This will give you a nice dense cake without air pockets.

5. If you will be filling your cake it's important to make a stiff dam of icing between layers.  I use buttercream that is still enough I can roll it into a rope with my hands and place on the cake 1/2 an inch in from the edge. The weight of the cake and icing will squeeze this to the edge.

6. After my cakes are filled I let them settle , wrapped in Saran wrap overnight. If I am in a hurry I will place a heavy book or ceramic tile the size of the cake , on top of the cake to push the air out more rapidly. I let that set about 3- 4 hrs before icing the cake. This is an important step in avoiding blowouts.

7. I put a thin layer of buttercream on my cake, then place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm up before putting on my thick coat of icing.

8. To get my cakes iced even I ice the top first, then the sides. I use a dough scraper just like this one: 
held at a 90 degree angle while I spin my turntable to get a smooth finish on the sides.
Once that is done I measure the lowest point on my cake. I cut a piece of paper to that height. Then I work around the cake , smoothing the icing on the top all the way around to that height.

9. I use the Viva paper towel method for my final smoothing. Once your buttercream has crusted , take a piece of paper towel that has no print or impressions, such a VIVA , and place on the cake. Smooth over the towel with a large spatula. 

10. Fondant is a close relative to Spandex. It is unforgiving and will show every bulge and dimple. Make sure your buttercream is smooth before applying fondant.

11. Fondant picks up lint so microscopic you can't even see it until it's in there. It's amazing how much lint it can pick up also. When I am working with fondant I wear a short sleeve, cotton kitchen jacket like this one:  Chef Works White Short-Sleeve Chef Coat, Medium (Google Affiliate Ad)
A sweater would be the demise of your fondant...trust me!

12. If you apply your fondant and you get an air bubble, do not panic. Get a small sterile hat pin and poke a hole in it and gently press the air out. Once the air is out the pinhole can be covered by a decoration or smooth it over by rubbing in a small amount of vegetable shortening.

13. If your fondant gets a small tear in it, pull the sides together and smooth closed with vegetable shortening. This only works with small tears, large ones should be redone.

To do this insert one end into your cake, mark on your dowel where to cut. Remove the dowel and cut as many as you need to the same height. Then, insert them into the cake. ****Do not trim your dowels while they are in the cake. If your cake top is uneven, your dowels will be uneven and you risk having a cakeslide. Dowels need to all be the same height.

15. Floral wire is not food safe. If you make any decor on wires the wire must not touch the cake. I use cocktail straws. Insert your floral wire into the cocktail straw, this will act as a sheath, trim and insert into the cake,

16. If you have filled your cake with a custard or another perishable filling that needs refrigeration and you have covered it in fondant it can be refrigerated. To do this adjust your moisture level in your refrigerator to the lowest level. Put the cake in a box, wrap the box with saran. Remove from the refrigerator and unwrap saran at least an hour before delivering or serving to bring it back to room temperature. Do not touch the cake until any and all condensation has evaporated. 

17. Cake disasters happen...I had one happen last fall. I went to bed and my snake cake was stacked and sitting in it's box. Fortunately I woke up early and wanted to take a peek at my work ( I wasn't happy with the way it had come out and was still thinking of how to make it look better ) . I was horrified when I looked in the box.
This :

Looked like this:

I should have taken a picture of it while it was still in the box, it completely separated in the middle, slid due to lack of proper support, and smashed into the side of the cake box. 
I ended up having to strip off all the fondant, re-carve the head to fix damage, re-stack with proper support, recover with fondant and paint. Fortunately I discovered this early and had time to fix it. Always allow yourself enough time before delivery to fix any disasters. If you wait until the last minute to finish your cake you may end up in a bad situation. Also, do not cut corners. I figured that it was a light, small top tier that I could get away without any support. I wanted it to kind of sink in to the bottom tier to create a more coiled effect. It didn't sink, it slid, right off the cake . Horror! 
Do not skimp on support!

18. Always make extra flowers and gumpaste decor. These are delicate and break easily. Don't come up short, if you have left overs , I keep mine in the plastic clam shells that the strawberries come in. They have vents in the sides and work great for storing gumpaste accents. Use them on another cake, last minute orders get what I have on my left over shelf.

19. To make items look metallic mix pearl dust with a little bit of vodka and paint. Wilton Gold Pearl Decorating Dust (Google Affiliate Ad) . Sometimes I use a few coats, but they come out looking perfect.

20. Have fun with it. Don't be afraid to mess up.  Accidents make some of the best new techniques.

You may see your flaws, but other non-cake people, will not. I guarantee it!
The simplest cakes are often times the best so don't feel the need to go overboard. 

If you have any tips you would like to share , please do in the comment section. 
I am always learning and would love to hear what others have discovered.


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