Fancy Cakes Come Easy
As I promised in the previous post, I’ll be sharing some tips, tricks and techniques on frosting and decorating cakes. This time around I’ll only go into the details of spreadable and pipe-able frostings and icings – I plan to do a rolled fondant and marzipan entry in the future though.
Before anything, we need the frosting. I posted a cream cheese frosting recipe here, and a chocolate creamy frosting here. The latter one can be altered into a variety of other flavors, too: just skip the chocolate part, and add a different flavoring, like vanilla extract or rum flavoring. You can also use ground nuts in it, like ground roasted almonds or coconut flakes. I usually use some almond / coconut extract with these flavors to make the flavors “pop” a little more. Also, for a firmer body and slightly grittier texture that compliments these nut flavors, you can substitute the flour in the cream body with farina cereal (“Cream of Wheat”); the amounts and the preparation are just the same.
Of course, you can also use store-bought, canned frostings, different recipes, or for a light summery cake, just plain Cool-Whip – just add some fresh fruit inbetween layers or on the top.
A few rules to successful cake decorating:
- Make sure the cake is completely cold. The steam and vapor escaping from a warm cake can make the frosting spoil.
- Refrigerate the frosting before use. This makes the creams less runny and easier to work with.
- If you use canned frostings, whip them before use. The extra air you beat into it makes spreading a breeze.
- Patience. This can take a long time, so make sure you allot yourself enough time!
- Put the cake back in the fridge before serving; for at least a half hour. This way the frosting has time to regain a stiffer consistency, so it won’t be running all over the cake.
You can make do with two dinner plates inverted over each other. Place the cake on top, and get ready to frost! This way you can spare yourself the trouble of trying to get frosting off the counter, or frosting streaks all over your serving plate.
As for a spreading tool, the best are icing knives or spatulas. If you opt for a straight one, the flexible ones tend to fare better with me, however, with the angled ones, stiff ones are the best. (Links and images from Google.) Again, if you don’t think you will ever use an icing spreader again, a simple silicone spatula will work just fine.
Once the cake is on the stand, start by putting a generous amount of frosting on the top. If you’re making a multi-layer cake, just spread the frosting smoothly on the top, then add the next layer, repeating this process until the final layer is on. In this case, you may also want to use a different frosting on the inside and the outside: for example, using lemon curd on the inside and cream cheese frosting on the outside; or almond frosting inside and chocolate on the outside. Also, with multi-layer cakes it’s highly advisable to refrigerate the cake between building up the layers and frosting the outside. This way the inside cream can get a little firmer, cementing the layers together so they won’t slide apart as you frost the sides.
Once your cake is full height and ready to go, put about 2/3 of your “outside” frosting on the top, and start spreading it not just on the top surface of the cake, but pushing off any excess frosting to the sides.
For right now, don’t worry about getting the top smooth, just make sure it has enough icing – just a hair more than what you want as an end result. Once the top is done, and the sides have some frosting on them, too, start adding the frosting to the side, little by little, smoothing it around the cake. Your hand dominance makes a difference here: right-handed people should work from left to right, rotating the cake clockwise; whilst lefties do just the opposite, working right to left and rotating counter-clockwise.
Now lift the cake carefully, and place it on the serving plate. Pull out the knives one by one only after the bottom of the cake has safely touched ground on the plate. If some frosting still smeared on the platter, wipe it off with a damp paper towel. Cake Frosting – achievement unlocked!
And now, on to the decorations. If you used a smooth frosting on the outside, you can make some cool borders from the same frosting. You can even add some color to lighter-colored frostings (like vanilla or plain buttercream) – either by using food colorings, or a natural alternative. For shades of brown, try beating cocoa powder or instant coffee powder into the icing; for shades of red and pink, use beetroot juice – the juice from the cans work just perfect, just add some lemon juice or vinegar for a more red / less magenta shade. Experiment, and let me know – I’m always looking for more natural ideas!
- Petal tip (Wilton #104) – for making the ruffles and the bow; also good for basic flower shapes
- Round tip (Wilton #5) – for the dots, script and outline
- Star tip (Wilton #22) – for the zigzaggy border; also used for stars and rosettes.
You may also need to refresh the icing at the connecting points with a fresh piping: use very light pressure on the bag here in order not to get too much icing in one spot.
And finally, the star tip! This time around, I only made a zigzag / shell border around the cake, but it’s probably the most useful tip. You can use it to pipe the frosting onto cupcakes, make princess potatoes, fill deviled eggs, or just to serve your mashed potatoes prettier.
For this shell / zigzag border, hold the bag at a 45 degree angle. Start squeezing with a stronger pressure, filling the starting spot with icing. You may even push the tip a few millimeters into the piped-out icing to make it really full; then gently loosening the pressure, start pulling away for a little bit, then do a “filling” again, and a pulled-away “tail”.