A cooking and baking journal

For the Sake of Cake : Cake Decorating Fun

This past month and a half I've been looking into cake decorating because I believe it is something I could do for fun and I so do LOVE cake. :) I'm going to write down here what I've learned and discovered so far and maybe someone who is reading this may pick up a few ideas, too.

What Type of Cake Should I Make? : At the beginning I needed to decide on what I should learn first, so I asked my siblings what they thought was the prettiest and most appetizing cake they have seen. They all agreed that simple piping was theirs. I wanted to make sure I added appetizing as an adjective because I didn't want to scare away my eaters! A lot of the cakes I see featured on The Ace of Cakes (Food Network) and The Cake Boss (TLC) are nice to look at, but I have a hard time picturing myself eating one. Sorry Duff and Buddy! I like the look of simple piping and both dainty and elaborate flowers, so I decided to learn these two techniques first.

Decorating Supplies : Before this past November there was really no cake decorating supplies in the house. Not one single pastry bag to be found! So my parents bought me some supplies (isn't that so nice of them?) from BakersNook.com. Here are the supplies I selected and my thoughts on each:

3 pastry bags, Ateco brand - a 10" polyurethane version, a 12" plastic coated canvas one, and a 16" 'Flex.' The 10" bag is kind of slippery when piping but it is the easiest one to clean. The 12" bag is a lot easier to pipe with and it fits in my hand nicely; isn't easy to clean because the canvas is stiff. I haven't tried out the 'Flex' bag but I'm thinking it will be the easiest to use and clean, just by the looks of it. It also has a handy loop for hanging.

7 different piping tips, Wilton brand - Basketweave 47, Drop Flower 1B, Open Star 18, Petal 104, Round 12, Round 3, and Round 6. I tried all of these out except for the Drop Flower. All of them are easy to use and you can place them in the dishwasher. Very nice! I don't think I would change my tip set except to add a larger Open Star. The Petal 104 is my favorite tip because it allows me to make flower petals; can't live without it.

Coupler with Rings, CK brand - A coupler is a plastic object that has threads (like a screw) that you insert in the pastry bag before adding the frosting. You then place your piping tip on top of the coupler from the outside of the bag, and screw it in place using a coupler ring. This allows me to interchange piping tips without emptying the bag's contents.

13" Offset Spatula, Ateco brand - I selected this item to help me spread the frosting on the cake and to load the pastry bag. It is heavy-duty and well made.

Clear Imitation Butter Flavoring, 4 oz, CK brand - This butter flavoring comes in use when I make a buttercream entirely out of shortening. I would use 100% shortening when I make a frosting that is pure white. I just recently used this product in my buttercream and it tastes just like butter!

Liquid Glucose, 16 oz., CK brand - Used in making ready to roll fondant. Haven't used this yet.

Glycerin, Wilton brand - Used in making fondant.

Meringue Powder, 4 oz., Baker's Nook product - Commonly used in royal icing but I also found it to be a great addition to buttercream. It stabilizes the frosting.

Tylose Gum Paste Powder, CK brand - Used in making gum paste. Haven't used this yet.

Flower Nail No. 7, Wilton brand - A handy tool when making buttercream roses and other flowers. Here is a picture of the flower nail sitting next to the tip that makes rose petals:

Here is my review of Baker's Nook:

  • Selection? Baker's Nook has a very large selection of supplies for not just cake decorating but also for candy making, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and lots of other yummy confections.
  • Prices? Before deciding on purchasing from Baker's Nook, I wanted to compare their prices with some other cake supply websites. I couldn't find any other website that offered such prices and selection as Baker's Nook does--and believe me, I looked! ;)
  • Customer Service? I emailed Baker's Nook once about a product's country of origin and they replied in less than a day and gave me the necessary info. Their website also includes a very handy chat feature which I used a lot before ordering.
  • Ordering experience? My parents ordered for me. Had a bit of a hassle checking out (the first attempt failed). Would only give them 2 stars for ordering experience this first time.
Finding the Right Cake Recipe : When I was searching for a cake I wanted to decorate two weeks ago, I was looking for two things: a denser cake (because it would be easier to frost) and a cake that used egg yolks (because I needed egg whites for the frosting--see below). I decided on a recipe called Gold Cake found in Annemarie's Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. I have already posted the recipe, so check it out here.
I really can't just take a look at a cake recipe and know then and there what it will be like. But I am doing a course in kitchen chemistry for school so maybe I will have that skill soon. I am definitely looking forward to that! :)

Finding the Right Frosting Recipe : I knew from the start that I wanted to make all my frosting and other cake 'mediums' (i.e. fondant, gum paste, etc.), from scratch so I began searching for the perfect recipes. Here is what I found:

Traditional Buttercream (TB) from DesignMeACake.com - I came across this recipe by searching on YouTube. The cake decorator, Edna, is very talented and I enjoy her videos a lot. I've made this buttercream two times so far and it has been the silkiest buttercream I've tasted, even after 2 days in the refrigerator. It doesn't crust up as fast as some other buttercreams I've tried; that is always nice when spending a long time piping.
Made any modifications to this recipe? No, I followed it exactly. But I did notice a typo in the ingredient section (merengue should be meringue) and the recipe author forgot to mention the meringue powder in the instructions. You should add the meringue to the powdered sugar.
Storing time: Can be stored up to 2 weeks in fridge.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB) from DyannBakes.com - This is a cooked buttercream that uses egg whites. It is not as sweet as the TB and my family likes it that way. I also found this recipe on YouTube and it is very easy to make. It uses a lot more butter than the recipe above, but it uses less sugar.
Made any modifications to this recipe? Yes. The creator of this recipe said to cook the egg whites and sugar until they reach 140 F or until the sugar has dissolved. I've learned from different sources that the egg whites are not cooked until the temperature of 160 F. I decided to do 160 degrees to play it safe.
Storing time: It can stored in the fridge for up to one week.

I found other recipes for fondant, gum paste, and royal icing and will post about them as soon as I try them out.

Baking the Cake - What is the Best Way to Grease My Cake Pan? : For a couple years now I've always greased my cake pans using a butter flavored vegetable spray. Why? Because I grease everything else this way (bread bowls, muffin pans. . . You name it, I sprayed it), and it is the easiest way I can think of. The cake comes out easily sometimes but those other times can prove to be very frustrating. Annemarie told me that the traditional butter and flour method works the best. So the last time I made a cake--which required three layers of a devil's food--I tried three different methods. One, butter and flour; two, butter and coco powder; and three, parchment paper on the bottom with butter and flour on the sides. And the conclusion was. . . the parchment paper cake slid right out like it was no one's business! :) Next in the performance line was the butter and flour, it came out cleanly but only after some beating. Unfortunately, the butter and coco died a miserable death. Live and learn.

Baking the Cake - Removing the Cake from the Oven : As soon as the cake is ready (a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake), I take it out of the oven and transfer it to a wire rack. A wire rack allows air underneath the cake pan so the pans cools down faster. I let the cake sit in its pan for ten minutes before I remove it from the pan. I take a knife, run it along the cake's perimeter, place another wire rack on top of the cake, invert the cake while still holding the rack, give the pan's bottom a few taps with the knife handle, and if I played my cards right, the cake usually slips right out. I let the cake sit on the rack for another ten minutes then I invert it to its upright position. This is to help prevent the cake from splitting because the bottom of the cake is sturdier than the top.

Storing the Cake Before it is Decorated :
After the cake is cool to the touch, I wrap it up in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. What really works well for me is baking the cake the evening before the day of decorating, this gives me a lot more time and a nice chilled cake.

Getting Ready to Decorate : I like to move my chilled cake to a cake board and then move it to my cake plate, and frost it there. After the cake is frosted I move the cake off the plate, clean the plate from my frosting "oopsy" moments, then transfer the cake back onto the plate by slipping a long spatula under the cake to lift it off the cake board.
So what is a cake board, and what is it made of? It is usually made of cardboard with a wax coating. Instead of purchasing one I made my own using two rounds of medium weight cardboard covered with non-stick aluminum foil. It works very well and best of all: it's free!

Decorating the Cake : The first time I piped with buttercream I noticed that it was getting runny and my piping was getting very sloppy. I learned that the frosting was melting because of the heat of my hands so I placed the bag in the refrigerator for a couple minutes. That is why it is so helpful to alternate between two piping bags, one can be kept in the fridge while the other is in use.
When filling a pastry bag with frosting sometimes the frosting ends up on the outside. You can prevent this by folding over the edge about two inches, picking up a bit of frosting on the end of a spatula, and inserting the frosting as near to the piping tip as possible. And when you are piping, you should always give the bag a quick twist to stop the frosting from coming up to the top of the bag.

There are so many other things to talk about when it comes to cake! I hope to write up another post on the oh-so-yummy topic soon!

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