Cake decorating didn’t come easy to me. I had a double hurdle to overcome: I grew up in a country where a word for “frosting” doesn’t even exist – cakes can be elaborate but you won’t find half sheets with pink rosettes or baby boots on them – and I never went to culinary school where I would have been forced to pipe improbable decorations for hours on end . Everything I learned was either self-taught or picked up along the way in the kitchen.
My first attempts before becoming a professional were scary – I hated the picture perfect photos in the Martha Stewart or Barefoot Contessa’s books and most directions on a page looked to me like the directions on those little pamphlets inside Ikea’s furniture. I am not good with printed instructions or manuals of any kind. Like learning to make chocolate truffles, practice makes perfect. And remember, whipped cream, powder sugar and berry arrangements can cover a multitude of sins and they are a chef’s best friends.
Here are some of the tips I wished I had known to begin with.
- Have cardboard rounds handy. It’s easier to invert a cake over a cardboard round and then slide it onto a plate rather than invert it directly onto a plate.
- Necessary equipment includes: offset spatula and a turning cake stand. A bench scraper is useful. Keep a jug of hot water nearby.
- Drop a spoon of frosting on the plate or cardboard before you begin frosting, to keep the cake in place.
- If building a layer cake, always use the bottom layer, inverted, on top to have the flattest surface.
- Use a wooden or silicone spatula to scoop the frosting on the cake then switch to the offset to start spreading the frosting around as if you were smearing jam on toast. Clean the offset now and then on the rim of a bowl to get rid of the excess frosting.
- To create an even layer of frosting, dip the spatula in the hot water, quickly dry it with a paper towel and then, keeping the spatula at a 45 degree angle, drag it towards you, letting the excess frosting fall to the sides.
- To even out the sides, you can use the bench scraper by holding its edge against the side of the cake and moving the cake stand around. Alternatively, use your metal spatula by keeping it perpendicular to the cake while spinning the cake stand.
- When frosting or decorating, be fearless, be creative and have fun. And discard those annoyingly picture perfect photos – like beautiful models, they were retouched anyway