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Cake Decorating Guide

This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of cake decorating, from the preparation stage right to the finer details. It looks at the tools you need, how to level and ice your cake, and all the different ways in which you could decorate it beautifully!

You have two options here – to use a special levelling tool or to manually remove layers of cake with a knife. If you opt for the first option, there's a variety of levellers available that won't break the bank. This tool has a large handle that curves around each side of the cake with a strong piece of wire or a stainless steel blade attached to each side, designed to reduce crumbing. This handy tool has a height adjustment so that you can decide how much to cut off the cake. Once you've altered the height, put your hand on top of the cake and move the levelling tool through it with a sawing motion.

If you'd prefer to level your cake the old fashioned way, you'll require a long, thin knife to carefully remove the crown by eye. Use a ruler to measure the sides of the cake, marking exact heights on each side so that you have an accurate guide. Horizontally cut across the top of the cake from one marker to the other, levelling the top of the cake. Both of these processes also apply to cutting your cake in half so that you can apply filling and sandwich back together, ready for the next step.

Wilton have kindly joined us in creating this video tutorial, taking you through levelling and torting cakes.

Covering with Icing or Fondant

Icing can either have a smooth, glaze-like consistency or stiffer, fuller properties. It's often made from icing sugar mixed with a liquid, such as water or cream, then enriched with other flavoursome ingredients. Fondant, on the other hand, has a dough-like consistency that remains smooth and soft when covering a cake. It typically contains either gelatine or agar and food-grade glycerine.

Icing can either have a smooth, glaze-like consistency or stiffer, fuller properties. It's often made from icing sugar mixed with a liquid, such as water or cream, then enriched with other flavoursome ingredients. Fondant, on the other hand, has a dough-like consistency that remains smooth and soft when covering a cake. It typically contains either gelatine or agar and food-grade glycerine.

Icing Comparison Chart:

Boiled Icing

Boiled Icing

Qualities:

Slightly sticky, but a substantial consistency.

Ingredients:

Egg whites, water & sugar.

Best uses:

Ideal for layer cakes - best poured over cakes right after cooling as it's easier to spread.

Storage:

Store at room temperature or keep refrigerated. Leftover icing can be stored in the fridge for 1 day.

Buttercream

Buttercream

Qualities:

Made to preference - can be thin to stiff, and anywhere between fluffy and smooth.

Ingredients:

Butter, icing sugar & milk.

Best uses:

As icing, a frosting or filling for a variety of cakes - a popular choice!

Storage:

Refrigerated in a sealed container for 2 weeks. Store Iced cake at room temperature for no longer than 2-3 days.

Buttercream

Cream Cheese Icing

Qualities:

Fluffy and creamy. Consistency made to preference.

Ingredients:

Cream cheese, butter, icing sugar, Flavouring - optional

Best uses:

Filling between layers or spread on top of cake. Perfect for carrot cakes.

Storage:

Must be refrigerated. See best by date on cream cheese packaging.

Buttercream

Fondant

Qualities:

Strong and semi-soft with a matte finish. Bought quick-poured or in a block, ready to roll. Roll to desired thickness.

Ingredients:

Gelatine, water, vegatable shortening, glycerine, icing sugar.

Best uses:

Covering cakes consistently for an even, crease-free finish. Its firmness helps seal in freshness. Perfect for wedding cakes.

Storage:

Dries out quickly. Keep excess fondant covered, stored air-tight in a double layer of clingfilm and plastic food bag. Can be stored in a cool place for 3-4 weeks.

Buttercream

Ganache

Qualities:

Relatively runny consistency. Has an opulent shine to it once dried.

Ingredients:

Chocolate, Cream.

Best uses:

Best used as a filling or icing. Pour over a cake to add a touch of luxury.

Storage:

Can be stored at room temperature for 2 days or in the fridge for a few days more.

Glace Icing

Glace Icing

Qualities:

Thin, smooth and glossy. Stiffens when dried.

Ingredients:

Icing sugar, water flavouring - optional.

Best uses:

Drizzled over cakes for a lavish finishing touch.

Storage:

Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Ensure to keep it sealed.

Royal Icing

Royal Icing

Qualities:

Stiff and sticky, drying hard with a matte finish.

Ingredients:

Egg whites, icing sugar, vinegar or lemon juice.

Best uses:

Best for piping, attaching cake decoration, or for creating gingerbread houses.

Storage:

Refrigeration not required. Store for up to 2 weeks, although it may separate over time.

Whipped Cream

Whipped Cream

Qualities:

Whip to the desired consistency. Has a light and fluffy texture.

Ingredients:

Double cream, sugar, flavouring - optional.

Best uses:

Not recommended for cakes left out in warm or humid temperatures. Best for chilled desserts.

Storage:

Refrigeration is required. See best by date on cream packaging.

How to Perfect your Icing Consistency

Have you ever applied icing to a cake, then watch it slowly slide off or dry to a blotchy, patchy finish? This generally indicates that your consistency is too watery – so you'll need to bulk it out a little with a little more powdered sugar. Alternatively, if your icing feels a little hard that means you've probably got too much sugar in there – slowly and carefully add individual drops of water into the mixture, stirring between each, until you've thinned to your desired consistency. To cover a cake, you should be looking for a spreadable medium-to-thin consistency, applying smoothly and evenly – the perfect base for decoration! Stiffer icing, however, is best suited to piping or creating flower decorations. Finding the perfect consistency can be a lengthy process of trial and error, but if you add liquid in slowly and surely, you'll soon enough reach your desired outcome.

How to Customise your Icing Colour

It's best to add colour to white icing – choose a gel food colouring so that it doesn't affect the consistency of your icing. When mixing colours, there's a basic rule to remember: the deeper you want the colour, the more food colouring you add. Furthermore, if you want a very pale, pastel colour, drop the colouring in bit-by-bit or add with a toothpick and blend with a spatula until you've reached your perfect shade.

Mixing colour in fondant is arguably a lot trickier, however Wilton have kindly joined us to create two video tutorials, showing you exactly how to mix colour into both icing and fondant.

How to Flawlessly Cover Cakes with Fondant

Have you ever wondered how cake decorators cover their cakes with fondant so smoothly and wrinkle-free? Well wonder no more! You too can cover your cakes like a professional – the secret is in the preparation. The way in which you roll out your fondant determines its final appearance so if you follow these simple steps, you can't go wrong!

  1. Dust your workspace and rolling pin with a light amount of powdered sugar or cornflower.
  2. Take your fondant and place it onto your workspace in a rounded ball shape.
  3. Roll the fondant with a silicone rolling pin from the middle, moving outwards.
  4. Apply an even pressure, turning the fondant at a quarter turn to prevent cracking and stretching.
  5. Roll it to a generous, even size until it's a little bigger than the combined size of the top and sides of your cake, ensuring that it'll entirely cover it

Once your fondant is ready, gently lift it over your rolling pin and position it over the cake. Smooth and shape the fondant around the cake, removing any air bubbles and creases as you go, either by hand or with a fondant smoother. Finally, trim the excess fondant along the base of your cake using a knife or cutting wheel.

Still perplexed? Wilton have kindly teamed up with us to produce a video tutorial showing you step-by-step how to flawlessly cover your cakes with fondant.