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Cake Decorating with Icing

Cake Decorating

Sugar Art Cake Decorating

Cake decorating is one of the sugar arts that uses icing or frosting and other edible decorative elements to make plain cakes more visually interesting. Alternatively, cakes can be molded and sculpted to resemble three-dimensional persons, places and things.

Cakes are decorated to mark a special celebration (such as a birthday or wedding). They can also mark national or religious holidays, or be used to promote commercial enterprises. However, cakes may be baked and decorated for almost any social occasion.

History of Cake Decorating

During the 1840s, the advent of temperature-controlled ovens and the production of baking powder made baking cakes much easier.

Cake decorating was rumoured to start by a French bakery in the 1840s where a French baker wanted to increase the prices of the cakes and hence thought to decorate it.

Even though baking from scratch decreased during the latter part of the 20th century in the United States, decorated cakes have remained an important part of celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, showers and other special occasions. Recently, cakes decorated with fondant have become extremely popular and resulted in several reality based TV shows across the world.

The rise in popularity could be due to fondant providing a smooth and elegant finish to a cake, as well fondant’s versatility when it comes to texturizing it

Cake decorating as an art

Decorating a cake usually involves covering it with some form of icing and then using decorative sugar, candy, chocolate or icing decorations to embellish the cake. But it can also be as simple as sprinkling a fine coat of icing sugar or drizzling a glossy blanket of glaze over the top of a cake.

Icing decorations can be made by either piping icing flowers and decorative borders or by molding sugar paste, fondant, or marzipan flowers and figures.

This has become a form of unique artistry. A person’s imagination can create anything. From a single layered cake, decorated simply, to a multi-layered 3 dimensional creation, that is decorated with edible ribbons made of sugar. What was once a fun way to make a child’s birthday cake, by cutting shapes out of cake and piecing them together to create a shape, has gone into preformed character pans, and now has become shaping creations out of fondant and different forms of marzipan.

Using this new form of fondant artistry should be used on a heavy cake consistency. It can, however, be used on the traditional cake mix purchased in a store. Fondant is heavier than traditional knife spread frosting. Pre-made fondant that is available in the cake decorating section in stores has little flavoring. A homemade fondant can be made quickly for very little cost. Homemade fondant tends to have a better flavor than the pre-made store bought version.

Fondant exists in many different colors, and its initial form is soft and easy to handle. In this form, cake decorators are able to mold fondant into many different artistic expressions. Many of these expressions are also taught in professional cake decorating classes. Fondant is primarily used to cover cakes, but it is also used to create individual show pieces for cakes. Silicone Molds have become very popular in the use of creating figurines for cakes, cake toppers and Toppers for Cup Cakes.

Royal icing is a sweet white icing made by whipping fresh egg whites (or powdered egg whites, meringue powder) with icing sugar.Royal icing produces well-defined icing edges and is ideal for piping intricate writing, borders, scrollwork and lacework on cakes. It dries very hard and preserves indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but is susceptible to soften and wilt in high humidity.

Sugar paste is a substance used in cake decorating to create flower decorations. Marzipan is often used for modeling cake decorations and as a base covering underneath fondant.

Professional institutes, such as Le Cordon Bleu, have begun segregating their cookery schools, to create completely separate institutes dedicated to cake-making.

How to use Fondant, For Beginners

How to Use Fondant, for Absolute Beginners

By Debbie Koenig

Before you start asking if I’m qualified to write a guide to fondant, considering that at the time I wrote this post I only been using Fondant for a week, Let me ask you: Who’s better qualified to write a beginner’s guide than a beginner? I make no promises that if you follow my advice you’ll produce professional-quality pieces; I’m a stressed-out mom and a realist and I only promise that you’ll produce something good enough to impress family and friends. And isn’t that really all you want? You’re not coming to me for advice so you can become a professional fondant artist. At least I hope you’re not.

These are the steps and tips that worked for me, after numerous annoying emails to the ever-helpful (and ever-patient) Sara. I have no idea if this is the way the pro’s do it, but since what I did came out swell and I’m as inexperienced as they get, I’m pretty sure this will work for you, too.

So, first up: Tools. You’ll need:

  • An X-Acto knife. A regular paring knife won’t give you a fine enough edge.
  • A smooth, clean surface. I used a flexible cutting board.
  • A rolling pin. For this job, I used Harry’s, which seemed fitting. It’s a 4” silicone pin, which was perfect for rolling out small amounts of fondant.
  • Plastic wrap or bags, to keep the extra bits of fondant from drying out while not in use.
  • A small paintbrush.
  • A small offset spatula, or other thin-bladed spatula. (Doh! I forgot to include it in the picture. Trust me, you’ll need one.)
  • A cooling rack, and a rimmed baking sheet to fit over it.

Next, ingredients:

  • Fondant.  See color examples and variations in quantities here
  • Food coloring, preferably gel or paste.
  • Cornstarch, to keep the fondant from sticking to everything.
  • Shortening (Holsum), to repair small tears.
  • A small bowl of water.

Let’s get started, shall we?

  1. Grab a picture, in color, of whatever it is you’d like to make. I found it helpful to print it out approximately the same size I wanted the finished product to be.
  2. What’s the biggest, least-complicated segment of your picture? Start with that. If you’re lucky, it’s one of your store-bought colors and you won’t have to mix anything. If it’s not, pull off a small hunk of white fondant and re-cover the rest (you don’t want it exposed to air, which dries out the surface quickly). Using cornstarch-covered hands, knead either food coloring (a drop at a time) or small bits of the pre-colored fondant into the white, until it’s fully incorporated and you’re happy with the color. This kneading process will also help make the fondant more pliable—if you’re not mixing colors, spend a few minutes kneading the fondant and warming it up in your (cornstarch-covered) hands.
  3. Sprinkle cornstarch on your rolling surface and rolling pin, and roll out the fondant. Move it around as you’re rolling, to ensure it doesn’t stick to the mat. You don’t want it super-thin, as it’ll tear really easily—aim for thickness somewhere between an emery board and a Popsicle stick.
  4. Now, the fun part: cutting. Before I started, I assumed I’d cut up the picture itself to make stencils, lay them on top of the fondant, and outline with a Sharpie. The plan was to then X-Acto just inside the lines, so there would be no visible ink. That idea went out the window in about ten seconds—the paper moves around, I had a hard time cutting neatly inside the Sharpie lines, and it just felt like an extra step. My best results came from eyeballing, pretending the blade was a pencil. I’m no artist, and Manny and his tools came out pretty darn good anyway. (Remember, my motto as a mom is Good Enough! The recipient of your efforts will be thrilled, even if the Mona Lisa’s fondant smile looks a little off.) One very important thing to take into account before you start cutting: If you’ll be combining this piece with cutouts in other colors, as I did with most of the individual tools in my Handy Manny tableau, leave enough room for overlap/attachment—you won’t be gluing the edges together like a puzzle. It’s assembled in layers, and it’s much less likely to fall apart if you’ve got ample overlap. And another important thing to note: Don’t tug the blade through the fondant too quickly, or you’ll see tiny pulls and wrinkles along the edge. This stuff is delicate, yo.
  5. Once you’re satisfied with the shape of the piece you’re cutting, gently run your finger along any rough edges to smooth them. Use the offset spatula to move the piece onto the cooling rack while you do the next one. If you’ve got multiple parts of the image in this one color (like my orange monkey wrench and orange-and-blue flashlight), cut out all the pieces now and set them aside. When you’re done with that color, re-roll the scraps into a ball, knead it until it’s smooth again, and put in a plastic bag with as little surrounding air as possible.
  6. Rinse and repeat with each color. Since my project was pretty freaking huge and I had to work after Harry went to bed each night, I did a few tools at a time. The first night I made Manny’s head, Dusty the saw, and Rusty the monkey wrench. (Note that I didn’t follow my own advice about doing the same-colored items all at once. This is why I advise doing just that. It was much more work to go back and re-roll the orange fondant a night or two later.)
  7. For the itty-bitty bits, like those vexing eyeballs and smiles, all I can say is: Be patient with yourself. After trying in vain to X-Acto minuscule black circles, I decided to give myself a break and use the elementary school method: I rolled teeny-tiny black balls in my hand, and squished each one gently between two fingers.
  8. Now for the fun part: assembly. Using the spatula, put the largest piece of the image front and center on your mat. Take the next-biggest piece and lay it on top, in its desired position. If you’re satisfied with the look, great. If you’re not, futz around as little as possible with the pieces until you are—the more you touch this stuff, the more likely it is to break. Once you’re happy, use the small paintbrush to dab a little bit of water onto the back of the smaller piece—if you put water on the larger piece things will get messy quickly, trust me. Confidently lay that piece where you want it to go, and try very very hard not to move it around too much after the fact—water will make the colors bleed and you’ll leave behind ugly streaks.
  9. Now, I forgot all about this idea while I was working so I can’t 100% say it works, but supposedly you can repair small tears by putting a little shortening on your fingers and gently pressing down. If you try it, let me know how it comes out, ok? My solution, crying while cursing a blue streak, really didn’t work.
  10. Again, with the itty-bitty bits, just be careful and have patience. Use the tip of the X-Acto blade to gently pick them up, since your fingers might crush them. Don’t be surprised if they stick to the paintbrush—it’s really hard to dab water onto those suckers. Just keep trying, and you’ll get it. I promise. And when you’re done, you can have a glass (or three) of wine.

Now, storage: If you’re not quite done with the piece you’re working on (for instance, if you have to add a section in a color you’ll be working with later), store it in an air-tight container—it’ll dry out some, but still remain pliable enough to work with another time. Completed pieces, though, you want to dry out. Put those on the cooling rack, and invert the rimmed baking sheet over them—that’s purely for protection. Air circulation is what you want here. And whatever you do, make sure you’re storing the pieces somewhere safe. Breakage is tear-inducing, believe me.

Don’t put the pieces on the cake until the day you’ll be serving it, since the moist frosting will make them soften and bleed. When you are ready to serve, I recommend keeping the recipient of the cake far, far away while you assemble everything, especially if he’s three years old and insanely excited to see his hero on his very own birthday cake. This is a crucial moment, and the dried-out pieces break really, really easily. Both Manny’s head and his arm broke during the transfer, in fact, and a little seat-of-the-pants surgery (keep your paintbrush nearby) was required to put him back together.

Oh, and my last piece of advice: After serving, try not to think about how many hours of work were just demolished by a group of three-year-olds in less than five minutes.

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