I feel compelled to warn you one more time that I am not a great baker. I’m not even a good baker. If you would like to know more about my struggles in the floury domain, check out this earlier post – The Mum Who Couldn’t Bake. This time last year I decided to up my baking game marginally. A very patient friend introduced me to Decobake and set me up with some borrowed utensils and half-baked determination. Six cakes (I really don’t like to bake often) and twelve months later, a very specific order was submitted by the birthday girl for a chocolate cake with a pink fairy door on the outside.
Now, for the love of GOD, if you are adept at decorating cakes, look away now. And more importantly, if you are looking for serious advice from a legitimate sugarcrafty person with training, experience and more than a-wing-and-a-prayer approach to baking and decorating, then go elsewhere. If, however, you are willing to take advice from a novice who has fluked a few passable ‘bakes’ and picked up the basics along the way, then hang around for a bit. Regard this not as a lesson in cake decorating and more a confidence-building exercise. If I can do it, anyone can! And I promise to point you in the direction of people who know what they are doing.
1. Getting Started
Brace yourself. If you are considering collaborating with little ones on cake decor and you have idyllic notions of crafting harmoniously together, think again. Sugar paste is just that – paste made pretty much entirely of sugar. There will be lumps of the stuff the size of your children’s heads within arms’ reach. They will ingest more than you can imagine. You are likely to find a toddler sticky-faced with a ball of the stuff hoarded under the kitchen table or locked in the downstairs bathroom. Chunks of it will find itself wedged between the grooves of your shoes and into the tiny trailers of dumper trucks. It will be fed to toothless infants and stuffed into little pockets for later consumption.
It’s advisable to wait until after dark when you have the kitchen to yourself. Open a bottle of something to help you whistle while you work. It doesn’t matter what; the taste will be tainted by your own tears sooner or later. If you can’t avoid decorating with the kids around, then promise yourself a couple of glasses when you are done and prepare for a few of hours of kitchen carnage…
2. Utensils You’ll Need
3. Products You’ll Need
4. Covering the Board
You don’t have to cover the board. Most cake shops sell boards with coloured foil which will save you a job. If you would prefer to do it, here’s how I covered mine.
- 500g of green sugar paste covered a 12” cake board with plenty to spare.
- At first touch sugar paste is hard, crumbly and sticky. It needs to be worked and kneaded until it is soft and pliable like Play-Doh. I dusted my surface with cornflour (you can use icing sugar if you’d prefer) and kneaded and worked the paste for about ten minutes.
- Then I rolled it out into a circle slightly larger than the board.
- I punctured any little air bubbles with a cocktail stick and used my cake smoothing tool to get a smooth surface.
- Using a little paintbrush dipped in water, I moistened the board a little to help the icing stick to it. You can use edible glue but water works just fine.
- Watch it being done by someone who knows what she’s talking about here.
5. Making The Cake
I was at a kid’s birthday party once and the most deliciously rich, moist, chocolately cake was served up. When I asked for the recipe I was pointed in the direction of The Barefoot Contessa. I often switch out the coffee for milk but you can suit yourself. It’s really delicious. I also tend to make a third layer by increasing the ingredients by 50%. But only on days when my brain can handle the maths.
A crumb coat is just the layer of buttercream between the cake and the sugar paste that stops the cake crumbs sticking to the icing. Watch a quick tutorial here. When done, pop the cake into the fridge for half and hour to give the buttercream a chance to harden before covering with sugar paste.
7. Covering the Cake
Covering the cake is pretty much the same as covering the board but with added stress and tension. Knead the bejeepers out of your icing and roll it out to the desired size (measure the diameter and height of the cake to gauge how big a circle you will need.) Pop any air bubbles with a pin or a cocktail stick and smooth the sides and the top with your smoothing tool. This tutorial will help.
8. Decorating the Cake
Toadstools and clothesline
First things first, I cheated with these! They are available from The Irish Fairy Door Company. I was happy to buy them as accessories for my daughter’s fairy door anyway. I thought about making the toadstools and they didn’t look very difficult so if you’re a purist with time on your hands, have a go! There’s a tutorial for pretty much everything on YouTube. The clothesline sticks went straight into the surface and I used water as an adhesive for the dark green sugar paste and the toadstools.
I mixed edible tint with a few drops of rejuvenating spirit to make a paint-like consistency and used vertical brush strokes to create the grass. For the grass under the toadstools I used thick misshapen circles of darker green and textured them with the tip of a fork.
The Fairy Door
- I rolled out some pink sugar paste into a square and used my rolling pin to press the wood-effect mould into the icing. Using a pizza cutter (a sharp knife will do), I cut out the shape of a door.
- I used a small heart-shaped cutter to make a hole in the front of the door.
- Again using water, I attached it to the front of the cake.
- I dyed a small portion of sugar paste in red, brown and grey. It’s much simpler than it sounds. Wearing plastic gloves, I put a little dye on the end of a cocktail stick and mixed it with the paste, kneaded them together until the colour was even.
- Using the same heart-shaped cutter and my wood-effect mould, I made a red wooden heart to insert into the hole in the door.
- For the grey bricks I made a long rectangle shape and cut it into cubes and attached each separately with water.
- The doorknob was simply a small brown ball.
For the lettering, I mixed some Tylose Powder with the icing and rolled it very thinly. I then used tappit moulds to make the letter shapes. This can take a bit of practice. This lady will give you the gist. The Tylose causes it to harden a little which makes using the moulds much easier.
I cut out flower cutters of two different sizes and put one on top of the other, finishing off with a little ball in the centre of each.
The Finishing Touches
I covered the edge of the board with a ribbon and did the the same where the cake joins the board. I secured them with Pritt Stick.
There you have it. The beginners guide to chancing your arm with sugar paste! Are you game to give it a try? Do you have any other tips for decorating cakes with fondant icing? I would LOVE to hear them.
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