Assorted tips, tricks, and babbling

IM00

Any time I bake a cake, I turn the oven on to get it up to the correct temperature and then I sit down and wait for the oven to beep to announce that it’s hot enough. Only then will I start making the cake batter. Since ovens cycle up and down to maintain their temperature, I like to give it the extra time to get there.

I mix the batter, put it in the pans, put the pans in the oven, and sit back to wait. Once the cake is baked, I let it cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out on cooling racks. I put a layer of parchment on the racks for a smooth surface for the cakes. I tip the layers out of the pans and onto the racks so the bottom is now the top. You’ll want that flat top for decorating. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly flat and even, you can trim it later.

The cakes need to cool completely. I usually bake the layers the day before I need them so they’ll have all the time in the world to cool. Once the layers are cool and you need some icing. I like to use the buttercream icing recipe from the Wilton classes. (You can find it on their website here: Wilton icing) Forget the milk, stick with water. And you’ll need to add extra water to get a medium consistency. It’s trial and error as to what works for you so add about a teaspoon or so at a time until you get something that spreads evenly but holds its shape.

I like that recipe because it develops a crust. Stop, stop, stop! I know the idea of crusty icing sounds gross but it’s not a thick crust and it will completely soften under the fondant. You want that crust so you can smooth out the icing on the cake. And you want smooth icing because the smoother the icing – the smoother the fondant. Basically, you ice the cake then let it sit for a few minutes. Use a plain paper towel or piece of parchment to lightly rub the icing and smooth out any lumps, bumps, or other bits. Repeat until everything is smooth then let it sit while you prepare the fondant. I like to use parchment because it gets shiny when the icing starts to soften and you’ll know when it’s time to take a break.

I put all my cakes on cardboard cake boards. I use two at a time, taped together, but one is rotated so the corrugations are running at an 90 degree angle for extra strength. I also cover the boards with foil wrap because that doesn’t show grease spots from the icing like cardboard does.

Take lots of pictures of your finished cakes. Lots and lots! You never know when you’ll start a cake blog and then have to kick yourself for not having photos of your fabulous work. Take way too many pictures!

My biggest tip is to just have fun. Nobody but you knows what you intended your cake to look like so nobody but you will know if it worked out exactly as you planned or not. And no one will ever see the tiny flaws that you see in your work. You wanted a perfect cake – they just want cake!

Advertisements

Fondant drape cake

IM00

This was the second cake in the Wilton fondant decorating classes. This was a very easy cake to make, even though fondant and I were in the beginning stages of our relationship and I was still a bit nervous. For this cake, the class had to make that tie looking thing with the cut-outs, make the drape, and cover the cake board in fondant. The pumpkins were something I made to cover the top of the drape. You can make whatever little doo-dad you like to go there.

I covered the cake board a few days ahead of time so it would have time to dry and harden. Since I’d be working on top of it later – placing the cake and arranging the drape – I wanted it to be as firm as possible. Covering a board isn’t hard work, it’s just sticky! I use piping gel to attach the fondant to the board. The gel will be all around the side edge of the board and will later get covered by fondant. No problem there. But if you get some of the gel on the bottom of the board you’ll have a mess. The gel never dries completely so the board will stick to anything you set it on. It’s not a permanent sticking thing, just enough to be annoying and make everything you sit it on sticky.

To cover a board, prepare your fondant by kneading it until it’s soft and pliable. If you’re coloring it, add the color gel while you’re kneading. Once your fondant is workable, roll it out to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch or so. You also want to roll it about 2 inches larger than your board. Put a small dot of piping gel in the center of the board then lift the fondant and drape it over the board. Smooth it out to the edges and then down the side. Gently lift the fondant away from the side,  add a light coating of piping gel around the side and then press the fondant back onto it. Trim the excess fondant away from the bottom of the board. Smooth the edge down and under a bit to cover everything. Set it aside to firm up. Now would be a good time to make the pumpkins or whatever you chose so they can dry and harden.

IM00

Now it’s time to bake, frost, and cover your cake. You can read about my techniques here. Put your cake in the middle of the covered cake board. Even though you’ll be working with the fondant covered cake board, make your cake on a separate board. That way you don’t have to worry about keeping the covered board clean. Once your cake is covered, you can add a dot of piping gel to the covered board to hold the board with the cake and keep it from sliding around.

To make the drape and the tie thing, roll out your colored fondant to an even thickness, about 1/8th inch or so. Decide where you want the front corner of the drape and measure from that point on the cake down to the covered board. Add 1/2 inch to one edge and cut a fondant square to that size. Fold that extra 1/2 inch under the bottom of your drape. Loosely gather the top of the fondant and place it on the cake. Now just lift and fold and wrinkle and gather the fondant until the drape falls the way you like it. Use a dab of vanilla extract to tack the fondant to the cake in a few spots to keep it in place.

IM00

Going back to the front corner of the drape, measure where the tie will go across the top and down the side. Cut out a triangle that reaches the edge of the cake and trim it back in for the bit that hangs over the side. Trim the edges and cut out some shapes on the bottom to add interest. Use the vanilla extract again to attach it to the cake. Lay your pumpkins over the top of the drape, attaching them with the extract. Take lots of pictures then grab a knife and fork and dig in.

Covering a cake with fondant

IM00

This was the first fondant covered cake I made as part of the Wilton cake decorating classes. The one that started my obsession with fondant! I’ll tell you how I did it so you can be obsessed too! Please excuse the lack of pictures of the process. It’s not that I’m lazy, I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead so this blog wasn’t even a blip on my horizon. 

Let’s assume your cake is ready to be covered. It’s baked nicely and iced cleanly, just begging for a pretty fondant covering. Set your cake aside and prepare your work surface. Some people (most people) dust their work surface and tools with cornstarch to keep the fondant from sticking. I’m a Crisco person. For me, lightly greasing my counter top and rolling-pin works better. I think it makes the fondant softer and easier to work with. And it makes your hands soft! Grab a ball of fondant and start kneading it. If you’re going to color it, now is the time to do it. Knead it until the fondant is soft and pliable; then start rolling it out. You want it to be about 1/8th of an inch thick. Measure your cake – go up one side, across the top, and down the other side. Add 4 to 6 inches to this measurement and roll your fondant out to fit that total measurement. While you’re rolling, make sure your fondant isn’t sticking to your work surface. Slide it around; flip it over; anything to keep it moving. One of the worst things in the cake world is to do a fabulous job rolling out your fondant and then not being able to pick it up. When you’ve gotten it big enough, slide your hands (and possibly your arms) under the fondant and place it over the cake.  

Now start rubbing. You want to lightly rub the fondant to adhere it to the cake. Your goal is to make the fondant stick to the cake and to work all the fondant folds and wrinkles away from the cake and out to the edges. Hence, the extra inches of fondant you rolled out earlier. Start on the top and rub the fondant onto the cake, making everything lay flat and smooth. Don’t rush anything, just keep rubbing and smoothing. Then start down the sides. Rub one side to smooth it then work on another area. When you hit a big wrinkle, gently lift the fondant up and away from the cake to open the wrinkle up. Then get back to rubbing and smoothing. You’ll end up with a nicely covered cake with a lot of excess fondant bunched up around it. Trim away the most of the excess, leaving about half an inch or so to work with. I use a small (1/4 inch) brush and a tub of clear piping gel. Very gently lift that excess edge away from the cake and brush all the way around the bottom bit with the gel. Work the fondant back on to the cake and trim the remaining excess nicely. I like to use a tapered spatula to trim it away but you can use a knife or pizza cutter or whatever your heart desires. Once I’ve got the fondant trimmed, I like to use the flat side of the spatula to push the bottom edge of the fondant under the cake. It doesn’t really go under it; it makes edge look cleaner. And I’m all about the details so those teeny tiny (almost minuscule) ragged edges give me palpitations! That last sentence might not make my case but covering a cake really isn’t that hard to do. I hope you try it and end up agreeing with me.