The best cakes will steal a glance or two from you. Icing and decorating are essential to making sure that your creations look as good as they taste. Here are some quick tips to help you in this task.
- Use buttercream or icing that is the right temperature. Many homemade recipes will require you to place the mixture in the refrigerator or in a bowl over a basin of cold water to achieve this. If the icing is not the right consistency, it will not adhere to the surface of your cake, or the decorations will not hold.
- Make sure your cake is completely cool. Even the warmest mixture will make the icing melt. Remember that most of them have a high butter content, and butter softens very quickly.
- Work in a room that is cool. If you've been using the oven and the kitchen is too hot, open a window if it's cold outside, or work in another location.
- Make sure that your hands only handle the tip and the base of the piping bag, so that you transmit the least amount of heat into the mixture inside.
Choose the Right Icing
- This may sound obvious, but use an icing that works for your cake. Buttercreams are great in the cooler months and pair well with cakes that are high on the sweetness level. Meringues and icings using cream cheese will stand the summer heat better, and also work great with cakes that are not too sweet.
- Some icings are not great for making decorations. Some will hold small shapes, others will not. When I make a batch of icing, I try to make a decoration on another surface before working with the cake directly just to see if it has the right look and consistency.
Preparing the Cake Layers
- Even the sides of the cake so that you are working with straight edges.
- When you cut the cake layers in half, guide yourself with toothpicks inserted along the side, and use a long knife.
- Brush off any excess crumbs.
- Place strips of parchment paper between the dish you'll use and the cake. These can be removed easily before you do your final decorations around the edges and keep your dish mostly clean.
FIlling, Icing and Decorating
- When you fill a cake, make sure that you have a nice even layer of filling. Part of the experience in cutting the cake and serving it is to have that extra layer.
- Do a primer coat for the icing, and place it in the fridge. This will make any loose crumbs stick to the cake and allow you to then ice the rest smoothly.
- Start with the sides, move on to the top, and leave the edges for the end. Most times I'll add some decorations to the edges or pipe some icing on them.
- Remove the parchment paper strips before doing any piping on the edge between the cake and the plate, or when you're done decorating.
- When decorating a cake, think about it in advance. Do you want to have a classic and elegant dessert? Do you wan't to have a lot of movement? Should it be colourful and festive? It's often happened that I start putting things on a dessert and it ends up looking too heavily decorated. Often times, less is more. Here is the final result for this specific cake.
I hope these tips and photos will help you find yourself when decorating a cake.