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Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Cake Decorating

The Craft of Cake Decorating

Cake DecoratingCake Decorating Introduction

Elaborately decorated cakes have become an integral part of many festive occasions, and often become the centre of attention. A range of techniques offers the sugar crafter the chance to create stunning sugar fantasies. At the same time it is a very accessible crafts.

Origins of Cakes

Cakes have been a part of the ritual for major celebrations since early Greek times. Weddings in particular have rarely been complete without a special cake. In Greek and Roman celebrations this was traditionally thrown at or broken over the head of the bride. In Britain by the time of Elizabeth 1, the bride was still being pelted with small rectangle fruit and nut cakes.  

Perhaps it was a particular bruised bride who decided to turn the cakes into ornaments to stop them being thrown. Whoever it was, during the late sixteen hundreds wedding cakes were transformed with almond paste and royal icing into the centre piece of the wedding feast. Cake decoration became more and more elaborate as the rich indulged their sugar fantasies.  

Today the sugar craft industry is thriving and still evolving. Fondant or sugar paste is a relatively recent addition to the craft. Evolved to withstand hot and humid climates it also provides a softer covering for cakes and can be moulded into exquisite flowers.  

Basic techniques of Sugar Craft

Types of icing
Royal icing – is the traditional mixture piped on to cakes. When soft it can be squeezed into the most delicate traceries of lines and loops which harden into fine, crisp, patterning. The clear definition this icing gives to the design and the way it is used to create stiff, elaborate ornamentation lends a formal appearance to the cake.  

Sugarpaste – is a more recent development in sugarcraft. It has a texture like modelling clay which makes it easy to shape using your hands. It has a softer overall effect and is perfect for making flowers, moulding wafer thin petals which can be perfectly coloured.  

Before the cake is iced, it is covered in a layer of marzipan, which is then coated in a smooth layer of either sugar paste or royal icing. This forms the basis for further decoration.  

It is possible to use both types of icing on one cake. For example the sides may be encrusted with swirls of royal icing, while a bouquet of sugarpaste flowers sweeps across the cake top.  

Designing – Inspiration for the design should be taken from the event the cake is to celebrate. For parties like weddings and birthdays, it is a good idea to find out the personal preferences for people concerned – for instance favourite flowers, colours or hobbies – and incorporate these into the decoration.  

The first thing to decide is the shape of the cake – baking tins come in all shapes and sizes these days – and the number of tiers if required.  
Accurate sketches of the design are drawn up to give a good working brief. Particular attention should be paid to decorating the sides of the cake as this is the part that most guests will be able to see. Beautiful detail on the top may simply be lost from view.  

Any templates needed for tracing patterns or collars for runouts (flat shapes of icing) should be made now. Many patterns used to decorate cakes are influenced and in some cases directly taken from those used in needlecrafts; designs for embroidery, crochet, and lace can be translated into icing with stunning effect.  

Piping – A wealth of delicate edgings and three dimensional ornaments can be created with a piping bag and range of nozzles. Piping bags can be made simply by rolling a sheet of greaseproof paper into a cone and snipping off the end. A metal nozzle is then fitted into the hole. Alternatively you can buy reusable piping bags, or a piping syringe.  

The secret of successful piping lies in the amount of pressure applied to the icing. This regulates the thickness of the strands; too much pressure and uneven blobs will ruin the patterning, too little will cause breaks to occur. The right pressure combined with a smooth, steady movement along the surface will give the desired effect, but it is easier said than done. Try to spend time practising shapes on a board before attempting to decorate the cake.  

Piping normally forms the basis of decoration round the sides. Larger star nozzles are used to create edgings of shells, sweeping waves and buttons, encircling the lower and upper edges. These may be over piped with threads of icing traced in a contrasting colour using a tiny nozzle opening.  
These narrow nozzles are used to create some of the most magnificent work. Strands of icing may be laid in layers curving and criss crossing the layer underneath to build up intricate trellis borders. This is usually piped straight onto the surface of the cake.  

Other fine piping work is done separately on a grease proof paper or clingfilm spread on a flat surface, and then once dry, transferred to the cake. Suck work is often bound by a runout border. This is made by piping an outline in royal icing using a thin nozzle, and then filling in the shape with icing made of pure albumen powder to give it more strength.  

Flowers – Sugar flowers are increasingly used instead of fresh or silk flowers for the final flourish on a cake. With the advent of fondant icing, the sugarcrafter has been able to make flowers which are indistinguishable from the real thing without close scrutiny.  
Piped flowers tend to be smaller and less life like. A small stand known as a rose nail is used when piping tiny roses. The stand is turned with one hand while the other squeezes the icing bag with an even pressure.  

Equipment – A good selection of basic equipment is essential for professional results. General equipment should include a flexible palette knife, spatula and wooden spoons, a sieve and a rolling pin kept solely for icing purposes, otherwise they will carry kitchen taints.  
Accurate scales are a must, and an electric mixer will save your arm from aching. Plenty of strong parchment or non stick paper is needed for making icing bags, and waxed paper is essential for run out or finely piped  work.  

A good turntable is the most expensive item to buy; don’t buy a cheap one as it will not support a heavy cake well. Buy only a small selection of piping nozzles to start with, numbers 0, 1 and 2 plain nozzles for dots, lines and writing, plus a few star nozzles will be plenty. Small fancy cutters can be bought in addition for making individual flowers.  
A pair of tweezers is useful for fine work, as are wooden toothpicks. A tiny plastic rolling pin and board is a good investment if you are going to do lots of flower work.

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