Monday, November 9, 2009


It might have been the drop flowers. Drop flowers are fun. Leaves are difficult. Rosebuds take some work (and roses are impossible to learn in half a day). But drop flowers are fun.

Really, though, I think it was the shells. It was the little delicate border shells that made me realize decorating a cake can be a lot of fun. Even if you don't have artistic talent. Even if you usually buy frosting in a can.

The fine folks at Piece of Cake, from owners to decorators to cakemakers, welcomed me into their bakery as I tried to frost a cake to look more special than the ones I usually make - just icing glopped on top, then smeared on the sides.

Kristi White was my guide through the process of learning to ice a cake, then trying the special touches I've usually left to those candy stick-ons.

She suggested some "must-have" equipment:

* A straight-edge spatula.

* Plastic (throwaway) triangles that become bags to hold different colors of icing.

* Gel paste food coloring.

* A Lazy Susan for turning the cake so you'll have easy access to the top and sides.

* Cardboard or covered "rounds" a little larger than your cake pan (8- or 9-inch).

* Tips designed for everything from leaves to drop flowers to borders.

* A coupler ring for changing tips on the outside of the bag.

"You know, in a pinch, you can put icing in a (plastic sandwich bag) and snip off a tiny corner and use that, especially if you have a tip you can throw into the corner of the bag," White said.

* Use gliding motions when working. White cautioned that it's important to get the tip down in the cake's surface icing, but still keep a light touch. "This is not something you can go into heavy-handed."

What I can share from a half-day's work:

* Be careful when icing the top. Use a light gliding motion, then swoop the icing off the edge. If you lift it, you're likely to get crumbs into the icing.

* Don't put a large amount of icing in the center of the cake. That tends to make it lopsided.

* Lengthy add-ons, such as vines, are among the most difficult to master because they take very fine tips, thinner icing and a steadier hand.

* As I worked, jaw set, determination in high gear, I watched as tiny shell after tiny shell joined to make a border. But make sure you have them placed just right. Fifteen minutes later, when I looked at my cake, five or six shells had fallen off, leaving a gaping hole at one arc. White said to pick them up and put them back on the cake - or just make new ones.

* Don't get too excited when you make that first rosebud; chances are the next two or 10 will look strange. Mine certainly were all shapes and sizes.

Use royal icing if you want to make rosebuds, drop flowers or leaves. It's not in a can, but it's easy to make and easier to work with than canned icing.

* Don't stress out. "It should be a fun thing to do, not a tear-your-hair-out thing," White said.

* In most cases, goofs are repairable. If you have enough icing on top, lift off the goof, smooth the icing and start over.

* Look for new items to use when decorating. You can find everything from colorful confetti to edible glitter to fondant (a thick, hard, sugar-paste icing).

* There's nothing wrong with canned frosting, White said. "It's not as stiff as baker's frosting, but you can make it work." Want to stiffen it up? Add a little powdered sugar.

* Mostly, have fun. Icing (or frosting) a cake isn't brain surgery. It isn't even minor surgery.

"It's a cake," White said. "Even professionals sometimes have to scrape and start over. Remember that it's for yourself, or your family, or your friends. They're going to like it because you created it."

By Rebecca Coudret
Wednesday, August 22, 2007 in the Evansville Courier & Press