Over the weekend we decided to have a cake decorating day. Back in 2008 (or maybe 2007… I don’t remember) I didn’t have much better to do and really wanted to learn how to decorate cakes. It’s ironic because I’m not a huge icing fan… I prefer the cake without icing… Go figure.
So they wanted to put my knowledge to work over the weekend and I was willing to oblige. Kristi’s dad was having an 80th birthday celebration the next day so we decided to decorate a cake for him. Tracy has a 1st birthday cake in a few days, weeks, months… she never really told me that she’ll be doing. Deb wanted to learn too, so it was the perfect opportunity to mess up someone else’s kitchen because why mess up your own kitchen. Just saying 😜.
So when you make up icing, or this particular icing anyway, it starts out as thick icing. Then you thin it out with either water or milk to the consistency you want. Typically you add a tbsp of your liquid at a time until you get the desired consistency. There are really 3 types of consistencies that you look for in cake decorating, thick, medium, and thin and each has their place in the course of decorating a cake.
One thing to consider, thick icing requires the most strength to push out of the bag and you’re more likely to blow the tip out of the end of the bag. Just something to note. In my opinion the two hardest things to learn about cake decorating is how to get a smooth finish on your cake and learning the correct consistencies.
Note that when you see cakes in magazines, they’re covered with buttercream and then fondant so that’s how they get that clean look. You can get that clean look with buttercream but it’s difficult. A trick to help you is once you have your icing on the cake, take a long flat spatula (like 11″ or so depending on the size of the cake) and dip it in as hot of water as you can. The hot water will help smooth. And usually the more icing you have on the outside of the cake, the easier it is sometimes too, reason being, you have more to slick off.
Now some people do a crumb coat. You can do that with buttercream or you can do it with a mixture of water to powdered sugar. You just smear that all over the cake and then it should help hold the crumbs in. I rarely if ever do a crumb coat. It’s a lot of work and as long as you always keep pushing the icing from top down, you shouldn’t get to many crumbs in your icing. And if you do, cover it with more icing. Obviously to each their own 😀.
My opinion on fondant, while it looks gorgeous, it doesn’t taste so good. I mainly just used store bought, the homemade does taste better but it’s a LOT of work. One of those labor of love things.
Now for writing… if you’ll notice I wrote all over my hand and arm. It’s a good practice tool, it really is. That and just wax paper on the table. It’s easier to practice there than on a cake where it really matters. Once you get the hang of it, which isn’t difficult, then you can write on the cake like a pro. Our teacher always had us write on our hand for practice. (btw, my dogs name is Marlie and I always say, “Oh my stars Miss Mars” I started with the y on my hand because I put the stars down the bottom showing an idea for the cake above. Then I added the M. After that I saw my stars and added Miss Mars, therefore it says My Stars Miss Mars.)
Then we’re huge Chiefs fans around here and our boys were in the Playoffs so I had to do one in honor of them, obviously.
Handy tools to have for cake decorating:
- All the ingredients for icing, obviously
- Decorating tips
- A rose nail if you plan on making any kind of flowers
- Cake (again obviously…. haha)
- A short off set spatula
- A large long spatula
- A hot, tall glass of water
- A knife to flatten off your cake
- Gel food coloring (better to color with those than liquid)
- Piping bags (I’m really starting to like the disposable ones best)
- Couplers (allow you to change tips easily)
- A pair of scissors to cut the piping bags for your tips
So what recipe do I use? It actually came in the canister of Meringue powder. Btw, do you know what Meringue Powder is? Well, Meringue Powder is a fine white powder made primarily from dried egg whites, with cornstarch to keep it from clumping while stored and some food gums to help it bind together easily when it is being used. The powder can be reconstituted with water and forms up into a nice, fluffy meringue when beaten at a high speed.
Now for the recipe, keep in mind, this makes 7 cups of icing. It has a nice consistency for decorating cakes. It is my go to icing and I’ve tried quite a few.
7-Cup Batch Buttercream Icing Recipe
2/3 Cup Cold Water
4 tbsp Meringue Powder (1/4 cup)
12 c or 3# Confectioners Sugar
1 1/4 cups solid vegetable shortening
3/4 tsp salt
Up to 1 tsp Flavoring
Mix water + salt in a mixer to dissolve salt. Add meringue powder. Add flavoring.
- White icing – use white flavoring
- Candy flavoring by the drop
- Almond – no more than 1/4 tsp
Next add 2 # of the powdered sugar. (easiest way is to weigh it out on scales). Add shortening 1/2 cup at a time, mixing completely. After all shortening is added add the last 1# of powdered sugar, a little at a time.
This gives you about 7 cups of icing at a stiff consistency.
You want to Ice a cake with thin consistency so thin out with a couple tsp of water (or milk) added one at a time until you get desired consistency.
- Stiff – some decorations and for making a barrier between the two layer of cakes (one of the best ways is with icing and coupler, no tip) where you can add a combination of:
- Plain Icing
- Icing/Pudding (pudding cup good for regular sized cake)
- Medium – piping decorations and writing
- Thin – covering your cake