Cake Decorating Help Needed!
August 15, 2010 10:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to make something special for my mother's upcoming birthday. I've been looking around and I got inspired to make a cake with rad decorations on it. I've got a few questions tough, namely regarding icing, and I'd love some pointers.

For the cake itself, it probably will be a run-of-the-mill vanilla layered cake. I'm a beginner so it won't be none too fancy <:) What will set it apart is that it'll be as neat-looking as I can make it.
For instance I've been looking at and I got inspired to color my batter too (albeit I might not do a rainbow) meaning I'll need [Gel food coloring].

As for the icing/decorating, I've been toying around the idea of drawing and/or sculpting things on the cake. I've been looking at lots of examples of cakes on blogs/tv shows/deviantart such decorated. I've never done such a thing before, but I'm pretty good at drawing and I believe not bad at sculpting with putty/modeling dough so the technical abilities I got could help even if the medium changes. ;)
I'm considering maybe purchasing a set of [Food Coloring Pens] so I could draw on the cake frosting. But for that to work, I'll need hard and dry-ish frosting. It seems the pros mainly work with Fondant but I'm not too keen about that- seems very delicate and unforgiving. Also I really don't feel like making my own so I can always buy some but I guess I'll need to order it online.

I wonder, tough, if something like this or this would not be newbie-friendly, not-too-expensive alternatives?
I'm especially considering that [Wilton Decorating Icing], it's advertized as firm enough to make upright flowers and the such. Do you think I could even make little characters and the such with it?
Also, if I buy white icing, do you thing it could successfully be mixed with a little Coloring Gel to give it different hues?
Or will I need two different products- one to ice the cake itself and one to sculpt things with? (I'd like it all to be edible, too)

Finally, you might have noticed that I put a few words in [brackets]. Those are products I might need to buy, and that are not available at my supermarket (I live in a small city, we do not have a cake specialty shop or anything). I will end up ordering these online, and I would greatly appreciate if any of you can help me spot good deals. I'd like to spend as little as I can (for the quality) since shipping costs to my part of Canada will surely add up and I might end never really re-using those supplies much. (So say, 4 gallons of fondant and extra deluxe food dyes in huge bottles will be overkill for my meager needs)

I've spotted a few shops:

Ultimate Baker:



Wilton's store:

I don't know if there are any Canadians among people reading this who would know of some better shops, geographically speaking (it might help further to specify I live in Qu├ębec) to order online from? It might be better for the environment and my wallet if my purchases do not need to be lugged across the continent. :)

Thanks in advance, everyone!
posted by CelebrenIthil to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oops I thought the URLs would be clickable but they aren't, sorry! D:
posted by CelebrenIthil at 10:31 PM on August 15, 2010

Oh, I don't know... fondant is pretty tricky and finicky- I don't know if I'd suggest buying it on a whim and having your first project be a cake with figures on it. I would suggest two different options:

1. Bake a lovely cake and frost the layers and the outside with a delicious Swiss buttercream. If it feels too empty for you, grate some chocolate shavings or orange zest or something for color on top.

2. If you are insistent upon fondant (I personally think the precise appearance doesn't outweigh its less-than-yummy flavor) I would either buy the pre-colored, pre-rolled type or the type that you can dye quickly with gel color and then roll out yourself. You then pre-ice with a normal icing, and follow this guide to cover the cake.

I'd skip the color pens altogether and try painting on top of the fondant. You mix either gel food coloring or paste food coloring with alcohol (vodka works well, you can also use something like pure vanilla or pure orange extract) until it's liquidy, then use a paintbrush to paint on top of the fondant. The alcohol evaporates off and leaves you with the color.

I'm sorry I can't help with Canadian store recommendations, though. The products you would need for the second option would be gel OR paste food coloring, and pre-rolled fondant OR fondant that comes in a little bucket that you can dye and roll out yourself.
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:48 AM on August 16, 2010

I've had good results just by icing (Aussie-speak for frosting) cakes in a solid colour, and then making small amounts of icing mixed with the appropriate food colouring and putting them in common old small plastic bags (like sandwich bags), snipping off a corner, and then 'drawing' my design.

I can't draw to save my life, but my Spiderman cake of 2004 is still remembered with delight by the recipient.

I found after experimentation with Christmas cakes that the whole fondant/marzipan/draping thing was too much hassle, with imperfect results. I was only playing, didn't want to become a professional cake decorator, but the more I tried to improve my technique the more fondant/marzipan was wasted.

How about icing the cake with a neutral colour and then piping on your design using the common old plastic bag technique? Or use your specially-bought fondant to make figures on top of common old icing?
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:55 AM on August 16, 2010

1st. If you are looking to do something fancy, practice first. Go get a round piece of styrofoam and cover it in fondant and then do whatever piping you wish on that. Better to ruin a piece of fondant which isn't really that expensive when you consider how much it would SUCK to ruin an entire cake.

2nd. The plastic bag technique is rather imprecise and has the very negative side effect of popping and splotching all over your well iced cake. Get professional bags and tips. They, again, are not terribly expensive and they are worth it.

3rd. I sometimes use this site if I can't find what I need in L.A. (which is rare but it happens). Their shipping and service is quite good.

4th. Chill your cake VERY WELL before icing it. This has been the death of many a fine cake. Chilling it will hold the crumbs together reasonably well. You may still have to do a crumb coat but at least you won't have the entire cake crumbling under your spatula.

5th. White icing will take to coloring gels quite nicely, however, fondant takes a LOT of kneading to get an even color. I mean a crazy lot of kneading. And it makes my kitchenaid mixer engine smoke, so don't even try that. Also, make all of your color at the same time. It is nearly impossible to match colors.

6th. Don't try something for the first time on your cake! Seriously. See #1.

Feel free to memail me for other tips. I have done cakes non-professionally for many years.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:38 AM on August 16, 2010

Step 1: Chill the cake
Step 2: Place a thin layer of icing on the cake (this is known as the "crumb coat")
Step 3: Chill the cake again
Step 4: Go nuts with the remaining frosting.

For a swirly look, dip your spatula in hot water and twirl it around on the top.
posted by smistephen at 12:21 PM on August 16, 2010

Thanks for all the tips. Also, the pricing on that online shop seems good so far Sophie1, thank you!
It seems I have not said it clearly enough -sorry- I am not keen at all about using Fondant and kinda wished to hear about alternatives.
I believe I might ice the cake with regular frosting (or "frost the cake with regular icing"... IDK US/Aussie/British usage, it's all interchangeable for me! XD ) but I'd need some other thing that can be sculpted.
I really do not need for the cake to be covered in perfect smooth sheets of whatever, I just want to make fun things on it. Maybe a dragon. :)

Whatever happens: No Fondant in the mixer, noted. Yikes!
posted by CelebrenIthil at 6:52 PM on August 16, 2010

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