Cake decoration for beginners
June 20, 2017 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I would like to decorate a cake for my kid's birthday. I have basically no prior experience of note. I want to make a cake featuring this guy. Any tips, suggestions, and helpful hints welcome.

Fret not, its no big deal if it goes wrong, this is just a cake to amuse my kid. If it ends up looking like a Cake Wreck, we'll nip to the shop and get a Colin.

My sponge making is pretty good, as is my freehand drawing (in case this is relevant). I'd like to keep it as simple as possible, so round cake with fondant seems the most obvious, although I'm very open to suggestions. Thanks as ever.
posted by threetwentytwo to Food & Drink (7 answers total)
I would see if your local Michael's (craft store) offers cake decorating classes. I'd also watch a TON of YouTube videos on cake decorating AND make a practice cake. I did a fondant Abby Cadabby cake for my girl many years ago and it's doable, but I certainly wish I had done a practice cake. You can do it!!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:37 PM on June 20, 2017

Oh! And square might be easier because you can cut the corner angles. Round is really, really hard to get smooth.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2017

with fondant

Marshmallow fondant is easy easy easy to make and use, and it tastes good! This was the first cake I ever made with marshmallow fondant. It really is as simple as just cutting out shapes and sticking them on.

Frosting/using piping tips is way harder.
posted by phunniemee at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fondant can be a pain. If drawing pictures in frosting is new to you, I'd skip the fondant, on the "one new skill per project" theory. Drawing outlines with frosting, it will definitely help that you're accustomed to freehand drawing/sketching, but the medium will be unlike anything ever before, and takes some definite practice.

Me = cheap/frugal, limited time, moderate patience, learns pretty quickly, threshold of "good enough" pretty low. I'd do just a regular frosting and get the top as smooth as is convenient. I'd mix up plenty of the colors I need for the illustration, fill up the frosting bags, draw a 9" (cake sized) circle on wax paper (or anything really) and do a practice picture. Get used to how the frosting flows, and how to fix small mistakes. Throw that piece of paper away, possibly try again, before starting on the real cake-top experience.

My advice - buy the tips you want (one each of thin line, fat line, star for borders, etc) and a box of disposable frosting bags, and enough couplers for as many colors as you plan on using, that way you can have all the bags ready to go at once, it's easy to change the tip from one to another, but filling frosting bags is a pain.
posted by aimedwander at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2017

Actually, I'm reconsidering my anti-fondant bias. In terms of making a nice cartoon-like illustration, the absolute simplest thing would probably be to roll out sheets of the appropriate colors of fondant and cut out the outlines, then assemble into the character. (like those foam sheet crafts)
posted by aimedwander at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've made a few cakes for kids' parties over the years, starting with no prior experience. They usually come out well enough to impress the other parents (if only because they never bother to make their own). I use packs of ready-made fondant icing. Cake decorating shops usually have a wide range of pre-dyed icing so you don't have to mix your own. But failing that, a pack of icing colours (I got mine from Hobbycraft) and white icing will work, with a bit more effort. Making fondant icing from scratch is hard - don't bother.

The first thing I do is to gently carve off a little from the top of the cake to get it nice and level. Sometimes just flipping the cake over works, too. Put the cake on a board before you start. You won't want to move it again once you start work on it.

I personally find round cakes easier to cover than square. I definitely wouldn't attempt a rabbit-shaped cake.

For a background, roll out some fondant icing - about 3-4mm thing, I reckon. Use a little icing sugar on your work surface (as you would flour when rolling pastry), but don't overdo it as it'll colour the icing. You can either roll out the top and sides individually, or (for a circular cake) roll out a larger circle and apply it as one piece, draping it over the cake and then smoothing it out a bit. I usually do the latter. Brushing the bare cake with some melted apricot jam helps to stick the covering to the cake.

When I do a cake from an image, I print off my chosen image several times, and then cut out all of the main shapes of the character. Then I use the paper templates and a sharp knife to cut individual pieces of coloured fondant, thinner than the background covering.

In the case of Bing, I'd probably cut the head shape, dungarees, sleeves and arms as 'puzzle pieces' that fit together on the cake, then cut out the button, eyes, inner ears, and mouth and lay them on top. The whites of the eyes might work best if you cut holes in the head for them. The iris and pupils would probably work best as layered (thin) circles. All of this gives a slightly 3D effect, although the layers shouldn't be more than a millimetre or two deep.

Just take your time and it'll turn out fine. Unlike pastry, you can't really over-knead fondant icing, so you can just ball it up and try again until you get each bit right.
posted by pipeski at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2017

You don't really even need fondant, if your freehand is decent. Buy a set of colored frostings (which come in tubes with points). Just frost the cake in a background color and then make a cartoon version of your character (link didn't help), outline it with black frosting, and fill in the spaces appropriately. You can even use colored sugar if, say, your character needs to be a bit fuzzy. The crispness of fondant is over-rated generally, and particularly where kids are concerned.

Here is one I did, from basic amateur home cook status: Cookie Monster...
posted by acm at 2:49 PM on June 20, 2017

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