This weekend I made a cake for a baby shower, and while it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned (pipe down, Perfectionist Side!) people seemed to think it was nice. The baby’s decor is pink and lavender with butterflies and flowers, so I made a pink cake with vanilla buttercream and lavender marshmallow fondant. I used the fantastic Wilton UltraGold cake pan I won from Life as Mom a few weeks ago.
I sort of stumbled into this whole cake making thing, but I do enjoy it and might consider making more cakes to order in the future. If you’re new to cake baking, or if you feel you might not have made all the same mistakes I have, here are 6 cake baking tips I learned the hard way:
1. Slice your cake top off!This is what a cake layer looks like when it comes out of the oven. See that hump in the middle? Do not try to decorate over that hump, especially if you’re planning on setting another layer on top. You need to slice the bump off so the cake is flat.See how much nicer the layer looks when it’s flat? It’s SO much easier to layer up this way, and makes for a much more professional result when you’re decorating.
Before you start decorating, put a dollop of frosting on your cake plate or platter to anchor it. If you skip this step, you will find your cake sliding all over the place, and quite possibly falling entirely off the plate. Ask me how I know. Really, it doesn’t take long to toss a spoonful of buttercream down before you center your cake. You’ll be glad you did!
3. Don’t refrigerate marshmallow fondant.
When the recipe says “allow fondant to cool” that means leave it on the counter wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Do NOT refrigerate your fondant unless you are endowed with exceptionally prodigious arm strength. Again, ask me how I know! Believe me, rolling out fondant is already as hard as one of Jillian Michael’s last chance workouts, you don’t want to complicate matters more than is strictly necessary.
4. Don’t roll the fondant out on powdered sugar or other dry material.
I never have cornstarch on hand so I have rolled fondant on powdered sugar on several occasions. Finally with the cake I made this weekend I learned my lesson and rolled it on a clean counter greased lightly with Crisco. The thing about fondant is that it’s extremely sticky, and if you roll it on a dry surface bits of the fondant will stick and this causes rips and pulls when you lift it. Rolling it on a greased surface was MUCH easier and gave a better result.
5. Do not overwhip your Royal Icing.
Royal Icing is excellent for decorating because it dries hard and doesn’t slip slide around in a bothersome fashion like buttercream is wont to do. I make Royal Icing with meringue powder rather than egg white (easier, less prone to spoilage) but whether you use meringue or egg white, do NOT overmix the frosting! In an effort to achieve the perfect shade of blue to match Pat the Bunny for Sarah’s birthday cake, I made the mistake of overwhipping the icing. The result was like whipped cream and left lots of distressing bubbles in the result. When it comes to mixing icing, less is more and you might want to do it by hand.
6. Don’t make your Royal Icing too thick.
When I made Royal Icing for the Kind of Lame Palm Tree Cookies I made it too liquid, so the icing spilled and pooled appallingly. Thinking to remedy that siutation, this weekend I over-corrected and made the icing far too thick. The downside to thick icing is that it’s terribly difficult to squeeze out of the icing bag, and it takes MUCH longer to get your design outlined, plus you might pull muscles in your hand unless you’ve been working out with one of those gadgets baseball pitchers use (you know the ones, they resemble tiny Thighmasters?) To achieve the right consistency, you want icing that stretches when you dip a knife in it, but that doesn’t pour off the knife. If you dip a knife in and it comes right out leaving stiff peaks, that’s too thick. You might need to experiment a little, but it’s worth it to get it right before you go drawing butterflies on a 12 inch diameter cake at 11pm.
Having dispensed with my admittedly small reservoir of tips, what is your biggest lesson learned about cakes?