Cake Decorating

**Note:** this post is pretty much about cake decorating. I wrote it partly to share with you, and partly for myself, to have a record of a cake that went right. If you have no interest in cake decorating, you may want to come back later.

This week my church choir had a party and we were instructed to bring either dessert or a salad.
While I feel like I've learned to love salad in a new way since leaning vegetarian, I can't pass up the chance to make dessert - especially when it's going to leave my house. I cut up the left overs and put them on other people's plates so we didn't take any home.

Exhibit A.
This is a "pink" velvet cake, pink because I was out of red food coloring. The recipe (found here)was from the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book. I've used it to make two 9" round cakes in the past, which is why I did that again. I'm not sure that every recipe works this way, but I trust this one as cupcakes or cakes.
When we cut into it, the color was so dark that it looked red anyways, and people asked me if it was strawberry. Like cornbread, red velvet cake seems like one of those things some Canadians know all about while others have never heard of it. The reviews were positive, and I think I spread the good news of red velvet cake to a few people.

I wanted to share a couple of things I've learned about cake decorating over the past year. My knowledge is by no means extensive, but I've got a few tips for people who can't bake like Brown Eyed Baker but still want to make a nice looking cake.

Returning to Exhibit A, the icing still has a few uneven spots in it, and you can kind of see the lines from where I moved the spatula around. That said, it's pretty smooth, and those lines are a lot less noticeable to the naked eye. To make the cake smooth, I used these:

#1. An off-set spatula. This guy is good for smoothing out smaller areas and for the sides of this two-layer cake, since it's taller than the cake itself. I especially find this one helpful when I'm working on the edges along the top of the cake.

Note: clean enough to see my camera in its reflection.

#2. A bigger icing spatula. I've looked on the internet for its proper name, but "icing spatula" is what I've come up with so far. This guy is good for getting a massive amount of icing on the cake at once and for making big passes over the top of it, with as few lines as possible.

Speaking of icing, I have learned a couple of things that are helpful here.

First, make sure the cake has cooled completely. Like, really cooled. Once in the fall I was pressed for time and the whole was ruined because I tried to start icing it too soon. To expedite that process, stick the layers in the fridge. In general, another rule I've learned is that the fridge is your friend.

The next idea is from smittenkitchen.com. She recommends putting on a "crumb" layer of icing first. This isn't a neat looking layer, just a thin amount of icing to keep all the crumbs in place. Once that layer is on, put the whole thing back in the fridge for 10 or 15 minutes. Then, when you take it out, it's much easier to spread the room-temperature icing over it and make the whole thing smoother.

The last stage of decorating this behemoth was the piping. I'm not exactly a piping whiz or anything (see also, here), but it's something I've learned to do over time from watching other people.* My approach to this cake was "keep it simple," since once piping seems to be going well, I tend to go over board and pipe myself crazy.
Part of the purpose of the piping here was to clean up the edges of the cake and the rim on the bottom. I just added a wavy shape to the bottom and little star shapes to the top, both with the same tip.

I used this piping bag (above) from the Martha Stewart kit I have. You can buy this type of thing at most craft stores, Bulk Barn, or do it the Alton Brown way and just cut a hole in a ziplock bag (though the environment won't thank you). My only tip here is to roll down the sides of the bag so that you can put the icing in as close to the tip as possible. Now that I know to do that it seems extremely obvious, but it took me a long time to get here. The story of my life.

I chose this tip because of the similar shape it had to one in the Martha Stewart Cupcake book. In the back of the book she included this helpful page:

The tips don't match exactly to those in the kit, but it's close enough to be helpful.

And so, the finished product, Exhibit B.

The rings of piping are a little inconsistent, but it's way better than my previous two attempts.

As you can see, I had enough time on my hands this week to bake a fairly large, elaborate cake, and then write a long blog post about it. Our summer reading club starts this week, and my weird class scheduling situation for the fall mandates that I get a lot of reading done this summer. So who knows if there will be more fancy cakes. That's kind of the great thing about summer, though - you can study for three or four hours and still have a lot of the day left to bake cakes or go to the beach, instead of doing more homework or grading papers.


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