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Decorating - As easy as cake

April 02, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Before you start, you will need some basic supplies.

Supplies



Cake decorating kit

Courtney recommends getting a "student" cake decorating kit, which will have most of the equipment you will need - tips, decorating bags and ample instructions. She said these cost around $25 and can be found at a craft store. Courtney buys hers at A.C. Moore and Michaels.

Thick, homemade icing

You will need to make your icing. Store-bought icing isn't ideal for cake decorating because it's too thin, Courtney says.

Courtney has provided a basic butter-cream recipe that will yield about four pounds of icing - more than you need for one cake.

"In case you mess up," she said.

Generally, thick icing is good. But if it is too thick, it could end up flaky. Add small amounts of water if the icing is too thick, Courtney said. If it's too thin, add small amounts of sugar.

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An icing-color set

These differ from conventional food coloring. They are heavily concentrated, gel-based dyes and can also be purchased at a craft store for around $13, Courtney said. Conventional food coloring is too watery and could lead to streaky icing, Courtney says.

These sets should not be refrigerated and should be recapped promptly after each use. Otherwise, the dyes will dry out. One kit can last six months to a year, Courtney says.

Courtney used pink, yellow and green dyes for this cake.

Cake nails

These look like really big thumbtacks. They can also be found at area craft stores. They don't actually go onto the cake. Courtney creates a single flower on the nail and then transfers it to the cake.

Preparing your cake: A five-step process



Level off the layers

"No matter how much you pound the cake pan down, you always end up with a round top," Courtney says.

Courtney says you can use a knife to level the layers so they are flat enough to combine.

She props each layer on its side and begins to slice off a sliver of cake from its rounded, top side. Once she gets closer to the center, she places the cake flat-side down and continues to slice across the top until it is close to level.

Skipping these steps could lead to a wobbly, crooked cake.

"And even if it doesn't wobble it will slant on one side; when you put more icing on it the weight will hold it down," Courtney says. "And sometimes it won't even wobble. Depending on how moist your cake is, sometimes it will break right in the center."

Ice the cake

Once both layers are level, smooth a layer of icing on the bottom layer and assemble the cake.

You are now ready to ice the rest of the cake.

When icing a cake, Courtney starts on the top, slightly off-center, and then smoothes icing from the top over to the sides of the cake.

"You keep piling it on until all your sides are done," Courtney said. Leave a bare space of cake at the center, which you cover in the end.

Most people like to do the sides first, which Courtney said is a faux pas. Icing only takes a couple minutes to dry and harden, Courtney says.

"So as you put the top on, if you have too much, you have no where to put it so you put it down on the sides," Courtney says. "And because that icing's hard, it starts crackling so you have little pieces of dried icing all around the edge."

If you get crumbs in your icing, "immediately take that off," Courtney says.

"Even if it's a lot of icing, scrape it away," she says. "You don't want any brown splotches in your cake."

Smooth the icing

Once the entire cake is iced and has set (the icing doesn't stick when you touch it), Courtney uses a paper towel to gently smooth away lines left by the spatula.

"No matter how many times you go over it, you still see the lines from where your spatula was dragging across it," Courtney says.

It's not so much about rubbing the paper towel across the surface as it is gently pressing the texture of the paper towel onto the cake. In the end, the whole cake will look like the icing was cut out and laid on top of the cake, Courtney says.

Dye your icing batches

Using the leftover icing, spoon several large dollops into a bowl and, using a toothpick, scrape a small glob of icing dye. To prevent the spread of mold in your dyes, do not double-dip your toothpicks, Courtney warns.

Incorporate the dye into the icing and mix with a spoon.

Getting the right dye-to-icing ratio is an inexact science. Courtney says to always start with less dye than you think you will need.

"Don't put big amounts in it because it's easier to darken an icing than it is to take (color) away," Courtney says. "I've learned that the hard way many ... times."

Fill your icing bags

For the sake of convenience, Courtney likes to use disposable plastic icing bags. Disposable bags come in handy when you're working with several colors, she says.

You do not want to fill the bag completely, otherwise the dye will spill out at both ends.

So before you fill the bag, fold down the open, top part just enough so that your fist will fit inside the bag. Put the icing inside and unfold the flap back up and twist the top.

Decorate your cake



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