Pretty Bakes Blog

Cake decorating basics for pretty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats

Archive of ‘Baking tips and tricks’ category

12 tips for topsy turvy cake success

Topsy turvy cake. Mission: Complete.

Topsy turvy cake. Mission: Complete.

The results of my first topsy turvy cake turned out to be not as bad as I feared – I worried that the entire cake might collapse or giant chunks would fall off. It didn’t fall but it leaned and needed to be supported with a handy teapot. There’s plenty of room for improvement so I’m sharing what I learned about topsy turvy cakes in the following list.

12 tips for topsy turvy cake success

1. Do plenty of research. Watch several tutorials like this one from janellscakes. Read topsy turvy cake disaster stories at Cake Central’s forums — they might frighten you at first but it’s best to know what you’re up against. Gravity is a formidable enemy but there are things you can do to fight the force and create a great-looking cake.

Just when the scary stories of cake collapses have you doubting yourself, watch Rebekah Allan’s topsy turvy YouTube tutorials. They’re most helpful and her adorable vintage hairdo and dress instantly increases her credibility, right? She makes the process look so easy, she’ll have you convinced that you, too, can make a topsy turvy cake – no problem.

2. Book off lots of time. You really don’t want to rush the carving process and you’ll need extra time to fit the fondant into irregular shapes. Slow and steady wins the race.

3. Use a dense cake. Fans of light and airy cakes must sacrifice texture and flavour for fashion. You’re asking for trouble with a cake recipe that delivers a soft, moist and light cake. Use a pound cake recipe.

4. Freeze cakes before carving. That’s when they’re most stable. Still, use gentle sawing motions with a knife to avoid further weakening the cake’s structure.

5. Taper slightly.  A little goes a long way so gently angle your knife. Check out How to taper cake tiers at for helpful tips.

6. Use a thin layer of icing between cake layers. Thick layers of buttercream make the cake less stable.

7. Apply a crumb coat. Chill it, and then add a smooth layer of buttercream before applying fondant. The smoother your cake’s surface, the smoother the fondant’s finish.

8. Thaw cakes completely before covering with fondant. Otherwise, your fondant may slump and separate from the cake as it sweats and comes to room temperature.

9. Knead fondant well before rolling it out to improve elasticity, avoid cracks and tears. You want the fondant to easily stretch into irregular and tapered shapes.

10. Use icing sugar or cornstarch sparingly to prevent sticking when rolling fondant.

11. Remember to keep fondant moving regularly when rolling it to prevent sticking. Lift it off your work surface and dust the surface with icing sugar or cornstarch only as needed.

12. Place dowels in a more central formation than you normally might so they don’t pierce through the sides of the tapered bottom layer of cake.

If you have any additional tips for topsy turvy success, please post your advice by leaving a comment.

Slip-proof silicone mats save cakes


To keep your cake from sliding around when you’re transporting it to a party location, slip a silicone mat under your cake board. Its slip-free surface can help you to avoid problems like that time when I dented my best friend’s wedding cake.

That time I dented my best friend’s wedding cake

I would’ve cried but there was no time for tears.

I didn’t realize I dented Natalie and John’s wedding cake until I arrived at the reception venue. I opened the car door and, to my horror, I discovered a deep dent in the cake — at the front of the cake! — the only real detail and focal point on the cake! The black fondant initials and the plaque it rested on were clearly and mercilessly pushed into the cake.

Well, this is awkward

“Oh. Noooooo!” I groaned, as the poor doorman stood by awkwardly, not knowing what to say.

“I. Dented. The. Cake!” I uttered.

There were a few moments of stunned silence. Devastated doesn’t begin to explain how I felt.

But I needed to get home, shower and head off to my dear friend Aileen’s birthday dinner. So I dropped off the damaged cake as it was and decided I’d figure something out later.

For the record, this is what the cake looked like before I dented it.



A heavy case of Toronto traffic was in my way but it gave me some time to think. There was a pit in my stomach, I felt defeated, and I didn’t know what to do.

I called Natalie to ask her for the event coordinator’s phone number so I could call her up and let her know about the little cake problem we had on our hands. No answer. The bride-to-be was enjoying a spa day and her phone was probably turned off.

Solution 1: Start from scratch

Somehow, my mind went into problem-solving mode. I could start from scratch and make a whole new wedding cake. I started doing calculations in my mind. There was no way I’d have enough time to buy more supplies, bake and cool three cakes, whip seven batches of buttercream, decorate, stack, transport and be at Nat’s place the next day, in time for picture-taking and walking down that aisle.

Oh yah, I didn’t tell you I was a bridesmaid. I didn’t have enough hours ahead of me. So, scratch that! Baking a whole new cake wasn’t an option. Don’t cry, think of something else.

Solution 2: Bake, dismantle and reassemble

Duh. I didn’t need to bake three more cakes when only one was damaged. I could bake one new cake to replace the dented one. When I got to the reception tomorrow, I’d remove the top tier and set it aside, I’d remove the middle tier and replace it with the new cake — trying carefully to not damage the bottom tier or the pearl borders — and then I’d put the top tier back in place. You follow?

But even if I baked just one new cake, I’d still be cutting it really close with time. And then I’d have to figure out a way to get the new cake to the reception without dinging it again. To top it off, I was anxious and exhausted so I wasn’t confident I could make a new cake that looked decent.

Solution 3: Turn it around. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

Then it came to me. I’d turn the cake around and decorate the undamaged side. No one looks at the back of the cake anyway so no one needs to know it’s dented. It might not be the sleekest solution but given the time constraint I was under, this was my best option.

So that’s what I did. I rolled more fondant, made a new plaque, shaped a new set of initials, made and attached a bunch of new scrolls. And off I went to dinner.

I thought maybe the dent wasn’t that bad and perhaps I could try minimizing it with fondant smoothers. But deep down I knew it was unlikely fondant smoothers could fix this problem.

Uh oh. The bride knows

When I arrived home after Aileen’s birthday dinner, I got a phone call from Natalie. The event organizer had called her to let her know the cake arrived at the reception venue and there was some damage on it. Ugh. I really didn’t want to stress out the bride the day before her wedding.

I told Nat that, yep, I dented the cake when I was driving but it’s OK because I found a way to fix it. Natalie said something along the lines of: “Oh my God, seriously, please don’t worry about it!”

My calm voice makes an appearance

You see, Natalie knows me too well and she knew I’d be freaking out. I told her that now that I found a solution, I was calm and everything would be fine. And by now, this was mostly true. I was still bummed but the shock and horror of ruining my best friend’s wedding cake had lost its edge. I was doing everything I could to fix it.

Now I wonder if my “calm voice” secretly freaked Natalie out. I must’ve been convincing because she let me off the phone to finish my new and improved decoration — I liked the second one better than the first. Practice made the letters turn out nicer and this time, I positioned the scrolls more symmetrically and I thought it had a nicer effect.

Protect the plaque at all costs

I cushioned the new plaque, stuffed with paper towels, in a Tupperware container and packed it up with the cake topper. On the wedding day, it traveled with me in a little insulated cooler bag. The last thing I needed was for it to melt or get crushed in the limo so I stood watch and made sure it was safely stowed in the trunk.

It was a lovely wedding ceremony, followed by some fun picture-taking. I consciously remained in the moment, forgot about the cake fiasco for most of the day and celebrated my dear friend’s big day.

Hello, chef. I’m the girl who made and then dented the cake

When I arrived at the reception, I headed to the kitchen with bridesmaid Jocelyn in tow for moral support and I met the pastry chef who was very kind. If he had been laughing about, or unimpressed with, this dented cake that showed up in his kitchen, he had the courtesy to conceal his thoughts.

I attached the new plaque and the heirloom cake topper borrowed from John’s family, and I was relieved. For better or for worse, my mission was complete.

The big reveal

When they finally rolled out the cake for presentation, I cringed. I assumed the cake would be displayed in a corner somewhere, with a wall blocking the dent from view but instead, it was wheeled out and everyone had a 360-degree view.

Most people were on the cake’s “good side” but there was a crowd and some folks came around to the back to take photos. I watched their expressions and they didn’t seem to notice the dent.

By now I just smiled and went along with things. Lots of guests were snapping pictures of the cake and, more importantly, the gorgeous newlyweds.

You want to see that dent, don’t you? Check it out.

See what all the fuss is about?

See what all the fuss is about?

Dented cake: How it happened

Moments after leaving home, while driving, I turned a corner. The cake, which was placed on a stack of books on the passenger seat, didn’t move and I was relieved. Two seconds later, I gently braked and when I looked to my right, the cake had moved a few inches away from me. I didn’t see — or hear — it slide.

I pulled over immediately, pulled the cake back towards me, peered around one side and the other and was happy to find it unscathed — or so I thought. I knew the cake moved but I thought it didn’t slide far enough to cause any damage.

Door grips dent cakes

The cake must’ve hit the passenger side door grip and I couldn’t see the dent from my vantage point.

The trouble-making dent-maker! The culprit. The door grip. Boo! Hiss. Photo by Jennifer Melo

The trouble-making dent-maker! The culprit. The door grip. Boo! Hiss. Photo by Jennifer Melo

The cake was really heavy so I didn’t expect it to move much but, in hindsight, I should’ve used a non-slip silicone mat under the cake boards. The books, which I used to keep things level, provided a slippery surface for the heavy cake to slide on.

Today, I can laugh at this situation. I’ll always regret that I dented my best friend’s wedding cake but I know it doesn’t really matter.

What’s a little dented cake between BFFs anyway? Natalie never asked me for a perfect cake. It’s true that I wanted to give her the prettiest cake I could make but life laughed at that plan.

Sometimes trying to fix the dent is all you can really do. And with solid friendships, that’s often more than enough.

How to pipe a leaf in 3 easy steps

How to pipe a leaf

Learning how to pipe a leaf is quite simple but if you’re a novice cake decorator or just out of practice, here’s what you need to know.

You need:

  • Buttercream
  • A piping bag
  • A leaf tip. Like a chick’s open beak, the leaf tip is pointy at both ends and looks like a small triangle was cut out of the middle. It looks like this…

    Leaf tip. Photo by Jennifer Melo

    Leaf tip. Photo by Jennifer Melo

How to pipe a leaf

1. With pointed ends of your leaf tip positioned up and down, squeeze the piping bag until you see enough icing to form the wide end of your leaf.

2. Release pressure as you pull the tip towards you, aiming for a triangle shape. Stop squeezing.

3. Gently pull the tip up and away to leave a tapered end.

Got it? No? Watch this and practise your piped leaves.

To make the earthy green colour you see here, I mixed a bit of violet, yellow and leaf green gel food colouring.


How to pipe a buttercream rose. 4 easy steps

Buttercream rose cupcakes for Mother's Day 2013. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Buttercream rose cupcakes for Mother’s Day 2013. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Happy Mother’s Day! Maybe your mom wants a bouquet of buttercream roses for Mother’s Day. If so, here’s a little helper.

It starts with a tall blob and ends with some C’s.

I’ve read many descriptions on how to pipe a buttercream rose and after trying the technique several times myself, I’ve come up with my own simplified way to describe it.

4 easy steps to piping a buttercream rose

1. Make a tall blob.

2. Using a petal tip, skinny end to the sky, wrap a ribbon of icing around that blob.

3. Make 3 C’s around that blob.

4. Make five C’s around the three C’s. Continue piping C’s in odd numbers and increments of two (3, 5, 7, 9, 11) until you’re satisfied with the rose’s size.

Ta da! You have a rose.

You need:

-a flower nail
-a petal/rose tip
-a piping bag
-a parchment paper square
-to watch this video that shows what the heck I’m talking about. It’s all about the blob and C’s I tell ya.

More advice to pipe a rose right
A rose tip has a narrow end and a wide end. Place the tip so the narrow end is up and the wide end is at the base of your flower nail or work surface. To remember the correct position of the rose tip, think: Fat to floor, skinny to sky.

Always pipe an odd number of petals. The results are offset petals that look more natural.

Once your rose is piped, refrigerate it to make it easier to handle before placing in on cakes or cupcakes.

To remove the flower from the parchment square, use a pair of sterile scissors to snip and slide the flower off the paper and into position. A small offset spatula works too.

I prefer a stiff consistency icing that holds the petal shape best. Mix some more icing sugar into your buttercream if it’s too soft. And/or refrigerate your icing. When icing’s too soft, your rose slips and slides when you pipe and it’s tricky to detach each petal. You see that happening in the video clip.

Angle your tip vertically to create close, tight petals. Angle your tip horizontally for open petals, particularly when you get to the outermost row of petals.

Practise, practise, practise.

So now you know how to pipe a rose. Do you think you’ll give it a try?

Petal tip close up. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Petal tip close up. Photo by Jennifer Melo