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Pretty Bakes Blog

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

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A Wiggles cake for Ella’s birthday party

Wiggles cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

When my precious niece Ella asked if I’d make a Wiggles cake for her birthday, I happily agreed. Then I secretly thought, How the hell am I going to make a Wiggles cake?

So I was beyond thrilled when my sister-in-law (a.k.a. Ella’s mom) pulled out a sugar transfer sheet to make easy work of this cake. Yes!

She ordered the design online and it was mailed to her. How civilized! So all I had to do was bake a large rectangular cake, whip up a few batches of buttercream, ice the cake and stick the transfer on top using fondant smoothers.

I used a cake comb to add texture to the sides of the cake and I piped a pearl border at the seams. Then I piped rosettes as a border on top, around the edges of the sugar transfer, and I added rainbow sprinkles for a finishing touch.

Combed cake close-up. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Combed cake close-up. Photo by Jennifer Melo

3 things I learned while making my Wiggles cake

1. Apply a thick layer of buttercream on the cake before combing it. I mean A LOT. I had to tell my inner perfectionist to get lost but I believe I would’ve achieved smoother results if I had applied a thicker layer of buttercream.

2. I need more practice piping pearl borders. See how some of the pearls have little peaks on ’em? They shouldn’t be there. Gotta work on timing the release of pressure on the piping bag and remember to hold the piping tip at a 45 degree angle. I made two attempts at piping a border around the sugar transfer after I was unhappy with the first attempt.

3. Add sprinkles when the buttercream is fresh. I waited too long, the buttercream crusted and the sprinkles bounced around and made a big mess.

The cake was delicious. I used Betty Crocker’s Super Moist rainbox bit cake mix and Wilton’s buttercream icing recipe.

Wanna see inside? Of course you do! Here’s a peek.

Inside a rainbow bit cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

What do you think of my Wiggles cake?

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 wickedgoodies.net 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.

Alice in Wonderland topsy turvy cake

Topsy turvy cake, boxed and ready to go

Topsy turvy cake, boxed and ready to go

WARNING: Topsy turvy cakes are not for the faint of heart.

The visual trickery accomplished with a topsy turvy cake is impressive but the optical illusion can turn into a headache because the cake’s stability is compromised by carving and by its top-heavy design.

Venturing into topsy turvy cake territory

When tackling my first topsy turvy cake, I did a lot of research and read many accounts of collapsed, crumbled cakes. Apparently, these cakes are notorious for disasters.

Connie, a friend and super easygoing customer, requested a topsy turvy cake for a bridal shower, inspired by the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. To keep my cake layers soft and moist, I opted out of using a pound cake recipe in favour of a modified cake mix recipe and I’d later regret that choice.

Although the cake seemed structurally sound by the time it was stacked and picked up for delivery, it leaned overnight. Connie smartly improvised by using a teapot to support the cake’s weight and keep it from toppling over.

Unleashing creativity with cake decorations

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I had lots of fun creating the White Rabbit and Alice figures out of gum paste and fondant and I positioned the figures to look as if they were climbing into the cake. I used a grass tip to add some texture to the white rabbit’s tail.

Painting the roses red was a fun task too, simply achieved by mixing red food colouring gel with a bit of vodka and then applying it with a food-safe brush. The playing cards are made of gum paste and I used an edible-ink marker to draw on the clubs and numbers.

Edible gold shimmer dust helped bring the stopwatch to life and a large gum paste teapot tops the cake. I stenciled some designs onto the teapot to give it some flair and although the pot slouched a bit while drying, I think its imperfect appearance works well with the Mad Hatter theme. It’s a forgiving theme if ever there was one.

When fondant’s really an F-word

I faced major challenges with fondant while working on this cake. Because the larger cake was 6” tall with a 9” diameter, I needed a very large piece of fondant of at least 22” round. Kneading and then rolling a huge hunk of fondant proves difficult for me with my skinny twig arms. But it’s a terrific workout.

I started out using a silicone rolling pin but later found it was much easier to use a traditional wooden rolling pin that allows me put more of my weight into its handles, stretching the fondant more quickly.

But the fondant just wasn’t cooperating. I rolled a piece out six times before covering the top cake with it. First it was too dry. Then it was too soft and stuck to the counter. Then it was too thin and tore. Then it was too thick. You get the gist. Fondant wasn’t my friend that day.

So I used plenty of fondant decorations to cover up the cracks, rips and bumpy areas where I couldn’t work out the fondant’s pleats.

This project was another fine reminder that when cake-decorating problems happen, strategic placement of decorations works wonders.

Slip-proof silicone mats save cakes

silicone-mat

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.

scrolls-pearls-letters

cream-and-black-wedding-cake

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.


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