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Pretty Bakes Blog

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

Archive of ‘Cakes’ category

Ivory, black and white wedding cake

When my dear friend Natalie asked me to make her wedding cake, I reluctantly agreed.

Natalie’s one of my best friends in the whole wide world and she’s very supportive of me and my cake decorating. She easily has more confidence in my cake-decorating skills than I do. I had never attempted a wedding cake before, my fondant cakes were far from perfect, and I really didn’t want to screw up Natalie’s wedding cake.

She’s no Bridezilla

I warned her that I’m no professional cake decorator but if she was prepared to have a seriously flawed wedding cake, I’d be happy to accept the challenge.

Nat was far from a Bridezilla. She wasn’t finicky about having a perfect cake — it was more meaningful for her to have a cake made by moi and she calmed me by saying all she really wanted was a little something to cut into with her husband-to-be, John, at the reception. She didn’t care if the cake was flawed. And so I set out to make the best cake I could make.

Invitation-inspired wedding cake design

Nats-wedding-inviteIt would be a three-tiered white buttermilk cake, plus an extra square cake that wouldn’t be on display but would provide enough servings for all 200+ guests.

Natalie helped take the pressure off this project by making my standby buttercream icing recipe herself — all six or so batches — so I could focus on cake baking and decorating.

The style of the cake was inspired by the neutral color scheme of her wedding invitation: white and champagne-coloured damask, with black lettering.

I bought ivory fondant to cover the cakes, there’d be white fondant accents and a simple monogram with black letters.

Cake design inspiration

With a scan of Natalie and John’s wedding invitation and help from myfonts.com, I found lettering that resembled the font (Bickham Script) on her wedding invitation so I used my word processing software to make a parchment paper template.

Next, I traced the lettering onto parchment paper and placed it on a fondant oval I cut with a cookie cutter. Then I gently traced over the lettering with a modelling tool, removing the parchment paper when I was done and leaving a lettered impression in the fondant oval.

I rolled and hand-shaped the initials with black fondant, I lightly moistened the lettering inscribed in the plaque with water, and I pressed the fondant letters into place, pinching the ends for sharp, elegant edges.

I used Wilton’s baroque fondant and gum paste mold ($10) to make the scrolls and pearl borders. And then I painted the pearls with an edible pearl shimmer.

fondantmold-scroll

By the time I finished decorating, I was quite proud of myself. There were no rips or major cracks in the fondant and the sides looked quite smooth. Overall, I’d say it was my best fondant cake to date. Not too bad for an amateur, I thought.

cream-and-black-wedding-cake

Time to move that cake

With the cake decorating done, it was time to transport it and deliver it to the reception venue. I knew this would be a challenge because typically, I travel with smaller cakes to familiar homes where I can stack the cakes onsite and once stacked, the cakes don’t have to travel very far.

This would be my first time transporting a large, heavy, stacked cake but I’d manage it somehow, or so I thought.

That was until I dented my best friend’s wedding cake…

Go Portugal! Happy Father’s Day cake

Portugal flag cake

Go Portugal! cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I made this cake on a whim for Father’s Day last year. I baked it, cooled it, filled it, stacked it, frosted it and decorated it in a few hours. And I was only just a little late for a family gathering. But no one minds if you’re late when you show up with cake. No one who wants to enjoy that cake, anyway. 🙂

It’s a triple-layered white butter cake with vanilla buttercream icing. I topped it with a fondant Portugal flag in honour of Father’s Day 2012, when my family got together and watched a Portugal vs. Holland soccer match. It must’ve done the trick because Portugal won that game. Better yet, Papa Melo was very impressed with the cake.

Here, I’ll reveal how I created that fondant flag. You didn’t think I winged it, did you? I can’t draw worth Jack.

How to make a fondant flag

1. Google “Portugal flag”. Find a graphic one that’s about the right size for your cake. Tip: Use your web browser’s zoom function to quickly find the best sizing for your cake (check the View or Window menus).

2. Place parchment paper on your screen. Trace the flag elements onto the parchment paper using a pencil. You could print the page you’ll use for a template but personally, I like how the glow of the monitor clearly illuminates outlines for tracing — plus, this method saves paper and ink.

3. Work in layers. For example, the outline of the flag is layer 1, the round emblem is layer 2, the shield is layer 3, the smaller shield is layer 4 and so on. I freehanded the smallest shapes because, really, this cake was for a casual affair — let’s not get crazy with the tracing, people.

Parchment paper templates

Parchment paper templates for a Portugal flag. Photo by Jennifer Melo

4. Tint your fondant using food colouring. I didn’t have food-safe gloves so to keep from staining my hands, I kneaded the fondant and food colouring in a plastic food-safe bag (ahem, Zip-loc!).

I wanted rich, vibrant colour so I used just about all of my red food colouring to get the red colour you see in the photo. The colour would’ve deepened more if I left it to sit overnight but whims and preparation don’t get along. I like to improvise every now and then.

5. Roll out your fondant, place the templates over top and cut your shapes per the templates. Round cookie cutters will help you to cut neat round shapes and a knife helps to cut irregular shapes, with the guidance of your parchment paper templates. Use a light touch when holding your parchment paper in place to avoid denting the smooth fondant’s surface.

6. Piece, stack and stick your fondant shapes together with water and before you know, you have a decent-looking flag.

Go Portugal, go!

Lavender buttercream rose cake. 3 steps to a pretty cake

It was my friend Jen’s birthday in March and that, my dear friends, meant it was time for cake. Yay! Hooray! Yippee! Time for cake!

When I asked Jen what kind of cake she wanted, she gave me free rein by answering “surprise me.”

I’ve wanted to try to do a rose-piped buttercream cake because it’s pretty and feminine and cool. Just like my friend Jen.

I texted Jen with some options:

Vanilla or lemon?

Vanilla.

Pink, purple or white?

Purple.

In a fine feat of mind-reading, Jen’s chose the selections I would’ve made.

One thing I should mention right away: Piping is not my strong suit. With no official cake-decorating training, I haven’t logged enough practice time with a piping bag so I definitely lack confidence when it comes to piping.

Before I could convince myself to try something easier, I embraced the challenge and knew it’d be a good learning opportunity. There’s no time like the present to get that piping practice time.

1. Find inspiration and instruction

First, I searched online for some inspiration photos. I found lovely examples of buttercream rose cakes at 52kitchenadventures.com and adventuresinsavings.comSo purdy!

Then I watched a few video tutorials that demonstrate the technique for piping large buttercream roses. Like this one….

2. Practise piping technique

With my research complete, it was time to get piping. I used a piping bag with a 1M Wilton star tip. It looks like this:

1M Wilton tip

The 1M Wilton tip is a medium-sized star tip that’s great for piping roses. Photo by Jennifer Melo

And then I cued up the camera so you could see what I was doing. See?

3. Pipe buttercream roses
Then I just kept piping roses. Even when some roses turned out smooshy and air pockets made a stream of icing break off when I least expected it. I told my inner perfectionist to get lost and before I knew it — Hey look! I made a buttercream rose cake. Yay! Not too shabby.

Buttercream-rose-cake

 

Buttercream-rose-closeup

buttercream-rose-cake-overhead

3 lessons learned
1. Aim for a consistent size with each rose piped. See that big rose on the top of the cake? I sort of spazzed out when I was running out of space so I just swirled a large rose but now I see I could’ve squeezed in an extra few roses and kept them looking more uniform in size.

2. Give yourself some space between roses to allow the buttercream to flow into the empty spaces while you pipe. You can fill in empty spaces with swipes of buttercream later or as you go along.

3. Most importantly, icing consistency is key. Your icing should be soft enough to flow without breaking but firm enough to hold the rose’s shape.

You need a whole lotta icing

For this 6”, four-layer cake, I used a double batch of Wilton’s buttercream recipe and I omitted 2 tbsp of milk. I refrigerated the buttercream overnight in a glass bowl, covered with plastic wrap.

Then I brought the icing to a slightly chilled room temperature (about 20 minutes, left out on the countertop). I mixed the buttercream with two stripes of violet gel food colouring loaded onto two toothpicks. After filling a piping bag with buttercream, I covered the bowl with cold, damp paper towels to prevent the remaining icing from crusting over and drying out.

Here are the recipes I used to make this cake:

Vanilla cake from joyofbaking.com.
Buttecream icing at wilton.com.

I think this cake would make a lovely dessert for Mother’s Day. What do you think?

Fondant jewelry box cake

Fondant jewelry box cake

Fondant jewelry box cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

My niece Lauren is a true girly girl. Give her clothes for her birthday and she’ll put on a fashion show for you, modelling her new outfits with a joyful spring in her step. This may or may not have happened yesterday at her birthday party. 😉

Lauren loves makeup, nail polish, perfume and accessories like jewelry. When I considered a cake design for her 9th birthday, my choices were either a One Direction cake or a girly girl cake. Since a One Direction cake would probably be beyond my skill level, a girly girl cake was the way to go.

It starts with a jewelry box vision

A heart-shaped jewelry box came to mind and that’s the inspiration behind this cake. I started with the fondant jewelry box and made the rest up  as I went along. It evolved into girls’ trinkets on a dusty rose dresser.

My baroque fondant and gumpaste mold really came in handy for this project. I used it to make the silver rose, heart, scrolls, bracelet and white pearls.

Then I added a store-bought tiara and a candy ring pop to finish the look.

How to paint fondant silver

To paint some of the fondant silver, I used Wilton’s silver pearl dust mixed with a few drops of vodka. The vodka evaporates as it dries.

For best results, I learned I should use very little vodka to just slightly dampen the fondant. And then swirl more pearl dust on to adhere it to the fondant, and buff the whole thing with a brush, using small circular motions. I found it was best to work in two coats. Brush on the vodka and dust mix and then go over it again with just the dust.

How to make dusty rose with food colouring

To tint fondant a dusty rose colour rather than bubble gum pink, use 2 parts red and 1 part brown food colouring.

What’s under all that fondant?

I tried a new Vanilla Sponge Cake recipe from Cake Art by The Culinary Institute of America and a new whipped cream icing recipe from’s Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. The cake was yummy so I’ll probably make it again but it turned out too dry. Note for next time: Bake for 20-25 minutes instead of 30.

Sponge cake acts like a…sponge

The whipped cream filling was a departure from my go-to buttercream recipe. The cake absorbed much of the whipped cream icing so it didn’t look like there was much icing between the cake layers. Hmph. I wonder if that’s usual for whipped cream icing or if the dry sponge cake soaked up all that moisture.

I prefer the whipped cream icing’s flavour over buttercream  — it has a milky but less sweet taste — but whipped cream icing has a downside. You can’t leave your cake unrefrigerated for too long since it’s a cream-based icing. Like butter, buttercream is more shelf-stable.

That’s enough chatter for now. You wanna see more pictures, don’t you? Cue the photo gallery!

Wacky spring garden cake

Update: My niece Lauren’s birthday party is coming up this weekend so I’m busy making her cake. I’ll show you what I’m working on tomorrow but in the meantime, let’s revisit the wacky garden cake I made a couple of years ago. It’s one of my favourites. I can tell you this year’s cake won’t be accented with “dirt” or worms.

Spring’s arrival is a fine time to show you my niece Lauren’s wacky spring garden cake.

I wanted to get creative when I made Lauren’s birthday cake. I was inspired by flower pot cakes I saw online so a spring garden-themed cake would do nicely and I was excited to use crushed cookies for dirt.

Wacky spring garden cake

Wacky spring garden cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Store-bought cake accessories

I went to the dollar store in search of accessories. For some strange reason, using store-bought decorations made me feel like I was somehow cheating. But I decided that’s silly.

There’s no reason everything on the cake needs to be edible and handmade, is there? I found giant felt flowers and pretty paper butterflies in the scrapbooking section. I liked the idea of going big with the flowers for a more dramatic, fun and wacky effect. I also picked up the happy birthday candles which are great for folks like me who aren’t so comfortable piping letters.

When cake-decorating mistakes go right

I rolled a big piece of fondant to cover the cake and cut an 8″ rectangle in the center to leave a hole on top of the cake. I’d fill that hole with crushed cookies. Of course, when I lifted the fondant to cover the cake, that hole stretched like crazy and left the sides of the cake wide open too. Although that wasn’t my intention, I actually liked how it looked.

It was tricky to cover the sides of the cake with crushed cookies without making a big mess. I tilted the cake on its base, packed some crushed cookies into the buttercream, made a big mess, and dusted off the excess crumbs with paper towels. Gardens are messy so it’s all good.

The art of hiding imperfections

I added a white fondant fence around the cake and then piped some grass for a border. The grass looked more like leaves so I added fondant leaves here and there. Because my piping technique isn’t so good, fondant leaves were my safety net and I liked how they helped disguise any piping weirdness. The row of hedges you see at the top, right side of the cake covers a giant crack in the fondant.

My cake dome would’ve crushed the flowers and butterflies so I added those onsite while my family milled about. I was sure to keep the paper butterflies and felt flowers well out of reach of the candles’ flames and there were no incidents.

Tip: Consider flammable parts when using accessories to decorate cakes and place them strategically to avoid fire hazards. If needed, remove flammable accessories before lighting candles.

In my hurry to assemble everything, I forgot the finishing touch. Gummy worms!

gummy worm on a garden cake

I forgot to add the gummy worms! Photo by Jennifer Melo


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