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Pretty Bakes Blog

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

How to make a brush embroidery birthday cake

Ever since I came across SweetAmbsCookies‘ magnificent cookie-decorating videos on YouTube, I wanted to try a brush embroidery design on a cake. So when my niece Lauren gave me free licence to surprise her with the design of her birthday cake, I took the opportunity to make a buttercream cake with floral brush embroidery.

I’ve gained more experience decorating cakes with fondant instead of buttercream so this cake took me out of my comfort zone. While I was happy with the finished look, I encountered a few challenges and gained valuable lessons along the way.

A brush embroidery cake for Lauren.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

A brush embroidery cake for Lauren.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

The trouble with thick buttercream

Most of my problems with this cake started and ended with the consistency of my white buttercream. It was too thick. I should’ve watered it down to medium-to spreading consistency but I’m not sure what went wrong. When I loaded my piping bag and squeezed a bead of icing through a #3 piping tip, I realized my icing was too thick. But I couldn’t turn back now.

Let me tell you, my friends: The strain of piping icing that’s too thick is real. Rather than a nice, smooth flow, you end up with icing that breaks without warning — rude! The effort of squeezing icing out of the bag leaves you with shaky, fatigued hands. Boo! Hiss! Piping flower outlines, “happy birthday”and a pearl border was literally a pain — oh, my aching hands!

How to do brush embroidery on a buttercream cake in 6 steps

Here’s how to keep your brush embroidery cake-decorating easy.

1. Use a flower cookie cutter to gently imprint a flower outline on your cake.

2. Using the imprint as your guide, use a #3 piping tip to pipe the outline of the flower with white buttercream.

3. Use a damp brush to pull icing from the outer edge of your flower’s outline to the center in sweeping strokes. Try to keep the outer edge of the piped outline intact. Can’t quite picture it? Watch this:

4. Pipe a tight comma and overlay it with a tight C to form a knot shape in the middle of the flower.

5. Add leaves and repeat the steps of dragging icing from the outer edges inwards.

6. Randomly add dots of icing to mimic embroidered knots.

And that’s it. Done!

In hindsight, I should’ve used royal icing instead of buttercream for piping the floral brush embroidery. Royal icing would’ve held its shape better than buttercream which seemed to droop over time.

Cake-decorating tip: Use royal icing for a brush embroidery effect.

The cake was a hit with Lauren and her guests. No one guessed I encountered buttercream consistency issues and I gained some new cake-decorating skills and experience.

Want to know how i got a smooth-ish surface on this cake? Read my last post: How to smooth a buttercream cake in 5 easy steps.

 

How to smooth a buttercream cake in 5 easy steps

Ever wonder how some people get a nice, smooth edge on their buttercream cakes? I’ve tried several techniques but I learned that starting with even cake surfaces is best. Follow these five steps for a smooth buttercream cake.

How to get a smooth buttercream finish on a cake

1. Trim away domes, lumps and bumps. Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to trim. Wipe away all crumbs.

2. Apply a thin layer of buttercream to your cake to seal in any crumbs. This is also known as crumb coating. Allow about 10 minutes to dry at room temperature.

Crumb coat. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Crumb coat.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

3. Apply a thick layer of buttercream. How thick? About a 1/4 – 1/2″. Or this thick:

buttercream-thickness

How thick should your buttercream layer be? I recommend 1/2″.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

 

Swipe the edge of your spatula on a bowl’s lip to remove excess icing and smooth the cake’s surface as best as you can.

spatula-smooth-buttercream-cake

Spatula-smooth buttercream cake.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

4. Now, it’s all about allowing your buttercream to crust over. Allow about 15 minutes to dry at room temperature. You might need more time to allow the icing to crust if your buttercream is thin or you’re working in humid conditions. Gently touch an inconspicuous area of the cake. If your finger comes away with no icing on it, you’re ready for the next step.

5. Lay a large strip of parchment paper on the cake to work as a barrier between the icing and your fondant smoothers. Use fondant smoothers to rub and smooth your icing into shape.

Like this:

My cake could’ve used another layer of buttercream to better hide some crumbs I pulled up while crumb coating and more buttercream would’ve given me more room to smooth out lumps and bumps. You need enough icing on your cake so that you can push icing around to fill gaps without revealing the cake’s surface. Match your crumb coat icing colour to the finished icing colour to avoid patches of colour showing through. My cake had a few white patches of crumb coat peeking out in some places.

Allowing buttercream to crust is key to achieving a smooth finish.

You’ll have to use your best judgment to determine how much pressure to apply. Press firmly enough to smooth the icing but not so firm as to leave dents or expose the cake’s surface.

And there you have it! Smooth buttercream.

smooth-buttercream-cake

Smooth buttercream cake. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Want to see how I decorated this cake? Read How to make a brush embroidery cake.

Cake decorating classes, updates and more cakes to come

Hello, folks.

It’s been a long while since I’ve been back with a cake-decorating update. This summer, I was out and about, enjoying every last bit of warm weather and taking a bit of a digital detox. As a community manager, I’m constantly tuned into online conversations so I tried to balance that work need with my personal need to quit looking at a computer screen for excessive amounts of time. It was a much-needed break from technology and I’m happier for it.

Nesting, baking and blogging

Now that fall is officially here and there’s a chill in the air, I’m starting to feel the need to nest, bake and blog. So I’m happy to get back to filling you in on my latest cake-decorating projects. But first, I have some news to share.

In my quest to improve my piping skills, I signed up for some Wilton cake-decorating classes at my local Michaels arts and crafts store. I enjoyed them so much, I signed up for four courses and I’ve been piping with buttercream and royal icing and working with fondant and sugar paste.

Skill-building at cake-decorating classes

I learned a lot within a few months and these classes served as a good reminder that although YouTube is a terrific source of cake-decorating instruction, there’s no substitute from learning from an experienced instructor who’s just a few feet away. Watching my cake-decorating instructor Rebecca in action was the best way to learn and her corrective guidance was most helpful.

Here’s a look at my first class project, a rosette-piped cupcake from my Building Buttercream Skills class.

cupcake-buttercream-rosettes

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Here’s another flower-topped cupcake I practised with my new piping skills.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Here’s a cupcake cake that taught me a valuable lesson about piping consistency and ensuring your buttercream has enough time to crust over before attempting to transfer a pattern via a parchment template.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

And this is what it looks like when I practice piping a shell border.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I’m still learning but I’ve found that the combination of live instruction and practice makes for quick skill-building and added confidence.

I’ll have birthday cakes, a communion cake and more “just because” baking projects to share in the next few weeks as I catch up with writing and image-editing. I hope you have yourself a wonderful weekend.

How to make a fondant piano cake in 5 easy steps

My favourite teenager turned 15 and to celebrate her birthday, I decided to acknowledge another milestone in her life. My niece Mikaela learned to play the piano in the past year and to honour this accomplishment — and her birthday — I made a piano cake.

I’m happy to report that this cake came together easily and with no hiccups along the way. The fondant was smooth, and the decorations were easy to cut and draw.

Here’s how I made this fondant piano cake.

1. Bake, stack and ice cake

Bake a 9″ round, 3-layer cake. Fill and frost cooled cakes with buttercream icing.

Roll white fondant to at least 3/4″ and no thinner. Cover cake in white fondant, smooth fondant and trim excess.

2. Make your marks

Press a ruler's edge into your fondant to make clear indentations. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Press a ruler’s edge into your fondant to make clear indentations.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Use a ruler to gently push vertical indentations into the sides of the cake. Be sure not to push too hard or you’ll cut right through the fondant. Now do you understand why I recommended at least a  3/4″ layer of fondant?

3. Add piano keys; chill out

Black bars of fondant make great piano keys.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Black bars of fondant make great piano keys.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Attach black “keys”of fondant. Refrigerate cake, uncovered.

4. Make a fondant music sheet and folder

Roll a few paper-thin pieces of white fondant. Trim those pieces to music-folder and music-sheet shapes. Allow these pieces to air dry at room temperature overnight.

Cake-decorating tip: Place your fondant to dry on strategically placed drinking straws. This gives your music folder/sheets natural bends, waves and curls and keep them from looking flat.

When fondant is dry, use a fine-tip, food-colouring marker and a ruler to draw music staffs (five lines, four spaces). Draw musical symbols: bars, clefs, notes and other symbols I’m clueless about.

Food colouring markers make cake-decorating easy.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Food colouring markers make cake-decorating easy.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Cake-decorating tip: Use a “Happy Birthday” song sheet to help you draw this song onto your birthday cake decorations.

If you can draw circles and lines, you can draw this. Really. Forget perfection. They’ll get the gist.

5. Attach decorations and finishing touches

Top your cake with your music sheet decorations.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Top your cake with your music sheet decorations.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

I chose to keep the cake clean, with no border. This cake is the first I’ve been able to go borderless with. Most often, I need a border to conceal any imperfections. Luckily, this cake had few flaws to hide.

Fondant piano cake complete! Photo by Jennifer Melo

Fondant piano cake complete!
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Want to see how this cake came together? Vine time!

How to make a Minnie Mouse cake

Is your home filled with the sounds of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? You’re not alone. Walt Disney’s loveable squeaky rodent has captured kids’ hearts since 1928 and is still a much-loved animation today.

Mickey’s main squeeze, Minnie, has been by Mickey’s side from the start and she was an honoured guest at my youngest niece’s birthday party. And the challenge was on: How to make a Minnie Mouse cake.

1. Trace Minnie’s face

Parchment paper templates.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Parchment paper templates.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Find a Minnie Mouse outline to trace. Online search results, colouring books and birthday party invitations are great sources for tracing. My preferred cake template sources are online where I can instantly zoom in/out to get the right size for my cake surface.

With a pencil, trace Minnie’s face, head and bow onto a sheet of parchment paper.

Cut the outline of her head, face, facial features and signature bow.

Roll fondant flat. Place paper templates on top and use a sharp knife to cut fondant to your desired shapes. Connect and stack your fondant pieces to reassemble Minnie’s face. Stick fondant pieces together with gentle brushstrokes of water.

2. Cover cake board and cake in pink fondant

Cake-decorating tip: Keep your fondant-covered cake board clean by laying strips of waxed paper along the edges. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Cake-decorating tip: Keep your fondant-covered cake board clean by laying strips of waxed paper along the edges.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Cover your cake board with pink fondant. Use waxed paper as a shield when positioning your frosted cake on the board. Remove your waxed paper strips when your cake is in place and ta da! You have a clean cake board.

Clean cake board.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Clean cake board.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

 Now here’s the hard part.

Covering large, rectangular or square cakes can be challenging. Practice is the only thing that’s made this task easier for me. I’ve learned I need smooth, pliable fondant and sufficient excess fondant to avoid pleating or cracking at the corners.

Knead and roll out a large sheet of fondant. Measure your cake and add at least 2 inches of excess on each side. It’s better to overestimate and trim rather than underestimate and have to re-roll your fondant, exposing it to air, drying it out, and adding time — and frustration — to your project.

3. Decorate with white polka dots

A piping tip makes a fine cookie cutter.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

A piping tip makes a fine cookie cutter.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Don’t have a small, round cookie cutter? No problem. A piping tip is all you need to punch perfect circles out of fondant.

4. Add Minnie

Minnie Mouse's fondant face  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Minnie Mouse’s fondant face
Photo by Jennifer Melo

This is the most satisfying part for me because here is when you really start to see the cake come together. Attach Minnie’s face to your cake by sticking it in place with water.

See? Now it’s a Minnie Mouse cake. 😉

5. Add finishing touches
Ribbon and bow cake border Photo by Jennifer Melo

Ribbon and bow cake border
Photo by Jennifer Melo

For a cake border, I drew inspiration from Minnie’s girly accessories. A ribbon and bow seemed like the right finishing touch.

I added a personal message by piping decorating gel letters onto dots.

Tip: Pipe letters onto fondant circles before attaching them to the cake. That way, you can easily redo and swap in/out any letters you’re less than happy with.

Note to self: Must practise piping.

How to make a Minnie Mouse cake? Fondant, parchment paper templates, a few finishing touches and mission complete! Ready, set, Vine time!

 

Minnie Mouse cake complete! Photo by Jennifer Melo

Minnie Mouse cake complete!
Photo by Jennifer Melo


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