First thing is first, before any creative decorating or cake artistry, there are a few basic standard requirements that we need to look at first; to ensure that the people eating our delicious creations do not fall off their seats and die while doing so, or that we hurt ourselves, during our work.
I am a stickler for hygiene and safety, especially when it comes to my food handling, whether it be for my own family or anyone else.
Therefore, I suggest a few kitchen safety rules below, to consider before you start on your cake art.
Food Handling & Safety
Back in my Nana’s days, food safety standards, were quite lax, anybody could prepare anything edible and sell at the local flea market (this is what we called markets in New Zealand, in case you thought we sold fleas) or on the street straight out of their home kitchen. During this time, ‘flash’ and expensive restaurants would allow patrons to take left overs home in a “doggy bag”.
Now days, you cannot prepare and sell precooked food, without a basic food safety certificate and restaurants will not allow anyone to take any food home, no matter how much is left over, and all that yummy food will go straight to the garbage bins.
When I first started cake artistry, I was weary of these law changes but, did not think it was relevant because I did not sell much, however, I did make a lot of food for church and many other public social gatherings. Hence, I decided to enroll into a basic food safety course for these reasons. My initial purpose, was to just get something in paper to prove I was safe with food, however I came out of that course, with a much more thorough understanding of health and safety – not just for food preparation but in all areas of my life.
Therefore, whether you plan on, only creating cake art for yourself or others, it is a good idea to attend a basic food safety certificate course, so that you can understand every aspect of food preparation, and to ensure that you do not kill anyone with your cakes.
You can easily search for a course near you and book online. The courses are only one day block courses and cost between $130 to $200. Courses are held either at night or day time, depending on the organisation’s that run them.
The time and cost involved with achieving the basic food safety certificate are quite small compared to the invaluable knowledge that you will gain, from doing the course itself.
Nevertheless, if you cannot be bothered, or time and money is a restriction, I have listed a brief outline of what I learned, for you below, so that you ensure you practice safe and healthy food practices before, during and after your cake art.
- Wash, Wash, Wash
– Shall I say it again: wash your hands with warm water and plain soap before and after handling food items or utensils. The food Safety course tutor advised us to sing the “happy birthday song” each time we washed our hands, because 20 seconds, is how long it takes to sing the lyrics. Even when we use gloves, we still need to wash our hands frequently.
– Use products that will prevent up to 99% germs but will not poison people. I believe this should be quite straight forward. Also, cleaning items should be kept in a separate room or storage area away from food areas. Make sure that all working and food storage areas are free of pests and at least 99% free of germs.
- Prevent cross-contamination
– Label or use different items that should be used for different purposes, i.e., dish washing cloths for food utensils kept separate from bench wiping cloths, or using different drying tea towels (I like to use paper towels instead of cloths, its less washing later).- Ensure that cakes are stored in the correct temperature and storage packages, away from raw meats or other foods that can cause cross-contamination.- Ingredients should be fresh (especially in the case of eggs or milk) and current to the use by dates.- Try not to taste your food straight from the spoon or lick your fingers, which I am sure we are all guilty of.- Do not cook, bake and especially decorate while you are sick. You may need to decline the cake order for your safety and more importantly the safety of others.
- Wear and use safety gear at all times
– cover or tie long hair and use no nail embellishments, the worst thing you want to hear is your nail or hair was part of your cake art. I guarantee you that you will never hear from that customer again or be invited to decorate cake for that person again.
NB: this is only a brief outline and may/may not be what is required in your country of residence. I suggest that you do some research and follow the guidelines of your local government’s food health and safety legislation.
Preparing The Work Area
People are amazed that I can create and design cakes from the confinement of my home.
Some people, have the luxury to afford a commercial kitchen or rent a commercial space for their work, however, I am not one of those people and probably have one of the smallest kitchen areas to work from.
Personally, I believe art is not confined to space at all but what you make of it. Having watched and learned from my Nana all those years ago, has taught me that even poverty cannot stop your creativeness. What can prevent it, though, is, when there are no plans or preparations involved.
Also, I do not get cake orders that often, to warrant the need for a long term commercial space.
When I do get an order, I use whatever resources I have at hand. I recently had an order for 14 wedding cakes (which is considered minimal for a traditional Tongan wedding).
I am not sure how other people prepare their work areas, stations, or kitchens, but because of my limited kitchen space, I utilise both the living room and dining spaces also (which are adjacent to the kitchen), especially for large orders.
If required, I give my family a months notice, that these areas will be out of bounds for those specific dates.
My family know that this means: mum is working and expect to either starve for three or four days or be sociable and eat at someone else’s home. I myself, view it as my personal ‘time out’.
First, I move any furniture that is not needed out of the way except for the tables (coffee table and included).
I usually remove any decorative items out to the garage (this forces me to later reorganize my living spaces, recycle or throw away things, when they are later returned – several birds killed with one stone, right), and after this, I use my room separators to divide the rooms into four parts, with a table each, for:
- Torting and sculpting
I have white woolen carpet, which is a nightmare to clean, I am really envious of people who have wooden or tiled floors. I lay old bed sheet covers under the table and on all the flooring spaces that I will be trafficking through, while I work (I have learned the hard way, that no matter how careful).
Accidents do happen, and very badly sometimes.
I always clean and cover each table, with thick plastic film (Food grade), to ensure no unwanted food coloring or scratches remains later. My curtains are tied back for lots of light and now my work area is prepared.
Just before I begin, I do a mental visualization to check that my layout will be safe for me to easily maneuver around.
Note: Ensure that you have extra space in your fridge or have a chiller, especially for storing butter-creamed creations.
My Cake Art Equipment
I have compiled a list of my most essential cake artistry equipment that you may like to add to your usual baking utensils.
By usual, I mean items such as, a rolling pin, fondant mat, shape cutters etc., which I assume most home bakers should already possess.
Remember, that I am talking specifically about cake art here, with the assumption that those reading my page, already have a fair idea, how to cover/ice a cake, with a few added decors. Cake artistry goes beyond this basic cake decorating.
I buy my items from both online stores and from opportunity shops (my favorite place to find treasures at bargain prices).
Each cake artist will have their own basic list, but I have a variety of equipment that I use for certain types of decorating and creating, and some were not initially created to be used on cakes. You will see what I mean as you go through my list below:
- Latex gloves (food grade)
- Set of cake paint brushes (if you buy art ones – they need to be quality and food grade, without chemicals)
- Icing Spatula Set
- Art craft knife
- Graphite pencil (I use these to transfer and even sketch my designs on fondant/royal icing)
- Modeling Tools
- Wooden Skewers (great for making cake toppers)
- Food coloring gels
- Cling wrap
- Baking/Wax paper
- Aluminum foil (only used to shape and dry my floral decorations)
- Small pizza cutter
- Knife set
- Foam block – for shaping flower petals and leaves
- Air brush kit
- Oil spray
- Water spray bottle
- Disposable pastry bags
- Fondant smoother
- Set of plastic scrapers
- Large stainless steel scraper
- Edible markers
- Wafer paper
- Wafer paper cutters
- Petal and leaf cutters
- Tylose – used as glue or to harden fondant when making figurines/models
- Box cutters – useful when cutting templates or foam shapes
- Icing tips set
- large kitchen stand mixer
- Hand held mixer
- Set of cutlery
- Set of mixing bowls
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Food scale
- Empty clean egg cartons – to dry petals and leaves on foil
- large straws – used for construction
- Edible pearl dust
- Edible god or silver transfers
- File dividers – for cutting templates
- Food grade silicon – to make own fondant molds
- 50cm rulers
- Measuring tape
- Square sponge – used to shape wafer paper shapes
- Small Steamer – to manipulate the form wafer paper
- Graphite pencil – to sketch designs or transfer tracing onto fondant
- Cake turntable – I have a lazy Susie which performs just as well
- Food thermometer – for heating sugar
- Food scale – electronic is best for accuracy
- Plastic transparency paper
This list, can be tailored to your own needs, and how frequent you use them, but this is my own most used cake artistry equipment.
You Do You
What I have shared above are guidelines and what I do comes from a passion inspired by my grandmother.
However, I have made my cake art using my own unique personality. Your creativity and motivation comes from yourself and can be drawn from things that inspired you in your own personal life experiences.
You can learn skills but you cannot learn attitude or personality, it has to come from within your heart. Your creations will taste so much better and look much more unique, when you add a lot of love to it.
Therefore, in summary, before you create any cake art, remember to follow my basic kitchen safety rules:
- Food handling & Safety – either enrol into a basic food safety certificate (within your location) or follow my brief guidelines.
- Prepare the work area to make sure everything is safe and cleaned to at least 99% germ free.
- Prepare, clean and have all your cake artistry equipment laid out ready to start.
- Use your own unique personality in your creations, as this will drive your passion.
I hope this post will be useful or adds a little more to your own work space strategies.
Feel free to leave any comments, as I love to learn and connect with other like-minded souls.