Cake artistry can be time-consuming and demoralising at times, when you cannot achieve that particular finished look. Sometimes, just the thought of what decorating technique is best to use, can be quite a task in itself.
I am in no way an expert, and know that just about everyone who bakes will have their own fair share of decorating techniques.
I too, have used the ideas and techniques of other well-known cake artists, but applied and made those skills my own. Therefore, in this post I would like to share a list of my most used cake art decorating techniques for you, to adapt and to make your own as well.
In my previous post, I had mentioned piping and stated that my favorite was the Lambeth technique. Despite this, I have to say, piping isn’t one of my strongest decorating skills and like I said, am still developing in this cake art form.
Piping, is a technique that requires great patience and focus. Once you decide to pipe your decorations, it is too late to change your mind (this is speaking from experience).
Unlike painting and smudging, the iced covering may not look so good after you try to wipe it off, should you decide mid way to change your decoration medium. If you do, you may need to gather your wit about you and become very resourceful.
The only time I appreciate a cake turntable is when I do piping. If you have not got one, I suggest you purchase a good quality one that enables you to do your cake artistry with precision.
I have a ‘lazy Susan’ which is okay, but it can turn on its own which makes my piping go wobbly. The only reason I still keep it, is because it was a gift from my sister.
The next thing you should have for piping, are piping bags, piping tips and couplers (each size relevant to its purpose). Your cake/cakes should already be covered in smooth fondant or royal icing, before you pipe.
You can choose, to either be very lavish and sophisticated in your piped decorations, by going for the retro look; intricate lace looking frills and scallops, or, you can use piping to draw cute and basic designs; such lettering/numbers or tiny scallops on the edge.
Whatever skill level you may possess, piping is a technique that all cake artists should have some experience with, even if it is just, to say that you have done it. When I decided to do elaborate piping for the first time, I had to actually psych myself up to get the courage to actually do it.
You see, to me, skilled piping is the pinnacle of cake artistry techniques. Unlike all the other art forms, it gives very little room for errors, especially if it is going on someone’s $3000 wedding cake.
The smear technique is quite modern and very simple. It only requires the use of an icing spatula or smoother to smear patches of different colored icing to or around the circumference of the covered cake, by turning the turntable very slowly as you do this.
This technique is also used, when wanting a marbled pattern effect or making a background for other decorations to be placed on. This is a very easy, and effective technique when wanting something that is quick but still stand out.
Another way to smear is to use a sponge with edible paint straight onto the smoothed fondant and does not require patterns to be aligned.
Okay this the one that I specialize in, more than any other cake art technique.
I have always loved coloring, mixing and using any form of painting. I am not sure where this passion came from as my Grandmother never did anything with painting.
My mother did tell me once, though, now get this, when I was already married, had three kids and divorced; that from the age of four, my parents knew I had a talent for art, when they often caught me hand drawing horses and really difficult forms, and then used coloring pencils to fill in my lined figures.
Now, why did they not see that, and support my talent! I could’ve been a child prodigy, be now famous and living of my art…okay, this is just one of my many “if only…” moments.
I guess life only gives you what you need, at the right time and I have to have some regrets in my life to keep me grounded.
Now, yes, back to the cake painting, well if you love to paint, there are many forms and all use edible paints:
- air brushing – this creates very precise lines and shades
- hand painting – using brushes
- water painting affects
- painting onto or on top of a stencil
- roller painting
- brush brushing or dabbing
- spray painting
- sponge painting
- paint air blowing
Now you can see why I get so excited with painting, it has no limitations to what I can do and use.
Pearl dusts and colored dusting has become a very popular way of coloring fondant or royal icing without the added mess of liquids. These dusts are edible powders that are supplied in various colors. They can be used to create edible paint with a little mix of vodka, but also dusted straight onto hand made toppers.
The latter technique gives a beautiful effect to flower petals and add an almost realistic blush/hue. Dusting is also useful for shading highlights on the faces of figurines and modeled toppers.
If there is one advice to give here, do not buy cheap stencils that will break, or not stick to your cake. There, I think this pretty much explains what comes next.
Stenciling can be just as difficult to correct as the piping technique. Stencils are made from rectangular plastics cut with intricate designs and shapes. Some are worded phrases or letters/numbers and others are of filigrees and lace designs.
Stencils are held in place to the covered cake with sewing pins or craft pins, and icing is then smoothed with a spatula on top of the stencil. Afterwards, the stencil is removed the designs remain imprinted on the cake icing.
Another form of stenciling, that I personally use in conjunction with piping is imprinting, by using a piece of hard plastic or an A5 clear thin piece of glass (usually recycled from a small photo frame).
I use royal icing (which hardens very well) to draw the outline of an image or shape. I leave this for a few hours to harden and then use the glass or plastic to press the imprints onto my cake and then either paint the colours into them or pipe the outlines with royal icing.
Imprints, Embossing, Texturing
Imprints, embossing and texturing are all similar, in which they use impression mats, rollers and textured mediums to create different patterns on icing to give a specific appearance or dimension. I have included some examples below in how each can be used:
Imprint – very much like a stencil but the mat is created from silicon and engraved with the shapes or designs. This mat is pressed onto fondant covering to give an elaborate patterned texture.
Emboss – this too uses a mat but not made of silicon. The patterns are imprinted onto either small shaped plungers or on elaborately patterned metal plates. These are pressed either straight onto the covered cake or onto the rolled icing and then pasted to the iced cake. This also has an opposite method called debossing, used exactly in the same way, but displays the opposite effect.
Texturing – this technique is useful when, for example you would like to make a wooden treasure box and require the right texture. These use, imprinted mats as well as patterned rollers or patterned tools to create the right textures.
Overlayering and laces
Both overlayering and lace artistry techniques use fondant icing.
As the name states overlayering, is when fondant shapes are either cut by knife, or shape cutters, and then pasted onto the fondant covering, layer by layer. These give a beautiful and clean looking effect. This technique alongside the smudging technique is probably the easiest cake art technique to follow in my view.
I think my reason for this, is because it brings me happy childhood memories of my kindergarten days playing with colorful play dough.
Lace techniques, require a little more skill and finesse. If you do not have delicate touch, don’t bother, just buy the ready-made ones.
I have made a few of my own following easy homemade lace recipes and of course using expensive lace mats that I had to order on the internet. The difficulty of lacing is, when trying to remove the damned lace from the mat.
My impatience can sometimes get the better of me and instead of tearing the dried lace carefully, I end up pulling the lace out of proportion altogether and tearing it apart. This is my main frustration with laces.
I am not a fan of these, for the main fact that they are an added expense. I would rather paint metallic silver or gold and not have to pay for an expensive sheet of paper that ends up being shredded to be pasted on cakes. Nevertheless, most customers like the modern ‘ad hoc’ or rustic look of ripped gold and I do have to admit, it is art after all.
Spinning sugar and making sugar glass can add effective looks to any cake art. Spun sugar is a food art in itself, and can be used for more purposes other than just decoration.
This technique is not for the faint-hearted, it requires exemplary skills to not only to cook but also to handle. This is another cake art form that I am working towards mastering, amongst they are a rare decorating request amoung my Tongan customers.
Sugar glassmaking, is yet another artistry technique that needs skill to prepare and shape. This decoration is useful when creating windows for a gingerbread house cake, or making a snow glacier themed cake. Although quite difficult at first, sugar glass can be a fun addition to any cake and make you very popular with the kids.
Just remember that both these artistry techniques require the correct tools and most specifically; a food cooking thermometer. This is one of the items I had listed in my ‘Basic Kitchen Rules-for Cake Artistry’ post.
Home made edible toppers are really fun, and anyone who played with play dough as a child will enjoy this technique even without any artistic back ground.
There are many YouTube videos posted to give step by step instructions and the internet has many guided posts. There are many tool kits also, produced to assist and make it easier to create your own toppers.
However, toppers can consist of just about anything that can be imagined; from the most extraordinary to the most basic, whether edible or not, such as:
- hand made – pictures, edible flowers, animals, toys, figurines, jewelry, adult themed or children themed, fantasy or science fiction etc.,
- by 3D printing – using pretty much anything, but this too, is an added expensive
- using silicone moulds – using your own or a store bought moulding dough
- non- edible items – i.e., toys, ribbons, lettering, real flowers etc.,
- nature/rustic – twigs or dried fruit and leaves
Shapes and forms, using decorating chocolate can be great but not so practical, when you live in a hot temperate location. Chocolate decorations are most popular during easter or Christmas.
It is easily pliable and a great medium for lettering and piping drippings off the edge of cakes. Nowadays chocolate can be flavoured and coloured to unique specifications. They can also be moulded and shaped to add beautiful sculptured art decorations.
A quick way of adding chocolate toppers is to just buy chocolate lollies like pebbles and throw them on top, if you are running out of time or you just want to add a fun looking cake for a child’s party.
Not many people reaslise it, but this form of decorating has crept into artistry and is gaining popularity. Adding a couple of wafers biscuits, meringues, macaron or even cupcakes are now acceptable forms of cake art. Add a little sprinkle of gold dust or dribbled chocolate with some little edible flowers and you have a masterpiece.
Baked goods can be either bought or home-made, but I prefer the latter. Other baked goods such as chocolate covered fingers and Tim-tams can be used as structural support too.
The techniques that I have briefly explained are my most used cake art decorating techniques. I may choose to use just one on its own, or use several techniques together to ensure the specific design or look that I am aiming at.
This is not an exhaustive list as I am sure that you may have your own techniques that are not listed here, however these are only my own and I am more than happy for you to share or comment about yours.
I still prefer to make everything from scratch but there are those rare occasions, where it is not my call, but the exact request of the customer, to add a non-edible topper or natural floral decoration.
I hope that my post be of help to anyone who wants to further improve their skills in cake artistry. Please do not hesitate to ask any questions by leaving me a comment.
See you in my next post,