Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Cake Decorating
Elaborately decorated cakes have become an integral part of many festive occasions, and often become the centre of attention. A range of techniques offers the sugar crafter the chance to create stunning sugar fantasies. At the same time it is a very accessible crafts.
Cakes have been a part of the ritual for major celebrations
since early Greek times. Weddings in particular have rarely been complete
without a special cake. In Greek and Roman celebrations this was
traditionally thrown at or broken over the head of the bride. In Britain
by the time of Elizabeth 1, the bride was still being pelted with small
rectangle fruit and nut cakes.
Perhaps it was a particular bruised bride who decided to turn
the cakes into ornaments to stop them being thrown. Whoever it was, during
the late sixteen hundreds wedding cakes were transformed with almond paste
and royal icing into the centre piece of the wedding feast. Cake
decoration became more and more elaborate as the rich indulged their sugar
Today the sugar craft industry is thriving and still
evolving. Fondant or sugar paste is a relatively recent addition to the
craft. Evolved to withstand hot and humid climates it also provides a
softer covering for cakes and can be moulded into exquisite flowers.
Types of icing
Royal icing – is the traditional mixture piped on to cakes. When soft it can be squeezed into the most delicate traceries of lines and loops which harden into fine, crisp, patterning. The clear definition this icing gives to the design and the way it is used to create stiff, elaborate ornamentation lends a formal appearance to the cake.
Sugarpaste – is a more recent development in sugarcraft. It
has a texture like modelling clay which makes it easy to shape using your
hands. It has a softer overall effect and is perfect for making flowers,
moulding wafer thin petals which can be perfectly coloured.
Before the cake is iced, it is covered in a layer of
marzipan, which is then coated in a smooth layer of either sugar paste or
royal icing. This forms the basis for further decoration.
It is possible to use both types of icing on one cake. For
example the sides may be encrusted with swirls of royal icing, while a
bouquet of sugarpaste flowers sweeps across the cake top.
Designing – Inspiration for the design should be taken from
the event the cake is to celebrate. For parties like weddings and
birthdays, it is a good idea to find out the personal preferences for
people concerned – for instance favourite flowers, colours or hobbies
– and incorporate these into the decoration.
The first thing to decide is the shape of the cake – baking
tins come in all shapes and sizes these days – and the number of tiers
Accurate sketches of the design are drawn up to give a good working brief. Particular attention should be paid to decorating the sides of the cake as this is the part that most guests will be able to see. Beautiful detail on the top may simply be lost from view.
Any templates needed for tracing patterns or collars for
runouts (flat shapes of icing) should be made now. Many patterns used to
decorate cakes are influenced and in some cases directly taken from those
used in needlecrafts; designs for embroidery, crochet, and lace can be
translated into icing with stunning effect.
Piping – A wealth of delicate edgings and three dimensional
ornaments can be created with a piping bag and range of nozzles. Piping
bags can be made simply by rolling a sheet of greaseproof paper into a
cone and snipping off the end. A metal nozzle is then fitted into the hole.
Alternatively you can buy reusable piping bags, or a piping
The secret of successful piping lies in the amount of
pressure applied to the icing. This regulates the thickness of the
strands; too much pressure and uneven blobs will ruin the patterning, too
little will cause breaks to occur. The right pressure combined with a
smooth, steady movement along the surface will give the desired effect,
but it is easier said than done. Try to spend time practising shapes on a
board before attempting to decorate the cake.
Piping normally forms the basis of decoration round the
sides. Larger star nozzles are used to create edgings of shells, sweeping
waves and buttons, encircling the lower and upper edges. These may be over
piped with threads of icing traced in a contrasting colour using a tiny
These narrow nozzles are used to create some of the most magnificent work. Strands of icing may be laid in layers curving and criss crossing the layer underneath to build up intricate trellis borders. This is usually piped straight onto the surface of the cake.
Other fine piping work is done separately on a grease proof
paper or clingfilm spread on a flat surface, and then once dry,
transferred to the cake. Suck work is often bound by a runout border. This
is made by piping an outline in royal icing using a thin nozzle, and then
filling in the shape with icing made of pure albumen powder to give it
Flowers – Sugar flowers are increasingly used instead of
fresh or silk flowers for the final flourish on a cake. With the advent of
fondant icing, the sugarcrafter has been able to make flowers which are
indistinguishable from the real thing without close scrutiny.
Piped flowers tend to be smaller and less life like. A small stand known as a rose nail is used when piping tiny roses. The stand is turned with one hand while the other squeezes the icing bag with an even pressure.
Equipment – A good selection of basic equipment is
essential for professional results. General equipment should include a
flexible palette knife, spatula and wooden spoons, a sieve and a rolling
pin kept solely for icing purposes, otherwise they will carry kitchen
Accurate scales are a must, and an electric mixer will save your arm from aching. Plenty of strong parchment or non stick paper is needed for making icing bags, and waxed paper is essential for run out or finely piped work.
A good turntable is the most expensive item to buy; don’t
buy a cheap one as it will not support a heavy cake well. Buy only a small
selection of piping nozzles to start with, numbers 0, 1 and 2 plain
nozzles for dots, lines and writing, plus a few star nozzles will be
plenty. Small fancy cutters can be bought in addition for making
A pair of tweezers is useful for fine work, as are wooden toothpicks. A tiny plastic rolling pin and board is a good investment if you are going to do lots of flower work.
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