Friday, May 25, 2012

Ask Me Anything - Post 6

Ask me anything is a weekly post where I answer any questions you may have about me. Cake decorating related or not :)

This post is dedicated to my best friend - the barrel cake aka the extended tiered cake.

Why is it my best friend you ask? Well, because when I first started decorating (and was so naive) I thought covering a slightly taller tier would be no harder than a regular tier. Yes I can hear all of you sniggering at me now.

So for my first ever wedding cake I agreed to make an extended tiered cake and have it plain (because this was cheaper for the client and less work for me right?).

You know how I always say you learn from your mistakes? Well I promise you after the experience of staying up until 5am the night before the wedding and having to recover the tier three times, I well and truly learnt my lesson. So the question below has pretty much been summarised from the multiple questions I received on this topic.

How would I go about covering a double barrel cake? How is it set up inside? How do I get the sharp edges?


Depending on your design there are a couple of ways to cover a double/triple/ extended tier. There is no right way. You need to choose the best way based on your design/ abilities but generally if the height of the tier is more than the width of the tier, the best way would be to wrap the fondant around the cake. I always go with the easiest/ less risky option based on my design. There is no point trying to be a fondant hero - in the end no one will know how that tier was covered except you!

Wrapping - I use this option the most. This is when you roll a long rectangular piece of fondant and wrap it around the tier and gather the top right into the middle (imagine a dumpling) and then trim off the access. Yes it will be really messy in the middle of the top of the cake, but if another tier is going on top of this then there are no issues. You will need to cut the seam down the sides so that they join and then use your hands to blend the seams together. How well the seam blends in depends on how fast you work. With this method you will need to design to hide the seam (for example, stripes, polka dots, stencilling...etc).

Top Down - This is when you cover the extended tier the same way as a regular tier. I would only recommended doing this if you have no choice but I will never do this for a cake that is more than a double barrel cake. That is just cake suicide.

Wrap and Top Lid - This is when you cover the top area separately and then wrap the fondant just around the side of the tier. This is the easier option but will also leave you with two seams you need to cover. The one around the top of the cake and the one on the side.

Set Up:

The double/ triple barrels are set up in a similar fashion as a tiered cake. Like tiered cakes, it needs to have boards between the cakes and well as dowels. The only thing that is different is that the boards that are between the cakes should be one size smaller than the cakes itself. That way the boards are not poking out and will not leave a mark in the fondant when it's covered.

Sharp Edges:

This is done the same way as a regular cake with the fondant smoothers. You can refer to this previous post.

If you’d like to ask a question feel free to email me ( or send me a message through Facebook.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ask Me Anything - Post 5

Ask me anything is a weekly post where I answer any questions you may have about me. Cake decorating related or not :)

When ganaching a cake, many people recommend to let set overnight before applying fondant (to achieve sharp edges and so on) but in a professional environment when time is precious, isn't it the same to just put the cake in the fridge to chill and then cover in the same day?

While it is possible to ganache and cover a cake on the same day, I would recommend letting the cake 'rest' over night. This way the ganache sets nice and hard. It is also possible to place the ganached cake in the fridge for a couple of minutes to quicken the process, but I find that it is still not as firm as letting rest over night. If you put the cake in the fridge for too long, you will find the condensation will make the fondant sweat and you will need to allow it to come back to room temperature before covering.

In a professional environment, I would spend one day ganaching all the cakes I have for the week and then the next day covering them all.

Do you think community college cake decorating courses are old fashioned in terms of techniques used in comparison to all the other classes on offer by private companies?

Personally, I think community college classes are old fashioned in terms of the design styles they teach. Their techniques however, are still great and they will be a good solid foundation to your cake decorating skills. It's then up to you to apply these techniques to more modern designs.

I love the vertical stripes that you do, I have struggled doing these so precisely and straight in the past, what advice would you offer how to do these well?

Firstly, make sure the fondant stripes you cut are straight/even. Then the first stripe that is applied to the cake is the most important. It pretty much sets the 'bar' for the rest of the stripes. So when you apply it, take the time to ensure it is really straight by using a edge of a ruler to push against the fondant stripe. If it's a bit wonky, use a clean knife to trim off the uneven parts. Then when you apply the next stripe, it should sit right against the first one. Again, use the ruler and knife (if needed) to even it out. ALWAYS make sure you take a step back and look at the cake as a whole after every couple of stripes. This is to make sure that you catch any wonky or uneven stripes before it's too late.

If you’d like to ask a question feel free to email me ( or send me a message through Facebook.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two Little Birdies

It all started years ago with an illustration....

From that, two little humble birdies and a cake design was born...

And since then these little birdies have inspired countless cake designs and melted lots of hearts with their cute nature and their original cake design. Here are just some of them -

Tweet, Tweet! I have a feeling they will continue to be around for awhile :)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ask Me Anything - Post 4

Ask me anything is a weekly post where I answer any questions you may have about me. Cake decorating related or not :)

So this post is to answer the mother of all questions. I got so many messages, emails and posts about this question I have decided to dedicate a whole Ask Me Anything Post to answer it. In fact, I think no one will have anything else to ask me after this :P

How do you get those sharp edges on your cakes?

Ok so sharp edges on a cake is not magic. It's about using the right ingredients (ganache), setting up the cake correctly and using the right pressure when dealing with the fondant.

The most stable way to set up a cake is to use ganache. I don't use buttercream because it does not set hard (unless it's placed in the fridge but then that is another whole basket of problems). So please don't ask me how to get sharp edges using buttercream. If you really must have buttercream in your cake, I would suggest filling the layers with buttercream and using ganache for the sides and top - kind of like creating a shell.

Once the cake is ganached properly (sides are straight and top is flat) with nice sharp edges, you will find that it also sets nice and hard. If needed, you can use a spatula dipped in hot water to smooth out any lumps and bumps. I usually let my ganached cake sit in an air-con room overnight before covering it.

If you don't have a solid foundation like the above it will not be possible to achieve the final result.

When you roll out the fondant to cover the cake, it needs to be around 3 - 5mm thick. Too thin and it becomes really hard to cover the cake and the fondant will become see through. Too thick and you are guaranteed not to get neat sharp edges.

Once you cover the cake, you will find that that if you have done the above correctly, the sharpness of the edges will begin to show. All you need to do now is to smooth the cake and sharpen the edges a little more.

This is done by using two smoothers like shown below. You need to place equal amounts of pressure and work on going back and forth along the edges of the cake in smooth strokes. This is where you need to practise to understand the amount of pressure you need to use to achieve your sharp edges.

I promise, it's not hard. But it does take practise and getting all the above elements correct.

If you’d like to ask a question feel free to email me ( or send me a message through Facebook.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Custom Cakes and Economies of Scale

In a world of mass produced consumer goods and outsourcing, I think we have all come to expect things to be better, faster and cheaper.

Which is true when manufacturing gets done offshore in countries with a lower cost of living and people improve machines to work more efficiently. But in an industry like custom cake decorating, let's not forget that everything is made with these -

Hands. Sure, there are certain elements that can be bought to place on cakes but it is not always possible to get the right size, shape and colour the client wants. Plus, good artists pride themselves in making all the elements themselves. I think it's true for me to say that with most decorators, the cake and decorations are not made more than one week in advance and every element in the cake is made by hand and totally customisable - from the colours, to the size of the flowers and even how the stripes and dots are laid out.

It took just about 6 hours to pipe all the detailed print on this cake.

So based on the above it is to be expected that we don't just have machines or stock on hand to take advantage of economies of scale. Each project is always different from start to finish and unlike a printer (for example) just because a client orders more does not mean it takes a decorator any less time to do the work.

Like everyone else, our work is based on an hourly rate. What a decorator decides to charge as their hourly rate is dependent on their skill level and is their choice. The number of decorators have certainly grown over the last couple of years which is fantastic for the consumer because it offers choice. Choice of different design styles and choice for different budgets. But what concerns me is the growing number of decorating businesses who are not doing the industry and most importantly themselves any justice.

A custom designed cake is not like a printer where you can just turn the machine on and leave it running overnight and when you come back the next day, the job is done.

The skyline on this cake was all hand cut and took over 4 hours to trace, cut and assemble on the cake.

If someone does not physically have their hands busy working on a cake, nothing gets done. Unlike a commercial bakery we are not working on volume and turning over 2,000 generic cupcakes a day (and these still get charged at $5.50 per cupcake). The cupcakes ordered from a custom decorator has been carefully thought out and designed just for each client. And when a client orders 24 or even 100, how is it right that the decorator is charging less then the amount a mass produced bakery would charge?

And when the only thing a decorator has going for their business is the price tag, I believe it won't be very sustainable at all. When clients come back and tell me they are able to get a cake somewhere else significantly cheaper, it really baffles me. I'm not talking about 5- 10% cheaper, I'm talking about 40 - 50% cheaper. It's great that the client got a deal, but what really baffles me is that the decorator will end up working for less than $5 an hour. 15 year olds working at McDonalds get more then that and they just operate the cash register - not liase with the clients, send sketches, bake and decorate.

So think about that and be fair to yourself, if I was averaging $5 an hour I'd much rather be spending the time with my family instead. I'll admit that when I first started I was clueless about how to charge. I assumed that because the bakery is charging $5.50 for a cupcake, I should too. Well... we all learn from our mistakes and I hope this post inspires those decorators out there not to make the same mistakes and to be fair to themselves.

The many flowers on this cake took 3 days to create and dust.

At the end of the day, I understand that everyone has different costs to factor in (some have a shop and employees, others work from home, and some may just do it for a little spare income). But don't sell yourself short - As everything is made by hand, no two cakes are the same even if it's the same decorator replicating his/ her own design so comparing it just based on price is not right.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ask Me Anything - Post 3

Ask me anything is a weekly post where I answer any questions you may have about me. Cake decorating related or not :)

When you are pricing a cake do you give each individual flower a dollar value or do you charge an hourly rate?

Personally I charge all my decorations at an hourly rate because that is the best way for me to work out the true cost of the cake. With that said, I also don't sell them separately.

I would like to know how you make your chocolate ganache. Tips & Tricks!

Dark chocolate ganache is a 1:2 ratio – 1 part cream to 2 parts dark couverture chocolate.

White chocolate ganache is a 1:3 ratio – 1 part cream to 3 parts white couverture chocolate.

If it’s a smaller batch (less than 1.5kg of chocolate), I find it’s easiest to place the cream and chocolate in a container and microwave it all together.

If it’s a bigger batch, I find it’s easier to heat the cream over the stove and then pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit and melt the chocolate and then stir with a whisk to combine.

Then I also use a hand mixer to go through the ganache one last time before letting it set for a day.

I especially love your lustre-finished cakes. It looks to me as though they are not airbrushed and I assumed you paint your lustre on. If this is the case, would you be willing to share what kind of brush you use and the technique for applying the lustre? Also, how do you create your lustre solution?

I don’t use a particular special brush or anything for lustring as long as it’s wide, flat and soft it will work well (in my opinion). You will also need a relatively good quality puffy brush to blend in the lustre. Mine is the puffiest make up brush I could find. Try not to get the really cheap ones as I find that the hairs tend to fall out when you use it.

I mix the lustre with cake decorating alcohol and then brush it on to the cake. I tend to brush in one direction and wait until the area is just damp, then I use the puffy brush to buff over the area. I use a circular motion with medium pressure – just imagine you are brushing your face :)

The lustre mixture should not be too runny. It should be a thicker mixture but not so thick until it becomes a paste. The runnier it is, the more coats you might have to apply on the cake.

Is ok to use something like gin or vodka to mix the lustre dust for painting cake like the silver and gold ones you have made and have you tried the new already mixed gold or silver glaze that is now on the market, if so does it work well?

I have only tried using vodka once with the lustre and I find that is doesn’t dry as fast as the cake decorating alcohol. Although it works, I have found it does not work with the same technique I use above (the buffing) because the alcohol does not evaporate as quickly.

Unfortunately, I have not tired the new gold and silver glazes so I can’t really say if they work better than the technique I currently use.

How can I achieve a true silver cake?

You will need to use a silver lustre and the technique above or airbrush the cake. There are many different types/shades of silver so the final silver on the cake depends on which brand you use.

If you’d like to ask a question feel free to email me ( or send me a message through Facebook.

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