Cake Making and Decorating
Definition: Cake is a form of food, typically a sweet, baked dessert. Cakes normally contain a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter or oil, with some varieties also requiring liquid (typically milk or water) and leavening agents (such as yeast or baking powder). Flavorful ingredients like fruit purées, nuts or extracts are often added, and numerous substitutions for the primary ingredients are possible. Cakes are often filled with fruit preserves or dessert sauces (like pastry cream), iced with buttercream or other icings, and decorated with marzipan, piped borders or candied fruit.
Cakes are a unique food product because cakes can be cooked, molded, shaped, and decorated to look like just about anything imaginable.
In ancient times and until about the 1700’s, cake was more like what we consider bread because yeast was used and so it was spongy and had a bread-like consistency. Cakes in North Africa and the Mediterranean often were more like pastries or cheesecake. Cake that is made with butter, eggs and baking powder, as we make it today, has only been around for a couple hundred years.
In the 1700’s, women in Europe started using special cake pans to create that kind of flour based cake that we are more familiar with today. It became very popular for royalty and aristocracy in Europe to compete with each other to see who could serve the most ornate and unique cakes and pastries. The French were the first people to serve dessert as a separate course and not as part of a larger meal. In the mid 1800’s, the temperature controlled oven, the style we have today, was invented and it revolutionized the art of baking. Cake decorating became almost a sport. Having the most elaborately decorated or unique cake at a social function was crucial to anyone who wanted to acquire social standing.
The art of decorating cakes is called sugarcrafting. People who are in the cake decorating profession even use this art to create ornate 3-D pieces to decorate the cake. In the past, the art of sugarcrafting was highly competitive and women were expected to create works of edible art at every feast or fancy occasion that called for a cake. Nowadays, sugarcrafters are in high demand to create specialty cakes for weddings and formal events and there is fierce competition among sugarcrafters to build up impressive portfolios and a solid reputation because cakes for weddings, parties, and other festive occasions can fetch a good price.
Cake Making: If you want to be a great cake decorator, in addition to knowing how to decorate the cake, you need to know how to bake a great cake. The cake is your canvas, and the better quality your canvas is the better your art will be. No matter what the actual ingredients are, all cakes have the same basic components:
1. Flour – this can be one of several different kinds but nearly all cakes have flour. Sweetener – most often this is sugar, but there are also sweeteners made from sugar substitutes or even fruit juice.
2. A binding agent – usually, eggs are used in cakes as a binding agent, but for people who don’t eat eggs or can’t eat eggs, there are binding agent substitutes that have the same consistency as eggs.
3. Fats – are essential in cake, although for people who follow a low fat diet, substitutes have come along in the last few decades to accomplish the same purpose, but do not contain any actual fat. Fats commonly used are butter, shortening, and sometimes fruit puree for those who can’t have fat or dairy products.
4. Liquid – some type of liquid is needed to make the cake batter. Usually this is water or milk, although sometimes fruit juice is used to add to the taste of the cake.
5. Leavening agent – Not all cakes have a leavening agent like yeast or baking powder, but many do. In the past, when non dairy cakes were common, people didn’t use leaveners but relied on air bubbles to make the cake rise.
Preparing the Cake for Decoration: When you are getting ready to decorate a cake, preparing the cake for decorating is very important. There are some tips that professional cake decorators use to get their cakes ready for decorating that you can use to create your own very professional looking cakes.
1. Cooling The Cake: Properly chilling the cake before you start icing it can make a huge difference in the final product. Professionals get their cakes ready for decorating by letting them cool completely, and then putting them in a refrigerator overnight to make sure they are chilled, but not frozen, before the decorating begins.
2. Creating A Smooth Surface: In order to create that perfectly smooth and level overall surface that you need in order to create a cake work of art, use a wide serrated knife or a professional cake leveler to trim up the edges of the cake. Take a wide paintbrush or a horsehair sauce brush and brush away the crumbs from the sides and top of the take to make sure that the surface is level. You can also put the cake on a Lazy Susan so that you can rotate it without damaging the cake. Level the sides while you rotate the cake and you will get a perfectly trimmed smooth cake. You can also add a "Crumb Coat" by mixing up a clear glaze and applying it to the entire cake. Let that glaze dry, in the refrigerator if possible, to let the cake settle and become firm, and once the glaze is dry, you will have a perfectly level cake surface to work on.
Tools for Cake Decoration: If you are going to be decorating cakes frequently or you want to practice decorating cakes there are some tools and equipment that you should have in your kitchen at all times, namely Disposable Pastry Bags, Revolving Cake Stand, Cake Mixes, Spatulas and Trimmers, Cake Boards, Fondant, Tips and Tubes.
Methods of cake decorating: Cake decorating uses icing or frosting and other edible decorative elements to make otherwise plain cakes more visually interesting. There are three methods of cake decorating:
1. The Lambeth Method is derived from a style of decorating that was popular in England where chefs and decorators would use a lot of intricate piping to create 3-D scrollwork, leaves, flowers, and other decorating on a cake. A cake decorated in the Lambeth Method and accented with fresh fruit or flowers is the wedding cake of choice for anyone who wants a traditional looking, elegant wedding cake. The Lambeth Method’s unique use of overpiping to create lacey, floral and ornate patterns on top of a fondant covered or marzipan cake is easy to recognize and often, people add embellishments to the ornate piping work, such as pearls or gems, lace, fresh flowers, or a bit of embroidery.
2. The Australian method originated in Australia during the time of English colonization. The Australian method is similar in style to the Lambeth Method but incorporated the use of much more ornate scrollwork and lots of curtaining. To get the effect of a beautiful beaded curtain cake, decorators using the Australian method often use seed beads, pearls, or little candies in their decorations.
3. The Wilton Method of cake decorating is probably the most famous cake decorating style. There are two things that make the Wilton Method unique in the art of cake decoration. One is the use of buttercream frosting instead of royal icing to decorate the cake. The other is using special pans to change the shape of the cake and then adding icing and decoration to finish the effect. Previously, cakes were always the same shapes, either round or square, but the Wilton Method changed the way that cakes were decorated by using specially shaped pans. The use of the Wilton pans meant that truly three dimensional shaped could be achieved to create cakes in shapes that were thought impossible.
You can develop your own unique style when decorating a cake thus creating a signature work of art. Many cake decorations use stencils to create patterns and pictures onto the cake after frosting. You can even create your own stencil for a special occasion. Many people use photographs on cakes and picture cutouts of their favorite cartoon or storybook characters to decorate the cakes and give it a special look.
Cake decoration is a truly artistic expression of a different kind. I am sure once you have mastered it, you will delight the people you create your masterpieces for and perhaps will choose it as your calling and profession in life. Even if you do not become a master confectioner, your attempts will most certainly be a fun learning experience and a chance to educate others at home, especially your children. The fondest memory of my mother’s cake making was of licking the spoons and bowls after she had popped the cake dish into the oven. Today my children line up and I have to make them take turns at doing the same! So, friends, do try out a cake or two! Bon Appetit!