Cake is a form of food, typically a sweet, baked dessert normally made from a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter or oil, with some varieties also requiring liquid (milk or water) and leavening agents (yeast or baking powder). Ingredients like fruit purées, nuts or extracts are often added to give flavour, 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 they 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 bread because yeast was used. 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 flour based cakes and it became very popular for royalty and aristocracy 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.
The art of decorating cakes is called Sugarcrafting. 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 handsome price.
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. After your cake is baked, preparing the cake for decorating is the next step. 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. In order to create that perfectly smooth and level overall surface that you need, use a wide serrated knife or a professional cake leveler to trim up the edges of the cake. Brush away the crumbs from the sides and top with a wide paintbrush or a horsehair sauce brush. 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.
To decorate a cake, there are some tools and equipment that you should have in your kitchen at all times. These are chiefly: Disposable Pastry Bags, Revolving Cake Stand, Cake Mixes, Spatulas, Scrapers and Trimmers, Cake Boards, , Tips and Tubes, Flower nails, etc. Cake decorating uses icing or frosting and other edible decorative elements like Fondant, Marzipan, Candied fruits, Seed beads as well. It is done by any one of these three methods:
1. The Lambeth Method: This 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. 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: This 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: This method 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.
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. I am sure once you have mastered the art of making and decorating a cake, 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 into the oven for baking. Today my children line up to do the same! So, friends, do try out a cake or two! Bon Appetit!
This was broadcasted by AIR in Dec 2010)