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Apr 15, 2005 03:53 PM

cake decorating tips and suggestions?

  • w

I'm pretty sufficient in all areas of the kitchen, cooking as well as baking. I can bake any kind of cake. BUT, when it comes to pipping techniques, I need more practice.

In taste, I prefer a fresh whipped cream frosting or a gnache. But neither of them holds up well when pipped, they are too soft to hold a crisp hard edge.

Buttercream tastes too buttery to me, but even if I'm willing to over look that, it always seem to melt inside the pipping bag and comes out too loose. Same goes with cream cheese frostings.

I've yet to try the sugar and butter frosting, but I suspect it'll behave like the buttercream.

I've tried pipping with my hands inside oven mitts, to cut down my hands warming the frosting, but that didn't quite work.

Many years ago, a friend's father was a pastry teacher and he was going to teach me how to pipe decoration. He used powder egg whites and just mixed with water. I didn't actually taste test it, but can that work?

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  1. l
    La Dolce Vita

    I'm not a big fan of buttercream icings, either, so I tend to go for ganache as well.

    If you like using whipped cream, you can stabilize it with white chocolate or gelatin. I've also used powdered agar agar (in Japanese, it's called kanten) in place of gelatin when I have vegetarians coming to dinner. Agar agar is a derivative of seaweed, and it behaves similarly to gelatin.

    I have been able to get a crisp edge with ganache that is at the correct temperature and which contains the correct proportions of chocolate to cream. I have made both chocolate ganache and white chocolate ganache, and have never had a problem piping shells or swirls with either one. I also sometimes have two pastry bags going, especially if the weather is hot. I keep one in the fridge while using the other one, then I switch when the one I'm using gets too warm. I also keep a bowl of ice water nearby to dip my hands and cool them off.

    The egg-white-and-water mixture you mentioned sounds like the ingredients for royal icing. Royal icing is a powdered sugar icing to which egg whites are added. Royal icing dries hard, which is desireable when you are making leaves and flowers ahead of time that you will place on the cake later. Royal icing decorations can be difficult to eat--especially if we're talking large, chunky roses-- because they are so crunchy. So I try to be judicious. I prefer to pipe shells and borders with softer icings. But when I've achived the right consistency in the royal icing, I've been able to do small detailed work, like tiny dots and thin lines, which is great for gingerbread cookies and houses.

    Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Cake Bible" has some good recipes for various kinds of ganaches and stabilized whipped creams (although she doesn not mention agar agar--I discovered that on my own.)

    Good luck!

    6 Replies
    1. re: La Dolce Vita

      What porportions do you use for cream to packets of gelatin? I'd like to try that.

      1. re: Wendy Lai
        La Dolce Vita

        Paraphrasing the Cake Bible, you use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin per 1 cup of heavy cream. The gelatin is first mixed with 4 teaspoons water, allowed to sit for 5 minutes, gently heated until the gelatin dissolves, and then cooled to room temperature. After you start beating the cold cream with whatever sugar you want to add, you pour in the cooled liquid gelatin and keep beating just until you see stiff peaks.

        1. re: La Dolce Vita

          great, thanks! I'll try that tonight.

          1. re: Wendy Lai

            I tried it and while the whipped cream does seem to last forever in the fridge (not weeping as ususal), the resulting cream is still not firm enough to hold flower and other delicate designs.

            But I do like the more stable cream, so thanks for the tip!

            1. re: Wendy Lai
              La Dolce Vita

              Glad to hear the stabilized whipped cream wasn't a total failure! :)

              You might want to check out the recipe for the white chocolate ganache recipe in the "Cake Bible." The ingredients are 3 oz of white chocolate for every 8 oz heavy cream. You melt the white chocolate with 1/4 cup heavy cream, let it cool, then beat it into the rest of the cold heavy cream. This stuff should be firm enough to do piping.

              1. re: La Dolce Vita

                I don't have any occuassion near for trying it out. But I wrote down your tip and will definitely try it.

                I should consider buying that book it seems. I have her pie and pastry bible and love that one.

    2. b
      babette feasts

      You can beat your ganache a bit and it will stiffen. Of course, it is easy to overbeat, so be careful.

      I took a decorating class once and we used shortening whipped with powdered sugar to practice with - it's basically indestructible and you can scrape it up and re-pipe to your heart's content. Sorry, I don't recall the proportions, but I'm sure a little searching would turn something up. The downside is having to buy crisco, but it's fun to play with.