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I Want to Ice/Decorate a Cake for the First Time; I Need Some Tips

c
claritas Feb 9, 2012 07:35 PM

Hello all.

Calling all experienced cake frosters/icers and decorators. I need your help.

I want to decorate a birthday cake for the first time and would like some tipas to make my venture sail smoothly. I should mention that:

(1) I am intimidated by the idea of cake decorating. I am not the most artistic person and sometimes I am not great with my hands but I do LOVE to bake.

(2) My past experience with frosting havent been great. I always get the crumbs all over the icing. I have only ever frosted a "cake mix" cake and I used pre-made over-the-counter frosting (it was a red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting).

But will all this in mind I do want to go ahead and try this once and for all. It will at least be fun.

The following questions float in my mind: Is there a particular kind of frosting or icing that is best for this purpose? Are some cake (texture-wise) better for frosting than others? Do i absolutely need a cake turner thingy (not sure of the name)?

Some trusty websites, videos and other resources will be great! (I have already checked out The Cake Boss and Wilton but err... more please).

All forms of help will be appreciated. Thanks.

  1. dave_c Feb 10, 2012 12:57 PM

    Check Youtube for videos.

    In regards to crumbs getting everywhere, you first apply a thin layer of frosting to "seal" the cake. After that, you can fully frost with no concerns about crumbs.

    1. ttoommyy Feb 10, 2012 10:28 AM

      Check out Cake Central if you haven't already. Lots of good stuff there.

      http://cakecentral.com/

      1. e
        emalineisabear Feb 10, 2012 10:15 AM

        The best advice I can give you is.....have patience, and take you time. This is where I screw up a lot. I took a lot of classes on baking and cake decorating, and I always did fantastically in class, but at home I get to be way too impatient, and there is always something I'd rather be doing, and thats when I start screwing up my cake. Take your time, and take a deep breath.

        1. chowser Feb 10, 2012 05:24 AM

          If you do the crumb coat, it helps to thin the frosting it--it'll go on more easily. Are you looking just to frost the cake or to decorate it? I always frost with a butter based frosting,for the taste. To make a smooth final coating, get a tall glass full of hot water and dip the spatula in it. You don't have to dry it but use that, like an iron, to smooth the frosting. Dip repeatedly. The water will dry. If you want something nice and simple, you can get a cake comb, metal w/ jagged edges to run around the sides.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2HNz3B3bdE

          I've taught kids to decorate cakes and frost w/ butter buttercream, then I mix up some Crisco buttercream (try the Wilton recipe) because it won't melt in your hands as you hold the bag. It's much easier to control for beginners. If you learn to make a star (the key is consistent size), you can do a border along the top and bottom and the cake will look good, especially w/ the comb effect (but even w/out it's nice). Here are good directions at 3:30:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeFiL_ARDR8

          Once you get the star, you can move onto rosettes and scrolls. Those all make pretty borders.

          Writing takes more practice, use thinner icing for this, too (same as the crumb coat).

          For filling the pastry bag, I find it easiest to put the tip (attached to the bag) in a tall glass, fold the ends of the pastry bag over the edges of the cup so it's open. Along this idea, only her cup is too small. The bag should fit into the cup and rest.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcSxj5...

          As cake supplies go, I'd start w/ an offset spatula, pastry bag (Wilton has easy to use plastic ones) and a star and small round tip, plus a coupler (the white that holds it one). The coupler makes it easy to change from one tip to another. If you're not an artistic person and just want the basics to doctor up the cake, that's all you really need. You can use soft frosting and top the whole cake w/ stars and it's easy and pretty.

          1. Hank Hanover Feb 9, 2012 10:00 PM

            Below are some pics of my first attempt. It wasn't great but the grand daughter didn't seem to notice.

             
             
            1. Hank Hanover Feb 9, 2012 09:55 PM

              It's not that difficult but it needs some practice. First step... get the 1st wilton cake decorating class book. This one will do: http://www.wilton.com/store/site/prod...

              Buy some of the "Wilton creamy decorator icing" and the tips and dyes the book calls out.

              Buy some plastic placemats in solid colors. If you can't find those get some pastel colored 8" x 10" paper and have it laminated in plastic. Practice on these until you are comfortable. Wilton sells practice boards but I liked the size of the placemats, myself.

              When you are comfortable, you can make some good buttercream and decorate your cake. If you have the time and want the hand holding take one of the Wilton classes. You can usually find them in craft stores. Afterall, they want to sell you the tips.

              Don't get carried away and buy too many tips until you have tried it a few times. You will be surprised how few you need.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Hank Hanover
                sunshine842 Feb 9, 2012 11:22 PM

                THIS -- this is how I taught myself to decorate cakes years and years and years ago -- it's a really good introduction with very easy-to-follow instructions.

                1. re: sunshine842
                  Hank Hanover Feb 10, 2012 08:32 AM

                  I bought the DVDs, too. I watched them several times.

                  1. re: Hank Hanover
                    sunshine842 Feb 10, 2012 03:48 PM

                    I taught myself so long ago that they didn't even offer lessons on VHS, and DVDs didn't even exist yet!

              2. s
                second2none Feb 9, 2012 08:55 PM

                I'd recommend you to check out tutorials from iambaker.net and bakersroyale.com. These tutorials are so inspiring to get me to try my hand on decorating some cakes. :-)

                /// From iambaker.net ///
                Rose Cake Tutorial (Wilton #1M tip) : http://iambaker.net/rose-cake-tutorial
                Lilac Cake Tutorial (Wilton #103 tip) : http://iambaker.net/lilac-cake-tutorial
                Quick & Stunning Frosting Idea : http://iambaker.net/pink-cake-2 and http://iambaker.net/that-cake and http://iambaker.net/easter-cake-frosting-tutorial-cake-decorating-tips
                Daisy Cake Tutorial (Wilton #127D tip) : http://iambaker.net/thin-mint-cake-daisy-cake-tutorial
                Ruffle Cake Tutorial : http://iambaker.net/ruffle-cake-tutorial
                Hydrangea Cake Tutorial : http://iambaker.net/hydrangea-cake-tutorial
                Decorating different patterns with Wilton #150 tip : http://iambaker.net/cake-by-the-numbers
                Decorating different patterns with Wilton Grass tip : http://iambaker.net/cake-challenge-wiltons-grass-tip

                /// From bakersroyale.com ///
                Baking Basics:Cupcake Decorating Part I : http://www.bakersroyale.com/cupcakes/baking-basicscupcake-decorating-part-i/
                Valentine’s Rose Cupcakes : http://www.bakersroyale.com/cupcakes/...

                Happy decorating!!!

                1. visciole Feb 9, 2012 08:07 PM

                  Make sure the cake is thoroughly cool before icing it! Don't be afraid to use a lot of icing -- it's much easier to ice a cake nicely if you're not trying for a thin layer of the stuff.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: visciole
                    c
                    claritas Feb 9, 2012 08:17 PM

                    Makes sense. Thanks!

                  2. Caitlin McGrath Feb 9, 2012 07:51 PM

                    You don't need a turntable to ice a cake nicely. Layer cake recipes are made to be iced, whether they are American butter cakes, carrot cakes, or something like genoise. There are ways to minimize the crumb problem. First, brush all the loose crumbs off the outside cake layers. Then you can apply what's known as a crumb coat, a thin layer of frosting all over the exterior of the cake, the point of which is to trap any remaining crumbs so they don't mess up your icing job. The crumb-coated cake goes in the fridge for a bit to set up that thin layer, then you go ahead ahead and finish frosting the cake, decorating, etc., without pesky crumbs.

                    This NY Times video shows the basic method: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                      c
                      claritas Feb 9, 2012 07:58 PM

                      Thanks! I'll check the link out.

                    2. w
                      wyogal Feb 9, 2012 07:48 PM

                      Make a crumb coat, a thin layer of frosting. Then frost over that. Some folks freeze the cake to avoid crumbs.
                      I add flour to cake mixes to make a more dense cake, fewer crumbs.
                      An offset spatula is very, very handy and not expensive.
                      Keep it simple. Maybe just a simple star tip border. Simple is elegant.
                      Practice with some cheap store-bought icing, using a disposable pastry bag with a variety of tips. Practice on foil, or a cookie sheet. Let the kids lick it off!
                      Some people swear by royal icing, some by buttercream.
                      and this advice is coming from someone that has actually dumped a whole birthday cake in the garbage and ran to the store and bought a cake. That was many years ago, I've gotten better.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: wyogal
                        c
                        claritas Feb 9, 2012 07:57 PM

                        OMG @ "...dumped a whole birthday cake in the garbage and ran to the store and bought a cake..."

                        Tell me more about this crumb coat. Is it just regular frosting?

                        I want to bake a cake from scratch this time. But do tell about your cake mix tip as I always find them to be too fluffy.

                        Any good recipes for royal or buttercream icing (I've seen one with shortening and I'm not sure how I feel about that)?

                        1. re: claritas
                          w
                          wyogal Feb 9, 2012 08:35 PM

                          I just toss in about 1/4 cup of flour to the mix.
                          The crumb coat is the same frosting, just a thin layer. Then like someone else suggested, chill it. Then when you put the real layer of frosting on, it won't pick up any crumbs.
                          and if I'm going to eat cake, especially a cake mix, I don't care about shortening. It works.
                          Yes, the cake was sad. it was blue, for one of boys' birthday. It was awful, lopsided, and really, really ugly.

                          1. re: wyogal
                            c
                            claritas Feb 9, 2012 08:39 PM

                            This is going to be a real adventure. Wish me luck!

                            1. re: claritas
                              w
                              wyogal Feb 9, 2012 08:40 PM

                              Luck!

                          2. re: claritas
                            biondanonima Feb 10, 2012 09:07 AM

                            Definitely do not use royal icing to frost your cake. Royal icing hardens to a candy-like texture when dry - it's used for making decorations and for icing cookies when you want a thin candy shell type icing, but you don't want it all over your cake. Buttercream is the way to go. As for which recipe, American style buttercreams (just powdered sugar, vanilla, butter or shortening and a little milk) are easy to make and to work with, but many people find them too sweet. French, Swiss, Italian and German buttercreams use melted granulated sugar and all require an egg component - they are also fairly easy to work with but IMO extremely buttery. I prefer American buttercream myself, but that's probably because it's what I grew up with. You'll find lots of recipes for all of these online.

                            1. re: biondanonima
                              w
                              wyogal Feb 10, 2012 09:42 AM

                              Yes, I was thinking decorations. That's that egg white stuff, right? I always use a buttercream.

                              1. re: wyogal
                                biondanonima Feb 10, 2012 12:06 PM

                                Yes, royal icing uses egg white (or egg white powder) and lots of sugar. It's great for making candy flowers, etc., but they're more pretty than tasty, IMO.

                                1. re: biondanonima
                                  chowser Feb 10, 2012 12:35 PM

                                  We call it sweet concrete. It's only for decorations you want to last for a long time, like gingerbread houses. I use American buttercream for cakes where I'll do more decoration but if it's simple, I'll use something else. My daughter thinks the european buttercreams are too eggy and doesn't like them. I love stabilized whipped creams to add a nice lightness to the cake, instead of overly sweet heavy frosting.

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