It’s getting busy here at Cutest Cakes HQ, funnily enough, not with Christmas Cakes primarily. However today has been individual iced Christmas cakes all the way.
Some of these are my own designs, well most of them are, actually, but the sleeping polar bear is adapted from a Mich Turner design. Mich runs The Little Venice Cake Company and is a food hero of mine. It was watching her on some TV programme that got me into icing individual cakes in the first place.
Now icing cakes is one of those secrets, a bit like what it’s really like to give birth, that is rarely revealed. The question I am asked the most in this business is how I get the icing on the cake so smooth in the first place. I even run annual courses in this as it seems friends and clients will pay good money to be taught this technique.
As far as royally iced cakes go, find a recipe, Delia or Mary are good here, but add about 1 teaspoon of glycerine (sold by Silverspoon, amongst others, in supermarkets). The glycerine softens the dried royal icing, so that when it is cut into, it doesn’t shatter everywhere. One can achieve a smooth finish with royal icing but unless your name is Eddie Spence (royally iced wedding cakes for Royalty are his speciality) or you were taught this skill in domestic science about 50 years ago, I wouldn’t design a cake with this in mind.
Sugarpaste on the other hand is a total delight to work with and achieving a smooth finish requires 2 or 3 simple steps and some practice. Sugarpaste was in fact developed in Australia as royal icing doesn’t always set in potentially such a hot climate. It wasn’t introduced into the UK until the 1970’s in the modern era although a quick search about would suggest that making sugarpaste was something that might have been going on as far back as the Eighteenth Century.
So the rules:-
1) Always level the top of the cake (i.e. cut off the dome-y top) and then invert the cake so that the bottom becomes the top. Professional cake makers will get out spirit levels and the like to ensure the new top is flat, but this is probably unnecessary unless you are planning to charge for the cake or stack more that one layer.
2) Use plenty of sugarpaste and do not roll out too thinly. The rolled out icing should be 5-6 mm minimum thickness and you will need to allow 1 kg for a 6 ” cake and 1.5 kg for an 8″ cake. Knead the sugar paste so that it is warm and pliable before attempting to roll it out. Left overs will keep for months if not years.
3) Keep the paste moving. As you roll out use plenty of icing sugar, turn the paste very regularly and ensure that the paste does not become stuck to the work surface at any stage. Before attempting to cover the cake check the icing is still loose.
4) To help achieve a professional finish, coat with an undercoat of marzipan, a thinner undercoat layer of sugarpaste or a smooth coating of buttercream. Cakes should be brushed with cooled, boiled sieved apricot jam before under coating with marzipan or sugarpaste.
5) Brush the undercoat with brandy or cooled boiled water before applying the top coat. (For buttercream and sugarpaste coatings you won’t need apricot jam or the brandy, just ensure the buttercream is smoothly applied just before you roll out the sugarpaste. Work fairly quickly or the buttercream dries out and the sugarpaste will not stick)
6) Apply the top coat to the cake by picking it up with hands and forearms to make the transfer NOT draping it over a rolling-pin. Carefully smooth the paste starting with the top of the cake and working down the sides, if folds and pleat start to form, pull the paste out and smooth flat against the cake, if it is thick enough the paste will literally mould to the cake with a little coaxing and pressing. Then:
Get hold of a cake smoother
These are the secret to success, they cost less than a fiver and just allow you to smooth out any finger marks and other dings and divets, once you have the paste hugging the cake, to achieve that perfect finish.
Angled pallet knives also help with moving the cake about without leaving marks in the icing.
If you can, leave the cake for 24 hours before you decorate it.
Simple huh, it does take a bit of practice, but once you have got the hang of it, you’ll find yourself in a relatively exclusive club.