We're all for getting your hands dirty (or in this case, coated in sugar). Getting all up in it is the best way to master any new skill. But there are some lessons that you really don’t need to learn the hard way. So we asked a few professional decorators to spill the secrets they wish they’d known from the get-go.
1. Prepare your pans
We know, we know — we’re talking about decorating here, not baking. But cakes act as your canvas, so there’s good reason to bake 'em right.
Kristin Ausk, owner of
Meringue Bake Shop
, says prepping her pans properly saves her time and money. “It cuts down on having to trim and waste cake — plus the time it takes to do all that,” she says. Here’s how she does it:
- Spray the pans with non-stick kitchen spray
- Place a layer of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan
- Spray the parchment paper, too
- Fill your pans with batter based on weight to make sure they’re even
2. Conquer your crumb coat
We promise this is the last tip about cake construction. The truth is that even your best decorating ideas look sloppy if you don’t know how to build a sturdy cake.
Decorator Anne Heap (who teaches our cake topper techniques class ) didn’t even think of this when she made her first cake. “I had no concept of crumb coating, and especially the idea of putting the cake in and out of the freezer in between layers of buttercream,” she says. “I soon after learned that applying fondant to a cold, firm cake is much easier than trying to cover a room temperature one!”
So before you break out the buttercream, take a few minutes to learn the right way to build and frost a cake . You’ll be glad you did.
3. Watch out for the weather
“My first experiments with fondant frills were incredibly frustrating,” says Maggie Austin (who’s now basically the queen of fondant frills ). When she made the frills in a humid East-coast kitchen, they wilted right away. But in endlessly dry California, the fondant decorations turned out perfect. “When I came back home, I bought a dehumidifier and haven’t turned it off since,” she says.
When something just won’t go right, check the weather. Fondant and gum paste absorb moisture like sponges, and heat can melt buttercream and make cakes droop. Don’t fret though — it’s nothing a little A/C can’t fix!
4. Get rid of the guesswork
Do you pretty much “eyeball” everything? There’s no shame in the guessing game, but there are a few tools that can give you peace of mind (and a bit more consistency).
One of decorator Lindy Smith’s favorite tools are rolling pins with spacers. These little rings go on the end of your rolling pin to keep the spacing even, which means your fondant and gum paste “will always have a beautifully uniform thickness.”
5. Don’t rush it
Most professional cakes — the ones you dream of creating yourself — take 2 or 3 days to complete (seriously!). “Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to finish your project,” says Wendy McGowan, the decorator behind Wendy Woo Cakes . In fact, try spreading out the work over two or three days: Bake the cake and mix up your buttercream on one day, assemble the cake the following day and spend one more day decorating.