Sunday, July 1, 2018

What I've Learned from Making Cakes

Let's talk about cake.

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I never knew that I'd come to love cake decorating. My very first cake was an absolute disaster. It's a long story, but I'll keep it brief. Let's just say that I accidentally grabbed the flour instead of powdered sugar to make the fondant.


Needless to say, I was oblivious back then, prone to numerous brain farts. I knew nothing about cakes. When I made one, I would go in with absolutely no idea of how I wanted it to look. Of course, they always turned out like shit.

But then one day my friend Amber invited us to her daughter's birthday party and I saw her cake. It was a gorgeous Hello Kitty cake made by Amber's husband. I was so impressed and I loved the technique that he used, so a month later, I attempted to make a similar cake (Minnie Mouse) using the same technique.

Simple Mini Mouse Cake

I was older and wiser this time around so I carefully planned the cake and got to work.

Here's how it turned out:

Not bad, right?

I was so pleased with myself. It was an enjoyable experience and the end result was incredible.

To make the cake, I made two round cakes using Betty Crocker Super Moist White Cake Mix. I prefer the kind with "pudding in the mix" because I find that they turn out more moist.

One of the round cakes was used for the head. I used the second round cake to cut out smaller circles for the ears (I used a small bowl as a guide). I then attached the pieces together using white frosting.

I did not do a crumb coat on this cake. I didn't even know what the hell a crumb coat was back then. I literally just picked up some Betty Crocker Cake Icing in a can that already came with the tips. I picked up white and black.

I used food coloring markers to kind of "draw" the image on the cake before I frosted it. Now, take note that these markers do not work very well for drawing on cake. I have a different technique now, which I will discuss a little more later in this post. For the most part, however, the food coloring markers did their job, but they're more for cookies, not cake. Cake is not a hard surface, so it's difficult to "draw" on a cake with a marker. 

I "draw" first so that I know which areas are for which colors. To "color in" the cake, I used a very simple frosting technique. I just use a star tip with the canned frosting and added a "dot" of frosting at a time. I continue dotting until the cake was covered with the colors I chose.

For her tongue, I mixed the white canned frosting with a little pink food coloring and slapped it on there. I used edible pink pearls for her necklace and bow.

I am pretty sure I bought all of these ingredients at Walmart.

MegaMan Battle Network Cake

Once I realized how I much I enjoyed making cakes that actually looked and tasted good, I started honing my skills.

By this point, I had realized that the Betty Crocker Cake Icing was too expensive. It was great for first-timers, but I was ready to move on. I decided to start using piping bags, piping tips, and coloring my own frosting. This is now my preferred method. It's less expensive, gives me more control, and doesn't hurt my hands (those Betty Crocker Cake Icing cans are great, but after a couple of hours, my hands were aching).

So, here's my first cake with the piping tips.

This is a Mega Man Battle Network design that I did for my son's birthday party. It took me four hours to complete. It was my first time using piping bags and piping tips and creating my own colors. I could not, for the life of me, make black using my food colors, so I used a gel icing for his pupils and hair. I'll get more into how to make black food frosting later...

I used Betty Crocker Super Moist French Vanilla Cake Mix and Pillsbury Creamy Supreme White Frosing. I colored it myself using regular food coloring. When it comes to the colors, I typically wing it. I always add a teeny bit of color at a tie to avoid making it too dark. I think I used two or three cans of frosting on this cake.

Again, I did not do a crumb coat. I still didn't know what it was at the time. Just like with the Mini Mouse cake, I used the dotting technique with a star tip. I looked up a picture of Mega Man online, kept it in front of me, drew a general outline on the cake with a food coloring marker, and started dotting.

Now, by looking at this photograph, you can tell that some areas look sloppy. As mentioned earlier, this was my first time using piping bags. I didn't realize that as you work with them, the frosting begins to soften thanks to the heat of your hands.

I later learned that you can put filled piping bags into the refrigerator for a minute or two if this starts to happen. You might have to stick it in the refrigerator several times while decorating. Another tip is to place your piping tips in the freezer. That way, they're cold when you screw them on and will kind of cool the frosting as you start to decorate.

South Park Chef Cake

I was starting to become more comfortable with my skills, so when my husband was promoted to sous chef at his job on his birthday, I decided to use that to my advantage. I made him a cake in the form of Chef from South Park.

I made the mistake of not allowing this cake to cool completely before I transferred it. That's what led to the crack in the center that you can slightly see from Chef's hat, to down in between his eyes. The frosting covered it up well, but it was still something I didn't want to happen again. Lesson learned.

I believe this cake was chocolate. The frosting for Chef's beard was chocolate. The rest was colored white frosting.

By the time I made this cake, I had finally learned about crumb coats (thanks to the giant crack after transferring it). I applied a crumb coat and then a thin layer of red frosting. As you can see, I didn't use the dotting method on the red background, I just spread it on as usual.

Instead of using food coloring markers this time, I drew with a toothpick directly onto the layer of red frosting. After that, I "colored" in Chef using frosting with a piping tip.

The toothpick method is the same method that I use today, although I typically "draw" directly onto the crumb coat. I do this because there was a poor cake-to-frosting ratio with the Chef cake (way too much frosting). Drawing into the crumb coat prevents me from having to add an extra layer of frosting.

Powerpuff Girls Cake

Next up, is my daughter's Powerpuff Girl cake. This is one of the cakes that I'm most proud of.

As you can see in the background, I had the black frosting in a can—the Betty Crocker Cake Icing in black. I still didn't know how the hell to make black frosting at this point. I tried mixing all of my dark food coloring colors and got a weird dull gray, but never a black. I did figure it out later, which I'll get to shortly.

Anyway, for this cake, I did a white cake with a white crumb coat and then a very thin white frosting layer over that for the background.

As usual, I drew the cake in with a toothpick (very don't want to poke the cake or drag any crumbs) and then "colored" it in using my piping bags and star tips. I used the can of cake icing for the black. I did black around the edges of the cake as well.

I believe this was a confetti cake. I used white frosting that I colored with food coloring, as well as the canned frosting for black.

This cake turned out well and I didn't have many problems with it.

Fluttershy Cake

Last year, I did a Fluttershy (My Little Pony) cake for my daughter.

I learned with this one as well.

Before I get into the issues with this cake, I'll go over my method. As usual, I used a white cake with white frosting that I colored. I did a thin crumb coat, drew my design into the crumb coat, and then "colored" it in with the star tip dotting method. I used black gel for the eyelashes and pupil.

With this one, you can tell from the photo that the bottom is kind of "lopsided." That's because of how I make these cakes. Like I said, I just learn as I go.

Up until my last cake, I used to just pour the batter into a cake pan prepared with parchment paper and non-stick spray. After baking and allowing the cake to cool completely, I would flip the cake onto a cake board and just frost the underside of the cake.

That is not a good idea.

You see, cakes rise as they bake and tend to "dome" so when you flip it directly onto a board, the corners kind of sag (there's no support there, thanks to the "dome" shape). To remedy that, I would just add a bunch of frosting under the corners to kind of hold them up. That's why the Fluttershy cake looks so lopsided at the corners.

Now, I transfer the cake onto a parchment paper lined cake board and then flip it back over so that the domed part is on top. I then, very carefully, cut off the domed area so that the cake surface is flat. You can use the extra cake to make cake pops, so that's an added bonus!

How to Make Black Frosting for a Cake

I didn't realize until early June 2018 that stores actually sell coloring for icing in black. It's Wilton Icing Gel. That's what I use nowadays. I am pretty sure that the coloring I purchased is actually used to color royal icing but it works for frosting too (although it does make the frosting a little stiff, but nothing too crazy). It works for me.

When you first color it, it looks like a really dark gray but as it sets, it's nice and dark.

I actually used it to make this cake for my niece:

Jack Skellington Cake

This is a strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting that I colored with food coloring (and the black with the Wilton Gel Icing).

I did a thin pink crumb coat with a very thin pink coat on top of that. I "drew" the head on the pink coat and then "colored" it in. As usual, I used the star tip dotting method (this is my method of choice).

The spiderwebs were hard! I used a writing tip to draw the webs. You can kind of tell if you look hard enough (on the left side) that I kept having to scrape the spiderwebs off and start again because the looked like crap at first. I actually had to watch a video on how to draw them!

Cuphead and Mugman Cake

As of July 2018, this is the last cake that I've made. It's a Cuphead and Mugman cake.

Cuphead is a platformer game that my son plays from time to time. He asked for a Cuphead cake for his birthday, so I looked up some pictures, checked with him on what he wanted, and this is what we came up with...

The cake itself was chocolate and the frosting was just regular white frosting, again colored with food coloring. I "drew" the design onto the crumb coat as usual and colored it in with the star tip dotting method.

For the shirts, I didn't have an extra star piping tip and didn't feel like going through the hassle of washing the one I had after frosting the rest of the cake, so I just spread it on with a writing tip.

I'm lazy, I know.

I'll pick up more piping tips when I get the chance so that I don't run into that problem again.

So, now that you've seen some of the cakes that I've made and understand some of the lessons I've learned, let's get into some of my most important cake tips.

My Most Important Cake Tips

Bake cakes less than the recommended time. If I'm using boxed cake mix, I typically bake the cake for 10 minutes less than the box recommends. This is to prevent over-baking which will dry out the cake. After the timer is up, I check that a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Usually, it's finished earlier than the time recommended on the box. If not, it's easy to put it back in for 3 minutes or so. If you overcook, however, you'll have to start over!

Let your cake cool completely. Before you remove your cake from the pan, before you even think about frosting, before you do anything else, let your cake cool completely! If you don't, you're going to be dealing with a cracked cake, melted icing, and other problems. I typically allow my cakes to cool for two hours before transferring.

Transfer your cake with dome-side up. When transferring cakes, I transfer it to a cutting board or cake board lined with parchment paper (to get it out of the pan) and then flip it back over so that the dome-side is up. I then cut the dome-side off so that the cake surface is flat. Any leftover cake may be used for cake pops!

If you have any cake tips, leave them in a comment below! I'll add more as I remember them!

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